endura baabaa merino armwarmers

baabaa armwarmers

science is a wonderful subject to admire when you no longer have to sit exams or sleep through lectures, capable of being turned on its head when particularly appropriate, and most likely to do so at the most inappropriate moments. but it generally concurs that if a particularly posited scientific or physiological feature is true in one sense, then also the converse can be true. i'm thinking along the lines of melting ice by the application of heat and the re-formation of same by extracting as much heat as possible from the messy puddle that appears on the desk. of course, this is confounded entirely by the making of such as a sheet of toast: cooling down the latter is unlikely to result in the bread that you popped in the toaster to begin with.

several weeks back, my good friend mr james lamont helpfully pointed out that in moments of medium to extreme heat occurring during any normal pedalling situation (less likely as we head further into winter, i'll admit), an ideal way to cool down would be the application of a few drops, or perhaps a veritable flood if conditions demand, to the wrists or forearms, rather than the phloyd method of continually tipping it over your head. having completely unscientifically vouched for the veracity of this ploy, it seems only right and proper that the same methodology be applied in reverse. in other words, if there's an outside possibility of an inherent chill factor, will covering the forearms with cosy warmth result in a more appropriate rise in body temperature than wearing one of those sleeping bags with a zip and legroom (never a good idea in the saddle at anytime)?

such is the premise on which we are sold armwarmers, more commonly made from a fleece-lined lycra type fabric with a modest ability to breathe, but as the saying goes your mileage may vary. these are, however, modern times during which we have been presented with at least our second opporchancity to appreciate the fine features of merino wool. not stunningly waterproof, i'll grant you, but soft to the touch, harder wearing than granny's christmas present ever was, and with built-in temperature control that audi would gladly sell their soul for. merino is, if you'll pardon the dreadful verisimilitude, a growth industry, and it came therefore not as a shock, but a pleasant surprise that scotland's endura cycle clothing has expanded their cheekily named baabaa range of merino products to include a pair of armwarmers

i have had a pair of these for several weeks now, but rarely had i been presented with such a fine opportunity to become tried and tested than at saturday's braveheart ride in kilmarnock. having set off for scotland with the very worst of weathers in mind (we all remember last year's event), the day itself dawned clear, sunny and far milder than the end of october would have suggested. co-incidentally, this gave me the ideal chance to wear a robert millar anniversary jersey, also procured from endura, and thus be at least partly sartorially matched if only above the waist.

as alluded to above, the weather was unseasonably warm, particularly on the outward half of the 20 mile route (around which peter allen - thank you sir - and i chaperoned spartacus hastings), but while the return journey most certainly struggled to fit the description of a headwind, it was a modest few degrees lower than the first ten during which bare arms would have been somewhat of a pose, and likely not one that was too warm.

while the baabaa armwarmers are not specifically marked left and right, there is a very real need to adopt a correct dress-code bearing the endura legend facing outwards on each forearm. this has a lot less to do with advertising or political correctness, but more to do with the subtle ribbing about two thirds the way along each warmer to facilitate a gentle bending of the arm without wrinkling (the armwarmer that is, not the arm). at the top of each warmer is a triangle of gloopy dots, intent on creating an appropriate degree of friction twixt merino and polyester (sleeve), thus ensuring that those baabaas remain in place throughout any ride you may choose to undertake. happily this worked just as advertised throughout braveheart and continued so to do in the post ride conversing, munching and slurping.

i have not tested their fortitude in the rain, though this was hardly a disappointment during saturday's ride. the armwarmers fit well, with a promising degree of stretch, tempered by impressive integrity that maintained their warming properties both out and back. it is also quite easy to emulate the professional je ne sais quoi, by rolling them down to the wrists for that guess who's got a contract with sky next year insouciant look. of course you could always wear a long sleeve jersey, but that might just mark you out as a winter wuss before your time: nothing says i've had a good season more than a casually worn pair of armwarmers with that all important percentage of woolly retro.

endura baabaa merino armwarmers sell for the particularly friendly price of £16.99, are seam free and machine washable.

incidentally, if anyone wishes to purchase a robert millar anniversary jersey as seen above, i still have a few left in size large only. cost is £47 including postage, and all proceeds are going to the braveheart fund. e-mail for more details. | braveheart fund


posted monday 2 november 2009

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dirty work

muc off dirty work wipes

not many of you will remember mel bentley, but in the days before the interweb, when the comic was great and the back pages were consumed by full page adverts for cycling bits we all needed rather than stuff we just wanted, mel filled at least one of those pages, and on occasion, even two. unfortunately mel seems to have disappeared without trace; certainly his shop is no longer in existence, and i did phone the comic a few years back to ask if anyone had heard where he is these days, but no-one had any idea.

why i mention this, is that mel supplied me with a workshop tool to remove the old fixed cup on cup and cone bottom brackets. doubtless there are those reading who have little idea of which i speak, since these days it's either cartridge bottom brackets with their own fitting/removal tools, or it's external bearings, bb30 or a variation on a theme. the fixed cup was the one that threaded into the drive side of the bottom bracket shell with very narrow flats that fitted a largish spanner for fitting/removal. fixed cup was a very apt description, as more often than not, the darned thing would not shift for love nor money. i will not attempt to describe the tool that mel supplied, but it allowed the clamping of serious leverage onto those indescribably inept flats on the cup. pretty much nothing could withstand it, and there wasn't a single bottom bracket that ever successfully resisted.

but, of course, it was a one trick pony; the tool was useless for any other purpose, and with subsequent so-called improvements to the bottom bracket systems on offer, it occupies a rather forlorn place in thewashingmachinepost bike shed, unused, unemployed, but definitely not unloved. it's not completely alone in this, as there are many cycle tools which no longer serve useful employment, and a few that look as if they may have to apply for unemployment benefit just shortly (chain rivet tools?)

but a tool in the very same bikeshed, and i think it has earned the appelation well, is a dirty work wipe from muc-off. actually, it's a whole bunch of dirty work wipes in a plastic container with a hole in the top. similarly to paper hankies or baby wipes, the container works on the principle of a second wipe pulling through along with the tail end of the first. thus a fresh wipe is always presented to the great unwashed. grime of a cycling nature has an inbuilt attraction to human skin and any light coloured clothing that is nowhere near a bicycle or component. regular wipey things will remove the surface gunk, but rarely the mess that has become ingrained. muc-off dirty work wipes have one surface that is considerably more tactile than the other, making light of moving even heavily ingrained yuk. but their crowning glory is being able to accomplish all this without water, and the abiity to leave hands smelling lemon fresh.

because of their scrapey surface, they are also highly effective on componentry that has acquired a coating of oily gunk: i'm thinking front and rear derailleurs here, but they also work particularly well on clogged up brake shoes without affecting braking surfaces. you may not do much work on your bicycle(s); perhaps it only extends to oiling the chain now and again, and therefore there may not be the necessity for anything that will remove boy scouts from horses' hooves, but the least your bikeshed should contain is a tub of dirty wipes. and it's worth popping one or two in with the tyre lever and spare tube for emergency repairs on the road. grass doesn't really work as advertised.

available in packs of 40 (£8.99) or 15 (£2.99, you can purchase muc off products from your nearest stockist, or from various online sellers.



posted wednesday 28 october 2009

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rapha winter tights and merino hat

rapha winter tights

the easy way out of all this is to blame global warming, something i'm still not convinced is quite the reality the doomsayers would have us believe, but that could well be the literary and intellectual equivalent of burying my head in the sand. this, i was once informed, would be a more than welcome improvement. what i am lackadaisically blaming on this melting of the icecaps is the strangeness of the weather currently plying its trade across the west of scotland. it is, in essence, little different from that which traditionally blights the landscape at this time of year, but it has it's own peculiarities this year, the most notable of which is temperature.

washingmachinepost cottage is heated with startlingly efficient electric storage heaters, and anyone familar with the breed will be aware that switching them on the moment the mercury drops is unlikely to be a timeous remedy. the clue is in the name; storage. so upon waking, fresh as a daisy on a cold october morning, the knowledge that a comfortable heat will not encase the ambience of the rooms until the following morning, takes away just a little of that bright and breezy demeanour. and this has fascinating parallels with the cycling wardrobe, because assuming that the central heating has kicked in, the external temperature is then a bit of a mystery until reaching the rear portcullis. but taking things even further into the realms of misinformed indecision, if jersey and threequarters were adequate for yesterday's ride, how was one to know that a softshell and tights would be the order of today?

in the finest tradition of triathlon, it would not seem too indiscrete to treat this as a transition period; the tricky part is sussing out how long this transition will last and when outer shells and tights will be de rigeur and no longer an option. because if you are as geographically challenged as islay, there are few, if any, weather forecasts that reach anywhere near accuracy. other than safety in the knowledge that it will be windy.

clothing is protection against the elements, a prime consideration when cycling at any time of the year, but perhaps a tad more worthy of consideration at this time. in this, perception is king, perceptions which vary wildly between individuals; if you figure it to be cold, grim and worthy of the phrase 'today matthew, i'm going to be gerben de knegt' then dressing to the nines, so to speak, is exactly where you should be at. there is, as i may have alluded to on several previous occasions, something delightfully safe and secure about a long-sleeve jersey, a sentiment that goes doubly for a pair of cycling tights: the velocipedinal equivalent of a force-field. attired in such fashion, concentration on the task at hand can be total, since appropriate apparel will deal with the extremities.

rapha merino hat

so thus: rapha merino hat under helmet, red softshell with no speedvagen logo on the back, grey long-sleeve jersey, merino baselayer and a pair of those fleece-lined bib tights over rapha shorts. the lycra involved in the latter bears no shame in the light of an adjective such as luxurious. there are defining marks such as the red panel on the left calf, mesh honey nut footloops, the word wheelsucker a reference to tim krabbe's the rider and a concealed, zipped rear pocket, almsot big enough for the banned race radio.

the luxuriance is not simply a literary device, but a less than adequate description of just how well fitting these tights are. whether cycling tights should contain a comfy bit at the seat or, like these, rely on a pair of shorts underneath is a discussion for a forum far, far away, but the rapha reds maintain the invisible feel applied by me to their sibling bib threequarters. but it's not all show and no go, for inside that thermoroubaix (roubaix, a word worth repeating in this context) is brushed thermofleece: comfortable and not unsurprisingly, thermal. to this i can reliably attest, having spent two entirely different global warmed days, wearing remarkably similar garb - i may have had on a waxed-cotton gentleman's cap the second time.

in a modest variation on lance armstrong's diktat, it's all about the cycling, and thus clad, indeed it is. there was variation over the two days extensive pedalling, day one being of the chillier variety, the second concurring with the more recurring mildness pervading this late autumn/early winter. even over a pair of rapha shorts, there is no bunching, no discomfort from two bibs overlaying each other under the jersey. pedalling hard, pedalling through substantial surface water, a maze of what i believe is known as belgian toothpaste most of which has an affiliation with cows and sheep, and occasional forays into the realm of the unsurfaced made no such nevermind.

and in the world of top to toe, the top was also remarkably well catered for under the helmet by rapha's merino cap, with a black ear band to remove the sting in the cold, but rolled up when in less demand. it is little less than admirable that such a thin layer of new zealand wool can have such a beneficial effect on temperature control, whether hot or cold. i'm no expert in the realm of natural or technical fabrics, but it seems likely that it's the thin-ness of the cap that allows it to feel dry when it's soaking wet, and to become really dry in a very short space of time.

if you wish to colour co-ordinate, the red cap goes well with the red softshell, and the winter tights without seeming too ostentatious, but for the sake of a little contrast to the ensemble, the hat can be had in grey or green. or, if there is already too much colour in your life (you may own a liquigas cannondale for all i know), the hat can be reversed and worn black. rapha's merino hat is of the one size fits all variety and can be acquired for a very reasonable £35 ($50)

the wheelsucker winter tights do seem a smidgeon on the expensive side at £170 ($240), especially since they are lacking in the chamois department, but i can honestly put my hand in the air and say that i have never worn a more comfortable pair of cycling tights in my fifteen minutes of fame. and if that's what it costs for near perfection, to paraphrase richard sachs, according to my opinion, it's a price worth paying.


posted tuesday 27 october 2009

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cyclo workshop tyre tool

cyclo tyre tool

punctures are a total faff. there you are, minding your own business, just out for a few kilometres cycle, and for one reason or another, the air deems it necessary to take on a life of its own and separate itself from your inner tube. of course, we all carry a pump, tyre lever and at least one spare inner tube at all times; even when just nipping out for a coffee. (well don't we?). there can be few of us that can't change an inner tube (repairing one at roadside is so yesterday; do yourself a favour and just change the tube. you can fix the bust one when you get home), though for some reason, when out in a group, there are those that do, and those that watch. funny old world.

however, if you have a number of bicycles, or like me, quite often repair for local incompetents, or deal with ten hire bikes, you can't help thinking there must be some other way. a couple of years ago it was decided to replace all the knobbly tyres on the hire mountain bikes with road going versions. all at once and over a weekend: sore thumbs 'r' us. there is, of course this other way, and one that doesn't cost an alarming amount of pennies.

cyclo-tools manufacture a square length of steel with an industrial strength tyre lever fitted about its person, enabling the deft of finger to remove and replace a tyre, or several, without breaking sweat. or rather, that's sort of the idea. to describe the tool in detail, something it has commendably few of, at the foot of this hollow metal bar is a plastic extension with three holes to fit over the wheel's axle. in either case, whether a bolt or quick release, the appropriately sized hole fits over the axle and is loosely pinned in place with either the bolt or stubby end of the quick release.

the previously mentioned industrial strength tyre lever is clipped in tight against the metal rod; pulled away, it hinges and slides up and down to accommodate whatever tyre size you're about to work on. after letting air out the tube (assuming that's not why you're doing this in the first place), the tyre lever part of the doohickie is popped under the tyre bead, and the whole assembly clipped back in against the rod. it should now be a simple matter of pushing the whole edifice clockwise or anti-clockwise round the tyre, which should release from the rim in the same manner as would be the case with a normal tyre lever. the extra leverage should make it simpler to shift those really tight tyre beads.

the lower part of the same plastic lever does the opposite to the above. push it down between the tyre and the inner face of the rim, just past the valve, clip back against the rod and push or pull the lever round the rim. this will pop the tyre back into place.

that's the theory.

in practice, things didn't go quite as planned. i like to think of myself as reasonably adept in the area of bicycle mechanics, and i have strong thumbs from many, many years of pushing that last bit of tyre bead over the rim. however, bearing in mind we're dealing with 23mm tyres on narrow rims (cyclo's training video shows the tool being easily used, but on a mountain bike wheel and tyre), after placing the removing part in place, it took considerably more effort to unseat the initial section than i had hoped would be the case. the fly in the ointment here tends to be the inner tube, when it comes time to place the tyre back over the rim's edge.

i cannot tell a lie, and i must put my hand up to my incompetence, but first time of trying, i snipped a not terribly small piece of inner tube. it had to be replaced. additonally, even though following cyclo's instructions to the letter, and seating the fitting tool tightly to the rim, midway round the wheel, the whole thing slipped out of contact, and had to be slotted in again. this happened with rather alarming regularity. i really can't see what i was doing wrong, but after going through the whole process with six wheels and tyres (the tool shouldn't be used on carbon rims), i really wasn't any better off. in fact, i had more success carrying out the removal/fitting procedure with a standard tyre lever.

i can't tell you how disappointed i was, because the notion of being able to accomplish millions of tyre fitting and replacements well into my dotage with effortless ease really appealed. not only to me, but my thumbs were rather looking forward to some well-earned relief too. having watched the video several times to see if i was missing something somewhere, it may be that it works just dinky-doo on mtb tyres, or at least something a bit wider than michelin pro race and schwalbe ultremos on mavics and dt-swiss road rims.

at a recommended retail of £12.99, this is not an expensive addition to the home or professional workshop, but not if it doesn't work. i will persevere, because logic dictates that all should be comfort and joy, and because i feel it reflects more on me than cyclo tools. if anything changes, or i suddenly have a eureka moment, i will be sure to say.


posted monday 26 october 2009

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