Tuesday 30 June 2009

Lake Placid Interlude

A View of Lake Placid, New York

As part of our United Way campaign at the office last year, we were asked to contribute to an an on-line auction. Although, this being the Foreign Service, some people came up with things like Fujian cork sculptures that had haunted dark closets for years, I decided that since I really wanted to ride the Ironman bike course at Lake Placid, New York.

Lake Placid is known as the site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games, but it has other noteworthy things. It was the home of the Trudeau Hospital, established in 1885 as a sanitarium to deal with tuberculosis as the trend in those days was to treat people with fresh mountain air. It was also home to a group of abolotionists, including the famous John Brown. After his famous raid on the Harper's Ferry Federal Arsenal failed, he was tried and executed and his body was returned to Lake Placid. His home is a small museum and his grave is located in front of it. But we must return to the outdoor sports theme as it really is the kind of place where people naturally go hiking or canoeing or, even, cycling.

My United Way offer was for transportation there, the opportunity to ride the 90 km course (the triathletes do two circuits), a chance to cycle up the toll road to Whiteface Mountain (if so inclined) and dinner at the Lake Placid Brewing Company before the trip back to Ottawa. Amazingly, there were several bidders for the chance to ride with me (or drink beer) and after the auction the winner, Gwyn, and I agreed to pick a suitable date once the weather became good enough to do the ride.

This Sunday we were fortunate as the weather was perfect. Departing Ottawa at 6 a.m., we drove across the border via Ogdensburg, New York (the more convenient Cornwall crossing is presently closed) and headed south. For some reason, the creatures of Upstate New York were attracted to my car, including a large wild turkey hen that looked at us and then jumped into the road ahead of the car. But no harm done...

The Ice Center where the famous 1980 U.S.-Soviet Union hockey game for the gold medal took place

There was no traffic to speak of us we passed through small villages and soon found ourselves in the Adirondack State Park, which occupied one-quarter of New York State. By 9:30 a.m. we entered Lake Placid's busy Main Street and found a large municipal parking lot where we could leave the car. There was a clean washroom there as well and I changed into cycling gear and just after 10:00 a.m. we headed out on the open road, State Road 73. We passed a big horse show taking place at the local fairgrounds.

The course, which I downloaded from the Internet at www.gpsies.com began with a few little rollers and soon, just past the Olympic Sports Complex, we enjoyed some massive descents that saw some high speeds on excellent new asphalt. Unfortunately, Route 73 has more traffic than I would have expected on a Sunday morning, with the majority of traffic being large pick-up trucks, many towing boats. Although we enjoyed the downhill parts, it was with some relief that we turned onto Route 9N in Keene. The road was quite lovely, with a small river to our left and very few cars to contend with. We played road tag with two triathletes out on their bikes, and we were to see a great number of them during the day. Lake Placid, traditionally a huntin' and fishin' place and then a low-key summer resort, has found a new role catering to very thin and very fast tri-geeks. The Ironman race held each July here since 1997 is one of only six sanctioned by the Ironman organizers in the United States.

Unfortunately, our enjoyable ride along 9N towards Upper Jay was interrupted by a flat tire. My rear tire was not actually flat but was clearly losing air. I discovered I had not brought my Speedlever to change the tire and I was apprehensive about getting the very tight-fitting Hutchinson tubeless tire back on so we could complete the ride. So I just inflated the tire with a CO2 cartridge and hoped for the best. Of course, that is not always the best policy since a few miles on the tire had clearly gone soft again. Luckily, Gwyn had some tire levers and when I put in the tube I was able to get the tire back on without too much difficulty. Using my second (and last) cartridge, everything worked perfectly and we were back on the road in less than 15 minutes. It was clear that I had tried to take the tire one trip too far since the Hutchinson tread was looking pretty shredded.

Outside of Jay we turned left onto Route 86. There was a bit of climbing here but nothing too hard although there was some traffic. Reaching the village of Wilmington, we turned right onto Hasleton Road, an out-and-back leg where we saw a lot of triathletes. Doubling back after 8 kms, we returned to Route 86. We passed the road to Whiteface Mountain (the 8 mile climb was a bit more than we wanted to do today) and headed towards High Falls Gorge.

This stetch of road was also quite lovely, with a rapidly running river to our right. We saw fly fishermen standing on the rocks and high cliffs above us. It was beginning to get hot but, as if on cue, a dark cloud passed over. No rain but it cooled the air nicely.

Main Street, Lake Placid

The last third of the course is a gentle climb and was easy to do. At one point, I rode with one of the training triathletes. She looked very fit but when we came to the climb she definitely could not keep us with. I think if I had been riding my time trial bike I would have not gone as quickly either, given gearing and geometry. With 92 kms under our tires, we rolled back into Lake Placid. The organizers of the course had been smart to put the big descent at the start and the gradual climb at the end, but the final climb back up into the town itself was pretty steep for tired legs! But it was nice to have over 1000 meters of climbing in the bank...

Sampling our Beer Sampler

After getting cleaned up as much as possible, we walked along Main Street, which was bustling on this late Sunday afternoon. After a bit of effort, we found the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, which operates a small bar and restaurant, and we were able to get a table on the deck outside. We went with the sampler of their six available beers to get started. They were very good, and I was surprised at the coffee flavour that you could detect in the Sunrise Stout. I had a pint of 46'er Pale Ale, which had a pronounced hoppiness, while Gwyn tried the Moose Island Golden Ale.

Back to the car and we were on the road again (with a quick stop at Mountain Mist Ice Cream to celebrate our excellent ride). We were back in Ottawa by 10 p.m with a sense of a day well spent.

Saturday 27 June 2009

The Latest Tin Donkey: Heron Out of Junk--or A Phoenix Arises!

The Raleigh Heron

As someone not immune to the collecting mania, I have tried to limit myself but have not been too successful. From stamps as a child to classical CDs and cycling books as an adult, if there is space I will fill it. However, I was able to limit myself in terms of bicycles and actually sold several over the last year. But I was always attracted to classic steel and since my current road bike, a Specialized S-Works Tarmac E5, is pretty close to state-of-the-art, I thought that perhaps I would go backwards rather than forwards in terms of new bikes.

A real Marinoni/fake Raleigh

My steel Marinoni still remains a favourite and when a bike purporting to be a 1985 Marinoni frameset as used by the Levi’s-Raleigh Racing USA Team showed up for a laughable sum on E-Bay, I was particularly interested. There were only around 26 of these frames built, and they were painted as Raleighs and marked as having Reynolds steel tubing, when in fact they were built out of Columbus tubing. These “disguised” Marinonis were ridden with great success in North America by Levi’s-Raleigh, a team that included Andy Hampston and Roy Knickman and was the only domestic team up to competing with the vaunted 7-Eleven Team of the 1980s. As well, Connie Carpenter scored a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics on one of these bicycles.

The frame did not seem to be in bad shape from the photos. It had a braze-on for a race number, something seldom seen on consumer bikes but invariably on pro ones. The fork, a unicrown Tange thing, was clearly not original, but I was puzzled by the seatstays, which looked nothing like any Marinoni I had ever seen before. In addition to contacting Marinoni, I was able to find an e-mail address for Mike Fatka, who had managed the Levi’s-Raleigh team in its heyday and is still selling bicycle stuff. He was kind enough to check with a mechanic from the team, who was a bit discouraging:
It appears that one of the custom frames in the 1985 Raleigh catalog may have similar fastback stays? I can't remember anything about "real" Raleigh's from back then, but 1984 was an Olympic year, and Raleigh had all those Olympic "superbikes" built, and this frame seems much lower quality than any of those bikes or the Marinoni bikes. I don't know what it is, but it looks fake to me, or just very low quality. Perhaps not junk, but collectible? I don't think so.
The owner of the frame had gotten it from a former Raleigh employee and still believed that it was a Marinoni, although the team people didn’t think so and neither did Marinoni, since they stated it was definitely not one of theirs. The owner said it was a very good frame, and the filework was even better than on his Waterford. He said it had been raced with a Dura-Ace build-up as that was a team sponsor, but a better Campagnolo Super Record rear derailleur was used, with the Campy markings scratched out!

Framebuilding at Raleigh SBDU

I was becoming very intrigued by the frame. Marinoni said that they could refinish it for me and build me a correct-style fork. The owner was able to provide a serial number and with this the mystery was solved. The frame was indeed a Raleigh, but a very special one. Mike Fatka was able to explain that the frame was built in a small 12-man factory in Ilkeston, near Nottingham at Raleigh’s Special Bicycle Development Unit.

Unable to resist, I put in a bid for the frame and soon afterward Raleigh Professional #SB6032 was mine. It actually cost more to ship the frame from its owner in Kansas City to me than I paid for the frame, but I was about to discover that the frame was only the first and nowhere near the most expensive part of my project! The owner had packed the frame so well it took me an hour with a very sharp knife to free it from its shipping box. The frame actually looked better than it had in the photos and my wife, who had been appalled by what she thought was going to be a piece of rusty junk, was highly impressed. The decals were quite good, as was the paint (unlike the notorious quality of Italian and French finishes from the 1980s) and the only rust, which was very minor, was to be found on the under-tube cable guides. The bottom bracket and headtube were very clean and the frame looked to be quite straight.

SBDU in action, 1980s

The Internet, that source of all information, good and bad, yielded a great deal about SBDU and its bicycles. Here is one reference I found:

Headed by Carlton’s Gerald O’Donovan, Raleigh Specialist Bicycle Development Unit, was created in 1974 and housed in its own standalone factory in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, which was once part of the Rolls Royce works. The SB unit is best known for pioneering and proving the new Reynolds 753 lightweight tubing in 1974 although it made Reynolds 531 framesets as well. Initially, almost all 753 production was for the TI Raleigh Team (which was equipped with 753 frames from the 1975 season onwards) and other European teams with each team member of the Raleigh squad getting two or three frames per season.

From 1974-77 it bought out most if not all of the 753 tubing from Reynolds (both Raleigh and Reynolds being part of the TI conglomerate of course) making it exclusive to Raleigh. Production increased to the point of offering framesets to the general public by 1978 at a cost of $475 in the US market including an Edco headset. The 753 was offered in track, roadracing and special time trials frames in the famous team livery, midnight blue or champagne. Initially Ilkeston turned out about 25 753 tubed frames a week c. 1977 and produced approximately 9000 framesets in both 531 and 753 for individuals and teams until its closure in 1986.
The piece went on to say that due to their lightweight nature, 753 frames in particular were prone to damage but that a good SBDU frame was a high-quality one, and, indeed highly collectible since never more than 700 frames per year were built at SBDU.

The Internet yielded further gold: a Yahoo discussion group devoted to high-end Raleigh bicycles and I learned a great deal about my new acquisition. It would have been built in 1983/84 and sold as a special order frameset to a customer of Raleigh USA. A similar frameset, available both in Reynolds 531 or 753, is shown in the 1985 Raleigh catalogue. I have since acquired a 1985 dealer catalogue which shows a built-up version of the same frame, and which I will use as the basis for my rebuild. The Yahoo group experts told me that I could determine what kind of tubing was used by the diameter of the seatpost. I had my local bike shop check with an electronic caliper and they confirmed it was 26.8 mm, meaning that I had the high-end 753 frame.

Before bidding for the bike, I made sure not only that Marinoni would refinish it for me, but also that I had a source for new decals, one of the difficult points of any rebuild. I was able to source suitable decals from California, Australia and the United Kingdom, so everything was good there.

A Restored SBDU Bike

My purpose in buying this bike was to bring it back to life and get it on the road so that I would be able to experience a state-of-the-art 1985 racing bicycle. SBDU frames are supposed to be lightweight and highly responsive and this one was clearly very good-looking. And since I have wanted to ride l’Eroica, the Tuscan cyclosportif event that celebrates vintage bicycles and the heroes who rode them over the dusty unpaved roads, I thought that the Raleigh would be the perfect time machine. It turns out that now post-1987 bicycles are not allowed in the event, so my choice has become all that much better.

A beautiful frame deserves suitable parts but this meant I had to make a decision. I communicated with Greg, the very helpful owner of Bicycle Classics, which specialized in NOS (New Old Stock) parts from this era. Although I did not pay very much for the frame, I decided I do not want to spend $2000 to end up with a bike I could easily sell for $900 so I made the decision to go with lightly-used Campagnolo Super Record parts from the correct era. That said, I was not going to go insane trying to build a perfect period-correct bike–the fork problem alone would prevent that.

After attending Peter Weigle’s talk at le Cirque du Cyclisme, I decided that the Raleigh would be rebuilt as a safe and reliable bicycle meant to be ridden without too much obsessive worry about scratches (well, no more obsessive worries than normal). As a practical matter, I did not want to use tubular tires, although they would have been authentic but would have a new wheelset made using old Campy SR hubs and new silver Mavic Open Pro box rims. They would be hassle-free and in addition I would not have any worries about old parts failing. The other area of concern was the stem and handlebar. I did buy a nice used Cinelli Giro d’Italia handlebar but I had been eyeing new Japanese-made Nitto parts, which are certified for keirin racing and are beautifully made (although not cheap either). At Cirque’s swap meet I found a new Nitto handlebar and stem in the correct size and at an excellent price, so I went with these in the end.

It has taken a great deal of patience to locate nice Campagnolo Super Record parts but they have come in: from Virginia, Florida, Australia, Naples, Berlin and who knows where else. With the exception of a few small generic mechanical parts, almost everthing has arrived except a suitable seatpost. I have a great-looking Selle San Marco Regal saddle, a model that has been produced for decades and features big copper rivets at the back. I have brand new Super Record brake levers with hard-to-find amber rubber hoods in perfect condition. My hubs were overhauled and my new wheelset constructed. All the Campagnolo parts look really gorgeous.

A non-SBDU Raleigh in the right colour scheme

Once I return from my trip to Europe in August, I will deliver the frame and decals to Marinoni so that they can work their magic. With any luck, everything will be built up before the first snow falls and this reborn Heron (the long-time Raleigh symbol) will fly again.

A Ride into the Past: L'Eroica

L'Eroica 2007
photo by Dale Brown, Cycles de ORO

In the spirit of le Cirque du Cyclisme but moving to an outdoor arena, l’Eroica is a cyclosportif (that is, timed) event that is Italy’s answer to France’s Paris-Roubaix and, like that ride, offers versions for professionals and amateurs at different times of the year. Rather than facing cobblestones, participants need to contend with the strade bianche, the “white roads” of Tuscany, stretches of loose gravel that make up half of the course. The course is also very hilly, with steep grades and up to 4000 m of climbing.

Many of the participants do the ride (and there are varying lengths, with 205 km being the long route) on vintage bicycles, while wearing vintage clothing. Helmets are not mandatory to maintain the period feeling. Getting into the spirit of it all, many cyclists show up with dawn-of-time racing bikes–one of Fausto Coppi’s domestiques came last year! They wear wool jerseys and have tubular tires wrapped around their shoulders. Many wear goggles to deal with the dust. The food stops are vintage too, since they will give you salami and Chianti wine, just like in the Good Old Days.

The Indomitable Pashley Guv'nor

There are good reports of the atmosphere of the event here and here, along with photos of some of the bikes that were entered. As well, TOUR magazine in Germany did an article with excellent photos that can read (in German) or admired in .pdf form here. However, my favourite account by participants in the October 2008 ride surely must be David and Bryce, the English madmen who work for the U.K.’s Pashley Cycles and who turned up in Tuscany ready to ride Pashley Guv’nors, a “modern” replica of a 1926 Pashley gentleman’s racing bike. They brought the up-market version, complete with three-speed Sturmey-Archer internal hub gearing. For 4000 m of climbing. There is an entertaining account of their trip here, and the video below will give you an idea of what they went through. And it is no wonder that while their time was not terribly fast, they certainly deserved to be distinguished by being judged in the Top Ten group of cyclists who were the “most heroic.”

Beginning in 1996, the event has developed into a wildly popular one. In 2008, some 3,000 participants descended on the tiny town of Gaiole (pop. 2,300!) to take part in L’Eroica. Although vintage bicycles were preferred, there was no restriction on any other bicycles, so there were not only current racing bikes to be seen but even mountain bikes.

“Basta!” say the organizers now and the rules have been changed. There will be an event for everyone in June but the Real Thing will be held on October 4. Bicycles must be pre-1987, an arbitrary date that sort of marks the wide availability of concealed cables and clipless pedals. These will not be allowed, even on bikes of the right age, and shifters must be mounted on downtubes, an exception being for period-correct (non-indexed) bar-end shifters.

I have just learned that the current June issue of Outside magazine has a l'Eroica story as well. Read about the Giro di Salame here.

Needless to say, I really, really, really want to ride L’Eroica. If you want to ride with me in October 2010, here is where to sign up. The history, the romance, the difficulty all combine with the Chianti to make it irresistible. And the herd of Tin Donkeys has been expanded with the acquisition of a suitable bike, which will be the subject of another post shortly. Suffice it to say, it will not be a Pashley Guv’nor.

Red Bull Road Rage

Here's a different kind of race. On June 20-21, 2009, the 1st Red Bull Road Rage downhill race was held in Italy, in Cortina d'Ampezzo. The event is a 5 km downhill race, on an asphalt road, with contestants competing in heats of four, starting with 100 and racing over two days until the final eliminations.

The course has 13 hairpins and descends more than 400 m in the 5 km. Here is what it looks like:

The winner this year, ex-pro Mauro Bettin, clocked in at a top speed of 98 km/h, or 60.9 mph. I have personally ridden at 90 km/h on the Scenic Highway in West Virginia and there is no way that I could do it on a road like this! I personally cannot stand the flavour of Red Bull but I have to admire their marketing instinct. It must have been an amazing event.

Friday 26 June 2009

Time Trial Thursday: Improving (...a bit)

After a week of excellent weather, I was looking forward to last night's 15 km time trial. It has been several weeks since I was able to do one and I thought my training had been going well. There was another excellent turnout. It was quite hot (29C/84.2F), and when I was warming up I was pretty worried about the wind but it died down a lot by the time I got on the course.

I had a very good launch and pushed hard to take advantage of the tailwind. I was up around 47 km/h but I thought it would be good to back off a bit since my heart rate was pushing 180. As I slowed down to a sustainable 42/43 it was obvious that there was actually no tailwind at all but a slight crosswind/kind of headwind. So I just kept on riding as steadily as I could. I could make out my 30 second man after about 6 kms. I was making excellent time, although a very fast rider overtook me just near the turnaround.

On the way back there was a bit of a headwind for sure and I could not hold much over 38 km/h on the way back and felt pretty tired near the last bridge. My time was 23:03, which was a bit of a disappointment as I thought I could go under 23 minutes. But what was very odd was my heart rate. On the launch it hit 179 and never really came down. I saw 173 for most of the ride, and even counting the five minutes of slow riding after my average HR was still 164 bpm. I wonder if I have been underestimating my max HR or exactly what happened here. No cramping and my first 10 kms was actually very fast at around 15:30 so if I can just improve the finish I should have a much better time. As it is, this was my fastest so far this year and my third-fastest ever, with an average of 39.05 km/h.

I think that the high temperature during the ride (and it was around 7:00 p.m that I began) affected me as I woke up this morning with some symptoms of heat exhaustion. As usual, I always forget something in the excitement of the time trial and I did not put my bandana (or, as Bikesnoby NYC calls them: Euroschmatte) on under my helmet to help deal with the heat. Live and learn, I guess. At least this time I remembered to put on my gloves.

I plan to be faster next week and the following week. After that we lose our course due to repaving, alas, and the tt will be reduced, probably to 10 kms. This might be a good training opportunity to raise my speed by hammering a shorter distance. It will also be entirely on a smooth road. I am sure that I lose a lot of speed due to the first and last 2.1 kms of the present course which is very rough.

Of course, if you want to read about a real time triallist, check out Jered Gruber's excellent summary of the Tour de Suisse's final time trial here.

Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi

My newest review, of William Fotheringham's biography of the great Fausto Coppi, can be found here at Pezcyclingnews.com

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Cirque du Cyclisme 2009: Good Friends, Old Bikes and A Few Beers

Gitane tubes, from Mel Pinto Imports, Fairfax, Virginia--
The one on the right is the same design as was on my 1974 Gitane Gran Sport

Having enjoyed my previous visit to Le Cirque du Cyclisme in 2007 in Greensboro, North Carolina, I decided to attend this year’s event in Leesburg, Virginia, giving me an opportunity to visit friends in the District of Columbia and to do some riding in green Virginia before joining others to ride the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The drive down to Washington on Thursday, June 4th, was uneventful as I left Ottawa early in the morning in beautiful weather but this was not last. As I came out of the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania it began to rain hard and by the time I reached Hagerstown, Maryland, it was a deluge. I stopped at a Panera Bakery which I had always found conveniently located before and chatted with a group of older cyclists, in their late 60s at least, who were on their way to ride for a few days in the Shenandoah Valley. Their van was outside and I noticed some high-end titanium bikes on the roof rack. The group, from Long Island, were are strong argument in favour of cycling since they all looked to be in incredible shape. I finished my coffee and offered them some suggestions on where to ride around Staunton and Lexington before I got back in the car and the heavy rain.

Of course, rainstorms in Washington always bring out the worst in traffic and when I reached the I-495 split everything slowed down and it took me around 45 minutes to cover the last 3 miles of my 11 hour trip. I spent a quiet evening with my hosts and reorganized the ton of equipment I seemed to have brought.

Friday, June 5th did not start out too well. It was still pouring rain, which meant that the rides scheduled for Cirque were probably going to be scrubbed for the day. I checked the Marinoni over and when I pulled the front wheel out of the wheel bag I saw that it was flat, the only time I have had a flat with the bullet-proof Schwalbe Marathon tires I used in the past for touring. I had been a little concerned when I put them on since they were last used seven years ago when I rode the Camino de Santiago and had been hung up ever since but they looked fine. In fact, it turned out to be a failure of the inner tube at the valve joint. At least I was indoors and could have a cup of tea while I worked. But on the way to Leesburg I stopped and bought another inner tube since the Campagnolo wheels on the Marinoni need a long valve stem. I also thought it might be a good idea to buy a lightweight rain jacket for the GAP tour in case the weather was not entirely cooperative.

The 45 minute drive to Leesburg was pretty miserable but when I arrived in Leesburg I had a chance to hang out with some of the old bike folks and look at some of the great machines they had brought. I go reaquainted with people I had met at the last Cirque, including Dale Brown, who had run the show in Greensboro, and I met Wayne Bingham, who is now the keeper of the Cirque flame.

The 2009 edition of Le Cirque du Cyclisme, billed as an event “celebrating vintage lightweight racing and touring bicycles, and the artists and craft persons carrying on the traditions,” marked the 12th year of the event. This time I was the only Canadian present but there was an impressive representation from far and wide in the United States. There were all kinds of interesting bicycles strung out in the reception area of the Best Western Hotel with racing bicycles from the 1950s interspersed with touring bikes, one-of-a-kinds and even a highwheeler. Of course everyone was busying photographing or else chatting and we enjoyed some food and drink while getting registered. I had mentioned to Wayne that I wanted to register my Marinoni and he encouraged me to do so as he wanted to see one in the show. As noted in previous postings, I had the Marinoni repainted last year and it looks wonderful, although not nearly as flashy as some of the bikes in the show.

The Sheldon Brown Memorial Ride prepares to leave

A brave group of cyclists decided to ride the Sheldon Brown Memorial Fixed-gear Ride (and one of Sheldon’s Raleighs was on display) but it was all too wet for me so I drove back to Washington and had a nice dinner in the Palisades area next to Georgetown.

As much as I had wanted to ride with the group, all the driving in the rain over the previous two days had quite exhausted me so I slept in on Saturday and once more made the trek along the Dulles Toll Road to Leesburg. There were some new bikes to look at and some new arrivals to chat with. Lunch was served and we all sat down to hear the presentations by three speakers.

Dave Wages, Ellis Cycles, with a customer's single speed randonneur bike

The first, Dave Wages, was previously a framebuilder at Serotta and Waterford and went out on his own in 2008, operating as Ellis Cycles. He brought several examples of work he had done over the years and even had a Powerpoint presentation to illustrate his career. At one point he seems to have become obsessed with carving lugs and one bike bore lugs that were way over-the-top, all in a flame motif. He described this as his “call for help.”

One gorgeous frame!
Photo by Steve

There must have been some kind of intervention as earlier this year one of his frames won Best Lugged Frame at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) and a photo of the frame showed why it had captured the judges’ attention. The frame, made from Reynolds 953 steel tubing, uses polished stainless steel stays and fork and is beautifully understated. He brought a similar frame, but unpainted, to the Cirque for us to look at and anyone who thinks that individual artistry in metalworking is a thing of the past need only look at this. While not inexpensive (and the whole ordering process seems to be a very hands-on, individualistic thing since Mr. Wages went out on his own as he wanted to work directly with customers), prices are comparable to high-end Taiwanese carbon frames but you know that if you order one of these it will be the only one.

Jan Heine, getting technical

This enjoyable discussion was followed by some history as Jan Heine, the creator and editor of Bicycle Quarterly magazine, talked about the technological development of the competition bicycle. The talk was based on his superb book, “the Competition Bicycle,” which I reviewed for www.pezcyclingnews.com shortly after it was published. He had had that opportunity to measure many bikes ridden by famous riders and his fascinating talk was based on the fact that bicycles, such as Fausto Coppi’s 1949 Tour de France-winning Bianchi, did not use the latest technology, such as aluminum components or better shifting systems that had already been available for years.

The last speaker for the afternoon was Connecticut framebuilder Peter Weigle, whom I had met at the 2007 Cirque. He has become focused on touring/randonneur bicycles and Cirque always seems to have examples of his workmanship brought in by customers. But this time he had two bikes of his own as he spoke about attitudes to restoration. He mentioned the famous Masi restoration that fellow Connecticut framebuilder Richard Sachs undertook in which the bicycle was brought back to period correctness, a process illustrated here on Richard’s website in awe-inspiring detail. The goal was to rebuild only with New Old Stock (NOS) parts, to bring the bike back to what it looked like before anyone had actually ridden it. Peter doubted that the Masi has ever been ridden after the restoration but I cannot imagine anyone would want to be responsible for scratching it!

Peter then showed such a “period correct” bicycle, a Frejus belonging to one of his customers, John Drake. Then entire frame had to be rechromed, a project not for the faint-hearted, and of course all the right components found. It is a lovely bicycle and won the Cirque 2009 award for the Best Restored Bicycle 1960-1967. Peter then turned from the idea of “period correct” to going with your own ideas and had two bicycles to illustrate this. One was an old French utility bicycle that was pretty much ready for the scrap heap and that Peter turned into his own ride-around-town bicycle. It had incredible style, set off by the most wonderful Art Deco chainguard the world has seen. This was not as the original maker sent it out into the world but it was a success as a personal statement.

The second bicycle, a Schwinn Paramount, had essentially been dropped off at his shop to do with as he pleased. Paramounts were the top-of-the-line bikes for the company but probably not comparable to anything like a Masi. By the time Peter had finished reviving it, it looked more like a J.P. Weigle than a Schwinn. This “creative restoration” had brought about something new and unique and it looked good enough to win the Cirque 2009 award for Best Open Class Bicycle 1974-1980. I found Peter’s remarks very encouraging as I am proceeding with the restoration of my own old racing bicycle, which will be the subject of a posting (probably several) soon, and did not want to be forced into the idea that it had to be “period correct” and a sort of museum-piece. Bicycles are meant to be out on the open road and enjoyed unless they are impractical or unsafe but I can understand, having lusted for Richard Sachs’ Masi (he actually has two of them!), how someone would want a bike they could just simply admire and polish.

Unless connected to a famous cyclist or exhibiting some kind of unique technology, most of these bicycles are not really very historically significant. For example, most of the Italian racing bikes of the 1970s and 1980s use Columbus tubing and Campagnolo Record or Super Record parts. The name on the headtube might be different but there is a certain similarity to them. What makes them special to their owner is some association that gives them pleasure. One of the participants at Cirque mentioned to me that as a hobby collecting lightweight steel bikes was not very serious since you could generally buy the bicycle today for less than it cost when it was new. I think this must be true; an English gentleman sold a beautifully refinished 1983 Colnago Mexico frame (in Saronni Red, be still my heart) recently on E-Bay for under $1000, which, adjusted for inflation, would be about the same price as it would have been in 1983.

After the seminars we enjoyed a lavish dessert buffet (I was worried that my weight was going to go up because of all the eating and the fact that I had not even assembled the Marinoni yet!) and then we had yet another speaker, Keith Anderson, who had moved from framebuilding into the exacting world of painting. He talked about the how frames are stripped and prepped and the kind of detailed work that goes into masking. Some builders do their own painting but others farm this part out to specialists and I can see why some of these custom paint schemes are so expensive. Again, major time and skill must go into this.

At this point I got into the car and drove over to the local hotspot, the Tuscarora Mill, where I met my friend Tom from Pennsylvania for a beer. He had read that I was coming to Leesburg on my blog and since he was going to be in Frederick, Maryland he suggested we meet up for a beer. He was in Ottawa last summer and I introduced him to Creemore Springs Lager. He returned the favour with a sampler pack of Troegs craft beer from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We know each other as contestants in the Fat Cyclist’s Weight Loss Competition a few years ago and I hope to lure him onto one of our European trips yet.

Bicycles all corraled

On Sunday, June 7, I got up early. The weather was great and after I said goodbye to my friends in DC I headed out on the Toll Road for the last time this trip. I drove to the Loudon County Fairgrounds where the Cirque Bicycle Show & Swap Meet was being set up. I planned to ride with some of the other Cirque participants on the Potomac Pedallers group ride, rejoining my old bike club, but instead I ended up riding with a local rider on a Gios (repainted orange, and surely the target of those “period correct” types who believe a Gios simply must be blue) and Steve from Indiana, who actually has built a goodly number of frames himself. We took advantage of the W&OD Trail, and rode from Leesburg to the end of the trail in Purcellville, Virginia. The Gios fellow wanted to be at the swap meet by 10:30 when the doors opened officially to be in early for the bargains so we just did this short ride before coming back. This suited me as it was getting quite warm and I did not want to overdo anything. But at least I finally got to the end of the W&OD Trail, a rails-to-bikepath route from Shirlington/Arlington, Virginia, past the Dulles Airport to Leesburg and onwards. I had ridden it only from Shirlington to Leesburg soon after I arrrived in DC in 2002, so this completed the route for me.

The 4-H Fairgrounds had plenty of room for all the bikes, divided up into their own corrals by era. I had brought along a stand and happily set up the Marinoni in the post-1987 group, sitting near a group of Colnagos in Mapei colours and a pair of Mariposa bicycles, the only other Canadian bikes in the show besides mine. It was a bit dusty from the ride in the morning but since there was no floor in the hall I figured it was going to get a lot dustier by the end of the day.

A leather-covered racing bike with its creator

I walked around and took lots of photos and spoke with many interesting characters, including the man who was a leather craftsman and had actually finished several frames in exotic leathers, such as ostrich and snakeskin! I chatted with Jan Heine, who had his books for sale along with the 650B-sized randonneur tires he offers, and who has lots of interesting things to say about cycling. Although I had vowed to keep my wallet unopened, I found a superb unused Nitto handlebar and stem and could not resist them. I have a used Cinelli handlebar for my project but no stem but I am a bit hesitant about using old used handlebars or rims with an unknown history. Taking Peter Weigle’s comments to heart, I have decided that the Nittos looks so good I can “hot rod” my bicycle in good conscience with them.

There were many beautiful bikes to look at, old and new, and I enjoyed cruising around all of them. I was particularly impressed with a restored Raleigh Super Ace and even more so with a gorgeous Raleigh track bike. There were a number of Peter Weigle bikes on display (and they took home lots of awards) and I was struck yet again about their just-right proportions.

Parts at the Swap Meet

By 2:30 p.m. I was feeling hot, dirty and ready to go, so I packed up the Marinoni and my time at Le Cirque du Cyclisme 2009 had come to an end. I drove off to Montgomery Village where I picked up a wonderful set of new wheels for my project, made up with Campagnolo Super Record hubs but new Mavic Open Pro rims, from Travis Evans, who has just set himself up in business as a mechanic. Between the wheelset and the new handlebars and stem, my old bike project is already starting at a pretty high standard. And after seeing so many wonderful bicycles at Cirque I am motivated to keep on going!

Sunday 21 June 2009

The Tour de Suisse

My current favourite pro rider, Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara, clinched the overall title at his home tour today with a 38 km time trial. He started the day four seconds back of the yellow jersey and, when the dust settled (not that there is dust in Switzerland), he was the overall winner, with the second place rider nearly a minute and a half behind him. His average speed was 50.19 km/h. It has been a meagre year for Spartacus, with only the prologue win at the Tour of California to show for all that training, a definite comedown from last year's great victories It looks like his form is back now...

Alex Zülle was the last Swiss rider to win the race (in 2002), but the Swiss have actually been quite successful in what is considered to be the fourth best stage race in Europe. I recently obtained a massive German-language book on the Tour de Suisse and will provide a review of it as it remains one of my very favourite races. In 2005 I rode the famous passes of the Tour in the Swiss Alps and loved every minute of it.

Monday 1 June 2009

Time Trial Sunday

I enjoyed my first 40 km time trial of the season today, participating in the Almonte Bicycle Club's race in Calabogie. This was my third time on the course, which has to be one of the most interesting time trial stretches around. With more than 300 m of climbing, there is a lot to look at and take your mind off the suffering a bit.

It is a bit of a drive, so I got up at 5:15 a.m. and drove out of the garage less than an hour later. The weather looked iffy--it was quite cool (around 7C) and there were evil black clouds on the western horizon. By 7:20 a.m. I had joined the group in the parking lot, registered and set up the trainer for the warm-up.

Just before the launch, I heard a little "ching" sound and looked down to see my chain fall onto the smaller sproket! Too late to do anything, I started off on the course and fooled around for a few seconds getting the recalcitrant chain back where it belonged but was up to speed very quickly. There was a nice tailwind which cheered me up and I managed the first hills very well, and really enjoyed the descents. On one of them I was going over 62 km/h but I knew that I would pay on the way back for this. I passed the rider who started a minute ahead of me quite quickly and then slowly reeled in several others before the turnaround. This is where the fun began as I ran into a very strong headwind and saw my happy 38-40 km/h speeds drop down rapidly. The hills began to hurt a lot and at Km 30 I was passed, and then again at Km 32, by two really fast riders. Although they got past me and down the road their gap stayed constant so I figured they were having trouble accelerating as well.

My heart rate, which had been around 163 bpm on the way out, dropped down to 155 or so on the return and that was all I could manage. My head was throbbing with the exertion and I was very relieved to get back over the finish line although my time was some two minutes slower (I think) than the best of the two time trials I did on this course last year, albeit with much less wind.

I cruised back very, very slowly to the parking lot and soon everyone was assembled to hear the times. To my surprise, I managed a Top Ten finish (or perhaps Top Eleven, since there was a bit of confusion). (Oops--official numbers are now in and I have cascaded down to Lucky 13, alas). On the way back, I stopped with two fellow Ottawa Bicycle Club members who often ride the Thursday time trials and we celebrated our race with fancy coffees and apple cinammon muffins in Burnstown. And the rains came down, so we were doubly lucky. No Personal Best time for me at 1:08:19 but I had a lot of fun.

Probably more fun than Denis Menchov did today at his time trial at the Giro d'Italia, but it all came out in the end. The mechanic should be given a big bonus for his work today:

And here is an update from Pezcyclingnews.com:

After the crash, the directors drove off and left Mechanic Vincent Hendrik with the old bike, so he jumped on and rode it the final 600m to finish with a police escort. In his own words he said, "I was the last rider to finish the centenary Giro. That's something that you don't forget!"

Hendrik also said that it was his best day as a mechanic in 10 years of working with Rabobank (3 with the continental team and then 7 with the Professionals).