maybe the wrong shape


for reasons outwith my reasoning, come the week between christmas and new year, islay often seems to become the range rover capital of the world. the isle is replete with an entire showroom of old-style land rover defenders, the majority of which are employed on the various farms across the principality. granted, the ubiquitous pickup has made sizeable inroads into that particular market, encroachment that is likely to increase in the future, if only because land rover's replacement defender appears to fall into the same market as that of the range rover. in other words, it's more of a luxury vehicle playing into the psyche of those who wish to give the impression they are of a more rural disposition.

and though range rovers are commonplace, that commonality seems to be exaggerated around the festive season.

the land rover made its first tyre impressions on islay way back in the late 1940s, when the marque's chief designer, maurice wilks, owned laggan estate on islay, where he and his brother were inclined to test the veracity of their design over the rougher sections of the estate grounds. the vehicle's 70th anniversary was celebrated here in 2017, with the arrival of members of the land rover club, bringing many early examples to the island to drive where ordinary vehicles just can't (or wont).

however, as intimated by the release of the new defender, the brand has seemingly changed its philosophy away from the agricultural and veered quite strongly towards the luxury market. the evidence for that contention can be seen through their tv adverts, the subject matter of which frequently seems at odds with each other. in marked contrast to showing various models reversing towards a precipice, past which is a sheer drop to the ocean, many other adverts are inclined to feature one or other range rovers or discoveries plying inner-city streets where, you'd imagine, such large and reputedly capable vehicles seem distinctly out of place. not for nothing have they often been referred to as chelsea tractors.

however, on the few occasions that i have watched tv in the evening, i couldn't help but become aware of an advert for the range-rover evoque, which, on conclusion of the advert, with the vehicle sat on the top floor of a multi-story car park, the caption and voice-over claims that the car has been 'shaped by the city'. and while my own personal surrounds are very much of a rural, agricultural nature, i do find it of some concern that a vehicle such as the range-rover evoque is deemed suitable for the cramped roads of the inner-city.

had fiat instigated similar claims for their small, 500 model, i would scarcely have batted an eyelid; a small, nimble little car such as the fiat 500 seems eminently suitable for such a location, given the congestion that seems implicit in the words inner-city, and the impracticalities entailed by attempting to find a parking space.

of course, range rover/land rover are scarcely the only manufacturer to offer such inappropriately large, impractical and, ultimately, unnecessary vehicles for use by those employed in the executive strata of modern commerce. you will perhaps forgive my assumptions on the customer base for these so-called sports utility vehicles (suv), but anecdotal evidence would tend to suggest my assumptions to be correct. and though there is a confusingly wide range of specifications applicable to the differing range rovers, the evoque tips the scales at just over two metric tonnes. that seems a tad overweight for a car reputedly shaped by the city.

a quick search elicits that many of the larger suvs are even heavier, some approaching the wrong side of 2.5 metric tonnes. given the claustrophobic nature of inner city roads, through which pedestrians and cyclists are required to weave, frequently through stationary or moving traffic, being hit by such a vehicle, even at slow speed, is unlikely to result in only slight bruising.

i am well aware that i speak from the point of little experience in such matters, at least as far as inner city cycling is concerned. but if i might harp back to my opening paragraph, the owners of these chelsea tractors are frequently to be found parking opposite the co-op in bowmore main street, and also heading in the direction of many of the island's distilleries, along single track roads barely wider than the 1.6 - 1.7 metres cossetting the drivers from the road-side verges.

so far, through a combination of luck and acquired skill, the velo club sunday morning peloton has managed to remain safe and out of harm's way. but in the face of such large, heavy vehicles capable of accelerating to 62mph in considerably less than ten seconds, driven by city dwellers with no real concept of the vicissitudes of narrow country roads, a rider astride a sliver of steel or carbon fibre is always going to come off worst if push comes to shove. however, we not only have skill and familiarity on our side, but grass verges that can be employed as a last resort. i doubt the same luxuries are available to those in the city.

which surely beggars the question as to why such personal motor vehicles exist in the first place? and perhaps more to the point, if the city is truly responsible for shaping the range rover evoque, does that not indicate that there might be a fundamental problem with 'the city'?

monday 19 february 2024

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het nieuwsblad

i count myself fortunate that, as far as the post is concerned, i am unbeholden to anyone when it comes to what i might grandiously term, editorial content. though i like to think i'm covering subject matter that is of at least some interest to some readers, if not all readers at the same time, there's a certain degree of randomness to the daily content, born entirely through lack of a cunning plan. so while the likes of the comic, cyclist magazine and probably rouleur, hold regular strategy meetings to discuss, not only the way forward, but the considered content for an upcoming issue, i can only state that i manifestly don't.

in august 2022, the editor of cyclist magazine, pete muir, visited the hub of civilisation along with a photographer, in the interests of compiling an article combining the many distilleries on the isle with the cycling habits of the velo club. having alighted at port ellen in the south, his departure, as expected, was on the afternoon ferry from port askaig in the north. and as we made our farewells opposite port askaig hotel, pete mentioned that we'd likely see the finished article in print sometime within the following year.

i don't mind admitting that this came as something of a surprise. though i doubted such a class publication would have quite such an immediate set of editorial deadlines that would find the write-up published in the following month's edition, i hadn't expected matters to be working quite so far ahead of publication. to place that in some sort of perspective, the subject of today's monologue was only realised mid-afteroon, yesterday. comments such as 'yes, and it looks like it too' will be summarily ignored.

having filled these pixels for almost 28 years, i'm pretty sure i've said everything and more, than one velocipedinal obsessive ought to have done over that period of time. but just as there are folks who undertake the times crossword each day, or complete a sudoku before breakfast, or dine on a diet of wordsearches, my equivalent is set out before you right now. in order to keep the brain active, and to maintain or develop my writing skills (such as they are), i'm quite happy to ease myself from the comfort zone by discovering the post's daily subject matter only twenty-four hours before those who read it.

however, while that is porobably of academic interest to the majority, this particular ad hoc approach has the advantage of separating the post from the cyclic season that affects the majority of bona-fide publications. it doesn't take more than a few years' subscriptions to the cycling press to realise that reviews, features and articles, even if only loosely, adhere to the matrix, intangible though that may be.

for instance, as winter begins to recede from the horizon, it's likely that you'll find a decreasing reference to waterproof clothing, group tests of bicycle lights, and an increase in those dealing with training regimes appropriate for the upcoming season, sportives you may wish to add to your diary, and foreign locations that ought best fulfil a perceived need for warm and sunny conditions in which to practise those training regimes. across the pond, there will soon be features describing how to 'ride your first century'.

and though i can almost guarantee that none of the aforementioned will appear within these black and yellow pixels anytime soon, the realisation that next saturday and sunday play host to omloop het nieuwsblad and kuurne-brussels-kuurne has begun to place the velocipedinal season in a tighter perspective than of which i was aware. yesterday saw the final race in the exact cross series, an event won by european cyclocross champion, michael vantourenhout. today concluded the superbly designated x2o badkamers trophee series, leaving, i think, only one more elite cyclocross event to take place next weekend. disappointingly, i believe that particular race will remain untelevised.

having watched pretty much every european cyclocross race since last october, i do harbour serious doubts as to how my future weekends will pan out; i am very much one of those cycling fans who see the road season as a hurdle that simply gets in the way of the next cyclocross season. at the risk of wishing my life away, i'm already focussing on next october. however, as has been the case in previous years, the onset of the spring classics, has taken the form of a body swerve that steers me temporarily away from my hardened commitment to 'cross.

i do thoroughly enjoy the spring classics right from the get go, so by the time we're looking at de ronde, roubaix and dwar doors, i'll likely be as engrossed as the next fellow, probably oblivious to the fact that it's this way every year: 'cross gives way to the classics, through to the ardennes races, and smoothly into the giro. i figure there's no need for me to state the obvious that follows as we head towards july?

so despite my protestations that i am a free spirit when it comes to each year's calculated seasons, i am, in fact, every bit as much a prisoner to its dyed-in-the-wool structure as are we all.

however, in my head, i'm still the rebel without a pause.

sunday 18 february 2024

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cycle tracks

at cultoon, on islay's atlantic coast between kilchiaran and portnahaven, exists the remnants of cultoon stone circle. such monuments are hardly unknown across the british isles and, if truth be told, cultoon circle is hardly one of the nation's better examples. though it consists of 15 stones, only three of those are in a semi-upright position; make no mistake, the other twelve haven't fallen over; they were never erected in the first place, even though holes were dug for the majority. according to the royal commission on the ancient and historic monuments of scotland, apart from stonehenge, it's the only stone circle in the uk which failed to be completed. the circle reputedly dates from 1055bc.

though there's a cute story that two neighbouring clans reputedly opted to collaborate on its construction, before falling out with each other, thus leaving the monument in a state of disarray, in actual fact, no-one knows for sure why cultoon stone circle exists in the first place. though first investigated in 1974/75, the surrounding peat has since taken over, with many of the original holes overgrown and many of the stones hidden from view.

oddly enough, there are certain parallels between islay's only stone circle and a 1930s network of cycle tracks stretching for almost 800km. though the latter were constructed by local authorities at the behest of the ministry of transport, the subsequent demise of britain's cycling culture, matched by a concomitant rise in motor vehicle use, meant that the majority very quickly fell into disuse, with most now long forgotten and overgrown. however, the tenacity of the irrepressible carlton reid, author of the excellent 'roads were not built for cars', along with a bit of assistance from google street view, has uncovered the existence of much of this forgotten cycle network.

the irony of the situation is that a number of these cycle-tracks exist alongside carriageways where planners and politicians have denied there is any room to construct, modern, much-needed cycling infrastructure. built between 1934 and 1945, these hidden tracks were based on the cycleways existing across the channel in the netherlands, making the real question not so much why they were forgotten quite so soon after construction, but more to the point, what on earth happened to the british cycling psyche to allow this to happen in the first place?

according to figures recorded between 1929 and 1971, the number of cyclists in the uk dropped from around 12 million in 1938 to less than four million by 1956, eventually becoming a mere two million by 1971. nominal numbers extrapolated in 2022 contend that britain could count on just over seven million cyclists. bear in mind, however, that the uk population was 50 million in the mid 1950s, compared with 67.5 million in 2022. conversely, the number of cars in private ownership in 1938 was only 1.5 million, rising to over twelve million by 1971.

the most recent figures count today's number of cars at 33.5 million.

if the ministry of transport of the 1930s was sufficiently well-informed and perspicacious enough to witness and act upon the growth of cycle networks in the netherlands prior to the second world war, how come the dutch still have access to a state-of-the-art cycling network even in the 21st century, while almost all of those 800 british cycling kilometres were overgrown and largely forgotten within ten years of their construction? where did it all go so very wrong. certainly, the continued existence of these tracks may well allow councils to bring them back from the dead at relatively minimal cost and, in many cases, without upsetting the easily riled motoring public. whether they do so probably depends on britain's cycling public demonstrating sufficient demand. all those who said they'd cycle if only such a network existed, may be about to have their bluff called.

in this particular case, we must fervently hope that history is about to repeat itself.

saturday 17 february 2024

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multiple choice questions

microshift levers

when the percussion bug began to bite in the early 1970s, though there was a reasonable variety of drum marques from which to choose, when time came to pledge one's allegiance to a specific brand of quality cymbals, there was really only an option between the american zildjian brand and switzerland's paiste. having been invited to the wedding reception of the manageress in charge of the newsagent for whom i delivered newspapers, i was keen to quiz the drummer of the band engaged to provide the evening's entertainment, on every aspect of his craft. during our conversation, he offered a piece of advice to which i have adhered ever since. he reckoned that, no matter how cheap and nasty was one's drumset, it was always possible to have it sounding half-way decent through a careful process of tuning and choice of drumheads.

cymbals, however, were of a different order. he advised that cheap cymbals would always sound like cheap cymbals, so the bulk of one's spending ought to be pointed in the direction of quality metals. though i can scarcely recall what i had for tea last monday, not only do i remember the majority of that conversation from almost fifty years ago, but that his own drumset was augmented with a shiny set of paiste cymbals. from that point onwards, my aspirations lay firmly in the direction of swiss metal, one that was ultimately satisfied only a few years later.

nowadays, however, there is an ever-increasing number of cymbal options available to the intrepid percussionist, many of which are endorsed by high-profile drummers from all corners of the percussive world. and for the record, i have since transferred my affections to italy's ufip cymbals, of which i possess a far greater number than is truly necessary.

this, to a certain extent, parallels contemporary componentry choices within the velocipedinal realm. where once almost every bicycle participating in those three weeks in july was accessorised with campagnolo brakes, hubs, gears etc., vicenza has this year been relegated to the role of also-ran, with not a single 2024 tour de france team likely to feature anything other than shimano or sram. the reasons for this are complex and not highlighted for discussion within the present monologue, but can be presented as a barometer measuring just how much the bicycle industry has changed over the past few decades.

and, as the well-worn cliché teaches us, there is nothing surer than change, effectively meaning that, while shimano and sram may already have discounted campagnolo as an effective business competitor, they might not be home free just yet.

those of you who frequent the cycling content available on youtube will be already aware of that of which i am about to speak. though it is pretty much accepted that the centre of the frameset manufacturing universe is taiwan, it appears that the country may have designs on bolstering its image and commercial spread, with a home-grown groupset manufacturer having raised its head above the parapet, intent on making inroads into the western velocipedinal psyche. while appraisal of the microshift groupset has so far, been largely inconclusive, it transpires that renowned uk cycle distributor, ison distribution is about to make microshift's wares readily available in the uk.

the majority of their road offerings, up to and including an 11-speed setup, feature a high level of shimano compatibility, including the use of shimano pattern cassettes. additionally they also provide a gravel groupset that pays no heed to campagnolo's thirteen-speed ekar groupset, by ending their own sprocket count at ten. i'd be willing to wager that, while microshift may be the first taiwanese groupset manufacturer to venture this far west, it won't be the last.

perhaps, in ten years' time, it won't just be campagnolo that is found missing in action from le tour peloton.

friday 16 february 2024

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signs of the times

dura-ace rear mech

the countryside is notorious for paying at least lip service to signs reputedly pointing to meteorological conditions soon to infiltrate the rural idyll. cows lying down in their fields has been interpreted as the predicted onset of disfavourable weather, based on the supposition that the animals have dispensed with standing up in order to preserve the dryness of the spot on which they lie. and then there's the old adage "red sky in the morning, shepherds' warning; red sky at night; shepherds' delight. the latter statement would indicate a differing response to sunrise and sunset, vis-a-vis the weather conditions expected to follow.

if you've come across neither of the above, i can but assume that your tenure in the less populous regions of the nation has not been been prolonged, or your urban or city domicile excuses you from such earnest whimsicalities (all of which, i might add, have proven stunningly accurate on many an occasion).

those 'working in the city' are no doubt prone to other markers, specifically designed to illuminate more pressing situations, often of a financial nature. isn't that what city life is all about? however, to become a tad less supercilious for a moment or two, financial markets have been reflecting the ups and downs of the bicycle industry for several months to date, creating circumspection over the viability of many industry leading businesses. in truth, bicycle sales (or lack of them) often give a misleading picture of matters. after all, it could easily be that the current range of models simply do not equate with the desires of the customer base.

it could well be that you and i have decided that dropped seatstays are, in fact, a fashion statement with no basis in engineering, and have thus opted to take our business elsewhere. however, should we decide to shift our viewpoint away from the bicycles themselves, perchance to take a closer look at the componentry which transforms a frameset from an immoveable object into one capable of acquiring yellow jerseys, then we may find a more reliable barometer displaying the true fortunes of commercial enterprise.

drilling just a few chain links further south, we may wish to settle on the prosperity, or otherwise, of the shimano corporation, generally reckoned to be the principal supplier of bicycle componentry to the world's cycle manufacturers. if i might refer to my earlier statement that a lack of sales by a specific brand could simply be consumer disparagement, one can but assume that those lost potential sales may well be transferred elsewhere, thus preserving supplies of componentry across the board. however, if component sales are on the downturn, it would seem perfectly equitable to assume an overall drop in general bicycle sales.

in which case, shimano's reported downturn in sales of almost 30% may be regarded as significant. the japanese component supremo stated that, in north america, one of their largest markets, "although interest in bicycles was firm, retail sales of completed bicycles remained weak partly due to a reaction from the cycling boom." this, i believe, would tend to confirm the suppositions made by the post and others better equipped to speculate, that increased sales experienced during covid lockdowns, has resulted in those wishing to own a bicycle now owning something they feel is hardly in need of replacement.

of course, a downturn in sales could also point to a reluctance to part with cash by those affected by the much vaunted cost-of-living-crisis.

on the plus side, shimano confirmed that cycle sales in certain european countries still proved at least local market confidence, and oddly, road bike sales in china were particularly healthy. but the company's recorded income in 2023 decreased by 52.3% in comparison with the previous year. it's eminently possible, however, that shimano's financial woes are unlikely to affect any of us in the short-term. we may all be doomed, but not just yet.

thursday 15 february 2024

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trick of the tail

steel works

the venerable blogger who long maintained a hidden identity, namely bike snob nyc penned an article not so long ago and published in america's echoing much of what i too have scribbled over the years about the oft-vaunted properties and purported advantages to be gained from riding on carbon fibre. while those properties and advantages may well be perfectly true, there's an inherent requirement for the manufacturers of same to promulgate both, since they are in the business of selling said carbon frames.

as we have discussed previously, cycling in all its manifestations is as subject to the whims of fashion as many other strains of modern life. though there is likely a perfectly acceptable scientific explanation, i am at pains to comprehend how the tyres on my ritchey logic apparently contain graphene, a trendy component that has also surfaced in one or two chain lubricants. how is that possible?

however, the principal thrust of bike snob's article was the almost undeniable appropriateness of carbon fibre frames for the professional end of the market, mainly based on the possibility of the weight, strength and aero capabilities of the fabric. however, as he and i have both made plain, the professionals do not have the disadvantage of having to pay the premium cost of riding carbon bicycles, all of which are specifically designed and manufactured for the racing cyclist who depends on the sport to earn his or her living. as mr weiss points out, "only the people who don't need them actually pay for them." and we do so because it is in the manufacturers' interests for us to do so.

if i might implement a verisimilitude by recourse to the cars driven in formula one racing, how many would believe a tv or press advert contending that simply because max verstappen became world champion driving a red bull car, if good enough for max, by implication, it would be an ideal vehicle for the average man in the street? (my simile has one major failure in that formula one cars cannot be purchased from any retail outlet. but i'm sure you get my point).

the argument can, and probably will, continue for as long as carbon bicycles are made, but the second aspect on which bike snob and yours truly would appear to agree, is that the ideal frame material for the great unwashed would surely be that of steel. however, given that this is a subject on which i have bored for many, too many a year, i do not propose to elucidate further at this particular point in time. the corollary to bike snob's feature was a response written by brian jenks on bicycle retailer, another online publication owned and published by the same proprietor as

mr jenks is owner of a bicycle store and e-commerce business and is not in disagreement with mr weiss over the impracticality of riding carbon fibre, and wholly in favour of his choice of steel. however, where he does offer disagreement, is in the reason why carbon is not the best material from which to fabricate road cycles. it's a point that has seemingly passed me by, yet now that it's been pointed out, the reasoning seems glaringly obvious.

firstly, mr jenks does not dispute that purchase of a carbon-framed bicycle makes perfect sense in today's market, if only because "...availability and choice in the market does make it arguably a superior purchasing option." however, the gentleman was inclined to point out that the use of carbon as the predominant material was effectively based on a self-fulfilling prophecy; modern-day bicycle components are designed specifically to work with carbon fibre frames.

therefore, steel frames, he contends, are required to be overbuilt, not because steel is lacking in any particular way, but because the majority of components are nowadays designed for carbon frames which do require to be overbuilt. if you require convincing, compare the bottom bracket region on a ritchey logic frameset, with that of a specialized tarmac. the componentry to which he refers includes "disc brakes, thru-axle dropouts, oversize steerers and headsets and headtubes." it's an argument with which i find it hard to disagree.

i do not expect, nor, i believe, do messrs jenks and weiss, a wholesale move away from carbon and universal adoption of steel as a result of our disparate, yet concerted efforts. but most of us are inherently arrogant and sufficiently deluded enough to feel that we too deserve to emulate our heroes; after all, our own abilities are obviously mere shades below the professional classes. but i still think it is worth remembering the words of quickstep's patrick lefevre who, when questioned on the reputed stiffness of the team bikes, replied "i don't pay my riders to be comfortable."

just bear that in mind the next time an advert suggests that if a bicycle has proven worthy of a top professional, it's perfectly suitable for you too.

bike snob article | brian jenks article

wednesday 14 february 2024

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well oil be...

oil can

there's no beating about the bush; scotland, and particularly western scotland, is wet. maybe not every day, but at this time of year, there are few interruptions to the frequent bouts of precipitation. if we take islay as our operating example, according to the met office statistics, annual rainfall is in excess of 1300mm, while we can expect to get wet on 200 days each year. there are wetter places in the uk (snowdonia in wales gets almost twice the rainfall of islay), but combine the rain and wind to be experienced in the hebrides and there's no real doubting that expenditure on waterproofs, particularly those designed for velocipedinal activities, makes for a sound investment.

combine the above with the knowledge that an agricultural island such as islay often features its very own version of belgian toothpaste, and one would be well within their rights to exhibit concern over their bicycle's drive-train components. to be more specific, the chain. possibly one of the bicycle's most ignored aspects, along with that of the bottom bracket, the chain really only features in the rider's psyche if it happens to break, or squeak, due to a lack of applied lubrication. coincidentally that brings us neatly onto the subject of today's monologue.

in my naive days of youth, when i rode a raleigh-twenty shopping bicycle, the chain, curated by a sturmey-archer, three-speed hub gear, was kept well away from squeaky frequencies by a can of three-in-one oil that sat on the windowsill inside the garden shed. though my father may not have been particularly well-acquainted with the intricacies of the average bicycle, he was sufficiently astute to encourage my brother and i to lubricate our bicycle chains one drop at a time. while many of my school friends were apt to drip oil constantly upon the chain as it ran over the freewheel, i would laboriously place a single drip of three-in-one on each link, and on the inner face that meshed with the chainwheel and rear sprocket.

that would presumably explain why the chain on my raleigh tended to live crud-free, unlike those of my colleagues (or brother, come to that).

however, we now live and cycle in far more enlightened times, aboard machinery that operates on upwards of ten rear sprockets, and can be shifted laterally by means of a concealed servo-motor, factors that are likely to have placed considerably greater wear upon the chain that acts as the essential middle man. as a result of such stresses and strains being applied at race pace by our heroes and betters, to say nothing of the conditions experienced by those with an affinity for cyclocross, chain lubrication has become a science all of its own, the result of which is a panoply of synthetic lubes that faithfully promise to reduce the friction co-efficient almost to zero.

it's even possible to purchase chain lube that arrives with its own 'black light' capable of highlighting its place on the link-based firmament (though the question ''why' has been frequently asked.)

during the review period of my washingmachinepost life, i reviewed any number of chain lubes, all of which promised the earth, but none of which was verifiable by a hebridean on a bike in the rain. though i may not be the poster-boy for friction science, i'm inclined to think that even those racing at the cutting edge will be every bit as innocent in such matters as yours truly. i can honestly state i have never noticed any difference between any of the many chain lubes that have occupied the inner sanctum of the bicycle shed. i even once fitted a pre-lubed chain that guaranteed at least 1200km of trouble-free cycling, a chain i'd eventually to lube at around 700km, purely because i could no longer suffer the squeaking.

currently, i'm inclined to degrease my chains with an old towel and a can of wd40, prior to adding whichever lube happens to be uppermost in the toolbox (still one drip at a time on the inner face of each chain roller). if it's a really wet weekend, that practice can be carried out on both saturday and sunday. i'm inclined to think that, despite the substantial number of bicycle lubricants on the market today, most of my peers carry out a similar practice. in which case, what would be the point of bringing one more chain lubricant to market?

according to mark almond, the man behind welsh-based startup, wonderlube, their new product is "a new cycle chain lube for all conditions and all riding types." i am presuming here that the word 'new', does not refer to its chemical composition, but simply its recent appearance on the market. mr almond continued by explaining "For just £15, each 250ml bottle offers terrific value for money as it will last an extremely long time and can be used across any bike in a rider's quiver." where have i heard those words before?

a can of three-in-one oil currently retails at £4.42 per 100ml, or £11.05 for the equivalent quantity of wonderlube. from memory, it too lasts " extremely long time." that said, absolute black will happily relieve you of £33.35 for a mere 14ml of their graphene lubricant. 250ml would give you a fiver change from £600. yet, no matter which particular lube i have employed, one chain never lasts any longer than the next.


tuesday 13 february 2024

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