in certain locations, wheels command a level of respect that either adds or detracts from their ultimate desire. in common parlance and deeply held belief, the finest means of upgrading any bicycle is via the wheelset. but so doing requires a knowledge often greater than that acquired by the entry-level cyclist. it was not always thus; at one time, wheels were simply built 36 spoke three-cross, subsequently dropping to 32 spoke as ubiquity took account of technology. rims offered subtle variation such as (mildly) aero profile or flat, eyeleted, double-eyeleted or devoid of eyelets altogether. radial build with bladed spokes was the preserve of the time-triallist, and not considered to be the most robust of options.
nowadays i rather pity those who have need of choosing, for much like those digital camera group tests, gathering all the available information only leads to confusion and even more indecision. the plethora of factory builds, adopting pretty much every possibility doesn't make things any simpler. but then, we've been aware of all this for some considerable time. what other unkown factor could make wheel life any worse?
well, a hebridean galeforce crosswind for a start.
the perennial and frequent existence of those has prevented me from ever considering deep-rim wheels. they are potentially faster into the teeth of a headwind, and a great boon if pushed by a powerful tailwind, but have that front wheel catch in a strong crosswind and you could be investigating the interior of a roadside ditch from closer proximity than desired. at the risk of sounding blasé, i know well of which i speak.
and given that any quality set of wheels carries with it a commensurate price-tag, owning such a set may well have them confined to their wheelbags for long and uneconomical periods of time. it would be iniquitous, however, to judge the purchase of deep-rimmed wheels purely on how scotland's west coast reacts with their profile. there will be many an area of the uk, europe and the rest of the world where an uncountenanced crosswind carries with it little by way of rider discontent. that said bearing in mind that the prudent man looketh well to his going, prior to purchasing these most stylish of wheel genres, wouldn't it be ideal to learn of their wind-cheeting propensities?
i think it would.
wheelsmith of larbert in scotland have been producing some of the most impeccable handbuilt wheelsets on the market for several years. these range from shallow, 23mm rimmed normal wheels, all the way to deep carbon-rimmed exotica, some of which your bank manager will applaud and others that will be met with a deep financial scowl.
those most recently on review perilously close to the atlantic ocean field 38mm deep aluminium rims, laced 20 spoke radially up front and 24 built two cross at the rear. this particular pair match the 21mm wide aero rims with wheelsmith's own excellent hubs, though they can be ordered with hope, dt swiss or chris king hubs at additional cost. such are the benefits of handbuilding. the spokes are black sapim cx-ray bladed, held to the rim via (black) brass nipples. the principal benefit of alloy rims is the machined alloy braking surface, meaning no need for expensive carbon-compatible pads and the concomitant faff that comes along with having to fit the darned things in the first place.
at a weight that hovers around the 1650 gram mark, they're neither excessively heavy nor light, though reasonably impressive for a deep alloy rim. according to wheelsmith's derek mclay. they'll take anything from a 23mm road tyre up to a 35mm cyclocross knobbly without so much as a dispirited grunt. though i've yet to ride them in the latter configuration, they replaced a pair of mavic ksyrium slr wheels on the colnago c40, swapping the 25mm clement lgg strada tyres in the process. it seemed the ideal, if not entirely scientific means of providing some form of context for the review. derek also contends that they truly come into their own at speeds in excess of 18mph (30kph).
though the wheels arrive from larbert replete with skewers (and rim tape), i left in place the blue anodised pair to which the colnago has been home for the last couple of years. though skewers can make an appreciable difference in some cases, the make-up of both pairs is so similar as to have reduced any unapparent idiosyncracies.
i, along with many others, find the appearance conferred upon any bicycle by deep-rimmed wheels to be particularly attractive. in every case, this style of wheel has made the colnago look effortlessly fast even when sitting still against the bike shed door, or a nearby passing place sign. the downside, as previously advised, is the occasional (or, in my case, frequent) heart-stopping moment when a strong cross-wind catches the front wheel and literally pushes the bike and rider across the road and ultimately into a ready and waiting ditch.
except, in the case of the race 38 set, this iniquitous situation actually failed to occur. i'm not enough of a fluid dynamic specialist to pinpoint exactly why this was the case, but the curve atop the spoke end of the rim and its relative shallowness appear to offer a release valve towards undue air pressure. do not for a moment misunderstand me; the wheels are not completely unaffected by gusting crosswinds (up to 75kph in my case), but pilot control was never ever under threat.
however, if all we desired from a pair of wheels was immunity from crosswinds, we'd refrain from fitting deep rims in the first place. but deeper rims offer consummate benefits when ploughing into direct headwinds or even in windless (who am i kidding?) conditions. in order to check the veracity of wheelsmith's claims that the wheels are at their finest above 30kph, i fitted my grossly under-used garmin and kept an eye on the numbers to see if any change could be detected. i'd hesitate to equate the effect to that of a turbo kicking in on a motor car, but there's no doubt a decided 'lift' is experienced at around that sort of speed.
by this, i do not mean a lightening of grip on the road, but more a sort of invisible push. take them up to a cruising speed of between 30/35kph and i defy you not to smile at the result. even into a galeforce headwind, with 30kph only a distant pipedream, they're detectably more impressive than a more standard set of wheels. couple that with excellent braking performance, it seems that wheelsmith are proffering that frequently used cliché, the near perfect package.
i'm of a mindset where a 1650 gram wheelset doesn't strike me as oppressively heavy (the similarly constituted carbon aero 38 wheelset is a mere 100g lighter), thus their climbing prowess was actually quite dignified, and i was never once in fear that a sneaky crosswind might derail me on the few quick descents available around the principality. for once, it meant that i could ride in the hebridean equivalent of gent-wevelgem and still benefit from the splendid profile enhancement that comes free with each pair.
if i have any criticism at all, it would be that the wheelsmith lettering is applied to the rim in black on a black alloy rim and thus all but invisible to both the innocent bystander and fellow members of the pelotonese. i'd far rather that those letters were writ large in either white or red so that others might learn at first hand why the colnago and its rider have yet to be pushed off their flightpath. i'd cheerfully ride these throughout the winter months up here; until now, there are no other deep rim wheels about which i could say the same.
the wheelsmith road 38 wheelset retails at a very reasonable £480 in their reviewed format. that's almost £300 less than the carbon rimmed equivalent. i'd order a pair now before derek fixes his calculator.
monday 11 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in the professionally cossetted world of velocipedinal bike racing, it is almost unconstitutional to consider the bicycle as a beast of burden. though many of us will consider placing a small zipped bag under the rear of the saddle to carry the bare necessities, that is often as far as it goes. having just finished watching the opening team time-trial at this year's giro, those wind-tunnel tested slivers of carbon fibre would scarcely be your first choice when it comes to nipping to the shops for an irn-bru ice lolly. nor would they provide much in the way of service for a bicycle tour of the outer hebrides.
in mitigation, that was hardly the descriptor atop the cad/cam package that brought those frames to three-dimensional life. in fact, if considering the life of the porteur bicycle in stark reality, neither computer-aided design nor wind tunnels likely feature highly. but a similar distinction inhabits the world of the motor car; formula one machinery, allegedly existing in order to further develop the family fiesta, would scarcely be the first choice for a weekend trip to chipping sodbury.
however, fortunately for the sanity of the bicycle itself, there are those who have other paths to travel than that which begins with the flamme rouge. while there is much informed and intellectual discussion regarding the formation of cities in which human beings would like to live, a portion of that consideration concerns the efficient transportation of those shiny, happy people. it doesn't take a nobel prize-winner to realise that the motor car in its current form is hardly the most efficient means of inner-city transport.
despite katie melua's contention that there are (or were) nine million bicycles in beijing, illustration of this still offered evidence that traffic snarls, if they existed at all, were hardly of the scale affecting motorised transport in many a developed world city. and for those who would gleefully point to the lack of appropriate load bearing capacity on behalf of the velocipede, you need only type "moving house by bicycle" into the search field on youtube to be visually informed otherwise.
however, most of us would do the sensible thing and hire a moving company, content to ride our bicycles in favour of the weekly or daily shop. there's no denying that prince bradley's paris-roubaix pinarello dogma might not be the most efficacious choice. and that's where vélosophy is keen to offer an alternative solution.
as is the modern way, the future existence of swede jimmy ostholm's brainchild is dependent on the almost ubiquitous kickstarter campaign. should the magic figure be reached by 6 june, his gps enabled city bike will become a reality, matching each individual sale with the provision of a bicycle to a school-age girl in ghana through the auspices of unicef.
while i would generally applaud such apparent altruism coupled with a desire to bring the functional bicycle into the 21st century, i'm none too sure that simply adding a variation on the porteur front rack to an ostensibly stylish, frill-less machine is substantially different from that which many individual builders have been doing for well over a decade. i'm very much in favour of the donation of bicycles to under-developed countries, but mtn qhubeka and world bicycle relief have also been providing such a service for quite some time, though admittedly dependent on donations rather than bicycle sales.
and as to the gps facility, the kickstarter page is somewhat vague on the implementation of such. "What's both important and interesting, is our ambition to connect the bike to a digital interface, great for many purposes like safety, security, navigation, communication and even community building! The challenge is to integrate these in serial production, and keep the price at a reasonable level. It's just the beginning but Vélosophy will be GPS traceable at launch.
however, though my cynicism is genuine enough, there's no doubt that technical development at the more mundane, yet pragmatic end of the bicycle world has scarcely kept pace with that more concerned with breaking hour records. sadly, the latter achievement (or even lack of) will usually guarantee more column inches than the ability to easily bring home a bedside table over the front wheel. vélosophy's projected bicycle will doubtless make more of a mark on the world than the art of riding in circles for an hour, without ever once gaining proximity to a banner headline. for that reason alone, perhaps it deserves every krone of funding it can acquire.
sunday 10 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
while searching the online pages of amazon.co.uk a couple of weeks ago for something completely unrelated, i came across thomas owens' bebop: the music and its players, the online review for which made great recommendation for the contents. as a drummer with unrequited aspirations towards playing that style of jazz, for just over a tenner it seemed a book choice that required no second thought. i have had the book in my possession now for just over a week, and despite having two cycling books currently under review, i've still managed to read a chapter or two.
sadly, i am the epitomé of the joke 'what do you call someone who hangs around with musicians? a drummer.' though i can comprehend written drum scores if given time to digest their dots and dashes, chromatic scores are a whole 'nuther bucket of shiny stuff. that's not to say the latter make no sense whatsoever, but if someone handed me a piano or saxophone, there's no chance whatsoever that i could make any musical notes resembling their intent. which has brought an unexpected obstacle to my reading enjoyment.
you see, author thomas owens is in possession of a seriously advanced grasp of music theory and has taken the opportunity to make use of it at every turn. this means for example, when discussing the genius of saxophonist charlie parker, he makes use of written scores and dissertations of the chord structures used to develop parker's uniqueness, relative to the players who preceded him. thus, i'm having to pick my way through his admittedly excellent narrative very carefully, trying to make sure that i don't exclude any relevant nuggets of wisdom that might further educate me to the intricacies of bebop jazz.
perhaps the worst aspect of this admission is that it holds a certain parity with my knowledge of contemporary road-racing. this is particularly pertinent given that the 2015 giro d'italia starts wending its merry way round the peninsula as of today. all week i have taken note of websites and blogs that offer to elucidate further on those who will be fighting for position in milan, the teams that will comprise the italian peloton, and who might be in the finest of form to perhaps mount a challenge to the favourites. it all echoes a theme that has formed the main thrust of the monthlies; we should be less than surprised, given that the cyclical nature of road-racing almost pre-writes the contents of publications such as these.
it pains me not one whit to admit that i have little idea of which teams will set out from san lorenzo al mare today, other than the usual suspects compelled by their world-tour status. keeping one eye regularly on twitter over the past week it's been hard to escape some proffered knowledge of those likely to wear the pink jersey, but a professional disinterest precluded myself from following any associated links.
my actions in so doing are not born from ignorance, nor from disinterest; if truth be told, i hold the giro in higher esteem than its french counterpart. but once again, i am keen to separate my senses from any punditry, however well-intentioned in order that i might settle down in front of eurosport player on my macbook air and watch the racing as it unfolds over the next three weeks.
cycle racing is exciting and sufficiently strategic to exist on its own merits without need for several talking (and writing) heads to attempt placing all in some form of context. i am acquainted with at least three gentlemen who are experts at predicting how a day's racing will unfold on the race to the finish line. it is a skill that has quite obviously by-passed me entirely; but in truth it's not one i have made any effort to acquire. i just fancy watching each day's racing as it occurs (possibly occasionally on catch-up), then join in congratulating the winner on may 31.
try it and see. you'll love it.
saturday 9 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the mighty dave t, despite being of an age when today's retro was modern, has little truck with archaic devices such as five-speed freewheels, down-tube gear changing and brake levers on which the cables exit from the top. his current bicycle du jour is of far more modern constitution and he is prone to guffaws of derision when the conversation concerns the possibility or likelihood of piecing together a vintage lugged steel frame with appropriately dated componentry.
on reflection, he quite likely has a bit of a point. how many of us would be cheered by reverting to television sets that displayed only in monochrome and required the viewer to get up and move to the set itself in order to change channel? that might have been less than onerous when there was only bbc1 and itv, but with more channels nowadays than there are ball bearings in your average bike, that might mean an evening more concerned with trekking than watching.
with road bikes currently affording the enthusiast as many as eleven closely-spaced sprockets at the rear, shifted almost seamlessly either by mechanical or electrical means from the bar-mounted brake levers, a return to the downtube might not gain everyone's vote. and even shimano have found it favourable to hide both gear and brake cables under the tghtly wound bar tape. granted, similar to those who currently enjoy placing a vinyl record on a spinning turntable rather than pop a couple of white ear buds for the pleasure of listening to music, there are those still partial to the actions of yesteryear. but on the whole, modernity would probably gain the upper hand in any contemporary poll.
the comic has already dipped a toe in these particular waters. a recent issue quizzed two current bike riders as to whether they'd be happy if electronic shifting were the only option. rather obviously, they chose an adherent of each predilection, but it's quite likely that we've already reached the mark that defines the law of diminishing returns. personally, i find electronic shifting, while there is no doubt that it works with an efficiency close to perfection, still a solution in search of a problem, a point of view shared by maybe more riders than you'd think. similarly, disc brakes, no matter the means of their actuation.
i've no desire at this point to enter into a prolonged bout of rhetoric as to why i'm right and everybody else is wrong, but there's little doubt that both recent developments offer fair points for argument.
but, in the process of discussing such items of potential consternation, it's a valuable lesson to take note of just how far the modern-day bicycle has come in little over one hundred years. though frame design may have found itself restricted by a series of directives emanating from aigle in switzerland, the biggest changes are obviously in the materials of construction, rather than any dramatic new shapes. it is the development of the associated componentry that has effected the greatest change and kept the mighty dave t perfectly satisfied with that which has been provided, rather than overcome with desire to return to his roots (so to speak).
though many of these benefits have reached our feet and hands from more than one nation, the originator of the quick-release lever has had the perspicacity to produce a short movie demonstrating just how not only bicycle history has been made, but their very own ever-evolving contribution. it is fitting that this educates our senses only a day before their home international stage race begins at san lorenzo al mare tomorrow. it's possibly the most enetertaining history lesson you'll have sat through for many a long year.
friday 8 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
goodness knows how many years ago, one or two of us thought that owning similarly hued jerseys with some sort of logo would give the false impression that club membership was very much in our favour. totally oblivious to the availability of dye-sublimated club jerseys, i ordered a few from an independent cycling apparel provider and had some local fellows screenprint my rather hastily designed logo on the front. the screenprinting, so i was told, had to be carried out with ink that didn't need to be heat-cured. cycle jerseys do not respond well to excessive heat.
the early rapha condor team jerseys were fabricated from their marvellous sportwool, a material that, as far as i'm aware, cannot be dye-sublimated. therefore the bright white logos proudly printed on the back and front of each item had also been heavily screened. this method of applying graphics to fabric is possibly a less efficient method than that of dye-sublimation, based solely on the fact that very few cycling apparel outfitters seem to offer this as an option. it would also entail several screens to enable more than one colour; rapha condor had the minimalist luxury of subsisting pretty much on black and white only.
though many a grand dissertation has been considered, written and printed on the inherent connection between cycling and coffee (oddly more prevalent amongst the road-going fraternity), observation has highlighted a seemingly similar connection between the velocipedinal world and that of printing and typography. i surely need not reiterate that the richard sachs cyclocross team is not only sponsored by the house industries digital type foundry, but they were instrumental in redesigning both the team clothing and colour schemes applicable to the bicycles.
they're also the folks who not only designed and released a typeface named velo, but had it applied to bicycle frames and componentry, subsequently exhibited in rapha's san francisco cycle club.
that specifically provides at least one more than tenuous connection between our two worlds, and were that the sole example i would graciously accept the possible wrongness of my assertion. but for those who did the decent thing and contributed to photographer camille mcmillan's kickstarter campaign behind his book circus, you will be aware that the cover is to be left in the expert hands of screen printer dan mather. it is only a few weeks since i spoke to dan about another of his projects at which point he confirmed that all his order list was cycling-related.
and that other project involving dan was with cycling illustrator, richard mitchelson, a man not backward in coming forward regarding his own predilection towards cycling graphics and print. i take it we're all beginning to see my point here?
therefore, it may be of great interest to those in the san francsisco area now inspired to learn more about the printed and lettering arts during the upcoming san francisco design week. house industries are holding a series of workshops encompassing both lettering and screenprinting. these can be discipline specific; you can learn one or t'other, or via a combined workshop that will provide suitable grounding in both. either may well be the inspiration to participate further with a view to an alternative career or simply a means of appreciating one of cycling's partner activities.
after all, few of you have ever turned down the opportunity to sup froth pre or post ride.
i appreciate that not all of you will happen to be in san francisco on 5 & 6 june, but if the possibility is there, check the link below. for those of a more domestic domicile, if screenprinting might be an object on your horizon, maybe you should have a word with dan mather.
thursday 7 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
sunday morning, 3 may. it's one day in a month that we could usually count on, even here in the hebrides to be warm and sunny; the very month when optimism could conceivably have us convinced that summer wasn't just something seen in holiday adverts on tv. but the day before star wars day started particularly wet, and the fact that the junction at springbank was flooded with fast flowing water churning from the ditch on the high road, tended to suggest that this wasn't a brief summer shower. that summer sensation to which we have been looking forward for so long was nowhere to be seen outside of the baselayer, long-sleeve jersey, softshell jacket and waterproof jacket donned when leaving the croft.
the cielo, currently my only bicycle with fitted mudguards, had its migration further and further towards the back of the shed sharply arrested and brought once more desperately into service. were it not for the fact that lord carlos of mercian has a reputation for riding insouciantly in all manner of foul weather, i'd have had second thoughts about going out at all. but i figured the risk of being branded a wimp to be higher than i'd have liked, so i went out anyway, stuffing a second pair of winter gloves in a back pocket for a smidgeon of comfort on the homeward trip.
though it now transpires that it was lord carlos who wimped out, that's really of no nevermind. by the time i found that out, i was already a tad on the cold side, wearing wet-through waterproof gloves and beyond the point of no return. rather insensibly and somewhat indefensibly, two of us (one more, less than astute individual had seen fit to demonstrate his stupidity in public) rode round the electrician's route, so-called because it's the short circuit. in sharp contrast to earlier thoughts of summer days and balmy evenings, not only was the windchill only marginally above zero, but the galeforce wind, gusting just a bit over 40mph, meant that even our curtailed velocipedinal outing took only a short time less than the more usual sunday morning ride.
i realise that not everyone would find the foregoing an enjoyable experience; we seem to have very little option after an entire winter of much the same. but were we to succumb to the iniquities of the scottish weather, there would be months and months of washingmachinepost filled with strategic tales concerning dominoes, scrabble and possibly the odd game of snakes and ladders. if cycling's all you've got and pretty much all you want, short of wind gusts verging on the dangerous, riding a bike in any weather can reasonably translate into fun.
training doesn't come into it. we're all slow by alex dowsett standards, happy to watch him go round in circles while we do likewise but interspersed with coffee and cake. in dull but perpetual rain as showered us on sunday morning, there would have been little chance to make out the numbers on a garmin or srm through misted and drenched cycliing lenses. the ride was far more about temporary survival than the possibility of athletic gain.
which is kind of why it fills me with a contradiction between admiration and despondency to read that two (scottish) engineers have comfortably surpassed their crowdfunding total to bring a $384 power meter to market. this particular device named as limits, on which one hopes they spend a portion of the money designing a better logo, fits between the pedal and crank arm and according to the inventors "will now make it possible for everyone to own a power meter."
but over the years, i have watched many a cycling colleague affix a gps device to the handlebars, almost inevitably going on to remain glued to its changing numbers in the way most teenagers become glued to their iphones. and then there's the inevitable strava, a web platform that is to cycling what facebook is to those teenagers.
whatever happened to riding out in the pouring rain on a sunday morning in galeforce wind chill purely for the joy of so doing?
i am greatly cheered that the world of cycling can put in some effort and get behind new developments at the cutting edge of perambulation. but i'm never too sure about the benefits subsequently available to the great unwashed. if it becomes all about the numbers, because that's what brad and the other boys in the band are in professional thrall to, then the sheer idiocy of getting up early on a sunday morning despite the gurgling sound of rain pouring from the guttering advising otherwise could be a dying art.
either way, i won't be getting any faster. and at this point in time, lord carlos is still a wimp until he proves otherwise.
wednesday 6 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though i'm well aware of the cliché factor, there's no doubt that none of us are getting any younger. no matter which political party you plan on voting for in this thursday's uk general election, not one of them has offered a curb on ageing in their proffered manifestos. being conscious of this fact (the ageing bit, not the manifestos) offers the opportunity to perhaps attempt to do something about the connotations of an inarguable physical state.
i recall robert millar making mention of the fact that, once past the age of thirty, it was necessary to train twice as hard simply to remain at the same level. so by inference, in order to improve, either the training intensity has to be increased, or lengthened. or both. of course, doing so depends entirely on having something to train for. such a situation, in the case of the pelotonese, could be framed by one of the members being considerably younger and fitter, or one of the more elderly suspects deciding that a swift bout of training was the very stuff that dreams are made of. or, in my case, nightmares.
the sunday ride more often than not ends with an all-out sprint (terms used in this feature are entirely relative) for the 30mph signs as the road enters bruichladdich village. at least, we think it's bruichladdich village; the sign signifying such, fell off its rusted posts several months ago in particularly severe winds.
generally, if i bide my time over the course of a few sundays, the rest of the peloton will have been lulled into a false sense of security, allowing me to slingshot past on the outside to take a sneaky, if well-deserved victory. however, as i averred in my opening sentence, none of us are getting any younger; we're all within a ten years of each other (give or take) and have appreciated more decades than any of us are willing to admit. therefore each sunday's sprint victory is rarely a triumph of keenly honed athletic prowess, more a case of hidden subterfuge and deft body-swerves.
all this can be placed in the context of the velo club's motto 'the sunday ride is the sunday ride', an obscure way of advertising that we gauge our velocity based on the lowest common denominator. if any of us feel compelled to ride eyeballs out for any length of time, saturday is the day for such singular selfishness.
however, the false sense of security into which we have all fallen is likely soon to be punctured and probably in the most embarrassing of fashions. as summer advertises its looming presence by a warming of the rain in the hebrides, there will be visitors. and some of those visitors will be the sort who think little of interspersing a heavy season of gran fondos and sportives with a week on islay, a week that will inevitably incorporate one sunday. that means, while taking advantage of our amiable west of scotland nature, they will leave us at the foot of every climb and drop us unceremoniously on the strand before we've had even a chance to form an echelon.
sadly, that can mean only one thing; that we, or more particularly, i, had better get used to being the lanterne rouge of the velo club peloton. there will of course, be the occasional opporchancity to put one over on the others every so often, resulting in gaining pride of place on the leather chesterfield at debbie's and an extra dollop of froth atop my soya cappuccino. but otherwise, the only way is down.
it is a subject forming the principal thrust of max leonard's book lanterne rouge, published by yellow jersey press, reviewed in the post last year and soon to be released in paperback on 4 june. through the graciousness of the publisher, i have one copy on offer to the sender of the first correct answer to the following question:
the lanterne rouge, aside from describing the rider finishing last in the tour de france, originally refers to the red lantern hanging on the rear of what?
e-mail your answers to email@example.com including a full postal address. closing date for the competition is monday 11 may.
tuesday 5 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................