Tag Archives: Cycling

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 as a whole, and when I looked around on the internet for other reviews of this specific 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.   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.  Alright, I wouldn’t neccesarily run the ambrosios in that many races these days, but these don’t actually feel horribly slow:  given the relative paucity of 25mm tubs out there, and the shitty roads I ride on,  I’d consider chucking a pair of these on my race hoops and just not worrying for the season.

So I kind ofgot 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 your last outings with 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, and if 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.

 

 

 

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A cyclist’s guide to surviving christmas and the off-season

Since the end of the season I haven’t blogged at all, mostly because to be blogging about something you’re not doing seems fraudulent: as someone once said, I’m a writer only when I write, and it’s the same with the bike.  I climbed off at the end of October and more or less threw it into the dark recesses of the garage.  On average I’ve done 70k a week, if I’m lucky.  Once or twice I’ve gone for a gentlemanly 40-50k with no thought other than to listen to the birds or atone for the dietary sins which seem welded to this time of year, regardless of whichever hemisphere you happen to be in.

The off-season is tradition, and it  comes with a whole heap of downsides.  Some of my trousers are a little tighter than they were a month or two ago.  The hiatus from racing brings with it a whole being-available-for-DIY issue.  Last, but not least, it takes 21 days to make a habit, apparently, and after six weeks of quite frankly absolutely taking the piss it’s going to be doubly hard to get back on track.  No wonder there’s a slew of tinterweb articles preaching caution and temperance.

However, there are huge upsides which are, by my reckoning, severely under-promoted.  By the end of the year my body was screaming at me, fed up with hunching over bars.  Who, after all, does a yoga session or a swim instead of a ride – which one really makes you faster?  Riding does.  Yoga and swimming make you faster for longer, but that’s tomorrow’s problem, and as such they always seem to wait until then.

So my tip for surviving the off season?  Embrace it.  Take the time to make your body hurt less.  Catch up with friends, remember your children’s names, make that pudding you saw on TV and slobbered at back when you could only eat raw carrots because there was a climb that week, and eat it with them.  Take a surf trip or head for the snow.  Pay the debt of gratitude and attention you owe the rest of humanity after opting out of it to ride your bike.

Bike racing at its best verges on the inhuman.   The real point of a well-spent off-season is to remember how to be human.

Happy Christmas, and a peaceful New Year.

 

End of season blue skies, challenges ahead.

I’ve pretty much finished for the year.  The big race got cancelled, and I was in shit shape for it anyway.  I’ve had a season of sore legs, big efforts, and zero results to show for it.   Anyone who’s raced for more than ten minutes knows that a good ride isn’t always measured by results, but sometimes…aaarrgh!   Anyway, a break is due.  I’ve also come to a point of fatigue where I’m sure that a change of focus next year is what’s needed.

I don’t do weights.  This is for a couple of reasons:  One, I did loads in my teens and twenties.  I reached peak gym boredom, and never recovered from the exposure to all that pent-up testosterone and sexual frustration.   Two,  twenty-something years of surfing hasn’t exactly left me like a pipe cleaner in the upper body.  I’ve been trying to lose muscle, not put it on, for the last few years.  And Three: I have a screwed back, and on the three or four occasions I’ve set foot in a gym over the last decade or so I’ve limped out.

I’ve been pretty dedicated to the cause for the last few years, and over the last few weeks I’ve realised a couple of things.  Firstly, my biking fitness might be good, but my general, athletic fitness frankly sucks more than it ever has.  With my back injury, a strong core and good posture is key to a life without pain and, incidentally, to turning pedals quicker.  Of course, on a day-to-day basis, how do you think this works out?  I’ll take another lap of the block, do another interval, rather than stretch and dig the stability ball out.  The work ethic in that direction’s been…absent.  And secondly, I’m bored.  I’ve essentially done the same calendar of events for four years, and I need a change.

Last week, I did my first run in years.  ITB pain did for me a few years ago, and I’d always assumed it’d flare up instantly if I pulled on a pair of running shoes.  It didn’t.

I hit the pool, too.  Yeah, you can see where this is going.

I’m going to do a few tri’s this summer.  Get some pool miles in, get running.  It’s sufficiently different, and it’ll be great for my general fitness.   It might even be good for my personality to get in a headspace of getting-round-and-doing-my-best, as opposed to being a competitive shithead.

And of course, I’ll be needing a new bike.

The slump before the … what?

The last couple of weeks have been tough.  I did an 80k race, which is one bottle more than I’m used to carrying,  and demanding too, of eating at least something.  I felt good though, and went off the front.  These were roads I know well, so I was able to set myself goals knowing how far I had to go, where the tough bits were, and where I had to get to with a decent gap before I could think about looking for chickens to count.  I never made it, but it was close enough to give me hope:  I was hovered up perhaps 2k before that point.   After 25k out front on my own I was toast and slid out of the peloton willingly, happy with my day’s work, but just a little sad I hadn’t quite had the goods to seal the deal.

So hope sprung eternal, and with a good performance to motivate me I took a day off work and told the kids not to get into trouble while I went to set about some serious miles.  The figures are meh:  130-odd k in just under 5 hours, with 2,900m of climbing.  It’s a tough ride, but perhaps not as tough as I made it feel.  The last hour and a half’s suffering was dante-esque.  What was supposed to be an enjoyable romp on the bike, a confidence-builder for the hundred miler at the end of the month has had quite the reverse effect.  My legs are heavy and – to be brutally honest about this – my arse is killing me.

It would be stupid to read too much into this.  Often,  my best form comes after my worst.  I’m not going to expect too much from this weekend’s racing, but I’ll be listening to my body with interest.  And it’s finally pushed me into trying a new saddle to replace the Specialized Romin which sort-of-but-not-quite suits me.  I’ve gone for a Bontrager Serano, which is an entirely different concept to the Romin, much more akin to the old Concors and Cinelli SLX’s of my youth.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’ll be reviewing it in the future, well after I’ve given my arse time to get used to it.

In the meantime,  I suspect I’m going to be trying to rack up k’s as painlessly as possible, keeping up the training stress with consistency rather than big days.  It probably won’t be enough to get me to the business end of the Round the Mountain in the right position, but there’s … just enough buts there to keep me hoping.

Not just the one I sit on.  See what I did there?

Chinese carbon wheels – which way to go?

If you’re like me – and judging from the length of the related threads on weightweenies plenty are – you will, at some point, have looked at getting a set of carbon wheels from China.  Providers like FarSports, CarbonSpeedCycle, and Yeoleo offer a bedazzling variety of products.  Wide, U-shaped rims, apparently everything the big boys are offering, and at a fraction of the price.  What’s the catch?

The bike industry is not transparent.  The inrng post who makes what offers a small insight into the bewildering world of cycling brand names.  What gets outsourced to where and who is even more nebulous.

Taiwan’s Gigantex, for example, are known to make carbon rims for plenty of brands with cachet and credibility.   All the Chinese providers listed above offer badge-engineering services.  If you want to start your own wheel label it’s never been easier.  A quick read through the open-mold carbon clinchers thread on weightweenies reveals plenty of satisfied customers.  It also reveals more than a few horror stories.

I’m not going to go into the carbon clincher safety debate here, and I am certainly not going to take the point of view that only the biggest and most moneyed purveyors of carbon hard-on material can get it right.

I know Zipp and ENVE etc spend a huge amount on R & D, and I know too, that Chinese companies are damn good at reverse-engineering (read: stealing) carbon tech in the blink of an eye.  (Your morality on buying copied stuff is your own. You might think there’s more than one big brand got it coming to ’em.  I won’t argue.) And you and I both know there’s lots of cheap knock-off crap out there along with the good copies, and that if your Chinese wheel fails – well, good luck with that warranty.

There is, however, a reason that China has come to dominate the world’s manufacturing base:  more often than not they get it right enough, for the right price, which is what most of us want.  You can get a serviceable wheel from China.

But does it make sense?

I am no expert on carbon fiber, but I’m perfectly capable of adding a few figures together.  A pair of Chinese carbon clinchers with basic but serviceable Novatec hubs runs, near as dammit, $700 NZD delivered to your door.  A quick read of the weightweenie thread I’ve linked to above tells me you should allow too, for the possibility of returning at least one of the wheels for something flawless.  Let’s call that another $100, because it will be.  If it gets lost or damaged, look forward to a week or two of fun with your carrier.

If that equation puts you off, what then?  Do you really have no other choice?

Of course you do. Go secondhand.

For $500, to my door, I got a pair of Reynolds DV46 tubulars with less than a thousand k on them, essentially unmarked.  1315g, 46mm profile.  No weight limit.

$500, all up.
$500, all up.

OK, they’re a couple of years old.  OK, they’re not 11-speed compatible, but I won’t be there myself for a couple of years. How long were you expecting those Chinese wheels to last, anyway?

So far so good.  Then chuck in the almost-brand new Dura-Ace cassette, the brand-new Vittoria Corsa tub on the back wheel, then half-worn Schwalbe on the front with plenty more life in it.  The valve extensions.  The wheel bags.  The nice hope skewers. The envelope with the four barely worn SwissStop yellow pads in it.

I rode these for the first time in a race a couple of weeks ago.  It was pissing down and windy.  Modern wisdom says that these older wheels don’t stop, they fly like a kite and want to do nothing so much as pitch you into a hedge at the first breath of wind.

I’ve got nothing against modern wisdom.  It makes good stuff cheap.

If you disagree, if you’ve had great (or bad) experiences with Chinese carbon, or if you’ve snagged a great secondhand deal – I’d love to hear about it…

 

 

 

 

If Schrodinger rode a bike…

Another weekend in back country New Zealand.  Another race out in my favourite neck of the woods, the aptly-named Forgotten Highway.  It’s cold and a steady, permeating drizzle falls from a low, featureless sky that tops this part of the world like nothing so much as a giant, featureless Tupperware lid.

I huddle for longer in the hall than usual, but then again, I’ve arrived too early.  I’m dressed, caffeinated, and ready for action that’s not yet ready to happen. Story of my life.  I try a warmup, but instead I just get cold and wet.  The first seven or eight k are slightly downhill anyway.  Better to stay dry.  I pin my number to my gilet; it won’t be coming off.

A huddle at the start, under a dripping lean-to that juts from an abandoned Engineer’s workshop.  Chat:  what the fuck are we doing this for’s, I think I’ll keep the warmers on, at least it’s not windy as well, eh?  Grades start to feed out, queue on the line.  I’ll stay here until the last minute.

Finally, my turn.  Plenty have stayed home today – and who can blame them? – so it’s a small grade.  A couple have moved up – it’s not a course for them, but we’ll keep them together if we can.  Once the hills kick, that’s where this’ll split, and then it’ll be game on to the finish.  Better to get warm and keep the group rolling nicely now.

Legs feel leaden, but they’re turning.  Same for everyone.  Same for everyone.  Keep saying it, look around, know you’re right.  Know you’re going well.  Hills come and go, the group thins.  Longer turns on the front now.  I can see who’s weak and strong.  I’m strong.  If we’re to get the front I’ll have to pull.  I do.  If I’m going to take it I’ll have to keep something in the tank.  History tells me that’s a greasy tightrope.

My glasses are almost impenetrable now; I’m soaked.  The chill’s crept through my overshoes and my toes are going.  The hands are still working, somehow.  Let’s get this done.  Hills are to be savoured, going up – warmth returns, and the guy who’s been sitting on is dropped and burning matches.  Another down.  The final hill, and I go.  It doesn’t last – I’m climbing well, but not that well.  We think we can see the front now, though – we’ll have more chance bringing it back if we stay together, the three of us that are left.

We get the last – well, we though it was the last, but turns out it wasn’t – a kilometer before the line.  I’ve fallen off the greasy tightrope again – too much time on the front.  Nothing left for the sprint.  Hard ride for nothing.  The finish comes and goes, no-ones hanging around.  There was no-one watching, either.  Within five minutes it might not have happened at all.  Back to a cold, miserable Sunday;  fireside reading and a roast.  Sun comes out on the journey home.

At the fork in the road

A couple of races into the back half of the season and things are going well.  True, I’ve only minor placings to show for a solid winter, but I’ve ridden strongly and attacked again and again.  Brains have been lacking, legs haven’t.

Danger lurks ahead, though.  Right about now complacency sets in:  I’m strong now, so I’ll stay strong all year.  A race a week and a couple of twiddles in the week will somehow see me improve.

They won’t.  Someone once said something about either depositing into or withdrawing from the Bank of Fitness, which is a line that I really should make a cracking double entendre from.  Right now, my balance is holding steady, but there’s been a few cracks round the edges.  If I’m not careful I’ll be skint before I know it.

Time trial pace is good.  Stamina’s OK too, but not really where it needs to be for the 100 miles of the Round the Mountain, my target race in two month’s time.

You can’t do everything, so for me there’s going to be a break from racing for a week or three and a block of long rides interspersed with VO2 max and recovery intervals.  Consistency’s the key now, and if I can build on my early season momentum rather than chucking it in the bin I’ll be on the start line at the end of October anticipating, not dreading.  Onwards!