cycling has heritage, there is no denying it, and that heritage is one of the features that has us buying into the whole shebang in the first place. no matter how hard we can sprint for those innocent speed signs just outside towns and villages (i just added 'towns' to make this an all encompassing article), you just know that eddy and fausto could have done so at far greater velocity and in more photogenic terms than any of us. it is in tribute to those stalwarts of the sport, that we now clothe ourselves in merino and wear cotton caps with the peaks down. take a look at the photo reproduced above (taken from the prendas memoires du peloton calendar); those chappies aren't hanging about, and if i'm allowed to be discriminatory, they're just a tad more beefy than bertie, kristian or even mark. (has anyone else noticed this trend?)
but unless my eyes deceive me, those spindly tubes are made of steel, the forks don't resemble girders from the forth rail bridge, and those leather shoes are held in place with toe clips and not pedals resembling lollipops. i know, that you know, that i know, that you know where this is all heading, but let's, just for the sake of a few moments' diversion from the plot, suspend belief for several minutes, and allow me a bit of literary leeway. take a closer look at the cranks to which those feet and pedals are attached: polished alloy. no carbon to be seen. and closer still, take a look at the crank bolt on the bike closest; that isn't holding a 23mm hollow bottom bracket spindle, birling round in the safety of external bearing cups. it's a square taper, cup and cone bottom bracket, the tools for which fitting and removal of same are sitting mouldering on the workbench in thewashingmachinepost bike shed; relics of a bygone age.
or are they?
some of you will have little or no idea of which i speak, having entered cycling in the modern age of formula one bicycles; the name merckx you may just have seen on the odd frame or two, but who knew it was the name of a bloke? and coppi is something more readily associated with xerox than italian cycling.
i have droned on about this for more years than anyone cares to remember; if the greats of yesteryear: miguel indurain, jan ullrich, marco pantani and brian smith, were able to groan and grimace across finish lines and mountain tops on aluminium alloy cranks bolted to square taper bottom brackets, then current thinking and componentry is just so much fluff and flannel. rearrange these word into a well-known phrase: 'wool'; 'pulled'; 'eyes'. the square taper, were it to be classified as a minority race, would be due major redress against vindictive discrimination. and my one man campaign in the face of scorn and ridicule has finally caused at least one major manufacturer to see the truth in the face of high modulus carbon fibre. more are sure to follow.
arriving in may of this year, fsa will release the felice gimondi single speed chainset. cold-forged and polished aluminium crankarms, an alloy 48 tooth chainring (yes, just one ring; the mighty dave t tells me they were tough in them days) and available in 165, 170 and 175mm arm lengths. the only wayward step that, according to my opinion, is perhaps a slight error of judgment is black anodised chainring bolts, but those could be easily replaced with shiny ones. but the major point of the entire endeavour is that square hole slap bang in the centre; there's only one type of bottom bracket spindle that is going to fit. don't you just love it when a plan comes together?
now it would improve my street cred and influence within the industry if felice had contacted me last year and said "well, what do you think", but sadly, i was as much in the dark about this as most; i'm just doing what any self-respecting politician would have done, and harnessing myself to a passing bandwagon. it would be coolness of several degrees kelvin if there were plans to follow on with the release of a double chainset in similar fashion, but at present, i have no idea if such figures in fsa's plans. i have asked, and very much hope to be told. the accompanying photograph shows felice gimondi (right) being presented with a commemorative edition of his signature chainset by claudio marra of fsa. felice is smiling because he has just realised that all those bottom bracket tools he saved from his years at bianchi have just gained a new lease of life.
the first blow has been struck.
the felice gimondi chainset will be available in may of this year at a retail price of £79.95
posted monday 1 march 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
repetition is an interesting phenomenon. always put forward as the basis of good learning practice, depending on what it is that's being repeated, and how interested any of us are in being educated. but as i rapidly discovered several years ago, when filming the annual events on islay, the same old, same old becomes tired very quickly, not necessarily to attend, but certainly to watch on the telly. yet here we are, at the beginning of a new european cycling season, and we are glued to whatever video or audio streams we can find for the opening salvos.
having discussions a few weeks back with one of my north american friends, we were discussing our relative obsession with cycle racing, at least as far as this referred to the formula one season up to and including the tour de france. with the last race i watched on the box being the race of the falling leaves last october, absence hadn't, surprisingly, made the heart grow fonder, and i was finding myself more interested in the many other facets of this beautiful sport. time mitigated against my paying a lot of attention to het nosebleed yesterday, though it was nice to hear that flecha nabbed the victory. today, however, was an entirely different story.
sunday for velo club d'ardbeg is sunday ride; no questions asked and no excuses accepted (actually that's not true, but it sounds far more committed than the reality of the situation). sunday on islay was cold, to put it mildly, but pleasantly dry, and mystifyingly less windy than saturday. since it was the mighty dave t's birthday yesterday, not only did he have the final say on where we rode (round loch gorm), but was free to choose whether we circumnavigated in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. satisfaction with his choice was most agreeable (anti-clockwise), because this leads us along the road down from the carnduncan phone box, past ballinaby along to saligo: it's our belgian road, rideable in the big ring if you have the cojones. it gives rise to the oft repeated (admittedly only by me) phrase, that ileachs are the flandrians of the west coast.
so a fine morning on the bike, which finished with not only a soya cappuccino, but four belgian waffles with maple syrup, was consummated in the pm by not only kuurne-brussels-kuurne on cycling.tv (yes, i renewed my subscription), but the return of morecambe and mcwise as commentators. if the heart had lost its fondness, it took only a couple of hours of rain soaked competition to restore it to its former glory. it's always been an interesting conundrum that most of us not only detest riding in the rain, but complain bitterly about the pot-holed state of our roads, rapidly filling in relevant online forms on the ctc website. why don't the council do something about it?
yet we're all sat on the edge of our seats by the glory of the pain and suffering on the small screen in front, watching rain soaked riders, and congratulating ourselves that this is what the classics are all about. and i even found myself inwardly criticising those who hugged the gutter rather than ride the cobbles that we'd all give our frame-fit pumps to attempt. we are nothing if not enthusiastically hypocritical. heck, even the rapha stand at the north american handbuilt show was showing the race live, a nice cross-fertilisation from the guys that gave us the continental rides, somehow the antithesis of formula one cycling.
my weekend, and judging by some of those on twitter, that of many others is now complete. we can all cheerfully trudge, ride or commute to work tomorrow morning with heads in a less than droopy profile, comfortable in the notion that we have the very weapon with which to stave off rugby and football conversation and headlines that will be the staple of the less well educated.
wear that pink trimmed merino with attitude.
posted sunday 28 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it'll be september before the bicycle industry kicks into gear again (pardon the pun) and start showing the real versions of bikes that they announced for 2011 before italy went on holiday in august. it's only the end of february, so there's a while to go before we have to look at whether a bank loan is necessary or not. but because it's the end of february, north america is currently featuring what might be called the alternative show: nahbs, or the north american handbuilt show. although it may have started out differently, the north america bit now refers to the country in which the show takes place, because a number of exhibitors are most certainly not american; de rosa, dromarti and brompton, to name but three. i haven't a clue how de rosa fits into the handbuilt bit, but i assume they are exhibiting the neo primato steel frame. i will ask my man on the spot to try and find out.
however, as the majority of the bicycle world becomes at ease with far eastern carbon output and wind-tunnel testing, the emphasis at nahbs, as can be garnered from the title, is on handbuilt machines from some of the finest craftsmen not only in north america, but across the world. production of these bicycles is as far from mass production as it is likely possible to achieve. unlike the lifting of yet another identical monocoque from the mold, there is room here for a bit of customisation, even if that only extends to the colour of the paint. each frame is a learning curve; no two are absolutely identical, and if all are as fastidious as richard sachs, there is a quest to create the perfect construction each time. last year's oregon manifest proved, if nothing else, that the ability to produce machines that fulfil a functional slot in the panoply of bicycling cannot be overestimated. this is definitely a factor that is being constantly overlooked by the formula 1 bicycle constructors' association.
but is a handmade bicycle better than an off-the-shelf model from the big players on the carbon front? if i gave an opinion, it would be just that, an opinion, because i don't build frames. but the aforementioned mr sachs does; and i quote "as far as i am concerned, the market spoke, and in this era, industrial made is more than good enough. prices are decent. bicycles are attractive and in good supply. racers win on them. makers and local bike shop cats earn a living. i hate to keep saying it, but the framebuilding gig is, for the most part, not unlike a dead language. it works for a core group, but the need for it to grow larger really hasn't been there for a long time. atmo the thinning out process has already begun. eyes wide open atmo."
having visited only the cycle show in earls court, but having observed reports and photographs from the others of last autumn/fall, i'm not sure i'd totally agree with richard, but i do see his point. however, perusing photographs from this year's nahbs presents a whole different scenario to that of eurobike, interbike, milan and earls court, where there was nothing but shiny carbon for miles in any direction. while each may be a dream to ride and own, there is a certain uniformity that can only be expected if the finite element analysis and wind tunnel tests are functioning correctly; the end results should all be pretty much the same. and it's beginning to look that way.
guys like richard, ira ryan, chris king, tony pereira et al, do not use wind tunnels (unless the front door is left open) and analysis is likely contained to closely examining the brazing or welding. thus varying degrees of individuality creep in at the bottom rung. this, to me, is a good thing, and i only hope the handbuilt movement does increase, because it may then begin to have influence on the larger corporate manufacturers, rather than being, at best, an irritation, as could be seen to be the case at present.
many hands make...
posted saturday 27 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i've had the pleasure of the cielo's company for over two months now, and on day one of the north american handbuilt show in richmond, virginia at which both chris king components and cielo are exhibiting, it seemed timely to present the story so far. steel has recently been experiencing a resurgence in contemporary cycling, and portland has played its part in this state of affairs, but there may still be a minority of riders who would make this material their first choice. could this be somewhat of an oversight?
the cielo will be here for a while, and this is the first, and probably longest article you're likely to get from me. but a long-term test is somewhat meaningless if i don't set a baseline and proceed from there, updating as time rolls on by. if you're in the fortunate position of attending nahbs, please take the time to visit the cielo and king stands and check out the worthy components and frames.
posted friday 26 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
'enjoy the suffering - pain is only weakness leaving the body.'
there's a danger here of blurring the lines between modes of cycling, something i'm quite pleased about to an extent, but trying not to make a habit of. only today did i receive an e-mail from a colleague asking whether my recent reviews of touring books suggested that the post might be venturing into touring country. and that i might be trying to lead up to the purchase of a touring bike. just to knock that one on the head, it's been quite a number of years since i toured anywhere, and at this stage of my life, i have no intention of revisiting the genre.
i can but sit and marvel at the journeys some folks are eager and willing to undertake; i'm too much of a home bod to take myself much further than to visit the mighty dave t in port wemyss by bike. someone who has no such qualms about dropping everything for a few thousand kilometres on a road bike or, latterly, a mountain bike, is the intrepid paul howard. paul's first noted ride of more than a trip to the shops, was riding high, during which he shadowed the 2003 tour de france route, albeit several hours ahead of the tour itself. i did give him a bit of a hard time over that book, for while i read very positive reviews on amazon, i didn't find it as enjoyable a read as it probably was to ride.
however, only a few years later, he redeemed himself masterfully with the eccentrically titled sex, lies and handlebar tape, a biography of jacques anquetil. and as with many sections of modern life, he just continues to get better with age, entitling his latest book two wheels on my wagon. this time the subject matter is the undertaking of the tour divide, a 2,700 mile off-road ride down the spine of the rocky mountains from banff in canada to the mexican border.
i'm sure that there are many well-versed mountain bikers who would blanche at the thought of riding such a distance through bear country, at altitudes of up to 12,000 feet and through weather conditions that have a tendency to vary from one extreme to the other, often in the same day. in addition, self-sufficiency was the rule of the game; no outside assistance. paul, at the time of cogitating about entering such exquisite purgatory, didn't even own a mountain bike. certainly, there was no entry fee, but consequently there was no prize money either; he'd be doing it for fun. still, a few exploratory rides around sussex would be just the preparation required, don't you think?
'i had ridden 60 miles. more than 2,700 still remained.'
fun is the watchword for the whole book; there can be no doubting that paul howard not only has a heightened sense of it, but a finely developed sense of humour. so while we must be eternally grateful that paul took both fun and humour with him, the pre-ride preparations concentrated on just how much luggage should be carried on such a trip; whether to sleep light in bivvy-bags, or carry a lightweight tent. paul opted for the latter, but some of his 42 co-competitors (can you describe competitors in that way?) took the former, some based on not very much at all.
paul's greatest worry, however, was not the size or amount of luggage and provisions required for the next 2,700 miles, but that of grizzly bears, something that, not unnaturally would focus the attention of most of us living in a mostly bear free environment. comfortingly (or otherwise), an average of only three bear related deaths per year in a population of more than 300 million put his fears in perspective.
'they're prescription sunglasses. i'd like to see the bear that's about to eat me.'
my initial review copy arrived minus the maps preceding each chapter; the page simply stated 'map of canada', 'map of montana' etc. and i had expected something akin to an ordnance survey map detailing topography, route and other geographical features. upon finally receiving a copy with the maps in their appropriate places, the humour was well and truly sealed, something you may share with me by taking a look at the map accompanying this article. brilliantly conceived.
the tone of the book can likely be garnered from not only the book's title, but a quick glance at the chapter headings: a series of unfortunate events; the bear necessities; where the wild things are; breakfast with dolly parton; a river runs through it. i'm sure you get the idea. in e-mail correspondence with the author, he said "i hoped it might transcend the mtb genre (if such a genre exists). an adventure that happens to be on a bike was what I was hoping for." in which case, he got everything he wished. aware throughout two wheels on my wagon that the journey was by bicycle, the fact that it was an off-road bicycle is more implied than described. if you cut me in half, it says paris-roubaix all the way through in pink lettering, and i'd defy even fausto coppi not to enjoy every chapter. an adventure it most certainly is, and so well written and paced, that paul howard wasn't the only one experiencing every one of those nearly 3,000 miles.
'I arrived on the fringes of eureka. scarcely had a town been more appropriately named.'
two wheels on my wagon is a triumph of adventure writing by an author who happens to be on a bike. a truly formidable mixture of observation, humour and naivety that will keep you reading until you've finished the last page.
would i lie to you?
two wheels on my wagon by paul howard is published by mainstream publishing on april 1st at a price of £10.99
photo credit: stephen huddle
posted thursday 25 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
france is where a lot of us would like to be, particularly right now as the snow covers the field behind washingmachinepost cottage. the notion of riding up endless hills and the subsequent rush of gravity when down the other side. we've all watched every july, admired the scenery and figured 'if only i was ten (twenty?) years younger with a professional contract and a following team car'. unfortunately the reality is that none of us are ever going to see france in quite that way, though when you read any interviews with a formula one cyclist, it turns out that they don't actually see very much of france either. in which case, perhasp a slower, more methodical and vista filled traipse around the country might be a more practical, if sedate idea.
toiling southwards from clermont ferrand all the way to montpellier and the mediterranean, the massif central is a 700km trail much favoured by, and seemingly identified as, a mountain bike route. this is the principal edict of author alan castle, and heretofore refered to as the gtmc: the grand traverse of the massif central. you would be well within your rights to question why such a book is being reviewed on a website which has dedicated itself to the rigours of the road, leaving the muddy stuff to those on farm gates with bouncy bits, or the cross guys come winter. however, one should never judge a book by its cover; despite panniered mountain bikes on the cover, 'a traverse of the massif central, roughly following the line of the gtmc can also be made by road cyclists'. this visits all the same points as the mountain bike route, but sticks to the roads. as alan castle points out, the route is of the mix and match variety, thus if you're feeling particularly rapha continental, you can take the road bike on some of the unsurfaced sections, or if fed up being bounced around in the saddle, the mountain bike can nip onto some tarmac. i won't tell.
cicerone guides have an excellent reputation for being over-stuffed with detail, and on the basis of it's better to have and not need, rather than the converse, it becomes more a case of how it is possible to squeeze so much into such a small book. gratifyingly, it's size would not preclude popping a copy into a bar bag for the length of the trip.
700 - 800km is not the sort of distance to be knocked off before a hearty breakfast; completion of the entire route, as described by mr castle, would take a few days: between eight and twelve apparently. therefore the breaking down of the traverse into manageable chunks seems like one of the volume's best traits. this way it is possible to undertake portions rather than the whole enchilada, should time or family commitments over-rule. the book is copiously well ilustrated, both with photographs and maps, and each section is augmented with a road bike alternative clearly marked, along with road-specific maps at the back of the book.
if, like me, the author is unknown to you, it would be a lot easier to list where he hasn't ridden or walked than to tell you where he has. this is in particular evidence when it comes to describing accommodation, including camping, appropriate type of bicycle, luggage and many of the other bits and bobs that you and i would likely think of midway along the route, miles from home. each section of riding is well described and observed, though it must be said that it's unlikely to replace your more regular bedtime reading; this is purely a functional collection of pages.
that said, if french wanderlust ever takes hold, other than those you ride, we do everything else randonnees, if i am going self-sufficiently, this is the book for me. it would undoubtedly be worth all the effort to coast into montpellier and onto sete on the mediterranean coast. a very nice thought after squishing through the slush on the way home tonight.
posted wednesday 24 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
what happens to your lap when you stand up? an excellent example, if ever there was one, of how our human pigeon-holing of events and facts can be undermined by a single, simple act such as standing up. it's a perennial subject of philosophical thinking, seeking to undermine the dogmatic approach we have to the world around us, and nowhere is such dogma on constant display than within the world of politics. i'd like to say that in general, i don't do politics, but considering the influence it has on so many aspects of everyone's life, that's a bit like saying i don't breathe'; it's pretty much unavoidable.
but while philosophers and others of a philosophical bent wrestle with such seemingly trivial, yet ultimately important questions about the human state, some have cut to the nub of the problem without any faff or gift-wrapping. the politician again. only today, fairfax county supervisor (virginia usa), john cook, stated "i dont believe a bicycle is a transportational device". if you're as sensitive as i, then it's not just the claim that bicycle cannot be considered a viable means of getting from a to b, but the use of the derogatory epithet device. have any of you ever said "i'm just taking the device out of the bike shed" or "help, police! someone has just made off with my device"? this supervisor fellow is unlikely to be on many of our christmas card lists.
but surely the statement that the bicycle cannot be considered as a 'transportational vehicle' rather flies in the face of logic? is mr cook in possession of information that has been withheld from the rest of us across the centuries? his qualification of this seemingly bald and contradictory statement continued, "i think it's a recreation device. the big problem is people don't want to ride their bike in the rain or get sweaty before work." he really doesn't give up on the device bit, does he?
if we assume that supervisor cook's disdain for the bicycle stretches as far as not being one of the faithful himself, i would hope that he had conducted some research into the veracity of his second statement., i'm not sure that, given the option, most of wouldn't prefer to ride in dry weather rather than in rain, but ultimately, it's only water, and in most cases unlikely to do any lasting harm. and for those of us consumed by the style council, rain gives the ideal opportunity to wear an agglomeration of that designer rainwear eagerly waiting to get out of the wardrobe. as to arriving in a sweaty condition prior to work, we'd probably all agree with this, at least in principal. but we live in hope of having employers with our best interests at heart, with an appreciation of the benefits to the environment gained by having their employees cycle to work rather than drive. ok, it's a long shot, but come the revolution...
ironically, the statements were made at a transportation meeting, clashing with the county's plan to add new bike trails and improve bike accessibility to downtown areas, part of the transit extension to washington's dulles airport. one of mr cook's colleagues apparently stated "people don't cycle now; not because they don't want to, but because they can't. it's not safe."
there are probably quite a number of us who do not use our bicycles for transport, bringing them out only at weekends to partake of the weekend ride, or one of the many sportives that are being pressed in our faces these days, but i'm sure that the several thousand pounds worth of carbon fibre, lovingly polished after each and every ride (isn't it?) is much more to you all than that of a device.
the worrying aspect of this is that while you and i are vigorously shaking our heads in disbelief, and the ctc are redesigning the cover of their next members' magazine even as we speak, there will be dyed in the wool motorists and more than just one or two politicians on both sides of the pond, wondering how they can make greater capital out of mr cook's outburst. it's supposed to be a free world, or at least part of it is, and thus people such as mr cook are allowed to make such statements under the right to freedom of speech. unfortunately, his elected position may give him the clout to make decisions about the transportational choices of his constituents, who also supposedly have the right to freedom of choice.
thankfully someone had the prescience to put the remarks in context: "most people don't want to drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but for some reason they still do". whether or not your bicycle is for transport or merely for recreation is entirely up to you; it depends on your transportational circumstances, but it ill behoves anyone, politician or otherwise to seek to undermine the choice of a growing minority, particularly in these supposedly ecologically aware times.
and sure as heck my colnagos and cielo are not devices.
principal story material from nbcwashington.com
posted tuesday 23 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
and what have the romans ever given us in return?
oh, yes. yeah, they did give us that.
yes, reg the sanitation. remember what the city used to be like?
ok, i grant you, the aqueduct and sanitation are two things the romans have given us.
and the roads.
well yes, obviously the roads, i mean, the roads go without saying, don't they?
but apart from the aqueduct, sanitation and the roads, what have the romans ever given us?
in the early days of the racing bicycle as we have come to know it, builders sought for many and any ways to differentiate their own offerings from those of the competition. with an increasing market, certainly in the uk, and doubtless in mainland europe after the war, the fact that bicycle frames had to be lugged and hand-brazed, meant that there was room for quite a number of individuals to ply their trade. many of the well-kent names are now just that; names, having been bought over by the bigger boys, produced in the same factory as myriad others, and identified only by the decals on the down tube. carlton, dawes, claud butler, flying scot, to name but a few. but one of the principal identifiers, apart from overly ornate lugwork, was the appearance of a head-tube badge.
the complainers amongst you will be pushing your hands in the air, keen to point out that the carbon fibre in the bikeshed also has a head tube-badge, a lovely colourful one that sits under the clearcoat. but that's not a badge, that's a sticker, and it all but offends the senses that, as the price of a new bike or frame starts to hit the lower reaches of an investment banker's annual bonus, we are fobbed off with a sticker. the least we are due is a proper head-tube badge, made of metal, and either die-cast, cnc machined or even hand filed from a chunk of the parent metal. the current resurgence of steel as a practical material for some beautiful contemporary bicycles, has had a positive effect on the craft of the head-tube badge, even down to the ethnic methods of fastening (two screws in the case of the cielo).
all can verbalise as much as they wish about the use of nano technology and multi-directional carbon layup, but mostly they only offer us a sticker, something that the romans (a euphemism for italian builders) seem to have adopted wholesale. even the colnago master sitting in thewashingmachinepost bike shed has but a sticker, albeit of colourful hue, rather than a more fitting metal badge. where is the point of hand-brazing lugs to the columbus profiled steel, having them individually chromed, and bunging a sticker on the front? and while i am sure those involved in the scientific art of carbon fibre construction could provide data readout upon finite element analysis to show how affixing just such an item would play havoc with the torsional rigidity of that particular frame component, if adhesive and bonding technology has advanced to the point where such frames can resist the twisting motions imparted by pettachi, zabel, cavendish et al, it is outwith the bounds of reality that a dab behind a metal badge couldn't permanently stick it to shiny carbon.
i'm not a great one for campaigning, generally on the principal that nobody listens to me anyway, but aside from a return to handbuilt, and numerately spoked wheels coupled to a steel frame, might i make a request of the world's framebuilders (except the ones who are already thinking straight) that you throw away the stickers and give us some finely crafted metal in its place. standards must either be upheld.
or at the very least, revived.
'but apart from the aqueduct, sanitation, the roads, public health, medicine, education and wine, what have the romans ever done for us?'
opening and closing dialogue plagiarised from monty python's life of brian
posted monday 22 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................