honesty is often the best policy. if we can throw aside the veneer of acquired expertise, it may just be possible to see what still needs to be learned, for few amongst us at such a lowly level can lay claim to total and uncorralled versatility. i'm looking particualrly at the skills required to propel a bicycle in forward motion. once past the balancing stage, refinement enters hibernation and is all but forgotten. hours and hours of intent to defeat gravity on a small red bicycle borrowed from a neighbour's son eventually resulted in some form of success. i have not looked back since (metaphorically speaking).

in this respect, we are likely all the same; some learn more quickly than others, but time is a great leveller, despite a disinterest bordering on negligence. it's a common, yet misguided notion to ascribe speed and success down to born qualities or, as the mighty dave to would have it superior weight. however, returning to the old chestnut of natural ability, in similar manner to those who can draw, and those who claim they can't, it's more than likely a subconscious attention to detail that separates the can-do's from the whatevers

make the leap to concentrating the mind upon the factors that make a difference, and it's quite possible to improve in leaps and bounds without serious training of formerly redundant musclature. many of the greats have achieved greatness despite visual indicators to the contrary. fernando escartin rode at the front on many of the great climbs despite a posture that made him appear to be about to separate self from bicycle. many are the domestiques who look as out of place on a time-trial bike as lady gaga would in a merchant bank boardroom, though both likely inhabit a similar income bracket.

victors the likes of cancellara look more ungainly off the bike than on, suggesting that a combination of training and a naturality most of us would die for, inhabit his every pedal stroke. bjarne riis must still be losing sleep at night. hark back to the days of coppi, when training consisted of ride a bike, ride a bike, and ride a bike, his grace and skill on a bike was not only a wonder to behold, but was not beheld by many of his opponents, such was the distance his ability was able to but between him and them. anyone who is good at anything makes it look easy, and it is often this verisimilitude that encourages others to believe they can benefit from the same.

thus, it is hopefully not too much of a stretch of credibility to posit that the logical conclusion of the dialectic is art. there are many examples of this on record; i'm happy to cite the aforementioned fausto coppi as well as marco pantani, and even our own robert millar, though the latter's posture could sometimes rival that of escartin. it is an oft qoted cliche that art is 25% inspiration and 75% perspiration, so it should not be taken as read that if an apparent natural ability is not yours to own, that at least a portion of the above percentages cannot be achieved through diligence.

art is in the eye of the beholder; a concealed trusim if ever there was one. i cannot readily view my position upon the bike; i cannot detachedly watch my cadence in real time, and i know not whether i climb with the grace of a hippo. granted, analysis by video would give me a clue as to the above, but not at the point of action. so is it possible to take the act of cycling in such terms and consider it in terms of the abstract?

red trike

heavy questions that could conceivably devalue the simple joy of riding a bike in the open air. but the abstract has little or no connection with performance; it is intended as a means of accepting that the natural ability mentioned previously, however such manifests itself in the pedalling action, and relating it to an ideal that is not necessarily an absolute. not all of us appreciate the same art for art's sake. and rightly so.

thus, in those free and easy moments that arrive all too infrequently, perhaps it is possible to separate self from physical action and conclude how motion may attain a more efficient level of subconscious ideal. the denotion of expert may not result in the podium anytime soon, but it may well at best improve the gestalt or at least place a different perspective on what most likely has entered the realm of the mundane. instead of cycling becoming an incidental means to an end (whatever that may be), it could cheerfully become an end in itself.

and that's art.


posted monday 10th january 2011

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the roads


as is the nature of most employment situations, people don't necessarily remain in the same job for too long. either promotion beckons or, in the case of the peter principle they reach their own level of incompetence and move sideways. or perhaps the rigours of the job become more than one can bear and pastures new are explored. then there's retirement. i wouldn't, for one minute, wish to consider the position of roads engineer anywhere in the uk, principally because my knowledge of the job does not extend further than the ability to spell the word tarmac. but more importantly, and rather more pragmatically, in the case of the current austere economic climate, budgets are being cut right, left and centre, leaving many so-called 'minor repairs' to flounder in the twilight zone.

our retired roads engineer of many years past was most fastidious in his attention to detail, and under his jurisdiction, islay's roads were likely the best they've ever been. nostalgia being what it is, personal memories stretching as far back as twenty-odd years (and many of them have indeed been odd) are filled with recollection of relatively smooth black stuff mostly all the way round the island, including many of the single-track roads that lead to the more obscure corners. this should be tempered by the fact that some of those early years were travelled aboard (hushed tones) a mountain bike. i do apologise for such transgression, but we all have to live and learn. in case i have failed to intimate the obvious, the tyres on a mountain bike run at lower pressures and spread the infractions encountered upon the way over a greater surface area. high pressure skinny stuff is less accommodating.

the gentleman who was so caring in his diligence then retired of his own volition, having reached the age at which it is seemly so to do, and a much younger replacement entered the fray, possibly with less of a budget, but possibly with more alert and contemporary solutions to impending road surface decay. in mitigation, substantial changes and an increase in the number of large trucks servicing both the distilleries and the two supermarkets on the island can't have eased the situation. with many of the roads having been built across peat bogs (where did you think the whisky gained its peaty flavour?), these are still liable to considerable subsidence when repeatedly battered by heavy lorries.

even in the face of such adversity, roads engineer number two, as we shall heretofore refer to him, carried out remarkably little in the way of either repair or improvement, so that when his island tenure ceased, the present incumbent inherited a rather dilapidated network of transportational highways and byways. as inferred above, budgets never seem to improve in line with demand; they'll increase with inflation if luck is on the department's side, but rarely in line with the demands placed upon them. and if ruination has already started its downward spiral, then the phrase farting in a thunderstorm seems not too unkind an appellation for the result. our current roads engineer, on taking up his new sentence with argyll and bute council, was quoted as having assessed the cost of restoring the roads to their former glory as in the region of £25 million. at the time, the roads budget for the entire region was only £17.5 million. you can perhaps begin to see a growing and ultimately, unsolveable problem.

add to this already unsavoury mix, a healthy/unhealthy dose of snow, ice and the inevitable melt, and any road surface that was looking a bit peaky prior to this pre-christmas influx of weather, was looking positively unkempt when it all disappeared. it is less than a mentally taxing conundrum to realise that if the budget was being squeezed at both ends before, it's close to strangulation by now.


human beings seem often pre-disposed to complain; anything that meets not with our strict requirements needs to be seen to immediately, if not sooner. and it is always necessary that someone else do it on our behalf. you will, i hope, excuse my cynicism; we all pay more tax than we would like, and that which we do pay surely bears the expectancy of prompt action. those civil servants are employed on our behalf and funded by our taxes, so as customers, are we not due attention and reparation? i surely believe this to be the case, but in the face of knowledge as to the current and historical states of affairs (and i doubt that islay's problems in this department are not replicated across the country), such demands for action begin to resemble childish tantrums. it could indeed be the case that the incumbent is being remiss in his/her duties, but i think it bodes us well to think positively of them in the fulfillment of their tasks.

so far, so theoretical. the practicality of this is that all across the country, and perhaps across several continents, motorised traffic is on the increase. i believe the economist magazine implied recently that the motorist has never had it so good, despite constant aggrievement over the upward mobility of the price of petrol. more traffic means a proportionally harder time for those road surfaces, though increased insulation from such provided by the modern automobile, means that potholes and the like are less noticeable from the driving seat.

but, to personalise the situation for a brief moment or two, "what about me?"

it may be simpler for the rural cyclist; in fact, i know it is. many of the potholes and disintegrating road surfaces have a tendency to inhabit the edges, just where traffic considerations would have us pedal, both out of a need for self-preservation and an historical subconscious acceptance that we are of second class status in the transportational food chain. in heavy traffic, such as that experienced in town and city centres, fraught with parked cars and the like, avoidance is likely all but impossible. sandwiched between two vehicles, it can't be easy to foresee any untoward dips in the road, bicycle-sized or otherwise. motorists tend not to follow the rules of the peloton and point to any oncoming oddities.

but out here in the fresh air of the countryside, such problems are all but inert. it is likely easier to avoid surface irregularities on a bicycle than it is from the comfy seat of a motor car. there are one or two areas where the wave motion imparted to the road surface under the aegis of those trucks mentioned in previous paragraphs, makes riding similar to crossing a sequence of speed bumps, but in most cases avoidance is not that hard, given the paucity of rural traffic. and there's usually a welcoming grass verge for those awkward moments.

but the real point under consideration, if i would only just get to it, is our double standards. i am accepting by your reading of these words that there is more than a passing interests in matters of the roadie, including those competitive outings we like to group together as the spring classics. until relatively recently, it was acceptable to sit in the comfort of you own homes cheering wildly and waving invisible lion of flanders black and yellow flags, as our heroes and their fellow combatants wrestled and fought across lengthy stretches of cobbles loosely arranged in the fashion of a road. there but for the grace of a professional contract go i. in one of those careful what you wish for moments, it seems the lack of a professional contract is no longer a barrier to emulating boonen, cancellara, gilbert et al, for such is the encroachment of the sportive upon the amateur and voyeuristic aspects of the sport, many are the opportunities to fulfil those dreams. and given by the numbers pre-disposed to enter and subject themselves and bicycles to several hours of pounding, all in the name of purgatorial enjoyment, the desire so to do is not an isolated one.

many will have seen the writing on the wall from quite some distance back, writing tinged with a smidgeon of hypocrisy. for how undermining of our integrity can it be to forever inhabit the ctc's website filling in those pothole reports with the benefit of the iphone or garmin's gps capabilities, yet signing up for the tour of flanders and paris roubaix sportives with an ear-to-ear grin. add to this the apparent growth in cyclocross participation, and it seems the modern day adherent to skinny wheels and bendy bars sees smooth roads as the ultimate ideal. the lack of this as the case simply allows us to vent our spleens towards the motorist and those hapless road engineers, while retaining the role of underdog in modern transport society.

there is little more pathetic than a rebel without a cause.

it seems my cynicism knows no bounds, but i fear that we may have to grudgingly accept that stretches of pristine tarmac will become fewer and further between as time goes on its merry way. i am also noticeably guilty of including by implication, those who care not one whit for racing over cobbles, whose sole consideration is getting self and velocipede to and from work and home, and for whom large holes in the firmament are a serious threat to body and soul.

whichever side you find yourself on (be honest) it's a dilemma unlikely to find a solution anytime soon. however, if you're one of those hell bent on a cobbled sportive, perhaps you could look upon such rough stuff as targeted training. and stop complaining.


posted sunday 9th january 2011

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mondiale cross bike

mondiale cross bike

it's an easy mistake to make, thinking that i had all but forgotten about the testing part of that mondiale cross bike. but a brief delay does not necessarily equate with memory loss. of course, i would say that. the more recollective of you may remember jez hastings' introductory piece about the whys and wherefores of mr freestone king's venture into the world of semi-custom bicycles, sheltered under the umbrella of the mondiale brand. these are bicycles produced to specification in italy by a number of artisan builders working principally in steel tubing, an example of which mr hastings has been favoured with to plough through the undergrowth that is the world of cyclocross.

at the end of his previous wordage, the implied promise was that more would be forthcoming on the test bike itself, and at last, here it is below. in the absence of a dedicated website (oft promised but not quite there yet), should you find yourself intrigued by the possibility of your very own mondiale, and not necessarily in cross formation, feel free to e-mail and i will put you in touch.

it is now my pleasure to hand you over to mr hastings

mondiale cross bike

So what of this cross bike that has been on test?

The 'Nuovo Classico' is tig-welded; not my choice, but lots of folks like it and it is incredibly strong; I hope that we may get one in lugged steel or fillet braze (please?). The geometry is specific to cyclocross, so has clearance to suit 700 x 37 tyres, a slightly higher bottom bracket than a road frame, and built with slightly more emphasis on stability rather than the quick handling featured in a road frame, for instance. This makes the ride supremely stable (more of that further on in the story).

This frame was set up for disc brakes, with 135mm rear end spacing so that MTB hubs can be used if required. I was unsure of discs at first, but they are amazing; maybe not purist, but by jingo they stop you quickly and in races that can be a useful feature. When doing off-piste raids such as the West Highland Way, it was nice to know that when i needed to get myself out of trouble, a fistful of working brake was always an option. Tubing is generally from the Deda SAT range, and/or from the Columbus Zona and Life ranges. In the case of the review frame, it's a Deda SAT 14.5 front triangle and seat stays, with Zona chainstays, and Columbus Genius unicrown fork blades on a Zona steerer column. Graeme has known me and my style of riding for years, so chose a particular mix to suit my boy-like physique (i put that in before anybody else could)!

mondiale cross bike

The Deda Sat downtube that he used is slightly lighter than its Zona counterpart (different butting pattern), and the top tube slightly heavier, so if the bars swing in a crash, there is less likelihood of a dented top tube. The stays take the bending process slightly better than Zona tubes, which are very, very hard. The Zona chainstays are renowned for their lateral stiffness; very important given the longer rear triangle on a cross bike. the rear stays are curved to give a little more vertical compliance, important in a small frame for a light rider and it works.

The straight forks were an aesthetic decision from Graeme's perspective and I have to admit they have grown on me. There is no great difference between a straight blade and a curved one in terms of handling or ride, he just felt that with the choice of disc brakes, a straight blade would look better, as well as making mounting the disc a lot easier. The use of hose clips on the top tube to run the rear cable allows a full length of outer with no danger of the cable eyes being crushed, and less abrasion at the paint where the cable constantly frets against a very small area under each cable eye. Hence we hope to help control corrosion, always a headache on any frame used a lot in wet, muddy conditions. I felt these were a wee bit low for shouldering the bike but in practice it has made no difference on my puny and boney right shoulder.

mondiale cross bike

The full length outer cable works more positively with the Avid cable-operated disc brakes. gear cables run under the BB, very unusual on a cross bike, but because it gives a better shift and with Campagnolo derailleurs where no top-pull option exists for the front gear, it removes the necessity to run a pulley at the bottom of the seat tube and looks neater all round. In practice it makes no noticeable difference and has been tested in some pretty gloopy places. I love the front front band-on gear; it gives a more solid shift, important in the mud, and the rear gear is fixed to a stainless replaceable hanger in the Amadeus dropout. The left-hand one also carries a replaceable stainless facing plate.

It's a full-on cyclocross bike, with no bottle bosses. it rides like a dream and I have had tried to give it and myself a handful of nightmares from riding the West Highland Way, a cross event or two (curtailed by injury) and generally thrashing around on Islay. The Modolo stem, bars and seat post are pretty special. I have tried a variety of widths and makes of tyre from Vittoria 27s (yes indeed) to Continental 35s and Schwalbe 32s and every combination on the Ambrosio Excellite rims rides quite differently. The season is almost over, but I aim to find out more about this rare beast.

you'll be the second to know.


posted saturday 8th january 2011

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clothes maketh the man


not being one of those fellows keen to dive straight in without checking the water temperature first, my first foray into the ecelectic (eccentric?) world of roadieness was carried out almost incognito. it's a simple matter round these rural parts because most of the audience would be hard pressed to distinguish a road bike from a mountain bike, from any other kind of bike. thus scooting about on a red 531 frame wearing a pair of been bags and a fleece top would be the cause of no more laughter and curiousity than usual. however, as you well know yourselves, it's not that the congregation knows not; i knew that my attire was not becoming of those skinny wheels, and even implied peer pressure necessitated change for change's sake. the problem, as many a one time newbie must recall, was quite where to start.

in the days before the interweb, the back pages of the comic were filled to the brim with advertisements from the likes of deesside cycles, parker mail order, ribbles, mel bentley and many others i have failed to remember (i'd still love to know whatever happened to mel bentley). those took the form of endless lists over several pages describing in often vague detail, many items of cycling paraphernalia, priced keenly enough to help separate us from our hard-earned. does anyone remember the first time they approached the possibility of acquiring a pair of bibshorts or bibtights? this may be an easier rite of passage if you've joined a club or have relations or friends already baptised with the knowledge. however, for those of us flying solo, it's an intimidating experience.


are these items of racing apparel measured relative to one's waist size or height? what exactly is lycra? what's the difference between tights with a pad and without? so many questions, so few answers.

i bought a pair of lycra tights.

this is a small, fairly conservative rural society, tolerant to a degree but not too mindful of one's feelings if overtaken by fits of laughter. these lycra tights were bright, and i mean bright; whorls of ludicrous colour that would not have looked out of place on the cover of a funkadelic album. where they did look decidedly out of place was on my legs. even nowadays when i have somewhat more of a cyclist's physique (there; you can hear that laughter again), i would look like i'd run away to join the circus, but missed the bus. wearing trainers, a purple fleece top and those tights, i had no option but to ride fast so that nobody would see. never have i been so grateful for narrow, secluded country lanes.

garmin cervelo

bearing in mind my own early apparel faux pas, i rather enjoy this time of year when the season's new and old teams seemingly feel honour bound to reveal the jerseys that will fill our screens and magazines during the coming year. the schleck brothers were all over the cycle press and twitter yesterday with the launch of their team leopard trek, perhaps the worst name for a cycle team i can remember, though i'm sure herbie sykes could outdo me on the draw if he put his mind to it. some of these annual changes are prompted by a change of sponsor, the addition of a sponsor or two, or a re-ordering of the sponsorship hierarchy. it's the way of the world.

blue and black with the odd touch of white seems to be de rigeur for 2011, though thankfully not all of the same shade (well, not quite), but as has been pointed out by many already, not least, anthony mccrossan (and he should know) it's going to be a bit of nightmare in the commentary box this season. maybe the uci in its infinite wisdom, could insist on the riders' names being a part of the uniform, preferably on the back near the top.

team sky

however, midst all the outcry, criticism and or approbation, spare a thought for the poor guy in the design office who has to produce what he and the boss regard as a distinctive look, that will satisfy all the sponsors, all the fans, yet created in isolation. for by the time team a and team b have held their own presentations, it's probably a bit too late to rush back to that macintosh and alter the colour on the sleeves to avoid accusations of parity. some of us know just how long it can take to have a jersey design printed and delivered.

it may well be the case that some of the jersey designs will morph during the season; remember both once and mercatone uno used to alter their principal hue come tour time (albeit for reasons other than a clash with their competitors). team sky went green at one point. maybe like in football, each team could have an away strip; think how much fun messrs mccrossan and smith would have sorting that lot out.

i am, however, most gratified to see that no-one so far has resorted to psychedelic swirls of luminescent colour. not that the world couldn't do with a team funkadelic


posted friday 7th january 2011

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strada a23 wheels

goldtec hub flange

let's just for once, look at things backside forwards or perhaps more aptly, upside down. the almost generic method of deciding on a new bicycle for whatever reason, is to look closely at the frame and assess whether it is available in a suitable size, style, weight, material and aesthetic. it's the logical way to go about the process because, if pigs had to file flight plans with air traffic control, this next one will be the last one we'll ever need to buy, and it needs to be a goodie. i have, on occasion, advised those who had the temerity to ask, to let me know what bicycle or frame they had in mind for purchase, and i may be able to help. in the case of the bicycle, looking at any of the preceding denoted aspects, prior to examining the componentry attached is good reckoning as to whether it will be worth upgrading if the asker becomes as besotted with the act of cycling as yours truly.

however, 'tis a commonly held belief that the single best upgrade anyone can apply to pretty much any bicycle, is a good pair of wheels, so much so, that it seems not too much of a leap of faith to reverse the accepted procedure. let's suppose that the prospective purchaser looks instead at finding a quality pair of wheels and subsequently at a frame that would match the ride characteristics befitting well built hoops. in the case of complete bicycles this can be seen to be a redundant approach, but as we become more knowledgeable and exacting in our requirements, matching wheels to frame could open up a whole new world of indecision.

a23 rim

likely never in the history of the velocipede has there been such an excruciatingly large and confusing availability of wheels, covering pretty much every notch on the financial spectrum; from quite cheap all the way to 'you have to be kidding me'. this is primarily the fault, if blame need be applied, to erstwhile producers of the world' most recognised rim brand: mavic. you can hardly blame them; there they were, churning out a wide variety of quality aluminium rims ready to be assembled into wheels of variety, all the while gaining more and more knowledge about just how good a pair of bicycle wheels could be, and increasingly keen to acquire a part of the market for themselves.

enter ksyrium.

sapim spokes

despite an apparent increase in the number of quality bicycles leaving local bike shops all across the country, the appearance of the factory built or boutique must have cannibalised the market for a decent pair of handbuilt wheels. what the factory built wheel brought to the table was recognisable uniformity, allowing manufacturers to spec particular models safe in the knowledge that the first pair would be every bit as good as the last. however, such uniformity is gained at the expense of tailor-made.

i know well that lord carlos is particularly heavy on bicycles; frames, components, wheels and tyres. in order to best satisfy his needs in the rolling forward department, the last pair of wheels he had built featured a thirty-six four cross spoke pattern using a pair of rims that may well have been surplus to requirements when constructing the forth rail bridge. the four cross pattern is reminiscent of those historically used on heavy touring machines or tandems, built to withstand the forces likely to be asked of them. in this particular case, the wheels were matched to the rider. that's not something you can ask of a pair of ksyriums.

don't misunderstand; i am not implying that lord carlos would demolish a pair of ksyria in a matter of days, but the option here is take it or leave it. strada wheels, on the other hand, and who i have mentioned before, asked questions before building me a pair of wheels. what kind of riding did i do, what weight was i, did i have any specific preferences based on observed knowledge and how many cappuccinos did i have last weekend? the result was a rather fine pair of velocity a23 wheels, 24 radial spokes up front, 28 at the rear, built two cross onto a pair of goldtec professional road hubs. at which point i was now in the position of deciding the bicycle for which these were most appropriate, sort of what i started out saying several paragraphs above. the cielo has become choice number one, though as time passes by and the review continues, it seems very likely that the a23s will be fastened to a colnago not a million miles away from where i sit.

and before you query, there are very good reasons for this.

strada skewer nut

however, prior to describing just how a quality pair of handbuilt wheels survive in the face of factory competition, allow me to introduce you. i asked jon at strada if it wasn't a bit daunting starting a new company offering handbuilt wheels when others would say the market was near saturation point. "it is terrifyingly exciting. the whole project is self-financed and launching a new business in the middle of an economic slump is challenging. however, i felt the uk lacked a well presented, modern approach to the hand-building of wheels and they'd still loads to offer a cyclist that even a good factory wheel can't. We can custom match hubs to rims with spokes to suit your own individual needs as a rider."

the velocity a23 rims could easily define the word sturdy, are of semi-aero box section profile and as the name would imply, are 23mm wide . they're joined to the goldtecs by stainless steel sapim race spokes. the goldtec hubs are black and chunky; definitely a case of function over form. i'm not sure i'd describe them as attractive (strada are now able to offer this wheelset built on chris king r45 road hubs). the wheels arrive complete with rim tape and strada badged lightweight skewers. thoughtfully, jon included a pair of hutchinson fusion 3 23mm tyres and appropriate inner tubes.

strada are of the opinion that the width of the rims can provide the best setting, in my case, if the tyres were inflated to 80psi rather than my more usual 100, but suggested i might like to experiment a bit, so for openers, the pump dial stopped at four score. the skewers very much look the part, and complement the goldtec hubs nicely, but in practice they're a bit fallible, mostly through the shape of the drive-side skewer nut. this is fairly insubstantial and poor in the ergonomics department, being very difficult to tighten properly because it hurt my fingers. goldtec front hub i resorted to wearing a pair of gloves to achieve sufficient torque, and even that didn't work well on the rear. the rear wheel pulled into the left chainstay more than once before i managed to get it tight enough; tighter than i'd like; it is very hard to flip the lever open without undue pressure. chris distefano at chris king told me that the best skewers on the market were those used by shimano on their dura-ace hubs. like many things the guy says, that's more than likely true. he'd be unlikely to state similar of the strada versions.

the wheels run beautifully, though the radial front, certainly on the hutchinsons, felt a bit stiffer than i'm used to. sadly for the hutchinsons, second day out was very frosty and liable to icy patches here and there; the tyres did not cope well at all, with the rear squirreling about on a regular basis. however, the wheels imparted a confidence i hadn't quite expected, in conjunction with ease of accelaration and contentment to cruise nicely once up to speed. it does seem a bit contradictory to highlight stopping just when i've got going, but the brake surfaces on the a23 rims are consummate in their desired intent. that confidence when riding is sublimely continued through the slowing down process.

but now the 64,000 dollar question: what's the first thing you'd do assuming you had the pleasant task of reviewing a new pair of wheels? exactly: hammer them stupid over as many cattle grids as are readily available. not only is that exactly what i did, but several times over more than a day or two. lest you accuse me of artificiality, these hammerings were an intrinsic part of my almost consistent attempt to cover rapha's festive 500. if you're going to cover 70km per day around the principality, cattle grids are going to feature.

strada a23 front wheel

busting cattle grids will result in one of two outcomes: either nothing happens, or the wheels need some attention with a spoke-key on return. strada will be happy to know that nothing happened. i changed the tyre pressures from 80psi in each to 100 in each, though that gave noticeable chatter at the back over less than pristine surfaces (this, it must be pointed out, is not a characteristic confined to these wheels); deflating only the rear back to 80 achieved a more than satisfactory balance between comfort and speed. in fact i figure the front worked noticeably better at 100. however, tyres are obviously a factor in much of this, so i replaced the hutchinsons with a pair of 25c continental four seasons which i've been riding all year on the cielo providing quite a transformation. i'm running front and back at 80psi and though this has taken the edge off the speed, it has enhanced the comfort and traction over both cattle grids and dreadful road surfaces. as with many things in life, you can't have everything.

so which of us stand within the crosshairs of strada's target market? i would hope we're able to offer good quality, value for money, reliable wheels to cyclists from all backgrounds. we've targeted the sportive and triathlon market initially as they are currently the main growth sectors of the industry and perhaps more receptive to a new brand. we are also building wheels with the powertap rear hub for those who take their training rides with added data"

goldtec rear hub

these are lovely wheels, underlining the advantages that can still be gained by speccing a pair of expertly handbuilt wheels. i look forward to fitting them to the colnago, because in those brief moments when i've escaped from the peloton, and holding a gap of over five minutes into a crushing headwind, the stradas are demonstrably fast. i'd like to explore those sensations just a bit more; it does wonders for the self-esteem. the hubs are functional; rolling along unhindered is not as resistance free as i'd like, but there's no noticeable squirming at any point when under pressure, and the freehub is commendably quiet, but they'll never set the design world alight with their stubbiness. however, looking kindly upon them, considering they have here been under the magnifying glass, their transparency serves them well. skewers notwithstanding, it's hard to think of a reason not to order a pair of strada a23s, particularly now that chris king r45s are available in the mix.

and the mix leads us perhaps to a pertinant question: will darren at strada build pretty much anything required? "we can and will build to any specification on request, providing it is technically possible and a sensible solution to your needs". for example, could i send a box of spokes, rims and hubs of my choosing? i'm reluctant to accept a box full of brand new components ready to be built up, so I'd take these requests on a job by job basis. but if you have a pair of favourite hubs that need a rebuild then of course we can help by stripping and rebuilding with new spokes and rims.

finding a frame to fit them might be fun.

strada wheels


posted thursday 6th january 2011

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zimbale leather saddle and saddle bag


not so very long ago, bicycles could be purchased with attachments; bits and pieces that, if not quite essential, were certainly of assistance when pedalling here and there, hither and thither. exciting accoutrements such as puncture repair kits, pumps, mini tool kits, mudguards and even, on occasion, a saddlebag. granted, a number of those are hardly the stuff of which cycling legends were made. despite remembering an article in a now sadly lost copy of well phil describing how malcolm elliot (in his first incarnation) swore by the use of a saddlebag for time-trialling, try as i might, i have not come across any photos of fausto, jacques or eddy, featuring pump, guards or that elusive saddlebag. how did they ever manage?

coincidentally, many of the photos viewed regarding the above, did sport rather fine, if often tatty leather saddles, something we'll come to in the fullness of time.

zimbale saddle

kids, such as i was at the time of such recollections, have need of carrying stuff about the neighbourhood; any attempt to emulate a milk delivery vehicle is doomed to failure if there is no saddlebag in which to place small stones (chuckies as they were affectionately known) used as the physical metaphor representing milk bottles. oh the joy experienced by many a householder awakening to a pile of chuckies on the doorstep. and should it be seen as necessary to spend mum and dad's money on sweeties, or perhaps being sent on small errands (likely to get us out of the way), sweets and errands had to be placed somewhere.

the saddlebag.

age and maturity bring copies of cycling weekly, cycle sport, procycling and ultimately, rouleur. bicycles were no longer utility vehicles with the sole objective that of transportation; getting to and from real places, one of which was endowed with a purpose. now we were fast, lithe, fit, exciting. except, some of us weren't. indeed, some of us aren't. while a modicum of speed would never go amiss, accompanied by the skinny wheels, bendy bars aesthetic, varying degrees of utility have, yet again, become a pre-requisite. at least they have for me.

zimbale saddle

the chris king cielo is a stylish bicycle; apple's influence did not stop short at the card box in which it arrived. add a pair of full wood fenders and a frame-fit pump, and not only has utlility made strides to re-invigorate itself, but it hasn't done the aesthetic any harm either. i can think of few who would wish to have a bicycle in the bikeshed that bore comparison with graffiti on two wheels. though everyone's taste is not necessarily compatible, i am of the artistic mind that componentry and accessories ought to be chosen with some sort of overall colour plan in mind. referring here to that selfsame cielo, brown fenders and a leather saddle matched with a sparkly black paint job, is subtle yet elegant, one which it seems onerous to continue.

hailing from korea with a distinctly non-korean sounding name, zimbale are largely producers of remarkably fine and often substantial bicycle luggage. not, you will note, in a two wheels and a long handle manner of speaking, but in the way that you would wish to transport ever increasing amounts of stuff on the bicycle. these are not ulitmately destined for the nether regions of a pinarello dogma, a colnago m10 or a trek madone, but for something of more utlilitarian ideal, perhaps currently personified by that of the fixed wheel commuter or perhaps the audax custom. it used to be a feature of the age old cycling magazine that each article be accompanied with photographs containing at least one bicycle, preferably attired with something in cotton duck. for that was the way touring was conducted in such times; panniers were the spawn of the devil.

zimbale saddlebag

i do not, i'm afraid, count myself amongst those numbers, but i am not averse to some stylish, hand-tooled leather cargo capacity. this small (in comparison to their canvas range) australian leather bag is cunning to deceive, for while the leather straps would indicate a fastening and unfastening to access the contents, cleverly the leather straps end in brass coloured magnetic buttons. as alexandr the meerkat would have it 'simples.'

in perhaps similar manner to that of mrs washingmachinepost having to match shoes with handbag, the saddlebag is part of an almost inseparable pair with that of zimbale's leather saddle. this is of impressive length, though suffering mildly from being unsupported at its midpoint and liable to a bit of sag (aren't we all?). the leather, in finest fashion, eventually molds itself to the posterior, often a harsh honeymoon period, but mitigated by the leather's minimal mid-point support, in the zimbale's case, this has been more than pleasurable. the lengthy rails are copper coated, matching the sizeable rivets holding the leather to its frame, but seemingly by way of assistance, the underside sports a stiffly woven carcass. the leather is not alone.

to match not only with the leather zimbale saddlebag under review, but the others in the range, the rear of the saddle sports two slotted hoops through which a pair of leather straps can be firmly affixed. such finely crafted leatherwork would be doubtless be the envy of the pelotonese following in my wake, zimbale saddlebag but i see no reason why they should have all the visual benefit. so after a week or two, i switched the bag to the bars, where it comfortably straps in place, allowing easy access to any comestibles contained within. it also looks even funkier up front. i filled mine with the necessities: a crank brothers multi-tool, milk duds tyre lever, and an appropriately sized inner tube. it could have handled a good deal more. while it could likely be easily remedied, the rattling over less than pristine roads is never less than distracting.

neither of these items from zimbale could be considered a case of style over substance; it would seem more favourable to think of both epithets to be complementary. both saddle and its attendant bag are made to a remarkably high standard; there is little, if anything, that has been sacrificed in the process of providing us with the very best for the very best of reasons. zimbale products are new to the uk market, brought to our attention by alexander kim, and at prices that make them even more favourable in the eyes of the cognoscenti. the saddle will retail at around £105 while the increasingly indispensible saddlebag is likely to cost just under half at £50. as inferred above, the range is considerably greater than the two items mentioned here, though at present, the saddle is the sole offering in this department. further details and images can be seen on the zimbale website.

(almost) silent and practical sophistication.

zimbale | zimbale uk


posted wednesday 5th january 2011

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new year revolutions


the idea of making new year resolutions is one i dispensed with some years ago, if only because, like most everyone else's, they barely made it past the first week back at work. with all those days off between christmas and new year, plus a few extra here and there, it's very easy to disassociate with reality and make huge leaps in confidence and ambition, missing out the baby steps that fit in between. i've yet to meet anyone who resolved to partake of more exercise that actually managed to do so past february; there are likely many, many gym membership forms or cards gathering dust in bedroom drawers all across the country (and likely wherever in the world there are gyms). if i can devolve this to a more personal level, it seems a tad pointless making plans to get out on the bike more often, since that's pretty much a given on a daily basis; i very much doubt i'm alone in that particular aspiration.

i would imagine most of us drift along in a state of sublime ignorance when it comes to the relationship between what happens in the real world and our own chances of a podium spot at the 2011 tour or giro. perhaps it would help a good deal if others would make new year's resolutions that would boost our own chances of legendary status. him/her indoors could resolve to spend more time cleaning and maintaining the bikes, turning a blind eye to all those online component purchases, and be happy to undertake the weekly shopping alone, allowing us more time and opportunity to impress for that professional contract. our worthy employers could achieve a form of satori by realising just how many hours of work were being demanded for such meagre recompense and at the expense of cycling time. 'take all the time you need' ought to be the greeting that awaits on return to work tomorrow.


there is, of course, just as much chance of those happening as there is any of us adhering to our own flaky new year commitments. thus, and i hate to be the one to break it to you all, referring to 2011 as a new year is merely convenience, an accident of the gregorian calendar and an intrinsic detail specific to astronomical physics. in short, it's really the same timeline that chuntered along prior to the fireworks, the handshakes and the impromptu kissing. this is, however, no reason to look at the coming twelve months with pessimism; of course i'm going to make every attempt to get out on my bicycle more often than i did last year; nobody ever lay on their death bed and said 'i wish i'd gone into the office more'. and one should always bear in mind, the eagle-eyed mrs washingmachinepost notwithstanding, that one can never have too many bicycles.

and now that the conversation has brought itself to rest on the bicycle as principal subject matter, perhaps i might carp and moan at a similar lack of resolutionary propriety on behalf of those who we may often view as our benefactors.


revisiting the notion that the passing months are all situated on the same timeline, the distinction between specific years, in a manner not unlike the changing of car number plates at arbitrarily defined points of the year to artificially boost sales, is merely an external superficiality tenuously related to the behind the scenes machinations of those benefactors. the marketers and engineers can do everything in their power to convince that the choice of bicycle has as much, if not more, to do with first wheel across the line as the chap/chapess in the saddle. it is, we would all admit, simply a suspension of belief. for starters, at a professional level, the bicycle is not a choice. what larry, bertie and cav ride to victory is in the hands of the accountants and negotiators; a tool over which the rider has but little personal influence.

if common lore is to be believed, the improvement year on year in bicycle technology, training methods, dietary science and both human physical and psychological profiling helps towards making the winning athlete ever more efficient. each team is still searching for that nth percentile point that will give their riders that significant edge over the competition. in practice, unlike formula one motor racing, though the speeds increase, the playing field remains level. what is constantly changing or widening, is the gap between the needs and requirements of you and me and the professional peloton. the need or desire to at least look like a champion or domestique is the secret ingredient allowing the world's bicycle and component manufacturers to feed us a continual diet of technological improvement. a diet that, for us at least, is pretty much pointless, but shows no sign of at least taking a rest for a while.

in one of the monthlies arriving just as the year commences, i found the following copy attached to a bicycle advert. i will refrain from naming publication and advertiser because, to be honest, this is unlikely to the the last happenstance in 2011.


'...designed with a level of integration never before seen. (it) offers unequalled ride quality with the integration of the crankset, stem, pedals, headset, fork and seatpost. unrivalled stiffness to weight ratio, adjustability and precision handling.'

it would be naive of me to dismiss the above without ever having ridden the machine in question, but are we being asked to accept that the crankset, pedals and stem fitted to this machine confer a significant advantage over the more usual third-party variants because they have been somehow integrated with the frame? how do you integrate pedals?

i know this is predominantly rhetoric designed to encourage the purchase of more stuff from one manufacturer and preclude the desire to look elsewhere, but is this perhaps the thin end of the wedge? it's not so long ago that one purchased frame and perhaps fork from one source, then mixed and matched componentry based on personal preference and financial wherewithal. follow this particular case to its logical conclusion, and our favourite bike builders may one day provide a one-stop shop; you will perhaps forgive me if i don't see this as a particularly healthy step in the right direction.

maybe i should resolve to ride one first before becoming judge, jury and executioner.


posted tuesday 4th january 2011

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