The Wilier Triestina Zero.9

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The 2014 U.S. National Road Cycling Championship was a lively race, full of unexpected twists, attacks and breaks. When Eric Marcotte crossed the finish line and won the title, he was riding his trusty stead the Wilier Zero Nine.

The field was strong. He was racing against favourites like Taylor Phinney, Ben King, Phil Gaimon and Alex Howes.

It was an exciting finish. After a gruelling final climb which stretched the already tired front group Zwizanski attacked. Semper grabbed his wheel and Jones and McCabe joined.

2014 US National Road Cycling Championship
What’s left of the field nears the top of the last climb of the 2014 US National Road Cycling Championship

Jones attacked again with just 2km to go. But the chasing group wasn’t far behind.

Finally, in the last corner the attackers were caught by the chasing group.  With Jones, Wren, Stemper, Kyer, Marcotte, Howes, Zwizanski, Rathe, McCabe, Miller, Butler, Reijnen and Busche coming together, it came down to a sprint finish.

2014 US National Road Championships
Eric Marcotte sprints to the win on the left

It was a fitting end to the season for both Marcotte and the Wilier Zero 9. By the end of the year they had seen numerous podium finishes. Something race journalists may not have expected for the Wilier Zero.9 – the Cinderella in the family of Wilier pro bikes.

Wilier Zero.9 Part of the Wilier Triestina Racing Division

In 2015 Outside Magazine ranked the Wilier Zero.9 2nd after the Specialized Tarmac and above the Trek Emonda. Dramis wrote, “It seems like every year Wilier sends a bike to the Test is another year a Wilier makes it into the Top 3. Every Wilier I’ve ever tested has been a standout, from the Cento 1 to the incredible Zero.7, they’ve all been winners. The Zero.9 continues that tradition.”

Unlike its two racing siblings (The Zero.7 and the Cento Uno) the Zero.9 had been largely missed by journalists, due in part to their enthusiasm for the Zero.7, and by some pro-racers as they moved towards specialization.

The reason, you ask? It was partly because of marketing and partly because of its name Zero.9.

The Zero.7 is an excellent climbing bike weighing in under 790 grams and less, hence the name Zero.7. While the Cento Uno is an aero bike weighing just under 1300 grams.

Because the Zero.9’s frame weight was also under 1000grams, it was given the same Zero. naming style. With a size M weighing in at 940 grams.

But the name created confusion in the market place. With many people assuming that Zero.9 simply meant it was a heavier version of the Zero.7. Much like the Trek Emonda SL is a heavier variant of the Trek Emonda SLR.

But Wilier had built a very different bike. They tried to describe it in their marketing by comparing it to both the Cento 1 and the Zero.7.  It was a bike for climbing, like the Zero.7, but it’s stiffness wasn’t limited by the hill climber’s 790 gram limit. And unlike the Cento Uno, it wasn’t an outright aero bike either.

With a race geometry, an oversized bottom bracket, and the same carbon construction as the Cento Uno, Wilier seemed unsure of where to place it in an increasingly specialized field.

Wilier Zero 9 geometry
Wilier Zero 9 geometry

But the Zero.9 has yet another surprise. It’s an incredibly good road bike.

Road.cc wrote, “The Wilier Zero 9 is a performance orientated road bike … for people who want to get around the course as fast as possible.”

In 2015 Outside Magazine ranked it 2nd after the Specialized Tarmac and above the Trek Emonda. Dramis wrote, “It seems like every year Wilier sends a bike to the Test is another year a Wilier makes it into the Top 3. Every Wilier I’ve ever tested has been a standout, from the Cento 1 to the incredible Zero.7, they’ve all been winners. The Zero.9 continues that tradition.”

Bicycling Magazine concluded, “If you want a bike to toe the start line and be a contender at the finish—just add your pedals and bottle cages, and the Zero.9 is ready to go.”

So what made the Zero.9 so good? Wilier, an Italian Bicycle company since 1906, is known for producing top-end road bikes. They take what they learn from each model and improve the next. In recent years they invented the asymmetrical chain stay to improve power transfer from the chain to the rear cassette and the 386 bottom bracket to reduce the flex from the pedal to the bottom bracket.

When they made the Zero.9 they continued in this tradition. The Zero.9 geometry and the Zero.7’s are virtually identical. Also, like both the Zero.7 and the Cento Uno, the Zero.9 uses the high-modulus 60-ton carbon fibre in its construction. Making it a very strong, lightweight, and responsive machine.

2015 Wilier Zero 9
Wilier Zero 7 Geometry
2015 Wilier Zero 7

But they also improved the Zero.9 where they could. With a spec at just around 960grams, they had room to improve stiffness with the addition of carbon layups where it was most needed. And they kept the 386 bottom bracket. The outcome was a balanced bike that rides confidently in descents and sprint finishes.

Wilier Zero.9 386 Wide Bottom Bracket

While the Zero.7 was heralded as one of the world’s best climbing bikes, due to the fact that it is one of the most balanced lightweight frames in the peloton, it did have one flaw – a bit too much flex.

The Zero.9 fixes that problem. Brad Ford of Bicycling magazine remarked, “Through turns and on descents, I could pilot the Zero.9 with confidence.” And the power transfer of the 386 bottom bracket with the Asymmetrical chain stays makes it incredibly light and responsive when attacking.

Wilier Zero.9 Asymmetrical Rear Arm Top View

But one of the best surprises of the Zero.9 is the comfort. For a bicycle designed to be stiff and lightweight, the geometry and carbon do an excellent job of providing a comfortable ride. This was one of the things I noticed during rides.

Eric Marcotte shared with Bike Radar that if he were to have the opportunity to ride the Zero.9 again he would. “Haven ridden and trained on this frameset for a year now, I’d choose it myself. Super responsive, great position and comfort for me on the bike, good positioning over the bottom bracket for cornering, stiffness in the bottom bracket, and sharp front end.”

Eric Marcotte’s Zero.9 special paint after winning the U.S. National Championship Road Race

In the Dutch magazine Bike & Trekking, the Zero.9 was also well received. They wrote that out of the 3 Italian race bikes they reviewed Bianci Intenso, Olympia Ikon and the Wilier Zero.9, it was “the Zero.9 that would have a permanent place in my shed.”

Conclusion

In an age where manufacturers are searching for marginal gains and aggressive frame redesigns the Zero.9 continues in the tradition of the pure race bike. Wilier has taken great bicycles and improved on them year over year. The result? An Italian bicycle that evokes emotions with a design that places emphasis on form, function and history.

While the Zero.7 and Cento Uno find themselves neatly in the categories of Climbing and Aero frames, the Zero.9 defines its own. It is uncompromising in its power transfer, comfortable over diverse terrain, and light enough to crest any climb at the head of the pack. It is a Racer’s bike.

I’ve found this bike to be perfect for the hilly countryside of my area. And as a bike that is on the rarer side, if you do have an opportunity to ride it, I would highly recommend you take it.

Hans Hartmann, classic design and Machiine

is Machiine
If you don’t mind being embarrassed, you can learn anything.

What is it about some designs that they become more beautiful as time goes on. The same could be said of some artists, and some musicians and some songs. It’s true too of some humans. I think of Mahatma Ghandi or Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela.

If there is one consistent theme to this blog, it is this: If you don’t mind being embarrassed, you can learn anything.

While playing with the above design on photoshop I stumbled upon the work of late Swiss designer Hans Hartmann.

Little is known about Hans Hartmann. Yet his work evokes the sense that their must be a compelling understory to his work.

Einspuren - Spur Halten (1963)
Einspuren – Spur Halten (1963)

“Einspuren – Spur Halten”, which roughly translates as “Meshing – Keep Track”. That is according to Google. It’s a telling image.

Sometimes I try too hard to create perfect solutions that will stand the test of time. It’s an easy trap for me to fall into, whether programming or renovating my home.

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time you will notice that the posts are on seemingly random topics. The reason for this is that I want this to be an outlet for writing and sharing that will remain relevant as time and my interests change. While I was advised to write on just one topic, it doesn’t work for me. And, in return I’ve been very lucky. Machiine has had over 300,000 visitors and 536 interesting comments.

I think it comes down to this. If I wrote about a specific topic, I would be doing it for some result, such as to generate web traffic. Whereas, by writing about any topic that I’m actually interested in, I keep writing irregardless of the traffic. Any extra outcome is just a neat bonus.

So, I’ve just been writing and the themes that show up have been occurring naturally. Today, I had the thought about the heart of Machiine. It comes down to a natural interest in classic designs, in true and meaningful biographical stories, and sharing/recording what it is I am learning.

Thank you for your visits, comments and emails. They are appreciated. Most of all, I hope that you find the articles on this blog useful and meaningful to you.

Triangle of Change: How To Achieve The Improbable

In 2012 British cycling amazed the world by claiming the prestigious Tour de France and 70% of the Olympic cycling podiums. Never before had an English rider won the Tour de France nor had their cyclists performed so well in the Olympics.

July 22, 2012 Team Sky Procycling rider and leader's yellow jersey Wiggins of Britain cycles during the final 20th stage of the 99th Tour de France cycling race between Rambouillet and Paris
July 22, 2012 Team Sky Procycling rider and leader’s yellow jersey Wiggins of Britain cycles during the final 20th stage of the 99th Tour de France cycling race between Rambouillet and Paris

At the heart of British cycling is Dave Brailsford. He and his team around him set an ambitious goal. They proclaimed that they would have a British cyclist win the Tour de France in just 5 years of creating the new Team Sky. Continue reading “Triangle of Change: How To Achieve The Improbable”

Benotto Bicycle Restoration – How to identify a vintage Benotto bike frame’s year and model – Part 2

Benotto restoration

I made the mistake of painting my Benotto black after first getting it about a decade ago. Today I’m restoring it back to something fitting of the Benotto name. But first I wanted to research and find out the model of my bike. It’s proving really difficult so I’m documenting what I’m learning about Benotto’s and hopefully it will help others identify their bikes in the future. Also, thanks to Kris for commenting on part 1 of the restoration, that encouraged me to document in more detail about the frame.

This bicycle restoration is turning out to be a bit addictive. Here’s a quick recap thus far. At first things were going pretty well, stripping the frame for sanding went quickly. Then, tragically while sanding the frame to prepare for paint the centre cable guide snapped off. I rotated the frame in my bike stand unfortunately catching the cable guide.

As a kid I learned to play the violin. My violin was the least expensive model from our local music store, but for my parents it was a big purchase. It was the middle of the day, a few years after first getting it, and I sat down on the edge of my bed, not noticing my violin behind me. I snapped the bridge. I was devastated. At that time of my life my violin was hugely important to me.

I remember my mom walking into the room, looked at the violin, looked at me, and said the last thing I could have expected, “Jon, you need to look at this as a positive thing. Be thankful that you broke your violin.” None of those words made any sense to me in that moment, yet I chose to follow her advice.

We went back to the local music store. The owner was standing behind the counter, he took a look at my violin, and calmly told us, “I may be able to fix this.” He rummaged around the supplies in the back corner and came back with a new bridge. “Ahh, I’ve got one, perfect.”

Taking my violin, the new bridge, and a small file he immediately went to work. About 15 minutes later my violin was back together, tuned and ready to play. I played a chord, it had never sounded so rich. A year or so later my instructor would marvel at the violin, she would go on to ask me how much I paid for it. After telling her, she responded that I must have gotten very lucky as it had a better sound than many violins thousands of dollars more expensive.

My mother’s comment now made sense.

So last week I took a deep breath and ground off the last 2 remaining cable guides from my Benotto. I looked online, found some new braze-on cable guides that I could purchase, but they would be different to the originals. Later, while watching the classic Paris-Roubaix documentary “A Sunday In Hell” a new idea formed.

Benotto used cable guide clamps until 1976-77. After which they moved to braze-on cable guides. Because I had already removed the cable guides, why not use the vintage cable guide clamps and restore the bike to be like the one used by Francesco Moser in the 1976 Paris Roubaix race.

With that decision made, it’s back on the restoration train.

Identifying 1979-1980s Benotto’s by the frame and fork:

In part 1 I explained why the original model and year is unknown. Also, some of the components are original, and some are not… all of which makes identifying the bike just that much more challenging.

Step 1: Benotto Chainstays

Benotto 3000 chain stays are diamond shape. All other models had the “eye” indents. Quick look at history, the Benotto 2500 was the highest model until the early 1970s, then by the late 1970s Modelo 3000 was the top model.

Benotto 3000 diamond shaped chain stay
Benotto 3000 diamond shaped chain stay

My Benotto’s chain stay definitely would indicate a model 2500 or lower.

Benotto chain stay

Step 2: Seat post opening.

Benotto frames have the same outside diameter. However, the inside diameter changes depending on the metal used. For example, Columbus SL has a seat post diameter of 27.2mm as the metal is 0.6mm thick. Columbus SP has a seat post diameter of 27.0mm as the steel is 0.7mm thick. Columbus Aelle has a seat post diameter of 26.8mm, the steel is 0.8mm thick. Columbus Zeta has a seat post of diameter of 26.6mm, the steel is 0.9mm thick. Finally, Columbus double butted steel and plain gauge steel is 0.10mm thick with a seat opening of 26.4mm.

Benotto racing road bikes are listed from highest model to lowest by numbers. Benotto Model0 100-800 are entry level bikes. The Modelo 850 is the first of the amateur series bikes.

Modelo 3000 used Columbus SL

Modelo 2500 used Columbus SL

Modelo 2000 used Columbus SP

Modelo 1600 used Columbus Zeta or Aelle

Modelo 1500 used Columbus Zeta or Aelle

Modelo 1000 used Columbus Zeta

Modelo 850 used Columbus Zeta

Modelo 800 used Columbus double-butted steel, or straight gauge moly steel.

Model 700 (unknown)

Model 500 (unknown)

Model 100 (unknown, but 1976 catalog says it uses light-weight steel.)

You can view a PDF document outlining all 1979 Columbus steel tubes here.

Measured my seat post and it was 26.6mm. That would put it somewhere between a Modelo 850-1600.

Step 3. Rear derailleur cable guide.

From all the research I’ve done I’ve concluded that Benotto moved their brazed on derailleur cable guides from above the bottom bracket prior to below the bottom bracket in 1979. 1976 and earlier had the clamp on guides.

1978 benotto
1977-78 Benotto brazed on cable holders were above the chain stay and bottom bracket
1979 modello 800
1979 and later models have the brazed on cable holder below the chain stay and bottom bracket

Looking at my bike’s rear derailleur cable guides and bottom bracket would indicate that it is a 1979 and later model.

Step 4. Rear drop outs

Benotto Modelo 3000 has Campagnolo rear drop outs.

Benotto 3000 Campagnolo rear drop outs
Benotto 3000 Campagnolo rear drop outs

Benotto Modelo 2500, 2000, 1600, 1500, 850 had Benotto rear drop outs

Benotto 1500-2000 rear drop outs
Benotto 1500 rear drop out
Benotto 2500 rear drop out
Benotto 2500 rear drop out

Benotto Model 800 and lower had Suntour, Benotto or other rear dropout

Benotto Modelo 800 Suntour dropout
Benotto Modelo 800 Suntour dropout

My bike has the Benotto rear drop outs

Benotto rear drop out

Step 5. Tubing vs Pipe

It’s not always possible to see this. In my case, because I sanded my frame down to bare metal I could make this observation.

Steel Tubing frames are made in forms and molds. Whereas piped frames are rolled metal. From a strength perspective there are tradeoffs. Randy from mytenspeeds.com mentioned that tubing can be more fragile than piping. But Tubing can generally be made to be thinner in some areas and thicker in others to save weight. Piping is uniform in thickness. Columbus frames are made of tubing.

I noticed what appear to be seams in the metal. That would mean that the frame is made of piping. It’s interesting to note that my seat tube was 26.6mm. So perhaps Benotto used a thinner piping. Either way my Benotto must be a Modelo 800 or lower.

Okay, so that’s where I am in the process so far.

More posts to come. Will write a piece about Benotto Forks as that should give some more clues. Will hopefully have the sanding completed and primer soon.

Part 1 – Benotto Restoration – Where the love all started

Benotto Classic – a growing list of Benotto Bicycles from 1931-1985

Benotto

This is an attempt to document all of Benotto’s pre 1985 models. I need your help, if you have a photo of a Benotto and know the year/model please send it to me or share a link to it in the comment section. That will really help out the community.

About 10 years ago I was lucky enough to pickup a Benotto of my own at a local garage sale. Having ridden many local hills and windy roads on this beautiful vintage frame I have personally experienced the esteem and fondness that Benotto owners and admirers have for these bikes. Benotto is a true Italian classic. The only problem is that there is very little information about them online. So this is an incomplete list at best, but hopefully it will help you learn more about your bicycle.

If you have any question, ask me in the comments below and I will try my best to answer them.

1931 Bicicletas Benotto was established by 24 year old Giacinto Benotto

1948 Benotto

1948 Benotto

Continue reading “Benotto Classic – a growing list of Benotto Bicycles from 1931-1985”

Benotto Bicycles – The birth of a hero

Moser with Benotto

Moser - Nurburgring Worlds, 1978

The 1960s to 80s were the golden years of Benotto bicycles. By the mid 1980s Benotto had numerous 1st place titles including 11 world championships and countless local, national and international competitions such as the Giro d’italia. In 1968 Ole Ritter famously broke the hour record while riding a Benotto Bicycle. He road a staggering 48.653 kms in one hour. It took four years before the great cyclist Eddy Merckx was eventually able to beat that hour distance riding 49.431 kms. Wikipedia

Ole Ritter breaks the hour record in 1968
Ole Ritter breaks the hour record in 1968

Benotto Bicycles History And Timeline

Giacinto Benotto, a young Italian racer, aspired to build great bicycle frames. In 1931 he founded Bicicletas Benotto in Turin Italy, the year that Francesco Camusso won the gruelling 1931 Giro d’Italia.

Francesco Camusso wins the 1931 Giro d'Italia
Francesco Camusso wins the 1931 Giro d’Italia

“Typical of great cycling frame makers, Benotto grew out of the passion of racer Giacinto Benotto who was 24 years old in 1931 when he established the business in Turin.” Retrospective Cycles Amazingly, by 1951 Benotto bicycles had already competed in 3 world championships.

Giacintto and Lea Benotto
Giacinto and Lea Benotto with team

Another famous Italian frame builder Cino Cinelli also started first as a successful racer riding for Frejus (1938-39), Bianchi (1940-43) and Benotto in 1944.

In 1948 Giacinto Benotto had read of the newly discovered oil in Venezuela and thought it a good opportunity to bring cycling there. Eager to expand into emerging markets he took with him a shipment of 200 bicycles. At first he encountered opposition in Venezuela as he was told they “drive Cadillacs” not bicycles, but it wasn’t long before he began getting popular press excited about the Benotto Bicycles.

1948 Benotto Bicycle
1948 Benotto Bicycle

It seemed with each move Benotto’s success continued. In 1951 Antonio Belivacqua rode a Benotto to win the famous Paris-Roubaix.

Belivacqua solos to Roubaix, 1951 on his Benotto.
Antonio Belivacqua wins the 1951 Paris-Roubaix on his Benotto.

Felice Benotto, a family member, was engaged in the cycling scene in Venezuela and was able to get a team to Mexico by October 1950. By 1953 Benotto expanded operations into Mexico as they rapidly became Latin America’s most popular cycling brand. At this point Benotto split their operations between Italy and Latin America.

Giacinto BenottoThe Benotto brand continued to grow. Francesco Moser later won his World Championship in Cristobal Venezuela on a Benotto, in 1977. Then in 1978 Roger DeVlaeminck won Milan San Remo riding a Benotto in ’78. In that same year Moser went on to win the Paris-Roubaix.

francesco moser 1976

Benotto was now known as a serious bicycle among the cycling community and was being used by team riders everywhere. As was the case with heroic riders like Freddy Maertens who rode a Benotto in the 1980s SanGiacomo team and Moser who road a Benotto during the 1975 Tour de France.

Francesco Moser in 1975 Tour de France
Francesco Moser in 1975 Tour de France

The production of all high-end racing bicycles remained in Turin until 1983/84. Around this time Benotto made a decision to move both European and Latin American production of bicycles to Mexico.

By 1985 it is reported that all subsequent bicycles were manufactured in Mexico with the possible exception of the Modelo 5000. Steel Vintage

1984 is the last year of the historic “Italian Made” Benottos. Unfortunately some of the Benotto’s built in Mexico during this time suffered from the bottom brackets or head tubes cracking. This was due to inexperienced fabricators overheating the steel during the brazing process. The majority of Mexican Benotto frames on the road today were built well and others have reported that repairing the crack was a simple matter of rebrazing the cracked areas with bronze.

1984 Italian made Benotto Modello 850
1984 Italian made Benotto Modello 850

Some models like the Modelo 800 and 5000 were unaffected. Modelo 800 was made with Hi-Ten steel which can handle a little more heat and abuse while the Modelo 5000 was unaffected as it was still made in Italy during this period. Also, Benotto forks are outstanding forks. So if you do happen to own or come across a cracked Benotto that you don’t care to repair, salvage the forks.

At this same time Benotto was at the height of its success. For many of the cyclists from this era a Benotto is a representation of the heart of cycling in the 1970s and 80s. It represented a time of quality craftsmanship meeting beautiful design that enabled human’s to go beyond their natural capacity. In the words of Nigel Dalton, “To be accurate, they are beautiful things” and “a bike dear to [Rob] from the early 1980s in Europe.” (source)

BenoAdL

Benottos are famous for their racing geometry and quality of steel. Their bikes were designed for racing, with almost all models having the exact same geometry. The only difference between the frames was the type of metal used. This is a large reason for their popularity today as their frames are iconic of brilliant bicycle design and continue to be excellent frames for fixies and restorations.

26 Benotto brakes Benotto bicycle 5000 classic Benotto drillium

In 1981 the elite US Amateur team was sponsored by Bicicletas Benotto along with other leading Italian cycling brands: Gipiemme components, Ambrosio rims, Hutchinson tires ad IscaSella Saddles. (flandireacafe.com) The team issue Benotto bikes were a mix of diamond and oval shaped chainstays, a testimony to their tradition of handbuilt machinery.

Benotto’s influence in the world cycling scene could even be witnessed on the handlebars of competitor cyclists. Benotto Handlebar Tap was the the handle bar tape to have in the 1970s and 80s. It was light, strong and bold and dominated the landscape.

Benotto cello tape

US team rider Fast Eddy wrote on his personal blog that he didn’t know where his bike was built and it didn’t matter to him, all that mattered was they were riding the same frame as the bike featured in the opening sequence of the documentary “A Sunday in Hell” and the same frame that Moser won his World Championship in Cristobal Venezuela on, in 1977. They were riding a Benotto.

Fast Eddy
Fast Eddy

Yet by 1986 the glory days of Benotto were fast ending. Coincidently a change was taking place in the cycling scene as a whole. Many attribute 1983 as the last year of classic cycling. 1983/84 marked the beginning of clipless pedals, click shifting, the death of Tullio Campagnolo, a move away from brazing steel frames to welding, introduction of cycle computers, and along with it Benotto’s move to Mexico.

Braun Gregor Winning the 1983 German National Road Race on a Benotto
Braun Gregor Winning the 1983 German National Road Race on a Benotto

In the following years Benotto attempted to enter the Triathlon and 7-speed market with the Shimano 600ex, but it was too little too late having not resolved the bottom bracket cracking problem.

Today Benotto’s classic bicycles are a reflection on a different time. Classic cycling events like L’Eroica that are “born out of that love for cycling” are trying to bring back some of the magic from pre ’84 cycling. In many ways a classic Benotto embodies that pure heritage and passion for cycling and the drive to create the perfect man-powered machine.

Moser with Benotto

Worth reading:

http://www.flandriacafe.com/2011/11/benotto-dreams.html

Worth watching:

Good resources:

A growing list of Benotto Bicycles from 1931-1985

http://www.classicrendezvous.com/Italy/Benotto.htm
http://www.vintagevelo.co.uk/2014/07/26/benotto-modelo-800-dilettante/
http://www.mytenspeeds.com/My_TenSpeeds_1/FREE_SITE_VINTAGE/VINTAGE_4_Component_Clues.htm

Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard?

Kangchenjunga Himalayas

A few years ago I sat in an auditorium listening to David Graham tell the tale of how he, his son, and a family friend were the first Canadians to summit the peak of Pathangtse in the Nepalese Himalayas.

One of the stories he told has stuck with me to this day.

The mountains in the Himalayas are tall and the altitude at the base of them is high to start. The air is thinner, which means there is less oxygen to breath, making climbing there more challenging and physically exerting. As David Graham and his team were climbing their chosen route, it gradually became more technical and difficult. Until finally they reached a section of the climb that appeared beyond daunting, but overwhelming.

One of the Sherpas that was leading the expedition wore a smile everywhere he went. David described this man as enchanting. Whenever their route became harder he would encourage the others with a smile and say, “It’s easy.”

At this point in the route David looked at this man, expecting now he would admit that the challenge ahead was not easy but potentially deadly. Instead, he smiled at David and said calmly, “It’s easy, we’ll need to take it slower.”

David experienced an epiphany from this man. Life doesn’t have to be hard. It is really how we perceive it. This epiphany was clearly contagious because as he shared it I too experienced that moment of enlightenment.

I had recently launched a startup with my brother and friend Art. In the months and years that followed I had many opportunities to make this Sherpa’s approach to problem solving my approach. Often I was asked by the team if the task ahead would be difficult. I enjoyed responding that it was easy, it would just take time. It’s hard to know for certain, but it may very well have been the lessons learned from this talk that accounted for the amount of technical hurdles that we overcame in the first few years as a startup business.

David Graham and  Finbar O'Sullivan Mt. Pethangtse climb.

Fast forward 5 years. Surfing Youtube I stumbled upon a video entitled, “Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard?” by Jon Jandai.

This remarkable talk reminded me of the story I just told you. In the video Jon Jandai describes his life growing up in a poor village in northeastern Thailand. It wasn’t until they got TV that his village suddenly realized they were poor.

To overcome his newly discovered poverty he moved to Bangkok, to work hard and earn a living. However, after moving there and working hard everyday he had very little to show for it. His diet was terrible and he lived in a cramped accommodation. He decided that he needed to make an improvement so he attended university. But university was hard, “because it’s very boring.”

Jon explains that he had a realization at university, “We were taught to make life complicated and hard all the time … but we don’t know how to make it easy anymore.”

So he decided to simplify his life. He moved home and started growing rice instead. He grew 4 tons of rice and it took only 2 months of work. He didn’t need all the food so he sold the rest at the market. He made a pond and now has fish for food year round. He’s since gone on to build a beautiful home with his own hands and has no debt. His friend, one of the smartest people in university, just built a home as well. However, he is in debt for 30 years to pay it back. The way Jon looks at it is that he now has 29.5 more years of free time compared to his friend.

Jon has many profound insights in his talk, one of which probably deserves it’s own blog post, “The four basic needs: food, house, clothes and medicine must be cheap and easy for everybody. That is civilization. But if you make these four things hard for many people to get, that is uncivilized.”

The biggest takeaway from Jon Jandai’s talk is that life does not need to be as complicated as it’s made to be. Jon said, “Now when you look around everything is so hard to get. So I feel like now is the most uncivilized era of humans on this earth. We have so many educated people and our life is getting harder and harder.” I realized that what Jon was saying is true. It’s easy to become absorbed by the demands of life and lose sight of the ease of a simple one. As I looked away from the screen of my computer towards my yard and aging fence I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation.

David Graham learned from his Himalayan guide that a challenging climb can be an easy one. Jon Jandai’s outlook is much the same. A challenging life can be an easy one.

I leave you with this last statement of Jon Jandai, “Now I try to become normal, but people look at me like I’m abnormal. Crazy people. But I don’t care because it’s not my fault – it’s their fault, because they think like that. My life is easy and light now.”

How to change your life without changing anything, the scientific way

adding the outdoors to your life

Every year I look forward to the winter snowfall, the reason is that I love to ski, but that all changed about 8 years ago. My friend was teaching me how to ride a dirt bike. A passion of his. Sadly I shattered my knee.

The bike was a two stroke and my friend was riding ahead of me. I was going up a hill when the belt caught, the front wheel lifted and my knee was driven into a rock as I lost control.

For the next two seasons I sat on the sidelines as my leg healed. Losing the ability to ski, bike, run, walk… taught me how much I took for granted. Fortunately my knee did heal but the lesson has remained.

adventure quote

Recently I learned a second lesson. A friend of my wife and I was sharing how every morning and evening she says 5 things that she’s thankful for. What a great idea! So for the last 3 weeks or so I’ve been doing this as well. In the next bit I will share what I’ve learned.

Before we get into that, Robert A. Emmons published a fascinating study on sleep and gratitude in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. People were asked to keep a gratitude journal everyday for 2 weeks. The subjects were able to fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and feel more refreshed in the morning.

I didn’t know about this study when starting this, but I’ve experienced a similar effect. I’ve also noticed that I have more energy after work.

At first it felt kind of weird saying 5 things I was thankful for. In fact it felt so weird that I had to force myself to do it at first.

Today I heard a guy talking about the fact that so often we look to people that we aspire to be like and we spend our time focusing on that, rather than looking at our own lives and realizing that there are some people who would love to be like us.

Not only can I relate to that statement, but it’s the very thing I’ve been thinking about. As I’ve continued saying things that I am thankful for I’ve noticed that my appreciation for the things in my life has increased. I like driving my car more … I’m amazed that I get to live where I do … you get the point.

But not only that, the other day I saw a reflection of my wife and I driving and a thought popped into my brain, “I want to be like those people”. Again it’s a weird thought, it’s strange even to write about it. But really how cool is that! To want to be like you are.

We live on this amazing planet. Everyday is a gift. So I want to leave you with this thought. There are people around the world who want to be just like you. Who want to live where you live and hangout with people like yourself. By saying 5 things you are thankful for everyday you can live a better, more fulfilled life, and you don’t need to shatter your knee to do it.

Is a good life and a successful one compatible?

hiking Crawford Falls photo credit machiine.com

Have you noticed all this focus on the perfect habits of successful people as if the cause for their success can be summed up as a daily 8 hr sleep, 30 min exercise, and 30 min reflection time? But it’s not real.

New Years Eve, Christmas Day, birthdays… we’re pretty good at celebrating important occasions. In between these holidays our days can often be forgotten as the pace of life demands our time for work, errands, exercise, etc.

As a person I’ve gotten pretty good at forgoing fun to reach a goal. Often knowing that a holiday is coming is all I need to keep the sacrifice going.

When a goal is achieved it’s rewarding. It makes the sacrifice worthwhile. Inspirational speakers talk about the impact people can make if they choose growth over comfort and work over fun.

It’s hard not to praise people like Steve Jobs, who epitomized what it looks like to die for your company and dreams. At his end he remarked that it may have been the strain of working as the CEOs of both Pixar and Apple that brought about his cancer.

When you achieve your goals or hit the jackpot it’s easy to look back at that sacrifice and feel it was worth it. Yet, what if the road is longer than you anticipated and you’ve fallen short of your quarterly goals. Even though you are made of the stuff of champions – character and perseverance – the years go by and the goal remains aloof.

Is the sacrifice worth it if the reward is the end?

Sacrificing fun over work makes for a purpose-driven life, but not a good one.

Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying that, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life less than the one you are capable of living.”

I see two important parts to what he said. Firstly, passion is found when you live up to your potential. And secondly, you are capable of living a larger life.

It’s easy for personalities like my own to miss the nuance of his point. Because I’m oriented towards action, when I read Mandela’s words I know them to be true and am motivated to work even harder.

But working harder isn’t living larger. It isn’t really living at all. It’s might even be playing small.

I’ve heard it said that we get to choose our habits and our habits choose our future. I agree with that. I’ve also learned from others that there is a difference between good trade-offs and bad ones.

Living a life that you are capable of requires trade-offs. Each person is unique and their trade-offs will be different. Perhaps it means giving up security for an opportunity. Or giving up the 80 hour work week for time to invest in your family.

As 2014 has come to a close here’s what I’ve learned and will be taking with me in 2015. Good luck this year as you pursue the large life that you are capable of living.

  • To attract people to your cause you need a mission and a vision that’s easy to articulate.
  • Find fulfilment in your vision because it will become real.
  • Focusing your attention on growth and development rather than on goals makes the journey worthwhile.
  • It’s hard to control outcomes but it’s easy to control activities.
  • Measuring activities make outcomes more predictable
  • People are motivated and/or held back by fear, security, and fun.
  • Make fun an intentional part of your day.
  • Celebrate everything.
  • Working smarter is better than working harder, combining the two will get you further than either.
  • Working with others who also understand this will multiply everyones efforts.
  • If you are motivated you will be more likely to continue.
  • If you continue you will be more likely to reach your goals.
  • If your attention is on growth you will have achieved success on the entire journey.

All of us have bad luck and good luck. The man who persists through the bad luck – who keeps right on going – is the man who is there when the good luck comes – and is ready to receive it.
Robert Collier

  • Successful people attract success.
  • Life’s a long journey – make time for fun. It’s not a trade worth making.

There is no passion to be found playing small - Nelson Mandela

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
Nelson Mandela