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.

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Bike bones

And just like that the long wait was over – the UPS delivery guy was at my gate.

The last couple of weeks settling into the new winter training routine has distracted me nicely, but the excitement returned when I heard the van pull up outside.

Immediately I was struck by how light the package was, but that was nothing to how ridiculously little the frame weighed when unpacked. The look and feel is metal, but close your eyes and the titanium evaporates leaving you holding nothing but air.

Every bit of research I’ve done suggest that the weak spot, if there is one, in a frame is the quality of the welding. I am no expert, but to my untrained eye the quality of Justin Burl’s russian frame makers looks pretty darned good – even and tidy welds all around. Time will tell, but so far I’m very impressed.

Also packed into the box were the USE Alien titanium seatpost, Ortlieb bar bag for essential supplies on those long audax days and nights, and most importantly the Kinesis DC07 front forks. I’d not come across the Kinesis brand until Justin recommended them to me, but they feel reassuring solid without being overly heavy. Importantly, they have discrete mudguard eyelets behind the drop outs, not something you’d ever use on local fun rides and day races but vital for staying dry on long all-weather endurance events.

The last major piece of the jigsaw is the Ultegra groupset. I lucked out on this and got an absolute bargain at the Argus expo a few weeks back.

Hopefully all these parts will come together nicely next Monday on build day, and by this time next week I’ll have words and pictures to post from the build up and inaugural ride.

I may also have decided on the new bike’s name by then – there’s a few candidates floating around in my mind, but I don’t think she can really be named until we’ve connected on that first ride.

All photographs by author.

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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.  

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As sweet as Ti

“Be a Measurer”

Came the words of amused encouragement from Yoli, shortly after we moved in together. We’d bought a blackboard from IKEA for the kitchen in our newly rented apartment and I was busy hanging it, spirit level in hand. She wasn’t used to anyone actually making sure things were level or centred, and to this day enjoys poking fun at me whenever I reach for the measure to a DIY task.

It was payback time this week though, when I appointed Yoli chief measurer – of me! I’m not sure she had ever held a spirit level before, and the irony of her doing so wasn’t lost on either of us after that fondly remembered proclamation all those years ago.

Measuring for a bike frame it seems is quite a lengthy process, eigth steps in all each needing to be done a few times to get a good average. Yoli did a patient and sterling job, aided by the excellent instructions at Competitive Cyclist to ease the process

Next step was feeding all these in and getting some actual frame geometries.

Competitive Fit (cm) Eddy Fit French Fit
Seat tube range c-c: 53.9 – 54.4 55.1 – 55.6 56.8 – 57.3
Seat tube range c-t: 55.6 – 56.1 56.8 – 57.3 58.5 – 59.0
Top tube length: 54.5 – 54.9  54.5 – 54.9 55.7 – 56.1
Stem Length: 11.2 – 11.8 10.1 – 10.7 10.3 – 10.9
BB-Saddle Position: 73.4 – 75.4 72.6 – 74.6 70.9 – 72.9
Saddle-Handlebar:  53.2 – 53.8 54.0 – 54.6 55.7 – 56.3
Saddle Setback: 5.2 – 5.6 6.4 – 6.8 5.9 – 6.3

At this stage, I have to confess the above are something of a jumble of numbers to me. All I can really say is they feel “not far off” i.e. some of the key dimensions, like BB to Saddle top aren’t that far off my current frame. That’s where I hope the skill and experience of my frame builder, Justin Burls, will step in and save me from my own ignorance. A long conversation with Justin today has certainly eased my nervousness at translatiing the numbers accurately into a a design that matches my ideas.  
You see that is the point of this whole excercise – a beautiful, hand crafted bike frame that is totally customised to my dimensions and aspirations. And not just any bike frame, a Ti frame built and welded in Russia by former submarine engineers. I almost feel like it should come etched with some bold iconic soviet symbols to celebrate it’s birthplace – a hammer and sickle maybe?
As I type this my email box has just pinged at me, and I see that Justin has already come back with his first draft design. The PDF has hardly loaded before I’ve already mentally translated the CAD outline into metal form, mounted up and am imagining racing down the kilometers
Patience will have to rule for now though, before we can take that inaugural ride together there’s a lot to be done, and first up I need to print out the design and go compare it to Merry. Time to be a measurer again.
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