Bad wheels, or bad luck?

Under any other circumstances, sitting outside on a sunny winters day at Rooi Els with a cup of cappuccino to complement the stunning views would more than enough to put a smile on my face. But when it is winter, and sunny days are rare, sitting looking at views is not something I’d trade for enjoying them from the saddle of my bike. And enjoying my midweek ride is just what I had been doing until my Easton EA 90 SLX wheels let me down again.

I’d made a concious decision to lead the group up the climb back from Betty’s Bay. It’s fairly long but not steep, making it perfect for settling into a nice brisk pace to spin up to the top. Being just four riders we ended up riding in twos: Penny alongside me at the head; and John and Tom tucked on our wheels behind. Energy wise, I’d judged the haul up well – as we crested the top I was starting to feel the effort in my lungs, although my legs still felt strong and energetic.

Starting the free-wheel down I was looking forward to seeing how well I would last the remaining few hills, given my recent lack of training and the decent pace we had kept up. But around halfway down I heard an ominous crack, followed immediately by a wobbling front wheel. I instantly knew it was another broken spoke, having had exactly the same experience at the end of the Wellington Lions ride back in February. I’m a fairly cautious (in other words slow!) descender, and Penny and John were already too far ahead to hear me cry out “mechanical“. Tom pulled alongside as my bike rapidly slowed under the involuntary braking of the no longer round front wheel. He graciously offered to wait with me, but there was really no point him also spoiling his ride so I bid him farewell and asked him to let the others know what had happened when he caught up with them.

Luckily Yolandi was at home, and the hour it took her to reach me passed quite quickly with the views, my coffee, and my inbox to work through. I wasn’t happy though: two spoke breakages in 8 months and less than 2,000km of usage is just not what I’d expected from high end wheels. Especially since everything else about them I like – they’re very light and spin very fast. But durable they are not, at least not the set I have.

Having done some internet research – it seems that there are many happy customers, with lots of distance on these wheels and no problems. There is no shortage of other unhappy riders though whose experiences pretty much exactly mirror mine – multiple and repeated spoke breakages with relatively low usage, and also loosening hubs which is something I had to get fixed just last week. So I’ve lobbied Helderberg Cycle World to try and get me either a replacement set or a refund from Omnico, the SA distributors. Hopefully I’ll get a rock solid set in replacement, and will be able to report back that I was unlucky with a defective set.

26 Jul 12 – Postcript to original entry:
Yet another case of superb service from Helderberg Cycles and Omnico, they replaced the wheels with a brand new boxed set. I can’t really say whether my set were just defective, or there is something inherent in the Easton’s that doesn’t suit my riding, but it’s great to have the support of my LBS and the importer in getting me a replacement set.

Photos from Easton website

New wheel’s come to life

I wondered if Merry knew that change was in the air. Starting from the gate, the clouds were grey and heavy, and the wind was fresh, bordering cold. I wasn’t particularly motivated to go cycling with the imminent threat of rain, and as I started to climb the first hill the rear gear’s started randomly slipping across the lower cogs whenever I stood and put pressure on the pedals. I stopped a couple of times to see if I could twiddle the barrel shifters to improve things, but a few Km down the road the real problem became clear. My rear gear cable snapped clean off at the shifter hood.

After a few moments tidying the mess, I turned for home, with the joy ahead of tackling the nasty Yonder Hill climb on my patched up 2 speed – the new gears being hard, and harder. It wasn’t yet 2pm though, and Helder Cycles would still be open. Despite the less than enticing riding conditions, I figured rather than waste the afternoon I could nip by and hopefully get the cable replaced and gears fixed. Luckily they weren’t too busy, and less than an hour later I was pedalling back up the R44. It took a lot of effort to ignore the slip road at the top of the hill and suppress the urge to head home to a warm couch and some trashy TV.

Merry behaved the rest of the ride, and although the threat of rain never diminished, it also never quite arrived either. Just spots here and there, but nothing to make me want to put my horrible sweaty, non-breathable rain jacket back on. I resolved to go online that evening and actually order the wet weather gear that I’d been slowly mulling over for a week or two.

Closing the garage door, I also wondered how often I’d be riding Merry again. With all the components now arrived, tomorrow would be build-up day for the new bike. Maybe the broken cable was just coincidence – but in over 4 years Merry had delivered trouble free riding. It’s bizarre for a breakage to happen the day before the new ride came together,

Pictured left is William of William’s Bike Shop part way through the build-up process.

As it turned out, the new bike wasn’t quite completed in one go on the Monday. The one component I had decided not to buy purely from internet research was handlebars, and sure enough that was the one item none of the local suppliers had stock of any of my preferred choices. In the end we decided to put a standard 42cm Giant bar on as a stopgap for now to let us complete the build and replace it with something fancier later.

The remainder of the build was completed on the
Thursday, with relatively few hiccups – just the odd screw thread not quite reamed out fully, but all things that William had the tools to sort out.

I’m not a weight weenie, but it was also a pleasant surprise to see how light the complete build had come out – a reasonably svelt 8.3kg. That will go up of course when the light race wheels and saddle are swapped out for their more durable and comfortable audax counterparts.

It was very hard to contain my excitement on the first ride. At last the new bike was a whole machine – not just a pile of components and dreams lying around in boxes on my office floor. That lighter weight was immediately noticeable on the first few climbs. Combined with the stiffer frame it made for a lively and spirited feel. Just the merest extra surge on the the pedal and she leaps eagerly forward, ready to race. The riding position is also quite different, although it felt very natural over the short 30km test ride I did with Marleen. It seems that Justin may have been right about my saddle height – William’s setup ended up very close to the 74cm bottom bracket to saddle top height he had predicted. The lower 72cm setup on Merry had occasionally felt cramped on recent rides, but it’s surprising it felt good at all.given how large a jump in saddle height 2cm is. I’ve also got a hunch that William was right about me needing a seatpost with more lay back. It’s only marginal, but I did find myself pushing out over the back of the saddle to get into a natural and powerful pedalling position.

That’s tweaks and fine tuning for the future though – for now, I’m greatly looking forward to putting some solid kilometres under Jolly‘s wheels. Oh yes, the name, Jolly. That was in fact my first choice, but my impression Dad’s gang had the nickname of The Jolly Boys proved to be mistaken. That minor detail doesn’t really seem to matter now though – those first few turns of the cranks put such a huge smile on my face that Jolly is clearly the perfect name. And it’ll still be a memory and link to dad, regardless of it only making sense because of my faulty memory.

All photographs by author.