If you asked Yoli about me I’m pretty certain that, in amongst some good qualities which she would hopefully mention, would be the fact that I am an obsessive worrier. I prefer to think of it as just being careful about planning, but Yoli’s assessment is I suspect closer to the truth. In all the years I have been travelling on business, I can’t remember ever missing a flight. I can, however, recall many times arriving at an empty checkin desk hours before departure to the amused look of the attendant who is more used to seeing doddery pensioners allowing hours more time than they need than smartly dressed business men. The only time I came close to missing my plane was because I arrived so early that everything was closed and I fell asleep waiting for the desks to open. Even then, my internal worry clock woke me just in time to make the flight.

My ability to obsess over things doesn’t just extend to travel. Any significant purchase ends up being endlessly researched, sometimes re-reading the same reviews and opinions multiple times to see if I missed some subtle point that might mean the item in question looked a a better or worse fit than an initial cursory read had suggested. Yoli had been winning the battle to get me to just buy stuff we needed and not worry so much until a spate of recent impulse purchases went bad, all of them needing to be returned, arguments with shop owners, refunds, credits and shopping for replacement items. To be fair though, the refund arguments were very few, in this day of internet shopping it’s good to see that a number of our local shops realise their edge is now service and there’s no quibbling over faulty or inadequate items. None of that helps Yoli though, I’m now worse than ever on wanting to research every tiny facet before the plastic comes out.

What has all this got to do with cycling you may be wondering? Well, if you hadn’t already gleaned it from the preceding entries, planning and acquiring the components for Jolly has been a perfect case in point. The one significant impulse buy I made during this last year’s heightened interest in cycling was the Easton wheels, and that went south in a bad way.

The ramifications of my Easton issues are still rumbling on too. Helderberg Cycle World and Omnico have been excellent and replaced the wheels, but my lack of confidence in the wheels means they are sitting in the garage unused, still wrapped and boxed. That has left me riding the old Shimano wheels from Merry, and scrambling around trying to get both my audax wheelset and my new general training and racing wheelsets sorted. And by “scrambling around” I of course mean obssessive worrying and large dollops of internet reading. Luckily many of our favourite TV series have recently ended, so the latter has mostly been done on the couch with with some trashy show on as background noise.

I have at last, I think, come to some decisions though – which will no doubt be a big relief to Yoli who is sick to her teeth of hearing about this rim, and that hub, or these spokes. Of course the names of these have about as much meaning to her as any brand of fashion would have to me, but despite that she mostly manages a smile and an encouraging nod rather than a “what the hell are you asking/telling me this for?“, which frankly would be more than justified.

And the winners are …

Choosing components for the audax wheels wasn’t difficult. There are a few tried and tested formulas, and it’s way simpler to follow one of these rather than, well, reinvent the wheel. I’ve opted for Mavic Open Pro rims, 32H front and 36H rear, laced with double butted spokes to Hope Pro3 hubs. For audax use strength outweighs lightness, hence the high spoke count, although the Mavic rims themselves aren’t particularly heavy. Hope hubs have a reputation for durability under harsh conditions, thanks in part to their sealed bearings. In fact, I will have an extra 32H front rim laced to a SON Dynamo hub, also a standard component on many audax machines. This wheel will get used for rides likely to have long night-time sections, which will include PBP since it starts at night. It’ll also quite probably get used on LEL too, given it is intended as a dress rehearsal for all of the equipment I plan to use on PBP.

It’s proved much harder to decide on a replacement for my Eastons since I want something that is both strong enough for everyday training and light enough for “racing” – by which I mean PPA rides where I care about my time, since I’m nowhere near fast enough to be actually racing anyone apart from my own shadow. The problem though, is not that there are few wheels which fit this bill, but there are way way too many. If you believe the marketing blurb, practical every wheel you can buy is “tough enough for training, yet fast enough for racing”. Frankly, most aren’t – my Eastons being a classic case in point. They were wonderfully fast on timed rides, but just didn’t seem to be able to soak up the day to day punishment. Maybe I’m just rough on my wheels, but whatever the cause it’s made me cautious of lightly spoked, race oriented wheels. In the end, despite the horrendous shipping costs from the UK, I decided to go with Velocity A23 rims, 24H front and 28H rear laced to Dura Ace 7900 hubs with Sapim CX-Ray bladed spokes. I had the hubs already, which helps offset some of the cost, as does the ability to sell my replacement Eastons at an “as new” price, since they are actually still new and unused. The bladed spokes are a bit of an extravagance, but their reduced weight and reputation for toughness were hard to resist. Plus of the many reviews I read on the A23 rims, most were laced with bladed spokes. This included some guys who had pounded them on dirt roads and muddy tracks without issues or breakages. It seems not everyone believes they need a a mountain bike to go offroad.

So there you have it – hours of research and dithering, boiled down to two short paragraphs. Yoli can heave a sigh of relief that the ear bending is over and the topic is done, and I can look forward to getting the new wheels built and tried out. Hopefully this won’t take long as being reduced to one set of wheels has held me back from setting Merry up as a permanent fixture on my newly acquired indoor trainer – a Tacx Bushido. And no, you don’t want to know how much prevarication that decision took, although I will write up some notes once I’ve had a chance to try it out.

On the positive side for Yoli, with this behind me I can start to work on that weatherproof bits and bobs cupboard for her vegetable garden, which has been overdue now since April. And, as it inevitable willl, when that process becomes a maze of interlinking options and decisions needing to be contemplated, at least it’ll be on a topic vaguely of interest to her.

Fitting the final details – pt 1

After some soul searching I opted to stick with SPD style pedals rather than going to a proper road pedal such as the Look KEO range which William and a few others had recommended. It wasn’t that I doubted the widsom of the advice, but experiences of seasoned audax riders suggest that walking safely and comfortable at stops wins out over strict pedalling efficiency.
With a bit of web research, the Shimano A600 pedals and RT-82 shoes seemed to be an almost ideal compromise. The pedals are light, single sided and have a much larger platform than a conventional mountain bike SPD pedal. The shoes are a touring shoe, also light and with a reasonably stiff sole, and an upper that is much closer to a road shoe design. Sadly, cycle touring doesn’t seem to be a big market for Shimano in South Africa and so neither were readily available locally, meaning an online order to the UK was needed. Wiggle were helpful as ever though.
The almost final part of the jigsaw for now,  was the handlebar. In fact, over the first few weeks riding Jolly, I came to like the entry level Giant bars that we’d fitted initially. So by the time my Wiggle order arrived with the pedals, shoes, and Ritchey Pro Biomax II bar I wasn’t really sure the new and more expensive bar would add very much. Having spent the money though, I figured I should at least give it a try and after a couple of weeks riding with them I’m very glad I did. Many of the reviews I’d read commented favourably on the the small “speed bump” sculpted into the drops, and I have to agree – it makes for a very comfortable position for riding in the drops especially after a prolonged period.
With these remaining pieces in place it was time to go have a proper bike fitting. A number of the Wannabees riders spoke highly of Erika Green and her husband Spook, of Daisyway Coaching Systems. Rather handily, they are just a short ride down the road from me, so a visit was clearly in order. In fact, we only got part way through the fitting. Spinning on the stationary trainer, Spook quickly confirmed that my saddle height was correct, but also agreed with William’s assessment that my saddle needed to go back approx 5mm further than my current seatpost allowed. That’s not great news, because it means I have two lovely expensive USE Alien Titanium seatposts that I can’t use. Worse still, it leaves me with just the similarly pricey Van Nicholas seatpost as the only Titanium post with a larger setback. We wrapped up this first part of the fitting with a proper cleat setup, and deferred further saddle and stem adjustments until I could get a Van Nicholas seatpost to try.
With a couple of rides done since the fitting, I can already feel the benefit of the proper cleat positioning – definitely helping for a smoother and more natural pedal stroke. I might be imagining it, but it feels like I can lay down more explosive power too when needed, but perhaps that is just a factor of my other training starting to pay off.
Just need to wait patiently now for the new seatpost before we can make those final adjustments – and hope that I can sell the surplus USE ones for a decent price locally.
Photographs of Shimano pedals, shoes, and Ritchey handlebar from the Wiggle cycle store website.
Photographs of USE Alien seatpost picture from Chain Reaction Cycles cyclestore website.

Pieces coming together

No racing this weekend and only light training now until the Argus on the 11th March, which gives some time to update on progress with the new bike. Or more accurately at this stage, the slowly accumulating pile of pieces that will hopefully all come together successfully in the form of the new bike.

The first delivery arrived a few days ago from SJS Cycles in the UK. 

Most significant are the two silver components on the boxes – the dynamo hub and the LED front light that it will power. These small, excruciatingly expensive pieces of German engineering are defacto choices for serious audaxing. I just hope that their reputation is worthy of the cost and distance they have travelled.

 Also pictured are the Brooks B17  saddle, and it’s saddle conditioning care kit. These also appear to be an almost automatic choice amongst long distance riders, but at this stage I cannot fathom why. I’m convinced the saddle would be only slightly harder if it was entirely fabricated from diamonds. I’m told that regular applications of the leather cream, and about 500km of riding will see it nicely softened and formed to my backside (or more likely my backside formed to it). Either way, at this stage I’m rather doubtful that it’s surface and my behind will have anything other than the briefest of encounters.

Another major milestone has been finalising the frame design with Justin Burls. Justin’s interpretations of my measurements and descriptions of riding style were spookily close to Merry’s current dimensions even in his first CAD drawing. A few emails ironed out the remaining kinks: lengthening the head tube a tad for more upright without an unsightly spacer stack; and room for mudguards with longer chainstays and altered fork angle to reduce toe overlap.

I’ve also pretty much settled on an Ultegra groupset. The luscious Italian lines of Campagnolo Chorus had me mesmerized for a long time. In the end though, the need for a special £200 tool to link or repair the 11 speed chain was a deal breaker. Not just for the ludicrous cost, but also the impracticality of carrying such a bulky item on a long ride. You can be sure the one tool you don’t have is the one you’ll most need, and that made the risk just too great. The chances of being able to find spares for and repair Shimano out on the road made it a much simpler choice even without the incentive of cost saving.

The use of mudguards and Kinesis DC07 forks also helped in the Shimano decision. The best choice for the long drop brake calipers that are needed to fit around mudguards looks to be the Shimano R-650s. These would look so badly wrong on a bike with an otherwise Campagnolo groupset – Nike sneakers poking out under an Armani suit. Although I’ve yet to source the Ultegra components, I found a great deal on the calipers from Buy Cycle, so with luck these should be here by the end of the week.

All positive strides towards the new ride and something to look forward to after the Argus.

During the Argus though, I’ll be one of many cyclists who pedal just that bit harder up Suikerbosse in memory of South African cycling legend, Ertjies Bezuidenhout, who passed away today.