Tuesday, 19 April 2016


Last year I bought my first pair of upmarket bibshorts. I´d been struggling on longer rides and thought maybe a decent pair of shorts might make all the difference. And with L´Éroica coming up I went for this pair of Vélobicci ´Victor´ bibs.
P.S. Not modelled by me obviously.

So I set off for a ride (L´Éroica) a few days later on the the Vitus 979, and about half way through  realised that I hadn´t even noticed the saddle. Now this was a first. Normally by this time I'm spending half the time out of the saddle trying to give my rear end a rest. Wow, I thought, the shorts are amazing - my worries are over!

But only a few days later I wore the same bibs on the Enigma with its Fizik Aliante, and the difference was far less marked. An improvement perhaps, but not the magic carpet ride I´d experienced on the Vitus.

So I assumed it must be the saddle. For the Vitus I bought a beaten up old Brooks Swift on eBay for about thirty five quid.

I´m not sure how old this Swift is. On the Brooks website they say the Swift is ´the youngest gentleman's racing saddle in the Brooks range´, and ´On introduction the Swift was offered only with lightweight titanium rails. However, due to popular demand, since 2008 we also offer the Swift Chrome, with traditional steel underpinnings, finished to our usual high standards with bright polished chromium plate.´

But this saddle looks way older than that, unless it was used every day since 2008?
Maybe it was.

So anyway, I was lucky enough to be offered a titanium railed Swift at a special tester price. 
And it´s now on my comuting bike (the Surly Crosscheck) getting broken in.

It´s a decent 384 grams on my kitchen scales, the lightest saddle in the Brooks range I believe.
So far, as you'd expect with a new leather saddle, it´s nowhere near as comfortable as the ´vintage´ Swift, but is already improving with use.

So with bikes getting lighter and lighter it'd be perfectly possibly to have a Brooks on your super light road bike and still be under the UCI's 6.8Kgs minimum. 

Below are some other classic or well known saddles and their weights. 

The Turbo was considered lightweight back in the day....

Above: The trusty Brooks Professional from my commuting bike.
Weighty, but comfortable!

Monday, 18 April 2016


So eighteen months ago my Enigma Étape became my only road bike (unless you include the vintage Vitus 979), a well intentioned attempt to reduce the number of bikes littering the house.
And the bike certainly hasn't let me down. It´s been great.
However... there now follows a lists of reasons (excuses) to buy a new summer bike...

1. Hiring lighter bikes while on holiday has left me with the feeling that I´m ´missing out´.
2. I´m 60 in September and (the following statement is, believe it or not, true), my wife suggested that I buy a new bike as a birthday present to myself.
3. The Enigma weighs just over 9Kgs with mudguards/fenders. It wasn't supposed to. According to the component manufacturers' quoted weights, it should have been in the lower regions of 7Kgs

[More about this subject some other time. It makes me cross.]
4. New bikes are good.
5. Buying new bikes is good for the economy.

So I've been looking for something a bit like the Canondale Synapse Ultegra that I've been using on holiday in Gran Canaria. It's quite light. It's pretty comfortable. It matches my cycling jersey.
Or possibly something a bit more upmarket. Which would please my pal Nick 'Angry' Von Vader who seems to hate all bikes with less than a £4K price tag.
That might be because he's a bicycle mechanic.
It might also be because he likes to see me spending my money.

So rather than the 'ordinary' carbon Synapse Ultegra, I looked at the Canondale Synapse hi-mod Dura-Ace.
Or, there´s the Trek Émonda SL 6 2016 £1800 7.7kg (despite average wheels).
There´s the Fuji SL 1.5 2016 6.4kg (light but too too racy for me?)
Or how about the Orbea Orca M20 £2,399 7.8kgs (despite average wheels)?

Nick of course recommended nothing under about five grand. The cheapest frame was about £3,500. 
We can only dream. He suggested this lugged Colnago C60 special edition costing about £12,000, so way out of my league. But stunning.

Anyway, I work a hundred or so yards from Condor cycles and have previous owned an Acciaio (my first road bike), and often wander around in the basement keeping my eye on the latest models. (And the sale prices).
To be honest, I´ve always thought they´re ever so slightly out of my league, and have normally ended up being seduced by the idea of the ´better value´ offered by internet or mail order manufacturers like Canyon or Ribble. With mixed results.
But one Condor that leapt out at me a year or so back was the Leggero limited edition in blue and ´limone´, the frame manufactured in Italy using carbon from japan, and really rather beautiful. I tweeted a photo of it (@elprezcyclismo) saying it was one of the prettiest bikes around, and received more retweets that for any of my other cycling tweets.

So I popped in recently to look at helmets, and found myself drifting down to the basement to look at wheels, as you do. Condor´s Julian Cunnington and I were talking about my Mavic Kysyriums SLS set, and mentioned that their baby brother Élites were part of a special offer Leggero package. The frame retailed at £2,500 and yet the entire bike was available for £2,999.00 with the Élite wheels, a full Ultegra groupset, and Fizik finishing kit and saddle. 

And I´ve only heard good things about the Leggero.
Well, the next thing I knew I was on the bike fit rig, and now I´m sorted. There´s now a five week wait. So it should be ready just in time for summer.

The Enigma Étape will sit there quite happily as a classy winter bike, and I´m almost 100% certain that´ll be the case for many years to come. It´s around 8.6Kgs without guards, which is a bit heavy to be a proper summer bike. Oddly, it was 8.5 WITH guards last time I weighed it (!). And when I selected the components for the bike I took into account the claimed weight of each part. It should have been under 7.5Kgs. Bit disappointing that, component manufacturers!
Anyway, I'll certainly never need to buy a touring bike or another wonter bike.


Now do I need a set of Zipps 404s? Or are Cosmic Carbones better value? Or stick with the SLS wheels (I´ll put the Élites on the Enigma). Decisions, decisions...

Wednesday, 6 April 2016


Gran C Cycling

I've posted a few photos on Facebook recently, of me smiling stupidly on top of various (small) mountains in Gran Canaria, next to or near the bike that was largely responsible for me making it to the top.

Of course had the snaps had been taken just minutes before, as I slogged my way up to the top, it would have been a very different look. 

So what about the family? Well, the plan is normally to set off before they're up, and make it back in time for a late breakfast. None of the rides have been very long, the longest being two and a half hours (but with between 700 and 1400 metres of climbing).

Even so, all of these rides have had one thing in common: shortly after hitting the first serious gradient, anything over about 5%, I've found myself wondering what the hell it is that I think I'm doing. 
It hurts. And I know it's going to hurt a lot more as I keep going up. 
Within a few yards the temptation to stop pedalling, or make a u-turn and head home, is almost overwhelming. 

Obviously (as you can tell with a glance at the photo) I'm not a professional. I'm not even a decent amateur, I'm just someone who six years ago caught the cycling bug for no apparent reason, despite being physiologically totally unsuited to it. I'm too tall (heavy), with skinny legs (not enough power). Power to weight ratio? About as far from Laura Trott's as it's possible to go.  And as I hadn't played football for more than two decades I was, pre cycling, aerobically a disaster zone, despite the
occasional jog around Clapham Common. We're talking about a classic Middle Aged Man In Lycra. 

So why do I keep pedalling up the mountain, despite logic and good sense dictating I shouldn't? 
Well I asked myself that very question today, and here's what I came up with:

Firstly, if I keep going it will easier next time. And the time after that, it might be easier still. If I stop, it'll be harder next time, probably much harder.

Secondly, there's always a remote chance that I'll be faster this time than the last time I did it, or better still, faster than one of my friends I follow on Strava, the App that records and measures your rides in hideous detail.

Thirdly, there's always the hope that maybe I'll receive an encouraging nod from someone speeding down the mountain as I pant and sweat my way up - perhaps Fabian Cancellara, out for a training ride. He might even invite me for a mid-ride cappuccino while we discuss his chances at this year's Paris-Roubaix; or perhaps he'll want to help me sort out my riding position, or sort me out with a tailor-made training plan to take back to London. 
This is what goes through your mind when it's starved of oxygen, and hope. 

But one of the appeals of cycling is that with the right kit, and the right bike, it's possible for most cyclists to at least look 'pro', something it's less easy to do for a Formula One, or WWF fan.

This year I've suffered like a dog because I've not put the miles in since my mum died in October; and somehow three Kgs of fat have mysteriously attached themselves to my waist without me noticing.

After nine straight days of getting out on the bike, if only briefly, some of that fat has returned from whence it came, and the hills, while not exactly getting easy, have become a little less gruelling.

There are other reasons why I've kept the pedals turning over; 
The post-ride chemically induced euphoria. 
The desire to keep active with retirement being not too far off (with two young boys to watch growing up, and a daughter's achievements to enjoy for as long as possible). 
Then of course there's the belief that if I somehow get faster I'll deserve a better (more expensive), lighter, more aerodynamic bike. After all, the bikes used by the professionals are much more within the reach of the amateur cyclist than a Formula One car would be to a petrol head. 

But lastly, I'll be 60 in September, and that's a bit scary. But I'm not planning to slow down. And I know, because many of them regularly overtake me when I'm spinning round Richmond Park, that there are plenty of fast, fit cyclists out there who are way older than me. 
But to get to be like them, I've gotta keep the pedals turning over when I'm struggling up that hill or mountain, even when surrender seems a better option. 
And also, if I packed it in, Fabian would never forgive me!

For anyone interested, my main rides in Gran Canaria are from Maspalomas up Montaña La Data, or Monte Léon, both of which are the same geographical feature, just different ascents. My other ride is supposed to take me to Fataga and back. But I haven't quite made it yet.  But I will next year!

The bike was a very nice carbon Canondale Synapse Ultegra, rented from the Free Motion hire shop (recommended) at about 22per day.
I liked it so much it's on my list of bikes to buy.

And here are some shots of the roads and views. 
You'll see from the map that the roads around the Monte Leon don't lead anywhere, so they're only used by local traffic, meaning you'll hardly see a car all day:

And here's the missus, half way up...


A couple of Strava segments in case you're visiting Gran Canaria...