the real (wheel) deal

wheelsmith pave wheelset

philippa york, the artist formerly known as robert millar, was instrumental in my investigating the road side of cycling. watching the diminutive scot simply ride away from his supposed betters when the parcours headed upwards, plus a sneaking admiration for his brusque manner with journalists, gave every indication that a glasgow-born yours truly could do likewise. it only took one over-exertive ride up the hill between troon and dundonald to prove that millar's talents were considerably greater than the average velocipedinist, glasgow-born or otherwise.

but i recall a wheelbuilding feature that was most likely published in the comic where the scot was said to have ordered a custom pair of wheels with royce hubs and laced with a mere 28 spokes. while that might not seem particularly odd nowadays, in the 1980s, the standard wheel setup for road riding was 32 spokes front and rear built three-cross, only a spoke nipple away from a preceding 36 spoke build, currently still of interest to the average touring cyclist.

wheelsmith pave wheelset

my naiveté in such matters extended to thinking this might well be the very reason that millar appeared to have the ability to defy gravity. perhaps, my reasoning went, if i also acquired a set of wheels with a similarly scant number of spokes, dundonald hill would become the proverbial walk in the park. you can laugh about it now, as frequently do i, but as i said, those were the early, naive days when i knew pretty much nothing at all. there are many who would say nothing has changed in the intervening years.

however, the art of the handbuilt wheel, though hardly in danger of dying off completely, has been severely diminished by the continued encroachment of the factory build. aside from their often proprietary spokeage, the straight-pull spokes which feature in pretty much every factory-build, allow the use of machines for fabrication. couple that with the ability to have these fitted as original equipment on new bicycles, bolstered by marketing budgets that could probably buy out several individual wheelbuilders and it's easy to see why the lonely individual with a truing stand has become an endangered species.

wheelsmith pave wheelset

our local council has been justifiably critcised for its insistance on there being at least two car-parking spaces for every new house or flat in the region, yet apparently uncaring about the state of the roads on which said motor cars have to travel. argyll and bute are not universally known for the extravagance of their road budget, therefore road traffic, whether motorised or otherwise has to suffer the iniquities of seriously degrading surfaces, confident in the knowledge that this is unlikely to change for the better anytime soon. though it is definitely easier to avoid potholes when riding a bicycle than it is in a car, at some time or another, one of those wheels is going to hit something bigger than intended; that has happened on more than one occasion leading to spoke breakages, always on factory-builds.

though i have no specific evidence to back up my assertion that factory-built wheels are more prone to breakage than handbuilds, the big difference is that builders of the latter can assess the potential end-product based on the rider's weight, build, riding style and terrain. rather obviously, the folks at shimano, fulcrum, campagnolo, mavic et al, are very unlikely to ask. so maybe, just maybe, a pair of hand-crafted wheels, featuring 28 spokes built two-cross up front, with 32 built three-cross at the back will not only fare better on today's often horrendous road surfaces, but will be arguably more comfortable into the bargain.

wheelsmith pave wheelset

with contemporary carbon monocoque frames being (over) engineered for stiffness, a pair of wheels with a minimal number of straight-pull spokes, allied to rims that are a few centimetres deeper than those of yesteryear are honour bound to extend the stiff theme all the way to the bum on the saddle. and it really doesn't have to be that way.

derek mclay of scotland's wheelsmith advertises on his website a pavé wheelset "This is where Wheelsmith started. Building solid and reliable wheels for the Spring Classics." bearing in mind the words of wisdom engendered by endura "if you think the spring classics are bad, try scotland.", wheelsmith's pavé wheels would seem more contemporary than retro.

i'm about to find out.

wheelsmith pavé wheelset

monday 9 october 2017

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nutritional value

tomato ketchup

we've all been there; desperately keen to get into cycling but not a clue where to begin. the bike bit's reasonably easy to get the hang of, now that the majority sell complete bikes as opposed to the frame plus groupset faff that impinged itself on the fifties and sixties. all that need be of concern nowadays is whether the bank balance will be sorely depleted if you opt for di2 as opposed to traditional wires. but is it really necessary to wear shorts or tights that have shoulder straps? and what about the padded bit around the nether regions; won't that be embarrassing?

thankfully, there are more than just a few publications and websites that can help the newbie through those early stages. adjusting to the fact that the jersey pockets are at the back (who on earth thought that was a good idea?), learning which size of shorts or tights to purchase and how to unclip from the pedals without taking a tumble. but assuming all the foregoing to be perfectly in order and the first few bike rides have been undertaken with a mixture of glee and trepidation, discovering that a decent distance has incurred a calorie deficit often comes as a bit of a surprise.

what's a hardy velocipedinist to do?

the basis of weight control, put quite simply, is all down to balancing calorific input with output. if you burn more calories than you consume, the laws of physics dictate that you'll lose weight. however, after 60km or so, most of us make straight for the custard cream jar on arriving home, washed down with half a bottle of san pellegrino. operate in this manner just once or twice too often and it's not outwith the bounds of comprehension that all that hard won dispensing of calories may come to nought. perhaps some judicious calorific planning might prove necessary.

prior to heading to hampton court last july for the few hundred kilometres to paris, i visited the evans cycles store in glasgow city centre to stock up on energy bars and gels. very much against my (and graeme obree's) better judgment, i might add. so doing is not a particularly cheap option and full of energy promise though such consumables might prove, it's ultimately just as simple to create your very own rice-cakes or yummy bars. the key here is (or was) convenience; had i planned better, i could have brought my own, wrapped in baco-foil. but i didn't, so gels and bars it had to be.

as it transpired, i may not have actually required the quantity purchased; very much a case of if i knew then, what i know now.

at one time, my newbieness had me plonk a couple of gels or energy bars in one of those oddly sited rear pockets for consumption during the sunday ride. when i tell you that those rides generally only cover a maximum of 75 kilometres and that we used to have designated munchy stops mid-ride, you will appreciate the embarrassing extent of that newbieness. judging from the look on a number of faces, there are still a few of you who do likewise even now. in fact, though i rarely have cause to slurp water from my bottle on such a short distance, at one time i would add some of that pleasant-tasting powder, just in case i suffered major calorific deficit prior to reaching debbie's for coffee and carrot cake.

but nowadays, much older and just a smidgeon wiser, the sunday morning peloton has eschewed the munchy stop altogether and some of us even refuse our hard won slice of cake when it comes time to get froth on the nose. all that stuff they tell you in the magazines about so and so's training and nutrition plan is all well and good if you've a signed contract in one of the other rear pockets, or are trying overly hard to get hold of one. but assuming your directeur sportif is called strava and you'll be home for lunch, all the rest might be considered a bit over the top.

but despite my wholesale disparaging of the sports nutrition industry in one fell swoop, regular and often energetic cycling over a large number of years has taught me one particularly effective trick that could probably be used to win any spring classic of your choice. when dining on the ubiquitous double-egg roll on saturday lunchtime, always add tomato sauce.

you're welcome.

sunday 8 october 2017

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endura pro sl thermal jacket

endura pro sl thermal jacket

"what strategies do we use to guide the strategic direction and pace of change? is this carefully planned to ensure sufficient time for embedding improvements?

if the above statement leaves you feeling a tad confused, you are in good company. that particular paragraph was culled from the pages of an education authority document headed 1.3 Leadership of Change handed out at a meeting in the local school this past week. the school was the subject of a three-day review by the local education department in preparation for one of those doubtlessly invasive inspections that every school seems to endure on a periodic basis. i do not recall any such bureaucracy during my own years at secondary school, but then, who was really paying attention?

endura pro sl thermal jacket

my own involvement in this was as a representative of the local community; those undertaking the review were allegedly keen to talk to several of these representatives to gauge our opinions on the school's position within the community. to be honest, the one hour allotted to this discussion scarcely seemed sufficient and as is often the case, there appeared to be several hidden agendas at work to which i was not party. nor, indeed, was i overly concerned.

i visit the school at least a couple of times a week in order to tutor both higher and advanced higher drumming students, something i happily do on a voluntary basis and because i was asked. a situation such as this occured quite naturally; the music teacher is a good friend of mine. when community engagement takes place in this manner, i think it's a good thing, but i'm less inclined to put my energies behind a potentially artificial situation. the fact that islay's youngsters are taught in a local secondary school makes it a part of the community whether it wants to be or not; it's a bit of a nonsense to attempt greater integration for the sake of it.

endura pro sl thermal jacket

however, when the assembled representatives are presented with a document bearing more than just a single example of language such as that quoted above, it's hard not to have the word pretentious appear front and centre. i have a sneaking feeling that there's really not much going on, other than meetings about meetings, as opposed to just teaching the kids. but then words are very helpful in describing situations to others, as long as they fulfil the function for which they were invented.

and the word 'underestimated' was that which sprang to mind on my first ride around the loch, clad in a pair of endura pro-sl bibtights matched to the scottish company's pro-sl thermal jacket in its rather strikingly desirable navy blue and orange colourway. the orange is identifiably the region featuring the three rear pockets and the essential fourth zipped version, as well as a welcome and bright level of rearward pointing visibility. and it's not just the orange; the jacket features strategic placement of reflective trim to help stand out in a darkened peloton or just crappy weather.

endura pro sl thermal jacket

my underestimation took two distinct forms. for one, i underestimated just how cool an islay afternoon could become, an admission of which i am less than proud. however, i also underestimated just how effectively the pro-sl thermal could/would cope with such a set of circumstances. the dark blue stretchy fabric is impressively windproof, no doubt easing the job of thermaling (is there such a word?) the rider thus clad. this effective warmth control extends all the way up the full-length front zip to the commendably high collar which made a darned fine job of retaining body heat in the face of cooling adversity.

endura pro sl thermal jacket

the jacket's impeccable fit is aided by its elasticity. the sleeves are of admirable length and feature extended cuffs to create a symbiotic meeting with whichever pair of gloves you have chosen to accessorise. oddly, for scotland's west coast, the jacket met with remarkably little rainfall; enough to convince me of at least modest showerproofing, though if it's rain that you're concerned about, you might be better looking towards the waterproof pro-sl shell jacket. my one disappointment is the lack of a loop at the collar with which to hang it up; a trivial, yet unfortunate oversight .

the thermal version as reviewed is a jacket that you really ought never to underestimate, but one that you may well find to be an essential garment for this time of year. though based on scotland's other and arguably drier coast, endura probably know more about weather protection than any of us really want to find out.

endura's pro-sl thermal jacket is available in navy/orange (as reviewed), red, black or hi-viz green. sizing begins with small and ends up at xxl. price is £149.99.

endura pro-sl thermal jacket

friday 6 october 2017

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happy days are here again


after this year's tour de france, shimano were happy to inform us that all three winners' jerseys (yellow, green and polka-dot) were won by riders whose bicycles changed gear and slowed down by dint of shimano componentry. though i once would have ensured i was informed as to which team favoured which components, i confess those days of idiosyncratic obsessiveness have flown the coop, so i am unable to tell you who was aboard the leading sram equipped machine and similarly that of campagnolo.

for many a long year, the entire top ten of any given race or grand tour would have belonged to vicenza, since there was very little else on option and it took shimano a number of years in the research and development wilderness before they nabbed their first yellow jersey. the bicycle manufacturing landscape has, however, changed dramatically since those halcyon days of lugged steel and when the word index referred to the pages at the back of more academic publications.

that the bulk of the world's carbon fibre now emanates from the far east, a situation that has existed for quite some number of years, has effectively worked against campagnolo in the original equipment stakes. though the sram corporation is american in origin, it is my understanding that the majority of their manufacture takes place in china and taiwan. shimano's roots lie in japan, but they too have factories in china, so put it rather simplistically, everyone's living in everyone else's back yard.

apart from campagnolo.


take a brief wander through the website of your favoured brand and i think you'll find it very hard to source a complete road bicycle which would arrive at your doorstep replete with potenza, chorus or record. quite how this affects vicenza's bottom-line, only they will truly know; it's a factor that is outwith the scope of this conversation. short of opening their own factory in the far east, i'm not sure what options are available.

however, prior to the arrival of the groupset, bicycle componentry could be and was sourced from a number of different purveyors. though present-day marketing and technical manuals would be aghast at the thought of anyone marrying ultegra levers with a super-record rear mech, quite probably on the basis that it simply wouldn't work at all, riders and mechanics of early last century were offered a tad more leniency when it came to mixing and matching.


though it was the mid 1930s before henri legrange relented and allowed the use of derailleurs in place of the flip-fop single-speed hub, names such as le cyclo, le simplex and the first italian built derailleur from vittoria could all be used in conjunction with chainsets, brakesets and levers sourced from elsewhere. meanwhile the british retained their stiff upper lip by eschewing the derailleur entirely in favour of henry sturmey's hub gear. but the word component did not solely concern a bicycle's gearing; pedals, fork-ends, headsets and several of the necessities demanded by steel framebuilding, such as seat lugs and pump pegs are facets that could be regarded as all but extinct, or at very least, underused.

oddly enough, bearing in mind derailleur gearing developents seem to have been the preserve of western europe, many of the above components had british ancestry, perhaps most notably through the auspices of chater-lea, two words that once engendered a level of velocipedinal excitement amongst the cognoscenti. but as the bicycle market changed even in the 1900s, chater lea moved on to manufacture, firstly cars and latterly motorcycles. founded in 1890 by william chater-lea, the company reigns were taken over by his two sons on their father's death in 1927. when motorcycle production ended in 1935, chater-lea remained as a component manufacturer until its closure in 1987.


britain is not over-endowed with bicycle component manufacturers in the 21st century; hope, royce and middleburn are three fine examples that spring to mind, but none could hope to equal the might or reach of the big three. and possibly neither can chater-lea who recently announced their resurgence via a single-page website that intimates their impending arrival in late 2017, promising to be 'as good as ever'. since the bulk of interest in this revival seems to centre on the bicycle trade, we can only hope that they have eschewed any thoughts of cars or motorcycles in favour of cycle components. quite what those are, remains to be seen.

in an era that has seen sturmey-archer sold to the far east and brooks saddles come under (albeit benevolent) italian ownership, for entirely parochial reasons, it's nice to see what might turn out to be at least a modest resurgence in british bicycle component manufacture.


friday 6 october 2017

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a chain reaction

muc-off nanotube chain

though its format has been messed with incessantly in the last couple of decades, i still think it likely that the bottom bracket is one of the least considered components affixed to the average bicycle. from the original square taper, to the rather ineptly named isis splined version, both existing before the bearings were moved outboard by shimano prior to their being shifted inboard (press-fit) once again. and if i might digress for a minute or so, how come shifting the bearings outboard was in the name of stiffness, yet press-fitting them back into the frame makes them even stiffer again?

anyhoo, the bottom bracket does what it does until it doesn't, at which point we realise that it's there and figure out how much it will cost to replace. and whether we have the correct tool to do so. i was once (or twice) guilty of having to eat humble pie after discounting an upgrade to ceramic bearings in a chris king bottom bracket prior to reviewing. yes, i was wrong; though i really don't need ceramic bearings as part of the bottom bracket, i cannot deny that it's a luxury i'm happy to enjoy.

muc-off nanotube chain

but if the bottom bracket is ignored primarily because it is a hidden, if hard-worked component, i cannot quite fathom why the chain is equally ignored despite being quite clearly in view in all its crud-infested glory. i excuse myself from this iniquity, suffering from chain ocd by way of regular cleaning, polishing and lubricating. i'm pretty sure it doesn't make me any quicker, but i seriously dislike a less than shiny chain.

the lubricating bit, however, might well be excused from any propensity to speed me up a bit, for while laboratory tests on the humble bicycle chain have reported up to 98.6% efficiency, this was not thought to be greatly affected by lubrication. the latter fact is germain to this particular discussion because, much like a great deal of motor car advertising, the latest release from lubrication specialists muc-off compares its nanotube chain with that of a similar component from ceramic-speed. i had always thought the bicycle industry to be largely free of this sort of comparative statement, confident in the veracity of their own product without having to match against what they state to be a less salubrious product.

it seems i was wrong once again.

muc-off nanotube chain

muc-off, not without a sense of humour, tested both chains on their chain lube optimisation dynometer or c.l.o.d., satisfactorily stating that ceramic speed's optimised dura-ace chain deteriorated in its efficiency after a mere 18 minutes. their own nanotube chain, however, "sonically cleaned and hand-treated with a carbon nanotube formulation" allegedly takes three miles off a 112 mile ironman stage. and no, i don't quite understand what that means either.

muc-off's managing director, alex trimnell said "our nanotube formula lasts for hundreds of miles in all weathers without the risk of a severe performance drop off, which can easily happen with a wax-based treated chain after a very short period of use." i will cheerfully admit that it's easy for me to poke fun, having never ridden on one of these chains. acquiring a review sample without spending £109 seems to be just a step too far and a bottle of top-up lube would eat into another £49.99 (yes, for a bottle of chain lube).

muc-off nanotube chain

gratifyingly for my bank balance, i have no need of such friction reduction and nor have any of my fellow pelotonese. however, we're merely filling in time until the coffee shop opens on a sunday morning, so friction is not high on the conversation list. but if you've already trained till you're blue in the face and outfitted your featherweight carbon with the finest and lightest, this might be a marginal gain which you're willing to accommodate.

a ceramic-speed ufo dura-ace chain retails at £111

ceramic speed | muc-off nanotube chain

thursday 5 october 2017

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riding in circles


i can comprehend the indulgence in the finer points of gps navigation by one or two of the sunday morning peloton. for, bless their merino socks, they are addicted to the vicissitudes of strava, the facebook for cyclists that turns a perfectly good bike ride into a free for all competition amongst the unwitting. what the global positioning system does not do for any of us, however, is guide us between home and destination by way of debbie's coffee shop. to be perfectly honest, there's every likelihood that the bikes could find their own way there, unaided.

however, individualistic though we are, we are not unaware of the problems experienced by the new kids on the block; not necessarily on islay, but almost certainly in the inner-city regions that are often nothing if not utterly confusing. i have cycled only twice in london and neither occasion was a cause for celebration, managing quite effortlessly to lose my way completely, but staying safe long enough to tell the story afterwards.


while gps, strava and google maps can be of invaluable assistance in finding the more obscure corners of britain's congested towns and cities, the failing of all three is the manner in which they present the pertinent information required for safe passage. bereft as i am of the ubiquitous smartphone, my own london navigations were handled by a printed map culled from google, a rather incomplete means of survival. aside from having to come to a halt at strategic moments to drag an increasingly tattered map from a back pocket, it transpires that though the map did display all the streets in the area, not all were appropriately labelled.

if i'm honest, that's sort of where the house of cards fell apart.

i cannot in any way obviate the pointlessness of the recently released smarthalo for yours truly; i have already come to the conclusion that i'm unlikely ever to acquire a smartphone unless it becomes a legal requirement. and even then, i will mount a forceful protest outside nicola sturgeon's front door. however, more than well aware that i am in an ever-diminishing minority, smarthalo shows every promise of being the ideal cycleing companion for the majority of urban commuters.

sturdily constructed to survive a two week cycling holiday in antarctica, smarthalo connects to your pocketed smartphone via a dedicated app. using the latter, it is but a simple matter of entering starting position and destination, then clambering aboard. the minimalist circular display graphically displays in which direction it would be prudent to turn in order to arrive at the previously decided destination. granted there seems no means by which the smarthalo device might alert the intrepid rider as to any diversions encountered along the way, but i have every confidence that such matters can be sussed by the smartphone app.


the weather-proofing of the handlebar mounted smarthalo allows it to remain more or less permanently affixed to the bicycle, while on-board sensors are aware of impending darkness, switching on a front led light to help with navigation and to make other road users aware of your presence. as if that were scarcely sufficient reason to hand over your £159, the bluetooth smartphone connection can not only alert you to incoming messages or phone calls even as you pedal somewhere, but act as a burglar alarm when your pride and joy is left all alone in the dead of night.

it seems only days since i brought up the subject of the fully-integrated, fully-connected bicycle, a prospect that i'll confess does not necessarily fill me with glee. however, in mitigation, it's worth remembering that i'm the sad old git without a mobile phone.

smarthalo is available in the uk at the retail price of £159. it's also available in north america | smarthalo

wednesday 4 october 2017

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the corporate strategy

collar and tie

you and i have a different outlook on life than what we shall refer to as the average civilian. i don't offer this statement by way of criticism of those particular members of society, nor indeed as a means of aggrandisement of our goodselves; it's just the way it is. though such thoughts and observations have been long harboured by the pelotonese, it was brought home more directly at last sunday's morning bike ride when four of us were intrepid (daft) enough to head out in driving rain and galeforce winds that cancelled the ferries for most of the day.

but to return to the well-trodden mantra 'there's no such thing as bad weather, simply a poor choice of clothing', more than just a handful of the velocipedinally inclined are well-stocked with the latest in protective clothing. had we chosen not to head out in weather that had convinced others to sit by the fireside, where would be the point in owning such apparel? add to that the fact that ultimately, we're just playing (admittedly, some more than others), then there's really no excuse for not going out to be blown from pillar to post, before returning for a warm shower and clean, dry clothes.

mere civilians were aghast in their appreciation of our apparent eccentricities, but there are others forming the bulk of what is frequently referred to as the cycle industry, whose viewpoint is not entirely in keeping with our own.

as a famous member of the cycling media, it is perhaps not unusual that i have more frequent interaction with the cycle industry than the majority of sunday morning pelotons. and though it is cheering to note that the majority are just like you and me but with a more vested interest in specific marques, there are a number of individuals who seem intent on bringing a more corporate flavour to proceedings.

i might offer as an example my recent interview with maserati's general manager, peter denton, who presented more of a corporate image than i had perhaps expected, particularly as his office gave me to understand he was/is a particularly keen cyclist. maybe he is and i just caught him on an off-day? i had rather thought he might be just a bit more like us. then, earlier today, i read an interview with an un-named representative from a major (non-british) cycle clothing manufacturer.

the interviewer asked not entirely unexpected, perfectly respectable questions, many of which reflected exactly the sort of things you and i would have asked had we met the fellow in our local coffee shop. interlocutions such as 'with so many inhabiting the market, what are you doing differently?; how do you create customer trust?" and "what image are you promoting?"

though it's often our own frame of mind towards cycling matters that obviates the fact that it is indeed an industry, with salient features such as marketing and profit margins to consider, somehow i, and by extension, you, expected a chilled version of informality to inhabit the conversation. instead, in reply to the last-named question he said "we promote a vibrant, multi-functional sports brand that offers great quality, innovation, and value for money.", a repeatable phrase that could not only transcend genres, but likely pertains to almost every clothing supplier in the world.

as to answering the question 'what are you doing differently?' things didn't really get any better, returning a formal "Functionality, stylish looks, and a great price point keeps us ahead of our competition." we tend to expect our elected politicians to deliberatley avoid the asked question and instead answer the question they'd prefer to have been asked. it seems possible that certain corporations are working in a similar mode. or perhaps things just got lost in translation.

in reply to querying how the company created customer trust, a rather bland "We are building our story in the UK around positive reviews, great word of mouth and remarkable athletes and ambassadors, recognisable to the UK buying public." resulted. i confess that none of the above would convince me to find their apparel on the internet or in a nearby cycle store (if i actually had such a thing). i'm very pleased to say that my similar dealings with british-based cycling apparel purveyors have resulted in an altogether far less formal set of circumstances. the majority have been the very folks you and i would dearly love to have join the sunday morning peloton.

however, few if any of us, are responsible for running and promoting a national or international business on which rests the employment prospects of several hundred people. though it's a cool concept to hang a tag on the office door stating 'gone riding', it's not necessarily an activity that equates to happy shareholders or investors at the end of the financial year. i constantly wonder why the world's top component manufacturers cannot fit stainless steel clamp bolts instead of the standard or chromed steel that is frequently seen. but then, we're not them and they're not us.

if the two sides of the cycling world were to be described in a venn diagram, some of us would comfortably fit in the overlap and some of us wouldn't. maybe we need cycling's equivalent of the birth of the cool, where the venn diagram would consist of a single circle which we all inhabit. or maybe some of the people that aren't us could loosen their ties a couple of notches.

in the meantime, i'll setle for homegrown eccentricity.

tuesday 3 october 2017

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