A Dying Art

This week saw the last stage of my original ideas for the build for Jolly come to fruition – completion of the race wheelset. The Dura Ace hubs have been languishing in the box of bike bits alongside my desk for what seems like months. It took me a long time to decide on the Velocity rims that they would be built into and even longer to get hold of the rims and spokes. Even now, really observant bike enthusiasts might notice in the picture below that not all is quite right – the front wheel is currently laced in a two cross pattern with a standard double butted spoke. It’s a bit of a long saga, but the CX Ray bladed front spokes are stuck in the South African postal system, held up by a recent transport strike. I just couldn’t wait any longer though, with the DC just around the corner I desperately needed to get out on the new wheels and run them in and so gave William the go ahead to do an interim job with spokes he had in stock.

Pictured left is William doing some last minute truing when I picked the wheels up last week. I remember his comment about wheel building dying out in bike shops when we first discussed the wheel build, so I count myself lucky to have a local guy and shop so capable in the art. The Mavics which I’ve been riding for the last few weeks were also built by William, and they’ve been an absolute joy to ride – fast and true. But their intended purpose is Audax riding, and the added weight which that extra durability carries has seen me lagging at the back battling every climb on our recent training rides.

I was excited to get the wheels home and fitted on to Jolly – in fact so excited I forgot to weigh them, so that’s something I’ll have to try and remember to do at some stage. The Mavics came out at 840g for the front and 1020g for the rear, so just shy of 1900g for the set. Not bad for a high durability build, but at a guess these race wheels feel to be at least 300g or so lighter.

The first test ride this weekend did not disappoint either – I’ve never been a fast descender, but was easily up with the front of our group racing down the far side of Helshoogte, and despite very poor visibility we also sped down Franschhoek pass. On both descents the wheels felt extremely stable and solid. I’ve got used to the larger footprint of a 28mm tyre on the Mavics and so was expecting a few jitters going back to a 23mm tyre, but I hardly noticed the change.

As for the climbs, no more hanging at the back for me – at least not because of the weight of my wheels anyhow. I was easily able to increase the cadence to keep up with the quicker climbers where I wanted too.

All in all a superb outcome – they look great too. I must confess I thought the Velocity claims about the rim giving clincher tyres something closer to a tubby profile were probably marketing BS, but the tyre does look visibly rounder and seems to roll very smoothly onto it’s edges through corners. The only qualm now is whether to actually bother re-lacing that front wheel when the bladed spokes arrive. A radial lacing and bladed spokes will definitely look better, but as things stand the wheel feels extremely strong so I’m not sure if it’ll really be worth it.

All photos by Rob Walker

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.