The crabmeat appetizer at the San Diego restaurant comes highly
recommended, but Craig Griffin, the U. S. Cycling Federation's
track endurance coach, is too busy to eat. He's raving about his
team's secret weapon, Superbike II. For 10 minutes he talks
about the bike's ultraslim carbon-fiber frame; its custom-fit
handlebars, seat and pedals; and its capacity to approach speeds
of 50 mph. But when Griffin is asked to name his favorite
component of the bike, he is suddenly quiet. He begins to raise
his fork to his mouth, then freezes. "I love the whole thing,
really," he says finally. "It's so thin and light, and it's as
strong as anything built. It's so aerodynamic that when you look
at it from the front, it disappears. And the handlebars...." The
fork is back down on Griffin's plate, and he's off and rolling
Such enthusiasm has become commonplace in the U.S. cycling
community since the development of the first Superbike model in
1993. Superbike II is a result of Project '96, the federation's
multimillion-dollar program to reverse the long history of poor
performance by U.S. cyclists in international competition. The
goal: to ride the high-tech highway to gold medals at the Summer
Olympics in Atlanta.
The Superbikes were developed by Project '96 engineers with help
from the staff at the General Motors Aerodynamics lab in Warren,
Mich., and each bicycle is custom designed to fit a specific
rider. Going from a typical steel-tube bike to a Superbike is
"like going from a Volkswagen van to a Porsche," says Janie
Quigley, who rode one of the original Superbikes when she won a
gold medal in the individual pursuit event at the 1995 Pan
American Games. "It's so narrow that it seems like you're
slicing through the air."
When the first Superbikes were unveiled at the 1994 world
championships in Palermo, Italy, other national teams wanted the
U.S. disqualified for using equipment that didn't conform to UCI
(Union Cycliste Internationale) code, citing the angle and
position of the seat post. The objections were overruled by the
UCI technical committee, and the U.S. rode to a stunning
second-place finish in team pursuit.
"We're excited because we were always showing up at races with
the worst bikes, while the Germans had the nicest," says Dirk
Copeland, a member of the '92 U.S. Olympic team who hopes to
compete again in Atlanta. "Now we've got the coolest."
They're also pricey--about $15,000 for each of the 10 existing
models--and dangerous. Superbike II has only one gear and no
brakes, like all track racing bikes. "These guys are going 45
miles an hour. If they go down, they go down really hard," says
Chris Carmichael, U.S. Cycling's national coaching director.
When the Superbike was introduced in 1994, the U.S. was ranked
No. 11 in the world. After the 1995 world championships the team
moved up to No. 3. Naturally, U.S. hopes for medals in the five
track events in Atlanta have risen accordingly. The top U.S.
prospects include Rebecca Twigg and Mariano Friedick in the
individual pursuit and '92 bronze medalist Erin Hartwell in the
kilometer. "We're gaining a lot of respect," says Griffin.
In addition to supporting the Superbike project--which was
funded primarily by big-time cycling sponsors including GT, EDS
and Mavic--the U.S. Olympic Committee also made grants to the
cyclists that allowed the athletes to train with the U.S. team
year-round. This has transformed a group once nicknamed Team
Dispute--for its clashing egos--into one of the most-feared
pursuit teams in the world. The riders are now so close that
they have voted to split their Olympic winnings evenly (a gold
medal will earn $15,000, a silver $10,000 and a bronze $7,500
from the USOC), including shares for those who fail to make the
"We'll be the best-equipped team in Atlanta," says Griffin.
"There are no excuses for not doing well."
Now, that's a mouthful.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID MYERS/ANDREW SACKS Developed over three years by engineers, in the GM wind tunnel, Superbike II reaches 50 mph. [Man riding Superbike II]