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?

Monday, 7 May 2012

Electric Gears - Energy Saving? Illegal?

I'm no luddite, but ... isn't electric gear changing via an external power source an artificial aid, and as such shouldn't be permitted? There's a battery strapped to the downtube, in case you were unsure. So where do you draw the line? Electrically aided gear changing is OK, but it's obvious that Fabian Cancellara's motorised bike isn't.

As Fabian himself puts it about this 'doped' bike "It's so stupid I'm speechless," he said. "I've never had batteries on my bike." Never used Di2 then, Fabian? I'd dispute that.

I'm all for technology bringing benefits to bike riders, but surely the whole point in racing is that the person who wins - whether a TT or road race - is the one with the most energy left for racing their bike in the final, as Sean Kelly might say. And that should mean everything on the bike - including gear shifts - being powered by the rider alone.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Something Missing?

It's probably a fair statement to say that the majority of bikes at the top-end of the market are assembled piecemeal from individually-purchased components, carefully selected by the discerning bikie after long hours of deliberation and research; it's a process that can easily descend into near obsession and the topic of often-heated conversations on many a club run. Cutting-edge composite technology and metal engineering and their influence on our component choices are an integral part of the racing cycling experience, and an aspect that makes the sport even more engaging, certainly for a poseur and geek like me. Alongside training miles, race results and clothing choices, everything about the dream bike's build is a pored-over choice, discussed and debated, and not only for what are supposedly the extremely personal 'contact' points like saddle, bars and ... pedals. Yeah, pedals. Kinda vital on a bike, wouldn't you say?

Given the role they play, what I'm finding difficult to understand is why bike manufacturers are increasingly viewing this component as somehow optional in their advertising. Surely their omission renders the bike incomplete, unrideable, useless, in the same vein as advertising a Ferrari without its Pirelli P Zeroes might be. Look through bike mags and sites and you'll note the trend to include bike weights quoted excluding pedals, as if this unsung component were somehow simply an optional extra. Marvel over expensively lit studio shots of the top-of-the-range machine in question, nothing left to chance in the attempt to engender unbridled desire for their product, and the very means of propulsion are missing. If it were a refreshing bottle of lager, it would've had the complete food-stylist treatment and be sprayed with droplets of condensation, to reach out and whisper 'chilled' and 'thirst quenching'. On bikes the ten-past-two wristwatch-marketing equivalent has always been displaying the bike in the big ring and smallest sprocket, since 53x12 shouts speed (but only when you're using our bike, obviously). But including pedals, surely.

I've already mentioned the wonderful advertising that Ten Speed Drive Imports used to place in Winning Magazine in the 1980s in this blog - it was teenage desire-affirming hard-core bike porn, not seen anything like it since, more's the pity - and the pedals were always on there. Why wouldn't they be?

Image by steel-is-real
Perhaps back in the day it was a given that if you'd selected a Campag gruppo for your bike, then the pedals would also be from Vicenza - and no doubt matched with their alloy toe-clips and Alfredo Binda Extra toestraps. The same would be true of a Shimano or Stronglight/Spidel equipped bike: all the advertisements would include a pedal, out of - dare I venture - completeness. So, was it simply because in the past there was less choice, and so less scope for upsetting a potential punter's sensibilities with the inclusion of what might not be their preferred pedal? Best not try and influence their thinking, heh?
Today, the bars, the saddle, the groupset, wheels and tyres are all still there - unsurprisingly to me - but frame manufacturers appear to baulk at going as far as including pedals. The only reason I can think for their exclusion is that the multitude of providers, styles and engagement mechanisms preclude them from being displayed, as if the frame manufacturer is avoiding the endorsement of a particular brand or mechanism through fear of causing some kind of offence - we're all so easily offended these days after all - leaving this gaping hole in the complete picture to be filled by the consumer's personal whim. Show them a pedal option they don't like, and they might pass on the bike as a whole. Then again, surely any component selection is only about personal taste, and we can mix and match as much as we like (although it's not something I'd do - I'm unashamedly Italian when it comes to what I choose for my bikes)?

So what is it with pedals? Check out these top-flight 'hero' bikes on these manufacturers' sites, and you'll note that there's not a pedal to be seen:

I don't get it. I've already touched on contact points (yep, pun intended), but surely tyre choice is just as personal, with a potentially broader gamut available depending on intended usage. The modern trend for factory-built wheelsets would also undermine this reasoning - high-profile or low, ceramic bearings or not, tubulars or clinchers. Or even the latest road-tubeless innovations. So, does anyone out there have any ideas? What is it about poor old pedals that makes them persona non-grata in bike advertsing?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Why? Because I'm Worth It.

I'd been in Frankfurt for over three weeks last September, working every day at the the IAA - the Motorshow - and on the only afternoon I had off I tracked down the wonderful Assos 'Nucleo' shop in town, apparently the only one of its kind in Europe. There's not even one in the trendy commercial centres like Milan, Paris or Barcelona, nor their HQ in San Pietro di Stabio in Switzerland. This was going to be an interesting bit of time away from the office ... and potentially expensive.

I've always loved Assos kit, somewhat weakly suckered in by their slick marketing long before Rapha jumped on the bandwagon. To be fair, it's always been excellent quality gear, reassuringly expensive, it's associated heavily with the European professional scene, and unsurprisingly the Nucleo shop embodies everything that you'd expect from such a premium brand. Shopping becomes an experience, over and above the clothing. It's slickly-opening spotless drawers containing crisply-arranged products, it's the flooring, the lighting, the Assos-branded cups I'm sipping a complimentary espresso from as I perch on the edge of a piece of angular, modern leather furniture. The shop staff were never going to have to try hard that day: I wanted the Assos Limited Edition (see - it's got me already) Federazione Italiana Heritage Jersey as soon as I was aware of its release, and I was standing there with some cash burning a hole in my pocket, rainy-day money that had been there for quite a while. I felt justified in a warped way, since unlike profligate Western governments, Kelda and I have been saving hard for the next stages of The Italy Project since we bought our place in Le Marche back at the end of 2007. At that moment I felt that after such a long stint away from home and such a thrifty existence for the last few years, the ordinarily crazy act of spending over £100 on a cycling jersey was justified. I simply deserved it.

Did I mention that the Heritage Pack also includes a pair of white Assos socks, and the
matching casquette shown in the image above? That makes it worth the expense.
Whilst I know I'm going to love mincing around on the C40 in the summer sunshine wearing this jersey, I have to admit that it's actually an inferior substitute for another Italian National Squad jersey I've wanted for over 25 years. Still made by Assos, it's the jersey used by the Italian team both in 1986 at Colorado Springs when Moreno Argentin won, and again the next year when he lost the maglia iridata to Stephen Roche in Villach.

Tony Mills at Dauphin Sport sowed the seed in my head way back then, pointing out at the time that not having the jersey made by one of the big Italian brands such as Castelli or Santini would mean that the association wouldn't last long, and that this would end up a rarity. I'm certain that my desire to obtain one started right there. Remember though: these were pre-Internet days, and to get hold of one of these you'd probably have to live in Italy and be related to one of the riders lucky enough to have made it into the squadra azzurra with a jersey to spare. Assos Italian blue with vertical green, white and red tricolore bands. Rudy Projects, no helmet. Über cool.

Note Charlie Mottet crying in the background because he's been riding around for 7 hours in a shitty Adidas top
In fact Argentin has been a style icon responsible for not only one, but two of the best jerseys I've ever seen, as well a bike I've always dreamed of owning (I had a stab at it in the early 90s with a replica bike even my main man Doctor D thought was desirable). Not only did he get to sport the best national jersey ever devised, he also spent a season in the best Worlds jersey too: Castelli's own take on the rainbow bands, and the first to provide matching shorts. Divides opinion this, I know, but I love it. There are some additional factors at play here though - it's the whole package.

Sheer class, in every respect
Look at that 1987 team-issue Bianchi for starters. Columbus SLX, chromed head tube, forks and rear stays with black lacquer overlay, fork crown and rear brake bridge picked out to match the frame main tubes. Campagnolo Colbalto brake calipers (utterly gorgeous), celeste colour-coded Almarc leather bar covering and matching bottle cages, long before this type of attention to detail was the norm (although Bianchi clearly benefit from having a simple colour associated with its brand; I can only think of Wilier Triestina's copper-coloured frames as another example). Add in the white lever hoods, off-white wheel guides on those Campag brake shoes and the similar-coloured rubber doughnut on the cable adjuster and you've got a bike being ridden by just about the most stylish rider that ever turned a 170mm Record Corsa crank in anger.

With his olive skin, quintessential latin looks, he was the pro I wanted to look like (I'm a blue-eyed blonde and prone to sunburn). Yeah sure, strive to ride like Hinault, with a bike position like Hinault (can't do this either ...), but give me the dress sense and style of the Italian from San Dona di Piave any day of the week. He even made those grey Brancales look good, that when shod to Lemond's well-documented troublesome plates only managed to remind us of something you'd see worn by a clown at a Billy Smart's circus reunion. I'd also take the liberty of pointing out the matching Swatch watch  ...

OK, OK, I'm labouring the point about pro style for sure, to the degree that this might seem like I'm indulging in man-love, but talking about it does bring me around to the sartorial elegance apparently lacking in one of our favourite sons. I'm afraid that Bradley - who I think comes across as an awesome bloke as well as great rider - really did look like Worzel Gummidge on the top step of the podium at the Tour of Romandie at the weekend. Brad: take a style tip out of Moreno's book: raz that bloody 'trendy' hair off for a proper, smart cropped Mod style, change those black socks for white ones, and cut them down by about six inches. Please. Ken and Doreen (you know them from your boyhood racing days alongside OPCC roadman Ian Jeffery) have been chewing my ears off about it all bloody weekend!!

Sincere apologies Brad. Just win the Tour and I'll take it all back and buy you several beers. It'd be an absolute pleasure. And also: I love the fact you do interviews in French.