Friday 19 November 2010

My Latest Book Review

Hooray! My latest book review for can be found here. Enjoy!

Thursday 18 November 2010

Danny MacAskill Rides Again

I previously put in a link to Danny MacAskill's YouTube video, which apparently has now been watched 20 million times. He has a new video out showing a ride from Edinburgh to Skye and there are things in here that take your breath away. Pure poetry.

Thursday 11 November 2010

A Herd of Tin Donkeys: 1988 Basso

Following my experience riding Richard's singlespeed bicycles and with the endless rain here in Nordrhein-Westfalen, I thought that I would look into building up an inexpensive used bike into a cheap winter trainer with mudguards that would be light, simple and cheap. And cheap.

A quick search of the famous on-line auction revealed some attractive offerings. I thought it would be better to go with as complete a bike as possible so that I would not have to buy a lot of extra parts for the build-up. I missed the chance for a nice but not-quite-complete Vicini as my sniping software failed me but there is no shortage of bikes in Germany and patience is rewarded. Soon afterwards a blue Basso, in excellent condition, came onto the market and I was the successful bidder. By the time it reaches me, I will have a set of SKS mudguards in hand and will discuss with Richard how best to make it into a singlespeed if we go that route. And it already comes with a bell so I can make my presence known to the omnipresent German strollers on the bike routes here.

Basso bicycles are built near Vicenza, Italy and the family firm has been in operation since the late 1970s, first as a retail operation and then with the factory opened in 1981. The three Basso brothers include Marino, who was World Cycling Champion in 1972, but the main driving force is Alcide, who was a racer but made his mark as a mechanic. He apprenticed under legendary builder Ugo de Rosa. Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso is not related to these Bassos. The company has a rather low profile and there is not much out there about older models, unlike Colnago or Cinelli. While Basso bikes have been used by some celebrated racers, it has never had the publicity that comes from sponsoring a top pro team. Nonetheless, the company, which continues to produce all its bicycles by hand in Italy, has a reputation for quality and the bike I purchased looks very good. And it was relatively cheap as well!

The frame is made of Oria 0.9 straight-gauge tubing, suggesting that this bike was at the lower end of Basso's offerings, confirmed by the lower-end Shimano Sport LX parts. The components date the bike to 1988. Oria was drawn by the German steel firm Mannesmann and while fairly stiff it is not considered to be as light or responsive as the better Reynolds or Columbus tubing. However, not only is the bike in surprisingly good condition, but it has many nice details, including the Basso name engraved on the seatstays and the logo engraved in the chrome fork. The dropouts are also marked as Basso. The finish work on the lugs is very clean and I am curious how the bicycle rides compared to my premium bikes. The Concor saddle does not really match well but when the bike gets wet I will not feel bad about it. However, that Shimano Bio-pace chainring will be the first thing to go!

As mentioned, Basso continues to build bicycles and even offers a lugged steel frame, the Viper. However, it has impressive capability in carbon, aluminum and titanium, as you will see in this technical paper. The small but modern factory is located only 5 kms from that other Vicenza bicycle operation--Campagnolo.

"The racing bicycle is derived from practical principles! You need to be comfortable on the bicycle, whether you are riding a short distance or a long one. You can't go as well if the ride is cannot win the race if you cannot finish the race." - Alcide Basso

Sunday 7 November 2010

A Dusseldorf Training Circuit

It was a profitable day. For the first time in several weeks I woke up this morning with all the symptoms of a head cold, apparently a very common problem in Fall in Germany. I had organized myself enough yesterday that I spent part of the morning putting up the last of my pictures in the apartment. Previously, while living in Washington, DC, I had a nice big empty wall and, inspired by a collection of Indian paintings at the Renwick Gallery, I arranged all my cycling posters/certificates/cowbells to occupy all that space. One of my friends referred to it as "the Shrine." In Ottawa I did not have any suitable space so all the framed pictures stayed in boxes for three years. They have now been liberated as the Shrine has been reconstructed in D'dorf.

I did not have much time to admire my handiwork as Richard, he of Ricci-Sport, gave me a call. The weather was good enough (that is, not raining for once) so that we were able to go for a ride together. I met him at the shop at 11:30 and we headed out together. He had a different bicycle as his admirable silver Ricci singlespeed, which I had tried out a few weeks ago, had been stolen yesterday. He put together another bike to ride today, so off we went.

Richard is proud of the courses he has worked out in the area and today's was impressive: we live in the most densely-populated corner of Germany and yet almost all of the ride was on roads with no traffic, taking us past farms and through quiet valleys. The course was challenging as it includes some very difficult little hills. I actually had to walk up a piece of one. The 17% grade was hard enough but I lost all my traction on the rear wheel due to the wet leaves. He is also proud of the fact that we were never more than half an hour from the city, although our course was nearly 60 kms.

I did not feel 100% and climbing with a head cold is not easy as the increasing blood pressure tends to make your face hurt but I could not keep up to Richard anyway, even on my Marinoni which has a triple. How he can ride this course on a singlespeed is beyond me, although I think that in one or two spots he would have been happy to have some extra gears. He tells me that if I ride this course often enough I will have the legs and stamina for L'Eroica next October and I do not doubt it. And I hope that my weight will drop enough to make climbing hurt less!

We rolled back through Gerresheim and then back to Grafenberg, where it was time for coffee and cake at a little Konditorei I had noticed a while back since not a lot is open on Sunday. It was a delightful ride, although with 819 meters of climbing in 57.61 kms, I suspect I will sleep well tonight.

Unfortunately, it was too grey and nasty for photography but it was a joy to ride though the autumn colours. Perhaps not as impressive as what I would see in Ottawa but since there is snow there already I will not complain. Although the bike is filthy...

Friday 5 November 2010

Chasing Legends: 2009 Tour de France DVD

May 2010 saw the theatrical release, on a very limited basis, of Chasing Legends, a documentary about the 2009 Tour de France seen through the pro team HTC-Columbia, led by super-sprinter Mark Cavendish. The movie is now out on a 2 disc DVD set and my review of it has just appeared at and can be found here.

The film was produced by a group based in little Harrisonburg, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley and on a shoestring budget. A labour of love, it is certainly worth adding to your collection.