Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Recycling the Cycle

Another sign of my continuing Canadiansiation. The UK is a tiny island and England, although accounting for 2/3 of it, does not rank highly in the "large geographical entities" table. It rather reminds one of what is said about Rhode Island, that is only exists to be compared to things vastly larger or smaller then it, such as France, the Vatican City, the daily deforestation amounts in the Amazon or the hood of a '54 Cadillac Eldorado.

Seriously though, England is on a par with Nova Scotia for size. A crow would only have to fly 565 km to get from Hastings (on the Channel coast) to Coldstream (in the Scottish borders). To drive it is about 700 km, which also happens to be the approximate distance from the Yarmouth Triathlon to Heart of the Highlands.

Despite the incredibly close geographical proximity of just about everything, driving in the UK has, or at least had, the air of something not to be undertaken lightly. They say that no place in the UK is more than 60 km from the ocean and yet going to the seaside usually takes on an air of epic proportions; service the car, fill it with emergency rations and (for all I know) a locator beacon, take high-resolution Ordnance Survey maps not just of the route but of all adjacent areas (in case you get lost) and obsess about taking the A24 all the way there with the attendant traffic or trying the avoid the Greater Whinging roundabout by taking the B3256 and B6472 but having the possibility of delays due to sheep-crossing ("but it is so much more scenic dear, and your grandmother would love to stop for tea at that little place in Lower Mold-by-the-Vein").

Certainly no Brit in their right mind would jump in a car with nary a thought for a 200 mile round-trip in an evening, but recently I did just that to collect Old Bess from a friend who’d borrowed her for a bike-tour. The trip came with the realization that after nine years in the Maritimes this actually seemed to be a fairly short excursion. Indeed I was congratulating myself that it was only a quick dash to and from Moncton rather than having to drive all the way to Bathurst or something. Plus I got dinner at St Hubert!

200 miles for chicken, gravy and a Pouding chômeur; who wouldn't?

It’s good to have Old Bess back. We often attribute personalities to our bikes and Old Bess is a real trooper. She always does me right, goes where I want her to go and does so without complaining. I couldn’t say I love any of my bikes more than any other but when push came to shove, it was Old Bess that I decided to keep. She’s definitely La Doyenne, and I’ve done what any self-respecting roadie does and tart her up with hand-me-downs from my racing bikes. Originally specc’d with a triple, dubious low-end Shimano (and that’s what you could see, I shudder to think what the BB and headset were, and curiously enough the words "headset" and "shudder" were often linked) and very dubious V-brakes she’s now rocking 9spd Ultegra, a sweet little compact and a pair of bombproof cantis, some of which has trickled down from erstwhile "Sunday Best" racing bikes.

After placing me in the recovery position, Old Bess takes a well deserved post-race breather

In this day of crabon windcheating goodies, I think this recycling aspect of cycling has gone by the wayside. The old boys in my old club all had amazing tourers and winter “beaters”; all Campy and Mavic. What they had done is ask the age-old question whenever they bought something for their Sunday racer; “but when I’m done with it can I put it on my touring bike?”. Far too many of us fail to ask this question and are stuck with a shed-full of full-on racing kit which is only used three times a year. Sure, spend $2000 on an aerodynamic wheel-set but unless you are a pro it is, frankly, of dubious utility, and you can’t go touring on Zipp 404s! The "kit-isation" of cycling doesn't help either; nothing is compatible with anything else nowadays. Gone are the days of nonchalently mixing Shimano levers with Campy derallieurs and a Stronglight crankset! It has reached absurd extremes; Cadel Evens may well have lost the '09 Vuelta because his DS was worried he'd got an incompatible wheel from neutral service (he hadn't and anyway, can you imagine that happening to Merckx?).

It is more appropriate to suffix "Tour" with "ing" and not "de France"!Old Bess in full-on touring mode.

So many people buy new bits, or even a new bike, and immediately sell the old stuff on Ebay. Yet eventually they will end up shelling out another couple of grand on a lower end bike for commuting, early season training or a wet-weather bike. Oh yes triathletes, not only do we ride in the rain we do so with a frequency that requires a specific bicycle, and with fenders no less (fenders, although often dirty, are not a dirty word). In reality, you should keep all that Tiagra or 105 stuff when you upgrade to Red or Chorus. Find a nice frame (preferably steel) and graft all your old racing stuff onto it; et voila, a sweet little ride that cost (relatively speaking) next to nothing, because you already owned most of it. Something always needs to be bought new however, more than likely a headseat or BB (because there are more HS and BB “conventions’ than there were schisms in the early church) but other than that, you get that new bike smell for a fraction of the cost. Plus you get the satisfaction of riding a one-off that you built yourself. In this day of generic, cookie-cutter crabon “monocoques” with low-end mish-mashed drivetrains and a Bonkranger cockpit what isn't sweeter than that?

Glow in the dark handlebar tape? I don't care if it is Cinelli - NO!!

Just do us all a favour and don’t make a “statement” with the handlebar tape!


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