the man of steel

officina battaglin

it is not far short of ten years since i first visited portland, oregon, mainly to find out what it was that brought such a concentration of bicycle activities to one town, particularly the number of framebuilders occupying spaces around the city. both chris king components and rapha had chosen portland as the site of their north american operations, and jude gerace had just begun building wheels under the epic brand, subsequently changed to sugar when specialized's lawyers got on the case.

officina battaglin

the town's framebuilders, including ira ryan and tony pereira (now collaborating as breadwinner) and sacha whyte, worked pretty much exclusively with steel tubing. though carbon has infiltrated the contemporary mindset to the point of ubiquity, the skills and facilities required to work with the black stuff were pretty much beyond the means of most individual framebuilders. it would be wrong to portray bicycles as being the sole activity of the town; individual coffee roasters, coffee school, micro breweries and computer coders were also notable presences wherever the bicycle took me.

officina battaglin

i have been, at one time, quite handy with a spoke key and truing stand, though not quite in the same league as derek mclay at wheelsmith or the previously mentioned jude at sugar. however, no matter the perceived attraction of assembling a bicycle frame, my intrinsic distrust of any form of gas bottle was never going to allow that to happen. you can assure me all you like about the safety of tig or mig welding, or the passivity of the brazing torch, but i well know that, in pursuit of velocipedinal excellence, i would either set fire to something, or blow myself to smithereens in the process of admiring the day's handiwork.

officina battaglin

that is, of course, to ignore the extreme unlikelihood that i could even have correctly mitred the tubes in the first place. it's not the first time i have had cause to mention my complete lack of diy skills.

italian born giovanni battaglin's principal claim to fame, is having taken the pink jersey to milan in the 1981 giro d'italia, the same year he savoured victory in the vuelta. on his retiral at the end of the 1984 season, he took control of the bicycle manufacturing business he'd started in 1982. while the rest of italy's framebuilders, including pinarello, colnago, willier and others outsourced carbon production to the far-east, battaglin opted to remain exclusively italian and concentrate solely on steel.

in my humble opinion, that's a skill and a statement worthy of celebration, for the beauty of battaglin's 'marosticana' frameset, for example, both justifies and denies any accusations of luddite tendencies. now, giovanni has made it easier to help spread the word about his ferrous individuality by releasing the first in a series of videos demonstrating what it is that still makes italian steel a highly desirable acquisition. just follow the link below.

the man of steel-episode 1

monday 25 march 2019

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one step forward, two steps back

mv finlaggan

in the early nineties, when apple computer really wasn't in the best of financial health, i was tasked with persuading holders of purse-strings, that in spite of this salient fact, purchasing one or two of their fine products was not going to end in tears. contrary advice had informed them that apple would be flat broke by year's end, so to spend cash on what would surely become expensive door stops, was possibly not the best of choices.

my information was somewhat different, so i e-mailed apple's london office and asked if they could fax through confirmation that they were in better commercial health than common opinion suggested. rather surprisingly, they replied almost immediately. but, apart from the figures presented upon that document, at the foot of the page, in italics, was the phrase 'if james bond was a computer, he'd be a mac.' hardly the most persuasive argument i'd ever read, but cute nonetheless.

being a mac user in those times was often an expensive business. though the company had reduced its prices to a more acceptable level than had once been the case, the cost of peripherals was still substantially higher than comparable items for windows-based machines. vidoe cards, ram memory, external discs, modems etc were all a tad pricier due to apple refusing to adopt similar standards for such relatively common augmentation. with apple commanding a mere fraction of the windows market share, the economies of scale prevalent in the latter was but a closed book for those at infinite loop.

today, that is far less of a concern; apple products simply confound their users nowadays by a continuous change of charger plug format and building hard disks and memory into the mother-board, meaning a distinct lack of ability for the user to update their not altogether low-cost, yet stylish computers.

for a brief moment in time, the bicycle industry, or at least a significant portion of it appeared to have come to some sort of (almost) unilateral agreement. in this instance, i speak of the cassette freehub; oddly enough, and i cannot recall a specific announcement, the rise and rise of the sram corporation, after purchasing the necessary companies to allow the offer of a full range of groupsets, had adopted the same freehub/cassette pattern originated by their competitors in japan.

this now meant that both shimano and sram cassettes would fit the majority of wheelsets, no questions asked. thus, while perusing the web-pages of wiggle/chain reaction, evans or your favoured online retailer, as well as the often more convenient option of the local bike shop, whichever marque best suited your budget, there was no hardship to be experienced when it came to fitting. campagnolo, however, like the apple of old, continue to plough their own idiosyncratic furrow, at least as far as their freehub spline pattern.

but then along comes sram's latest expensive, twelve-speed, road groupset, the less than snappily named sram e-tap axs. this features a ten-tooth small sprocket, perhaps the result of them still considering a single chainring up front at sometime. shimano, sram and campagnolo have at least one thing in common, that the diameter of their freehubs are remarkably similar, or at least similar enough that an eleven-tooth sprocket is the smallest that will fit. therefore, in order to include a ten sprocket, it was manifestly necessary to invent a different system: xd

this is hardly brand new, having featured in sram's offroad range for a number of years, but the new sram e-tap is the first road group to adopt the standard. and rather than slide onto a set of splines, almost emulating the freewheels of old, the cassette threads onto the freehub. no longer is it possible to grab a shimano pattern cassette from the back of the shed when you fancy a change. given the predilection for groupset manufacturers to start at the top and have new technology trickle downwards, we must assume that this very situation will soon affect both force and rival groupsets.

at that time, we will once again be divided by a common purpose.

however, aside from opting for wireless operation of their electronic groupsets, sram have hardly stopped at a ten sprocket. having discussed their one-piece double chainring setup on a previous occasion, i will not bore you with a reprise of my moaning. however, up until this red chainset's arrival, a common bolt circle diameter allowed sram users to benefit from the convenient availability of aftermarket replacements. original equipment chainrings have a tendency to be a smidgeon more pricey than the likes of stronglight, miche, fsa etc, but sram's adoption of a one-piece setup makes all those now persona non-grata.

thankfully, the price of admission engendered by this advancement is probably unlikely to reach force or rival. as evidence for this assertion, i might point out that red's one-piece cassette has remained isolated at the top of the food chain.

still, calmac have an annoying habit of building ferries that don't fit the piers on the routes they were designed for, so i suppose i shouldn't grumble.

sunday 24 march 2019

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education is a wonderful thing

velotech campagnolo service training

at the risk of pointing out a serious deficiency in my observational prowess, i can't say that i'm necessarily aware of a specific time of year when any of the big three (shimano, campagnolo and sram) choose to release new product. there may not even be such a time; the possibility, nay, probability, exists that new stuff only arrives on the market when development of a new product has gone to gold master, as was once the colloquial term in the record industry (and apparently still is, within the world of software). in which case, recent weeks must rank up there with blue moons and the like, with two of the above three releasing new, electronic groupsets upon an unsuspecting world.

velotech campagnolo service training

sram's offering continued with their implementation of a wireless setup, while campagnolo, maintaining their relationship with wires, gave us an electronic version of the super-record, twelve-speed groupset.

i cannot deny the efficacy of electrons when it comes to gearchanging in the modern world, but, similar to my views on smartphones, i have decided they're not for me. however, though i still form part of the majority, for the time being at least, electronica is doubtless the thin end of the wedge, set to encroach further upon the velocipedinal life. but, irrespective whether you opt for wires, wireless or cables, at some point in their life, those gearsets, brakesets and bottom brackets are going to slide out of precise adjustment, wear out, or simply stop working. a bit like the world of the automobile, the time when you could metaphorically 'hit it with a hammer' and carry on regardless, are slipping into the realms of nostalgia.

velotech campagnolo service training

monty python's bicycle repair man reversed the meme of a mild-mannered man popping into a phone box and emerging as superman. in a town populated entirely by supermen, after a bicycle crash, one of those less than mild-mannered superheroes entered the phone box, emerging clad in a brown overall, flat cap, and carrying a toolbox. that persona all but imitated the gent who owned the bike shop in my home town when i were a lad, one that would scarcely pass muster in the electronic, twelve-speed era. nowadays, the less than average shop mechanic need be familiar with a bit more than a metal toolbox and a hammer.

expert mechanic and campagnolo trainer, graeme freestone king, heads up britain's velotech cycling ltd. and is responsible for training shop mechanics in the ways of vicenza, the length and breadth of the country, in conjunction with the recently implemented training facility at uk campag importer, chicken cycles. on the basis that one scarcely wakes up one morning, speaking fluent campagnolo, how long has graeme been following the path of the winged wheel?

velotech campagnolo service training

" Along with a couple of other colleagues who I worked with at the time, I originated and implemented the idea of Campagnolo having a ProShop technical standard in 2002, when we worked within the CyTech structure. We furthered that at Promech, a forerunner of Velotech Cycling Ltd. In our current incarnation we have included Campagnolo competencies in our advanced courses menu and those skills have been a specific requirement for Campagnolo ProShop status since we set up Velotech in 2008."

the vagaries of industry, worldwide, frequently follows a boom and bust pattern, with lifestyles like cycling, rapidly gaining adherents, yet almost as quickly losing them when economic fortunes change, or something else becomes flavour of the month. during the periods of boom, which may or may not be the case at present, more bicycles on the road, potentially means an increase in concomitant servicing and repair. it's facing reality, however, to recognise that camapgnolo's market share is probably a smidgeon less than that of its peers. nonetheless, there are still mechanics who need to be kept abreast of the latest italian devlopments. so, in the light of the above, roughly how many mechanics does graeme train each year?

"On Campagnolo specifically, it's anything from 50 to 70 shops a year, sometimes single mechanics at a shop, sometimes multiple. It varies enormously according to the business model of the dealership involved. This year, with the new facility that Chicken Cycle Kit have put in place, we will be able to cover a wider spectrum of mechanics, although the depth and longevity of Velotech's relationship with the technical departments at Campagnolo will always mean that the most comprehensive training comes from either Velotech, or a combination of courses at Velotech and at CCK."

velotech campagnolo service training

campagnolo's groupset range effectively begins with the shiny aluminium of centaur and ends with the recently unveiled super-record eps, but also extends sideways to their ever-increasing wheel offerings. becoming technically acquainted with the intrinsic features of everything on offer, seems like a somewhat substantial undertaking. can this be mitigated through different levels of qualification, or is there simply one size that fits all?

"The full gamut of Campagnolo courses consistes of legacy training, where we look at all the existing and many of the previous Campagnolo mechanical systems. That takes one full-day and is available only via Velotech Cycling. A second day covers the current year product and revisits current technologies in recap; how extensive that recap is varies between Velotech and CCK. The latter course is best suited to shops that already have a lengthy experience with and depth of training from Velotech. The third day covers all the Campagnolo wheels and specifically the building of G3 wheels which tension and true in a way significantly different from a conventional wheel. This course is again offered at Velotech Cycling only.
"So, the full Campagnolo accreditation is universal, but it can be attained and critically, maintained, through two different routes: a modular three-day course at Velotech Cycling, or a combination of training at Velotech and at CCK. Annual maintenance training to keep an already otherwise fully-trained shop up to date with current technology, can be carried out either at Velotech or at CCK."

velotech campagnolo service training

it's many a long year since i had to sit an exam, though number one son currently finds himself in a situation where accreditation in the electrical industry is necessary to further his career. thankfully, he is a tad more adept than his father at passing the necessary, practical tests. i was (and perhaps still am), pretty much ok when it comes to the more academic of pursuits, but i do harbour doubts over my practical abilities - aside from bicycle maintenance that is. however, i'd imagine it's unusual to find yourself employed as a bicycle mechanic following acquisition of a degree in astrophysics or philosophy, so the passing of exams is likely still not without its pitfalls. in the case of a trainee failing the test, what happens? or is this more a case of an open-ended situation with no real failure to be experienced?

"There are multiple-choice question papers in use at Velotech, so there are pass/fail ctiteria which check the mechanic's understanding of the course material. These are mostly applied where a candidate is looking to gain a Velotech Level 3 accreditation. CCK have not used the multiple-choice question papers designed by Velotech in the current tranche of training."

last year, campagnolo were kind enough to send a complete record, mechanical, twelve-speed groupset for review on the post, a groupset currently happily married to a ritchey logic frameset. though i feel quite comfortable negotiating the task of fitting and setting up campagnolo componentry, i did contact graeme in advance to ask if there were any secret handshakes of which i should make myself aware. the factory compiled powerpoint presentation he generously sent in my direction ran to about 95 pages, featuring technical info, images and even video. given the complexity of the beast, has he found that this needs to be matched by an increased amount of training required?

velotech campagnolo service training

"To some extent yes, but there is always an issue with the amount of time out of the shop an individual tech can reasonably take. I spend about three weeks of each year visiting a wide variety of manufacturers, for information gathering missions and in training myself, but for many shops (rather than training organisations) that would be impractical and uneconomic.
"In the case of the Campagnolo course, we have removed and will have to continue to remove certain topics, year after year, to make way for the new. However, at Velotech, because we have more time with the candidate than is the case at CCK, we have the opportunity to address, either formally or informally, an increased breadth of knowledge. Again it's a situation where at CCK, the training is far more focussed on specific technologies that are new or significantly changed in any given year. They are generally working with dealers who already, through working with Velotech, already possess that breadth of knowledge. Velotech has the opportunity, equipment and experience to cover a wider scope."

amongst a pile of compact discs and dvds behind the tellybox in the sitting room, lies one of the latter, containing a comprehensive selection of scanned campagnolo catalogues from bygone years. every now and again, i pull it from 'neath the ever growing pile of video entertainment and wallow in the nostalgia depicted almost entirely in the shape of polished alloy italian trinketry. comparing it with the carbon of twelve-speed super-record eps, is to compare two substantially differing worlds. bearing in mind that the two worlds are separated by not much more than a decade or so, is there a pressing annual requirement for training in the light of the moving target of product releases?

"For Campagnolo ProShop status, yes, there is. Shops that are working within the ProShop structure and wishing to benefit from the increased commercial and technical support offered through Campagnolo via channels like Velotech Cycling (technical), CCK (technical and commercial) and ZyroFisher (commercial), have to maintain a current technical knowledge, or risk losing their ProShop staus. We do our best in each calendar year to ask techs to come in for training only once, from existing ProShops, but in exceptional years (like this one) we may need to see them twice, if we have two significant technical releases within a twelve-month period."

velotech campagnolo service training

i have known graeme for over ten years; we bump into each other now and again at cycle shows and i've no doubt his e-mail inbox is well populated with pleading requests, from yours truly, to explain why the drive-side bottom bracket bearing has just exploded in every which way when trying to remove it, even with the very tools he recommended (you'll laugh when i tell you; suffice it to say it was entirely the result of (this) pilot's error). gaining that sort of knowledge can be expensive in two ways; either i break a lot of stuff trying to get it right, or i'd have to attend one of velotech's accredited courses. in the case of the bike shops, who pays? campagnolo or the bike shop?

"This varies. In some cases, Campagnolo will cover all the costs. In other cases, perhaps the majority, the wholesaler and Campagnolo co-operate to cover the costs according to a formula calculated each year. In some cases, mechanics or shops simply opt to pay for all of their own training.
"In the situations where Campagnolo contributes, be it with or without the input of the wholesaler, or where the wholesaler bears the whole cost of training, there is a commercial expectation on the shop, in terms of what one might crudely call a buy-in. This can be expressed as a set of very specific purchases (as in the ProShop contract for new ProShops) or occasionally, a view is taken on a level of ongoing business."

given that there is such a thing as 'return on investment', what are the potential benefits for the bike shop?

velotech campagnolo service training

"Apart from the built-in advantage of differentiation and a wider technical base than competitors that haven't had the benefit of specific brand training (often including developing a broader understanding of some comparatively tightly-focussed mechanical ideas), there are specific programmes available. There's the availability of a test bike or bikes in store that promote both the Campagnolo brand and also focus attention on the shop. Additionally, there's a listing on the Campagnolo website (after 'Product news', the 'dealer finder' is the most heavily-used page on the website), referrals by CCK, ZF and Velotech Cycling. Only the other day, I referred three final customers to specific Campagnolo ProShops. Priority supply on new product, ahead of the online businesses (which cannot by definition be ProShops) and other non-ProShops could legitimately be seen as an important commercial benefit.

"The overall benefits of technical training in any workshop are well understood and there is an exponential curve effect. Small amounts of carefully considered, but comprehensive, detailed training at regular intervals, initially show only limited benefit to the workshop and to the technicians (and therefore to the final customers). However, once some basic frameworks become embedded and on which to hang specific practices or knowledge from, the overall benefit in terms of technical competence, both to the shop and to the customers of that shop, ramp up. A ProShop that has been a ProShop for several years, will be at a level very much in advance of a relatively new ProShop. That's because that year on year knowledge and experience interlock develops exponentially. Individual technicians make the connections more quickly and in a more profound way, the more basic bits of information they have to help complete the jigsaw."

velotech campagnolo service training

so, overall, with the combined technical might of velotech cycling and chicken cycle kit, those shops and individuals who wish to gain expertise in the campagnolo realm would appear to be pretty well catered for. but in order to teach, first you have to know. so who trains graeme?

"Fundamentally, I am trained at Campagnolo. Each year I attend two formal training courses, consisting of two days each, to keep my current knowledge up to date. CCK attend a single-day course that encompasses the current year technology. I then visit the factory three or four times more each year, usually for one or two days at a time, to look at specific technical issues. On those days, it's very much an informal, two-way process. I will be gathering technical information, of course, but equally I will be sharing in-market experience with the factory.

"The connection between Service Centre status and being a training provider is intimate. The experience of seeing the product both at its best and at its most abused, or in a failed state, as a Service Centre, can't be over-estimated in terms of how that informs the training process. The most experienced techs, provided they can transmit their experience well, are undoubtedly in a position to give the best overall technical insight. This is why I visit the factory over and above theirrequirement of once a year. The synergies obtained by discussing technical problems and queries face-to-face, with the engineers responsible for the design and implementation of new (and not so new) technologies, is hugely beneficial in delivering effective training.

velotech campagnolo service training

"I strongly believe that the techs, be they those who come on courses with us, or those that I speak to day by day (either with my trainer's hat on, or that as head tech at Velotech Cycling Ltd), are another very significant training resource. I learn from other mechanics every single day of my working life.
"So although my formal training each year is very much 'from the horse's mouth', at the Campagnolo factory Training Centre in Vicenza, there is no doubt that my training on both the general and specific topics is honed by contact with other technicians in the industry. Nominally, my students..."

grateful thanks to graeme freestone king of velotech cycling ltd. for generous assistance with this feature and for constantly being my campagnolo consultant on speed-dial.

velotech cycling ltd | chicken cycle kit

saturday 23 march 2019

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specialized roval 64mm tubeless-ready disc-compatible carbon wheelset

specialized roval carbon wheels

ask anyone you like (within reason) as to the single most effective upgrade you can make to your bicycle and, assuming they haven't walked away, the answer will most likely be 'wheels'. if we presume that you haven't laid out the better part of £10,500 on a peter sagan replica s-works venge, then the answer is quite probably correct, with very good reason. though the weight of the frame has a not insignificant influence on the bike's ride quality, particularly when riding uphill, it is, to all intents and purposes, static weight. the frame moves backwards and forwards, up and down, but its position relative to the rider and componentry remains more or less identical at all times.

wheels, however, are considered as rotating weight, the reduction of which, is regarded as a good thing. lower that and you immediately lessen the effort required to accelerate to the desired speed. there are situations where lower weight offers less of a predicament, such as time-trialling, where weight translates to momentum when in motion; once up to speed, it's easier to hold that speed on a 'heavy' bike as opposed to a featherweight climbing machine. however, as a variable rule, improving the wheel quality while reducing rotating weight is a desirable target.

specialized roval carbon wheels

however, at the risk of stating the obvious, a certain degree of circumspection and logic ought to govern your choice of wheels. there would not be a great deal of point in equipping one of halford's finest, with a pair of eye-wateringly expensive carbonsports lightweight all-carbon wheels. purely from a cost basis, the wheels would probably cost you anything up to ten times the cost of the bike. so who in their right mind would fit a pair of wheels with a price tag greater than that of the bicycle?

though i'm being slightly devious, peter sagan, for one. in this year's criterium race at the tour down under, the former world champion elected to ride an aluminium specialized allez sprint comp disc, featuring an identical frame to that recently reviewed right here on the post. granted, mr sagan was riding a groupset a few links up the food chain from the 105 setup on my review machine, but other than that, the frame is likely the only thing peter and i will ever have in common.

well, almost.

specialized roval carbon wheels

based purely on photographs from the australian event, it appears that sagan's ride featured a pair of specialized roval 64mm carbon wheels, hoops that retail at £100 more than the cost of the entire review model. which, in my case at least, beggars the question as to whether it makes any sense whatsoever to fit £2,000 worth of carbon wheels to a £1,900 bicycle? logically and financially, it probably doesn't make any sense at all; anyone whose budget stretches solely to the purchase of the excellent allez comp, is unlikely to have a spare two-grand sloshing about for wheels.

however, the whole purpose of the exercise, other than vainly attempting to have folks mistake me for the bora-hansgrohe rider, was to find out if an alarmingly expensive pair of wheels could make a low-cost bicycle ride like like the wind. and i do hope you will take note of my use of the word, 'wind' quite so early in the review.

specialized roval carbon wheels

for your £2,000 (the wheels can be purchased individually) you get a front wheel featuring 21 spokes, laced two-cross on the disc side and radially on the other and a rear wheel with a two-cross pattern on the disc side and one-cross on the drive side. each wheel arrives with its own bag and confusingly, for wheels sporting thru-axle hubs, also a quick-release skewer. the discs, as on the original stock dt-swiss wheels that are standard fare on the allez, are fitted to splines on the hubs and held in place with lockrings. in an unexpected display of compatibility, those lockrings are removed and fitted using a standard, shimano pattern cassette lockring tool.

probably the hardest thing about fitting these wheels to any bicycle is trying to remove the plastic end caps from the dt-swiss hubs. it looks as if it ought to be simplicity itself, but it really isn't. hidden within the hubs' depths are strategically placed ceramicspeed cartridge bearings to drop the rolling resistance to remarkably impressive levels.

specialized roval carbon wheels

as you may have inferred from my previous reviews concerning tubeless tyres, the rovals offered no option but to be used in this fashion. though the tubeless valves are fitted at the factory, those 64mm deep rims pretty much preclude using standard clinchers with inner tubes, unless you happen to have a set of valve extenders to hand. but, the velocipedinal world wants us to move to tubeless, so from a review point of view it seemed rather a long way for a shortcut to ignore that fact. the review pair have been shod with both goodyear eagle 30mm tyres and specialized's own 28mm s-works turbos. neither presented any problems when fitting to the rim, though for a more long-winded tirade against the tubeless genre, you might want to refer to my recent review of the specialized rubber.

thankfully, the discs fitted to the allez's stock wheels, attach in the same manner as required by the rovals. specialized, logically, fit a 160mm rotor upfront and a smaller 140mm rotor at the rear and i cannot deny a certain difficulty in attempting to find those sizes, with a spline fitting, as aftermarket items. maybe i was just looking in the wrong place.

specialized roval carbon wheels

so, once fitted, did they or didn't they, transform the ride of the aluminium-framed allez comp sprint? well, from the point of view of fulfilling the purported ability of the bike (sprinting), they excelled, though i make that claim with reservations. sixty-four millimetres of carbon fibre is a not insignificant depth of rim. i live in a location particularly at the mercy of frequently strong prevailing winds. if i might illustrate this more graphically, having left the allez against the garden fence for a moment, on lifting it free to head off on my merry way, the wind lifted the entire carbon-wheeled bicycle horizontally to shoulder height. at that point, i returned the allez to the bike shed and rode off on 'normal' wheels.

specialized have always been remarkably generous with the length of time allowed for the review of both bicycles and components, so i've had the pleasure of riding the rovals for a pretty decent amount of time. and throughout that period, i have yet to experience a bike ride devoid of galeforce winds. given that those deep rims act like sails under such conditions, no matter the qualities, benefits and speed offered by the rovals, they are scarcely cut out for winter, and possibly even summer, in the hebrides. my qualified acceptance of their sprinting abilities has to be tempered with having had to back off during the sunday morning sprint, when the bike was almost blown into the path of the two chaps against whom i was attempting to race.

specialized roval carbon wheels

a scary moment that certainly wasn't the only one experienced.

steady cross or head winds, even at galeforce, are less of a problem; getting through those is pretty much down to grunt work. hard but character-building. sudden gusts, however, often exerted a disproportionate sideways push that frequently proved a tad disconcerting.

but enough of the moaning. surely £2,000 worth of rotating carbon has some sort of an upside? oh yes, indeedy. even across disturbingly dishevelled roads and cattle grids, the wheels were superb, substantially improving the ride quality of the allez. they made the most incredibly satisfying sound even at slow speeds, though i cannot deny that they handled better at higher velocities. with a highly supportive tailwind, i managed a consistent 52kph for a lot farther than i thought possible and into even galeforce direct headwinds, there was a noticeable and positive difference in speed. the problem revolved mostly around the knowledge that, at some point, that headwind would become a crosswind.

still, my declared ambition is to experience an almost wind-free, yet roval assisted ride before their return; if they ride this well in adversity, there's every likelihood that i'll be signed to either bora-hansgrohe or deceuninck-quickstep next season.

if competitive riding is your ultimate goal, i doubt you need me to tell you what a boon a set of rovals would be. if you're simply a more leisurely rider with a high disposable income, by all means forge ahead, but there's no doubting that, at more leisurely speeds, their marginal gains are somewhat diminished. that said, they're almost worth the price of admission simply for how much they enhance the look of the bike. i could certainly get used to that.

a 64mm specialized roval carbon front wheel weighs a few grammes less than 700g and retails at a cost of £800. the rear wheel, with a shimano pattern freehub (i'm unaware of any campagnolo option) weighs 880g and retails at £1200. both come with their own wheel bags.

specialized wheels

friday 22 march 2019

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rapha explore shoe

rapha explore shoes

more years ago than i can correctly recall, rapha released a series of compact discs designed to accompany the three grand tours: the giro, the tour and the vuelta. each contained a selection of curated songs native to the countries in which each tour takes place. it has to be said that many of the tracks appeared to have been drawn from the fringes of 'euro-pop' and not always the sort of music you'd have chosen by your own volition. however, i do remember a particular track on the giro cd on which the repeated refrain revolved around walking a mile in someone's shoes.

rapha explore shoes

it's not an uncommon phrase, even in this country, though rarely does it actually have anything specifically to do with shoes. or even feet.

as cyclists, shoes form an intrinsic part of our armour, arguably something of a boutique part of late, but considering the demands imposed upon them, appropriate footwear can make a substantial difference to the quality and enjoyment of a bike ride. though the brand shall remain nameless (but not rapha), the choice of shoes in which i opted to ride from london to paris in 2017, was definitely not my (or their) finest moment. i chose to ride in a pair of offroad shoes, those on which the small cleats are recessed into the sole. having previously ridden on the three-point cleats beloved of roadies worldwide, when the situation demanded having to walk for a living, not only were the plastic cleats at greater risk of damage, we all know which species of birdlife we most closely resemble.

rapha explore shoes

the problem, in retrospect, was the inherent flexibility of the soles. they were quite ideal for the often shorter rides around the locality, but impose three successive 160km + days and i don't mind telling you it took more than a year before my big toes fully regained feeling. if that didn't offer up something of a clue as to one of shoe-life's necessities, then probably nothing will.

so yes, one of the most ideal features of any cycling footwear, is a finely judged stiffness of sole. when it comes to offroad shoes, that has also to be offset against a certain degree of compliance. after all, it's not solely (pun intended) the cleats that make road shoes awkward to walk in. ostensibly there is less requirement to 'put the power down' offroad, than elia viviani would have you believe.

rapha explore shoes

let's face it, if these are factors that have occurred to me when considering a new pair of cycling shoes, you can bet your pink and black silk scarf that rapha had the same concepts on the board when creating their newly released footwear options. while both road and offroad options are on the website right this minute, it is the latter that have caressed my tootsies for the past couple of weeks, subtly camouflaged in a dark olive green uppers, married to a downward facing chunky rubber tread. previous rapha offerings have been the result of a partnership between imperial works and giro; the new ranges have been developed in-house, principally at the expert hands of rapha designer, joel salamin.

rapha explore shoes

i'm not sure if it's necessary to offer a spoiler alert at this point, but i think i probably ought to in case you're in a hurry. these are quite probably the most comfortable shoes it has ever been my pleasure to wear. i can't be the only one who often finds brand-new shoes to feature hidden pockets of discomfort, many of which snap at your heels, just when you really wish they wouldn't. rapha's explore shoes have done no such thing; in fact, on each and every ride, i have completely forgotten i was wearing them. aside from impressively comfortable insoles, the shoes arrived in their cloth bag along with a spare pair of laces and two adjustable arch-supports which i placed under that insole for every last gramme of comfort available.

as to the laces, a set of dark grey was in place when i opened the box, which were immediately swapped for the red and black option in the bag. i am nothing if not a style icon. and while we're on the subject of laces, rather than being threaded through eyelets on the shoe uppers, the latter folds back on itself, creating a double-wall and through which the laces are manouevred. once tied, the lace-ends can be held in place under a small elastic strap, midway along the tongue. alternatively, a velcro strap above the toe box can be employed for the same reason, if required.

rapha explore shoes

the soles are impressively chunky, remarkably similar to those you'd find on a pair of 'cross compatible shoes. and with reference to the latter, there is no provision for toe studs as frequently found on offroad shoes. however, the word explore in the title gives credence to a purpose that doesn't necessarily involve shouldering the bike to run up a muddy incline in heated pursuit of wout van aert. a carbon plate, visible surrounding the cleat mounting, stops short of both toe and reflective heel, providing the stiffness mentioned above, yet allowing a walking compliance for which we must be truly grateful.

rapha were kind enough to send a pair of the explore shoes because, at this time of year, treading wet grass verges and climbing out of roadside ditches is well nigh impossible in smooth soled road shoes. and if i'm perfectly honest, that's also a state of affairs every bit as pertinent across the rest of the year. though i fitted a pair of ritchey cleats to match the ritchey offroad pedals affixed to the bicycle selected for the duration of my review, the titanium cleat mounts will naturally accept any two-bolt compatible cleats.

rapha explore shoes

rapha's sideways move into 'riding until the road becomes unfamiliar', inspired, i'll warrant, by the original rapha continental, has spawned an entire range of clothing, including the now infamous pocketed cargo shorts, bikepacks and now footwear, with which, it seems, they have hit the ground running. a price of £220 likely comes under the realm of 'reassuringly expensive', but on the basis of my own experience with the explore shoes, entirely justifiable.

now, if you'll excuse me, my feet are encouraging me to explore further.

rapha's explore shoes are available in black, black pearl, dark green and the inevitable hi viz pink. weight is a claimed 300g (size 42) and are available at a retail price of £220. though i have not had the pleasure of wearing the 'classic' road shoes, they are offered in white, black, back pearl, hi-viz pink and an rcc edition. sizes for both styles range from 38 to 48 including half sizes.

rapha explore shoes

thursday 20 march 2019

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specialized s-works turbo road tubeless tyres

specialized s-works turbo tubeless

later this week will follow a thorough review of a pair of specialized roval carbon wheels, but the first order of business perhaps ought to be the s-works tyres that made them a practical reality on hebridean roads. because of the depth of the roval carbon rims (64mm), they are entirely impractical for use with any model of inner-tube of which i am aware. i have yet to find a manufacturer that would be keen to offer valve stems of around 100mm, to pass through those deep rims and still allow sufficient length on which to attach a track pump. as if to underline the diminished options, the rovals arrived with tubeless valves already in place.

specialized, therefore, kindly supplied a pair of their 700x28c tubeless ready s-works tyres to avoid my scraping expensive carbon fibre all across the isle. it is those which make this a review of both good points and bad points.

you may have read my disparaging dissertation on the whole tubeless genre last week, an outburst (by which i still stand) that was brought on by the agonising exercise of trying to fit the turbos to the roval wheels. had this been my first experience of attempting to inflate tubeless rubber, i'd probably have given up cycling altogether, particularly if i had actually paid for the wheels. in the absence of any compressed air, i have had relative success fitting tubeless tyres by offering a few exasperated and enthusiastic plunges with the track pump, blowing sufficient air inside to have the tyre seat itself against the rim flange.

specialized s-works turbo tubeless

sadly, that was somewhat ineffective with front or rear turbos, though the front tyre did eventually give in to brute force and ignorance and inflate to a meaningful pressure. however, by afternoon, it had deflated itself to a pressure that even jeremy powers would scarcely have used for cyclocross. meanwhile, the rear tyre steadfastly refused to inflate at all, blowing bubbles of gloopy white sealant from the sidewall at strategic locations around the rim. to cut a long story short, it took two days to finally inflate the rear tyre all the way to 90psi (6 bar). even then, it has continued to lose about 10-15psi overnight, though that has scarcely interfered with the act of riding quickly around the principality.

that said, contrary to a review on the specialized website, the tyres eased onto the rim without any undue difficulty.

once again, it would be irresponsible of me to assert that this is a situation you're likely to experience yourself, should you purchase a pair of said tyres. there could be any number of reasons as to why the above results were observed, including incompetence on behalf of yours truly. however, on the couple of hundred kilometres i have enjoyed aboard the rovals, while shod with s-works rubber, they have given every reason for joyful reporting. it will, however, not surprise you that none of those kilometres have been dry.

specialized s-works turbo tubeless

in fact, not only has the gripton tread successfully avoided dessication, it has had the added strain of remaining rubber-side down in the face of galeforce crosswinds. so far, everything thrown at them has been negotiated with aplomb. in fact, though i still harbour misgivings over the whole tubeless thing in the first place, this particular pair of tyres offers perhaps one of the closest comparisons with the ubiquitous tubular, only replacing glue faff with sealant faff.

once successfully fitted, there is little chance of the specialized tyres separating themselves from the rims. this i know because i have thrown myself with reckless abandon across uncouth roads kept for special occasions, including a smattering of less than pristine cattle-grids. i don't know if many of you have attempted to take a tight corner on deep-rimmed wheels, when hit sideways by a galeforce gust. if not, please do not apply here for a recommendation. there's every likelihood that the fact i can still type from my armchair rather than a hospital bed can be squarely attributed to the s-works turbos.

specialized s-works turbo tubeless

though common practice on this side of a calmac ferry route would be to fit an inner-tube, should a puncture be suffered in the course of one's duty, as mentioned above, i do not possess a tube that would fit the roval wheels. thus, one of the three rear pockets is home to a tubeless compatible puncture repair kit, a small package i hope never to have need of. it has long been my contention that there is nothing more pointless than standing at the side of an islay road in the rain attempting to find the hole in an inner tube. i can't see how that situation would be any different with a tubeless tyre, even in the dry, given the amount of white gloop sloshing about inside. how would i ever get a patch to stick?

all that being said, this is rubber that could easily convince me that i possess a similar power output and bike-handling skills as peter sagan. if you've ever seen me ride, you'd realise just how impressive that is.

specialized's s-works turbo tubeless ready tyres are available in several different widths (700x28c reviewed) in black only at an rrp of £70.

wednesday 19 march 2019

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pantani was a god. marco pastonesi (translated by colin o'brien). rapha editions/bluetrain publishing. 221 pp illus. £25

pantani was a god - marco pantonesi

upstairs, in the small cupboard in my bedside cabinet, is a small portion of my cycling book collection. there are the usual suspects: 'in search of robert millar', ernesto colnago's biography, 'sex, lies and handlebar tape' and a treasured, autographed copy of ben ingham's 'd'acciaio'. but there is also a hardback copy of herbie sykes' 'fausto coppi'. herbie's introduction to this biography of il campionissimo, explains why, having said he'd never write a book about coppi, he ultimately did.

pantani was a god - marco pantonesi

and following that introduction, are two-pages of the finest writing it has ever been my pleasure to read.

as you may infer, from the list of book reviews at the foot of this web page, i have a substantial library of cycling books, many too many retained in the fervent hope that i will have the opportunity to re-read a substantial number of them in the future. it's a hope that maintains parity with greg lemond's observation that it never gets easier, you just go faster. no matter how many books await a deserved reprise, their place in the queue is regularly usurped by the arrival of more review copies arriving in the post. however, i have kept herbie's fausto coppi closer to hand, solely to frequently read that opening chapter. one day, i will learn to write as well as mr sykes. but, in my awareness of his genius, i was fairly sure i would be very unlikely ever to experience the same level of the literary art ever again.

until now.

marco pantonesi's 'pantani was a god' sports a deliberately provocative title, one that makes a deal more sense, on reading the the long list of additional apellations featured on the back cover. these mostly begin with 'pantani was...' and include 'himself', 'a perfectionist', 'our hero' and 'a great climber'. those are countermanded and often contradicted with 'wasn't himself anymore', 'alone', 'in pieces', all of which culminate in the assertion that he was 'a god'. and irrespective how you feel about pantani,there's no doubt that for many fans, the latter is undoubtedly true.

but if i can separate the content of pantonesi's narrative from his means of delivery, even for just a moment, the chapter entitled 'Tonini Guerro' will now assume its rightful place alongside that of the herbie sykes chapter mentioned above. i may have to buy a larger bedside cabinet.

pantani was a god - marco pantonesi

"A poet lived in Pennabilli and since poets are dreamers, they are also, in their own way, climbers. Now, the poet has passed away, but he's still there, in the air, in the water, in the colours. [...]
"Whoever cycles, uphill or downhill, is a little bit like a leaf and a little bit like a butterfly. [...] But on a carpet of butterflies, it's just a matter of instincts."

it bothers me not one whit that many of you may think i have regressed to the innocence of the late sixties. in the context of the book's subject, this chapter is not only entirely apposite, it effectively melts away every aspect of marco's other side. and while we're on that subject, though the author claims, in his introduction, that he is more pre-disposed towards "Riders with immaculate careers, gregari who perform their duty from the first kilometre...", he does not shy from the elephant in the room as applicable to the sort of rider he claims "...was never one of my guys".

chapter twelve pulls no punches, entitled as it is 'Doping', rapidly followed by 'Conconi' and 'Madonna di Campiglio'. pantonesi writes at length about the uci's imposition of an arbitrary 50% haematocrit level, above which any rider would be withdrawn from competition on health grounds. that is, always accepting that one-percent would always be deducted on the grounds of tolerance error.

pantani was a god - marco pantonesi

all manner of conspiracy theories have resounded for many a long year over the validity of that early morning test on the madonna di campiglio. but it is now purely of academic interest, for the butterfly has flown after a torrid few years of doubt, suspicion and occasional resurgence en-route to its despondent finale.

pantonesi is, however, true to his introductory word. in a similar manner, whereby a line can be described by leaving it blank and filling in the surrounding area, the author's biography of pantani is cleverly delineated through brief snapshots provided by those who surrounded the 'god' in his velocipedinal ministrations.

"He came along with us on a ride and got into trouble on the flats but he was really strong uphill - in fact, he was the only one who stuck behind us, without fear of fatigue or of competing with stronger and more experienced riders. Then he attacked and distanced us."

to an extent, this is an existential portrait of a much-loved, and at the same time, often despised cyclist. it is beautifully and sympathetically written, without any of the cloying sycophancy that can frequently be found in biographies of the revered. i have no idea how accurate colin o'brien has been in his translation of pantonesi's italian, but he is to be roundly applauded for presenting it in such a compelling and beautiful manner. neither is it entirely necessary to read pantani is a god page by subsequent page; the book loses little or none of its beauty or essence, should you wish to dip in and out.

pantani was a god - marco pantonesi

bluetrain publishing are carving an enviable reputation as publishers of admirable note, particularly as curators and partners with rapha editions. their imprint has become not only a mark of quality and originality, but peppered with a smattering of eccentricity. with regard to the copious number of illustrations within pantani was a god and the magic of the metallic cover, publisher and picture editor, taz darling told me, "We wanted create something unique with the images. As so much of the legend exists now in well-worn video footage, we recreated these images using the european RGB emitters of a tv screen as shot from video. It seemed right for the time and culturally where Marco sits in our visual memory. They were inspired by the Adam Ant album cover for 'Kings of the wild Frontier'.

whatever you think of marco pantani, or whatever you think you think of marco pantani, pantonesi's book is not guaranteed to change your mind, one way or the other. but it will place his life, his successes, his failures, his personality and his god-like status in a new perspective. as a cyclist with an interest in the sporting milieu, any debate over whether or not to purchase is ultimately superfluous. the link is directly below.

pantani was a god - rapha editions

images courtesy of bluetrain publishing and copyright getty images.

tuesday 19 march 2019

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