the bicycle sitting in the test area of the vast washingmachinepost bikeshed is a colnago clx, outfitted with 2009 campagnolo centaur ten-speed levers, brakes and rear mech. since this will be, by post standards, a long-term test, you will have to wait until next month for a frighteningly in depth review of arguably the first of colnago's revolution. but meantime, it has proved itself a very willing and more than adequate test-bed for one or two extraneous components, the latest of which is a set of zero g titanium calipers, kindly supplied by uk distributors, otago cycle sport. titanium is a metal that is actually heavier than aluminium, and if truth be told, less rigid too, so while the letters ti appended to the product nomenclature may infer that the predominance is owned by titanium, you - like i - would be wrong.
the calipers arms are 7075 aluminium, deftly aided by a few other varieties of al and some stainless steel bits. the titanium restricts itself to the centrebolt, the cam latch, barrell adjuster and bolts. combined into one aesthetically pleasing product, the weight reaches a rather svelte 133g, around half that of either dura-ace or record. i will confess that were i to consider myself a weight weenie, brake calipers are possibly the last feature i would think of making lighter, mostly because i tend to think of brakes as being in the perfunctory domain, and therefore beyond the pale, so to speak. however, if the intention is to make the bicycle substantially lighter without compromise, then i suppose brake calipers are fair game.
the zero g brakes claim to be self-centering, though i think their description is a touch different from my understanding of the phrase. normally there's a small serrated washer that fits between the brake and the frame: however, the zeros are bereft of such, but do posess an adjustable spring nut with spanner flats. once the brake is bolted in place on the frame, the caliper can be relatively easily centred using a 13mm spanner. today's groupset brakes are either dual pivot or, in the case of campagnolo, single pivot also; the zeros use a delightfully efficient cam system that promises efficiency in spades. designed with the racing cyclist in mind, this allows for a greater space between pads and rim; basically put, the cam allows for increase leverage as the lever nears the bars.
for reasons i have not yet fathomed, the cabling procedure for front and rear brakes differs: the rear was fitted without undue stress in normal fashion with the supplied shoes and pads, but the front brake proved more of an intelligence test. disappointingly, the enclosed instruction leaflet does not explain or illustrate this differentiation, nor does it show how to fit the front cable. however, this is islay, where rushing is not recognised, and after exploring one or two options, accompanied by much humming and hawing, obscurity prevailed. both calipers have a rather slick, built-in quick release, though this is rendered unnecessary on campag equipped bikes by their lever based release.
being one of those folks unwilling to bend over a ground-based stationary bicycle, all was carried out on a workstand; spinning wheels and grabbing brake levers did not fill with confidence, since there seemed to be very little feedback from the latter, even after a myriad of minor adjustments. i was figuring on this being a very short test followed by a particularly short and scathing review. fortunately for you and i, initial impressions are not ones i usually pay much attention to (self preservation - mine are usually wrong).
you really wouldn't think there could be much difference between one set of brakes and another, but it seems this is not so. it would seem perfectly acceptable to expect a bit of a difference between production models and the more bespoke end of the market, but i really wasn't ready for this much of a difference. taking lead from my less than impressive workstand reaction, fingers tentatively pulled on carbon levers on approach to the first road junction on the exploratory ride.
the amount of pressure required to have pads reach rims is almost non-existent - flip the levers to face the rider, and a bout of heavy breathing could probably stop the bike. but the secret weapon is the modulation: i've ridden bikes with light fingered brakes before, but generally the action is either on or off with no comforting middle ground anywhere to be seen. not so the zeros. despite stopping power well in excess of that required on a road bike ridden by me, there was never any suggestion of acrobatics over the bars. the brakes imparted every gram of feedback a rider could ever need or want, allowing a degree of stopping power i honestly didn't think could be had.
now it is somewhat necessary to offset my oh my gosh reaction against the price. a set of bog standard zero g ti calipers will lighten your bank balance to the tune of £425, but if you absolutely have to have the ultimate at any cost, these will surely be darned near the top of any list you care to compile. standard sets can be had in black or red, while, for a few extra pounds (25 to be precise), you can have custom colours. the mechanicals are identical.
a truly wonderful set of brakes that i'm worried are going to make the regular fare seem positively mundane.
posted on thursday 16 july 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if you own a motor car, particularly one built this side of the millennium, you will likely be familar with much of the following. a colleague of mine put her car in for its mot test (for those not residents of the uk, the mot test is mandatory on all vehicles over three years old, and relates to their roadworthiness; you cannot license or insure your vehicle if it fails this test), and due to a non-operative rear light, it failed. in the days when i still owned a motor car, this would have been a simple case of replacing a faulty bulb, but modernity has brought a degree of sophistication that demands the entire rear light cluster be replaced. no longer are things electrical: now they're electronic.
naively, i smugly congratulated myself for no longer being the owner of a motor car: bicycles will never fall into that trap. oh how wrong can one be? as i consider at great length (what does procrastination mean again?) the various items of shiny componentry to fit to the colnago x-light in thewashingmachinepost bike shed, there has to be an endless deal of research undertaken to ensure that one bit will fit with another, even from the same manufacturer. there is a vague ploy to eschew carbon fibre as much as possible and fit nice shiny alloy, so a pair of brand new centaur alloy levers (i like the shape of the lever hoods), still at ten speed, would visually marry very nicely with the all-alloy athena eleven-speed rear mech.
so i consulted mr freestone king as to the compatibility of ten speed ergo shifters with an eleven speed mech, quite safe in the belief that this would present no problem at all. wrong again. the parallelogram on the eleven speed mechs use a different pull ratio than the ten speed versions, and it is also likely that the cable tension generated by the spring in the mech will also be wrong. apparently there have already been problems using ultrashift levers with gears designed to work with the escape ergo levers, and vice versa.
as graeme perhaps rather obviously points out (well, it's obvious now) shimano, campagnolo and sram now produce gear systems, and it has become a lot harder to use bits not specifically designed to work with each other. and it gets worse: you apparently can't use third party cables with the eleven-speed system; there have already been plenty of problems with third party cables on existing campagnolo/shimano ten speed setups. campagnolo are already speccing their own delrin under-bracket cable guide, as opposed to brazed on metal hoops. it seems likely that all of the foregoing will also affect 2009/2010 ten speed systems.
so while this may benefit the manufacturers (if it will only work with their own components, where's the point in buying anything else?), it does put the average, and not so average cyclist in perhaps a bit of a quandary. the individuality of choice was always a nice bonus when putting a bike together, but it might just be possible to live without this option. however, if we do a limited amount of lateral thinking, what happens on my c40 (or your c40) if there happens to be an accident and damage occurs to one or both of my six year-old record carbon levers, am i in any better a situation than my car owning colleague? because there's just a (good) chance that a pair of new ten speed levers won't work with my similarly aged rear gear mech, not to mention the blue nokon cables which currently keep them altogether.
i think maybe we should be concerned for our future.
posted on wednesday 15 july 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the population over here is a few hundred over three thousand, depending on the source i choose to quote, two thirds of which is concentrated in the principal villages of bowmore and port ellen. the other thousand is rather unevenly distributed around the smaller villages and the odd cottage dotted here and there, almost in the fashion of the late 19th century. except now they're nearly all painted white, fitted with double glazing and with a four wheel drive alongside.but islay still has pretty large tracts of wilderness, detached enough from what most of us would describe as reality which can only be reached on foot or, in certain cases, by bicycle. in the current spell of rather attractive weather, it's often hard to see the harm in wandering aimlessly through some of thes areas, as long as you're careful enough to stay away from the edges; the bits where the atlantic starts. but it will come as no surprise to learn that in the winter months (september to june) parts of islay can be less than hospitable. despite this, however, it's human nature, particularly for the more adventurous amongst us (actually, i'm not adventurous at all, so this is pretty much my informed take on the subject), to not only wish to explore these more remote corners of civilisation, but to have that satisfying feeling of being able to survive the rigours thus implied, and even take the bike with you.
mr hastings, one half of the u2needyourheadsfixed duo, is somewhat of an expert in all this sort of thing, and is rather a dab hand at pointing out how you too can survive miles from an express by holiday inn, starbucks and domino's pizza. he's been doing this sort of thing for years, and is, if truth be told, operator of the only tourist board five star outdoor experience in the country. if you're going to get lost, he's the chap to lose you (if you catch my drift). completely missed by me, but there all the same, the herald newspaper ran an article on monday of this week, describing islay as a top cycling destination: while i might have missed the herald article, the increasing influx of cyclists has not passed me by, nor has it escaped mr hastings who has now adapted to cater for the merging of cycling and getting lost in the hills and sand dunes of islay.
armed only with your bicycle and a sleeping bag, you can go so far off the beaten track, it will be only a distant memory, verging on becoming a figment of your imagination: granted, this is not the sort of thing to be undertaken on a cervelo p4 or a trek madone - a mountain, touring or cross bike might well be considered a better choice. it's a scary thought (well it is for me) but you should come out the other side in a far more competent state to look after yourself on your next round the world trip. of course, traipsing across terrain such as i have tried to describe, might be just as hard on the bicycle as it is on the rider, but the bike cannot look after itself, so the above wild wheels experience can be combined with some wheely wild maintenance (i'm only the writer - i don't make this stuff up), teaching you how to make repairs or preventative maintenance to the trusty steed, without resort to the entire park tools catalogue, or the workshop at mosquito bikes.
jez has been operating islay birding and bushcraft for several years, and despite having not realised the effectiveness of gears, or learned that none of us in velo club d'ardbeg actually care what type of bird we just missed on the shoreline, you'd be hard pressed to find a customer of his who didn't enjoy and learn from getting lost on islay (or jura if you fancy it).
last time i visited edinburgh with mr hastings, we managed to get from the bus station to the castle, without once havng to ask for directions.
photos by warren sanders
posted on tuesday 14 july 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm not well read enough to know who it was that first said 'never judge a book by its cover', but this particular volume from the excellent mr hewson could well have been designed to fit the necessary criteria. while i adore the almost eccentric output from mousehold press, this has to be one of the worst covers for a book i have ever experienced. this is perhaps a deliberate ploy, since often it's those atrocious advertisements on television that we remember most, and in the vast quantity of cycling books that increases seemingly week on week, perhaps the hope is that worst nightmare will stick out like a sore thumb.
fortunately, while reading, the cover is out of sight and very quickly out of mind, as the contents of this book are absolutely rivetting. nostalgia and retro are two words often bandied about with carefree souciance these days, quite frequently as a means of jumping aboard a contemporary bandwagon; not so the writings of tony hewson. hopefully more than a few of you will be familar with tony's initial offering also from mousehold press (in pursuit of stardom), in which case you're probably already reaching into the back pocket for your flexible friend while clicking through to mousehold's website. for those whom stardom slipped under the radar, tony was one of three british cyclists in the 1950s who took matters into their own hands shifting lock, stock and barrell to france in order to pursue the dream. the book humorously and effectively detailed their lives as continental cyclists.
tony hewson's principal claim to fame, other than his uncanny ability with a word processor, was winning the tour of britain in 1955: there's an entire chapter devoted to his privileged viewpoint of this race, where typical modesty would have us believe that winning was a complete accident, and that it was someone else's fault.
this book was described to me as a mixture of fact and fiction, but such is the skill of the author, i will admit that i had a bit of difficulty figuring out which of the chapters were of the latter genre. however, if the book has to be justified on only one factor, and one factor alone, it is the superb chapter detailing the fraught history of the national cycling union, the british league of racing cyclists and the road time trials council, during the somewhat strained period of cycling's history in the years between 1942 and 1958. if you're proud to call yourself a cyclist, particularly one with a penchant for skinny tyres and bendy bars, this is compulsory reading. you really need to know this stuff, and there really couldn't be anyone better to tell us.
while i dutifully started at page one and only put the book down when i'd reached page 239, it is eminently possible to dip in and out according to personal preference; with the exception of the chapter regarding cycling's internecine war (which occupies a generous portion of the book), all the others are short enough to be absorbed in one entertaining sitting. tony has an excellent grasp of the vernacular, an apparently photographic memory and an appreciable eye for detail, coupled with the skill to convey it all in an easily readable style. i confess to having read les nomades du velo anglais more than twice, and there is every indication that a cyclists worst nightmare will follow the same pattern, though i'm going to lend this copy to the mighty dave t first.
however, if adrian at mousehold ever finds it necessary to reprint (which i would think quite possible), i'd like to think the cover will undergo a revamp, to be replaced with a graphic that does better justice to the content. this is a collectors' item in every sense of the term - you need this book.
posted on monday 13 july 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
time to come clean perhaps: despite the fact that phil deeker managed to climb a huge number of french mountains during july of 2007, his notion of a ten day splurge of alpine climbs during september of this year, seemed to me like the modern equivalent of a folly. for those unsure of my meaning, these were usually architectural oddities which either served no strategic or useful purpose, or cost so much money that they never made it to completion. i know phil will bear me no ill will, because i did infer as much in a recent conversation at the rapha party.
if we examine the itinerary for the cent cols challenge, it does exactly what it says on the tin (or website), by climbing 100 cols over the period of ten days: 14th - 24th september. the total distance is around 2000km with a total climbing distance of approximately 45,000 metres with most of the famous mountains of the french alps included. let's be honest, how many of us could manage that in the first place, and how many would want to? if you're at all like me, you'll watch the mountain stages of the tour and the giro with glee, perfectly sure in the psyche that if only we could get a few days off work, we could show astana a clean pair of cleats.
however, the reality has either confirmed that mr deeker has a degree of perspicacity outwith my confidence in his abilities, or there are a quite few more nutters like himself in the world. the initial entry limit was to have been thirty riders (future events will suffer this imposition), but such was the demand for places, even at £1250 per person ($2000), that this year phil decided to up the numbers to 40 and has encouraged participants to ride in teams of four, in order to hopefully create a series of small support families, while discouraging a 'me,me,me' state of affairs. the idea being that there's a few shoulders to lean on should any rider(s) start to flag during the rather worrying distances and ascents. and there's still a waiting list that could just about justify a second event.
and if phil needed to rub it in that he has infinitely more faith in the modern cyclist than i, as well as a degree of faith in his own vision that i am now sorry to have doubted, there are now four similar events planned for 2010: from 6th-11th of june there will be a cinquante (50) cols challenge in the southern alps, along with the ten day cent cols in the alps in september (12-22). if your aspirations err more to the robert millar side of french mountains, there are two challenges taking place in the pyrenees: 8-13 august (50) and 17-27 august, the cent cols. these dates are only provisional, and you can't yet book any of them, but if your diary extends further than the very next day, it might be a neat idea to put your name on the list for whichever takes your fancy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
so from now, on, even if phil calls me up to tell me he's organising a climbing trip across the himalayas over a period of six months, i will happily recite chapter and verse on the post without so much as a trace of scepticism. you can find out more about the cent cols challenge on phil's website (cent cols challenge) and if i ask him really nicely, i'm sure we could be treated to an article not only about the challenge towards the end of september, but also a review of the rather fine parlee cycle he will use during the ride.
posted on sunday 12 july 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................