We did the Première Manche - the first round - of A Travers riding across France from Dieppe to Marseille in the summer of 2009, and it was the original inspiration for this blog. The plan to put the 'band back together again' for another go in 2013 for the second installment fell on stoney ground, with life just getting in the way for too many of us, much to our disappointment. However, our enthusiasm for the bike remains undimmed, and so I'll keep posting my thoughts on the diverse and beautiful facets of the sport regardless. But there's bound to be another big 'adventure ride' coming soon - quite possibly in Italy - so potentially a name change too: Attraverso l'Italia in Bicicletta anyone?

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Bike is Ready (But I'm Not)

Many thanks to my old mate Rohan at Sigma Sport for transforming my C40 from the heap of crud I'd let it become (Boo! Shame! Stone him!) and back into the beautiful machine it was supposed to be. The poor thing has been banished to my loft for the past three years after a dismal performance on it at La Marmotte: I only managed to haul my fat arse and creaking back to the top of the Croix de Fer before despondantly turning round, descending back to Bourg d'Oisans and getting pissed in the sun over steak-frites in a (rather splendid) bar. Mmmm - not something you'd expect to read on a blog all about the love of cycling is it, eh?

I'd done the RAID Pyreneen the year before that, and was riding the best I've ever been since my early 20s. I'd trained well through the winter, done lots of flexibility work, and the ride was one that made me fall in love with the bike all over again. I felt really good about myself, as if I'd finally matched the constant unfair demands I put on myself to be that fit and to actually make use of some of the ability I believe I do have, but more often than not have wasted. I talk the talk, but walking's always been a bit of an issue.

So, it's been hidden away because I felt I somehow didn't deserve to ride such a bike. All my training rides have been on my deathly-dull burgundy Look KG176, which is more a shade of brown in a certain light, appropriately. The lack of training I did for the Marmotte back then has been duly replicated this time round too, but then at least there's the opportunity here to hopefully 'ride myself in' with the longer, flatter initial stages. That's what I'm hoping anyway.

The bike looks awesome IMHO. Blue Colnago grip tape has been swapped for crisp white Deda tape, and it really brings the whole bike up a notch - there's much unpainted carbon weave around, and the bike was much too dark, even if black is currently in vogue. Rohan cleaned it all up, and finally cut the fork steerer to length. I'd been riding around with a 1" Martello Tower atop the Deda stem despite considering myself a perfectionist on a bike, so clearly my standards have been slipping with age. Now it's 10mm of carbon spacer below, 5mm above to give us a bit of play if needed, but more importantly to give the stem a larger area of steerer to clamp onto.

Long and low position. 14cm Deda Newton stem to accommodate my Mr Tickle arms.

First-generation Record rear mech, and look at those dinner-plate sprockts: 13-29 Chorus, and I'm sure I'm gonna need it on the Ventoux. I can't believe that Jamesy and I rode up there in '89 with 53-39 rings and 7-speed Maillard screw-on blocks, probably robbed off our cyclo-cross bikes for the trip. Not that the gearing was wrong, but just so unsophisticated.

Note the gear the bike is in, as chosen on all bike adverts ever produced: 53 x 12. I don't think I've ever used it.

It's well documented that Rohan's a perfectionist. Tape installed in 10 minutes, finished not with the usual colour-coded insulation tape which invariably stretches, comes unstuck, leaves gummy adhesive everywhere, but instead painstakingly cut to shape and superglued to give the cleanest of finishes.

Ubiquitous shot of that head badge. What is it about Italian bikes? Or cars? Or scooters? Or food? Mama mia, why aren't we riding across Italy for goodness sake? Santa Patata!

One of the original Record carbon chainsets: saw it, wanted it, haemorrhaged £550 for it. Aluminium exo-skeleton, hand-wrapped in carbon fibre. Beautiful, and apparently made by Zipp... Water bottles to match the frame's NL30 paint scheme sourced from the US.

We swapped my light-blue Michelin Pro-Race for something that better fits this Italian classic. I'd hurriedly and reluctantly had to change my knackered blue CX twin treads at La Marmotte for them (further proof of a lack of preparation) as they were all I could get after the 90-minute queue in the only bike shop in Bourg where the hassled machanic really didn't appreciate my asking him to fit them. No wonder the sidewalls came back covered in black greasy fingerprints, him blowing out his cheeks to produce the classic French 'boff', in true je m'en foutiste tradition. It was just a further item on the list of excuses for packing. French tyres on an Italian bike is verging on sacrilege, and Ro had a small, until-now secret, stash of these retro-looking CX with exposed amber cotton sidewalls that just seem to fit the era of the machine perfectly. I love the way the Italian tricolour is used in the 'V' of Vittoria, and that the tyre has only a reasonable amount of pointless technical TLA/FLA guff printed on the side.

I've tried and failed here to replicate the pant-wettingly cool ads that used to appear in Winning Magazine for Ten Speed Drive Imports, if you ever remember them: always splendid 3/4 shots of the bike - Guerciotti, De Rosa, Somec, Tommasini - inevitably kitted out with the must-have gruppo and components of the time: Camapag C Record, Colbaltos, Almarc leather handlebar covering, 3T Record 84 black stem, San Marco Rolls and more pantographed kit than even a fetishist like Rohan or myself could dream of. Well, maybe not

Here's hoping the weather stays good in France, or those sidewalls are gonna quickly look like sh*te. And here's hoping even more that the long miles and reasonable pace of the ride allow my body to adapt and remember what it's actually like to ride a bike - and enjoy it.