fast forward f6 carbon clincher wheels

fast forward f6 carbon clinchers

in its varied career, my ibis hakkalugi cyclocross bicycle has worn more than its fair share of wheels, mostly in the process of providing research and development for washingmachinepost reviews. naturally enough, these are of necessity, fit only for rim brakes; the ibis currently sports two sets of fsa carbon cantilevers, and though discs are reputedly set to tip the balance in the forthcoming season, i have based my philosophy on that expounded by richard sachs. 'if you've no grip in the mud, the type of brake is somewhat academic.'. or words to that effect.

the most fabulous set it has worn, at least in the exotica stakes, was a pair built by jude gerace at sugar wheelworks in portland, oregon: highly polished white industries hubs laced three cross with original wheelsmith spokes (not to be confused with derek mclay's wheelsmith in larbert) onto a pair of ghisallo wood rims. trying to put into words just how different these are to your more common or garden alloy rims is amongst the hardest of tasks i have faced across the years, and though less than common nowadays, they are particularly fabulous.

fast forward f6 carbon clinchers

however, having fitted said wheels to the ibis, making sure to replace the rubber brake pads with cork (like carbon, wood does not conduct heat) i was somewhat fearful of totally wrecking components that more closely resembled cabinet-making than wheelbuilding. it's a fear that i voiced more than internally, only to receive an e-mail a day or two later from ric hjertberg, the american importer of said rims and the founder of the original wheelsmith. this e-mail simply said "check attached pic". this image was of charles pelissier shouldering a fixed wheel cyclocross bicycle in the process of winning the 1927 french cyclocross championship. the bicycle was equipped with wood rims.

fast forward f6 carbon clinchers

the implication was well received. if wood rims were good enough for pelissier, there's very little i could ever do that would give them any more trouble than he could.

the same sense of foreboding resurfaced when a nice shiny pair of fast forward f6 deep carbon rimmed wheels arrived to fit the hakkalugi, along with the challenge limus tyres reviewed yesterday. with a 20 radially spoked front wheel, matched to 24 rear laced three-cross, their deep carbon rims bore such a high gloss clearcoat, that i feared for their safety while scrabbling through goodness knows what.

though it would be common practice to swap out the standard brake pads for a carbon specific option, the f6 wheels obviate this necessity due to featuring an alloy braking surface. to my mind this makes them ideal for cyclocross as well as road-riding, for the notion of trying manfully to bring the bike to a sudden halt on a carbon braking surface in the gloopy wet, is not a prospect that a fearful amateur wants to consider. the phone call to paligap beginning "you'll laugh when i tell you..." is not one that i particularly wanted to make.

fast forward f6 carbon clinchers

there are three options available on the f6: the basic version (reviewed) features fast forward's own brand hubs, but they can also be purchased with either dt swiss dt240 or dt180 hubs for a more luxurious rolling option. the wheels arrive in a single, partitioned wheel bag along with front and rear skewers, rim tape and valve extensions, and that's where things became complicated. i feel i ought to point out that the complexity was partially of my own making due to not reading the instructions properly. or to be honest, from not having realised there were any instructions in the first place.

fast forward f6 carbon clinchers

with 56mm rims, even a 60mm valve stem is going to offer minimal pump contact, which is where those valve extensions enter the fray. silly me fitted standard 42mm valved inner-tubes with the intention leaving the presta valve open, then threading the extensions on through the rim holes. yet, try as i might, i could not gain any purchase. onto plan b: remove the valve from the valve hole, thread the extension then pop the combination back through the rim hole once more. except that extension still wouldn't fit.

it transpires that the little plastic doohicky aupplied alongside the extensions is there to allow removal of the valve-core, replacing with the extender before replacing the core in the top of the extension. quite what the hapless owner is supposed to do if their valves do not have removable cores (michelin, for instance), i have no idea. in place of this faff, i simply left the valves open inside the rim, and took with me an extender that does screw onto the valves. in the event of a puncture, the fast forward solution would surely lengthen the repair process?

fast forward f6 carbon clinchers

i really wasn't very kind to those shiny carbon rims. several years ago it was decided to create a footpath from the road end at caol ila all the way south to ballygrant, running parallel to the main road. most of us would expect a path that eschewed any dramatic uphills and downhills then surfaced with finely ground stone chips. what is in place is a particularly rugged track covered with sizeable stone chunks and frequented by sections of collapsed stone wall along the way. it's the ideal route to review wheels and tyres, but hardly the easiest method of walking to and from ballygrant village.

that would presumably explain why i met no pedestrians at any point of the route.

getting there was a simple case of riding the path through ballygrant woods and alongside ballygrant loch, before turning up at the lily loch and accessing the aforementioned path. not that i'm given to pessimism, but i fully expected to puncture on the sharp rocks that pass for the path's surface, and it seemed more than likely that the carbon's clearcoat would be scratched beyond redemption.

fast forward f6 carbon clinchers

despite any misgivings about having opted for the path rather than the main road (which would hardly have troubled tyres or wheels), the staying power of the fast forwards was particularly impressive. not only did they survive unscathed, their resilience in the face of adversity made navigating each twist and turn, uphill and downhill far more flattering to my scant abilities than ought to have been the case. however, even at my relatively slow speeds, i experienced the odd sideways swipe from the occasional wind gust.

later in the year that would likely prove a tad more troublesome.

fast forward f6 carbon clinchers

other than a noisy freewheel (some are, some aren't), the wheels roll very well indeed, and even on remarkably steep but mercifully short offroad climbs, the rear wheel showed no tendency to pull sideways under pressure.

in a more standard cyclocross setting as espoused by my faux circuit in the woods, the straight line speed is most impressive, as is an aversion to being knocked from their line when clouted by chunky sections of undergrowth. i'm never too sure whether deep-rimmed wheels offer any particular advantage at the relatively slow, sheltered fast forward f6 carbon clinchers routes traversed in cyclocross circumstances, but i am quite impressed by anything that makes the bike look fast when it's not moving. they are somewhat stiffer than regular rims, particularly noticeable on one's posterior over rocky ground. however, i'd figure that's an acceptable trade-off when taking into consideration their excellent tracking properties and stability.

all told, the fast forward f6 wheels are not astoundingly light. claimed weight is 1900 grams, though i would contend that they ride a bit lighter than such a weight would suggest. it's likely that the aluminium braking surface adds a bit to the carbon alone. probably the only time you'd notice that weight is when carrying the bike over surfaces where pedals fear to tread; fine for us amateurs out playing in the woods on a saturday morning, but possibly a gram or two too far if you're intent on winning something.

fast forward f6 carbon clinchers

if time allows, i may swap them onto a road bike and see how they fare in the wide open countryside, particularly when gusting crosswinds come out to play, but as far as cyclocross is concerned, they're very impressive, much more so than i'd expected. they're also a lot tougher than i'd given them credit for, so initial fears over untoward damage appear to have been unfounded, particularly having ridden them in conditions that i've never seen in regular cyclocross. though gloopy mud was mostly conspicuous by its absence, it seems likely that the deep rims would fare better than regular low profile rims.

henri pelissier would have wanted a pair.

fast forward wheels are distributed in the uk by paligap. a pair of f6r wheels retail at £1060. though the review pair featured a shimano/sram pattern 11spd freehub (with spacer for ten-speed cassettes), there is also a camapagnolo version available.

fast forward wheels

monday 8 september 2014

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challenge 'limus' cyclocross tyres

challenge limus cyclocross open tubulars

batman first made an appearance in issue 27 of detective comics in may of 1939, originally referred to as the batman. as time has passed by however, he has also answered to the epithets 'the caped crusader', 'the dark night', and 'the world's greatest detective', though i confess i had thought the latter to have already been adopted by sherlock homes fans.

batman's more mundane existence was that of bruce wayne, conveniently a billionaire, industrialist and philanthropist; a bit like bill gates, now that you come to mention it. his adoption of a bat-like cape and mask was as a result of having witnessed the murder of his parents, subsequently swearing revenge on the criminal underworld (just remember, this is all fictional). the character was created by artist bob kane and writer bill finger and despite batman's appearance just at the outset of the second world war, along with many other superheroes, it's a character that has endured to the present day with few alterations other than that of personality.

that, however, is far more the fault of the movie and television industries rather than any intrinsic character flaw on behalf of kane and finger.

challenge limus cyclocross open tubulars

but one year later, as a result of his creator tiring of having to endlessly portray batman as thinking aloud, his solitude was replaced with dick grayson, civilian alter ego of robin. oddly enough, some thirty years later, robin grew up, popped off to college and fulfilled his own superhero destiny as 'nightwing'. however, the latter inconvenient fact notwithstanding, a bit like morecambe and wise, laurel and hardy and peters and lee, it's difficult to think of batman without robin in the same way as it's a tad unconventional to consider wheels without tyres or indeed, vice versa.

but while in cycling terms the two are all but inseparable, it seems a tad iniquitous and less than equitable to combine both in the same review. sometimes certain products simply demand to be considered in their own right no matter that they depend on others for support. so in order to do the right thing, i'd like you to consider this as the first part of effectively a two-part review. the wheels will roll along tomorrow.

challenge limus cyclocross open tubulars

challenge tyres could almost be considered something of a well-kept secret, despite one or two high-profile users in the cylocross world. both helen wyman and richard sachs are long-term users of challenge grifo cyclocross tubulars, the open version of which i not only reviewed, but have consistently ridden since the commencement of last year's cyclocross season. aside from the ability to run tubular tyres at lower pressures than tyres and tubes, the manufacturing process for both is pretty much identical up until the final stage; tubulars are sewn with inner tube in place, while the open tubulars receive a kevlar bead and dispense with the sewing bit.

in conversation with a competitor's tyre technician some years ago, i was bemoaning the fact that certain road-going tubulars featured a most pleasing and effective herring-bone file tread that was conspicuous by its absence on the majority of road tyres. his explanation was the pro mechanics and professional riders simply required tyre treads that accomplished the necessities of racing grip. the fickle public however (that's you and me), were more demanding of supposedly cool and graphic tread patterns, expecting something new and apparently innovative each year.

challenge limus cyclocross open tubulars

this explanation bears more than a sliver of truth as far as i'm concerned, but it means i now approach each alternative new tyre with a not altogether innocuous sliver of suspicion. does each tread pattern simply subscribe to the whims of a graphic designer, or is there a whole bunch of science behind each tactile knobbly? the proof of the pudding therefore, can probably only be via giving tyres, bike and yours truly more grief than is seemly in polite company.

not unnaturally, the suspicion that the professional cyclocross rider would be far more qualified to push the tyres to the point of disagreeing with the earth's gravitational pull is well-founded. but i refer the reader to my previous statement regarding the fickleness of the civilian rider, a mantle that i wear particularly well. though the intrepid cyclocross racer may find themself in all sorts of competition induced awkwardness, a high degree of ineptitude will often encourage precisely the same result, albeit at a lower speed. bottom line is: do the knobblies cut the mustard?

challenge limus cyclocross open tubulars

it probably is impossible to separate the functions performed by both wheels and tyres, but i made every effort to perform movements that favoured neither one or t'other. around bridgend woods, i have the semblance of a decent 'cross course that, sponsorship and islay estates willing, could probably be fairly simply engineered into a round of the scottish xc series. in the meantime, my solo efforts are the worst that transpire midst trees and the river sorn. later in the season, the mud will be in greater evidence, but then i'd be prepared for that and ride accordingly (within my minimalistic limits).

yet despite my growing confidence on the ibis, my line under claustrophobic trees brought me in contact with a totally unexpected patch of thick(ish) mud for which i was woefully unprepared. but despite some untoward squirming at speed (it was downhill), it is my belief that the tyres were the very items that brought me out the other side on pretty much the same line i'd chosen on the way in. much as i'd love to put it down to my impeccable bike handling, you wouldn't believe that any more than i would.

challenge limus cyclocross open tubulars

despite the majority of the route being flush with wet grass and rocky road (apparently also the name of a well-known chocolate concoction) i figured my initial outing ought to try its best to emulate the pros on their tubs by riding on the lowest pressure i figured i could get away with. in this case, that was 1.5 bar (approx 23 psi). while the grass, mud and even light gravel were almost happy with that, the rocky bits felt considerably less than comfortable, though in their favour, despite an entire lap on such a low pressure, the challenge limus tyres neither suffered damage or puncture.

however, though pride bears no pain, my backside did, so i popped the pressure up to around 2.75 bar (40 psi) and not only were subsequent laps a tad faster, but less onerous on my posterior. one notable difference over the grifos was the apparent increase in grip when climbing the rocky path towards the woollen mill. i seem to recall the occasional skity slip before that was now no more. of course, this is one year later, and the ground may conceivably have been drier, but i think the point is well made.

challenge limus cyclocross open tubulars

cornering and manouevrability more or less saved my day; much of the bouncing about was unintended, sometimes at a similarly unintended speed. yet despite that aforementioned ineptitude that i have carefully nurtured over the years, the ibis stuck pretty much to its line, allowing me to survive and ride another day.

on the basis of these observations, there must surely be a great deal more to the knobbly pattern on the challenge limus than the whim of an italian graphic designer (though they do present a most pleasing pattern when stopped to let dog-walkers past). i daresay the advantages of tubulars in competitive cyclocross still outweigh the likelihood of ms wyman and mr sachs switching to the company's open tubulars. but if, like me, thundering senselessly through the undergrowth is your weekend party-trick, with the concomitant ability to effect repair on the wooden bridge across the river, a set of challenge limus open tubulars will not only aid your batman-esque tendencies, but offer a stylish set of knobblies and sidewall label, marking you out as a member of the cognoscenti.

challenge limus 33 cyclocross open tubulars retail at £52 each and are available only with black tread and and tan sidewall. challenge tyres and tubes are distributed in the uk by paligap


sunday 7 september 2014

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connie and davis

1984 womens olympic road race

there's a common phrase trotted out every now and again, particularly when less than anglicised spellings are under discussion, that portends that america and britain are two countries divided by a common language. i believe that would be the very definition of a cliche, but as with many overused phrases, there is more than just a hint of truth in the statement. for instance, while we are cheefully happy on this side of the pond to give the word socks all the letters it deserves, our american cousins have abbreviated the word to the more compact sox. and if you have even a scant knowledge of web-based style sheets, as a uk or european citizen you will doubtless have come across the inquities of a usa based system that prefers color to that of colour.

davis phinney

of course, as we all know, we're right, they're wrong.

this division goes as far as the world of cycle racing. prior to 1984 my knowledge of any genre of cycle racing was minimal to say the very least. robert millar's triumph in the tdf king of the mountains competition while riding to fourth place overall changed all that. suddenly i could ride effortlessly over any gradient in the locale on my gas-pipe steel, drop bar racing bike (obviously that's completely untrue).

connie carpenter-phinney

disappointingly, for one engaged in daily scribblings about the finest of activities, my intrinsic knowledge of the racing scene across any continent is still far short of encyclopaedic, but i think i'm probably past saving by now.

like many who enter the world of cycle racing through exposure to the tour de france, it takes a few years to discover that there are other races on the calendar, and a few years after that to realise that cycle racing exists on continents other than europe. that must be even harder nowadays with the uci's globalisation strategy where it's less a case of having never heard of the racing as opposed to having never heard of the country. but i will readily confess to possessing even now, scant knowledge of domestic racing in north america. despite the up and down popularity of the british domestic scene, casting an eye across the usa never really came up as any form of alternative.

connie jersey

for obvious reasons, sportive weekly does not include their every result within its pages, and i've never really drilled far enough down through the velonews website to find out where it's all at. yes, i'd heard the names davis phinney and connie carpenter, with vague notions that they were accorded hero and heroine status across all 52 states. i may even have been aware that davis rode for 7-11 and had won a couple of stages in the tour de france, though in editions that were prior to my robert millar revelation.

davis jersey

i did not know that phinney's wife, connie carpenter-phinney was every bit the equal of france's jeannie longo, having won gold in the 1984 olympics, the first year a women's road-race had been included in the event list. phinney himself had ridden the men's road race in those same olympics, but fared a bit less well, finishing fifth.

what i was aware of, though again on the periphery of cognition was that now in his later years, davis phinney suffers from parkinson's disease and has created the davis phinney foundation to raise funds for parkinson's research. you would not be ostracised for wondering why this particular information deficit has come to light only now. or perhaps more to the point, how i had managed to remedy such lack of knowledge with such immediacy. in this particular instance, ben ingham is the man responsible, beginning with the words "I've just made a new film for Rapha with the Owynne and Andy. It's the first 'talking heads' film I've made. I won't say too much about in order to see if it speaks for itself (themselves)"

two jerseys

the rather excellent moving picture by mr ingham is not only a feast of information and entertainment, but one that offers both davis phinney and connie carpenter the chance to relate the tale of that olympic games in person (so to speak). if you have marvelled at ben ingham's still photography in the past, you will marvel even more at his seamless transition to the art of movie-making. but other than a special interest in cycling's rich past, why are rapha involved in commissioning such an edifice?

for the first time in the history of imperial works, rapha have introduced a special edition women's jersey, in this instance as part of a matching set: one for connie, one for davis. and a percentage of the profits from each will be donated to the davis phinney foundation. the long-sleeve sportwool jerseys are of the standard, style and quality you would expect from the former perren street residents, but either way, you need to watch this film.


view the davis and connie movie

saturday 6 september 2014

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now why would you do that?

garmin vivosmart

one of the major benefits of cycling has always been cited as the sense of freedom engendered by the simple act of pedalling. the word freedom itself, in context, can be attributed to more than just a single definition; freedom from the need to use public transport, freedom from driving a tin box, and freedom from the exertions of a hard day in the office or warehouse.

prior to my moving lock, stock and barrel to this island refuge, i had a daily cycle commute of around nine miles each way. on arrival at work, particularly in the winter, while i had warmed up in the saddle, the chefs would drag themselves in from their sorry evening in the pub the night before, switch on the convector ovens with the doors open and stand there for around twenty-minutes heating themselves into working condition. similarly, at day's end, while most either enclosed themselves in a metal box, or queued meaningfully for a bus, i had the ineffable luxury of those nine miles in the saddle.

oddly satisfying.

garmin vivosmart

those days were, of course, long before anyone had ever thought of the words internet, blog, or smartphone, so other than the perennial horn-tooting from the occasional cycle-hater in a car, or the drumming of rain on my waterproof jacket, those nine miles were mostly of solitary silence. even in modern times, a bike ride is a glorious opportunity to get away from it all, and in a world filled to the brim with websites, text messages, instagram and other forms of social media, there must be an endless queue of folks fervently hoping for a little me time now and again.

the bicycle once more.

an architect friend of my father's, always happy to be at the curtting edge of expenditure had the precursor to the mobile phone - the carphone - installed in his vehicle with a voicemail message that went something like "i'm sorry, but i'm in right now. i'll get back to you when i'm out." yet my dad refused throughout the latter years of his working life to carry either a mobile phone or a pager. as far as he was concerned, travel time was his time. only on entering the office was he the exclusive property of his employers and clients. i think i may well have inherited some of his attitude towards mobile communications, for despite being entrenched in certain day to day aspects of the information technology revolution, i can see no real advantage in my possessing a mobile phone, smart or otherwise.

garmin vivosmart

however, though i'd hardly class this intransigence as anything comparable to a protest, despite this singular stance, the march of technology continues unabated. i have in my possession a garmin gps device that will cheerfully communicate with a smartphone ensconced in a rear pocket. sad to say i rarely affix the garmin to the bike, let alone involve my bike rides with mobile connectivity; i honestly can't quite see the point.

that, however, is pretty much of no nevermind as far as the good folks at the garmin corporation are concerned. not only have they endlessly worked on our behalf to bring a series of numbers to our handlebars, but have beavered tirelessly to extend those same numbers to our facebook and twitter accounts. no longer is a solitary bike ride the satisfactory epitome of loneliness, but now something of a two way street.

offering to allow you to move more and miss less, garmin have introduced the pragmatically named vivosmart fitness band that displays notifications of incoming texts, emails and phone calls while on your wrist, assuming you remembered to pop the phone in your back pocket. i'm assuming the smart part of the product's name comes from not only the above notifications facilities, but is allied to the fact that it can also learn about your fitness level, and allow you to set daily goals. i'd be keen to learn whether its gentle vibration alert is noticeable while slamming through the undergrowth on either a mountain or cyclocross bike, but the factor that would annoy the living daylights out of me is the necessity to touch and swipe to read more.

that's kind of unlikely to happen on a bike ride. certainly on my bike rides.

garmin vivosmart

garmin's emea product manager, andrew silver offered the following: "With its activity tracking features, additional workout support including timed activities, and smart notifications, vÍvosmart is like having a personal trainer and assistant right on your wrist." are we so tethered to business and social life that we can't nip out for a few kilometres' peace, quiet, pain and suffering without leaving social media at home or in the office? judging by the members of the velo club peloton who carry their smartphones on the sunday ride, the answer is a resounding no!

i'll be the chap on a bike to whom no-one's talking.

garmin's vivosmart wristband will be available from october this year at a cost of £139.99 for both small and large sizes.

garmin vivosmart

friday 5 september 2014

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pro cycling on $10 a day (from fat kid to euro pro) phil gaimon velopress 291pp illus. £12.99 ($18.95)

pro cycling on $10 a day: phil gaimon

"First interval: time trial pace; second interval: all out; third interval: chariots of fire."

there's an elderly gentleman of my acquaint who is not only heavily involved in the local gaelic culture, but also well entrenched in the presbyterian church that sits grandly at the top of main street. knowledge of both these facts ought truly to constitute something of a warning triangle, for though religion is a topic that ought to be left aside in polite company (and he is nothing if not polite), locally, gaelic really ought to receive at least one similar nomination.

however, the man has a delightful sense of irreverence that he applies to both subjects. other folks who can be more than pleasant in day to day matters, take on a difficult intransigence when matters of the kirk are under discussion. and in my experience, those of a gaelic persuasion often seem bereft of any humourous bones whatsoever. not only is this gent particularly intelligent in his conversation, but quite apt to relate whimsical anecdotes concerning both the aforementioned subjects.

a refreshing change. take my word for it.

though not connected in any way, shape or form, phil gaimon seems set to inherit a similar mantle, if you see what i mean. though having struggled for almost six years to transmute his skills from the realm of the amateur to that of the consummate european professional, throughout that period he retained not only an excellent sense of humour, but a cheerful irreverence towards his chosen sport.

"When Tyler Hamilton tested positive for a blood transfusion, he claimed that he had a twin who died in utero, and some of those blood cells remained in his body.
"I'd like to dedicate this work to the memory of Tyler's tragically 'vanishing' chimeric twin sibling and to Lance Armstrong's famous missing testicle.
"May they rest in peace."

While many of us have watched the domestic pros participate in local circuit or stage races, in the tour series and similarly exciting yet parochial events, few have any real idea of what it takes to persist at that level. it has paralells with a band slogging round an endless series of pubs and clubs in the back of a ford transit van, vainly hoping that just once, the post gig clear-up will be interrupted by an a&r guy from one of the big music labels. the significant difference between the two is that not once have i found myself with road rash or fractured limbs after even a heavy night's drumming.

but comparable to the travelling musician scenario, there rarely exists, or can ever exist, an homogenous strategy. the young neo-pro can rarely bank on a cohesive racing programme, frequently relying on the occasional step up to the big league, but more often than not surviving on a diet of low budget criteriums, obscure one-day races or perhaps some joined up stages with a peloton of team-mates all desperately trying to achieve the same career move.

if demonstration were needed that these stalwarts have little else in mind than an insatiable quest for the big time, it's their existence on remuneration that many on social benefits would turn up their noses. phil gaimon's hardships were not confined to pain and suffering on the bike. yet despite this, gaimon's upbeat personality rarely seems to leave him alone.

"I have been holding onto this too long. Now that all the other cyclists are admitting it, it's my turn to get some things of my chest, so I can finally start to let go and move on. I was pressured into it by my team, doctors, and competition, and I had no choice. [...]
"I confess: I often left the plastic clip thing off the bread bag. A couple times, I started to cross the street when the red hand was already flashing; and once, the clerk at Whole Foods mistook the $14 fresh almond butter for $5 peanut butter and I didn't correct her."

having achieved some competitive notoriety as an amateur, gaimon's professional career began with an acronym; a team racing as vmg (velocity made good) who paid him the princely sum of $2,000, a couple of bikes and a training camp in the bahamas. the next rung on the ladder was provided by sakonnet. though onward and upward would generally encompass a raise in salary, on this occasion that salary consisted of no money whatsoever while the team took care of bicycles and travel. however, though racing for prize money in order to live might conceivably be considered sufficient incentive to race harder, in truth it's hardly what you'd call making a living. so the following season found gaimon wearing a fiordifrutta jersey and earning the same $2,000 as before but this time with a cannondale bicycle too.

as gaimon states at the very beginning of pro cycling on $10 a day, "I didn't use a ghost writer either. These words are mine.", a situation for which we must be very grateful. for in truth, i gain the impression that phil gaimon would be every bit as entertaining if writing about pizza toppings. though a chapter heading appears every now and again, each is subdivided into smaller, bite size chunks, delineated by sub headings every bit as bitingly humorous as the chapters themselves. "If you win, your tactics were right", "You race harder when you need the prize money", and "Always carry duct tape." are but three examples.

as in many walks of life, a pecking order is implicit if not always adhered to. those who have made it big so to speak, and raced the tour de france are reckoned to be due a level of reverence and respect as befitting their status. from the outside looking in, it may seem that more often than not, such rituals are observed. however, several of gaimon's asides in mentioning the sport's heads of state are anything but respectful.

"Whatever it was, Floyd (Landis) was making himself an unwelcome distraction in the US peloton, and the riders mostly resented his presence. Hartley told me that if Floyd missed the break, I should tell him, 'It's okay, Floyd. You can make up eight minutes tomorrow. I saw you do it that one time.'

somehow you just know that, despite his various setbacks, gaimon is destined to reach the upper atmosphere of the professional ranks. this achievement is delivered towards the end of the penultimate chapter almost as an aside. in fact, i'd to re-read the paragraph just to make sure. "After the flight, I sat on the cold, metal edge of the baggage carousel in San Diego and checked my e-mail while I waited for my friend JC to pick me up. Jonathan Vaughters had sent me a contract to join Garmin sharp in 2014."

such is the personal involvement i felt with gaimon's career to this point, i almost felt like cheering. it is of great credit to the author that not only are the details of each swing and roundabout impressively related and recalled, but the conversational manner of his writing imparts a remarkable feel good factor. it's not altogether light reading, but it is a highly compulsive, humorous and insightful look at the life of an ambitious workaday professional cyclist as he strives for a chance at the big-time. granted, phil gaimon is an american through and through, and the racing he describes is no less of the same ilk, but if you've notions of riding with a following team car, i suggest you read this at least twice before stepping further into the fray.


"I did my training over the winter, and now I'm awesome."

thursday 4 september 2014

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a case of misrepresentation i believe

tour of england_wales

i can remember taking the late lamented ferry service from campbeltown on the southern tip of the kintyre peninsula across to ballycastle on ireland's antrim coast, there to cycle to dublin for the start of the 1998 tour de france. at that time, cycling had not gained the foothold in the british psyche than seems currently the case, so a number of folks were confused as to why i would cycle to france via the irish republic. there was a lot of explaining involved in that.

fast forward about 16 years and you can perhaps imagine the telephone conversation between ourselves and the owner of a boat charter service on islay. he was being asked, as far as he could ascertain, to take a group of avid cycling fans across the same stretch of water to view a stage of the tour of italy. yet again, it was a major undertaking, even in these velocipedinally enlightened times, to disavow him of the notion that somewhere in this escapade he had need of sailing us to italy in a small fishing vessel. not entirely his fault you might agree.

tour of england_wales

incomprehension such as that noted above was simply compounded when yet again, the tour de france saw fit to leave behind its native borders and venture to the north of england for the grand depart. if i had a copy of cycling weekly for everytime the quizzical reply was "yorkshire?", i'd need a freight contained to store them all.

so ingrained has the advertisers' message become, that blatant misrepresentation is heralded with mystified incomprehension. for why would a race with the word france in the title, hold stage one from leeds to harrogate? isn't this the very misdirection for which trading standards was formed in the first place? even harder to explain why a group of us stood in the rain on a very wet grass verge awaiting both breakaway and peloton from a cycle race that not only had persuaded entire irish villages to adopt the colour pink for the day, but was in fact, further from the italian mainland than it had ever been on previous occasions.

tour of england_wales

any misgivings about the three grand tours visiting countries other than their own are something of a moot point. there is the uci's globalisation of the sport to consider as well as the element of surprise at the previous year's announcement accompanied by some not insignificant commercial aspirations that might have entered negotiations only a few years previously. it is the way of the modern world it seems, and we must make of it what we can, even to the extent of chartering a fishing boat and standing in the rain for a few hours.

it is sad, therefore, that our own national tour, gaining in importance and popularity if current news reports are anything to go by, seems to be heading in the opposite direction. with sir bradley and cav participating to the delights of a home crowd plus the announcement that marcel kittel will lead his giant shimano team in the tour, it's a far cry from being stopped on glasgow green several years ago by an innocent bystander to ask what all the bikes were there for. that bystander may be no more interested than he was then, but after the british championships last year and glasgow's recent commonwealth games, the mystery is surely no more?

tour of england_wales

except despite the latter two facts, the 2014 running of the so-called national tour is quite blatantly in breach of those trading standards i mentioned above. the race will finish yet again in london town, four days before the scots go to the polls to determine their future, so for the duration of this year's race, we are still a constituted part of britain. so why does the race stretch no further north than liverpool, some 220 miles from glasgow? would the organisers still be inclined to call it the tour of britain if the stages took place solely in scotland and wales?

tour of england_wales

this is not the first time that the tour has omitted scotland completely from its intinerary, and referendum notwithstanding, i wonder whether there will indeed be a future time when the race does not include england. do not for a minute presume that i have adopted a particularly nationalist stance; i'm selfish enough to hope that the race will pass close enough that i might have ease of journey to spectate. two hours on a ferry and 125 miles to glasgow prior to the 200+ miles to liverpool is hardly of commendation to even the enthusiastic fan, and there are a whole bunch of folks that live a lot further north than i do.

i'm well aware that commercial considerations are part and parcel of contemporary cycle racing, but if you're going to call it the tour of britain, and i emphasise the word britain, then at least make sure that it takes place across the named country. heaven knows how many apoplectic fans there must be in northern ireland.

now, why has rapha's supercross never been north of the border?

tour of britain

wednesday 3 september 2014

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all is not lost, it's just not where you thought it would be

ten speed cassette

there was at one time an oft repeated or obeyed mantra amongst salesmen with company cars; if you came across a noise that wasn't there yesterday, simply turn the radio up louder. i would imagine this to be somewhat apocryphal, but judging by the sounds emanating from the cars of salesmen i had once to deal with, there may have been an element of truth in the matter. those un-pinpointed noises were amongst the many features of owning and driving a car that had me utter a sigh of relief when i finally decided to divest myself of the rusting hulk that used to be mine.

ffwd skewer

though i am reasonably well-versed in the mechanical principles behind the infernal combustion engine and a number of the ancillary processes necessary to have it work in forward and reverse motion, an ability to remedy any faults was never part of the bargain. thus, when confronted with what appeared to be a new noise, all i could ever think of was the prospect of yet another drain on my bank account. while annual mot testing and servicing could, in the most part, be budgeted for, creaks, bangs and splutters rarely seemed to adhere to any regimented schedule. it is surely no coincidence that many would appear mere days after a service or mot test.

brooks saddle

the bicycle on the other hand, though no less unpredictable in such matters, is something to which i can confidently effect repair. along one wall of thewashingmachinepost bike shed is a tool board displaying an assortment of bicycle-specific tools, many of which have been sadly outdated by the constant march of technology. however, many day to day repairs still rely on simplistic items such as spanners, pliers, screwdrivers and allen keys, with only major mishaps requiring a page from the park tool catalogue. and for one or two of those instances i am also well-prepared.

crank bros. eggbeater

mechanical ability and wherewithal however, are as naught compared with attempting to find the origin of any untoward noises in the first place. it is surely something of an iniquity applied to bicycle design that no matter from where the noise actually cometh, it will always sound as if the bottom bracket is to blame. this is likely caused by the fact that tubes or monocoques are almost entirely hollow; sat above the bb area simply brings all those noises to an audible centre. so the problem is rarely effecting appropriate repair, but more often than not, finding the problem in the first place.

any enjoyment of my saturday ride on the 'cross bike was all but neutralised due to an incessant but oddly variable creak. finding the left crank to be a tad loose had me brim full of confidence that the problem had been easily determined and repaired in the field (literally) with the aid of a park tool 5mm allen key. only on resuming my merry way, the noise was still painfully in evidence.

fsa crank chris king bb

with at least a part of the reason for my jeremy powers impersonation being the reviewing of nice, new shiny wheels, the fact that the noise had not been noticed prior to fitting same, led me to believe it might be a cassette not fully tightened. or perhaps the brooks saddle was fulfilling its not uncommon destiny. or maybe the q/r skewer need to to be tighter. or could it have been the headset needing a quick spread of grease?

there is simply no way of enjoying a bike ride in the face of manifest uncertainty and the potential embarrassment of meeting someone while riding an expensive bicycle with creaks.

much as i would like to end this monologue on a high note, contending that all lived happily ever after, it may well be this weekend before such confirmation can be provided. it's not the skewers, cassette, headset or saddle. with the bike on the workstand i learned that the crank had once again surreptitiously loosened itself despite my obeying all the torque settings for preload and crank bolts. i have cleaned everything to a shine, tightened both chris king bearing cups and checked the pedals for play, but time got the better of me and it's unlikely that this particular bicycle will see action prior to this coming saturday.

don't you just hate the suspense?

tuesday 2 september 2014

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