the setback post

Category: Editorial


When reviewing an Italian bike or component, the following words are strictly forbidden:

  • flair
  • heritage
  • passion
  • pedigree
  • stallion
  • steed
  • style
  • thoroughbred

When reviewing a German or Swiss bike or component, the following words are verb-oten:

  • efficiency
  • precision
  • wurst
  • genocide

Let’s do this.

It takes a village

If you’re wondering why things have been a little slow here this week, it’s because being an industry insider a douchebag is quite literally a full-time job. With, like, hours and uh… work.

However, some stories are just too important not to mention.

For those of you who didn’t grow up on a diet of loose leaf tea and middle class radio: the United Kingdom has a station called Radio 4, and on that station lives a beloved soap opera called The Archers, broadcast since 1950. It started life as “an everyday story of country folk”, and it’s entire 64-year narrative arc is best summed up by the following image:

bull mountingPhoto: Boston Public Library*

From time to time, celebrities do cameos on The Archers, and to the delight of cyclists and sideburn enthusiasts everywhere, Sir Bradley Wiggins is to appear on the programme on March 21st.

“Wiggo” will attend Ambridge to judge the winner of the village’s Sport Relief charity event.

“It’s not every day you get to star in the world’s longest-running soap opera,” said Sir Bradley.

“When I was asked to record a Sport Relief special for The Archers, there was no way I could turn it down,” he said. “I grew up with it on the radio in the house.”

While in Ambridge, the cyclist will also have an “amusing encounter with Lynda Snell and her rusty old bike”, according to programme makers.

When I heard the news, I was all:

The real question is, will he call her a cunt?

*If you were annoyed by the fact that all the visual cues in this photograph point to the United States rather than rural England, I recommend this game.

The patron’s taint

chamois-creamPhoto: Anand

Yesterday, for the first time in years, I went on a proper ride (that is to say, not a quick jaunt across town) without slathering my undercarriage in that most mystical of roadie salves, chamois cream.

And you know what? I was fine.

I’ve always been susceptible to saddle sores and I’ve been using products like Udderly so religiously that I’ve come to assume they were mandatory. I can’t remember when I adopted the balm ritual, but it seems likely it was around the time I first wore padded shorts.

The problem was, my first few pairs were bargain basement crap that chafed as much as they helped, so naturally I sought perineal succour in the form of traditional cyclist’s ointments.

But do I actually need them for every ride? Am I a victim of the Big Unguent marketing machine?

Watch this space. [Indicates crotch.]

Braking news: harmjoy edition

It’s not nice to take pleasure in others’ misfortune. In fact it’s so not nice, the Germans invented a word for it: schadenfreude, which literally translates as harmjoy*. So when I post this job ad from SRAM, please rest assured that I am not amused:


I’m especially not amused by this bit:


And this bit:


Because, ouch.

This presumably means that the poor bastard in charge of SRAM brake development fell on his sword, which would be quite upsetting if it weren’t a “transitionary” mechanical sword with only half the disembowelling power of the recalled hydraulic version.

In all seriousness, this sounds like a pretty cool job, at least until the next round of recalls.

[*This would be an awesome name for a bike by the way. I should trademark it and then find someone to sue.]

Gwen Stefani’s favourite fruit

Forgive the lull, but change is afoot – the good kind. To get yourself in the mood, pop a relevant song on and look at this awesome cutaway of a banana I made which has nothing whatsoever to do with bicycles.

banana (1 of 1)Just look at it!

Although, having said that, bananas could be used as evidence of the existence of a higher power. And if God really is behind them, I think it’s safe to say He’s a cyclist, because bananas are ideally shaped for jersey pockets and taste of ambrosia and joy after a few hours in the saddle; unlike those cheap supermarket cereal bars I still buy for some reason, which taste like recycled cardboard.

Being rather picky, the only difficulty I have here is that I like my bananas at the greener, crisper, chalkier-tasting end of the spectrum and after fifty miles in a sweaty lycra pouch, even the most vibrant of fruits can look a little tired. [WANG JOKE GOES HERE.]

All this banana talk is really just a convoluted setup for this link, which makes banana refrigeration (yes, really) seem like a far more compelling subject than you might think.

I like mine at ripeness level 4, by the way.

Raleigh round kids, Gamps is tellin’ a story!

So 2007 called, and they want their blog post back.

raleigh blog

More like, it’s as smelly as it is dirty. It drinks as much beer as it is dirty.

Raleigh wants you to know that they get it:

raleigh gets it

Presumably “it” is corporate pandering to a subculture that was sort of cool five years ago. Of course, they’re pulling of a kind of double-pander* by netting the lucrative “aspiring bike messenger” and recent cyclocross convert demographics, which is no mean feat.

[*A position you'll go to jail for trying in China-land. #culturallyinsensitiveinnuendo]

Mockery aside, Raleigh are doing one thing right. Their ’cross bikes are just lovely, especially this blue beauty with it’s oh-so-butch-yet-beautiful-I-just-feel-so-safe ENVE disc fork.

©Earl HarperThe RXC Pro Disc. So hot right now. (Well, in 2012.) Photo: Raleigh

It doesn’t have thru-axles though, so Bikesnob would like it and James Huang will be Angry [sic].

I should point out, by the way, that this isn’t actually a new model or anything, I just wanted some yang to balance my grumpy yin. And you can’t actually buy one of these in the UK in any case, so Raleigh is in no danger of becoming cool here.

In other news, my ongoing project to become an industry insider douchebag has taken a small Great Leap Forward.

great leap forwardWhat is it with me and the Chinese today?

I’m not ready to go public, but I’m the guy riding the giant fixie cog across the ocean of success in this scenario.

What makes a cheap bike, cheap?

bikes-pump-trackPhoto: Will Vanlue

People who don’t know much about bicycles but who do know that I like them often ask me incredibly stressful, open-ended questions like “What road bike would you buy for £600?”

[TSP note: I've picked this number because it's roughly the minimum amount of money (at normal retail pricing) you can spend and get a road bike that isn't, for want of a better word, shit.]

The problem is that my own personal answer and the answer that would actually be useful to them are completely different from one another. Given a budget of £600 I would scrimp and scrounge for a decent frame and some used groupset parts, likely aiming only to buy a chain, cassette, cables and bar tape new. I’d also build my own wheels and find uses for the some of the random assortment of parts that litter my flat.

This approach is not an option for someone lacking the time, tools or mechanical nous to build their own bike, and it’s a complete non-starter if high street bike shops are your only resource for parts. So what does £600 buy you in a bike shop? Let’s look at an example.

[TSP note: I'll write something cutting and hilaire in a minute, stop putting your coats on and sit your asses down.]

Exhibit A – The Trek 1.1

trek11-640Photo: Trek

There’s a lot to like here. Ok, the paintjob on this particular model is decidedly meh (the more expensive 1.2 and 1.5 are somewhat nicer) but for £600 you can leave the shop with a reasonably capable road bike with a sensible range of gears, geometry that will work for most people, mudguard compatibility, a carbon-legged fork and Trek’s lifetime frame warranty.

So why don’t we all ride these?

Well, aside from being aesthetically underwhelming, there are a number of ways that Trek keeps the price down. Although the 8 speed Claris groupset benefits (in a distinctly diluted manner) from the trickle-down that started many moons ago with the flagship Dura Ace 7800, you’re actually only getting the shifters and mechs from it. The rest is a mixture of bog-standard generic parts including a weighty square taper chainset and bottom bracket combination, and some indifferent unbranded brake calipers.

The wheels are heavy and basic too, with primitively sealed cup and cone hubs that the average Trek 1.1 buyer will neglect, and likely kill, before the rims have reached the end of their natural life from brake wear.

Digging a little deeper, we can see from the spec that the headset features “semi-cartridge bearings”. This rather mealy-mouthed term actually denotes low-grade caged bearings hidden under a basic seal – they aren’t cartridge bearings at all and they are not particularly resistant to a harsh operating environment like, say, winter.

In a similar vein, entry level bikes like this are often sold with with very cheap cables, including non-stainless inners that quickly fall victim to corrosion, leading to poor shifting and sluggish brakes.

And that, essentially, is what makes a cheap bike cheap. It’s not a matter of snobbery – a bike like the 1.1 is not fundamentally bad, and the frames are good enough quality that you could quite reasonably take the approach of gradually replacing parts as they wear out or seize up; but it’s important to understand when shopping for a bike that the differences between a £1200 bike and a £600 one are rather more nuanced than just the number of gears, or a few grammes here and there.

To show I’m not picking on Trek (they just happen to be a brand with which I’m intimately familiar) let’s take a look at…

Exhibit B – the Trek Madone 2.3

madone23-640Photo: Trek

 Ok, so it’s twice the price of the 1.1. So it must be half the weight and twice as fast, right?

[TSP note: As it turns out, this topic is not the rich seam of comedy I'd imagined and I'm starting to depress myself. For some light relief, check out this product manual that Trek hilariously still keeps on their website. It's funny because LIES. ALL LIES.]

Well, no.

But in addition to a lighter, more pretend-aero frame with a snazzy tapered headtube, you do get almost a whole 105 groupset (the cranks are non-series, but still decent). Compared to Claris, 105 gets you two more cogs at the back, hidden shifter cables and parts that are considerably harder wearing and more resistant to corrosion over time. With the 2.3 you also get gen-yoo-wine catridge bearings in your hubs and your headset, and a carbon seatpost.

So, in conclusion, the answer to the original question is that the bike you should buy for £600 costs just £1200.

You’re welcome.

Harder, Better, Faster, Hotter?

wigginstdf2012Photo: Robert King

According to the news today, “faster” cyclists are more attractive. Naturally, this has me worried.

The findings come from a paper by Erik Postma, published in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, which details a study in which female participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of riders who completed the 2012 Tour de France.

While the conclusions appear ostensibly intuitive, it strikes me that using stage race results is a flawed way of determining who is “faster”. The Tour isn’t a test of who is the fastest cyclist per se, it’s a test of who is best at winning the Tour, a feat that depends on a great many variables, including luck.

In fairness, the analysis does make use of the riders’ individual TT times and the author acknowledges the potential for error in his methods section:

“Professional cycling, and especially a three week stage race like the Tour de France, involves a substantial amount of tactics and teamwork.”
“Note that, depending on their role in the team (helper or leader), riders vary in their motivation to finish in as little time as possible. Although this role is likely to be correlated with their abilities, this will introduce some error. Also, I only measure one aspect of performance, emphasising endurance capacity and the ability to perform consistently over a relatively long period of time, and thereby this measure of performance is biased against sprinters and pure climbers.”

I’m not qualified to assess the quality of the statistical analysis so I may be talking out of my chamois, but it seems to me that rather than merely introducing error, the inherent flaws in the premise of the study render the results essentially meaningless.

Or in other words, slow is hot too.

We need to talk about shaving

Actually, we don’t.

In the next couple of months the usual suspects are going to run pieces about whether or not you need to shave your legs, and they’ll trot out a bunch of half-baked reasons, half-truths and bullshit lore. The terms “rite of passage”, “ritual” and “tradition” will come up a lot, and they’ll be accompanied by lots of bulging quad porn.

iamroadiehearmeroar500 (1 of 1)Thank Christ for wide angles.

Essentially, no one cares if you shave your legs, in the same way that no one cares if you have splash bar tape or a helmet from the mid-90s held together with gaffer tape. If those are your choices though, don’t be surprised if you’re shunned for your total disregard of others’ aesthetic sensibilities. Amateur cycling is a game of preening imitation and whether you admit it or not, the moment you pull on your team kit or your club’s jersey (the one with the logos of your local bike shop and the treasurer’s landscape gardening company on it), you are pretending to be a professional cyclist.

Why else would you choose to wear your matchy-matchy outfits? Why else do you “train”? Why else would you pay for the privilege of of earning your 38th place in a Cat 4 road race on grey, unspectated B roads, if you don’t subscribe to some higher ideal of what riding a bicycle means?

It depends on my mood whether I cast this behaviour in a light of noble futility or pathetic self-delusion, but either way it’s pointless in the broader, cosmic sense.

So yes, shave your legs. Or don’t. No one cares.

Little boxes


It’s easy to imagine that being a mechanic is a perpetual cycle of polishing carbon and servicing buxom wenches’ bottom brackets, but the reality has more to do with packaging.

This falls into two categories. The first is the sexy kind: the kind you arrange in a pile to take a photo of for your three (3) blog readers and which you agonise about discarding when a build is completed. Opening this stuff is the secret joy of building bikes, your own or other people’s. A single build is two birthdays and a Christmas worth of ripped apart cardboard and shredded plastic, and there’s a shivering, guilty pleasure in being the first to fondle a new groupset or a frame that’s never been touched, at least never intimately.

The second kind of packaging is the bane of the shop rat’s life. It’s the fussy, messy mass of tape and plastic and corrugation that stands in the way of wheeling a bike onto the shop floor. The setup of a pre-built bike is fifty percent making sure the wheels allow motion and that the brakes impede it to the correct degree, and fifty percent tearing, hacking, peeling and flattening.

I love the first kind; the second makes me tired.

If all this is too highfalutin and tedious, here’s a video of Norway’s answer to Graham Norton inviting people to guess what the bulges in Thor Hushovd’s bibs are.

You’re welcome.