it was galileo who kicked it all off by dropping a couple of differently sized balls from the upper reaches of the tower of pisa, an edifice that may not have been leaning quite so heavily in the 16th century as it is today. galileo thus demonstrated that gravity works equally and evenly upon each solid body, accelerating them all at the same rate. no doubt the early reaches of gravitational theory took into account any aerodynamic drag that may enter the equation.
in the late seventeenth century, sir isaac newton published principia, his hypothesis of the inverse-square law of gravity that applies to each and every object. he figured that such a law pretty much had to exist, otherwise there was no observable manner in which the planets could maintain their spatial orbits in relation to one another. using this theory, he successfully predicted the existence of neptune based on the inexplicably eccentric movements of the planet uranus.
unfortunately, einstein's theory of relativity in 1915 poked a few holes in the thoughts and observations of sir isaac.
but just before the post begins to resemble an episode of the big bang theory, this one-sided discussion needs to regain its roots on our home planet. for to be quite honest, just how the planet mercury keeps just far enough away from the sun is really of no nevermind when considering the practicalities of cyclocross activity. and just while we're talking about gravity, let me surreptitiously introduce momentum to the conversation.
momentum is the combined product of mass and velocity, rather obviously explaining why it is that a rider of superior weight has an observable tendency to roll to the bottom of the hill ahead of the ten-stone weakling. of course, the existence of ceramic bearings in those hubs may just impose an inequality in my narrative, but i assume that will be taken care of by the velocity aspect.
thus, to place all this in some sort of comprehensibe context, and allowing for my extremely rudimentary recall of high-school physics (i have a higher, you know), when the bicycle heads downhill, relatively unimpeded by outcrops of undergrowth or less than salubrious road conditions, its mass, helpfully encouraged by gravity and some sort of low drag co-efficient, it's going to get progressively faster. and unless that road or track is of endless proprtions, there's a point at which the end-user (you and me) is going to have to intervene. that's what brakes are for.
as far as i'm aware, neither galileo nor sir isaac had promising careers as cyclocross riders, though the non-invention of the bicycle at that point may not have treated them too equitably. i have seen photographs of albert einstein on a bicycle, but i confess i did not look closely enough to check whether it featured cantilevers or discs. either way, the vagaries of off-road riding must surely be taken into account when considering the stopping needs of the average and not so average cyclocross bicycle.
disc brakes have been uci legal in the cyclocross arena for almost three years now, but it is most telling that the majority of euro riders are still using cantilever brakes. up till now, it has been predominantly the american contingent that have welcomed rotors with open arms. irrespective of which option is featured, there is still the not inconsiderable matter of the firmament underfoot when it comes to how quickly the brake levers can overcome gravity and momentum. but if necessary to nail flags to the nearest wall, i'm still in favour of cantilever over discs, even having ridden both.
that doesn't make me a bad person; right?
i confess it came as something of a surprise to discover that fsa offered a rather fine set of cantilever brakes suitable for cyclocross. their imagery had successfully fooled me into believing that the road was uppermost in their minds, even though the hakkalugi is equipped with a most commendably appropriate fsa 'cross chainset. the k-force cantilevers are neatly presented in a card box, offering two pairs of brakes complete with fixing bolts, straddle hangers, straddle wires and cable ends.
what was not in the box was anything resembling a set of fitting instructions. you will be wondering just how hard it could possibly be to bolt four brake units to the frame pivots, but somewhere along the lines, there's the not always obvious method of fitting the return springs. and though one end easily slotted into the hole at the back of the pivot, there were a few moments of concern when i couldn't see where the spring connected to the brake.
inboard of the brake pad, between the clamp bolt and the frame, is a small slot featuring one of those impossibly tiny allen bolts on one side. slotting in the longer end of the spring once the brake has been bolted to the frame subsequently allows the tension to be adjusted either for the purposes of centreing the brakes, or increasing the return pressure.
the sturdy carbon cantilever arms sandwich the pad assembly, one offering a hook for an end of the straddle wire, the other a clamp and barrel adjuster for post tension adjustment. the straddle hanger is simplicity itself to fit; a single allen bolt clamps it to the brake cable. the part that slides over the frame pivot is thoughtfully made from brass, a material that promises both smoothness, low friction and longevity. that seems more than welcome on a cyclocross bike.
fitting, despite the lack of instructions, was a reasonably simple affair, and though i'd love to tell you that i had the pads adjusted perfectly first time, i'd be fibbing. luckily there was no-one about to hear the squealing from the front rim.
though i have not, nor ever will pin a number on my back and mix it with an offroad peloton, i do have in my possession a rather ideal circuit around bridgend woods that offers pretty much every kind of surface you could expect to meet were you of the competitive genre. hardpack, mud, gravel, grass and rock are all available with no real need to search them out, but the rickety bridge is no longer a part of the equation.
i have not cyclocrossed for many a month, during which time, it seems, the rickety bridge has taken early retirement. as i near bridgend village, i have usually nipped onto the track running parallel to the road, exiting but a few metres from the gravel packed hill into the woods. a left turn at the top leads onto a sharp descent down towards the river sorn, previously crossed by means of the aforementioned rickety bridge. the danger: unsafe bridge sign rapidly met was the first test of fsa induced braking power. i have dry feet to prove my point.
i like to think of myself as a smooth rider, not prone to sudden and inexplicable changes of direction, nor one who fails to constantly anticipate any unforeseen hazards. this is certainly easier around a course that has been previously ridden, but i have as my mantra sean kelly's exhortations to keep off the brakes because "they'll only slow you down". however, given that this is a review rather than a simple offroad bike ride, i made every effort to bring myself to a sudden stop in the most inopportune of places, as far as possible without skidding.
i was mostly successful in my venture, other than when the tyres occasionally lost grip.
but cyclocross is rarely about hurtling to an immediate halt, more about scraping off just enough speed to maintain trajectory but without sliding into uncharted portions of the undergrowth. each successive lap increased either my confidence or foolhardiness, depending on your point of view, but i can't say i was ever in danger of examining the surrounding plant life closer than from the saddle. it seems almost nonsensical to say so, but these brakes did pretty much exactly what you'd expect them to do, and in a most timely, efficient and impressive manner. additionally, it seems there is no demanding requirement for superior upper body strength to have them do so.
the argument over whether to ride cantis or discs will quite probably be settled by the manufacturers who will opt to discontinue the former in favour of the latter at some point. but for now, while the choice is mine to make, i'm more than content to place my trust in this rather impressive contradiction to gravity and momentum.
the fsa k-force cyclocross brakeset retails at £280. the set reviewed features the old graphics, now updated in line with many of fsa's product line. fsa is distributed in the uk by windwave.
monday 2nd september 2013