the post

book reviews

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now it works with macs

the true reason for broadband. having looked at this a few months ago, the compatibility with mac computers was a bit patchy, but now it works just fine and several more channels are currently on test and hopefully available by end february, beginning march 2006.

point your browser at www.cycling.tv

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how much?

Those very expensive people at rapha have announced a new batch of products including tri-colour jerseys, rain jacket, kit bag, crochet gloves, full finger gloves and a pair of long shorts. unfortunately, they may have just lost the plot slightly with the prices - 270 for a limited edition kit-bag anyone? and i used to think assos was expensive.

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ooooooh comfort

those of you who count themselves as fans of duffers on eurosport can't have failed to have heard him prattling on during the early season races about 'easter knees'. he was referring to the phenomenon well known to most cyclists in the cooler countries (and islands) where the knees tend to become cold in the extreme during the sunday bike ride. well, ok, it doesn't just happen on a sunday but you get the picture.

assos airprotec bibtights

then along came our favourite people in switzerland (where it has been known to get quite cold) who boldly told their research and development people to cure 'easter knees'. actually that's probably not how it happened but it makes interesting reading so that's what we're going to run with. assos have taken their renowned roubaix material, covered the area from just above the knee to mid way down the shin (see photo) with their equally renowned airprotec material, and produced luxury in a pair of bibtights. and if that wasn't enough luxury for one day, the chamois insert is their f1.mille elastic material which moves as you do on the bike and has virtually eliminated chafing. always assuming you have ordered the right size.

each leg ends in a footloop to stop the leg riding up during cycling activity and in customary assos attention to detail, the short zip that closes over the stomach area has been fitted to the outside of the tight, thereby allowing the material to lie flat across the body. why hasn't anyone thought of that before? and finding a small tab emanating from the rear seam along the calf area, i though there must be a label sown inside. but no, there is a corresponding tab on the other leg and both are made from a rubberised reflective material. so when pedalling in low light or darkness, this provides an excellent aid to visibilty.

since a seam behind the knee area is always going to give trouble when cycling (i know from experience) assos have removed the problem by having a flat oval piece of roubaix material behind the knee, thereby moving the seam to the outside. instant comfort.

having given the said garment a couple of good workouts over tow days of cold weather, i can attest to the comfort of the airprotec tights and most certainly to their thermal qualities. no more easter knees - despite the relatively low elastic properties of the airprotec, there is no restriction of movement at any time, whether standing, sitting, climbing, descending or rather half-hearted attempts at sprinting (i was hoping no-one would notice).

the only problem might the price. list is around 150 in the uk, although it's possible to find some retailers who discount this down to around 130, but i don't suppose anyone's going to pretend that that is a whole lot cheaper. however, i can't really imagine a better way of spending this amount of money, always assuming you take your cycling and comfort seriously.

if you're in the market for a pair of bibtights to keep you cosy and in a position to argue with david duffield, these definitely fit the bill.

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my first bike

strictly speaking here, we're not talking about my first bike, but possibly your first bike, or maybe even your first 'proper' bike. i'm going to have to make some assumptions here, and they are probably assumptions that are a bit wide of the mark, but you can't be right all the time. this is in response to a few e-mails i have had over the past months about what would constitute a suitable first 'proper' bike.

almost everybody gets their first bike when they're quite young and you then have to put up with whatever your parents can afford and almost always whatever dad or mum consider to be fashionable at the time. actually, that's a rather misleading statement, because mum and dad probably buy whatever the manufacturers have decided is fashionable at the time.

it can't have escaped your attention that almost everything these days is reminiscent of a downhill mountain bike, weighs pretty much the same as the mountain, and has front and rear suspension that ceases to function in any practical way after a month or two of use. aside from this, the suspension is pretty much unserviceable because it uses non-standard components and easily worn nylon bushing. and i have noticed that these full suspension toys have another long term disadvantage - the seatpost. since kids grow at varying and unpredictable rates, it's kind of nice to buy a bike with a bit of growth in it, so that when your nine year old wakes up in the morning a couple of feet taller than when they went to sleep, the bike still fits.

focus bikes

for this reason, a new bike for christmas always seems a bit of a dichotomy to me - it's the ideal time to purchase that slightly(!) more expensive present, but in the northern hemisphere, christmas (winter) isn't the ideal time of year for kids to be out on the bike much. anyway, back to the seatpost. since the rear suspension moves the rear triangle independently, you will notice (you do have one in front of you now don't you?) a sort of 'bump stop' at the top of the so-called seatstays. you will also notice that the seat-tube is a very short tube generally stuck on the end of an arm welded on to what we used to call the top tube.

now if they supplied you with any meaningful length of seatpost on these bikes and the recipient was short on the inside leg, then the bottom of the seatpost would bang on the bump stop and restrict what little travel is available on the rear suspension (can you detect a slight distaste for this type of bike?). so in order to prevent this happening, the seatpost provided is short enough that, when at its lowest setting, the bottom of the post is still clear of the bump stop when the suspension is fully compressed.

however, this means that there are not too many centimetres showing out the top of the seat-tube when the post is extended to the maximum limit mark. it then really becomes a competition between how long the bike remains mechanically operable against the projected height of the offspring.

however, my intention had been to discuss your first 'proper' bike, and on thewashingmachinepost that would specifically refer to something with drop bars and skinny wheels. if that isn't what floats your boat, and offroad is more your style, i'll try and work my way round to that towards the end of the post. in order to protect your investment, in the assumption that you might not want to purchase a new machine every two years, we'll take a good look at the frame. (if you're going to buy a new one within two years, then just buy whatever you want:-) we're basing our decisions on the frame quality because it makes more sense to start with a quality frame and perhaps cheaper components rather than vice versa because components are easy enough to upgrade and replace.

some enlightened companies use the same quality frame across a range of bikes, changing the price point by fitting that very frame with progressively more expensive components, but almost every manufacturer of complete bikes (unless we stray into italian exotica) is aiming at a price point. if the whole enchilada comes in at 799, then you can bet that someone in accounts or marketing has been busy with the calculator to make sure that it doesn't hit that frightening 800 mark. for this reason you will often find something like centaur levers and rear mech but a mirage front mech and chainset (or the shh, you know who equivalent). this is because rear mechs are more impressive (apparently) than fronts. and on more than a few occasions i have had cause to remove the bottom bracket on a reasonably specified bike to discover that it's not even the cheapest model from the groupset range but some no name effort that was probably just as well hidden inside the bottom bracket shell.

but i digress (again). the frame. it used to be all steel, steel and nothing but steel. then along came aluminium (aluminum for my friends across the pond) which initially had a reputation of being somewhat on the stiff side (in fact, ideal for a suspension mountain bike) if you were a light rider. however, since the art of butted aluminium tubes became ever more sophisticated, this became less of a problem for those missing those extra kilos. titanium used to be, and can still be, a very high end frame material, often costing considerably more for the frame than most would be happy spending on a whole bike, but this depends on the grade of titanium and whether or not it is formed as a tube or welded to create a tube.

what i'm really saying is that it's possible to buy comfortably priced as well as 'it costs how much?!' titanium's major selling point, especially if you live on the west coast of scotland, is it's almost total resistance to corrosion. this is why titanium frames are more often than not left unpainted. and it's also why the threaded bottom bracket insert in a colnago carbon frame is also made of titanium - it makes the likelihood of the alloy bracket threads corroding in place extremely minimal.

and that brings us nicely to carbon. a number of low cost carbon fibre frames and bikes have recently found their way on to at least the european market. wiggle have recently started selling a complete carbon bike for under 1000 and to all intent and purpose, it seems to have been well received (if anyone from wiggle would care to send a 56cm version to the post, i'd be happy to review it).

however, if you're anything like i was when i moved out on my first 'quality' road bike, you may well wonder if you would know whether you're riding a quality frame or not, then it may be an idea to move up over a period of time. my first frame was a steel 531 frame which suffered damage after a year or two and was replaced with a steel 653 frame which ran the then exotic 753 in the rear triangle. now 753 was renowned for its 'spring' at least in the reviews that i read. i often wondered if i would be attuned enough to notice any real difference between 531 and 753, but i pretty much found that i was. (it's worth pointing out that both these frames were lugged and brazed in the traditional way, as opposed to the now more common tig welding).

the 653 was replaced with a colnago superissimo, yet again a steel frame, but this time lugged and brazed from columbus steel. it certainly looked way cooler than either of its predecessors and i'm sure i convinced myself that it was the next step forward, but i'm not sure that it was much if at all, better than the 653/753 combi. the forks were considerably better because those fitted to the 653 frame could actually be seen shuddering with every application of the front brakes - very disconcerting. as regular readers will know, i am now happily astride colnago's finest - an all carbon c40hp and it is waaaaaaay better than any of its predecessors. it fits like a glove, it weighs next to nothing (i can actually lift it with one finger) and it is easily the most comfortable bike i have ever ridden. add to that, the fact that it rides like it is on rails, and i am indeed a happy camper.

however, back to your first bike. take into consideration what type of riding you plan to do and how inspired you figure you'll need to be. no point in going for the cheapest most boring looking machine unless it will only be required for commuting duties. also take into consideration how likely it is to be nicked. i have the great good fortune to live on an island where bike theft is pretty much zero. add to that, i have the only c40 within cycling distance and anything that gets pinched still has to be removed from the island - let's face it, you'd have to be pretty loopy to nick my colnago and try and sell it locally. so something in bright yellow with an italian name and a carbon record groupset is probably just asking for trouble left parked in a city centre. however, if it is something that you'll use in club rides or just going out with mates at the weekend, then get what you think gives a good balance between cost and perceived performance.

ribble cycles

fortunately a number of retailers (ribble or wiggle are good places to look) seem to be able to provide just what most will be looking for within perfectly acceptable price constraints. perhaps i should have said before i started all this diatribe that an absolute minimum cost would be around 400 - 500 for a complete bike. if your budget is lower than this i would think your only choices would rest in finding something in a sale or secondhand. either that or take a serious look at revising your budget upwards.

alternatively, you could go the 'buy a frame and assemble it yourself' road, but that does depend on you knowing more about frames and components and having the technical ability to piece it all together. unless you already have a complete set of park workshop tools, i would ask the retailer to fit the headset and bottom bracket for you. the bottom bracket doesn't really require expensive fitting tools, but having the bb shell faced before fitting does. and i wouldn't recommend fitting a new headset in a new frame without the proper tool. yes, i've done it, and i know others that have also, but on a new frame - especially if it cost a bob or two - it's not the easiest of processes and you risk damaging the headset, the frame, or both. and if it isn't fitted square in the headtube, you'll have problems for ever more.

downside to this method is that it is pretty much always more expensive than a complete bike purchase. you're only buying one chainset, one pair of tyres etc., whereas manufacturers are usually buying in hundreds if not thousands at a time, and that works out cheaper per component. ribble cycles can help you with this process since they have an online bikebuilder, but you still need to know what you're looking for

if it is indeed your first 'proper' bike, unless you are mechanically gifted or particularly enthusiastic to head down this route, i'd go for the complete bike. it's probably the best way of finding out what you like and what you don't like for the least amount of dosh.

i realise this has all been about road bikes, though many of the principles apply to any type of bike (well, apart from shopping bikes and the like). i've more stuff lined up about frames and stuff so i'll maybe get on to that next time

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this website is named after graeme obree's championship winning 'old faithful' built using bits from a defunct washing machine

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as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.

this column appears, as regular as clockwork on this website every two weeks. (ok so i lied) sometimes there are bits added in between times, but it all adds to the excitement.

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