i inadvertantly trained today

combine harvester

i have no reason other than maintaining fitness to have any thoughts of training. there are no competitive events on my horizon, and rapha/condor/sharp team kit notwithstanding, there's precious little chance of pinning a number on any of its back pockets. at least not one that's ever going to be read by a finish line marshal. when articles relating to the various (who am i kidding, there's thousands) methods of increasing one's vo2max, fast twitch fibres, chris hoy thighs, heart rate and power output are rolled in front of my rudy project shaded eyes, i can look without the need to touch. it's a smug position to be in, though i am sad at the thought that i'll never look like malcolm elliot, or possess half his speed.

but there are circumstances that arise in the day to day, or at least the part of the day that involves bicycles (quite a large part, if truth be known) where circumstances and factors impinge on the somnolence that passes as normality. these are, i freely admit, entirely self-created and i am attempting to rise to the challenge with fire, spirit, and enough stamina to make it home again. you see, review bicycles require to be ridden in order to be reviewed, and each bicycle places differing demands on the system, most of which are to be embraced with joy and predominantly fatigue, the latter often brought on by a case of enjoying myself just a bit too much.

i know not whether these are emotions experienced by those who do this for a living. you will perhaps have viewed those massive group tests often undertaken by at least one of the monthlies, where the photo introducing several pages of facts and figures shows enough blokes for a uci continental team, surrounded by a veritable bike shop of new cycles eagerly awaiting their fate. in this way, i feel a bit of a fraud, that any day now i'll receive an e-mail from the publishing ombudsman, informing that my aptitude for riding bicycles and subsequently writing about the experience has been found seriously wanting, and would i please desist immediately, and stick to reviewing books. this latter feature of the post is the one aspect in which i feel confident.


bearing this in mind, i have made overtures to perhaps over compensate for my perceived deficiencies. road bicycles with bendy bars and skinny tyres are, more often than not, intended for speedy riding, far speedier than i am often able to attain. if you hark back to my colnago c59 review, i seriously did feel that i would need to train to keep up. having watched thomas voeckler throw his colnago from pillar to post en route to a tdf stage victory, i was acutely aware that tommy was far better qualified to tease out every last watt concealed within the italian carbon. thus, there was now a standard at which to aim.

now fear not, i am not the deluded soul i appear to be, for it is all too apparent that no amount of serious training is ever going to get me close to a contract with bbox deluxe. but i take my duties seriously with a smile upon my face, and i have need to give these bicycles a hard time. this for no other reason other than many a fine frame pays back at least as much, if not more, than the rider puts in.

this makes it look as if the training referred to in the heading was not in the least inadvertant, but on the contrary, at least just a shade pre-meditated. however, everything has a time and a place, matched with conscious effort, so far as i know; today wasn't actually meant to be either. the day to day consists of incessant, but often highly pleasurable computer work; i like to think of photoshop and desktop publishing in that way. while many of the local worthies are continuously attesting to the commonly held notion that we have barely had a summer, i hold a contrary point of view, given that my cycling excursions have rarely been interrupted by the need to don a stowaway, and mudguards have often seemed superfluous. this week has undermined the worthies' point of view even more, culminating in a thursday which dawned with a few wisps of cloud which soon boiled off, revealing a day-long cloudless sky with temperatures to match.

molteni colnago and molteni cap

in the (sun)light of this, leaving the imac in the shade for the afternoon tugged at very few heartstrings, and i popped out on the current review model from cambiago, shod with a spectacularly fine pair of mavic wheels and tyres. taking into account the weather conditions, testing/reviewing can be seen as an excuse rather than a reason; speed was not specifically on the menu. but i am a great believer in taking my lead from the bicycle, and if it needs to get about quickly, who am i to deny or disagree?

it's a racy, and often thoroughly exhausting way to get about; screaming thighs, heavy breathing, throwing the bicycle side to side with abandon, and a distinct tendency to remain in the outer ring. what does that remind you of?

exactly; training.

it was only after removing helmet and gloves at the bruichladdich hostelry, when inferring that a soya cappuccino would do nicely thanks, that i realised i had accidentally trained. i'm not normally one to be racked with guilt over inadvertant energy expenditure, but i will confess that as the milky froth provided a moustache, i felt distinctly sheepish.

i promise it won't happen again.


posted thursday 2 september 2010

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van nicholas amazon rohloff

rohloff hub gear

with the european operation based in holland, van nicholas bikes make greater use of titanium as a frame material than possibly any other manufacturer in the world. once thought of as the pinnacle in bicycle engineering, titanium seems to have succumbed like every other material, to the steamroller that is carbon fibre. yet there are those who swear by ti due to its unique ride characteristics, and its complete immunity to corrosion. this latter feature allows van nicholas to supply frames free from decoration other than the obligatory decals and occasional laser etching.

we may soon see similar use of carbon, but while once titanium was the material of choice for those litespeed blade time trial bikes, cunningly but poorly disguised under the aegis of other manufacturers, the van nicholas amazon fulfils a far more sedate purpose in life; that of an accomplished tourer or sophisticated commuting machine. while the frame is built with vertical dropouts and a derailleur tab, this particular version gets about using a rohloff 14 speed hub gear and flat bars. it's a sideways step from the nose on the handlebar stem type of riding oft celebrated in these pixels.

was it good for me?

read the review here.


posted wednesday 1 september 2010

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the legacy of john boultbee brooks part three

brooks colt saddle

one of these days this will become a television serial in similar style to that of the darling buds of may, though probably without the over-saturated colour, and maybe just a hint of sepia. in much the same way that tullio campagnolo is heralded and celebrated for his invention of what we now recognise as the quick release skewer, the leather saddle, still manufactured in much the same way as it always was, owes its prowess and fame to that of john boultbee brooks.

brooks established his horse harness and general leather goods business in birmingham in 1866, having departed home in hinckley, leicestershire the previous year with a mere £20 in his back pocket. granted, the sum of £20 would likely be the equivalent of a merchant banker's annual bonus nowadays, but the amount lends general character to brooks' tenacity and individuality. twelve years later, the infortunate gentleman, whose business cannot have been quite as successful as was hoped, had the upset of having his horse die. i estimate the misfortitude of his business from the fact that jb was unable to afford a new one (surely a necessity for someone in the business of retailing horse harnesses), and had thus borrowed a bicycle in order to commute to work.

in a situation with which we can likely all identify, he found the saddle on this loaner to be less accommodating of his backside that he had either hoped or anticipated, and having the skills and wherewithal to do something about it, he did. in october 1882, he filed his first bicycle saddle patent.

brooks colt saddle

now there are those amongst us, and i count myself one of them, who must surely be thinking just how uncomfortable that loaned bicycle saddle must have been, considering the reputation a brand new, unbroken brooks saddle has for inflicting pain and suffering on unsuspecting butt cheeks. this is not altogether justified or unjustified; the company colnago has a brooks swallow saddle atop its carbon seatpost, and while its final, ridden state makes it less a thing of beaty than was the case when extricating it from the handsme box, it has never given a single day's cause for complaint, even on lengthier rides.

conversely, and as detailed in parts one and two of the legacy of john boultbee brooks, a honey coloured brooks team pro with copper rails, affixed to the cielo, gave several weeks' worth of doubt as to whether it had been an apposite choice. fortunately, my faith and tenacity remained firm, along with my backside, and the brooks was beaten into submission, now providing oodles of satisfying comfort at every available opportunity.

however, it is the satisfying knowledge that brooks saddles are still produced using age-old and distinctly industrial looking machines in downing street, smethwick in the west midlands, predominantly by skillful hand. couple this with their fabulous aesthetic (at least from my point of view) and i really care not one jot for their absence of carbon or acknowledged weight penalty. this is not to dismiss the current crop of modern saddles, even those made by brooks' italian owners, for i have found many of those more than satisfactory too, but one owns a brooks saddle, as opposed to simply sitting on anything else.

brooks colt saddle

therefore, when considering the latest washingmachinepost colnago, the oft mentioned molteni master, and whether it would be retro, modern or a combination of the two, the only specific that was never in doubt from the start was that it would own a brooks saddle. with such a wide range to choose from, the hard part was deciding which one, partially solved by the re-release of a blast from the relatively recent past; the brooks colt. this is a saddle that suffered from the almost wholesale switch from road bikes to mountain bikes in the 1980s, and one which seems to have disappeared from view around the time that brooks became part of italy. while i should never be one to point out omissions from anyone else's website, it does seem strange that the colt cannot be found on the brooks website even as i write this review.

however, at the point of acquisition, i had heard or read that this was reputed to be possibly the most comfortable of all. considering the reputation inferred above, this augured well, and indeed has turned out to be the case. for those not acquainted with brooks saddles of any shape or form, the saddles' inherent stiffness is something that makes itself immediately known. unilke one or two of the modern variety, it takes only a single ride to discover whether you are in for a hard-ride over the next few weeks/months or not. i will admit that, as of the present, i have covered less than 300km on the new machine, but can aver with confidence that the colt is the most comfortable of the range yet tried.

brooks colt saddle

the saddle also counts as perhaps the most adventurous of smethwick's output so far, at least in the colour and script departments. the one that graces the campagnolo seatpost on my colnago answers to the description mustard, and features the name colt embossed in gold on each side of the saddles' nose. it can also be had in black or violet, with the promise of pink and, i believe, green in the autumn. as has been the case with my other brooks saddles, and the very nature of the word legacy, i will be providing an update on its efficacy in the foreseeable future, but on present impressions, comfort will be my joy.

the brooks colt saddle is available at a cost of £125 from brooks dealers. perhaps brooks will update their website soon, detailing the colour range available.

brooks saddles


posted tuesday 31 august 2010

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velodramatic - the metamorphosis

michael and juli

i've been writing this stuff since around the mid-nineties, long before anyone had invented conjunction of the words web and log, and its subsequent shortening to blog. there was a time when it came as somewhat of a surprise to discover that other folks were scribbling about the same subject matter, but in their own delightful way(s). likely many of us were blissfully unaware that cycling was so popular, literate and worldwide.

i'd be guilty of fabrication if i thought i could remember exactly how i came across michael robertson's velodramatic, but i think it might have had something to do with a request to assist in the hiring of a suitable bicycle for a visit to the isle of skye, a larger island a bit further up the scottish west coast. ever since then, we have kept in touch through the magic of e-mail, having not only blogging in common, but cycling, photography and a sense of humour too. michael is somewhat infamous for his thirty days of rapha series for a few years back and there was a concerted, but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to create a mexican wave of rapha reviews across the atlantic with last year's autumn/winter range .

on my visit to portland last year, michael took the trouble to fly up from san jose for the day, hired a car, and chauffeured me about while we got lost in portland. a thoroughly decent bloke.

however, unlike me, michael can not only write, but takes more than just a decent photograph, an aspect of velodramatic that has been on the increase over the past couple of years. while i have a tendency to stick to a standard 350 pixels because photos on the post are mostly by way of illustration, photography has come to dwarf the text on velodramatic, a move that has gained considerable approval from all concerned. this propensity for classy photos (i have two examples framed and hanging in washingmachinepost cottage) took him this summer to the tour de france, if a couple of days ahead of bertie and andy, to photograph a team of dutchmen riding the route to raise money for charity. it was michael's job to document the affair.

rapha continental

michael had gained the necessary experience for such a lengthy travail having photographed the specialized cycle trip to eurobike last year, a trip which resulted in the first self-published velodramatic book. in fact, if you were eagle-eyed, you may have seen fit to peruse the copy of velodramatic's 2009 photography annual that was resident in the london rapha cycle club. the tour de france trip made michael's mind up to cast aside the daily grind and enter the family business himself: as a professional photographer. in this day and age of everyone owning a digital camera, that's a gutsy choice to make.

so i took the opportunity to enquire 'whether velodramatic'...

horrible question to ask straight off the bat, but in view of your new career move, is velodramatic the most appropriate vehicle for your photography?

It could be limiting. My photographic interests certainly extend beyond cycling for creative and monetary reasons. Potential clients might draw the wrong conclusion and assume I shoot cycling exclusively. On the other hand the cycling industry in all its facets consumes an enormous volume of creative every day. There's room for specialization, and there are many other considerations that go into being a professional and running a successful business.

will your morphing to a pro photographer alter the public face of velodramatic?

I think the look and feel of the site will evolve over time. Right now I lead with the blog and link to a portfolio in the primary navigation. At some point I could see those roles reversed. Over the last year there's been a slow transition in VeloDramatic content to include more photography-related material. Given how many of my current readers seem to be avid cyclists AND photographers the overlap may not be as schizophrenic as it appears. specialized interbike ride 2009

although you have been fairly sporadic with posting lately (with good reason), will you still post articles of interest on velodramatic in the manner of the past few years? in other words, will we still recognise velodramatic in the manner we havae come to know and love?

I really want to continue with the first-person experience of a committed road enthusiast and that means ride reports, and product reviews/opinions. I know we both enjoy having a degree of early access to industry ideas and products, and each of us have met an incredible group of people (online and in person) through our blogs. I don't want that to stop. It's also an important way to stay in touch with the audience that my new clients are trying to reach. In terms of posting frequency I hope to improve on "sporadic" but I'm never going threaten your prolific publishing record... as I've said before your wife is a saint and you must employ elves in that shed of yours.

will you be working as michael robertson, or masquerading as velodramatic?

I have many aliases (and matching passports). I don't know... my photo credit these days is "Robertson/VeloDramatic" and over the years I've always answered my work phone as "Robertson". I stole that directly from my dad who gruffly answered his phone that way in the newsroom. He had no time for first names, I loved that.

any notions to incorporate a bit of writing in the career move?

phil woods hub

Yes, I'd like to do some writing, perhaps wordsmithing a photo essay or an editorial feature if those assignments arise. I've done my share of ad copy and headline writing for design clients over the years, it's an integral part of concept development, and many times more important than the imagery (did I just say that).

in a world where seemingly everyone is a photographer, how much of an uphill climb do you expect this to be?

It's always a challenge to get your first opportunity with a client, but I've never had a problem getting work and keeping clients. My issue was trying to balance work and personal life. Hell, I couldn't spell the word balance until I hit 40. I built a thriving ten-person studio in Toronto in my thirties but derailed several promising relationships in the process. I'm very fortunate to have a supportive wife in Juli and won't be jeopardizing that this time around. (I had to say that, she's listening)

I mentioned that there's much more to offering a successful service than creativity alone. You don't miss deadlines, you don't show up late, you sweat the details and you make it clear to the client in everything you do that you're both on an ethical two-way street. They pay their bills on time, you don't work for free, you don't criticize other people's work (because you never know the real circumstances in which it was created) etc.

is the intention to keep the bicycle as the central theme?

Until Sports Illustrated asks me to shoot a swimsuit issue, but I'd still continue to use bicycles as props, and bring you on as an assistant.

will you be all digital, or is there room for some film?

rapha continental

I'm not a tube amp guy, but there may still be some aesthetic magic in the analog world; it's just not for me. I was happy to leave film behind because of its limitations. The chemistry, the cost and having to rely on others (if you don't process your own stuff) made the transition to digital easy for me. I love being able to experiment on a job with the benefit of a safety net digital affords. Having said that I'm annoyed when shooters chimp after every shot.

The biggest challenge to shooting digital is workflow. The tools (lightroom for me) are getting better, but with file sizes perpetually climbing it's tough to keep ahead of the curve. I want to take pictures not moonlight as an IT professional.

is this one of those situations that, with the benefit of hindsight, you've always been heading towards?

I think so. As I wrote recently photojournalism is my family's business. I'm following in the footsteps of two photo editors and a staff photographer... I just chose to take a twenty year detour into design.

are you able to let slip any of the projects you have lined up?

I'm shooting Specialized's Ride to Vegas again this year. Thirty employees, friends, media and dealers cover the 650 miles from Morgan Hill, CA to Las Vegas in six days, arriving just as the interbike show starts. The route is a little different this year and I'll be producing another self-published book for the participants. Last year's was well received.

Long range I want to reprise this year's Kika experience following the TdF with the Cycling Dutchman touring company. We learned too much not to put it to use again and perhaps we'll take a shot at the other grand tours down the road.

specialized interbike ride 2009

do you think this will alter the way in which michael robertson is viewed, or approached by those you have worked with in the past?

I might have trouble getting a car loan in the next six months, but those that know me best will have seen this coming. I've been on the fence for about a year, and it's very difficult to encourage new business when you're trying to respect the boundaries of an existing full-time job. Now I have the time to devote myself exclusively to VeloDramatic and to use my full complement of design skills to present the work online and in print. I'm particularly thrilled about self-published books.

will there be a 'thirty days of canon lenses' feature?

Canon doesn't have thirty lenses I'd want to own or carry around. They just announced new versions of the 300 mm and 400 mm telephotos which might have some attraction for me, but what I really want (and have even spoofed before) is a very fast 85mm with responsive AF and image stabilization. This would be a killer lens for cycling.

earlier this year, you experimented with the video features incorporated into recent dslr cameras. is this something you would like to explore further?

daniel and slate

Not sure Brian. It may be that we all end up shooting continuously but sampling our stills in the end. I know two things. Making films is very different from shooting stills and clients increasingly imagine us being able to do both. When I shot video and stills during last year's Ride to Vegas, it was extremely difficult to switch between the two. Better HDSLR technology can help, but technology can't provide compelling narrative. Having just watched Ben Ingham's D'acciaio, there's no doubt some photographers are up to the challenge. It was my favorite of the three Rapha films.

are you intending to rely on commissions, or is there a possibility you might look to self-generated work to keep the tab in the healthy state to which it has become accustomed?

A mix of the two would be ideal. There's plenty of opportunity to create and market your own products these days and I intend to get both revenue streams up and running soon. Given my developer connections in the valley there might even be a workflow software project out there if Adobe doesn't pick up the pace. Stay tuned.

can you see a situation where moving and still photography merge into a seamless single entity?

As I said, it will be possible soon to extract hi-quality stills from video. I believe that is the design objective for Red's pending Epic and Scarlet projects. From a still's perspective it will be a workflow/editing nightmare choosing which of 24 frames per second (as a frame rate example) worked best as a still. And yet, it's coming, so there's no point in doing anything but trying to get ready.

will you take care of all your own post-production?


Yes, for the foreseeable future. I know many busy photographers hire or associate themselves with digital retouchers. I think that makes perfect sense for studio photographers but less for those of us with a documentary or photojournalistic bent. There's also a formidable set of ethical constraints to the degree images can be post-processed, and no shortage of embarrassing examples in main stream media illustrating the pitfalls of digital manipulation. Publication paranoia on this front actually has some publishers insisting that photographers NOT crop their images. While I can appreciate this concern in a pure news context, it's one of many reasons why photographers need to keep tight control of the final product going out to the client. And for the record, I do my own shaving and will crop my non-news images as I see fit.

is this new independence engendering comfortable feelings?

I'm happy about the decision and this is familiar territory. Being an employee of a large company going nowhere is a lot more stressful.

how much should we ask for when google offer to buy out the two of us?

Seven figures minimum. I know a few people at Google and can probably get us a meeting. With your words and my pictures we can't miss.

when are you coming over to islay?

The next time I get over to see my uncle in Glasgow, I'm on the ferry headed for a ride with you and a cuppa at Debs.



posted monday 30 august 2010

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can a blue man sing the whites?

more than one bicycle

during the loneliness of the long-distance (or short-distance, come to that) cyclist, there is a veritable plethora of moments for contemplative reverie. rarely, round these parts, is there the necessity for the concentration of serious training, and it is thus incumbent on the honed athlete, while listening to the thrum of a well-specced chainset, to occupy those idyllic moments with thoughts of a kind that can only be applied to the act of cycling. subjects such as which of those sheep are going to cross in front of me?; why can't cows clear up the roads after themselves?; didn't that car pass me several kilometres back? and where did that ditch come from?

as a member of the trade and the media (so i am reliably informed by those who designate such apellations), many of these thoughts relate to the words you now read, or associated mental note taking. it will likely surprise you not that i have mentally written entire articles while on the bicycle, only to have the words slip slowly away before these fingers can get to a keyboard. just think what you have been spared.

but midst these often unconnected, and sometimes irrelevant musings, has been one question that has endured for many a year; why on earth would anyone need more than one bicycle? i can feel your pain, particularly if the bike shed resembles a stand at eurobike, but on the rather obvious evidence that one can only ride one bicycle at a time, it's a question that bears further investigation. of course, we can all arrive at a myriad of reasons as to why more than one can be justified, and i am willing to exempt those who participate in more than one form of racing, their tools for the job.

thus, a track bike, cross bike and road bike, assuming one races regularly in each, would seem an acceptable maximum. if knobblies can also be found a space in such a busy lifestyle, then a springy farm gate may just be an addition to the allowance. but excluding competition from the equation, where's the need for a fixed when there's a campagnolo eleven speed in the house? use your initiative; stick it in one gear and just don't freewheel at any point. how simple does it get? and while one would prefer, for reasons of me too-ness to own the ultimate road bicycle with calipers front and rear, given the state of the roads and a touch of realism about just how fast we really travel, there should be no shame in owning a cross bike as one's perennial steed du jour.

more than one bicycle

therefore, taking a collective and reasoned stance on this two wheeled ownership stuff, there can be no justifiable reason to own more than one bicycle at a time. would i lie to you?

i am well aware that this can be viewed as a shooting myself in the foot moment, given that thewashingmachinepost has tested many a beautiful road bicycle, inferring, if not bluntly stating, that if selection is a problem and money isn't, then why not acquire one of each? what on earth are the manufacturers and distributors going to think of my undermining their carefully constructed marketing model? i can't even comment from a dispassionate viewpoint, with currently four bicycles residing in the bike shed (in mitigation, one of these is a review model and, strictly speaking, doesn't count in this instance), i must raise my hand and plead guilty as charged.

however, over this past weekend, i have had cause to revise my singleminded hot-headedness. no, i have not found a simmering desire to compete in any notable way, and nor is one bicycle sick, and another being used during recuperation. the instance of my recalcitration has been that of the weather.

over the years i have (successfully i believe) managed to paint a picture of islay as a domicile of rugged isolation on the edge of a huge and unpredictable ocean, where rain defies gravity and travels in horizontal lines, where even solo cyclists must ride in echelon, and my hairstyle closely resembles that of the man in the maxell tape advert. disappointingly, at least from a how tough am i? point of view, the last eight months have been remarkably temperate; wind has been something encountered after a tin of beans, rain has observed the rules set down by sir isaac newton, and the hair has distanced itself from its similarity to wurzel gummage (i may have lied about that bit). in short, we have become as soft as those from the mainland, and had often to hang our heads in shame.

the weather, not known for its predictability, has apparently hived off its sullen temperament, and returned to wind and rain with a vengeance. and encouragingly, it's not quite the end of august yet. yesterday's ride of lots of kilometres was undertaken on the rather exciting colnago, and judged alone by the aching legs when climbing the stairs at day's end, time spent haring into a perennial headwind, and a good soaking to boot, was all worth it. and while the rain may have temporarily displaced elsewhere, today the wind was even stronger; distinctly not a day for a colnago c59 wearing lightweight carbons (in such cases, i wear my bright yellow mavic zxelliums, that the rescue helicopters will find me first after i ditch in the sea).

more than one bicycle

such a change in the weather, and the circumstances of the sunday ride (young sam drake joined us for a number of kilometres), my experienced eye and need for stability of motion decided that sunday was a day for the cielo. this is not to imply that anything emanating from cambiago is lacking in the uprightness department; far from it, but the colnago frisson was more appropriate to yesterday, while the portland frisson was one that i needed for today. and thus i find myself thankful not only for having two such incredible bicycles from which to choose, but also for realising that some of those solo moments of isolation are just as likely to consist of unjustifiable dogmatic delusion as they are of rational discursion.

i used to be indecisive, but now i'm not so sure.

just on a totally unrelated note, has anyone else noticed that what used to be, the first wave of the online cycle watching revolution, has effectively downgraded itself to that of a 'digital cycling magazine', which is not quite the way it started out? considering the head start they had on almost everyone on the interweb, one of the best pairings of commentator and punditry, and the fact that their website is worse now than it has ever been, what on earth went wrong? mind you, have you ever tried to renew your subscription to the eurosport player? 'nuff said. twmp

posted sunday 29 august 2010

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campagnolo centaur 2011 ergopower levers

2011 campagnolo centaur lever

progress, as an abstract concept, implies a degree of improvement; otherwise it would be regression. as technology improves in tandem with manufacturing techniques, it has become less surprising that the functionality of a great many widgets, components, and indeed bicycles themselves has improved quite substantially. it is debatable as to whether this progress is driven by constant research and development in order to benefit the end user (you and me), or whether this is mere coincidence; it is undoubtedly possible that it is all driven by rank consumerism. no amount of advertising and team sponsorship will convince even the most eager of us to replace stuff that's in perfect working order, if the replacement is essentially the same, but newer.

there's likely a bit of both involved, and viewed as an isolated whole, the constant improvement, even that of the inveterate tinkering of shimano, can be regarded as a good thing. i think there are few of us who would cheerfully revert to downtube gear levers, other than as part and parcel of a retro refurb project. shifting the gearchanging from down to up can only be credited to shimano, with a me too follow up by campagnolo, who presented one lever for each function, rather than shimano's combined braking and upshifting. at the point on the timeline under discussion, sram were still a myriad of separate companies, but on arrival, looked in a different direction than the (big) two.

however, while shimano are the only ones to have released a commercial version of their electronic changing, campagnolo made do with slapping another sprocket on the back, a la spinal tap. thankfully, as a favour to those who, out of choice or necessity, prefer to remain with a ten speed block, campagnolo have kept their mid-range centaur groupset well away from the eleven speed compulsion of chorus, record, and super record. while i can see the manufacturing difficulties of so doing, it's rather a shame that those of us with freehubs that will only accept ten sprockets are prevented from attaching the unabashed ostentation of a full carbon super record rear mech.

2011 campagnolo centaur lever

at this point i should perhaps qualify the above.

not that i've measured, but i am reliably informed that a campagnolo freehub, with its commendably ravine like splines, is an important number of millimetres longer than that of shimano or sram. thus, according to both american classic and marchisio, there is no chance whatsoever that they will be able to offer an eleven speed compatible cassette that fits a non-campagnolo hub. as the owner of two pairs of chris king wheelsets, along with a few examples from mavic, i have no intention of scrapping them from my future cycling proclivities, so ten it has to be. so why can't i just buy a campagnolo super record gear mech and stop it down to run over one less sprocket?

these things cost one heck of a lot of money (£300 for the 2010 item); according to my current investigations, the official word is that the eleven speed gear mechs will not work correctly with ten speed shifters. now this could be b*llsh*t, but at those prices i'm not sure i want to take the chance that the official word is correct. thus the campagnolo aficionados amongst us are having to make a major (and totally unfair, in my opinion) decision at source.

however, life is generally unfair anyway, and i have now strayed so far away from my original premise, that this might as well be a competely independent article with a life of its own. i have digressed.

2011 campagnolo centaur lever

thankfully, a degree of compatibility has been maintained within at least a part of the campagnolo range. the recently completed colnago master x-light changes gear by means of an all aluminium centaur rear mech (because sometime i like it that way) from 2009. to complete the build, i obtained a pair of 2011 centaur carbon ergopower levers which seem to have no problem changing gears with the precision i have come to expect. one brownie point for vicenza. however, now i return to the progress i started rambling on about several paragraphs ago.

shifting up the block by means of those (i was almost going to say little) flip levers just behind the brake blade is almost as straightforward and light as shimano's di2. and to be honest, the downshifting via the (definitely little) buttons on the inner face of the levers, requires no greater effort. however, apparently progress has deemed that a change has been encompassed in this function. campagnolo's advantage, if you like to look at it that way, over shimano has been the ability to downshift over several sprockets in one fell swoop; an excellent advantage when going for the sprint before debbie's. no longer. pressing this now smaller button (compared to my orginal 2003 record carbon levers) allows only one sprocket at a time. oppositionally, the left lever used to allow for trimming, should the chain find itself in close proximity to the inner plates of the front gear mech. again, no longer. pressing the similarly sized button relating to the front mech simply drops the chain from outer to inner; there is no inbetween. what, however, is ergonomic about making the button's smaller?

how is this progress? minus two brownie points for vicenza.

2011 campagnolo centaur lever

on the plus side, although criticism has been levelled at the new ergonomic shape, i found the hand position a distinct improvement. unfortunately, the underlying shape of the lever seems a lot squarer, and less hand friendly, though i'd hesitate to say uncomfortable in any way.

fitting the gear cable is a lot simpler than it used to be; lift the front of the lever hood, espy the conveniently placed hole, and push the cable through. couldn't be simpler. in keeping with those chainring bolts on more than just campagnolo's offerings, the clamp bolts now feature torx heads. i only wish i'd noticed before spending way too long trying to fit a 4mm allen key into the top. by comparison with those elderly record levers there are ups and downs. i do prefer the new hand position and i love the lighter touch, but i don't like or understand why the left lever no longer allows trimming of the front mech. that used to be a badge of honour one could use to trounce any overbearing shimano cognoscenti (by becoming an overbearing campagnolo cognoscenti).

perhaps because of this attempt to short change us in the availability stakes, as well as in the functionality department, this explains the substantial price drop of around £30. that's likely the silver lining. in retrospect, i think the 2010 levers looked a more apposite choice had i not been swayed by the influence of the 2011 label. the carbon certainly looked more convincing.

it's tough at the bleeding edge.



posted saturday 28 august 2010

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songs about buildings and food

ride leader

despite my eventually going to art college, when i were a lad, i planned on becoming an architect. one of my art teachers in the early years of secondary school made plain the dictum that one should consider a career that would complement one's natural talents. since i was, at the time, a dab hand with pencil, paper and occasionally, charcoal, enquiry of my father elicited the response 'why don't you consider architecture?'. it would only dawn on me many years later, that my father's immersion in the construction industry may have prejudiced his advice somewhat, but at the time, that seemed the ideal notion for the future.

of course, my father had endless contacts who were already qualified architects, always willing to lend advice, and in one case, a drawing board, t-square and some set squares. i took to finding books on architecture in the local library, and every spare minute was taken away from landscape and still life, and transferred to plans and elevations. i was truly on course to be one of the finest architects the country had ever seen, and judging by some of the carbuncles i've seen over the years, architecture sorely needs me.

christchurch, spitalfields by leon kossoff

unfortunately, a promising future was ground to a roaring halt midway through my secondary school years, when i was introduced to the subject of technical drawing. though this concerned itself with scale drawings and elevations of technical widgets with no direct reference to buildings, the principle was pretty much the same. and i was utterly rubbish at it. it was a sad moment to discover that i could draw a straighter line freehand than i could with a t-square or ruler. while even the most academically incompetent in the class produced pristine illustrations on similarly pristine white paper, with nary an eraser mark to be seen, my drawings had several rubbed out lines, dirty thumbprints, pencil marks where pencil marks should not be, and worst of all, on one example, a hole in the paper where i'd had to rub out some marks more than just once.

ironically, on reaching art college, it was a surprise to discover that the college grounds were shared with a school of architecture, in which some shared lectures were held. this took us past display cases filled with examples of the work being carried out in this college of building design.

architects can't draw, but one or two of them can cycle.

group ride

during june's festival of architecture in london, many aspects of the capital's buildings, both old and new, were being gratefully appreciated not only as objects in their own right, but in consideration of their surroundings. while there is a wide variety of beautiful buildings all across the capital's winding roads, despite not being a londoner, i don't suppose i'll get too much flak for saying that thematically speaking, they are not entirely adjacent. and we all know by far the best way to get about london to see what we were encouraged to see.

coupling with the ever-present sky rides, the festival of architecture put on a total of 18 bike rides accompanied by a knowledgeable commentator elucidating the finer aspects of each construction. i wasn't there. and probably neither were you. and now we're kicking ourselves that not only had we not realised there was a festival of architecture in the first place, but that we could have participated in a manner becoming to all of us.

thankfully, someone had the foresight to record six of those rides/commentaries (jack thurston of resonance fm, bless him), take photos during each event, and pop them on a website as a series of podcasts, accompanied by downloadable maps. so even from the comfort of my leather armchair, i have been able to peruse the churches of hawksmoor and wren, built in the wake of the great fire of london, with expert and thoroughly enjoyable commentary by the seemingly affable fergus connolly of feilden clegg bradley studios. in between each building is a musical interlude, and it wouldn't be stretching credibility too far to cycle between each location even now, switching the ipod on upon arrival.

michelin bibendum, london

safe in the knowledge that the post's readership occupies the topmost percentile of academia and intellectual pursuit, i know that there will be something amongst the six to appeal: biodiversity in the city; remodelling old housing estates; the linear city; places, spaces and squares; the best of france in london, and the churches adventure as detailed above. podcasts can be listened to on the website (link below) or downloaded via itunes, if you'd rather pop it on the ipod. accompanying maps can be downloaded for each event, and there's a link taking you to a photostream.

director of the festival of architecture, peter murray, explained "the cycle tours are always a very popular aspect, with many of them selling out. we could run some of them twice over, so the podcasts are a great way for people who missed them, to check out the rides. they enable riders to take a self-guided tour around some fascinating london locations, while benefitting from the expertise of our engaging ride commentators."

now if you'll excuse me, i'm off to the bibendum in fulham road.

the painting included above of christchurch, spitalfield is by leon kossoff.

skyride podcasts

festival of architecture skrides

posted friday 27 august 2010

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