persistence in the face of adversity


i do not own a mobile phone, smart, dumb, or otherwise, a fact that i thought i would be unable to relate by now. and oddly enough, when this comes up in conversation, i get more brownie points than laughter, particularly from those who are unable to live without such devices. i decided many years ago that, when it looked like it would be harder to live without a smartphone than with, i would bite the bullet and concede to ownership. however, the longer time goes by and it begins to look like that ought to become reality, the more obstinate i have decided to be.

over the past two weeks, the bank of scotland announced that they were to close the sole branch on the island, come may next year. in support of this decision, they were keen to point out that footfall had dropped by 63% since 2018, studiously avoiding mention of the fact that two of those years were afflicted by the covid pandemic. according to the bank, the majority of their customers now prefer to bank online or via the smartphone app, making it apparently unnecessary to retain bricks and mortar.

however, this is very much a fait accompli. pretty much every bank in existence has spent many a year and advertising dollar persuading their customers to switch to online banking, in many cases, whether they wanted to or not. a sizeable majority now bank in this manner, but not necessarily by choice, and those of us who choose not to, are still under pressure to acquiesce, with an endless series of financial incentives to do so. that i have chosen not to give way to their ministrations is possibly the very definition of obstinacy; possibly even foolishness.

but like many, and i think this may be intrinsic within the velocpedinal mindset, i'm determined to keep things the way i like them for as long as humanly possible. and since we've introduced the subject of cycling to the conversation, i believe my obstinacy and, i hope, that of many of my worldwide peer group, spreads laterally into the art of pedalling. however, the covid years may have unavoidably led a large proportion of that peer group to stray from the straight and narrow.

as i pointed out at the time, the velo club was extremely fortunate to be island-based, for when government advice was to undertake outdoor exercise within the immediate locale, we were confidently able to designate the entire island within that description, with the full support of the local constabulary. thus, there was no interruption to the sunday (and other) bike rides. the only qualification was to adhere to british cycling's advice not to ride in a group, which is, it transpires, more than one at a time.

however, there's no doubt that others were considerably less fortunate, being forcibly confined to a smart trainer in the sitting room, in front of moving pictures of watopia. granted, when the all-clear was sounded, the more astute threw the turbo into the cupboard under the stairs, and once more headed into the wide, grey yonder. but others pledged their adherence to the zwifties and simply turned down the central-heating.

i'm sure i need not reiterate that i have little truck with such practices. a colleague conveniently classed zwift as indoor training on a bike, as it no longer fulfilled the accepted definition of cycling as we know it. since it fitted well with my own views, i have repeated this as often as has been found necessary, but i now wonder what the training population of watopia do with their waterproofs?

let's face it; this is the united kingdom, a territory that is rarely the chosen destination of those looking to top up their tan. and in particular, western scotland which receives greater annual rainfall than that of seattle in the pacific northwest. basically, if you're a british-based cyclist, you must surely possess at least one waterproof jacket. so if you spend all your days in a t-shirt and shorts, what happens to the waterproofs?

i have used possession of many such items of garmentage as justification for my persistent riding in weather conditions that give others cause for concern. yesterday, drawn by the thought of a double-egg roll and soya latté, i rode my cyclocross bicycle to bruichladdich in 80kph winds and driving rain to be met at debbie's with questions regarding my sanity. i responded by asking what would be the point in my owning several waterproof jackets yet avoiding riding in the rain? disappointingly that seemed not to dispel queries about my mental stability.

all that being said, for the first time in i can't remember how long, particularly in the light of today being the annual mince pie ride, we cancelled the sunday ride. i still harbour a sneaking suspicion that i could have ridden to bruichladdich, but with winds forecast in excess of 100kph, it may well be that discretion was very much the better part of valour. but i guarantee one of those presents under the tree is not a smart turbo or a year's subscription to zwift.

sunday 24 december 2023

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tready, set, go

mathieu and wout

there was a time when i was silly enough to fit 19mm tyres to a road bike in the mistaken assumption that narrower would undoubtedly be faster. it's a misapprehension that afflicted more than just yours truly, with, as i recall, many time-triallists doing likewise. whether there was any improvement in speed is open to debate; modern tyre theory would suggest otherwise, but i'm sure there is a whole slew of contre la montre participants who subsequently had to undertake dental treatment for the effect highly inflated 19mm tyres had upon their fillings.

for a while i was guilty of advising those intent on joining the peloton, that stock bicycles with 23mm rubber would fulfil their aspirations to a greater degree than would the budget models featuring 25mm tyres. it was not an unsupported conclusion; the majority of tyre manufacturers would normally release the state of the art predominantly in 23mm width, while the variety available in 25 was decidedly less inspiring.

of course, this has all changed, with research counterintuitively revealing that, up to a certain undefined point, wider is better. i've been riding 28mm tyres for a few years now, grateful that my ritchey logic is reputedly capable of accepting a maximum of 30mm width. as a side note, though i've actualy run 30mm tyres, the lack of clearance on the underside of a campagnolo record caliper made life a tad harder than it really ought to have been. my two colnagos are stuck at 25mm for the rest of their lives.

however, as i believe i may have mentioned on at least two previous occasions, according to a continental tyres technician, as consumers, we need to have our senses satisfied with various tread patterns, as opposed to the professionals, who will generally ride whatever the mechanic fits to their wheels. this information came from my query as to why i could not purchase a pair of continental road tyres with the little bobble tread pattern featured on their competition tubulars. we are, it seems, a fickle bunch of characters, swayed more by aesthetics than by science. but it seems that luxury is more the preserve of the roadie; cyclocrossers are far more demanding.

but once again, that's a detail pertinent predominantly to the racing classes, possibly not even to the enthusiastic amateur. the latter, however, is likely more a case of economics than lack of application. not everyone can afford two or three different sets of tubs fitted to an available collection of race wheels. challenge tyres, one of the two top 'cross tyre suppliers (alongside dugast) offer six different tread patterns for cyclocross in widths of both 30mm and 33mm. the latter is the uci specified maximum width allowed, something checked by an official prior to the start of any uci sanctioned event.

each tread pattern is designed to accommodate a specific set of surface details: muddy, sandy, dry, grass... you get the idea. this means that those intent on forging a successful cyclocross career at either amateur or professional level must acquire the same skills as motor race drivers, in knowing which tyre treads are most suitable for each type of course. with cyclocross allowing riders to change bicycles every lap or half lap (on some courses), it is, of course, possible for the perspicacious rider to dip into the pits and change should they figure they might have started on the wrong tread.

i think it's possible that, with even limited experience i could come to a conclusion as to which would suit my purposes, were i, hypothetically, to indulge in a 'cross event. what i think might take a great deal longer to learn would be at which pressure i ought to race any one of those six tread patterns.

in my rudimentary reviews of cyclocross bikes many years past, i made the attempt to run the tyres fitted to each model at the sort of pressures gleaned from watching 'cross races on eurosport. those were not always successful ventures, less that it caused any problems for the tyres, more the difficulties provided for the rider interms of discomfort and the worry of punctures. but then, there was no science behind my choice of tyre pressure; i literally had no idea of what i was attempting. and they weren't tubulars, which has a substantial bearing on the end result.

tyre choice, width and pressures are three aspect of bike riding that i think i'd be safe conjecturing, most of us know little to nothing about. i inflate my road bike tyres to what works for me, taking no account of weather, riding conditions or road surfaces. if i pumped them to 4 bar last week, i'm going to do the same this week. a friend of mine new to road riding, bought a new, expensive road bike and suffered endless punctures, having inflated his tyres to 9 bar, listed on the sidewall as the maximum.

my 'cross bike runs on a set of 33mm challenge grifos at marginally over 3.5 bar, no matter what. to be honest, i'm not entirely sure that the grifo pattern is optimum for my weekly riding, and i really have no idea if the pressure offers the greatest benefit. nor do i think i have the knowledge to deflate or inflate dependng on the ground over which i'm riding. and i sure as heck can't afford to have several sets of wheels to accommodate any knowledge i might gain.

we have a lot to learn.

saturday 23 december 2023

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it's the details that count

fasa stem

we have, on frequent occasions, discussed bike sizing and fitting, more specifically related to the purchase of a bicycle for still-growing kids at christmas time, however, even for those of us who consider ourselves to be grown-ups, there are still variations to be considered, even if the majority tend not to be.

in the middle part of last century, long before mountain bikes were a thing and certainly befofe anyone had 'invented' the gravel bike, roadies were in the habit of purchasing frames and componentry as separate considerations. this was less to do with exacting discernment, and a great deal more because of purchase tax. the latter (i believe the figure may have been 8%, but i wouldn't quote me on that) was levied only upon complete bicycles, therefore the penny-wise club rider would often order a bespoke frame and have the local bikeshop, or uncle bert, build a complete bicycle from their chosen items.

it was during this era that many a cyclist was able to pull the wool over the eyes of her indoors, by ensuring any new frame was painted identically to its predecessor, thus avoiding any accusations of financial impropriety.

however, it was most likely that creating a complete bicycle in this manner allowed for a certain degree of customisation that has all but gone the way of the dodo in these times of 'off-the-shelf' complete bicycles. obviously, it would have been possible to chose the optimum crank length, handlebar width, seatpost height, top tube length and several other considerations, always assuming that you had any idea of just what was 'optimum' in the first place. but even in the years that followed, when steel gave way to either aluminium or titanium, being measured for a frame from a reputable builder was still an available option. carbon effectively changed all that, particularly if considering the much-favoured monocoque construction.

as the speciality of the far east, this entails a no less hand-made method of carbon layup, but does demand a rather expensive mold for each differing frame size. that makes it totally uneconomical where a custom size is required. therefore, even the professionals, who would once have had frames built to their exacting specifications, have to make do with the nearest available frame size. the niceties can then be dialled-in by means of variations in componentry. the professionals, however, have the luxury of team physios and experts with the knowledge to assist with getting it right. most of us do not fall into that category, and frequently have to make do with what our nearest bike shop has in stock, or can order from the distributor, usually in the colour apportioned to that particular year.

a complete, professional bike fit, which can make a substantial difference to comfort and power on the bike is not cheap. it's highly likely that the aspiring purchaser will opt to spend more on the bike, than choose something a smidgeon cheaper and pay for a bike-fit. thus, in the days of mass production, there are probably pelotons of riders all pedalling less than optimised bicycles.

american framebuilding supremo, richard sachs, has said on more than one occasion that the quality and options available from the mass market maufacturers is more than adequate for the majority of riders. the only reason you would approach a gent such as himself was if you were of awkward size or proportions, or simply had the money to buy a custom-built frame. but, as advised by today's heading, it's the details that can make all the difference.

my own experience of a professional bike fit was quite an eye-opener. phil at london's cyclefit lowered my saddle by two centimetres, something i though must surely have been an error on his part, until i implemented the change. and he advised that i drop to a 170mm crank length from the 172.5mm i had endured since first acquiring a mountain bike some 20 years earlier. i have slightly longer arms than usual for my height, and with a torso that is longer than my legs, the standard top-tube length that came with my chosen, mass-market frame size was a smidgeon too short. this discrepancy was overcome by fitting a 130mm stem. however, the ritchey frame size i possess is a slightly larger than normal (for me) 55cm, dropping the stem length to a more common 120mm. this fits well within the parameters as outlined by my bike-fit.

cyclocross bicycles are different; due to the nature of cyclocross racing (in which, obviously enough, i do not participate), it is not uncommon to ride a frame size perhaps 1cm smaller than that of a road bike. but doing so, at least in the case of the specialized crux, often results in a downsizing of the stem length. in this case, to one of 110mm. to be blunt, that's just a bit too short for yours truly, and has been so for the six years in which i have ridden the bicycle. and yes, it has frequently resulted in numb fingers from an inability to stretch out as much as needed.

i retained the 110mm stem for the duration of the initial review period, wishing to appraise the bicycle on its factory specification. however, following completion of that review, i had always promised myself that i would swap the stem for something ten millimetres longer. as an acknowledged expert in the art of procrastination, that stem swap did not take place until last weekend.

art does indeed, lie in the details.

friday 22 december 2023

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language problem

thok mig-e-s suv

as i approached the beginning of my teens, my parents rather too thoughtfully, bought me a raleigh twenty shopping bike, featuring a sturmey-archer three speed hub gear and a large tartan box affixed to the included rear rack. while i cannot deny that the bike proved eminently suitable for a teenager with a newspaper delivery route, particularly when considering the size of the sunday broadsheets, they bought my younger brother a ten-speed racer, a far more stylish means of two-wheel transport, that removed any pretence of bragging rights i may have mistakenly thought i possessed.

however, though he also had a paper round, as far as we were concerned, these were simply bicycles, if admittedly with differing personas. in fact, it is only in retrospect that i classify my brother's bicycle as a ten-speed racer, though i can confirm everybody referred to it as a 'racing bike'. oddly enough, neither of us, nor our peers, had any knowledge of bicycle racing as a 'thing'. as far as i recall, it was principally the drop-bars that were held responsible for the apellation.

that raleigh shopper served me well, despite its complete lack of stealth, only becoming surplus to requirements after i headed north to art college. my first opportunity to reach the stratospheric heights of ten speeds did not arrive until work took front and centre, a more economic alternative to driving my motor car but a few kilometres each morning and afternoon. oddly, and much to my embarrassment, even riding with front and rear derailleurs did not elicit any greater knowledge of the racing milieu.

but it was actually the arrival of the mountain bike from across the pond in the early eighties, that prompted the need for a change in nomenclature. no longer could we make ourselves understood if simply making reference to 'a bike'. recent developments have added gratuitously to the lexicon: gravel, time-trial, downhill, aero, sportive and all the aforementioned with the prefix 'e'.

and, as if that were scarcely sufficient, the first sentence of a recent press announcement on behalf of italian e-bike brand thok served only to further confuse; to wit "The Italian brand has entered the e-SUV market with the launch of its new MIG e-S hybrid model." you will perhaps excuse my surprise on learning that there's such a thing as an e-suv market. which is what, exactly? is this a market comprising alarmingly large bicycles that will fall foul of paris' parking laws, occupy way too much space on the car deck of a calmac ferry and be used to take kids to inner-city schools?

it's possible that the remainder of the press release contains the necessary information. 'The setup includes a Shimano E7000 motor and 630Wh Shimano removable battery that can be detached and recharged away from the bike.
"The MIG e-S is equipped with anti corrosion fenders in aluminium and polypropylene; kickstand adjustable in terms of height; foldable padlock in coated steel, with a case that can be attached to the frame.
"The quick release aluminium bike rack can support up to 12kg and the MIK system enables the rider to position and remove the two large waterproof bags holding 20 litres each with a single movement.
"To see and to be seen on the roads, the MIG e-S is equipped with a 600 lumen front headlight with rechargeable USB battery, rear light with led COB technology, 30 lumen with rechargeable USB battery, reflective strips on the tyres, reflective band on the side bags and an acoustic signal."

it seems as if my apprehensions were bang on the money. are we all now eagerly awaiting the gravel version? however, perhaps in common with the suv denotation in the motoring world, it seems very unlikely that a bicycle of such substantial construct would or could proffer any sporting pretensions whatsoever. and we now have the opportunity to take aim from both ends of the language barrier; one spends far too much money attempting to make their bicycles mere grams lighter, while, at the suv end, it seems bicycles are being manufactured to fulfil the requirements of a presidential security convoy.

demonstrating that the shelf-life of range rovers and bulletproof cadillacs is declining, even as we read.

wednesday 20 december 2023

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a confusion of compatibility

shimano cassette lockring remover

in the outer orbits of the (far too often) repeated saga of an unidentified bicycle noise, and following the replacement of both bottom bracket cartridge bearings, the fog has lifted somewhat, but still pervades matters as a fog of one sort or another.

allow me to clarify.

having confidently asserted that the source of the irritating creaking noise was undoubtedly the seatpost clamp, due to a once-in-a-lifetime compatibility serendipity, i was able to replace the carbon ritchey seatpost, with an identically sized (27.2mm) campagnolo chorus steel post. disappointingly, for one who was so obviously correct at the time, during a brief ride to debbie's one friday afternoon, the noise was worse than ever during the return trip, convincingly putting the case in favour of it not being the seatpost after all. dropping the chain off the chainring with the bicycle on the workstand, simply to add insult to injury, highlighted an earlier discounted source; the bottom bracket bearings.

i realise we've discussed this before, but despite my love for all things campagnolo, some of their engineering decisions both confuse and irritate the heck out of me. instead of securing the bb bearings within the frame-mounted cups, they're press-fitted to the crank arms. so whereas shimano and sram users can simply replace the cups with new ones, campagnolo owners domiciled an unreconciled distance from their nearest campagnolo authorised service centre, have little choice but to acquire a suitable bearing puller/installer in addition to the often not inconsiderable cost of the componentry in the first place.

as an aside to such matters, why is only the drive-side bearing constrained by a crank-mounted circlip, and what's the deal with that oddly-shaped spring clip that slots into the drive-side bearing cup?

i believe i may also have paid tribute to the fact that i opted to replace the cassette and chain due to the transmission feeling a tad rough when in the three largest sprockets. i'm aware of the fact that campagnolo now offer so-called super-links to join their twelve-speed chain, but as the impoverished owner of a bona-fide campagnolo chain tool (which deserves to be mounted on a teak plinth and sited on the mantlepiece), i (currently) laugh in the face of chain rivet adversity. unfortunately, i appear to have inherited the gist of a remark my late father used to make; "you're not often right, but you're wrong again", as the transmission still feels rough at the large end of the cassette, meaning probably a worn inner-ring.

replacing the latter, you will be pleased to learn, reflects not at all badly upon vicenza, but does bring into question the effectiveness of google's much-vaunted artificial intelligence included in their online search engine. given the difference in chain width between 11-speed and 12-speed, it well behoves the avid velocipedinist to purchase the correct version for the transmission affixed to their bicycle. in my case, that's record 12-speed.

specifically searching for 'campagnolo 36t 12-speed inner chainring' produced a number of results, one of which showed a non-campagnolo manufactured compatible chainring, at a price lower than the large(ish) price tags accompanying the genuine article. it was only after receiving the confirmation e-mail for my online purchase, that i discovered i had ordered the 11-speed version, perhaps pointing out that our fears of artificial intelligence taking over the world, may be a bit premature. thankfully, the retailer's customer service department was able to cancel the order prior to despatch. i subsequently ordered a considerably more expensive and campagnolo specific chainring.

disappointingly, campagnolo's war against compatibility extends as far as estrangement between groupsets. in an effort to retain as much of my bank balance as possible, i thought i might undermine vicenza's accounts department by ordering the chorus ring, rather than record. after all, it's a cinch to fit both a chorus cassette and chain to a record equipped bicycle, but i am reliably informed that the bolt centre diameter is incompatibly different. however, in a smidgeon of good news, you can use a shimano cassette lockring tool, to remove the campagnolo version.

i hope you're writing all this down?

tuesday 19 december 2023

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