Monday, 28 November 2011

ACCESSORY & COMPONENT REVIEW

BROOKS SADDLE - BAG & BAR TAPE IN HONEY
 I thought that as we are approaching the month of December I would just look back over some of the accessory and component changes that I have made over this past year and update you on my current feelings now that some considerable miles have been completed.


I will start with the Tifosi Audax/Training Bike because that is the bike that I ride most often. 
I purchased this bike about twenty months ago and the only parts that are original are the frame, stem, bars & seatpost - oh, and the fenders. Everything else has been replaced to either improve it's looks or performance or a mix of both.
The Brooks Swift Saddle with the Bag and Bar Tape, all in a gorgeous honey colour was a good buy.
The saddle has taken a bit longer to break in than the Team Professional that I fitted to the Revolution Tourer, but it is getting there. 
The Bar Tape was easy to fit and went on nice and tight and I really love the way that it is already getting a wonderful used looking patina.If you want a bar tape to fit and forget for thousands of miles this is it. 
As for the Saddle Bag...well that just seems to complete the classic look. 
I really love these Brooks items...I love the way that they look and I love the way that they seem to improve with age both in feel and appearance. A good purchase and I will give it 10/10.
PRO-LITE BRACCIANO WHEELSET
The Pro-Lite Bracciano wheelset has now completed a good few thousand miles. 
These wheels are very stiff with high tension & tight laced spokes. 
I bought these because of all the fantastic reviews that I had read about them in the cycling press. 


These wheels made an immediate improvement to the bike....acceleration improved as did the bikes hill climbing ability.
Descents feel safe and predictable with no nasty surprises through fast bends. 
These wheels have proved to have been every thing that I could have wished for in a wheel upgrade. 
Another great purchase and another 10/10. 


I also fitted a Shimano 105 Groupset on the Tifosi a few weeks ago......still a bit early to make a full review, but the gear changes do seem to be much sharper than the Sora group that was originally fitted to the bike and I must admit to preferring the cosmetic appearance of the 105.
FIZIK DUO BAR TAPE
 Now I will look at the changes made to the Revolution Tourer. 
Like the Tifosi, only the frame, stem, bars, seatpost and fenders remain as original. Everything else has been changed with a top of the range touring groupset having been fitted about 21 months ago. 
This years alterations have been a lot less major but significant never the less. 
The Fizik Duo Bar Tape that I fitted before riding back from Gibraltar has now covered about 2,000 miles. 
It feels nice and thickly padded on the bars which is a pleasure to use on a multi day tour. 
It is starting to show signs of wear on the tops now, but all things considered I would say that it is a good bar tape with a comfortable feel to it and a super colourful appearance 7/10 for the tape then. 


The Ortlieb Front Roller panniers and the Blackburn Custom Low Rider front racks have now been used on two extended cycling tours in France and they match together perfectly. 
As far as the Ortliebs are concerned I would certainly say that these are about the very best panniers that you can buy. My advice to anyone in the market for panniers is 'Buy Ortlieb'. 10/10 for these then. 


The Blackburn racks have also performed well... only one moan about these is (the same as  everyone I know that has purchased these has noticed) a slight twist on the right hand side rack....this seems to occur during the manufacturing process but doesn't cause any problems in use other than the 'I know it's there' factor. 8/10 for the racks.
UNIROSS MINI TURBINE
Remember the UniRoss HY mini Windcharger that I had such high hopes for? 


I have now used this over about three thousand miles. 
It does produce power, but just like the massive wind turbines that have sprouted up in lots of our once beautiful wild places -  not enough....! 
You need to cover a lot of miles at some speed to generate enough power with this to make it worth while. 
I found that I could generate more power with the solar panels that I use....This doesn't mean to say that I won't use the UniRoss Windcharger but I would say that it is really only suitable as a backup to other forms of power generation.....A pity..because I really liked the idea of this little turbine. 
I will continue to use it, but as a support/safety backup only. Only 4/10 for this!
PANNIERS...RACKS & THE RSP RACKLIGHT
Then we had the RSP Racklight that my mate Peter Calcutt had told me about. 
What a little winner that has proved to be. 
This is a Very...Very..bright light. It has been proved to be water proof during very heavy rain in France and this little baby only cost £12.95. 
An absolute 10/10 for the RSP. 
I would recommend this with no hesitation at all....if you want a rear light that fits to your rear rack...a light that you don't have to remove whenever you leave your bike locked up to those railings, because it is bolted to the bike.....buy this NOW..!!


Last but not least we come to my FELT Z1 sportive bike. 
Being a high end top of the range machine, this bike has not needed any upgrades at all....indeed there is nowhere you can upgrade it to apart from the Di2 Electronic Gears....but if you are a regular reader of this blog you will know only too well my views on electronic shifting. 


No...the only item that has been changed is the saddle. 
The bike was supplied with a Felt branded saddle....but after a few months it became obvious that my rear end and the Felt own brand perch were going to have to part company. 


I changed it for a Fizik Arione and I found this to be fantastic...a good mix of comfort and long distance support....ideal for the Sportive style of events that I use this bike on. 
However, after my radiotherapy treatment, for some reason this saddle just didn't seem to be comfortable any more. 


I really did persevere with it but it seems that the treatment had affected both the skin and the shape of my rear (this being part of the area that the treatment was aimed at). In the end I had to admit defeat so I sold the Arione on Ebay and obtained a Fizik Aliante Gamma. 
This has proved to be the right decision. 
The treatment had obviously changed me from a 'Snake' to a 'Bull' (check out the Fizik site if you don't understand what I am referring to here). 
The Aliante has been really comfortable on all rides of all distances and it also matches the bike better than the Arione as it is finished in Black & White. 


I would have given the Arione a 10/10 before my treatment but only a 4/10 afterwards. This was the fault of me though and not the saddle. 
The Aliante gets a 10/10 also and has remained so all year. 


So there you have it...a look back on the items bought for my bikes this year. 


I don't think that I will be buying much for the bikes next year as each bike is now perfect for the use I put them to. 
The Tifosi and the Revolution have had major changes in the time that I have had them...not that anything was actually wrong with them in the first place...but the changes have just made these bikes more my own....the Felt was virtually there from day one....


Perhaps next year I will spend the money on more events and tours instead, now that my bikes are spot on for me.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

TIME TO DREAM.......AND PLAN.

A QUIET ROAD IN FRANCE
This time of year for me is very much a time to dream and plan. 
That is dream of the open road on the bike and plan next years touring rides. 
It is only just over eight weeks since I returned from my Rock2UK ride and I am missing the daily routine of being out on the open and quiet roads of France and Spain. 
I do get out on my bike on most day's of the week, but our roads are considerably  more crowded than those that JD and I encountered on our trip back from Gibraltar. 
Just look at the photo above. It was taken in France on a weekday at about midday...not a lot of traffic to be seen  is there. 
When I get back from my daily ride I get the maps out and checkout various routes on the internet. At the moment I have got about six routes on my shortlist but making that final decision is not proving easy. 
First there is the length of a touring ride...it is always nice to ride with companions, but the people I usually ride with still have to go to work so the length of a trip that they can do is dictated to them by their jobs. On top of that any trip has to fit in between other cycling events that I am hoping to do next year....things such as Club rides-Audax and Sportives.
I'm thinking that if I decide to do another ride of about 1500+ miles I might have to ride it solo, but as I have said no final decision has been made yet. 
STEEP HILL IN FRANCE
As soon as I have decided on next years plans I will post it on this blog....I like to have all my plans laid down by the start of the New Year so I need to start making my mind up. 
So many routes to ride and not enough time (or money) to do them all.
The second photo here shows one of the many water towers we saw in France. Although it is difficult to see in the picture, that small road up towards the tower was really steep.....something in the order of 18% was shown on the garmin....always a bit of a challenge on a fully loaded touring bike but I am missing it..!!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

CATCHING THE FERRY AGAIN.......

OUT ON THE FERRY AGAIN.........
This week we have been having a run of quite mild and mainly dry weather. This has enabled me to catch the ferry every day for a ride in the Purbecks. So far I have completed 180+ miles and if I can get at least one other ride in before the end of the week it will mean that I will be able to complete a reasonable total mileage for this third week of November. 


The bike (Tifosi) has been running really well and after fitting the 105 groupset a couple of weeks ago it has not needed any further adjustments at all. The new gold chain has attracted the interest of a number of other riders, but then that is what good bike bling is all about.


As well as the bike running well ..apparently I am running well too. 
At this time of year I have a number of medical tests. I have just had my six monthly cancer checkout at the hospital and I was told that the cancer has not returned, so I should be OK until the next check in May next year. In a couple of weeks time I will be having an annual scan to measure an aorta aneurysm and assuming that has not got any larger I can just concentrate on continuing to improve my fitness.


I am currently achieving the fastest times over the Purbecks training loop that I have ever done and I feel a lot stronger on the steepest of gradients. I can only put this down to my overall mileage for the year so far.  If I can maintain a consistent weekly mileage over most of the winter period I am hoping that I will be at a good solid level of fitness for the Spring Sportives.


Currently nearly all my riding is being done solo, although I do meet up with various other riders out on the loop. Most of the guys I meet up with tend to be retired the same as myself....I suppose that we are the only ones who have the free time to go out on the bike whenever the weather changes for the better.
If  the weather looks good tomorrow  I will be catching the ferry again..........

Sunday, 13 November 2011

EVERYTHING IS IMPROVED OVER TIME..

TIME FOR AN IMPROVEMENT?
Everything is improved over time....well most things anyway and I suppose that it is only to be expected. Over my lifetime the improvements that we have seen in all manner of things has been staggering to say the least.
Look at the motor trade and just see the advances made with the automobile.The aircraft industry is another area in which we have seen fantastic steps forward.


Like a lot of people I have a number of interests....one of these is photography and again in that area there have been many changes both to systems technique and style.


Now I have no argument with valid improvements, but over the years the frequency of the so called improvements seems to happen at a faster and faster rate. I can remember, say back in the early seventies when I could buy a camera and the model would not be 'updated' for about five plus years. Indeed one model of camera ran for thirteen years before it needed an update.
 When the 'improved' model was introduced it actually had some real improvements that made a positive impact on the ease of use and quality of the photographs that I could produce.


One of my current cameras was only purchased about eighteen months ago and despite having all sorts of accolades lauded on it when it was first released - they are now on model 3. 
Another of my cameras is on model 5 in just over two years. 
Often the improvements are something questionable such as 'touchscreen control'.  I say questionable because I really do dislike touchscreen control, as despite the manufacturers telling me it is quick and easy to use I personally find that it is none of these things. 
I must say that I find the Electronics Industry is one of the worst for the speedy introduction of spurious or at least questionable so called improvements. 


Well, could this now start to happen in the cycle industry? 
One of the 'big' things to happen in the recent past was the introduction of electronic shifting to the enthusiast market place. The Shimano Di2 (the electronic version of DuraAce) and then at a slightly more affordable price we got the Shimano Ultegra Di2 system.
More recently we have seen Campagnolo introduce a Super Record electronic groupset. 


Most people I speak to still seem to be quite sceptical when it comes to electronic shifting ....they are unsure of the value of electronic gear shifting in an activity which after all, is all about personal fitness and physical ability. 
Apparently I can be fit enough to cycle back from Gibraltar (for instance) and strong enough to power my pedals up a 25% hill, but I am now led to believe that I need assistance to just click on a gear lever . Well I am sorry but I just don't buy it....and I won't ....not yet anyway. I will want to see these systems demonstrate more proven performance enhancing capabilities first. 


You do have to question all this when you still see many ProTour- level professional riders choosing to use the mechanical version of DuraAce over the Di2 version. 


Today I even read that a wireless brake system is now upon us. Apparently a University in Germany have come up with a system that replaces the brake cables with a radio signal sender and receiver. Would I want to ride without brake cables? I don't think so.


 And going back to the electronic gear shifting....will we be seeing model 1-2-3-4-etc? Well it is electronic so I think we probably will.  What do you think?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

MORE BIKE BLING............

THE LATEST BIKE BLING
A post or two ago I told you about my decision to upgrade the basic Sora groupset on my Tifosi audax/training bike. The plan was to replace the Sora with a 105 group. 


Well the moment that the 105 was fitted I just could not help myself. I looked at the bike and thought to myself  "what does it need now to finish the job properly?"


It came to me in a flash - A GOLD CHAIN- well not real gold of course but definitely a nice gold colour. My thinking was that it would blend in nicely with the Brooks honey coloured saddle and bar tape.
Just listen to what it say's on the box the chain was supplied in.....


'The gold colour of this chain makes it the ultimate fashion product, it's high grade brass coating offers a reliable protection against corrosion'.


I mean how could I resist?  The ultimate fashion product...!!   I just had to have one.


I don't know when I will be able to try out my ultimate fashion product equipped bike...the weather has been fithy again, with heavy rain and strong winds. This really is not my favourite time of year.


At the start of the year I had hoped that I would be able to reach a total cycling mileage this year of  10,000 miles. With all this bad weather it is becoming more and more obvious to me that I am going to fail to reach this target. With the few weeks that we have left this year I estimate that I will miss my goal by about 500+ miles.........Oh well...there is always next year!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

CAMPING LUXURY.

TWO ITEMS OF CAMPING LUXURY
 It's odd how in certain circumstances some things seem to adopt an increased value.
Water in a desert could be an extreme example , another is the humble chair when you are camping.

During our recent ride back from Gibraltar, chairs became a vital part of camping luxury.
Whenever we arrived at a new campsite JD and I would cruise around the site on our bikes looking for something to sit on.
A log- or something similar would be the very basic requirement - a patio chair would be luxury and a picnic table and chairs.....well that was camping nirvana.

It's funny  how important something to sit on actually became - it made such a difference to us if we found a proper chair to use. If we saw some chairs that we could 'borrow' from outside an unoccupied caravan for instance, we knew that our comfort levels would be vastly improved  for our stay at the site.

Luxury was sitting on a chair with a table to have our evening meal and breakfast on.....we could sit on a chair at a patio or picnic table drinking wine and chatting all evening......so much more comfortable than sitting on the ground.

I have been camping all my life and manage perfectly well sitting on the ground...but...what a huge difference a chair makes.
I have included with this post some photographs of just some of the various 'sitting implements' that we managed to find during our journey.
PATIO TABLE AND CHAIRS

PICNIC TABLE AND BENCHES

ANOTHER PICNIC TABLE

PATIO TABLE AND CHAIRS BORROWED FROM AN UNOCCUPIED CARAVAN

JD ON ANOTHER PICNIC TABLE

JD's BIKE WITH CHAIR
JD actually tried to fit a patio chair on his bike at one site.....he told me that he couldn't bear the thought of not finding a seat at the next nights campsite. I never did establish if he was joking or not..!!
The plan fell apart when during testing, the chair kept dopping off the bike.

Lot's of Changes Ahead ....

I thought that it was about time that I posted another entry on this blog, although to be honest most days have seemed a bit like Groundhog...