i'm in the washingmachine bikeshed, where i've been for the past hour and a half. it might be august, but there's rain outside, and the wind has found its way in the doorway and it's biting at my ankles. converse all-stars were never a great way to keep feet warm, but heck, it's supposed to be august. the colnago is poised on the workstand, its rear carbon b-stay sitting naked because i'm holding the chorus rear caliper in my hand. the detached cable hangs in a sort of semi-curve down towards the quick release lever on the pink ck hub.
it's often a slow process tuning the bike; in this case i've footered with the gears and checked the odd bolt or two, including those holding the crank to the square taper record bottom bracket. there's always a click or two emanating from that region when you give it some welly up the hills, so you can't be too careful. anyway, the rear caliper is cupped in my hand because of a rattle from the left lever after braking. it's either the cable sticking in its casing, which is the more likely culprit, or all the gunk that makes its way into the unprotected caliper has caused it to become sticky and not spring back after application.
the spring is on the inner face of the caliper and slides in two notches, which is where it sometimes sticks. i've been trying, so far unsuccessfully to grease the inner faces of those notches, without flipping the spring out, because last time i did this, it took ages to fit it back again, and since i have no confidence that this is the problem - the brake seems to be functioning just dandy when squeezed with grubby, sore fingers - my money's on the inner cable. the obvious thing to do would be to remove the inner from the outer through the brake lever, grease it and replace, but have you any idea how long it can take to thread the darned thing back in? and i don't have the time to remove the bar tape (though goodness knows it needs removing) to aid the process.
the rain's got a bit heavier, and i've had little success in keeping the shed door closed; my fingers and feet are cold (are you sure this is august?), and though there's no mirror or shiny surface in the vicinity, i'm sure there's more than one greasy black mark on cheek and chin. time's moved on - it's taken longer than i'd planned, and i need to nip down to the village to collect the guardian before the shop shuts. everything is now lubed to death, and that'll just have to do. it seems a bit better than it was, or maybe i've just convinced myself of that. tomorrow's ride will tell one way or the other.
back inside, my suspicions of those facial marks are confirmed, and then some, and after washing hands in water that seems scalding hot, i scrapple open the tin of sportique sportsmen's friend - not a tub of minty sweeties, but a heavy duty balm that makes those poor wee handies feel more like skin and bone and less like poorly varnished wood. heat has returned to those digits. black marks on the face are not welcoming of such hot water, so a handy tube of sportique skin toner does exactly what it says on the tin: refreshing and cleansing.
now to go buy that newspaper.
a tin of sportmen's friend retails at £13.25 ($19.95) and a tube of skin toner at £7 ($9.95).
posted on saturday 9th august..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have friends in portland, oregon, and i'm very proud to call them my friends, because i've never ever been there, yet they all treat me as if they had a coffee with me every sunday morning. and as life goes the way life goes, these friends, who are all important people within the bicycle industry in one way or another, also have friends and acquaintances who, surprisingly enough, also work with bicycles. so before this starts to sound like an extended family tree, i will get to the point. the rapha continental has its base in portland, and as part of their scurrying about all parts of north america, they have had custom built rapha continental bikes made by a variety of north american bike builders. so when the continental interviewed ira ryan, tony pereira, richard sachs, christopher igleheart, circle a cycles, independent fabrication, sycip and bilenky, they very kindly sent me an e-mail earlier this week to let me have a look.
reading through each of the interviews, and in particular, looking at the photos of their workshops, it is somewhat of an epiphany to realise that some of this craftsmanship, as we would perhaps regard it, is bordering on, and frequently stepping past, artistry. now i do not wish to demean bike builders who are not a part of the rapha continental, because there are many such artists throughout the modern world who have stuck to their guns, so to speak, and continue to build with lugs and steel and files and brazing torches, eschewing the modern world of carbon and autoclaves and one size fits all. and by so doing, builders such as those in the rapha continental are keeping this type of frame contemporary, because they're not slaving away in their cramped workshops for nostalgic or heritage reasons. this is the 21st century and they and their peers are very much a part of it.
to quote ira ryan
"i think relying too heavily on technology to support your design and technique is risky. quality is elusive, everywhere you look and in so many aspects of our daily lives, and i think independent bicycle frame builders are doing something small to change that."
the man has a point, because while we're all looking for a similarly elusive quality in our riding, we've a strangely effusive attitude towards our choice of bicycles. let me qualify: many of the top line carbon jobbies are engineered for the benefit of professional sponsored riders. and argue or bluff as much as you want, but very few of us ride in the manner of pro race bike riders; we simply don't need tapered carbon steerers, and oversized bottom bracket shells. we just don't put out that much power, nor do we require that degree of rigidity in a frame.
in this light it's encouraging to see colnago, one of the world's foremost cycle manufacturers, still happy to produce the lugged steel, master x-light and definitely not as an afterthought (see colnago.cc), and i often wonder whether eddy merckx will regret trying to shift the last of his steel frames with no intention of restarting production anytime soon.
so it is left to these independents - in every sense of the word - all across the globe, who are keeping bicycles, their craft and their art alive, because they are obsessed with the same things that we are.
only some of us have taken our eye off the road for a moment.
read the interviews with the rapha continental builders here
photo courtesy the rapha continental
posted on friday 8th august...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
twenty four years ago, robert millar pulled on a red polka dot jersey in paris, making him the first, and only british and scottish cyclist ever to win one of the main jerseys in the tour de france. judging by the cycling forums even these days, robert is still held in high esteem by uk and, indeed, european cycle fans. so if it's twenty four years since millar wore dots in france, then that would make next year the twenty-fifth anniversary.
such an important event in the history of british/scottish cycling cannot go unheralded, and preferably by something a bit more substantial than a nice picture on thewashingmachinepost or robertmillar.net. i have, therefore, decided to try and persuade one of the more prominent clothing manufacturers that it would be an absolutely spiffing idea to produce a special jersey commemorating the pinnacle of climbing prowess. but i can't do this alone, so i've started to enlist the assistance of one or two people i believe may have some clout in this direction, however, there's nothing like public pressure to appeal to the bottom line.
to this effect, i am asking that all of you out there in robert millar is my hero land to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to the effect that you'd be rather interested in purchasing just such a jersey if said company were to bring one to market. as i write this, i can already identify the pitfalls, since people always tell you what they think you want to hear, but i'm relying on you all to be scrupulously honest with your replies. and don't worry, i have no intention of passing on your e-mail addresses to those in power, just your names.
i'm banking on the fact that it's very difficult to argue with hard cash (or flexible plastic).
this article is also posted at robertmillar.net
posted on thursday 7th august...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm not going to tell you who i was talking to about this, because it will just prejudice your views of this highly technical discussion; a discussion that relates to shimano's official release of di2, the electronic version of dura-ace. worryingly, di2 apparently is shimano's shorthand for digital integrated intelligence which, as you and i both know, means absolutely sod all. it's very unlikely that any of the integrated electronics in this new cycling edifice actually contain any intelligence, any more so than the bog standard version does.
what shimano may have been referring to, and this was at least a part of the discussion, is an ability of the front and rear mechs to self-adjust after the initial setup. admittedly, this is quite a clever advancement in the field of bicycle gearing, but do please bear in mind just how often your current gear setup goes out of adjustment while riding (not once in over three years). and if we've been paying attention to the rumours regarding the cost of di2, most of the initial purchasers, or users, are likely to be pro teams, people who have people who are experts in setting up the current cabled versions.
however, the discussion moved onto the probability that this technology would trickle down to joe public who would be overjoyed that their lime green treks had self-adjusting, electronic gears. how simple can it get? being aware that several electronic gear systems have so far had a propensity to malfunction at just the wrong time, this could prove particularly entertaining at rush hour (provided, of course, you happen to be watching and not riding).
and, if we accept that these electronics will indeed find their way into the mainstream, making the bicycle one of the coolest devices known to youthful kind, someone else will want to get in on the act. and who do we know who has pretty much owned youth culture since they released the ipod? exactly. and if you've seen the adverts for the brompton world championships we're already well on the way to the next big thing. think what fun and excitement could be had if you combined shimano's di2 with apple's shuffle technology - a system that selects gears totally at random. any suitably sized circuit would form the basis of the event, with a massed start, and first home would still be the winner.
just remember that i thought of it first.
posted on wednesday 6th august...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
let's face it, could you refuse the opportunity to road test a bicycle with the name betty leeds emblazoned on one side of the down tube in beautiful white script? me neither, and that was even before i had the faintest idea why it was called betty leeds. the bicycle in question arrived courtesy mosquito bikes in essex road, london, sole uk agents for german bike manufacturers fixie inc.. as their name suggests, they do offer at least a couple of bicycles with a fixed wheel, but the betty leeds is labelled as a road race bike. while you can have a betty leeds frame only, in this case betty arrived as a complete bicycle, built with a sram force groupset (you can also have it with a rival groupset or top of the range red). so i tested it as it arrived.
the frame is made from custom drawn, aircraft grade 4130 cromo steel, painted in a deep black with the fixie inc. logo on a pearl white background towards the front of the top tube. i was originally under the impression the frame had been fillet brazed, but just to prove how easy it is to be wrong, the cromo is in fact tig welded. bearing in mind this mistaken notion, perhaps it's pointless to say that the welds are neat and tidy. the head tube takes a standard external bearing headset, but the seat tube receives a ruddy enormous 31.6mm truvativ alloy seatpost. this seems rather at odds with steel's more normal diameter. whatever happened to 27.2mm? interestingly it does clamp the saddle with two bolts - one front, one rear, but quite accessible with angled allen bolts. a lot easier than the twin bolt version from colnago. the seatstays are of an inverse curve - it seems that curved stays are entering two distinct camps; those like fixie and merckx that curve inwards, and the opposite from the likes of colnago and wilier. we could debate the benefits till the cows come home.
the top tube is quite a spectacular affair, though rather subtle due to the black paint. laterally oval where it is welded to the head tube, the profile alters along its length, becoming almost triangular on reaching the seat tube. the down tube, while not radically oversized, is sort of vertically oval at the top, morphing to horizontally oval at the bottom bracket junction.
the fork is a reynolds ouzo carbon, customised with painted white inner panels. the left inner bears some fabulous scroll work which we must ascribe to its poseur tendencies. somewhat disappointingly, though more common than i'd like, the alloy dropouts have those horrible little lawyer's lips that turn a quick release into a flipping nuisance.
a truvativ polished aluminium stem clamps a pair of truvativ rouleur anatomic oversize bars, with those flat tops that are becoming very much to my (and others') taste, finished with white cork ribbon to complement the black and white colour scheme. this is continues onto the white san marco aspide saddle. surprisingly, the chainset is a truvativ carbon compact 36/50 - surprising because the card attached to the bars on arrival stated road race, and road race rarely means compact. sram force gear mechs and brakes are operated by the infamous carbon double-tap levers, whose hood shape emulates shimano more than campagnolo.
the wheels are the visually outstanding feature of betty leeds; using black and white hubs and rims, the dt swiss rr 1450 mon chasseral wheelset features 28 radial spokes at the front, and the matching rear also 28 spoke but built two cross. the spokes are black double-butted making their way into the rims via red aluminium nipples. these are, of course, the wheels that arrived with the non quick release, quick releases that i was moaning about the other day, and shod with favoured schwalbe ultremos.
so that's what you get from the shop, but what do you get from the bike?
betty looks rather fine in the sun - black and white is always a striking colour scheme and the presence of blinding sunlight, rare though it may be, certainly helps to set a bike off against its colourful surroundings. betty turned up about a week before the ride of the falling rain, so there was the occasional opportunity to take her out for a quick spin and one or two (or three) double espressos at club headquarters on the rhinns. these were short forays across the bow, and favourably received by both parties.
fixie offer the medium frame size as a 54cm centre to top, but the seat tube sticks up a couple of centimetres beyond that - so it's really a 56cm, because that whacking great seatpost won't manage any lower. top tube is a pleasant 54.5, but the stem on the test bike, a rather minimal 110mm. i'm sort of struggling here to come up with a reason as to why a steel bike was quite so rigid and, dare i say it, unforgiving. these short trips with betty were quite invigorating, but i'd hesitate to say cossetted with comfort. however, with the ride of the falling rain as the ultimate challenge (at the outer edge, you understand) we would see what we would see.
if you can cast your minds back to the london paris ride of this year, you will recall my telling you that i removed myself from the furiousness of group three to the relative calm of group four, as befitting an athlete of my advanced years. well, someone obviously wasn't paying attention to that bit (and i know exactly who), and i was set off at the head of the so called fast group or hard riders. surely an administrative error? this involved hitting 27km/h for more kilometres than i care to remember, when betty and i had barely been properly introduced. gearing was fine, having discovered that when they called it double-tap that's not what they meant at all. a short click moved the chain down the cassette, while a hefty swing inwards takes it in the opposite direction. believe me, tis no fun finding yourself in the twelve when the road is going up. since the company colnago has featured nothing but campag for its five years of service, this took a bit of getting used to, but it did work very well.
sitting on the lever hoods was comfortable enough to be comfortable, and even though there were those missing millimetres from the stem, it never really felt cramped in the cockpit. sram's rival brakes are really rather good, despite my having set them a bit closer to the rim than i should have. since it's not called the ride of the falling rain for nothing, there was ample opportunity to try stopping in the dry and the wet, but betty was fazed by neither, though a bit of crap did get in the way during a wet afternoon on islay.
however, screaming along at a speed at least 2km/h faster than i would have preferred to have seen on the garmin, did eventually take its toll; not on betty but on her companion for the day. while i am happy to raise my hand and accept at least part of the blame, i will defend myself by pointing sharply at the san marco aspide saddle. this has to be the most uncomfortable perch on which i have ever placed my chamois, not even remotely aided and abetted by that drainpipe of a seatpost. my bum is normally saddle agnostic, and had indeed been so on those shorter trips betty and i had taken earlier in the week. i'm sure i remembered steel to be more comfortable than it was turning out to be, and i think the culprits, apart from the saddle, may well have been the wheels (what on earth is wrong with a fine pair of three cross?) and that exotic profiling of the tubes. i have never raced at all, so can hardly be the sanest person to ascribe racing qualities to any bicycle, but methinks betty may well have been more at ease in something like a criterium, or a short road race. in this case, betty and i went for 160km or thereabouts, and she won.
still, all was not lost. the second, and in this case wet part of the falling rain, has a hill in it, and despite by this distance that through a hedge backwards feeling, climbing was a very pleasant experience not least because betty has very little body fat. as i mentioned before, betty had a compact chainset, and although not what one would expect on a lady of such refinement, there are times when that 36 inner ring has its uses. standing and struggling did produce a smattering of rubbing noises from the back wheel, but i have already pointed out that i probably set the calipers a bit too close to the rim. from the bottom bracket there was nary a murmur of movement, lending some more credence to that stiffness stuff. almost without fail, after going up, it becomes necessary to succumb to gravity, this time quite steeply on wet corners with larger than life portions of gravel. betty, stalwart that she is, shuffled off all with haughty disdain, speeding downhill with all the confidence of a colnago
in a way, i shall be sorry to see betty off on the train (artistic licence here - she's going in a box on a truck) to london. the paintwork, elaborate lettering and scrollwork and that endearing smile, mean that you can't help but love her, though in my case for short periods only. riding round town, or on those brief but exciting runs to the countryside, betty will always be your best companion, but such sophistication notwithstanding, i'm definitely not taking her to paris.
and in case, like me, you're wondering where the inspired name betty leeds arrived from, fixie inc. name their bicycles after thoroughbred racehorses. nope, me neither.
a fixie inc. betty leeds frame and fork retails for £1120. sram rival build costs £2375. the model tested with sram force retails at £2775, while the top of the range with sram red comes in over £3000 by £60.
posted on tuesday 5th august - revised on wednesday 6th..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
sunday 3rd august - the ride of the falling rain. 100 miles (give or take a few, depending on how fast you were feeling) round the principality in disgustingly fine weather, or at least is was up until lunchtime. after a fine lunch at the old kiln cafe, ardbeg, it took on the mantle of its eponymous title, and rain jackets were required. thank goodness. how embarrassing would it have been to have a bike ride entitled thus, run off in completely dry weather?
however, whether the weather's wet or dry, athletes such as ourselves still require to step through the pre-ride preparation; remembering to get up in the morning is almost a pre-requisite, and you're onto a winner if all the necessary clothing is carefully laid out (though i'm willing to allow for it all lying in a pile on the floor) ready to exit from the team bus. bear with me - i'm trying to stay in character here.
but sort of surprisingly, and ranking up there with whether or not to shave your legs, is using some form of chamois cream. some do, some don't. gone (thankfully) are the days when shorts were made with a real chamois insert, a natural material that had the uncanny ability to turn into something akin to coarse sandpaper after being washed, necessitating the aforementioned cream. however, with ever softer and more elastic inserts being developed between subsequent assos adverts, there are those who will assert that using any form of cream in those nether regions is merely a tradition best ignored. oh how wrong they are.
it's true that, at one time, it was nigh on impossible to obtain anything other than the minty aroma of the assos tub, but the past few years have seen the arrival of other creams on the block. one such is the cream under consideration - sportique century riding cream. and just to remove any possibility of prejudice, both jez and myself liberally applied this distinctively fragranced cream to the parts that it should be liberally applied to (sorry i had to share that with you). and just to make this even more of an independent test, we spoke nary a word to each other throughout the passing kilometres - at least, i think that's why we didn't speak.
in a similar mind to testing things such as socks and saddles, the fact that it wasn't noticed at all speaks volumes. there is no doubt that the saddle atop my test bike was italian branded agony, but the century cream performed superbly - no chafing, no rubbing, no agony. you get the picture. and jez concurred (one has to choose suitable moments for such conversations). happily i have a large red and white tube of the stuff sitting atop the bathroom cabinet ready and waiting to keep my future cycling friction free.
something that is unlikely to bring tears to my thighs.
and what of the apres ride dinner? since last year's ride of the falling rain ended in the usual disarray, because not all of us are as fast as all the rest of us, it seemed a delightful idea (and it might even have been mine) to have an evening of food, drink, conversation and a tour de france dvd. and even though we're all cyclists together, some were cyclists' families, the presence of which required at least a modest degree of decorum. this decorum should always extend to niffing nice. granted, we've already covered the sportique body soap which has at least started the process, but a dod of spray that will aromacise the physique wouldn't go amiss. what luck then, that sportique provided three deodorant sprays.
each is contained within a 120ml spray dispenser; not one of those pressurised metal cans, but one that relies on depressing a nozzle for a fine man-made spray. like all the sportique products, the ingredients are of the natural variety and they are keen to underline the complete absence of aluminium, an additive to more regular anti-perspirants to affect the sweaty bits. these are deodorants, not anti-perspirants - dwell on the difference. choices are from unisex, cypress citrus (my favourite), and powder fresh the latter of which has the uncanny knack of making one smell as if talcum has been liberally applied. all very effective and all retailing at £7 ($9.95).
smell sporty and pleasant both at the same time.
posted on monday 4th august..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you will, perhaps by now, be partially acquainted with my dislike or quandary with products which claim to have been improved when, to be honest, there was sod all wrong with the unimproved version. not to be classed as naive, i am well aware of the needs of the marketing departments of our beloved cycle suppliers and their attendant component domestiques; it's either they that are at fault for continually releasing new and improved versions of almost everything in order to increase the all important market share, or we are now so demanding as customers, that we expect to see a new 2009 range appearing in may of 2008, and our benefactors are merely catering to our every whim.
if i'm scrupulously fair, it's probably a bit of both, and you'd likely have to go back a good number of years to find out which came first - the chicken or the egg. however, such discussion is of almost academic importance, since that's just how the world is nowadays, both inside and outside of our cosy little world of bicycles. but every now and again something comes to the surface that makes you far more consciously aware of this predicament, than you may previously have been. or it could be that the constant drone of clever marketing has inured the rudy projects to see just what they want to see. in this case my concern is wheel skewers that are not quick release.
i have a bicycle on test at the moment, of which you will be able to read more in this coming week, but i don't think i'm giving too much away if i tell you that it arrived with a pair of dt swiss rws titanium road skewers. as is almost always the case with test bikes, they arrive in the obligatory cardboard box, not always labelled as the bike contained within (almost becoming a bicycle industry tradition), and generally with the front wheel removed, in order to fit the entire kit and caboodle into said cardboard box. therefore, it is generally a simple case of extricating the complete edifice from the box, then fitting the handlebars and the front wheel. a simple enough task for the mechanically adept washingmachinepost person.
or rather, it should be.
except that, the dt swiss titanium road skewers do not function in what we would regard as a quick release manner - and sadly, no instructions arrived detailing the necessary technique. it turns out that said skewers work in a ratcheting movement; having installed as per usual, rather than closing the lever in towards the fork, you either screw the lever until tight, or push in towards the hub, make a tightening movement by turning clockwise, then release away from the hub before repeating the same process until the skewer is tight in the dropout. by sliding the lever outwards, it's then possible to rotate it into position it as desired relative to the fork, without disturbing the tension of the wheel in the dropouts. and it works just dandy, thank you very much.
but why? what was wrong with the original quick release skewer that we all know and love? doesn't it work just fine? no matter how you view it, the dt version simply isn't a quick release, because to remove it, you have to unscrew it, whereas the original version simply needs the lever to be opened outwards in one slick movement. heck we've seen some really quick wheel changes on the recent tour by just this method. so i'm afraid that i am at a total loss as to why dt swiss felt it necessary to reinvent the wheel (skewer).
and to add insult to stupidity, the lever blade is made of grey plastic - nil points. (the red alloy skewer ends are cool though).
posted on sunday 3rd august..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i don't actually like showers. i don't mean the ones that turned the gran fondo d'ardbeg into the ride of the falling rain, but the act of stripping off lycra and helmet and standing underneath a stream of warm water. i prefer a bath. i know the figures for the relative costs of one against the other, but i'm just not that keen on havng a shower. of course, you can rest assured that i'm not smelly, because even though i'm not in favour of the spraying hot water, i realise that modern society would either frown upon, or keep well away from, persons such as myself if the practice were eschewed altogether.
having got that out of the way, and accepting that i do, from time to time, have either a bath or a shower, we get down to the nitty gritty (sorry) of what sort of gunk to empty over the finely honed machine that has, purely in the line of duty, become unclean (please be aware that i am not talking about the colnago here). much the same as the rest of you, i have relied on those products that are advertised on tv as providing major pheromonal properties, thereby attracting a following entourage of the opposite sex. much to the relief of mrs washingmachinepost, this has singularly failed to happen at any time, and i have merely attained a suitable degree of cleanliness along with, hopefully, an acceptable level of nice niff.
athletes such as myself (do you hear laughing?), however, can never be satisfied with the chemical properties of such scrubber uppers, and the arrival of the exemplary range of products from sportique thankfully included a large tube of body soap. this rather fine smelling, honey coloured viscous liquid that, perhaps unsurprisingly, is designed to wash the great unwashed, has that refreshing quality that is somehow absent from the more standard commercial products. it's lower on suds, but a lot higher on natural ingredients that can easily remove the road grime that you and i can acquire in minutes, but caringly leave the body's natural oils intact. a 180ml tube of sportique's the body soap can be had for £9.40 ($11.95), which is a tad more than you'd pay for some, but the tube currently in my possession seems to be lasting longer than a comparable amount of flavoured gloopy stuff, and the difference after bath/shower is palpable.
and i still smell nice.
with tomorrow being the ride of the falling rain, i shall be testing out sportique's century riding cream, and you can find out how that performed, sometime next week.
posted on saturday 2nd august..........................................................................................................................................................................................................