mind your head

wavecel technology

though i am not in the habit of driving, or being driven in a motor car, preferring either to walk or cycle to my destination, i cite the following as uncorroborated evidence, based purely on observation. as legally required by the highway code and social responsibility, the first act undertaken by the majority of those clambering into cars or vans, is to put on the seat belt. it is, by all accounts, a natural reaction, one inculcated over many years of practice and on-screen advertising. yet, take the bus from kennacraig to glasgow (though, perhaps not at the moment), and despite the wearing of seatbelts allegedly being mandatory, very few of those sat in the coach seats will be found to be wearing them.

and even when the driver walks the length of the coach's interior to count the number of passengers, should it be manifestly obvious that many passengers are without a fastened seatbelt, there is rarely any persuasion to do so, other than the small sticker on the window beside each seat.

for many of us, a similar action would probably be to don a helmet prior to taking the bike from the bike shed or garage. again, this could be seen as a corollary to pavlov's dogs, a conditioned response based on perhaps inadvertent reinforcement by professional riders, as well as the photography featured in many editions of the cycling press. there's little doubt that the modern helmet is particularly lightweight, and i doubt i'm the only one who has found it necessary to tap my head, concerned that i may have left home without the helmet.

however, as i have pointed out in each and every helmet review i've undertaken, i'm mostly inclined to take the manufacturer's word for it that their product will, indeed, protect me should i happen to unfortunately suffer an accident resulting in my head hitting the ground. though i'm always willing to suffer for your art, i draw the line at hurling myself over the handlebars to check the veracity of their claims. like many of you, i tend to look upon helmet wearing as similar to that of an insurance policy; you pay the monthly amount in the hope that you'll never need to use it.

but, of course, helmet design is every bit as much subject to the whims of fashion as any other item of cycling ephemera, including bicycles themselves. if you ever find yourselves with the opportunity to peruse those websites offering vintage bicycles, take note how similar they all are from each era, until some upstart decided to move the goalposts. larger diameter downtubes, tapered headtubes, sloping top tubes, lowered seatstays; all those are incremental changes, initially made by one before being followed by the many, until the process begins all over again.

helmets are no different. recall the early models from bell which covered the polystyrene with a removable lycra cover, before being replaced by coloured bonded plastic. and today's helmets are a fraction of the weight of their predecessors; witness bell's v1. you'd certainly have noticed if that one had been left at home. and moving on from the original upturned basins, the modern-day helmet sports a welcome number of air vents to keep your head cool, a feature that also removes a great deal of inherent weight.

but, having removed material in order to create those vents, there is little doubt that this will reduce the structural integrity of the helmet, making it considerably less effective in carrying out its original purpose. in which case, it becomes necessary to replace that material with something that will restore its strength. giro helmets originally featured a mesh integrated into the polystyrene, while others have added carbon reinforcement, all of which have vyed for our attention and custom, based on a propensity to safeguard that which is probably most important to us.

a couple of years ago, trek introduced the bontrager wavecel range of helmets, featuring a technology stated to be one of the most significant advancements in the last thirty years. according to trek, wavecel technology was highly effective in preventing concussions caused by cycling accidents. and in hindsight, what may have been an unfortunate marketing statement, trek made a specific claim that wavecel was 'up to' 48 times more effective than its competitors. i cannot deny that i have often wondered from whence comes such purported numerical advantages. how is it possible to calculate that faling off my bicycle while wearing a trek wavecel helmet is four dozen times safer than wearing my specialized helmet?

however, i think most of us tend to accept such claims as marketing hyperbole, unlikely to be tested in real life, and simply engaged as a means of selling more helmets. it transpires, however, that not everyone is like us, for the trek bicycle company is being sued for a substantial amount ($5 million) by a new yorker who claims that trek's assertions are misleading, and that the wavecel helmets are only marginally more effective, rather than the claimed 48 times better.

i realise that tabs ought best be kept on all corners of industry to ensure that such claims are within the realm of acceptability, otherwise we'd doubtless be bombarded with all manner of unsubstantiated affirmations, leaving us in something of a purchasing quandary. however, to sue for such a large amount of cash, when not even at the behest of any physical injury, seems a bit unnecessary and iniquitous. does this mean we could legally sue the likes of canyon bikes if, on the sunday ride, we discovered that their aero frames did not return the advertised percentage increase in speed, or have the lawyers take issue with nescafé on discovering that a few double-espressos before the grand départ failed to offer the advertised 3% increase in efficiency?

perhaps the cycle industry could issue a code of conduct requiring independent corroboration of any perceived marketing exaggeration.

monday 11 january 2021

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the gospel according to water

coffee beans

it has been said that adversity concentrates the mind, though it occurs that it may have been me that said it. either way, the adversity created by the coronavirus pandemic has brought about a repetition of events that seems destined to continue for the foreseeable future. i am, of course, referring to the weekend rides in the principality, the parcours of which has remained steadfast since the advent of lockdown last march.

of course, this is scarcely a voluntary decision, brought about purely by an enhanced sense of fun or perversity; there is a perfectly defined method in our apparent madness. and the method (or madness), which may have been mentioned on previous occasions, is that of coffee. for in the early days of lockdown, with a lifeline ferry service in operation, the daily newspapers would not arrive on the island until near mid-day. thus, with debbie's café incorporated into bruichladdich mini-market, and many islanders remaining at home, it was scarcely pragmatic for debbie's to open any earlier.

were members of the velo club to follow the usual ride pattern, there would have been a better than evens chance of arriving in bruichladdich village a good half hour prior to opening time. were islay to have been an island in the carribean, this would hardly be a problem worth mentioning, but the hebrides are a smidgeon less forgiving than the carribean, and, wimps that we are, the less time stood about in freezing rain and galeforce winds, the better. however, though we may answer to the name wimp, we are not without strategies, one of which had us amend the route du jour to encourage arrival at debbie's pretty much bang on noon.

i cannot deny that so doing was the result of habit. though a bike ride of any length is always welcome, it is immeasurably enhanced by at least one coffee en-route, the finest being available at debbie's in bruichladdich. (unless, of course, you happen to be the one member of the peloton with a penchant for a hot chocolate with all the trimmings. he knows who he is.) on saturday, the soya latte would inevitably be accompanied by a double-egg roll, while sunday proved to be a more sedate affair, augmented solely with a caramel biscuit or square of millionaire's shortbread. but it transpires that there may be another dimension to the desire for caffeine.

according to the results of a survey carried out by the international society of sports nutrition, caffeine has been shown to 'acutely enhance various aspects of exercise performance, including: muscular endurance, movement velocity, sprinting and a wide range of aerobic and anaerobic sport-specific actions.

you will no doubt appreciate just how important this is to the average cyclist, often on the receiving end of what now appears to be spurious criticism for interrupting a bike ride with a cup of coffee. and the above detailed conclusion can scarcely be seen as an aberration, one that will be debunked in a matter of weeks, for the survey took into consideration a total of over 400 indivdual studies on caffeine and exercise, before coming to the announced conclusion. and with respect as to just how much coffee it is necessary to ingest to gain the potential benefits, the survey leans heavily towards two to four 8oz cups for a rider of average weight.

if you are finding it hard to comprehend my enthusiasm for these results, perhaps you have need of a double espresso right this minute; according to the results, caffeine also improves cognitive function, especially that of attention span. however, though this revelation proves that we've been doing it right all along, it also demonstrates that we may have been doing it all wrong. prior to reaching the hebridean home of coffee, we will already have covered around 50km, a distance we could have undoubtedly covered in record time, if only we'd set out from debbie's as opposed to doing so from home. still, nobody's perfect.

so it transpires that water is the most important of elements, since without water, there would be no coffee.

sunday 10 january 2021

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many years ago, i was in the habit of receiving copies of north america's 'mountain bike' magazine, a publication which came from the same stable as 'bicycling' (rodale press, i believe). it was a standalone publication, but was also included as part of 'bicycling' at one time or another. two specific items from this magazine still resonate to this day. one was a blow-by-blow article detailing the joys to be had riding offroad singletrack, the end result of which was an ability to eat as many doughnuts as the writer desired, having burned off sufficient calories during the riding session. finding this an excellent result from any cycling session, i have quoted that on more than one or two occasions.

the other item that comes to mind was a cartoon, showing a mountain biker aboard an offroad specific turbo trainer, but instead of the usual rear wheel roller, it featured an untrimmed log, still bearing branches and leaves. neat humour as far as i was concerned.

only a matter of days past, i wrote, reluctantly accepting that the coronavirus pandemic, aside from the life-changing repercussions this invisible danger has brought with it, has encouraged many to adopt a turbo-bound, online velocipedinal existence. instead of enjoying the cold, chilly vistas that have been provided by britain's recent cold-snap, many of the wider peloton have enjoyed centrally-heated views of a flat-screen television, computer or ipad. quite how this will affect sales of winter clothing ranges offered by the world's cycling apparel providers, has yet to be fully realised.

but, in the culmination of what now appears to be a concerted level of pre-planning, thewashingmachinepost gestalt has allowed the combination of zwift-like cycling activity with that of gravel riding, but in a way that allows for my continued cynicism of both subjects. it's a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

it may help justify the situation just a smidgeon, if i point out that this state of affairs has been seemingly innocently contrived by the parties involved. i believe we are all acquainted with the principles behind zwift-like cycling, activity that, as mentioned above, relies on a smart turbo-trainer and some form of screen on which to observe the nooks and crannies of watopia. despite various accessories that can provide suitable headwinds, or simulate varying gradients, by and large, indoor cycling is a pretty smooth affair.

gravel-riding, by its very definition is a lot less smooth. were that not the case, the genre would not demand bicycles of such sturdy construction, wearing knobbly tyres of widths in excess of 28mm, and it would scarcely offer any form of alternative to the normal fare experienced by the confirmed roadie. but you would surely agree that it hardly lends itself to the indoor turbo-trainer, other than as a means to keep fit, exclusive of the gravellous bit. yet, in a situation reminiscent of monty python, online cycling provider, rgt, has teamed up with dirty reiver, an gravel event that would normally offer 200km of trails and gravel roads.

and in an apparently un-ironic statement, rgt's head of brand and marketing, james vickers said, "We aim to present an ever-growing range of real roads on our platform, not limited to on-road courses, so to integrate the trails of Dirty Reiver and bring the event to life virtually, is a great addition to RGT Cycling." now, unless i have missed something really big, pixels are still as smooth as ever they were, and unless the platform's programmers have achieved a means of erratically controlling the actions of the turbo, i see no difference between riding a gravel bike or a road bike on a smart trainer.

organisers of the event only dug a bigger hole by saying, "Bringing the Dirty Reiver adventure into the virtual world showcases our event and brand partners to athletes all around the world while adding another dimension to the ride experience." again, maybe it's just me, but i'm not sure i comprehend just what that 'other dimension' might be. surely one of the attractions of gravel riding is often the need to develop one's bike-handling skills on less than predictable surfaces? can that be achieved on a smart-trainer? reputedly, "The new Dirty Reiver road will enable RGT Cycling users to experience gravel-riding from home, with in-app functionality aimed at giving a real-life experience virtually."

does that mean an app that can sling mud or gravel in your face, slide the rear tyre from under you and throw in the odd puncture just for good measure, or am i still missing something? | dirty reiver

saturday 9 january 2021

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what's afoot?

electronic shoe dials

though i believe the uci still hold pre-race checks for hidden motors in bicycle tubes, the theory that riders such as fabian cancellara achieved their often startling acceleration by means of electric propulsion, seems to have died a natural death. though the occasional stunning victory, or lengthy period at the front when climbing still raises the occasional eyebrow, the implication is often that this has been achieved by chemical means rather than via a series of excitable electrons. however, there is no sign of electricity departing the peloton anytime soon.

both shimano and campagnolo began experimenting with electronic gearshifting in the early years of this century, though both were substantially preceded in their technical minstrations by suntour (remember them?) who introduced the browning electronic accushift transmission (beast) in 1990, a shifting system that operated solely on the chainset. only a couple of years later, mavic, previously only renowned for their rims and wheels, surprised the cycling world by introducing the zap system, a prototype that eventually resulted in their mektronic system seven years later. however, it reputedly suffered badly when ridden in the wet and was fairly quickly discontinued, which brings us neatly onto shimano's digital integrated intelligence or di2.

the original battery for di2 was a somewhat chunky affair, originally installed in a frame mounted bracket, if memory serves correctly. i reviewed a focus carbon road bike many years ago that featured an early version of di2, on which the cables were externally strapped to the frame tubes. this was in the days prior to frame builders implementing internal cable routing. though i'm not much of a fan of internal routing, i have to agree that placing those fragile wires inside the frame makes a lot of practical sense.

a matter of a year later, the batteries had been re-constituted to allow internal frame fitting, perhaps more for reason of aesthetics than electronics. at that time, colnago gracefully allowed me to spend a day working on their cycle show stand in earls court (for purposes of writing an article, i hasten to add). the colnago hogging the limelight at that stage had been outfitted with di2, yet with no battery in sight. on pain of death not to reveal the location, the italian colnago representative had told me that the battery was concealed within the seatpost, integration that seemed revolutionary at the time, but is pretty much de rigeur on modern bike frames.

a member of the velo club, who has now divested his own colnago of any electronica, due to recurrent and apparently unsolvable problems, had originally programmed the front mech to automatically shift to the big ring when the chain reached a pre-determined sprocket at the rear. this he did more because he could, rather than any real need to do so. because, as soon as electronics are introduced into any closed system, the programmers are unlikely to be far behind. witness the option to control your home heating system via your smartphone, or answer the doorbell while on holiday in marbella.

which sort of brings me to my next instalment of clairvoyance, which, should it actually happen, not only will i expect substantial and frequent royalty payments, but large dollops of approbation from the great and the good.

many of you will own cycle shoes featuring the boa closure system (or similar), technology that relies on the twisting of one or more round knobs atop each shoe. this engages a ratchet to wind up an attached cable and tighten the shoe to the desired level. as evinced in several articles, this is handy for 'on-the-fly' adjustments while riding in the peloton, or simply to attempt the sprint for the 30mph sign before coffee. this is a system under continued development - witness the li2 dials on shimano's latest footwear.

it strikes me, however, given the nature of their operation and the emergence of remote wireless technology, that it would surely be simplicity itself to install a small electric motor inside each shoe dial, allowing the likes of wout van aert to tighten his shoes on the climb or sprint, possibly via the gps or power meter attached to his handlebars. thus, it would no longer be necessary to take hands off bars midst a thundering peloton mere kilometres from the finish line, or when straining every sinew near the summit of the angliru.

the only bit that bothers me is that, as one with no electronics or engineering prowess, if i can think of this just before teatime, then i'm pretty sure someone's already working on it even as we speak.

friday 8 january 2021

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it's a thing

gravel union

metaphorically speaking, were i to dredge the archives of the post, i've little doubt that i could find more than a single instance where i expressed a degree of cynicism aimed directly at the emergence of gravel bikes. whereas e-bikes fulfil a previously uncatered for demand or need, riding offroad has been commonplace for many a long year, receiving a notable boost when gary fisher and the rest of the boys in the band started hurling themselves down mt. tamalpais. that, if you read my recent review of guy kesteven's excellent book 'being gary fisher', was the beginning of mountain biking.

prior to nailing my colours to the way of the roadie, i will admit to having mountain biked myself, though with a tad more temerity than gary's pals. arguably, so doing provided me with better bike handling skills than i possessed at the time, but in comparison to those in thrall to the world of suspension, i doubt anyone would have noticed. and i recall, at the time, similar arguments to those pointed at gravel biking, were being aimed at these new-fangled mountain bikes by dyed-in-the-wool cyclocrossers. i can but admit, unaware of 'cross's heritage, i probably poo-poo'd those as much as any other offroader, but now that gravel has come out to play, mountain bikers and cyclocrossers have a common target in front of them.

but, truth is often stranger than marketing, or, in this case, probably not, and there's little doubt that gravel is a thing, notwithstanding the fact that the uk has precious little of the substance, other than surrounding badly made road repairs. as in the case of mountain biking, gravel has emanated from across the pond, and several years from now, someone will write a testimony identifying the very marketing department responsible for adding yet another genre to the ones we already have. and, unbeknownst to me, despite being a famous member of the cycling media, there exists a website/community operating under the title of 'gravel union', representing the views and opinions of a gravel community that has seemingly arisen overnight, from nowhere.

however, cracks in the firmament can be found, if, like me, you might inadvertently be looking for them. as far back as 2017, articles appeared in the cycling media concerning suspension forks on gravel bikes (yes, they've actually been around that long), engendering the same sort of arcane discussions to be found in many an mtb forum, concerning how many millimetres of travel is desirable on bicycles ostensibly designed to traverse relatively smooth gravel paths. you may gauge for yourself the impetus behind the desirability of bouncy bits on gravel bikes, when i quote the title of a bikeradar feature stating, 'it's about time suspension came to gravel bikes', though i'm sure, at some time or other, the same suggestion has been mentioned in connection with cyclocross bikes.

but then the clearly imaginable happened. with specialized targeting the nascent gravel market with their diverge model, a bike that dave arthur reviewed featuring campagnolo's new ekar groupset, it was noted that this model can be purchased with either drop bars or flat bars. and where specialized lead, someone is pretty much bound to follow.

so, to recap, we have sturdily-framed bicycles, featuring knobbly tyres unrestricted to the uci's 'cross width limits of 33mm, possibly about to feature front suspension forks, and available with flat bars. i well know that i'm scarcely the first person to point this out, but have i not just described a hardtail mountain bike? which in itself poses a classification problem. while i avoid anything to do with mountain bikes, purely on the basis that i do not own such a bicycle and others, such as chipps at singletrack, do a far better job than ever i could, cyclocross is a genre that lends itself to association with road-riding, based principally on its heritage and the fact that two of its current and prominent exponents are mathieu van der poel and wout van aert.

and despite many lengthy explanations as to why a gravel bike is not just a cyclocross bike with wider tyres, this too, is a genre that, until now at least, has shown greater affinity with the road than with gnarly singletrack. add flat bars and suspension and i fear you have one bike separated by differing nomenclature with neither side claiming ownership. which is probably why there is a definable need for 'gravel union'. | image:

thursday 7 january 2021

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not a level playing field

foreland hill

while i have wished several people a happy new year, those felicitations have often been qualified with the expectation that 2021 could hardly be any worse than the outgoing year, a hope that seems destined to be dashed on the rocks of covid-19. when a uk national lockdown arrived in march last year, i think most of us figured that all would have swept past by late july, early august. i know that in the office, the two of us who kept things afloat during those early days of lockdown, fully expected the furloughed members of staff to be back in place shortly after the 'ride of the falling rain' had taken place. how wrong we were can be demonstrated by the fact that their return did not take place until early november.

and, it would seem, here we go once again, with all of mainland scotland listed as level four, while england and wales have entered a full lockdown, with restrictions equal to those implemented last march. there's not a lot of point in jumping up and down, waving arms in the air at the removal of certain freedoms once again, for despite arguably poor handling of the crisis south of the border, the fact remains that this is a deadly virus and it's better to suffer in silence than suffer from infection.

thankfully, with the exception of skye, arguably no longer an island due to its connection to the mainland by a bridge, all of scotland's west coast islands remain at level three, allowing the continuance of the weekly cycling activities. advice at this level is only to exercise locally, which we have all interpreted as the entire island. in addition, it's still allowable to cycle with one other from a different household, meaning those irrelevant conversations can still take place apace. and when considering a soya latte and the essential double-egg roll, all hospitality can remain open for food and non-alcoholic drinks up until 18:00 each day. cyclists in mainland scotland, currently at level four, can essentially do likewise, though takeaways are the sole catering concession.

south of the border, it's still allowable to exercise outdoors once a day with up to one other from a different household, and as in mainland scotland, takeaways are still permitted.

there has been a great deal of discussion surrounding mental health during the current pandemic, conditions likely exacerbated by the imposition of furlough and/or working from home. for those who are not in the habit of taking regular exercise, things can only be a tad worse, particularly for those living in flats or in urban and city locations; it's difficult to 'get away from it all'. that may at least partially explain the alleged upsurge in cycling activity since last year, depending, of course, on how the authorities define the word 'local' with regard to where it's permissible to cycle. however, one of the plus points of cycling as an outdoor activitiy, is the fact that it can be undertaken in a group or flying solo; if the latter, no matter the size of your defined locale, it's possible to do so without coming into contact with anyone else.

according to surveys conducted over the last few months, many of those cycling stated that they found that it boosted their mood, while 47% claimed that it helped manage any anxieties, and 51% said it helped reduce stress. as ultan coyle once mentioned, "nothing's ever worse after a bike ride". it would be a bit iniquitous to claim that cycling is the only outdoor activity to provide those benefits, but we should all be happy that we chose cycling when the option presented itself.

and while national recognition is hardly essential to augment the above, the fact that bike shops are still allowed to remain open during the present lockdown restrictions is surely tacit illustration that cycling has achieved acknowledgment outside of its immediate circle. of course, the fact that off-licences are also considered 'essential retail' would tend to undermine at least a portion of government logic.

though i've no doubt there will be a sizeable number of cyclists who have opted to undertake their daily cycle exercise while fastened to a turbo trainer, correspondence from a reader was keen to point out that there are currently no restrictions that would prevent you from riding a bicycle outdoors, undermining any excuses that might be concocted in the light of recent government restrictions. cold, clear sunny days across this part of the hebrides are essentially too good to miss; if it's the same where you are, i'd advise cycling as frequently as possible to maintain that honed physique and a healthy state of mind.

but whatever you decide to do, stay safe.

wednesday 6 january 2021

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supply chain

canyon bicycles brexit statement

as a self-confessed campagnolo aficionado, i subscribe to the italian component purveyor's weekly e-mail newsletter. recent issues of this series of electronic missives have concerned themselves almost exclusively with the recently released ekar gravel groupset, a perfectly explicable state of affairs, considering this is the first all-new groupset from vicenza since the announcement of record and super record twelve-speed eps. and a bit like the means by which computers were once advertised, offering more processor megahertz than the preceding release and hopefully more than the competition, ekar was more or less honour bound to distinguish itself with one more rear sprocket than anyone else.

campagnolo brexit statement

up until this announcement, however, campagnolo had managed to fit each additional sprocket onto the same cassette freehub, having achieved this notable engineering feet since there were only eight at the back. now, however, that new nine-tooth sprocket on the thirteen-speed cassette has forced a new freehub, capable of accepting an adaptor outboard of the freehub body. campagnolo are at pains to demonstrate that, in their opinion, a successful 1x drivetrain could only be optimal with the addition of that extra sprocket. but then, it was probably the marketing department that issued that statement.

however, my receipt of that timely newsletter each week, has been a constant reminder that it is time to replace the super-record twelve-speed chain on the ritchey logic. in the true style of a practised procrastinator, this is something that ought to have been seriously looked at in late october/early november, but i can only claim that time unwittingly passed me by. i learned many years ago, that failing to replace the chain in timeous manner, frequently led to the need to purchase a matching cassette. with the super-record version currently priced in excess of £300, matched with the £52 it costs for a chain, you can see that i am keen to ensure all is carried out as economically as possible.

however, it was the following of a link in one of those ekar newsletters that more or less forced me to take action at long last. on arriving at the campagnolo website, i was somewhat dismayed to read a message informing all visitors that, due to the economic uncertainties brokered by brexit, that campagnolo had suspended all deliveries to the united kingdom. and, sadly, this is not a singular action by the italians. checking german-based canyon bicycles website elicited a similar state of affairs in operation.

i don't mind admitting that i am politically naive, but i do consider myself quite well educated. in the light of which, since i figured i had nowhere near enough confirmed and corroborated information to ever vote to leave a trading partner with whom britain has had an economic relationship since the 1960s, it seems a major travesty that a majority vote decided to do just that. however, there are far more pertinent places in which to carry out such contentious discussions: all that will bother most of us gathered here today, is "how will this affect my cycling?"

i had, naively once again, thought that the prime minister's announcement of a last-minute trade deal would have had messrs campagnolo and canyon (and others) remove such uk shipment restrictions. but given that both were still in place as of monday 4 january, i can but think otherwise. perhaps they're just awaiting receipt of the appropriate paperwork?

however, learning of those uk shipping restrictions from vicenza, brought an abrupt end to my procrastination, immediately visiting the chain reaction website to place an order for a new twelve-speed, super-record chain. at the time my order was placed (it has subsequently been received), chain reaction were showing a mere four in stock. as i write, on january 4, they are completely out of stock, as seems to be the case for several ekar components. those who harboured desires for a new canyon bike for the new year and those who needed either campagnolo parts or an entire groupset, might find themselves seriously disappointed.

i can only assume that boris johnson's cycling days are well behind him.

campagnolo has since stated that the ban on uk sales applies solely to its direct to consumer sales via the website. the normal supply chain remains unaffected and all components, wheels etc., can still be purchased through authorised dealers.

tuesday 5 january 2021

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