nr's blog

Even Better Than The Real Thing 13 January, 2011

Filed under: Cycling — nr @ 10:15 pm

Forgive me if this turns into a bit of a stream of consciousness rather than my normal finely honed prose, but I’m still in a state of nirvana following my first ride on the new bike, and I’ve just drunk the most part of a bottle of Sicilian Fiano. As Richard Hammond once said on Top Gear after climbing out of a McLaren F1 and into a Veyron, “not a bad day, as far as they go”.

So… exactly how did it go? Well, lets start with the first things first. Shortening, and fitting the chain. This was made embarassingly easy by the Sram instructions, so I just got on with it. By 9:05 this morning the chain was fitted, and I had itchy feet, but still had a days work to do.  So I got my head down, drunk several really good cups of tea, and by 11:30 I’d finished all the work I had planned for the morning, so I got my shoes on, got the bike out of the garage, and headed off into the unknown. Within 50 metres two things were immediately obvious:

  • The frame & forkset are beautifully light and responsive
  • The handlebars are at entirely the wrong angle

The bar adjustment was easily fixed, as I’d remembered to pop a couple of Allen keys in my shirt pocket, so I stopped, angled the bars back a bit, and got back on with it. And the next 25kms were really a complete joy. Obviously riding around The Fens I don’t get much in the way of hills, but I do plan my rides to make the most of what I’ve got. So, when I got to the bottom of the Col du Snailwell I popped it down a couple of gears on the rear sprocket, stood on the pedals, and felt completely exhiliarated as the bike accelerated away from me, and sprung up the hill like a whippet on dexedrine. At this point, I had an inkling that the grin on my face was about to become a permanent fixture for the day.

And of course, what’s the next best thing to climbing up a hill? Coming down the other side… So, when I got to the top, I took a couple of swigs from my water bottle, got my head down, and started turning the pedals rhythmically and smoothly. 400 metres later I was easily pulling a 50×11 gear with energy to spare, the sun on my back, and a mind full of superlatives, all of which I’ve completely forgotten now. The amount of vibration reaching me from the road surface was noticably less than with my aluminium framed Giant, which bodes well for some rides up into the Peak District later in the year, with their Northern road surfaces. And then the road flattened out, turned hard left, and straight into the Fen headwind. And it’s fair to say that while Drew has undoubtedly made a masterpiece in this frame & fork set, a good headwind is more of a test of character than of engineering. And I suffered, as much as I did on my ‘old’ bike, and as much as I would on any other bike.

After about 50 minutes, I was back home again. If I didn’t have an afternoon of work ahead of me, I’d have stayed out for another hour, which on a windy wet day is as good an endorsement as I can give. So… what will I change in the future?

  • Brake lever reach. Easy enough, thanks to the Sram Apex groupset making this a three minute job.
  • Possibly move the levers further back up the bars a few mm. I’m not sure about this yet, I need a bit more time on the bike.
  • Seat post. The one I have is rubbish, cheap, and always was just a stopgap. I know what I want, and I just have to start saving.
  • Stem and bars. Nothing functionally wrong with the ones I have, but I just don’t like the way they look.
  • New Q/R skewers. Again, I just don’t like the way these look.
  • Ultimately, a pair of deep section carbon rims. But that’s pie in the sky.

I’d like to sum up with a short witty summary, but really, that’s not what this whole project is about. I’m looking forward to a long relationship with this bike, and many long, lazy rides across the UK and further if I get the chance, a few sportives, and maybe even a time trial or two. This isn’t the end of the story – it’s really just the start.



Eddy Merckx. Not a Goth. 11 January, 2011

Filed under: Cycling — nr @ 4:49 pm

As mentioned in my last post, one of the few remaining tasks I had left to complete on this build was the taping of the handlebars. And I also mentioned that they were to be black, in fitting with the theme of everything else on the bike being either black or silver. And me being a tired old goth who thinks that black still looks cool. However, a mail from Drew, including the words “…Eddy Merckx only ever rode with white tape…” had me thinking. Firstly whether he was a goth, but more importantly, whether I could get away with white tape on the bike. So, firstly, compare and contrast:

Eddy Merckx

Eddy Merckx

A goth, yesterday

A goth, yesterday

Well, I think that clears that up quite nicely. And so to the taping of the handlebars. As I’ve already written in Another Place, what a complete cow’s arse of a job. I’m not very good at this kind of thing at the best of times (I’m much better with a torque wrench and set of calipers than anything involving style. Function over form, every time for me) but I rolled up my sleeves, and got stuck in. And it took a few goes to get it acceptably right, and here’s the result:

I’m reasonably chuffed with the way that’s turned out. It’s not perfect, and to be honest, I have a feeling that at some point I’ll strip the tape off and have another go, but for now, that will be just fine for the shakedown rides. And it feels supremely comfortable compared to the rather thin tape that I have on my current bike, so that’s also a good thing. But what about the colour? Well, I’m coming round to it actually. I’m certainly glad that I tried the white tape on there, as it seems to make the front end look somehow lighter than if it were all black. And besides, if it’s good enough for Eddy, it’s good enough for me. Although I still think he could do with a haircut.

The only other thing of any interest to show at the moment is the delicious little Ti bolt holding on the cable guide. This was originally destined to hold the bottle cage on, but it fits perfectly into this new role, and so that’s where it’s staying for now. As you can see from these two photos, the cables are now all complete, and I’ve adjusted them as best I can for now. The only thing left to do is to snip the excess cable, fit the ferrules, and fit the chain. Hopefully these things should happen tomorrow, and then I can go out and crash the thing.


The Joy of Groupsets 6 January, 2011

Filed under: Cycling — nr @ 10:35 pm

If the frame is the heart of any bicycle (as I’m assured it is), then I think it’s safe, and not unduly pretentious to say that the groupset is the nervous system. The groupset contains the components necessary for control and feedback. Without it, the heart cannot beat. The wheels cannot fly. And the rider is left with an expensive pile of bits wondering how to get them all working. And, as with frames, there is a bewildering array of available groupsets. For the sake of brevity, I’ll get straight to the point and say that I’d selected an Sram Apex groupset for this build as it gave me the range of gear ratios that I wanted, looked good, and there were some good deals around at the time I started looking.

In fact, while I was looking, most places were selling the groupset for around £500, which sounds a lot (well, it is a lot) but given that the individual components would cost over £700 to buy seperately that’s not a bad deal at all. And then a couple of days back I found somewhere selling them for £400 all in. I normally fall firmly into the “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is” camp, so I called the seller, expecting to hear that they were waiting for stock and I needed to wire the money to their holding company in Ghana. But, I was told that yes, the price was correct, and yes, they were in stock. So yesterday I placed an order, and expected sometime next month to be instructing my credit card company to begin proceedings to recover the funds. Only it didn’t happen. At 10 this morning, a big box turned up on the doorstep…

First thing to do was to take back all the bad things I’d been thinking to do to the seller when they failed to deliver, or sent me a half-finished order with the wrong bits. So, with my trust in humanity restored, I decided what to do first with the box of goodies on my desk. The obvious choice was fitting that extraordinary 11-32T cassette. This was remarkably easy to do, and probably took all of five minutes. To get an idea of the size of that largest sprocket, just look at the picture. That’s a normal 700c wheel, but it just looks like a wheel from a BMX that someone has fitted a normal 10 speed cassette to.

So, with that completed, the next task was to fit the brake calipers. Again, no real surprises here, as really it’s just a case of fitting a single bolt at this stage before the cables are installed. The only thing I needed to do was to lop about 3mm off the supplied nut, as it was a bit too long for the beautifully proportioned bridge for the rear caliper. This really would have been a lot easier if I hadn’t lent my hacksaw to James last week, 2 days before he cleared off for a skiing holiday… Not to worry. For the time being I’ve just popped a couple of small washers between the bridge and the nut. Once I get my hacksaw back, I’ll make the necessary cut and clean it all up a bit. Either that, or I’ll see if I can get a titanium washer made up of the correct size.

Next up – bottom bracket and crank… The bottom bracket bearings are a simple thread, so I gave them a smear of anti-seize, threaded in the drive side, slipped the inner sleeve into place, then threaded on the non-drive side. The manual stated to tighten these up to 40Nm, but seeing as they are such a strange fitting that they need a proprietory spanner to get a grip on them, there’s no way I could get a torque wrench on there. So I just gave it a good grunt with the correct tool rather than try and bodge up an old socket with an angle grinder. The drive side crank was slipped into place through the bearings, and the other crank arm was tightened up on the other side.

Last thing for the evening was fitting the beautiful ‘double-tap’ controls and running the brake cables. I can’t run the gear cables yet, as I need a cable guide to go under the bottom bracket. The one that I had didn’t fit, but seeing as they’re about £2 a go, I’m not unduly worried by that. I’ll just keep trying different ones until I find one that works. Anyhow, back to the brake cables. This was certainly the fiddliest part of the operation so far, but also the most enjoyable. I’m not sure that I can be fussed to describe every step of the operation, as it’s really pretty self-explanatory if a little involved. The hardest bit was cutting the inner cable to length to fit the little knobbly bit once I’d finished everything. I tried three pairs of wire cutters before ending up butchering it with the biggest pair of pliers I could find. Still, it worked in the end, and I had my first moment of controlled movement when I pulled the brake lever and watched the caliper move. I half expected a crash of thunder and some flickering lights so I could savour the moment with a gutteral laugh and an exclamation of “it lives!”. Instead I was singing along to Preposterous Tales by I Ludicrous which seemed apt.

So, next plan is to fit the cable guide when it arrives, get the gear cables installed and routed, and fit the chain. All that will be left then is the bar tape, which I haven’t yet bought – I’ll pop along to my local bike shop at the weekend and see what they’ve got. Of course, it’s going to be black. Very black.


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