Tag Archives: Bicycling

Continental Gatorskin tubular review

I’ve had these sitting on the shelf for ages, as I wrote about in my Ambrosio Nemesis review what seems like years ago.  I’ve finally got round to sticking them to the aforesaid rims, so how do they go?  The Continental tubular range doesn’t seem to engender a whole lotta love, and when I looked around on the internet for other reviews of this tyre there really wasn’t much out there.

Firstly, they’re black.  Black with that Continental mesh thing going on on the sidewall.  Visually exciting they are not.  One thing that makes them stand out from Conti’s clincher offerings is the file-tooth tread pattern, as opposed to the funky thing on the clinchers.  Meh.

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Excited yet?  No, me neither.

So, first inspection isn’t too exciting.  Conti’s tubs have a reputation for being – ah, a little stiff.  Hosepipe is a word often used.  Handling these does nothing to dispel your fears.  They feel solid – German, in fact.

This isn’t, however, all bad.  My Nemesis’s have normally been shod with Vittoria Paves, and there’s several bloody good reasons why they aren’t being replaced.  The first of these are:

  1.  The variable construction quality of Vittorias of late, specifically the Pave.  Three out of the last four through my hands have had appallingly misshapen base tapes, to the point where letting them deflate – as any latex-tubed tubular will do in about a week – meant the tyre naturally wanted to deform to the point where it pulled away from the glue job.  Yes, they have become that shit.
  2. The Pave has gone up from an official 24mm to an official 25mm.  In reality, the difference feels much bigger than this – it feels faintly balloon-y, next to the old one.  I was happy on the old size; the new one feels like overkill – great on a Sunday best ride, overkill for a race or throwdown.  The Conti is, despite the nominal 25mm size, much more akin in dimension to the old Pave.
  3. Cost.  Paves ain’t cheap and, on the roads around here, I’ll get about 1500 kms from a set.  If my previous experience of Conti clinchers is anything to go by, I expect to more than double that – and the Contis are half the cost in the first place.

The Contis mounted with the minimum of fuss.  They feel well made, the base tapes are even, no humps or ugly joins, no lumps of shit around the valve,  and they’re just – round.  Easy to mount evenly.  Because these are butyl tubed, they stay inflated, so I didn’t have to top them up before I went out to take them for a spin.  I rolled out with 85 psi in the front and 90 in the rear.

First impressions are that hosepipe might be a bit harsh – but plush is pushing it.  The ride is better than pretty much any clincher I’ve ridden, but it’s a way off the Pave magic carpet.  Pretty much what I expected, really.  I think I’d run these at 100 in a race or bunch shitfight, and at those pressures the difference in comfort is noticeable, but not painfully so.  Then again, in a race or bunch shitfight this wheel and tyre combination wouldn’t be my first choice unless it was pissing cats and dogs and there were long sections of unsealed road.  Generally, they’re my misadventure/Sunday mooch option: what I ride when I’m not riding to get somewhere – when I’m just riding for me.

So I got what I thought I would: a cheaper Pave alternative with its own set of compromises and its own set of strengths.  As a Sunday best, plush pair of tyres, there are better offerings out there – think Veloflex, if Vittoria have rubbed you up as badly as they have done me.  If you’re looking for a set of reasonable, well made tubs that should last a while, pennies and puncture resistance count – then these might tick enough of your boxes to deserve a good look.   They also come in a 22mm width, if you’re that way inclined.

For me though – I don’t know.  There’s just something – missing.   Good enough for winter, perhaps.  But for summer – for want of a better word – I’ll want something with a bit more soul, and cost be damned.

For fuck’s sake – it’s a tyre. 

Yes, I know.  Doesn’t mean I’m not right, though.

 

 

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Ambrosio Nemesis review, or praying at the temple

Let’s be clear.  If you’re a cyclist in the bottom 85% of our size distribution as a species you don’t need this wheelset.  (Unless that is, you’ve got room in the garage and you love cobbles, gravel, and paying reverence to the best part of the year, the spring classics.  Invent reason to suit.)  But  if you’re over a hundred and something kg,  if you’re sick of breaking wheels and you want a nice sunday best that’s not going to explode in showers of expensive, overstressed carbon, these could be your friend.  Read this, then beg or borrow a set from somewhere and tell me if I’m right. I have more than a sneaking suspicion I am.

Regardless of weight, lots of us revere the Nemesis.  Just go check out Weight Weenies, or have a peek on Velominati.  Admirers are many, fervent, and constant.  This last soldier of the box-section, handbuilt days has not gone quietly into the night – the last rites might have been read in the media, right next to another full column ad for something carbon and temporary, but not out here in the trenches. It has a special place in our collective heart, and it shows no sign of letting go just yet.

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The gold flag…

Mine are 32 hole laced to Dura Ace 7900 hubs, in a 3x pattern, using double-butted DT competition spokes.  There are many valid reasons for using alternative spoking patterns, but none of them apply to the Nemesis.  3x is the law here.

Hub choice for the Nemesis seems to be, by convention, limited to a fairly narrow range.  Admittedly there isn’t the choice of high spoke count hubs there once was but wheelsets made with the Nemesis seem to draw from an even more select pool consisting of Dura Ace, Record, Chris King, and Ambrosio’s own (PMP sourced) hubs, notably on those sets built by Harry Rowland.  These wheels get built for the toughest of tough lives, even if only a vanishingly small percentage of them will ever get to see the Arenberg or the Carrefour l’Abre.

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Shiny hubs, shiny spokes. Like Coco Chanel’s little black dress for a bike.

Similarly, the choice of tyres seems to be bound to a select few classics from the cobbles.  Handmade FMB’s for the well heeled, Veloflex’s, and the Vittoria Pave’s, which are what I’m rolling at the moment.  I always have, actually, on these rims – this is the third tyre on the rear, the second on the front.  I have nothing bad to say about the Paves, except for the set I bought off TradeMe that had mangled base tapes that refused to stay glued unless they were kept up to pressure.  They haven’t cut up any worse than any other tyre I’ve ever had, I’ve never punctured a set, and the ride is just…special. That doesn’t mean though, I won’t allow for the possibility of there being other dance partners.  When these go I’m going to try a set of Conti Gatorskins, just because they’re cheap, and that means I can use them even more, presuming they’re not altogether horrible.  (I’ve never tried a conti tub, and I’ll do so with a little trepidation.  Butyl inner tubes and a reputation for riding like lengths of hosepipe, apparently.  But I’ll never know until I try, so I’m keeping an open mind, for now.)

Classic box section rims never look old, because they're already old.
Classic box section rims never look old, because they’re already old.

So what do they weigh, and how do they ride?  If you’re asking the weight question you’re missing the point.  Mine come out at a fanny under1700g for the pair, since you ask, sans skewers tyres and glue.

To the ride.  As you’d expect the handling in foul weather is just what you want,  but to regard these wheels as an anachronistic, one trick slug is a mistake:  I have a 40k loop near home that climbs from sea level to a little under 500m, then plunges and twists and turns through a greasy rainforest-covered lane into an 8k nuts-out descent, then another 7k of flat time trialling to the finish.  It’s my barometer loop, because it measures everything, and out of all my wheelsets I’ve gone round fastest on the Nemesis.  The braking on them is better than on any rim I’ve ever ridden and the Paves inspire confidence like no clincher ever has when the surface is 90% shit and pothole.

Alright, they don’t get pulled out for that many races.  Yes, there’s faster wheels in the garage for most days.  I won’t be humming and ahh-ing between these and the Reynolds or even the Zondas.  Aero was a chocolate bar when these were born, and shit as the roads around here may be, they’re still well within the everyday capabilities of more youthful, faster models.

But none of them will ever, and I mean ever,  feel as special as these. Get your best grimace on, find a muddy puddle, and pretend you’re on King Kelly’s wheel or that Boonen’s choking in your dust.

Some things never grow old.

Let prejudice be your light

Back in the old country, I lost my way.  Starting a career and a family pushed the bike out of my life for a while.  Things became scrambled, so that when eventually it found its way back in it did so sandwiched between a swim and a run.

For a long time, I was in denial.  A new challenge, and all that.  But the truth is, deep down, I knew I’d never be able to be as good as I was before.   Pounds had been piled on, and with swimming in the mix I could kid myself that gee, all those laps were really piling on the muscle.

But there was, really, no getting away from it.

I flat out suck at running, very nearly as much as I find it hatefully boring.

Surfing since forever means I’m comfortable in the water and a fair swimmer: it also means that if I’m in the water, I’d rather there be a board involved.  Swimming is for rehabilitation.  (Besides, they shave their chests, and that’s just weird.)

Whenever I staggered in, mid-pack fodder, my thoughts turned to the results sheet.  And I knew that on that results sheet I’d see a story that no-one else would: passed you in the first transition. Passed you after a k or two on the bike.  Passed the next ten on the first hill.  I’d check my bike split.  The other two – meh.  I was racing a bike, in disguise.

I thought of my short and unstoried triathlon history today, because I set out for a training session and then glanced over my shoulder to see, bearing down on me, a cloud that not only housed the four horsemen of the apocalypse, but more than likely their stables too.  Being a gentleman of mostly sound mind and judgement, I pussied out on the spot, although not before the fucker hit me like a lorry load of de-icing freezers, slamming me into the verge.  I picked my way home via braille, sheets of freezing sleet keeping me virtually blind.

(I should mention here that I live on the west coast of New Zealand, and a quick glance at any map will reveal the absence of anything except a large expanse of watery bugger-all between here, Antarctica, or Chile – squalls have room to build up steam, is all I’m saying.)

One of the things that Triathlon does terrifically is act as a confessional for the be-problemed,  There are reams of stuff online about how Joe or Cynthia finally came out of a loveless marriage or had a leg removed from their other leg, or recovered from years of bad haircuts, and kinda thought they might try this triathlon thing, and how they nervously went along to a swimming pool and lost nine hundred pounds and one day looked in a mirror and you know what? They didn’t know the guy who was there but they kinda liked him.  Which is brilliant and all that stuff.  Way better than cycling does it, but then cycling is filled with people like me.

Anyway, one of the articles I read was some aspiring ironman who hunkered away from the weather on his turbo trainer, and how his daughter came into the garage or the cellar or wherever he was doing it, and asked him if the weather was bad on race day would they let him ride his bike indoors, and lo and behold our hero…yadayadaya.  You know how it finishes.  Headwind heroics.  Snow conquered.  Frost fought.

And so today as I rode home, chilled face as red as a prostitute’s back door, wrestling with the wind, canted over to silly angles just to ride straight, I thought of this hero, and wondered what he was up to now.  I wondered if he’d have turned around.  What the story of his ride would have been.

Then I remembered.

Triathlete.  He’d have fallen off ages ago.

I took my clothes off in the hall, let them lie in a puddle, and then settled down to a second breakfast involving croissants, milky coffee, and a large helping of self-satisfaction. And I resolved to get up later tomorrow, and spend an hour on the trainer instead.

First rides

So, day one of what is hopefully a year of doing everything right, but which is more likely to be a year of doing more things right and hopefully, a few things less hideously wrong.

A little about me:  I’m a 43-year old masters racer who spends rather more time getting shelled than I’d like, but sometimes the stars mysteriously align.  More often good form goes unrewarded, bar the distinctly juvenile pleasure of putting the nail in the coffin of other people’s hopes, which is really – if I’m honest – a large part of what keeps me coming back for more.

I’ve got definite, strong views on many cycling topics, and these are probably as wrong as nearly everyone else’s.  It doesn’t necessarily follow that I know what these opinions are or will have the same one two days running.  I do like beer though.

However, this is for the future.    Hello.