i only entitled this article as above because i started writing the words "long, long time ago..." the very opening sentence i had intended to use, when it brought to mind the don mclean single as evinced in my heading. sadly, this song has nothing whatsoever to do with the following, but it certainly made for an entertaining opening gambit.
a long, long time ago, in a different life to the one i have now, when offroad riding was in the ascendancy and i had yet to witness the errors of my ways, i taught myself to build bicycle wheels. so surprisingly successful was i in this endeavour, that my arrogance led me to offer my perceived 'expertise' in the form of advertising in the now defunct periodical mtb pro. my usp, or unique selling point was to have been cobbling together fashionable and shiny hoops fabricated from rims and hubs that occupied the higher end of the market, components that owned their own price premium.
it will perhaps surprise you not that i received only one enquiry from a series of three advertisements, and the chap that made that phone call simply wanted bog standard deore hubs laced to "something not too expensive". i declined on the grounds of profitability and put him in touch with someone more answerable to his needs.
in preparation for this burgeoning career as a wheelsmith, i had built one or two wheels (which i now realise to have been a woefully inadequate number), and even had the temerity to construct a snowflake pattern, when a box of 172mm spokes arrived instead of the 168mm i had ordered. it was (and is) a pretty pattern to be seen in a wheel, but there were always doubts as to its longevity, and as soon as you started pedalling, the pretty pattern disappeared. in retrospect, you have to wonder why anyone would build a wheel that only looks good when standing still.
however, my principal concern was that of robustness, for there was a pretty good chance that very few of my prospective customers were likely to be from my immediate neighbourhood, so i'd be building wheels for folks i'd probably never see or meet (this was in pre-internet days; some of you won't remember those). thus, by way of experimental destruction, i ordered a 28 hole, white industries suspension hub and built it two cross with carbon spoke nipples. the latter proved to be a major mistake in the long term, and i would advise anyone thinking of doing likewise to think again.
the above may not seem particularly adventurous in these current times of factory builds with minimal spoking, but the wholesaler from whom i purchased, distinctly warned me against building two cross on a front suspension wheel, because the manufacturer did not recommend this as being an efficacious thing to do. which is exactly why i did it. instead of un-weighting the front wheel before crashing over logs or cattle grids, i'd simply hammer on regardless in an attempt to find an expected weakness in my building, one that would provide me with upper limits in which to reside. bizarrely enough, as far as i am aware, that wheel is still in use today, though i believe it might need few tweaks with a spoke key. if only i hadn't built with those carbon nipples.
that was the first time i'd come across white industries, and if i'm excoriatingly honest, it was, up until now, also the last. i did service the hub at one point, a task which turned out to be a lot simpler that portent would have it, and throughout its working life, it continued to provide service above and beyond the call of duty. my wheelbuilding venture never made it past those three advertisements, which is probably just as well. having met and discussed the obsession with jude at sugar, and derek at wheelsmith, i realise i was only tickling the edges of an inner tube. the world is a safer place now that i mostly concern myself with building very occasionally and mostly for my own bicycles.
however, after such a lengthy period of being unaware that white industries were not only happily still in existence, it was of great comfort to discover that they have continued in their efforts to produce both practical and aesthetically enhanced hubs, a pair of which currently grace those ghisallo wooden rims we discussed only a matter of weeks ago. making rash judgments regarding any new component fastened to a bicycle is not one i'd encourage, and though i provided a brief insight into the pride and joy affixing the aforesaid sugar built wheels to the hakkalugi, i intend to force upon you my observed insights over an extended period of time. surely you would expect nothing less?
in pursuit of this extended review, i must apologise in advance for a lack of specificity regarding the sensation engendered by riding on wooden rims. though 'tis true that they perform a similar function to that of any other wheel, there is an almost tangible difference in experience sustained while riding across anything that lands under foot. though from my riding position on the ibis i can gratifyingly look down to see that glorious varnished wood spinning between carbon fork legs, i am still struggling majorly to pin down their wonder and joy in words that are of suitable translation. so doing is almost as much a thrill as riding the wheels.
suffice to say they provide a beautiful solidity of purpose, not one that hinders whether on flat ground or crumbly ascent, but probably the same sort of experience enjoyed by owners of rolls royce motor cars. a part of this is undoubtedly achieved by the beechwood rims themselves, for it would be a foolhardy observer who ascribed similar properties to two substantially different materials; that of wood or extruded aluminium. however, the other two parts can be accounted for by the distinct appropriateness of the hubs, fielding a relatively quiet freehub ratchet and very little in the way of detracting friction, and that of the superlative build quality. if ever you think yourself possessed of skill in this department, the excellence of miss kirstein at sugar wheel works will quiclkly disavow you of any misapprehensions.
the practicalities of riding around on wood are greater than the material would initially suggest. 'gi'in it laldy' over substantially rutted, potholed and gravel strewn roads seems tantamount to heresy, should such be admitted in polite company, but laldy they have been given across just such road-like impostors without so much as a scratch on the varnish. wet weather braking was, i have to admit, approached with substantial temerity and not without good reason. older readers will remember the sensation (or lack of) experienced by attempting to stop by pressing rubber against dimpled steel rims. never a particularly successful exercise. my first stop in wet conditions almost led to a scary overshooting of the bike wall at debbie's; scary on more than one account.
however, there is still much of the varnish concretely in place, giving those slivers of cork pad a somewhat trying time. subsequent commands to halt in the very same precipitative conditions were, gratifyingly, a tad more successful, though i'd not argue with anyone who pointed out my heightened anticipation of just when to pull on the brake levers. if a simile were required, think braking with carbon rims.
the white panaracer pasela tyres have both inspired and confounded at the same time. the inspiration comes from their undoubted speed and tenacity no matter the abuse hurled at them. 28mm is not the width preferred by those of speed, yet in company, i have yet to find myself adopting the pose of the insiguitori. the confounding part is the refusal of the rear to settle in around a single portion of the rear rim's circumference. lest any accusation be directed at the rim, i have rotated the tyre to a different position on two occasions, yet it is always the same portion that refuses to sit nice. there seems no flaw in the tyre that i can detect, and the slight bump when travelling is indeed that; slight. i can learn to live with this if the pasela refuses to play ball, for in truth it is only noticeable on smooth tarmac of which there are very few examples on islay. however, as last resort (until i come up with another cunning plan), i have deflated the tyre fully and sat the offending section under the wieght of the ibis in the hope that the tyre bead will see sense when it is finally re-inflated.
there's a song by scots band capercaillie that appropriately describes the sense of satisfied ownership that accompanies any ride on these wheels, as well as graphically describing the visual aesthetic conferred upon bicycle and rider.
grace and pride.
saturday 23rd june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................