This One Time I Rode with Barry Bonds

The limited edition Tarmac is poppin’.

Ed. note: This story was originally published on Element.ly, a place for people like us, interested in the outdoors, and where I occasionally contribute.

Specialized’s headquarters is located well south of the Golden Gate Bridge in the ‘berg of Morgan Hill. Not exactly where you would expect to find some of the wealthiest and most discerning bicycle aficionados in the world. But there they were, a group of dudes, awaiting the delivery of their S-Works McLaren Tarmacs, Spesh’s $20,000, limited-edition, one-time only, exclusive wonder whip. Buy a $20,000 bike and it also comes with a personalized name tag, matching helmet and a pair of shoes.

The happy group of new McLaren Tarmac owners gather at Specialized World Headquarters.
Specialized employees fill the lobby at World Headquarters.

Spesh employees packed the front lobby and cheered like we were in a bike industry coliseum, but combat for McLaren owner supremacy did not occur and no lions popped out from the floor like that scene from Gladiator. Instead, a burrito bar lunch, which oddly lacked tortillas, was served in the most masculine room on Spesh’s campus, the Cipollini Room. With burrito boat in hand, I continued to talk with the proud new, super-bike owners, just like I would at any bike shop on main street USA or during a group ride coffee stop.

Barry Bonds gets a quick photo of his new chariot.
Baseball legend Barry Bond has taken to the bicycle like a fish to water.

Once I learned the media was invited along to meet the new McLaren Tarmac owners, I wasn't sure how it was going to go down. Were they the Masters of the Universe? Did one of them plunder retirements funds on Wall Street, run a Ponzi scheme, cash in on a dotcom, or got rich Hollywood style from maybe a Power Rangers movie?

It felt like the start of any new group ride, sans the 20k bicycles.

Barry ready to go.

On a lovely sunny, SoCal day, we chatted before the halfwheeling started, and the climb.

Rolling with a $100k worth of bikes.

Rolling along in a group with bikes worth more than a Pro team, I learned that some people are even more into bikes than I am. They also have the means to collect them, even the rarest ones.

The masters of the universe own McLaren bikes.

So why did this diverse collection of two-wheeled aficionados plunk down such an impressive amount of cash to own one of these limited rides? I'll let them tell you in there own words.

“Color scheme,” said Dean Futrell.

“Because of the long heritage of performance Sinyard (Specialized’s firebrand CEO) has brought to the sport, including working with DuPont on the original trispoke,” said Rich Silverstein.

“Exclusivity is what I'm into,” said John R. Williams.

“Uniqueness,” said Tom Lonzi. “I work hard and this is more expensive than any of my cars.”

“Details and the design,” said J. Glasgow. “I collect bikes not cars. This is for the real aficionado.”

“Because it’s new,” said Barry Bonds.

The devil really is in the details.

I also heard them describing their new bicycles using the words “smooth”, “airy”, “quick”, “light” and “as if I was pedaling without a chain.”

I got a chance to throw a leg over a McLaren Tarmacs and test it on a couple of ups and a couple of downs and I can tell you this is not a normal Tarmac. The “why” seems to be wrapped up in the numbers McLaren compiled, their layup schedule, and whatever pixie dust they sprinkle on the frame before it is baked in an autoclave.

Matt Hill, a bike racer friend of mine and formerly from the music business, compared the McLaren Tarmacs to Neil Young’s audio player, Pono. “No doubt these products are better,” said Hill. “But at a certain point better just doesn’t matter anymore. When it’s a difference that human animals literally and demonstrably can’t discern under controlled conditions, you’re buying for a different reason.”

But the bike definitely felt different. I rode a regular, new/old Tarmac for three days and 14K feet of climbing just prior to the McLaren ride and something was up. Like the owners said, “it glided.” I felt more of the road, also.

Other than some marketing blurbs and advertising lingo, Specialized and McLaren haven't really said exactly what they have done together or exactly what the collaboration has brought them technically, but it sure has brought them a very large price tag.

Whatever reasons someone might have to buy such a rare bike, it doesn't matter because YOU can’t. There are no more. No mas. None. Zip. Zilch. And I doubt these owners are ever going to sell their personal bikes.

I also heard repeatedly from weary-looking Spesh staffers, “never again.”

Expect to hear something soon about another collaboration between Specialized and McLaren. What that is, they wouldn’t say. But probably not another Tarmac or Venge.


Originally published at element.ly with words and photos by: DL Byron/Bike Hugger. Read more about the new Tarmacs in issue 12 of the magazine and a feature story in Wired.