bicycles are simple creatures with simple demands; feed them a drop of oil now and again, shove some bars of air pressure into those tyres and they'll carry you uncomplainingly from one end of the earth to the other (moot point, but you do realise this is artistic licence: the world does not actually have ends as such). there are exceptions to this statement of fact, but many of those come from a lack of comprehension on behalf of their owners, rather than from an inherent technical complexity.
in the days before i knew much about the bicycle (who said 'last week'?), having purchased a ten-speed racer, an influx of semi-knowledge led me to start upon the upgrade path that we all know never actually ends. quizzically, and i cannot for the life of me remember why, the first item to go was the shimano front gear mech, being replaced in favour of a shinier sun tour specimen (remember them?). i had a copy of richard's bicycle book on my bedside table, and had thus nothing to fear on the mechanical front. except, i coudn't figure out how on earth this component was supposed to work.
all diagrams and gleaned informationed pointed to the cable exiting the downtube lever (remember those too?), heading down the steel towards the bottom bracket shell, under and back up the seat tube to the clamp on the mech. only the suntour i'd purchased didn't seem to work that way. this turned out to be because it was a top-pull version, something that seemed not to be mentioned in richard's book. surely shome mishtake?
that, however, is how learning behaves when applied to the real world, and though few road bikes suffer from top-pull front gear mechs, in my days of wrenching, as the americans are wont to say, their frequency increased in the era of the mountain bike. and i don't doubt that cyclocross bikes are partial on occasion too.
i cannot claim to have had a free-ride on all things mechanical ever since, though if challenged in public, i will deny everything. in my career as thewashingmachinepost, many items of all shapes, sizes and exotic hue have passed through these black and yellow pixels, not all of which have behaved impeccably, but i don't remember being confounded by many, if any of them.
scottishness is contagious amongst scottish people, and i am pleased that the country's premier cycle clothing purveyor sees fit to send parcels of product for review. i am honoured to fly the flag, particularly in the light of their increasingly successful road team, and a quality of product that shows every indication of following suit. the top of the range endura products now inhabit the equipe nomenclature, having been developed in conjunction with the aforementioned race-team. though there are a few items from the range due to feature here over the next few days, i'm literally starting at the bottom with the equipe neoprene overshoes.
such a simple product should present no problems for the experienced rider/reviewer; unzip at the heel and pull them over the day's road shoes. except that, in this case, there is no zip. in fact, other than two holes in the reinforced sole and a rubber edge hole for the ankle, there seemed to be no way to get the reflective equipe logo'd overshoes onto a pair of shoed feet. of course, the clue is in the name: superstretch thermal overshoes. putting the ankle opening over the toe of the shoe (in this case, a pair of dromarti sportivo leather; more on those later), and simply wrestling with the stretchy neoprene, eventually results in an impressively close-fitting shoe/overshoe interface. it's worth pointing out at this stage that subsequent fittings have been a lot easier than the first, and assisted by a cleverly sited pull-tab on each heel.
like most neoprene overshoes, these are water-resistant but definitely not waterproof. to qualify this, if used in the manner of my initial outing on the cyclocross bike, stepping in muddy puddles is wont to let water in through the cleat slot. however, simply riding in the rain for several hours failed to even allow water through the rubber ankle seam. they are, however, very cosy. it's hard to decide whether the industrial strength stitching down the centre, round the sole openings and the ankle top, as well as joining the neoprene to the reinforced sole is to provide an impressive level of robustness for regular use, or to stop the fitting wrangle separating everything into its component parts. it will be interesting to see how these survive through repeatedly being taken on and off. at this point, build quality is impressive, and i can see why this method of operation was chosen (a very close fit), but i can't help thinking that a rear zip fastening would have been a touch easier.
throwing them in the washingmachine after two days of gathering road grit and agricultural output made them bright, sparkly and just like new. a quizzical, perhaps confusing addition to endura's equipe range, but a very welcome one at this time of year. endura have visibly raised their standards over the last year or so and with the equipe range, are now the equal of anything the rest of the world can offer.
a pair of endura equipe superstretch thermal overshoes retail at £34.99 and are available direct from the endura equipe website or from endura dealers.
posted monday 17th january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
being a confirmed roadie has its benefits, one of which is a form of laziness. by this i mean not to imply that the training schedule has been unceremoniously shunned for yet another weekend, in favour of slouching on the sofa in front of a cappuccino and a sticky bun (sticky buns don't get enough airplay these days), but concern over certain small degrees require little by way of serious consideration. i am thinking here specifically of tyres; rumour has it that a 25c tyre width would run quicker than a 23, though that seems not to be borne out by a quick look through the pro peloton. granted many are on tubulars, but they're still mostly 23s. so when clicking online to replace those worn out hoops of rubber (which you really should have taken care of about a month ago; there's that laziness again), it becomes far less about what width, much more about what colour would go nicely with my colnago?.
you can presumably see the potential for roadie laziness in the above. alter the scenery slightly to encompass the great outdoors off-road (and i do not mean the darkside), and choices now have to be made.
several years ago, those lovely people at chris king's in portland, oregon were kind enough to send over a pair of chris king wheels; dt swiss rims, wheelsmith spokes, and the most utterly gorgeous pink chris king cyclocross hubs. the thinking at the time was that our (still) deteriorating roads, would be more easily traversable on wheels/hubs specifically designed for rougher than a billiard table. perhaps sacreligiously, these wheels have been shod with both michelin pro-race (blue, since you ask) and schwalbe ultremos, and have spent the majority of their life fastened to a colnago c40. you can imagine their confusion.
however, given that the ibis hakkalugi cyclocross bike is on a relatively lengthy period of testing, and has become a sincere favourite of thewashingmachinepost bikeshed, the opportunity to restore a modicum of glory to the chris king wheels was too enticing to pass up. the build-kit accompanying the ibis frame included a very nice pair of easton factory wheels shod with michelin cross tyres. if this test was to encompass a wider landscape, i thought it a good idea to fit a pair of mud-specific cross tyres from continental, given how much i have enjoyed the four seasons contis on the cielo. continental uk very kindly supplied a pair of speed king 700x35c that i might indulge my whim on your behalf.
sore thumbs have resulted on more than one occasion when previously attempting to fit continental tyres, though usually only at the brand new stage, however, most of those have been folders. the speed kings received were of the wired variety, 70g heavier than their folding brethren, but also several pounds less when it comes to using one's flexible friend to pay. though this is rotating weight and thus worthy of serious consideration perhaps if you are competition oriented. however, in my case, this is completely surplus to requirements. there are obviously one or two other factors for thought when choosing one or t'other, but i was more than happy with the wired version (often a smidgeon tougher too). the tread pattern is sparse, with small, widely spaced knobbly bits along the centre of the tyre and differently shaped, but similarly sized bobbles along the edge.
pressures advised by continental are 58psi (4 bar) up to a maximum of 85psi (6 bar), the lower one being suggested as the ideal for scrabbling around in the mud and grass. always willing to take the advice of my betters, i inflated both to as near the lower figure as i could, given that the ground around here is soft underfoot. that, it turned out, was perhaps a bit of an understatement; i had waterproof clothing to test simultaneously, and the very heavy rainshowers on saturday seemed ideal on both counts. don't anyone tell me i cannot suffer for my art.
bridgend woods has, over the last few years, been developed by islay estates to be an area for recreational purposes, both walking and cycling. this has resulted in a clearly marked path network, though these paths are unpaved, and after several days of considerable snowfall over christmas and subsequent persistent rain, they have consolidated themselves under the heading of ethnic; a euphemism for muddy puddles. though essentially flat, one or two idyllic tree-lined lanes head both upwards and downwards, with very soft gloopy, grassy strips down the middle. and where the rivers of rain consolidate at the junction between downhill and flat, the delta is soft, mushy and of variable depth.
despite bike handling skills that would be despised by a four year-old, i got both person and bicycles very wet and muddy at 58psi to gauge the efficacy of both rubber and the wheely bits to which they were attached. such a low tyre pressure does not necessarily favour travel on metalled roads, though if not in a particular hurry, this matters not a lot. those knobbles create a very impressive buzzing noise at cruising speed, added to and enhanced by that trademark chris king buzz from the rear wheel ring-drive when freewheeling. i will forgive you for a smidgeon of suspicion over my impression of having replaced the eastons with the kings, because had i read this from someone else, i too would have held the writer culpable. and it's not just because the hubs are pink (well, not entirely). i have averred that riding an all chris king equipped cielo is akin to gliding; popping the ck wheels on the ibis has brought a similar sensation, along with the great big indefinable. these 32 spoke three-cross wheels are fabulous; ain't no bout adoubt it.
the tyres also excelled at their job. i've never raced cyclocross, but i'd imagine that the better and more competitive chaps and chapesses find the quicker line around a circuit and stick to it like glue. that may have them reach the finish line more quickly than their competitors, but it doesn't strike me as the most pernicious way to test a pair of cyclocross tyres. i was therefore able to capitalise on my incompetence and churn through probably the most scurrilous sections of recreational trails available to the velocipedinally inclined. climbing a substantial length of trail decorated with at least two rivers of water heading in a contradictory trajectory, my riding along the muddy central reservation resulted in very few periods of lost traction. i'd be fibbing if i said the rear wheel did not slip occasionally, but far less often than the conditions would have suggested. similarly, riding downhill at speeds well in excess of my ability to control gravitational pull, incurred very few squiffy moments.
such technical activity accompanied by soaking rain deserves a reward of sorts, preferably one that had a soya milky froth on the top. between bridgend and bruichladdich is a long stretch of soft, wet grass that we like to refer to as uiskentuie strand, ideal for continued evaluation of cyclocross tyres still running at 58psi. about two thirds of the way down, on the opposite side of the road is a gravelly track, at one time considered a road, but now essentially defunct for this purpose and thus no longer under any sort of maintenance agreement. flipping off the grass, across the road and onto this 1km of unkempt, potholed and sheep traversed track, i challenged those handling skills yet again.
so far, so good, but assuming that the hakkalugi is to fulfil the ideal of its californian creator, scot nicol, it ought to be just as happy riding on road, keeping up with the joneses, differentiated perhaps only by its cantilever brakes. this is far less of a trial for the chris king wheels which, till this point, have inhabited this environment since arrival on islay some years back. saturday was too muddy, overcast and rained upon for this to be of great concern, but riding the ibis for the sunday ride in the company of the caliper braked, skinny tyred pelotonese would surely be a better test of their metal? 58psi is hardly the level of inflation that would allow one's composure to remain struggle free, so on sunday morning (featuring gale force winds with 60kph+ gusts), the pressure was increased to near the maximum recommended, creating an even more distinct whiny buzz on the road; not at all unpleasant.
i cannot pretend, and you would find it hard to believe if i said so, that it was as easy to maintain the speed achievable by my compatriots, but considering the mess of the roads around loch gorm, i benefited in other ways; mostly comfort. even on the smoother sections of tarmac, i did not have to work myself into too much of a lather to maintain pace.
as comprehensive a test of tyres and wheels as it is in my power to conduct. the combination of both have made a ruddy good cyclocross bike into an object of desire, and i am now eager for another atrocious day like saturday to do it all again. given that this is the inner hebrides, i doubt i'll have to wait too long.
continental speed king cyclocross tyres are available in wired version at £16.95 each or folding at £24.95 each. these are recommended as all-round cross tyres also particularly adept in the mud. a chris king factory wheelset is, to my knowledge, unavailable in the uk, but costs around $600. in the uk, you might wish to contact strada wheels to have a pair built on chris king hubs.
posted sunday 16th january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
whoever said that school years were the best of your life, probably wasn't still at school at the time. for those still in secondary education, the weekend is merely an overture to doom and gloom if you have double maths on monday morning; algebra, trigonometry and geometry are not necessarily the components of everlasting happiness. however, it may well be compulsion that takes the edge off a subject's enjoyment; in later years, items of apparent drudgery often take on a more enlightened favourability.
i remained at secondary school until sixth year, prior to moving on to further education, and during that final year i elected to study for a sixth year studies certificate in english. with the constant round of educational reform, i have no idea if such a qualification still exists, but my reading of its stature at the time was somewhere due north of an 'a' level certificate. one of the compulsions directed for such study was the collected works of thomas hardy, beginning with the mayor of casterbridge and as many individual volumes as reading speed would allow. it took a mere two books to realise that the wessex tales were hewn from the same rock, and only one more to figure out that ommitting the first hundred or so pages would have little lasting effect on one's comprehension of the tale. little but scene setting and character personification inhabited these opening entreaties.
at the point of end of year results, if we never saw another thomas hardy book it would have been too soon.
yet only a few years into maturing adulthood (still working on it), nostalgia cast the series in a different light, and i freely commenced re-reading that which had been less than an option during compulsory education. this, you may be interested to hear, was not a phenomenon confined to english literature, for though the science of chemistry and the artistry of mathematics left me in a state of indifference and incompetence, physics i have latterly found to be of intrinsic interest, particularly as many of its facets can be easily related to daily life, something teachers of the others doubtless strove for, but ultimately failed to instil.
the contents of the average higher grade physics course includes many fascinating features, many of which were of little interest to fourth or fifth year pupils at the moment of instruction. air pressure for example; i can remember being taught that, at sea level, each individual was subjected to an average of 15lbs per square inch, a not inconsiderable weight if seen in that light. i choose air pressure because i have distinct recollection of one of my peers inquiring of the teacher that, if we were able to survive downward pressure as specified above, how come we were unable to withstand something akin to a motor car resting upon our shoulders. a not unseemly question from one of the great unwashed (and uneducated) at the time, but one easily answered because that hypothetical motor car would have been in addition to those 15lbs per square inch as opposed to a replacement for. obvious now, but less so at the time; perhaps you had to be there.
this is brought into focus when removing a bicycle from the bikeshed to inflate the tyres prior to another exertive training ride. under-inflate, and the tyres will apear soft(ish) to the touch, but add the weight of a rider to that of the bicycle plus barometric pressure, and rolling resistance won't be the only thing that's compromised. appropriate tyre inflation has to overcome bike, external air pressure, rider weight, and the need for a measurable degree of unhindered forward motion. overdo it, and tyre and tube can be confined to the bin with perhaps limited hearing loss. thus, in order to comfortably meet specification, a reputable pump is required, reputable in the length and diameter of the barrel, coupled with a reasonably accurate pressure gauge.
perhaps i'm the only one who reads the minimum and maximum pressures often stamped on the sidewall, but it would seem at least courteous to pay attention to the more informed directions of those responsible for manufacture. it will likely come as no real surprise that, for road bikes at least, a track pump is the most efficacious method of inflation, obviating the need to to have arms like schwarnold arzenegger, particularly if several sets of tyres need to be inflated in a short period of time.
something like a lezyne alloy floor drive to be precise.
visually the lezyne is a particularly attractive addition to the workshop floor, available in polished alloy, gloss red, gold or blue with a substantial carved wood handle, two lezyne embossed foot plates placed one each side of the barrel, and a rubber hose that loops over the handle and down to the chuck garage on the opposite side to the pressure gauge. but a pump of great attraction is worth few bananas if the workload is studiously avoided, or indeed, if the pump/valve interface is befuddled with intricacy. in the case of the lezyne, the reversible chuck (the bit that fits over the valve stem; in this case usable on both schrader and presta valves) is simple and stunningly effective. many comparable pumps connect to the valve by means of a plastic chuck which slips over the valve stem and is then held fast by flipping a lever to confirm engagement. these are not always as effective as they promise, and some have a tendency to loosen their grip with age and infirmity.
the lezyne variation consists of a reversible chuck; unscrew from the hose connector, screw onto the valve of the day, and reconnect to the hose. since the chuck is now convincingly connected, though the pump's maximum of 15 bar (220psi) may blow the tyre and tube to smithereens, it's unlikely to lose its grip on the valve in the process.
having cause to replace the easton cross wheels on the ibis hakkalugi with a pair of chris king handbuilts on pink cross hubs, now shod with a nice new pair of continental speed king mud tyres, appropriate inflation was now required. connection was easily effected, and in much the same way as being stopped for speeding (honest officer, i had no idea i was going that fast), a lowish optimum pressure was achieved almost without effort. in case of beginner's luck, it behoved me well to check the pressures on the michelins that were now to be rested. astoundingly easy, i have to say.
i have found over the history of several track pumps i have owned, that their unattended stability leaves a lot to be desired. put the wheel down and step away from the pump almost always results in a vertical track pump with an overhwelming need to become horizontal. the lezyne floor drive, with its cast metal base incorporating the gauge, seems to have overcome this problem; a decently low centre of gravity. there have also been moments of consternation when the hose has struggled to reach the valve when the bicycle is on an elevated workstand. the lezyne sports 43 inches of hose which comfortably reaches a valve even if it resides at the top of the wheel's circumference at the time (for whatever reason). the contoured, varnished wooden handle is comfort on a stick even without gloves and in the pouring rain (needs must).
though it is probably a bit saccharin and sycophantic to mention, such is the ease with which the floor drive effortlessly works, i was rummaging in thewashingmachinepost bikeshed for other tyres that might need a few extra pounds of air pressure. were i domiciled on a public thoroughfare, i would have been happy to offer such services to passers-by. i have already booked my street corner for the summer season.
the lezyne floor drive retails for £59.99. lezyne products are distributed in the uk by upgrade distribution (available via lezyne.com in the usa), the range of which, including the floor drive can be obtained from well specified local bike shops.
posted saturday 15th january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have my radio alarm set to disturb the pattern of deep sleep at the ungodly hour of 6am, not because i need to rise and tend to the day's daily chores, but because there is a wonderfully comforting feeling to know that there is still about an hour and a half to pass before that becomes the reality. during this time, while dozing on and off, i listen to snippets from radio four's the today programme, which makes up in part for my being unable to cast an eye over a daily newspaper until the evening. one always wishes to be well-informed, for you never know who might be met as the day progresses. much of the morning's news is of the type you and i would rather ignore, but this morning i was entertained to listen to a bbc journalist who had driven an unspecified electric car from london to edinburgh.
it seems that there are a great deal more charging stations the length and breadth of the country than i was aware of, though i confess i'm not sure i would know what one looked like, or where they are concealed. it turns out that this motor car needed to be charged fairly regularly in order to complete the trip from capital to capital, and that each complete charge took a rather unimpressive ten hours. thus, on arriving at scotland's principal city, his average speed had been 6mph (10kph). few cyclists i know could manage to cycle that slowly, though not all would be prepared to cycle from london to edinburgh.
on present evidence, this makes a mockery of the government's granting of substantial sums of money to anyone purchasing an electric car in the near future. for as the journalist himself pointed out, though such vehicles are primarily intended as urban transport, it is more than likely that owners would feel the need to go and visit or holiday further afield, thus requiring a second, petrol driven car, which would seem to undermine the principle somewhat. granted, battery technology is improving every five minutes, and charging times are likely to be substantially reduced very soon, while the number of locations available to do so will increase.
this comes not too long after a major conference in the midlands late last year to discuss why it is that despite many of the principal electric (or e-bike) manufacturers hailing from the uk, uptake of the machines in this country has been disappointing. while absorbing this, to me, largely irrelevant fact, i did wonder whether these charging stations dotted about the country are compatible with the current breed of e-bikes, allowing a more energetic bbc journalist, should he be so tasked, to attempt to cycle between the two cities, charging along the way. to be honest, i wouldn't know where to ask, and i'd be keen to know how much it costs to charge either car or bicycle.
but, the part that i find less than palatable, given that we all strive for chris hoy thighs and a honed physique, is just what effect e-bikes will have on the wellbeing of the country. again, i think it likely that prospective customers for such electric velocipedes are unlikely to be challenging michael hutchinson in any time-trials this season; it seems far more likely that these will be employed for more sedate purposes, regular transport duties and perchance a bit of shopping. but those are the sort of activities that cycle activists and government advisors have been encouraging folks to take up on regular bicycles due to the promised health benefits. shift to electricity, and the most exercise you're like to get is plugging the darned thing in.
so should we be encouraging ordinary folks to buy electric bikes in the uk? maybe it's just fine and dandy that sales here have not described the upward parabola on the sales chart. are we not supposed to be making every reasonable attempt to save energy, rather than using more? in the case of the motor car it seems quite likely that the change from a polluting form of energy to one that likes to think of itself as a tad greener, is a good thing, but why on earth would we want a wholesale change from 'free' energy, to one that at best, is going to require the construction of several more wind turbines?
i can see the attraction for manufacturers, because it means they have something new to sell us, and doubtless a whole range of must have accessories to accompany this plug and play machine, but i'll be quite happy if the uk remains slow on the electrical uptake.
they might increase their chances, however, if they didn't give them silly names like ebiko. who wants to admit to owning one of those?
posted friday 14th january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have not striven for topicality on the post, for which there are many good reasons, not least of which is a lack of time, and to be honest, lack of application to the pertinent events of the day. there are, you must admit, many, many websites that do so, far better than i could ever manage. i prefer to think of myself as the more restful corner of the cycling web, able to survey all within view, reflecting on the various implications on your behalf. those who have been here more than once will know that i'm fooling nobody. however, in a peculiar twist to the mundane, i find myself compelled to comment on real happenings of a commercial nature. and it doesn't concern uci 'stickergate' (surprisingly enough).
in 2010, chainstore halfords announced to all those within hearing distance, that they were britain's biggest sellers of cycles, a statistic that was likely just what the independent uk cycle trade wanted to hear. perhaps this is of little relevance to the majority of us here in the more rarified atmosphere of carbon exotica, though it should always be remembered that halfords are still, to the best of my knowledge, the sole purveyors of boardman bicycles, the range of which is intent on edging its way into the psyche and credit cards of those who read here and similar habitats across pixel heaven. i'd be willing to bet, however, that those independent bicycle dealers must be trying hard to stifle a loud grin at the figures released a couple of days ago.
according to halfords, their bicycle sales during the last quarter showed a disappointing 16% drop. quoting commercial speak beloved of the business report on radio four's the today programme, that 16% refers to like-for-like sales; in other words, compared to the same period last year. this prevents us from thinking that it was simply due to not so many bikes being sold in the latter part of the year. of course, that is usually spiked by increased sales on the run-up to christmas when doting parents ignore all pleas for nintendos, x-boxes and playstations, and get their kids exactly what they know they really want for christmas; a bicycle. but according to halfords, fewer children's cycles were given as presents this past year.
this could mean one of two things; either, halfords are bang on the money (so to speak), mr nintendo has finally won the christmas war, and childhood obesity is here to stay, or; cycle sales are still a christmas favourite, it's just that folks don't buy them from halfords anymore. the real answer to my hypothesis would require an in depth survey of the nation's independent dealers; if that has been or is being done, i do not have the results to hand. a rather upbeat halfords ceo, david wild brought out his best obfuscation speak to tell us "we are well positioned through the exceptional value that we offer customers, our award winning ranges and the professional repairs, servicing and expert advice of experienced in-store colleagues."
if the latter part of that statement is indeed true, then halfords has changed considerably since the last time i visited to purchase a necessary accessory.
the company is perhaps unique in that it sells what many of us would see as competing products in the increasingly polarised world of modern transportation. for while many a motor manufacturer has jumped on the green bandwagon by offering own brand bicycles to accompany their vehicles, few of them come anywhere near the quality their advertising would impress upon us is a feature of their cars. halfords on the other hand are participants in the national cycle to work scheme, whereby a bicycle can be purchased at a fraction of its regular cost, enabling the british workforce to cast disdain upon their motor cars, and get to work on two wheels. meanwhile, just across the forecourt, halfords are cheerfully selling every bit of kit you need to keep that old rattletrap on the road. commercial considerations seemingly outweigh coming down on one side of the road or the other.
of course, the figure doesn't actually tell us much, given that we have no idea just how many bicycles that 16% represents, but if halfords status as biggest uk cycle retailer is to have any meaning, we must suppose it's a reasonably large number. but far from committing unreservedly to the cycle market, they seem preposessed with the motor car.
"the strong performance from our car maintenance category and the positive sales in our autocentres demonstrates how customers recognise halfords as the destination for their motoring needs. we are building on this momentum and with the launch of our 240 re-branded halfords autocentres this spring we will be uniquely positioned to develop our business further in the car-servicing sector." now we know on which side halfords' bread is buttered.
you will, by now, have realised that my topicality doesn't stretch as far as providing you with a sentient conclusion that will allow you to your beds, comfortable in my clarification of a pressing and concerning situation. the best i can manage by way of an end-note, is to subtly pillory the hapless mr wild for his use of vacuous english that nobody really understands, perhaps least of all him.
"this year has been one of significant development for halfords and our colleagues have worked hard on strategic initiatives across the business. these changes deliver savings, a more flexible cost base and are designed to provide a better service for our customers.
the wider economic outlook is clearly challenging for consumers but halfords is a strong brand with a leading customer offer. we continue to focus on opportunities in the uk and roi that will deliver long term, sustainable earnings growth."
now, when he says 'roi', does he mean 'return on investment' or 'republic of ireland'?
posted thursday 13th january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
can't say fairer than that.
somewhere abouts, i have a colour photograph in a brown, hard-backed envelope. it used to sit at the side of my armchair, but of course when i went looking for it today to help illustrate this article, it was no longer there. no surprise really, but disappointing all the same, mostly because i now have no idea where it is.
c'est la vie.
the photograph was of yours truly rounding the corner of a french hill on my way to paris in 2008. fortunately there are no others in the picture, so i am able to elaborate on my positioning; at the front everytime. that was, i think, day two of that year's london-paris ride, when i was comfortably into my stride, but still kind enough to let most other riders pass unhindered, particularly the three groups of greater ability riding in the same general direction. in my first year of participation, there were only three groups; the ride has grown and grown since its original inception, and though there are many other london-paris rides, the hot chillee organised l2p, is still the foremost amongst them all.
the total distance ridden from london till the finish at the eiffel tower approaches 500km, and in 2011, the number of distinct groups taking part has increased to five; the slowest needs to maintain 25kph, with the top groups speeding along at well over 33kph. thus, training is more or less a pre-requisite, if only to satisfy the sheer physicality of sitting on a bicycle for more than a few hours. there's no real way for the organisers to check whether entrants can actually sustain the required speed or not, but it truly makes life a lot more pleasant if you can. it can be a daunting prospect for the newbie, particularly one who has yet to own their first road bike only five months away from the start in imber court.
enter charlotte hill.
"i became ceo of uk youth in november 2010, so i've only been in post for about two months. however, i worked for uk youth doing advocacy and communications before that for about 18 months, so I know the charity well."
charlotte has signed up to ride this years london-paris and hopes to raise, in the process, in excess of £3,500 for uk youth, the biggest problem facing her being, by her own admission, she is patently not a cyclist. in fact, her kuota road bike has yet to arrive, and the furthest ms hill has managed so far, is not far at all; spinning class. in the view of the foregoing, what on earth would persuade a 'not really' active person to consider riding from london to paris. surely there are easier ways of raising money?
"at uk youth, we challenge young people to do things outside their comfort zone every day. i was part of the support team that went round the country with the nigel mansell uk youth cycle challenge in 2010, and the amazing sense of camaraderie, the sense of being part of a team, really struck me. i like the fact that it's a personal challenge, but a really sociable sport. i also find it really hard to switch my brain off from work, and a lot of people told me cycling is a great way to do that, which really appeals to me. i met sven from hot chillee and london to paris sounded like a fantastic event to be part of. uk youth are now one of the charity partners for the ride."
at the time of deciding to take part in the 2007 ride myself, i'd been cycling for a considerable number of years, yet the two factors that gave me cause for concern were the daily distances and the more un-nerving need to ride in a group of more than four other cyclists, because basically, that's all that are usually available on islay. the need to ride at an average of 25kph is also more demanding than it seems; the hills along the route are not alarmingly steep, but they are a darned sight longer than anything i have over here. it's reasonably undemanding to to ride at that average at home, but a smidgeon harder to manage the same day, after day, after day, both up and down. i'd never have managed it with a modest degree of comfort had i not indulged in seven months of what passed for training.
charlotte, however, doesn't even have the benefit of having been a road bike rider for many a year, and having the base fitness that many of us have at our beck and call. however, she does have the luxury of a certain someone to assist; yanto barker. yanto runs his own cycle clothing company (le col), and races successfully in the uk as team leader of le col/colnago, and is someone i wish i'd known prior to riding both years to paris.
"i'm not giving charlotte structured training as yet. she's using me more as a mentor and consultant with things like, how the bike works, what to look out for on the road in terms of staying out of danger. when to move to cleats and spd's instead of flat pedals. How many hours a week she will need to do to enjoy the event rather then just suffer. how to ride in a bunch, what to focus on, how close to ride etc etc. that kind of thing. she is a really positive woman doing a fantastic job."
fortunately charlotte is not amongst the naive, unlike a chap who joined the 2007 ride claiming not to have done any training at all. whether that was true or not, i know not, but it certainly wouldn't be me, nor thankfully, for charlotte. for despite the lack of an appropriate bicycle, she hasn't simply sat back and watched old tour de france videos.
"i only started training in december, and as the weather has been so bad and i don't have my proper bike as yet, it's been mainly spinning classes so far. i go three times a week. handily, my local gym has a 7am breakfast spin, so i can go before work and ive really been enjoying it. the training will then ramp up in february, with some weekend rides. i'm thinking about joining my local cycling club (dulwich paragon) so that i have some people to ride with locally."
so, think of the woman as foolish, or think of her as adventurous, it matters not, for the real purpose behind the ride is to benefit the charity and subsequently the large number of youngsters who will benefit from charlotte's pain and suffering, and hopefully from our charitable largesse.
"uk youth is an amazing charity, working with about 750,000 young people every year. we do this through all sorts of different projects and programmes, and through our network including about 7,000 youth clubs and 40,000 volunteers. we also run twelve small independent schools of our own called youth achievement foundations which are for young people who have been excluded from mainstream education. one of our programmes is called bike club (which we run in partnership with the ctc and continyou) encouraging young people to cycle.
this was one of the things that led uk youth into the world of cycling. last year, our president, nigel mansell, cycled round the uk with vice president, magnus backstedt, visiting uk youth projects and programmes. it was really inspiring for the young people they met. this led to involvement with london to paris (we have 25 other people cycling it with me for uk youth) and also to us having a british cycling team led by magnus in 2011."
to my mind, the more folks that enter the way of the roadie the better (no aspersions cast towards the knobbly tyre folks), and this is undoubtedly entering the way of the jedi with a bang, for which charlotte has my utmost admiration. unfortunately for any of you reading without an entry to this years ride you'll have to remain disappointed; the entire event sold out in less than half-an-hour, evidence if such were required, that it has become one of the premier sportive events on the calendar. perhaps 2012?
posted wednesday 12th january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"my life doesn't change much between december 31 and january 1. i'm still not a morning person, i am still tempted by a piece of chocolate cake and i still spend most of my days in cycling shoes and wool shirts.
i wanted to make one change even if not profound: love the ride.
since opening a small business, the hours i have worked have impinged on my ride time, my motivation to bust out a 50 mile loop before work, and my desire to hit the sack early so i can get up and do it again. i miss those days and so, those days are coming back.
so, in the spirit of the ancient cycling zodiac, this is the year of the ride.
and to that i say, bring it!"
not that i wish to be accused of stealing another's thunder in any way, i think the undernoted is likely physically too far apart for thunder to be heard on either side of the atlantic, and that, i hope, excuses me from any conflict of interest and that it will be accepted in the spirit in which it is intended.
"in some ways it is true that i have grown and learned volumes since the first day working in my little studio. in other ways i find myself just as curious about the wheel as when i first began. i never doubt that this is what i want to do and the passion for what i am doing is only beginning to flourish, if you can believe that. in some ways i had no idea how much i loved wheels, learning, and running a business. in terms of real knowledge, i sit here looking back at the things i have learned and am stunned by the amount of information i have uncovered. the wheel is dynamic. the materials of wheels are changing and therefore the combinations for wheels are also changing. the elements of a good wheel builder have not, however, changed. i maintain that a good wheel builder is above all curious, and secondly willing to consistently build a good and perfect wheel true in all dimensions. so yes, some things have changed while the most basic of things have proven to be truer than expected.". jude kirstein in answer to my question as to whether she feels she has learned more about wheelbuilding since opening shop in april 2009.
as previously intimated, my portland built chris king cielo has temporarily cast off its r45 wheelset in favour of a pair of handbuilt hoops form british startup, strada wheels. i'm likely making too much of all this, but i have a thing about wheels; many cyclists do, even though explaining why is like describing ethernet to a child. i do not have the necessary skill or chutzpah to build a bicycle frame. as i mentioned to jordan hufnagel (portland again), were i to do so, i have this mental picture of standing back to admire my work and carelessly allowing the flame to slice through the hoses leading from the large and imposing gas bottles standing near the window. you know it to be true.
not being able to contribute tangibly to the art of the bicycle leaves one feeling slightly disenfranchised; at somewhat of a disadvantage. we can all pump up tyres; some intrinsic skill is demanded to redress the balance and increase feelings of self-worth. wheels are not necessarily a simple alternative, but building does not include the need for gas bottles. i have rather successfully built several pairs of wheels, to honorous mentions from peers, but then i can also cobble together a passable drum solo, one that pales into insignificance if compared with bill bruford or billy ward. it's very much a case of pecking order.
i visited jude kirstein's tiny workshop in south east portland during my visit almost two years ago, and even the least concerned with rims, spokes and hubs could not have failed to be impressed with an overflowing enthusiasm and confident knowledge. it's likely miss kirstein is always like this, but the excitement of the subject matter has not yet been exhausted. surprisingly, for a city that eats, sleeps and breathes bicycles and cycling, epic wheelworks is still the only bicycle wheel specific business in this cyclist's utopia. maybe it's like being a lighthouse in the dark, but just how does jude market herself?
"that's a great question which i have only recently been able to define: i market myself as a catalyst for getting people the ride they want. when i interview someone for a set of wheels i set my opinions aside and really listen to what it is they need in performance, aesthetic, cost and maintenance and based on what they tell me i present them with some options that i think will work well for them. included in this analysis is the foreseeable maintenance costs. sometimes, and it pains me to say this, i think the better option for them is a boutique wheel system because the cost in the short run is often less. this is usually true for someone who only wants to spend $250 for a wheel set and will be racing with them. the mavic aksium has proven a winner for this customer. this option, however, doesn't come without ample warning about the cost of maintenance in the future. since i repair wheel systems i don't lose a customer and it has now been the case that they convert to hand built wheels after they have trashed the other wheels. in short, the way i market myself is as a 'matchmaker' for wheels. i have noticed a growing need in society and in the wheel business for someone just to listen and help them make sense of all the information available."
surely, however, it must be like handing out chilled cokes at the end of a marathon; the number of cyclists in portland is still on the increase, and the city is intent on continuing that trend. more cyclists must surely imply an increased need for wheels?
" there is an increase in sales for epic locally. there is also an increase in domestic sales in general. i think the increase is due to 1. more cyclists on the road and 2. a high level of customer service. brian, knowing a lot about wheels is only one part of the story. if i can't relay that information in a digestible and relatable way then i have lost my customer and epic becomes no different than any other bike shop rambling one marketing line after another. "
let us assume that you are in the market for a pair of handbuilt wheels, and this applies as much to the aforementioned strada as it does to epic, would you have a clue as to what to ask for? most of us will have a notion as to what colour we'd like the hubs to be, but does that knowledge extend to the number of spokes; back and front; radial, two, three or four cross? suddenly buying a frame seems remarkably simple. for if you've gone as far as admitting a pair of handbuilts might just be an appealing alternative to the 'boutique' wheels that arrived on the bike when you bought it, it would be a shame to stumble at the first block.
"i never want to come across as 'soap box hand-built wheel builder'. but there are people moving away from 'boutique' wheels. they are recovering from the frustration, lack of customer service on the part of the manufacturer and the generic way the wheels are sold to them. if anything, people are more curious about hand-built wheels, about buying local, and having soulful conversations with people.
"i am finding a wide variety of customers. some are very 'savvy';they do a lot theoretical research and others simply start at knowing the wheel is round. i enjoy people so i enjoy both approaches. the role i play in their wheel decision, however, is different. the first customer who has done a lot of research needs some sort of validation and further explanation about the research they have done and what is and isn't important to them. from there we work in collaboration on the ideal wheel set. i allow them to drive the decisions and offer information that will help them make the process sound and get them at their desired wheel set. this has proven to be a win/win because i am working with them and only there to guide their decisions. there is nothing worse, in my opinion, than going to someone with lots of ideas and being rejected. if i see an incorrect assumption on their part i just give them other information to consider. the latter group wants me to make all the decisions because they simply feel they don't know enough. i have come up with a list of questions to extract the necessary information from them so we can build a satisfactory wheel for them. i often get asked which customer i prefer and why and i genuinely don't prefer one over the other because in both instances i am equally engaged in the process. this is after all the real art of wheel building: choosing the correct components. the rest of the process is mechanical--while there can still be an artistic aspect to it, wheels, in the end, build up the same way time after time after time."
the idea of an exquisite pair of handbuilt wheels seems perfectly at ease with the increased awareness of bespoke or handbuilt cycle frames, more often than not created from steel tubing. (the onset of the rapha bicycle range today can do little to harm this situation). there are many reasons for this; portland may have become the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy, becoming a consummate advertisement not only for the bicycle, but for its own encompassing of thousands of them on adeptly adapted streets throughout the city centre and beyond. the wheel has, tautologically, a similar historical timeline to that of the bicycle itself, one that is well worth continuing and improving in line with a heritage that shows no sign of giving up and going home anytime soon.
small may be beautiful, but bigger is sometimes better. in november 2010, the portland development commission announced it was granting a $35,000 loan to epic, allowing jude a move from her compact and bijou setting in south east main street to considerably larger premises in north williams avenue (opening march 2011), sharing proximity with natalie ramsland of sweetpea bicycles. "as i do all of natalie's custom wheel builds and really enjoy her presence, this will be a great relationship. additionally we will be located in the up and coming 'bike district'.
of course, the real secret to any success is enjoyment; customers and prospective customers alike respond to enthusiasm, a visible trait that projects their confidence not only in the wheelbuilder (in this case) but in the results of their labours. ("people want to buy things from people who are engaged in what they're doing.") so as my parting shot, i asked jude if she thought herself 'still portland' (she was raised in east coast chicago), and whether she was having fun.
"i suppose i never thought about whether or not i am portland or not but i guess i am; even my truing wrench is! and truthfully, the last two years i have spent as a mad scientist unlocking the magic of the wheel and i feel as though i am only just beginning to have fun!
it is likely that customs duties, taxes and carriage costs may prove prohibitive for those on this side of the pond to take advantage of a pair of epic wheels, to say nothing of the initial personal communication, but than that's why we have strada. however, if you find yourself in the portland area...
posted tuesday 11th january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................