it's on the high road, almost opposite the entrance to torra water works and moorburn cottage. you wouldn't have thought it too much of a difficulty to have spared a few kilos of tarmac to spread across the passing place when the road was being re-surfaced. or at least, when that short stretch of road benefited from something smoother than the original mess. but no, that appears to have been an effort too far. so what's left only separates itself from the roadside verge by dint of the scarcity of grass.
the hapless cyclist (or even a similarly countenanced motorist) has scarcely a solid piece of ground to ride upon before chancing upon a water-filled relief map of the himalayas. riding into it once was an experience i won't forget in a hurry, but having to do so a second time in as many days was surely adding insult to injury?
then perhaps we might consider the corner of the ballinaby road, just down the hill from that red phone box near carnduncan. in recent years, this corner has taken to flooding quite substantially during periods of heavy rain, filling to a depth of almost one foot for an appreciable distance. with water up to the hubs and feet submerged on each crank rotation, it's not a patch on the travesty recently visited upon the north of england, but that doesn't make it any easier to traverse on a bicycle.
these island features and more have been a part of my festive 500 attempts for the past four years, so this past festive season i decided to take the bull by the horns (so to speak) and leave the road bikes cosily ensconced in thewashingmachinepost bike shed and cover the entire 501.4km on a cyclocross bike. madison/sportline graciously allowed me to retain possession of their ridley x-ride 20 for a few weeks longer in order to investigate the practicalities of riding the road on a bike designed for offroad.
it is a salient fact in the uk at least, that many cyclocross bikes are sold for use as commuting transport. to an extent, that explains the existence of two sets of bottle cage bolts, a feature that could only be seen as a restriction for real cyclocross. despite being fitted with a set of shimano ultegra disc brakes, the ridley still offered the opportunity to fit a set of mudguards/fenders, though an opportunity i ignored for reasons of expediency. my various routes around the isle, however, did bear closer resemblance to the average cyclocross course than london's old street or euston road.
i'm generally in favour of leaving review bicycles precisely as they are delivered, on the basis that as complete cycles, that's pretty much how everyone else will receive them. however, for the purposes of an extended review of a couple of other items, i replaced the factory-built fulcrum wheels with a pair of wheelsmith aero handbuilts, shod with challenge limus 32mm cyclocross clinchers and lifted off the stock saddle in favour of a brand spanking new brooks cambium c13 with carbon rails. i also noted during my review of this bike that the stem was a few millimetres too short for full comfort, but come the 500, i opted to leave it be.
recent research by the world's cycle tyre companies have elicited that, contrary to popular belief, the wider options tend to roll better than narrower. however, i'd be very surprised if that extends up to the width of the minimally knobbly limus 'cross tyres. i could have opted perhaps for a set of 28mm challenge paris-roubaix, but at the risk of stating the obvious, that might easily have defeated the point.
over the festive period, islay's roads are inundated with large audis, range rovers and mercedes vehicles, the very blighters that profess offroad capabilities, but whose owners seem blissfully unaware of such possibilities. thus, more often than not, it remains the province of the cyclist to get the heck out of the way, usually onto wet grass or into passing places as described in my opening paragraph. it's a situation that has impinged on my previous 500s, as well as many other innocent rides around the principality.
hence my querying heading.
actually one of the principal benefits of the cyclocross bike is a greater inherent stability than present in most road bicycles. this affords me the option of popping onto the grass at strategic points when islay's crosswinds threaten to either upend me, or blow me into the path of passing vehicles. it's a lot easier to fall off on saturated grassland that wet tarmac, a factor not entirely ignored in my favouring the ridley over the festive period.
so how did it go?
as many may have surmised, it all went remarkably well. the wheelsmith shod ridley acquitted itself admirably, allowing the traversing of wet cattle grids at speed, offering succour to the windswept when experiencing stronger crosswinds than were admittedly safe, and being only marginally slower than the archetypal road bike. aided and abetted by that carbon brooks cambium, the comfort level was easily up a notch or two over previous years, to the extent that i may have created a truism out of my initial query.
it would not be stretching credibility too far, to state that i'd happily ride the ridley for the rest of the year at the expense of all my other bikes, colnagos and all (i might just let them out for the odd weekend, but otherwise...)
with the sad demise of britain's roads, nowehere better illustrated than on some of islay's singletrack farm roads. riding bicycles that the professionals use for those three weeks in july, just to end up having froth at debbie's in bruichladdich, does seem just a little idiosyncratic to say the least. i now completely understand why cyclocross bicycles fulfil many of the requirements of the fast commuter and even more so out here in the wilds.
as a testament to this particular model, the ridley behaved impeccably throughout every one of those kilometres. aside from the squealing of wet disc rotors, stopping power was never an issue, while the mechanical shimano eleven-speed gearset quite literally never missed a beat. never. i had been riding in galeforce winds for a couple of days before it dawned on me that those wheelsmith aero rims had been shrugging off strong sidewinds with total insouciance. the wheels and the ridley are a perfect partnership made in islay.
though the outcome of this experiment was never really in doubt; the ridley was always going to survive to fight another day; i was partly surprised at just how much i enjoyed the ride. the shortness of stem did give me occasional numbness in my left hand, but nothing serious and a situation that would be alleviated had i fitted a longer version. and simply to confirm that observed on the orginal review, though the ridley hasn't lost any weight in the interim, it still rides as if it was a lotto soudal climber's bike. which, as i'm sure you could imagine, was most welcome a lot of the time.
i've now hidden the ridley in the back garden so that they can't take it back.
thursday 7 january 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................