Our musette prototype is causing quite a stir in the lobby of the Utrecht hotel where Cannondale-Garmin are stationed ahead of the Tour de France.
“Bam, bam, bam!” goes Alan Marangoni, the Italian rider who kindly volunteers to be our guinea pig for the test run, suggesting the circular bag might work well as a weapon.
Meanwhile, a passing representative from a saddle brand reckons it’d make a good ping-pong bat. Clearly, this new-fangled feed bag is a versatile thing, but it’s time to see how it fares in its primary purpose.
“It’s a test and I am the first? Incredible. I am writing cycling history,” says Marangoni. “I am curious to try this.” That’s the spirit, Alan. As the unused reserve for the Cannondale-Garmin team at the Tour, he’s only too happy to get out of the hotel and give the design its momentous maiden run-out.
We head to a quiet tract of Dutch country road with our experts: Marangoni, team soigneur Alyssa Morahan and Castelli brand manager Steve Smith.
Before practising taking the musette at a decent lick, the Italian needs an explanation of how it’ll work. Rather than taking it by the strap, he should aim for the portion of Aerobie protruding from the bag, using it as a handle.
After a dozen run-throughs for the camera, successfully collecting each time, Marangoni exclaims: “Too many feed bags, I’m getting fat!”
He reckons it’s easier to miss than the traditional version, but its alternative strap could well eliminate the old problem of musettes rotating on impact. “They can grab it cleaner. There’s no spinning or bags getting tangled,” Morahan says.
How is it for the soigneur? “It definitely feels different when the rider grabs it. It takes my arm with it,” she says. “You’re trying to dislocate my shoulder before the race,” she jokes with Marangoni.
When the tall Italian switches to practising taking food out and disposing of the empty musette, it becomes clear that throwing technique and wind direction are crucial.
Judging by the Italian’s half-hearted tosses – clearly they don’t play frisbee in his native Bologna – it could easily land in the bunch or be taken by the wind and fly back into someone’s face. We may have inadvertently stumbled on a whole new peloton hazard.
But it’s not as if the old-school musette is entirely risk-free. Smith recounts a story involving former pro Iñigo Cuesta, knocked clean out during a race when a discarded feed bag containing an unwanted drink can clonked him on the head.
Prototype musette in hand, Morahan is wondering about its efficient distribution. “How would I hold eight of these in order to hand them out? With a normal bag, I put one on my shoulder, one on the other shoulder, then one or two in my hand. It’d be like learning to do musettes again.”
She is a professional of the feed zone now, but that wasn’t always the case. “Initially, I was just a massage therapist, I’d never done this. I practised in the parking lot with the mechanic, him going round and round taking feed bags. The next day, I did it in a race – and all eight guys got their musettes,” she says with pride.
As Marangoni comes to a halt, what’s his verdict? “It’s interesting. It could be better for a feed zone, maybe it’s safer like this. Now we are relaxed, there’s nobody around; in a race, it’s another matter. You can be going really fast, take it and it spins around. Going slowly, it’s no problem.” He suggests it needs a fastener, a snap or popper; otherwise, the contents could fall out.
“You could put some kind of elastic to keep it tight or a bit more elasticity in the bottom part of the bag so you can get the stuff in,” Morahan says. “If it gets cold and they’ve got big weather gloves on, it’ll be a lot harder to grab.”
With musettes, size matters too. This prototype struggles to hold the same number of items as the conventional design. “You have to figure out how to maximise space. That’s not even everything in there: you’d want another bottle, regular food and a bar. If it’s hot, we’d throw in an ice-cube space,” Morahan says.
“But it is going to be my Paris handbag,” she adds, patting the bag affectionately. That’s the aesthetics box ticked. If Chanel made musettes, they’d probably resemble ours. Probably.
Smith estimates that it would cost Castelli roughly €15 per unit to produce our new design, against less than €3 for the traditional version. That is a serious disadvantage for a cost-conscious team in these hard economic times.
On the plus side, any roadside fan picking up one of these beauties from the gutter is going to be very happy. Never mind a discarded bidon: a musette and a frisbee (or what we have dubbed ‘the Free-bee’) is the ultimate cycling fan’s find. Hours of fun for everyone, all in team-branded colours. The sponsors will like them, at least.
All the feedback is food for thought. Ultimately, everyone is optimistic about this new version. “It’d be pretty boring if everything worked perfectly the first time, wouldn’t it?” Morahan says. Yes. And no.
In the meantime, it’s back to the drawing board. Back next year with the Free-bee mark II.
This article was originally published in issue 57 of Rouleur.