the setback post

Month: December, 2013

TSP goes Euro – CX in Luxembourg

On grounds that I should witness at least one ’cross race in person before actually competing, Boxing day saw me and some surprisingly acquiescent family members at Luxembourg’s Fond-de-Gras at Differdange.

The race got off to a blistering start under leaden Continental skies, quickly heading offroad onto a course with an alarming amount of climbing.

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The crowd went wild. Dogs wore coats.

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As a huge #SVENNESS fan, I got excited when I realised Telenet-Fidea, a team I actually recognised, had a rider in the race. One Ben Boets, if I’m not mistaken.

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His pit crew were hard at work making his bikes look cleaner than anyone else’s.

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Soon enough, the race split up, with local favourite Christian Helmig looking strong at the front. He faded slightly as the race went on, ultimately finishing 5th. Dave de Cleyn (in black) was the eventual winner, finishing a scant 13s ahead of Joeri Hofman (in green).

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The view at the finish line.

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Because I like pink bicycles…

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As the race took its toll, trailing riders retired or were gently reminded to get out of the goddamn way.

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Under 23 champion Massimo Morabito came 11th.

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Much Di2 was in evidence, with lashings of Dugast and carbon.

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As the highest placing Luxembourger and recipient of the most shouts of encouragement, it was Helmig the press most wanted a piece of in the immediate aftermath.

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Second place was well earned.

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In keep with continental racing’s traditional scepticism about discs, I counted just three riders eschewing cantilevers. It came as a surprise that Christian Helmig was one of them, but this may be explained by the fact that he’s been racing in the US for the last few years where discs have all but taken over in the pro ranks.

What’s more significant is that this is the first time I’ve seen the new Shimano R785 hydraulics in the flesh. Helmig’s Specialized Crux sported the distinctive levers along with what appears to be custom Luxembourgish bar tape. Perhaps because of existing equipment constraints however, he was running 10 speed rather than 11.

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I’m not sure how much I learnt from all this, except that it is blatantly obvious I’m going to be destroyed when it comes to actual racing. How jolly.

Team Robot, I salute you

If you enjoy satirical bike industry bile, you’ll appreciate this.

Many of Team Robot’s criticisms could just as easily be levelled at road component manufacturers. I’m looking at you, Mavic.


Photo: Mavic

These at least have the saving grace of not being hideous, unlike certain other completely proprietary options.

Functionally, there’s nothing wrong with these products – at least in the short term – but to the mechanically-minded their inherent disposability is philosophically offensive.

BRB, hubs don’t polish themselves.


#SVENNESS 2.12 from In The Crosshairs on Vimeo.

They’re all good, but this one is worth watching for the completely humbling pace. And the opening tune.

Pasta Al-Fred-o

Bike pasta

An early Christmas present from the Geophysicist. She tells me it’s from foska.

I think it might be too nice to eat.

Things to look forward to (even though life is pain)

There are lots of bike reasons to be happy that you’re probably going to be alive in 2014. Not that we’re jinxing ourselves. In fact we’re staying indoors with the blinds drawn, padding around the Kuku Penthouse in our Assos slippers.


Photo: Assos via Ribble

Because I’m the sort of person that experiences actual rage about groupsets, I’m pleased that Shimano will almost certainly release an 11 speed 105 5800 groupset in 2014. Do I know this because I’m a huge industry insider douchebag? No, it’s because that’s what Shimano do.

Dura Ace 9000 blew our tiny minds which its extreme shininess and Ultegra 6800 is continuing the cerebral fellation by being ridiculously good value. Current UK prices are hovering just above the £500 mark with occasional dips below, which in bike dork terms is essentially free. After all, most roadies consider it gauche to leave the house without at least that much invested in their clothing alone, so the fact that I can drape my draisine in 11 speed splendour for less than the price of an iPhone is frankly outstanding.


Hey, aren’t those Mavics?

So what can we expect from 5800? Presumably, a carry-over of the current 11 speed groupsets’ stellar shifting. What’s most remarkable about 9000 and 6800 is the light and quick front changes, achieved using high cable tension and a new derailleur geometry that offers more leverage. The rear shifting is also a considerable improvement on the groupsets they superseded.

I’m not alone in regarding the 7900/6700/5700 generation as an aberration in shifting performance; Shimano had all but perfected things with 7800/6600/5600 but whilst the move to hidden cables was seen as ergonomic and aesthetic progress by most, it came at the expense of feel.

Naturally 5800 will be a little heavier than 6800, a little rougher looking, and a little bit cheaper. Given the aggressive pricing of 6800, I’m curious to see how much cheaper. I’m also curious as to whether 5800 will actually be 11 speed. It’s conceivable that in order to differentiate it from 6800, Shimano might stick to 10 at the back but trickle down the other key features. This would be good news in that 10 speed consumables are inevitably cheaper – 105 is the de facto winter bike groupset for many club riders – but bad news in that Ultegra and DA users would have to continue buying comparatively expensive chains and cassettes.

What else is there to look forward to? I’m hoping that discs for road levers might come of age. Not because I think road bikes need discs, at least not racing bikes, but because they make such a lot of sense for ‘cross and all-road. If 2013 is to be remembered as the year of the brake recalls, maybe 2014 can be the year brakes didn’t suck.

In pro cycling news, there’ll be truth and reconciliation, only it won’t be Truth and Reconciliation because that would be “inappropriate”. UCI President Brian Cookson has also announced that no one will ever again confuse “brakes” and “breaks”.

Rimjob – birth of a crank

In my role as the epitome of Fredly materialistic stupidity, I went through a phase of desperately wanting to own carbon wheels.

The sequence went something like this:

1. Buy expensive and beautiful carbon tubular race wheels. Because black. Because awesome whooshing sound. Because carbon. Use twice.


You can tell I’m bringing the hurt by the cross-chaining. Photo: Jarlath Flynn

2. Realise that swapping brake pads to accommodate said wheels is unbearably tedious. Contemplate selling.

3. Decide to mitigate brake pad problem by buying even more expensive set of carbon clinchers that are no lighter than much cheaper aluminium set I already own. Now I don’t have to swap pads. Carbon party all day long!

4. Realise that carbon braking sucks like Dyson, that in gale-force Scotland even a 32mm rim is pushing it for a gossamer-framed pixie like me, and that on the stiff-as-balls Scott, I need some sproing from my rims. Less clatter, more sproing. Also, realise that wheels are patently unsuitable for trips to foreign mountains, which as 0.1% of my riding must form the basis for all equipment choices.

5. Sell clinchers.

6. Sell tubs.

7. Curate strong opinions about handbuilts because get off my lawn.

Here endeth the lesson.

Campagnolo and the death of hope

This is not a love story.

I fell into Campag quite accidentally. My first serious road bike purchase – after the fixie and the somewhat oversized Cannondale – was from a popular internet retailer, which I’m going to call Wibble. Not for any particular reason, I just like to be ornery. Anyway, it came with a full Centaur groupset.


Ostensibly it was pretty good; it looked expensive with its carbon shifters and it worked well. I had no idea of the rabbit hole down which I’d be lead.

For starters, limiting yourself to Campag compatible wheels greatly complicates and reduces your options. In theory, all the major manufacturers support Campag and have done since Tullio invented the Pret wrap so his jersey pockets could remain unsoiled, or whatever it is he’s famous for.

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It’ll come to me.

In practice, third party support for Campag often feels like an afterthought. I had a set of Reynolds MV32 clinchers, which use DT 240s hubs. With the correct DT freehub fitted, a perfectly straight hanger, and a correctly set up rear derailleur, the mech would gently ‘kiss’ the driveside spokes in the biggest cog. This was with a 10 speed cassette. Given that Campag’s 11 speed cassette overhangs the base of the freehub even more, I don’t see how it could ever have worked. The internet is littered with the accumulated angst of a hundred similar problems.

Also, kittens.

Back to the Centaur. Most of the time it shifted fine but sometimes, it just wouldn’t. It took me a long time to figure out what was going on; it seems that by buying a bike in 2009 I’d unwittingly volunteered to be a guinea pig for one of a series of rolling changes Campagnolo was making to its product lines. Some critical details of the shifter internals were changed and long story short, they fucked up. In tacit acknowledgment of this, Campag actually made an upgrade kit (the memorably named EC-CE110) but it was only available for five minutes and I was too busy lancing saddle sores to notice.

Anyway, like I said, it worked most of the time. So like a good roadie, I put up with a little adversity.

Andy Hampsten Gavia

The snow is a metaphor for Italian engineering. Photo: Sirotti via Cycling News

Roll on 2011 and, dutiful gear-o-tard that I am, I built myself an honest to goodness titanium bike-for-life-not-just-for-Christmas and what did I choose as a groupset? Why, Campag of course – Veloce. Specifically, the new shiny downgraded Veloce featuring Power Shift (TM) levers and Power Torque (TM) cranks. Ah yes, those.

Again, on paper Veloce was a really good buy. It was cheap and in its defense, it’s quite nicely finished and the shifting is ok. Well, the rear is. The front is pretty agricultural.

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Gratuitous cow photo.

But the cranks? The cranks are really stupid. When Campag released this system there weren’t even any official tools for removing the chainset. You could install them no problem, assuming you had a totally standard and in no way unusual and massive 14mm allen key lying around. Removing them, on the other hand, requires an automotive style gear puller of the kind literally no bike mechanic owns.

Two years down the line, various tools are now available, with the Park version (a combination of the CBP-3 and CBP-5) costing around £100 at the time of writing. In comparison, a Shimano Hollowtech II chainset needs a £2 preload cap tool, a 5mm allen key, and a mallet to remove.

At some point I decided that my astonishing souplesse demanded the fitting of a compact in place of my standard double, and in any case I was sick of my cranks bearing mute metallic witness to my mechanical impotence, mocking my inability to remove them. I refused to buy the proper tools as this was to be a one time job, so with an £8 gear puller from a well known auction site, some odds and ends, and a lot of swearing and wincing, I got that fucker off and sold it.


Photo: AFP via Cycling News

As an interim measure, I’ve replaced the Veloce monstrosity with an older Centaur Ultra-Torque (TM) chainset. UT comes with its own drawbacks, but at last it’s easy to take on and off whilst I plot Campag’s demise.

Does any of this matter? Of course not. But it’s symptomatic of a company that frequently outdoes itself in its defiance of common sense. When Campagnolo introduced 11 speed in 2008 they stipulated that their chains could only be joined using their own chain tool (retail circa £150) because of the need to peen the end of the joining pin. Soon enough third party joining links became available, but naturally such an idea is far too simple for the likes of Campag.

Then came the Power Torque (TM) fiasco and most recently, in response to the plethora of crank and bottom bracket standards, Campagnolo thought it could do better and launched Over-Torque (TM). Would this be a study in mechanical simplicity? A paean to the company’s engineering heritage? Would it fuck. Yes, it’s light and stiff and carbon and whatever, but it requires yet another overpriced proprietary tool.

Don’t get me wrong. Campag makes and has made some beautiful components, but I’m done here.

Jonah and the disc brake: TRP Spyre recalled

It’s a safe assumption that if I express an interest in a product it will immediately either cease to be available or suffer some sort of critical failure. So naturally, it is no surprise that TRP (Tektro) has recalled the lovely looking Spyre disc brake. Every single one.

Full details here.

TRP Spyre

Photo: Tektro via Bikeradar

Hubris: Ultegra 6600 upskirt

Ultegra 6600

Oh baby.

’Cross examination: braking news

Rides like this have been an interesting exercise for me in exploring the limitations of a ’cross bike. I love that even with mud tyres, the bike really isn’t half bad on the road, and of course it opens up a realm of possibilities off-road. It is not, however, a MTB as the gearing and rigid fork do their best to remind me whenever the going gets gnarly and my lack of technical skills makes itself evident.

Moor CX

Gentle grassy rise? Bricking it. Photo: Jack Luke of

Being an obsessive, I’ve naturally already started refining my ideas about the ideal bicycle for this sort of thing. Leaving aside that my humble TCX lacks even a carbon fork, there are some non-negotiable features already being added to the spec for my dream ’cross/all-road/gravel-douching machine. Most obviously…

Disc brakes. Really, having used cantis off-road, I’m astonished it’s taking this long for road lever compatible discs to come of age. Cantis, even set up by a rockstar mechanic like me, suck. I’m already lusting after the new Shimano hydraulics, although some of the latest mechanical setups like the dual piston TRP Spyre look worthy of consideration:

TRP Spyre mechanical disc brake


…or perhaps the ingenious hydraulic/mechanical hybrid Hy/Rd:

TRP HyRd disc brake - rear


The arguments for and against discs for the road-only use have been hashed out, refined and regurgitated more times than I’ve had saddle sores (which is a lot of times, my taint is a warzone), so I won’t explore them again. What I will say is that for ’cross or any of the endlessly proliferating sub-genres of all-road bikes, I really don’t know why this is still up for discussion.

Sure, blame the UCI or years of tradition or blame the tiny weight penalty or just blame good old fear of change, but really, just get on with it. Discs work.