Friday, 9 March 2012

The Right Stuff.

A very rare A J Rickett  PBP Special from Houston, Renfrewshire

This is not about the right stuff to go to work on, or to go for the shopping on. Or to go racing on, or to go downhilling on, or to go posing on. Or to go round the world on, or even to go for a fortnight's holiday on.

This is about the Right Stuff for me to do a long Audax ride on !

Peter Marshall on Recumbent  Photo by Maindru.

Yes, I know that Drew Buck did Paris-Brest-Paris on a Dursley Pedersen, and in 2003 a young Finnish lad, Alpo Kuusisto, did it on a scooter, of all things ! People have done PBP on recumbents, trikes, tandem trikes, recumbent tandem trikes, just about anything you can imagine on two or three wheels propelled solely by the rider/riders.

Pat Kenny and Pete Gifford on Tandem Trike.

But this is the equipment that, after many years of painstaking trial and error, I use for long distance Audax rides.

The two main criteria are  Comfort and Reliability.
Actually that should read " The Main criterium is Comfort and Reliability " Because one without the other is just not on, it must be both.
Then we should start taking weight into account. Never forget though that you can spend thousands on the lightest components but if you neglect your diet you're wasting time and money. When you weigh your bike make sure that its fully equipped with lights, mudguards, tools etc. Then weigh yourself and add the weight of the bike. Now you have a Total Riding Weight, and this is the weight that you should be minimising.
Don't buy Mars Bars and Coke for a fortnight.  How much money will you save ? And how much weight will come off the Total Riding Weight ?
Or you can buy a custom carbon fibre frame and a set of carbon wheels and reduce the Total Riding Weight by perhaps 900gm, but at what a cost financially ?
And much more importantly by losing the weight from your body you'll be improving your Power to Weight Ratio.
How do you think guys like Drew Buck did PBP on a heavy antique steel bike ? Because they weren't carrying much excess weight on their bodies and they were bloody FIT !
So get fit !

Another drawback about trying to reduce the Total Riding Weight by using ultra lightweight componentry like carbon frames, is that in the event of a heavy, or even just an unlucky fall the bike might be rendered irrepairable at the side of the road. Think long and hard about lightweight components and their effects on reliability. Sure, Tour de France riders use state of the art stuff, but even they have to observe the UCI minimun weight for a bike. I know the UCI comes in for a lot of deserved criticism, but I must agree, in principle, with them on setting realistic minimum weights for cycles. And again Tour riders have the luxury of a back up car loaded with replacement bikes. An Audax rider won't have that ! Although I did hear of one rider, whose bike was wiped out in an accident, who was fortunately near a branch of Halfords in the UK . Using his credit card he bought a cheap and cheerful Halfords Special  and successfully continued his ride.

Columbus Framed A J Rickett.

So, starting with the frame, my preference is steel, Reynolds, Columbus, Vitus and Dedacciai all make some of the finest lightweight steel tubing there is on the market. A properly made frame using any of these makers tubesets will give a light  but strong and comfortable bicycle. And my preference is also for steel forks. I've tried many aluminium framesets and although there are weight savings to be made by the time the makers have engineered comfort into the frame the weight saving is negligible ! Some expensive aluminium frames I've ridden have been so harsh I was lucky to be able to complete a 100km Audax.
 Comfort on a bicycle depends on many seemingly unrelated things, but the frame is the starting point. Get a good steel frame and you've got the start of a good Audax bike.

Semi Deep Section Campag Rim
Next, no, not the saddle, we'll come to that later. Wheels ! Wheels can be so rigid that they'll loosen the fillings in your teeth ! At the other extreme you can get wheels that ride as if they were made of marshmallow. It's all to do with the choice of rims and spokes and the way they're put together. Good quality hubs go without saying, my preference being mid range Campagnolo or slightly higher range Shimano. I certainly don't mean Super Record or Dura Ace, they're for sponsored riders ....or rich ones ! My preference for rims is either Mavic or Campagnolo with my current favourites being Campag Mexico rims, although you'll find these hard to come by nowadays. Always aim for a balance between strength ,reliability and weight. I've come to the conclusion that using double butted Sapim spokes laced  three-crossed into wheels gives me the ideal balance of responsiveness and comfort. Personally I've never noticed any difference in the general feel of a bike with either 32 spoked front wheel with 40 spoked rear wheel and 36 spoked front and rear. I do notice a degree of harshness with a radially spoked front wheel however so I avoid that.

A nice Bob Jackson Legend with Proper Zefal Pump.
Now, tyres. First, size matters !  23mm x700c tyres are quite unforgiving after 200km, so for distances up to 400km I use 25mm x700c tyres. For distances over 400km I would be using 28mm x700c and possibly 32mm  x700c but getting this size in the right quality isn't easy. For many years now I've been using kevlar beaded Continental GP's in either 25mm or 28mm, both weigh just over 250gm. If you're going to lose weight on a bike, lose it at the rims and tyres first. It really does make a noticeable difference. And get into the habit of carrying a folding spare tyre along with at least two tubes and a new puncture outfit. Observe closely the manufacturers pressure settings, a squeeze with the finger and thumb just doesn't do. Running the pressure too low wastes energy and leaves you more liable to visits from the Puncture Fairy ! Why ? If you hit a pot hole there won't be enough pressure to stop the rim biting into the inner tube giving you the characteristic snake bite double puncture.
Don't, whatever you do, depend on a mini inflater, no matter what part of California it was made in or what parts of a recycled Stealth aircraft were used. A proper, aluminium, full size, frame fitting pump with a fast lock-on valve connector is required, nothing less ! Not unless you want to be one of those riders waiting at the side of the road for someone with a real pump to stop and give you a loan of it ! Believe me, I speak from bitter experience !

A Ubiquitous Rolls Sadddle.
OK, now we'll talk about saddles. The advice I would give is to check what a Tour de France rider of a similar weight to you is using. These guys spend much more time in the saddle than just about any of us. So it stands to reason that if it works for them, it'll work for you, provided you've done the necessary training. By that I'm not suggesting that you put in the same saddle time as a pro rider, but you'll have to gradually build up saddle time. It's actually more about getting your sitting area conditioned to the saddle rather than the saddle being broken in, that really is a myth ! When your saddle seems comfortable after several hours it's because you've accustomed  the muscles around your sit bones to cope with it, nothing to do with the saddle itself !
When exhaustion kicks in, your seating area muscles frequently collapse and that's when you feel as if you're riding a razor blade. If you look closely at some pro's saddles you'll realise that they are actually Selle San Marco Rolls saddles re-badged.  I prefer a Rolls saddle because they aren't prone to being damaged by rain like Brooks. I had three Brooks saddles distort badly due to rain despite careful application of Proofide and covering them when left in the open. But then, maybe that was just Scotland ?

Cinelli 'bars and stem.
Handlebars,Cinelli are my favourite, they do suitably wide dropped handlebars with a nice straight centre section. The centre section is important because you'll need it to mount a bike computer and at least one lamp. And possibly a heart rate monitor during training. Although I personally don't use one, I know quite a lot of riders are now using sat nav devices, and they need some space on the handlebars? This really rules out most of the newer one-piece aerodynamic handlebar assemblies. Professional  riders don't use lights nowadays and they certainly don't use map holders, or bar bags or sat nav devices. When they do the market place will change, but don't hold your breath ! I've found using a double layer of Cinelli cork handlebar tape to be very effective against the dreaded numb fingers that can set in after a long time on the bike. Some riders swear by a product called Mar Sas I believe, but whatever you use don't forget gloves. One simple fall could give you such bad gravel rash on the palms of your hands that you won't be finishing the ride, so wear gloves !

Look Cleats.
Now we come to the last of the three points of contact with the bicycle, Pedals. I would urge you to get used to a clipless system like Look, particularly Look, as they have a pretty large area of contact between the sole of the shoe and the pedal. A criticism I've often heard about Shimano SPD system is that after a while it feels like pedalling with a chestnut in your shoe. The best advice I can give is to start with a particular type of pedal and stick to it. Sure, Jock Wadley did PBP wearing a pair of Hush Puppies and used clips and straps, but Jock Wadley was a true veteran and could probably have done it in his bare feet ! The reason I recommend using Look pedals is because you can get really well engineered shoes that take Look cleats. Specialised make a good range of shoes which incorporate a lot of serious development in foot to pedal contact. Admittedly you won't be able to walk in them, so try and hunt down a pair of cleat protectors that'll slip into one of your back pockets. The next time you slip and end up on your derriere you'll remind yourself never to forget them again ! Use the money you've saved by not buying a £200 carbon seatpost  and a pair of Mavic Kryserium wheels to get the best in footwear. If you've ever experienced the peculiar agony known as "hot foot " you'll agree with me. Clips and straps were fine in their day but I've felt straps cutting off circulation to my toes and leaving me hobbling for a week after an event, that surely can't be doing your body good. Also look at the hi-tech overshoes available nowadays, you won't be able to use them with clips and straps.

The last thing I'm going to cover today is Mudguards or Fenders for TransAtlantic riders. A huge long running debate went on in Audax UK about mudguards. Then mudguards were compulsory, no beating about the bush, plain and simple, compulsory ! Now they're not. I won't go into the whole debate as it became quite acrimonious as only a squabble in a British cycling club can. No wonder the world thinks the British are eccentric !
Anyway, we digress, I use mudguards because I'm a penny-pinching, idle sod ! There , you have it now !
No, not Scotland this time, Belgium !
Clocking up hours of riding on wet, wintry Scottish roads will get a bike absolutely filthy. And the rider too, especially without mudguards. What you must do at the end of every training ride is wash your bike. Only death is accepted as an excuse for not doing so. Leave your bike unwashed for a couple of days or more and the next time you want to ride, it will be unusable. The chain will be rusted solid, the brakes will be seized, the rims will be corroded and the chrome will be pitted. This is the beauty of having a proper set of mudguards fitted. Sure the bike will be dirty, but certainly not filthy. And the chainset, bottom bracket, headset bearings, seat post clamp and yourself will have been afforded a degree of protection. This will half the time it takes to was your bike and extend the life of your components, saving you money. Campagnolo Racing Triple chainsets don't come cheap, so they're worth protecting.
Who has experienced the joy of swallowing a liberal sample of the road covering from a wet Scottish farm road that's been launched in the air in front of you by your unguarded front wheel ? Great, isn't it ?

Start of National 400km 2000 in Scotland.

Well, there you are, that's the very basics about the Right Stuff to ride an Audax with.
Later I might write about some of the finer details, like the choice of computer, what type of headset bearings are best, the best bottom brackets, luggage, goes on !
And that's not even mentioning Sudocrem , or Bag Balm, or bags of white powder that cyclists have in public toilets in the early hours of the morning, which prompted the local Hawick drunk to mutter "F***in' cyclists, I might huv known !"

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