pupils at the sole secondary school on islay returned just over a week ago after several weeks' of summer holidays. unlike previous years, the weather wasn't half bad this season, so there could be little complaint that they'd been unable to get out and about through july and august. what is different this time round, however, is a ruling by the new head teacher that each and every pupil be encouraged to wear school uniform, a feature that has been missing from islay high school for many a long year.
strangely enough, now that it has become reality, few of the school pupils seem particularly put out by this regulation, though of course there are the minority intent on ignoring authority. the odd thing about imposing school uniform is that it has now made the school apparel remarkably similar (which is, tautologically, the general idea). previously, the kids railed against the notion of uniformity so that they could all wear clothing that made them look the same.
it's a state of affairs that has been de rigeur in cycling circles for as far back as anyone can remember. i've never been a member of a cycling club, so i've no idea whether there is a three-line whip applied to the wearing of club kit, or if it's an optional extra. but in pretty much every case of which i'm aware, there is at the very least a team kit available. and if we move up to the professional classes, they very much have to wear logo'd apparel on each and every public occasion. the sponsor wants his pound of flesh.
arguably, the meeting or passing a club outing on any of britain's roads, is enhanced by them all wearing similar livery, even if riding a cornucopia of bicycle marques and a slew of differently coloured helmets. which brings us neatly onto the subject of designing attractive clobber and subsequently having it produced at a price lower than a bespoke cycle frame. it also lets me reintroduce both this is cambridge and pella sports, embodied by daf kaufhold and ben higgins respectively.
it's nice that this story ultimately concerns yet another scottish island, in this case arran, perhaps only able to be bettered were we considering islay. arran was the island i could see pretty much every day when i lived on the ayrshire coast and the island i told my colleagues in digs at art college we could walk across to when the tide was out. (which is utter rubbish, i might point out). however, the conundrum holds a certain level of intrigue when considering that ms kaufhold administers a business entitled this is cambridge yet the team kit under consideration is quite some considerable distance from the university town. why?
"We have a good friend who used to live in Cambridge, but who now lives on the island. Last year we arranged to do an organised ride with him. Unfortunately it fell through so we decided to plan our own and are attempting to climb the mythical French cols (the first time ever), including the Galibier. Before we knew it, it grew to most of the Arran cycling group.
"The ride prompted the need for creating an identity for the guys on Arran, thus providing them with a recognised team kit. Andrew has a design background and before our move from London back to Cambridge, worked in the world of branding and identity for people like Nokia, Ford and Aston Martin. The world of cycling is so connected to design that it makes for a perfect project. People who ride usually love well designed and nice things! The Arran chaps were no exception."
i might explain further just what it is we are concerned with here. in april of this year, daf enquired as to the size i might take in jersey and shorts, to which i replied, then promptly forgot all about it. then just over a week or so ago, a rather fetching arran team kit arrived in the mail, featuring a pella sport short sleeve jersey and arran emblazoned bibshorts from the same italian apparel supplier. were the design itself insufficient to turn heads, the lettering twmp on the right rear pocket was, in truth, a surprising and most welcome addition.
it transpires that the jersey and shorts were designed by the folks at this is cambridge before being handed onto ben higgins at custom performance kit, uk distributors of italy's pella sport whose luxury bibshorts and la mitica jersey have received recent reviews on the post. since many a team kit looks suspiciously as if it were designed by a colour blind committee, is this a service that this is cambridge are prepared to offer to others?
"No, not specifically kit for clubs, but it has prompted a potential collaboration with Pella. The project with Arran was quite an exception.They knew our background so they let us get on with it as they trusted us to do a good job. They still gave helpful input which was really useful at the initial idea stage. It was clear that they were after something stylish, understated and a design element that was inspired from the 60s/70s cycle era."
a printing firm with whom i have done business for well over a decade once informed me that i'd scarcely believe the number of folks who supplied artwork at the pre-press stage completed in microsoft word. for all that might be said in favour or disfavour of that particular piece of software, providing artwork capable of high resolution colour separation is not one of its accomplishments. similarly, a custom cycle clothing provider is unlikely to add you to their christmas card list if you've coloured in a scribbled jersey outline with felt pens on the back of an envelope.
i asked ben higgins of custom performance kit if there was a specific format in which he preferred to receive design artwork? "We usually ask for designs in vector format/print ready but we also offer a full design service free of charge with any order over £1000."
with so many custom kit providers not only in the uk, but worldwide, why did daphne choose pella sport in preference to all others? "Being a small, independent company we are always looking to work with similar set ups.
"We were introduced to Ben by a friend and it was immediately clear that we could work together. Ben very much understands the design process and wasn't phased by our demands on the detailing. For example the cool grey colour could have been a make or break issue. If the methods of colour reproduction were off, it would have looked awful. They matched it very well. Designers can be a pain in the bum because they have a perception of what is needed to make something great, so It's really useful to have people involved in the process who also understand this."
i have scurried around the wrong island both on road and in cyclocross mode clad in the pella sport jersey and shorts very much to my delight. top and bottom fit particularly well, taking into account the predilection of italian clothing to be just a smidgeon on the small side. the jersey rear pockets could likely swallow a mavic car, so digital camera, munchie bar, rainjacket, coffee money, spare gloves, cap and tyre lever were consumed with ease. i am more than in favour of a full length zip and a modest height of collar, but if pushed to comment, i'm always willing to bemoan the lack of a separate zipped rear pocket, and a zip garage at the collar to prevent injury before even removing the bike from the shed.
the bibshorts and their comfy pad are rather impressive, though the high front part of the bib doesn't ease the opportunity to take a natural break. however, in keeping with the very best of the very best, these imply a race-fit, feeling slightly awkward in an upright position but distinctly ideal in drop-bar riding mode. these are not the same style of pella short as recently reviewed, but just as impressive nonetheless for all-day riding.
i take it, therefore, that pella offer a choice of various qualities of jerseys and shorts as part of their custom kit service? "Pella pride themselves on the amount of customisation available, said ben higgins, "There is a huge list of options for fabrics, zips, garment cuts, pockets, pads, name printing etc." and much as it would be ginger peachy to design team kit to die for and have it delivered by the weekend, to enter the vernacular for just a moment 'that just ain't gonna happen'. stuff takes longer than that.
i asked ben higgins what would be the lead time for team kit such as the arran items occupying my cycling wardrobe. and even more to the point, could i order just one set to feed my narcissistic streak, or do economies of scale apply? "We ask for a minimum order of 25 pieces made up from any combination of products. Lead times vary from six weeks between September and December and up to twelve weeks in the peak season from January to August." the latter would seem just a tad on the excessive side if it becomes necessary to run its full course. if you'd a damn fine idea for team kit as part of your new year resolution come january, it could conceivably be late march, early april before you could go riding in it. in which case, better to have your creative period in early autumn.
but are all these items not manufactured and printed in italy? "Everything is made and printed in one factory in Italy. Everything that is used for the production is Italian made, hence the 'pure made in italy since 1980' slogan". though the phrase 'italian made' carries a certain amount of weight within the cycling community and allows surely some leeway when it comes to patiently waiting, you would realistically have to at least allow a modest amount of time for the finished product to reach uk shores in the first place.
so, if i find myself hell-bent on having pella custom kit with the all-important made in italy tag inside the collar, what sort of money should i be saving up? "Our standard jersey starts from £32.50 + VAT and bib shorts from £40+ VAT based on ten pieces.". ben thoughtfully attached a price list relating to all sort of team kit items, such as long sleeve fleece jerseys at £40, winter fleece l/s at £42.50 and a rainjacket at £65 (all plus vat) available from indescribably tiny all the way to xxxxl. plenty of other options are available.
but, after all we've learned about the pella sport end of the equation, what about those who designed the kit in the first place? take a peek at the top of these black and yellow pixels to remind yourself that this is cambridge are predominantly known for their particularly luxuriant merino wool cycling caps. yet, in all the foregoing, there's been no mention of casquettes whatsoever. do i infer that daphne and her colleague will be providing matching caps for the arran islanders?
"Absolutely! The original cap that you reviewed is quite popular and we have been posting them all over the world (just sent six to Australia).
"We have been working on some new cap designs and we will be using one of these to make the Arran caps. We have been spending time visually researching cycling cap variations throughout the years. The new styles are based on combining the old school 'team rider' look with a more modern feel! As with the original design we are trying to achieve the right balance between cycling caps as a fashion and functional item; let's see if we have succeeded. As with the original cap we are designing our caps mainly for the discerning cyclist, but we have had people buy them just because they like them.
"We have one new lined version and an unlined variation of it in the pipeline. We will be using the unlined version for Arran team issue.". daf has kindly offered to send me the finished product to complete my arran team kit.
so it only remains for me to ask perhaps the most obvious question, considering the deftness with which they've designed a team kit for the folks on the clyde. will there be a this is cambridge team kit, or does such already exist? "That would be great. We are not short of design ideas but we are definitely short of team members. There are only two of us"
arran i can manage geographically, but the rest of you will have to be responsible for augmenting any future this is cambridge cycling team.
monday 26th august 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i could try the "i forgot" line of riposte, but it wouldn't be entirely true. granted, after the last 'cross ride of the season i may have been either full of euphoric achievement (unlikely) or possibly just so dog-tired that even climbing the stairs to the shower was something of a major accomplishment. but you and i both know that both of those excuses are manifestly untrue. you know this because, though the hakkalugi has been safely and untouchably stowed at the rear of the bikeshed for the duration of what passes as an islay summer, the gritty, grotty bits have still been visible.
of course, you can imagine the anguish i experienced each and every time i opened the shed to remove one of the road bikes. or one of the review models. sitting passively at the rear, midst enough cardboard boxes to start a business, the grubby window still let in enough light to show a magnificent selection of dried-in mud. and despite platitudes to the contrary, i'd swear it was grinning at me each and every time.
and not in a good way.
and though it hardly seems like any time at all since mud, dirt and foam tunnels were part and parcel of weekend life, here we are once again on the cusp of yet another season of cross. richard sachs is counting down the days. and good boy scout that i am (or almost was if the adjudicator had turned up on last day of cubs) i think it perfectly acceptable that a seemly degree of preparation was in order before entrusting myself to a total inability to clamber on and off a bike with anything like a sense of public decorum.
new bar tape that has sat in the box in which it is delivered for way too long, a shiny set of cantilevers with which stopping will hopefully be improved and an impressive pair of new tyres that meant a concomitant change of wheels. however, prior to implementing the foregoing, there was that embarrassing muck to disperse. which is pretty much where a can of proclean-gold enters the affray.
proclean-gold is a non-petrochemical, organically based degreaser and cleaner in an aerosol can. due to being plant-based, it's pretty inert on any surface you can think of. after shaking (the can that is), and making sure to be upwind when skooshing, 'tis but a simple matter to spray it over each and every nook and cranny that an ibis carbon frame offers. leaving its foamy coating for a few minutes, rubbing the frame with a cloth removed pretty darned near all the crud that has sat and baked over the past six months or so. granted, one or two morsels were more stubborn than others, but a smidgeon of elbow grease soon made those disappear.
so far, so good. but in keeping with my boy-scout mindset, offering the frame some protection from the elements so graphically attested to in the recent bbc series the hebrides, seemed like not too bad an idea. such a notion brings into play the proclean's family group, consisting of protecht 1 and protecht 2, both of which come under the category of transparent surface coatings.
number one would likely be the darling of many a night-club dj, for it resembles nothing more than the output from a smoke machine. in fact, such was the smokiness of each skoosh, that you'd almost think it was doing nothing at all, however, on closer inspection, protecht 1 offers a dry, transparent finish that is apparently moisture repellent, resistant to salt and acid and offering surface corrosion protection. rather obviously, there's no way any of this could be verified while the hakkalugi was on the workstand, but i intend to push the envelope (a phrase that makes me sound so much more cutting edge than is truthfully the case) over the next few months and see the result.
its sibling in the storage box is the snappily named protecht 2. this, according to the words on the label offers supplementary corrosion protection for extended periods of time and protects itens such as an ibis cyclocross bike in inclement environments. otherwise known as the hebrides. at which point, the circle comes full circle, for the dry, flexible coating applied by protecht 2 can be easily removed by application of the proclean-gold with which i opened my account.
i cannot tell a lie, but during the application of protecht 2, one or two patches of white remained on the carbon forks; something of a surprise i cannot deny. however, implementing a directed skoosh of proclean-gold and a brief dust with a cloth removed the lot. reapplication of the protecht 2 was seamless.
as one who has lost the use of a colnago c40 hp through serious corrosion of the rear dropouts and one or two spots of corrosion on my steel frames, these seem like a major solution to islay's salt-laden atmosphere. only time will tell, and either way, i'll be sure to tell you too.
proclean-gold retails at £9.99, protecht 1 at £14.95 and protecht 2 for £13,50.
sunday 25th august 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have made mention on several previous occasions that it is rarely sufficient to sponsor a formula one racing car without subsequently informing the world that the car has been sponsored. logically, it's a necessity that obviates pragmatism, but the apparent kudos to be gained from association with such an exciting sport seem to extend beyond the circle of aficionados who could actually give a toss. and it is something of a tautology to mention that the name of the game here is exposure. sponsorship is, to state the glaringly obvious, a means by which one can gain appropriate exposure for one's product(s) or service(s).
but what, i might add, are the prospects for one who needs exposure in order to carve a furrow in this modern and increasingly commercial world? since the object of the exercise is to gain suitable remuneration for one's skills, the option of sponsoring something or someone is somewhat of a redundant, not to mention expensive undertaking. i am thinking here of the sports photographer in particular, and given that these pixels are mostly concerned with bicycles, the lensperson with a predilection for capturing images of speeding bicycles and the environment in which speeding takes place.
were i for a moment, to hypothetically apply this prospective career to myself, you will be aware that i am not ideally located to leap from one european stage race to the next with camera in hand. (we are momentarily suspending the fact that i'd be hard-pressed to handle a modern dslr in the first place). this is, i'm sorry to say, a rather long-winded way of pointing out that, in the pursuit of gainful employment, it might be necessary to incur untold and open-ended expenditure. not a desirous state of affairs, i'm sure you'll agree.
however, if we delve even deeper into my hypothetically constructed world, having built a sizeable portfolio of quality imagery, now what do i do? for even the very best photographs of speeding cyclist are worth less than a valve cap if no-one other than immeduate family ever get to see them.
it is a quandary wrapped around a conundrum, but one that has been most satisfactorily solved by the first published collaboration between graphic designer paul wood and photographer ian walton. unsurprisingly the manifestation of this joint effort is thewaltonwoodjournal, a title that engenders mental pictures of rural arkansas for some reason.
ian walton, in this case having captured some stunning images from the 2013 volta a catalunya, wishedto self-publish them in order to tell the story in his own way. it shows a robustness of character on his part i think, since entering the marketplace to sell to the highest (or only) bidder immediately devolves control to a third party. that he has found his graphic soul-mate in paul wood is not only fortuitous for him, but for us too, for this compact and bijou, forty-six page book is a joy to behold.
comprising an eclectic selection of monochrome and colour images from catalunya, a race won by garmin's dan martin, there is much to admire not only in the photographs themselves, but in the sympathetic manner of their presentation. unlike david carson's raygun magazine, where design took precedence over the content, paul wood has managed to strike a delicate balance between imposing a graphic simplicity and remaining transparent in favour of the pictures.
available in issuu, pdf and printed format, i'm afraid i fail to comprehend how this makes commercial sense at present, but i do understand that the two gents are seeking sponsorship for issue number two. and that, i'm happy to say, is exceptionally good news. for with issue 01, they have hit the ground running and it would be verging on the criminal were the series to be curtailed when showing so much promise for the future.
saturday 24th august 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's never an easy task filling the shoes (metaphorically speaking) of a successful predecessor. only when peter gabriel left genesis for good did we in fact discover that those falsetto vocals on the lamb lies down on broadway were actually phil collins and not clever overdubbing in the studio. after a lengthy and unproductive set of auditions, the guys in the band realised they'd had the very candidate all along. a poor situational example of which i speak, but surely the exception that proves the rule?
of course, after the 'and then there were three' period and mr collins decided to call it a day, bringing in ray wilson as his replacement for 'calling all stations' never quite hit the mark. there's every likelihood that his lack of finding favour had less to do with wilson's performance, and more to do with his not being phil collins. those of you less endeared to the sounds of so-called progressive rock could probably care less in any case.
in the world of business, not that this excludes rock bands of necessity, things are by definition, slightly different. people are promoted, people leave and people sometimes fail to perform, resulting in the formula created by laurence peter and raymond hull, subsequently known as 'the peter principle'. but when someone who has worked hard to develop a specific part of a successful business moves up the corporate ladder, it's not only a problem to replace them, but places an almost claustrophobic pressure on the new incumbent to live up to previous lofty ideals and performance.
in 2004, rapha occupied one half of one floor in the former piano factory at imperial works in kentish town's perren street. a mere nine years later, those sportwool jerseys with the contrasting hoop on the left sleeve are seemingly everywhere. though perhaps not quite. after my saturday morning club ride in sacramento in march 2012, i mentioned to rapha's slate olson that i had seen barely a single rider clad in rapha. his reply? yes, we've still got work to do.'
and it was mr olson's rise to chief marketing officer and subsequent relocation to london from portland that may conceivably have brought rapha some concern. as many of my friends in portland were keen to bring to the surface; who would they find to replace him? the portland office is already well constituted and staffed with the likes of jeremy dunn and the inestimable chris distefano capably handling day to day communications, but neither seemed inclined to ascend the podium. so on june 17th of this year, rapha announced that the new head of marketing and sales for north america would be hillary benjamin.
hillary had previously held the position of vice president of marketing at cycling sports group, owners of cannondale, gt and mongoose bicycles. hardware as opposed to rapha's software. i am insufficiently educated in the denominational division within cycling's upper echelons to know whether cycling is equally welcoming of both sexes at the executive level (though i can think of no good reason as to why it should be otherwise). what brought hillary to the world of cycling? was it personal desire or fortuity?
"Personally, I started riding again as an adult when I got a road bike as a gift for my 30th birthday. I was hooked right away.
"Professionally, a little bit of both. I had left my job of eight years to pursue something I was really passionate about. I was introduced to Cannondale by a former colleague. Several interviews later, I found myself in the bike industry."
as i mentioned above, hillary's previous position had been that of marketing bicycles to the great unwashed, and though it seems cycles are just as subject to the whims of fashion as any other aspect of modern life, the demands in this direction are surely different than those of the clothing industry. or maybe in marketing terms there is little real difference, for objectively speaking, it's still a matter of shifting units and keeping an eye on the number at the foot of the excel spreadsheet. does hillary consider this position to have brought different challenges, or do they bear a remarkable similarity to her previous objectives?
"There are some challenges that are similar, and some that are different. The cycling industry overall needs to bring in new customers. So, in that way there are similarities. Rapha's business model is very different from where I came from. It is direct to consumer focused vs wholesale. Also, the bike industry is very technology focused. Rapha was created to celebrate road riding and to develop the best performing and most stylish cycling clothes and accessories in the world. Road racing is the toughest and most beautiful sport in the world and everything Rapha does is designed to honor that. Everything Rapha does is informed by its passion for the glory and suffering that lie at the heart of the sport."
personally, i do not consider myself particularly ambitious. i have a day job that satisfies my creative needs, and these black and yellow pixels keep me cheerfully involved with the joys and business aspects of cycling, both nationally and internationally. however, there is no cunning plan to be realised over a carefully selected time-frame. things will always develop in both careers, but they go where they will go, both seemingly having minds and lives of their own. however, many folks have a far better idea of where it is they wish to be in life, and often just exactly how to get there.
does hillary benjamin consider herself pursuing a career as a general marketer of cycling products, or was she just waiting for the rapha gig to happen along? "I am definitely more of a general marketer. One thing I've learned is that even though I've now been in the industry for over four years, I am still a newbie. Most people in this industry start out their career in it.
"But, in some ways, I've been waiting for the Rapha gig my whole life. I love sport and cycling. I love fashion. I love entrepreneurial companies. My entire career has almost led up to this moment. I have brand building, operational, sales, product development and global experience. And, I'm scrappy."
when rapha set up the north american operation, there were three locations under consideration. two of those, i think you'd agree, fulfilled the obvious candidates: new york and san francisco. portland, oregon would almost seem like the outsider, even bordering on the eccentric. for it is positioned on north america's pacific northwest, placing it almost as far from perren street as you could get. and not entirely obviously in the midst of an easy distribution hub.
but portland has a myriad of other features to recommend it, most obviously its being arguably the cycling capital of the usa. if you've ever visited portland, you'd realise just why the other two location candidates were surpassed by stumptown. has hillary now moved to portland, or was she already in situ?
"I moved around six weeks ago. And, I want to know why no one ever talks about Portland summers. They're beautiful!"
as mentioned in my introduction, as recently as last year, an active cycling location such as the california state capital seemed almost bereft of rapha sportwool and trimmings of pink. and though no company can expect necessarily to dominate in every region that it chooses to infiltrate, at the very least, it has to attempt the improbable, unlikely or screaming certainty. strategies have to be formulated that might see it make tentative inroads; such are the vicissitudes of modern commerce whether cycle-related or otherwise. does hillary have a cunning plan to bring rapha to the parts it has so far failed to reach?
"Let's hope so."
rapha commenced its north american life atop a garden centre in north mississippi, visitors often having to step carefully amongst free-range hens before making their way to the outside stairs and up to the first floor office and bike rack. when i visited last year, when everyone turned up for work, they were probably in danger of breaching fire regulations, necessitating a move across the willamette river to larger premises in nw kearney. slate olson enjoyed the loyalty and support of staff who are particularly good at what they do. does hillary feel she has been welcomed to the fold?
"I believe so. They underwent tremendous change with Slate leaving. They have been very welcoming, and we are excited to build our own history together."
as hillary mentioned above, rapha was created by simon mottram to celebrate what he regards as the most beautiful sport in the world. rapha have consciously refrained from diluting that message by entering the fray of the offroad world. however, though you'd expect rapha's staff to also espouse such ideals, there's little doubt that cyclists form a fascinating group of individuals, possessed of a mindset that is often as welcoming to alternative branches of the sport, even if it clashes with the daily travail. portland encapsulates just such varied ideals.
in hillary's case, has jeremy dunn converted her to portland's beloved path of cyclocross, or does she find herself more in sympathy with chris distefano's barely concealed fat tyre proclivities? "I just decided that I'm going to 'participate' in cyclocross this season. I'm now trying to decide what bike to get so I can take my first clinic. I'm tiny, so finding a 44cm isn't easy!"
it is, of course, grossly unfair to coerce anyone else to make comment on their new work colleague, but since this is of an unsolicited nature, i can see little that might concern mrs benjamin. north american communications director chris distefano offered this: "New boss is cool. You'll like her.".
friday 23rd august 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the room is just a tad larger than actually required, but the fact that more than one or two of the lights seem not to be working fails to reveal the unused expanse. the only windows are more or less at ceiling height, most of them reinforced opaque glass, though at that elevation, one has to wonder why. the walls amply demonstrate the concept that public halls such as this benefit from whatever paint happened to be in the cupboard at the time. not to be seen in photoshop's swatch panel, it's a strange mixture of beige and fern green.
if that's indeed possible.
against the far wall there are a couple of incongruous tables of different heights, and the rest of the wall is taken up with stacked wooden and plastic chairs. we usually number around fourteen, but tonight there's barely half that number, so our semi-circle consists of a few empty chairs. despite the fact we've all known each other for a while, we seem to have managed to leave an empty chair between each attendee as we sit facing the facilitator; part confessor, part psychologist.
every evening starts in more or less the same way, and this evening it's my turn to start. "my name is brian and i'm a wheelaholic."
however, i like think to think i'm a wheelaholic with an educated sense of discretion. i have a self-satisfying obsession with bicycle wheels, but i'm not willing to accept just any old construction as contemporary currency. the fact that a simple collection of steel spokes (preferably double or triple butted), two polished hubs and a pair of shiny box-section rims can be assembled into a round, weight-bearing and hopefully speedy pair of cycle wheels is little short of marvellous.
however, though the art of the handbuilt wheel may just possibly be experiencing a resurgence, the cutting edge is most often being explored by the factory built offering, quite possibly at the behest of self-reinforced fashion. more often than not, these wheels exist on an anorexic spoke count, the front almost certainly laced in a radial pattern. it's at this point that i am tempted to invoke my educated sense of discretion, for i have severe misgivings about the substantially reduced spoke count that comprises most of the more stylish and light weight hoops.
you can imagine my initial horror, therefore, when considering the rolf prima ares 4 carbon rimmed wheels that arrived at the croft for review. for while conventionally laced wheels alternate spokes from left to right all round the rim, rolf are famed for pairing the spokes. the theory behind this method is neutralisation of the spoke tensions, contrasting, according to rolf, the lateral forces pulling the wheel out of true in a low-spoke count, conventionally laced wheel. again, rolf maintain that spoke pairing allows them to use fewer spokes than any of their competitors.
the ares 4 wheels have fourteen paired spokes up front, and two more at the rear, the latter laced one-cross, the former radial. the carbon rim has a depth of 46mm. uk distributors 2pure are also the distributors of clement tyres, and they had thoughtfully shod the rolfs with 120tpi 700x25c clement strada lgg tyres across the 21mm carbon clincher rims. given carbon's reluctance to conduct heat, the wheels arrive with carbon specific brake pads, and in order to allow simplicity of tyre inflation, each wheel features a valve extension.
according to a tiny sticker on the deep section rim, the tdf5.5 hubs are built with ceramic bearings, the rear wheel featuring a large slotted flange on the non-drive side to even out the tension on the paired spokes. everything, including the sapim cx bladed spokes, were henry ford black. the eleven-speed compatible shimano pattern freehub arrives with a spacer allowing use of a ten speed cassette, something that will probably be used by many customers until the extra japanese sprocket infiltrates the world of the pelotonese.
colnago very kindly allowed me to retain the services of the recently reviewed ac-r bicycle on which to review the ares 4 wheels. aside from the convenience of doing so, i thought it would be just ginger peachy to find out how the bike rode with a much lighter and potentially more sprightly pair of wheels. having fitted the carbon specific brake pads and ten speed cassette, i figured my misgivings concerning such a low and unconventional spoking pattern had been justified before the bike was even removed from the workstand.
neither wheel was perfectly true. in fact, with the calipers set fairly close to the rim, both wheels rubbed on the brakes when freely rotated. not what i'd call an impressionable start even though we're only talking mere millimetres. the spoke nipples on the rolf wheels are concealed within the rims, meaning removal of tyres, tubes and rim tape to effect truing or spoke replacement. no doubt there's an appropriate tool for so doing, a tool i didn't have in my possession, so i simply backed out the caliper arms a smidgeon to let the wheels run free.
the interesting initial comparison was effectively just how much less comfort might be afforded by an undoubtedly lighter, yet stiffer pair of wheels than the stock colnago artemis which arrived with the ac-r. to this end (as if i actually had any choice) i did everything in my meagre power output to ride over the crappest roads we own, incorporating one or two cattle grids for good measure. you'd be very surprised if i claimed the same level of comfort as the stock versions, so i'll not disappoint you by doing so. however, the double-ended benefit proved that, not only do colnago have an uncanny knack of designing comfortable frames, but the rolf ares wheels didn't shake loose any dental fillings. quite the contrary in fact.
having (sort of) satisfied the comfort part of the equation - and believe me, i really showed little mercy regarding the infidelity of a whole range of road surfaces - the second concern for any prospective carbon wheel owner is surely just how well they stop? i can see little point in achieving untold acceleration and speed if it becomes necessary to run into a cow in order to stop. in the dry, there was really little cause for concern; braking was every bit as good as with conventional wheels. in the wet (and i managed to find lots of wet), provided i paid attention, stopping was quite impressive.
having ridden almost 20km along a rain-soaked road on my way to froth-supping, it seemed only prudent to try jamming on both brakes simultaneously for purely experimental reasons. despite my obviously considerable experience in such matters (who am i kidding?), i gave myself a fright when the bike stopped a lot quicker than i'd expected. it does no harm to modulate the brakes if heading downhill or when contemplating possible car/bike interface, getting rid of at least some of the water from pad and rim, but by and large, the rolfs were comfortably confidence inspiring.
acceleration had the effect of positioning me as the very chap that sir dave needs as an integral part of his classics team (i already have the necessary apparel), while their alacrity in climbing easily justified the robert millar ponytail. the colnago was delightfully chuckable in standard guise, but the rolfs enhanced that fivefold, encouraging closer proximity to anything that resembled a bend in the road. if i might borrow a word from ned boulting, they are positively stannardian.
i may have, on occasion, mentioned the wind that inhabits my hebridean domicile; it's a qualitative experience that more often than not, eats deep-rim carbon wheels for breakfast. in regular winds of up to 30kph, it was possible to experience the occasional nudge on both front and rear, but rarely anything worth getting worked up over. however, a pair of these rolf primas retail at around £2100, and had i handed over my hard-earned, i'd want to ride them at any and every opportunity. this is august, one of the island's softer months, but happily, two days of gale-force winds invaded last weekend, offering a better real-world performance test.
while their straight-line speed is impressive, even into a headwind, being clouted by 60kph crosswind gusts really did little for the constitution. in fact, due to a very scary ride down uiskentuie strand on saturday afternoon, when i was seriously looking for somewhere soft to land, on sunday i opted to ride my conventionally wheeled cielo. i would not like to repeat the experience. though the rolfs are a remarkably impressive pair of wheels, i would certainly not recommend these for hebridean life.
though the principal consideration was deep carbon and minimal paired spoking, it seems only fair to mention the sterling service provided by the clement tyres. firstly i was mightily impressed that the colnago had ideal clearance for 25mm tyres, but secondly, i was even more impressed with the tyres themselves. for rubber that retails at around half of its competition, the stradas were brilliant. though i've credited the wheels with providing much of the comfort in the face of stiffness, even at 100psi, the clements must take a portion of the kudos. it was just like riding tubs most of the time, wet or dry.
i'd be surprised if the purchaser of a colnago ac-r were happy to pay even more than the cost of the bike for a pair of rolf wheels, but should they do so, they'd transform a budget colnago into a very serious bit of kit. for anyone riding more expensive carbon, these would be a worthy addition to the armoury. the fact that these were not perfectly true, considering the substantial financial outlay, is something that really ought to be remedied, and would be well worth checking at point of purchase. however, despite showing them no mercy, they did not get any worse; i checked. but all that aside, the ares were the perfect solution to my wheelaholic tendencies.
just don't expect to ride in a straight line when the wind blows.
thursday 22nd august 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
some of you may have appraised yourself of the movie/photo-essay about mercian cycles on rapha's website. half slide show, half podcast, the remit of this media item is to explore the history and work of the derby-based framebuilders, who have been crafting fine steel bicycles since the mid 1940s. the reason for this major exposure, aside from the fact that their craftsmanship deserves all the plaudits available, is that the latest member of the rapha continental in the uk is now aboard a cycle from shardlow road.
however, one of the idiosyncracies brought to light during the commentary of mercian owner, grant mosley, a feature that must be all but lost nowadays, was the number of roadies who would commission a new frame every year painted in an identical colour to last year's frame. this was essentially to fool her indoors into thinking that money had not been spent on a new bicycle frame each year. with so many manufacturers shifting from the frame-only paradigm, and fewer cyclists aboard a material other than carbon, this is a dying state of affairs.
however, for those who still express a preference for purchasing the very frame, steel or otherwise, that will fulfil their every dream (at least until next year) there comes the comcomitant necessity of adding the componentry that will turn it into a bicycle of merit. and no matter which way you look at it, that's going to involve either the friendly local bike shop, or a far more onerous solo effort. and that, as you will have reailsed by now, requires a healthy dollop of knowledge and ability.
the bicycle, by and large, and certainly in comparison to an airbus a380, is simplicity itself. as an individual, i am a rather adept mechanic, even if i do say so myself, though i confess i draw the line at electronics and hydraulics. those delights are just a park tool kit too far i'm afraid. assembling, maintaining and repairing the common or garden road bike is relatively easy. and i am very much of the opinion that if i can do it, pretty much anyone can. yes, somewhere about i have copy of barnett's bicycle manual and an aging version of sutherland's, but mostly i have learned by getting things wrong and figuring out how not to repeat the exercise.
nowadays, however, there really is no believable excuse as to why you should need to follow in my tyre tracks, and one of the principal reasons is sat on the arm of chair as i write.
guy andrews may be best known to most of you as the editor in charge at rouleur, not only a highly respected writer, but a pretty darned good photographer into the bargain. as if those abilities were not sufficient to make his mark on the world of cycling, guy is also a remarkably accomplished cycle mechanic, having presented at least a couple of workshops with rohan dubash over the years. though he has produced previous cycle mechanic books, this edition from bloomsbury publishing is listed as their first with the author.
this is a book that imbues an immediate sense of trust to the newly constituted bicycle mechanic if for no other reason than its published format. not everyone owns a carefully laid out workshop with a place for everything and everything in its place, augmented by a sturdy workbench featuring a wheel-truing stand and hefty vice. some of us plonk the workstand outside the back door, and leave all the tools, components and irritating plastic bags and boxes atop the coal bunker. in which case there is no greater aid to fixing stuff than the ability to lay the pages of the repair manual open flat.
inside the stiff card cover is a ring-bound manual. obvious, but rare.
guy deals with all the basics such as frame materials, types of road bike, and sets of tools depending on budget and ability. there then follows a well laid out, well illustrated manual describing the main jobs that the home mechanic may find himself/herself required to carry out. where necessary, andrews offers the knowledge required for frame repair, though several of the tools required for these procedures are likely beyond the financial wherewithal of me and you.
though the manual describes the various shifting systems, it stops short of delving into the minutiae of dismantling and rebuilding these units. probably a wise move, though one or two of us are always keen to stretch our knowledge just a bit further than we should. however, the task of fitting cables into obscure places is suitably covered. my inference that fixing bicycles is relatively easy is borne out by the clear manner in which the step by step instructions are related to the avid reader. clarity is guy's watchword.
the rear of the book contains a glossary of terminology used in the book, including several terms it would be prudent to know before dismantling stuff you know little or nothing about. if you're only going to buy one book to keep you on the straight and narrow when it comes to bearings, spokes, cleats, headsets, this is probably the one you want.
there's even a chapter on how to fit mudguards correctly, something that you might well be grateful for as 2013 heads towards the tail end of the weather.
if you'd like to win a copy of guy andrews' 'complete road bike maintenance' simply tell me of which esteemed publication he is currently editor in chief? answers to email@example.com by wednesday 28th august, remembering to include your full postal address. first correct answer out the toolbox wins.
wednesday 21st august 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have the dubious distinction of being the first person on islay to own a cycle helmet. since helmet design in the early nineties was hardly state of the art (though admittedly it may have appeared to be at the time), i can assure you that my desire to be so attired was not for sartorial reasons. those were the days when cycle helmet wearers were still regularly referred to as mushroom heads. my attitude then, as now, i'd rather be a fungus than a vegetable (if you catch my drift).
anyway, at the time, i was still intent on emulating the suffering artist in his hebridean garrett, cycling in all weathers from bowmore to sanaigmore to scare myself to bits ambling along the sea cliffs for that rugged aspect of the island landscape. getting there involved riding over the hill at boraichill, a route that offered a short, sharp climb with a disaster of a road; bendy, potholed, gravelly. the descent (which formed the ascent on the return journey) was every bit as crap, but with the added frisson of an inevitable herd of cows standing in the middle of the road.
if you've ever encountered a resident cattle herd anywhere proximitous, you will be well aware that they rarely, if ever, clear up after themselves. plays havoc with the tyres.
cycling is meant to be fun, and as one who not only enjoyed the steep(ish) ascents as well as the thrill of the descents, the relative obscurity and remoteness of the road meant that, were i to come off on a gravelled bend, i could spend an inordinate amount of time lying in a ditch at the roadside, seen by no-one. the options were either to slow down a tad, or, as i saw it at the time, wear a helmet to offer at least minimal protection should the worst ever happen.
though modern helmet design has advanced in leaps and bounds, involving computers and wind-tunnels, in the early nineties, the modern cyclist was rewarded with a minimally vented, substantial dod of polystyrene. in order to make this less onerous to wear than my description would suggest, the model that i purchased wore a stretchy, removable lycra cover. this was also intended to maintain a modicum of structural integrity should the helmet ever have to fulfil the purpose for which it was designed.
it was only a short matter of time before the principal helmet purveyors developed the ability to create a polycarbonate shell to replace the lycra cover, initially simply pinned in place, but ultimately bonded to the expanded polystyrene (eps). as the materials developed, often incorporating a mesh structure to offer strength and shell integrity, it became possible to reduce the surface area of the eps and increase the ventilation. the ultimate versions of this development recently prompted me to point out that the additional reason i wear a helmet these days, is the fact that it makes me look faster than i truly am.
i'd be lying if i said i knew which came first; the chicken or the egg. the racing cyclist's obsession with lightweight components meant that this was ultimately pursued by the helmet guys, but whether this is as a result of an increasing number of vents for ventilation or vice versa, it might be hard to pin down. ultimately, however, the purpose of a helmet is less about style, cooling or light weight, more about saving the owner from serious injury to the head. it's the one part of my reviews i'd rather not test too thoroughly.
rather contrarily, time-trial helmets were originally all about aerodynamics; there was often little pretence that hitting the ground while wearing one of these dan dare look alikes would ever offer much in the way of protection. however, eager to plug a rather iniquitous gap in rational thinking, the uci encompassed the necessity for head protection into their diktat regarding these space-age time-trial helmets. doing so may well have brought about the helmet industry's equivalent of the unified field theory; development could now benefit both styles of helmet, rapidly heading (pun intended) in similar directions.
close observation of the airflow around the less slotted time-trial helmets demonstrated that, if the pointy bit at the rear were chopped off, the airflow was fooled into thinking that the pointy bit still existed. thus it was now possible to design less gladiatorial headgear that still offered the portent of greater speed for similar effort.
the big, and highly visible problem was all those vents that infested the cycle helmets produced by pretty much everybody. though they were readily able to scoop up vast quantities of air to cool the panache-riven cyclist, aerodynamics were not first and foremost. and i think you would agree that, carbon fibre reinforcement notwithstanding, there often seemed to be very little expanded polystyrene between head and ground. thus a problem that would seem to equal that of the balance between a jacket's breathability and its waterproofing.
however, giro helmet engineers, as a result of the blurred lines between time-trial and road helmets, developed perhaps the ideal method of offering a substantially increased polycarbonate surface area, while retaining or even increasing airflow across the head.
the giro air attack helmet features only two front and two top vents, supplemented by another couple of transverse slots at the rear. in this respect, the air attack bears more than a passing resemblance to that lycra covered dod of polystyrene from about twenty years ago. (except it's a darned sight better looking, and a good bit lighter). there, however, the similarity ends. by suspending the eps shell above the x-static, roc-loc webbing, giro have carved deep air channels that draw high pressure air from the front lip of the helmet as well as from the vents, and direct it up and over the rider's head before exiting via the two rear slots.
though there's no way i am fast enough to offer any valid comparison between my ride from home to debbie's wearing the air attack and the same route capped in a giro aeon, giro's numbers contend that the former would have me arriving several seconds sooner. while this is of little import to me, or perhaps even you, there's no doubt that the world tour's marginal gains will welcome those seconds with open arms. perhaps in something of a tautological, yet unconsidered observation, wind noise seems to have been at least slightly reduced in the process of incorporating all the helmet's other features.
as is incumbent on even the least competitive of classics riders, i always wear a casquette under whichever helmet i wear (peak down, since you asked). this, rather obviously, reduces the effect any helmet induced cooling might offer, but it's a burden i'm willing to bear. in a normal hebridean climate, it is all but unnoticeable. the recent bout of warmer weather however, almost coincided with the review period for the air attack, and coincidentally or not, i'm pretty sure my head was a smidgeon warmer than that engendered by the aeon.
but truly not so that i've had mentioned it under less onerous conditions.
wearing a this is cambridge merino cap under the air attack, probably the hottest combination i have, though undeniably warmer, couldn't possibly be said to be uncomfortable. however, though giro have substantially raised the bar with regard to helmet integrity, air-flow and head protection, including the roc-loc retainer, i can't help but mention that the strap webbing seems to have remained firmly in the 1990s. while others have introduced leather chin straps and augmented padding, giro's straps still refuse to lie flat or offer any additional comfort around the neck and chin.
and if i'm being very honest, the fastener has taken a slight backward half-step, its new minimalism making it harder to open and close. and while the roc-loc dial at the rear of the helmet allows fine tuning of the fit, and works with impeccable precision, the dial seems a bit on the small size in comparison to one or two of giro's competitors. it may well be the case that the professional rider is less than troubled by such superficialities, but giro must surely be aware that more of these will be purchased than will be handed out to world tour team riders.
however, minor gripes aside, that much polycarbonate topped eps has to offer a great deal more head protection than its antecedents. and if we can cast our minds back to the 1990s, that was the original purpose of wearing a helmet while cycling in the first place. yet it manages to do so without appearing any heavier than those comprised of tens of vents surrounded by eps. whether you have need of improved aerodynamics or not (no harm in pretending), there's every possibility that giro have either done the right thing for the wrong reason or the right thing for the right reason.
either way, we win.
bizarrely the giro air attack sells considerably cheaper than its predecessor, the aeon. the latter originally sold for a list price of £170, while the former retails for only £120. a veritable bargain. giro helmets are distributed in the uk by zyro.
tuesday 20th august 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................