the setback post

Category: Editorial

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.

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 The rear shifting is also a considerable improvement on the groupsets they superseded.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”.

’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.

Winter Riding: Welcome to the Suck

This is the time of year that separates the men from the boys, the sheep from the wolves, and the lazy from the uh… whatever. My newsfeed is full of exhortations to buy a turbo trainer or a megawatt of LED lighting so I’ve acquired the former and put it under the bed for safekeeping. It’s like the shit follow car they use as a threat in a Top Gear challenge only I’m under no obligation to use it, regardless of how little I ride my bike outside because it’s too cold and I resent the feeling of intrusion I get when my genitals retreat inside my torso in a futile bid for warmth.

Rapha would have us believe that cycling in the winter is a Herculean struggle pitting man against the elements which of course is true but rly guise?:

Rapha Winter

Outside was hard: winter is hard like the truth is hard. But the only place in winter where a bike rider can find warmth isn’t under the sheets with their head turned to deny the day, it is in the moment that you walk back through the front door with the harshness of winter defeated behind you. Only there you will find your warmth; only there you will find your comfort.

Actually I find quite a lot of comfort by staying under the old 13 tog.

There’s a problem with winter riding – it sucks. No matter how perfectly judged your attire, you’re on a constant knife edge when it comes to controlling your body temperature. Two base layers, a jersey and an insulated jacket are great when you’re cruising on the flat but should you choose to climb a hill, cue overheating, getting covered in sweat, and then freezing on the descent. For a delicate flower like me, no amount of ‘technical clothing’ or forward planning seems able to overcome the fundamental incompatibility with Mother Nature.

So what’s the solution? What I do on a bike couldn’t accurately be described as “training” but like most roadies I’d like to suck less. I’ve also been stupid enough to enter a ‘cross race in January and I’d like my humiliation to be of the ‘whimsical anecdote material’ variety rather than the ‘bringing eternal shame to the family name and being forced to woodchipper my bike and ritually eat the fragments’ kind.

Giant TCX

I’ll remove the Ass Saver and Strava my ride first, naturally.

All of this is just an excuse to post a picture of my ‘cross bike really. That’s 9 speed Tiagra baby, no expense spared. Will it rekindle the joy I may or may not have once felt about riding in the winter? We shall see. It would perfectly valid to question why I do any of this, and question it I do. The best justification I can come up with is that just occasionally, in spite of the frozen fingers, constricting layers and crushing sense of futility, it’s just fucking fantastic.

Winter ride.