Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bikes, cobbles and mudguards

We have spent a lot of time with our family in Europe these past couple of months. Most of the time we have been in Girona, Spain but we did spend four days following the late season bike races and visiting museums in Italy. (See previous post “Museums in Italy”).

I didn’t get as much bike riding in during this these visits as I usually do. During our first visit in October the weather wasn’t too conducive a lot of the time but when I did get out I rode daughter-in-law, Dede’s “wet weather and dirt road bike”. Dede’s position is just about the same as mine so when I borrow one of her bikes it fits just about perfectly.

Dede's Giant Paris-Roubaix bike.

The bike I rode was originally intended for Columbia pro Bert Grabsch to ride in the 2008 Paris-Roubaix should the course turn out to be wet and muddy. As it happens the day turned out to be dry and fine so he rode his regular road bike and the wet weather bike remained unused. At the end of the season the unused wet weather bikes were offered for sale to team members so Michael bought two, one for himself and another for Dede. Like me Michael and Dede like to ride the back roads and are not put off by gravel surfaces. These bikes are ideal for that purpose. There is clearance for mudguards and Michael has them fitted but he hadn’t got around to fitting them to Dede’s by the time I was riding it.

The bike has a Giant carbon frame and is Dura-Ace equipped with cantilever brakes to give mud clearance. I haven’t ridden a carbon bike any distance before so I was anxious to find out how it rides. I got a rude awakening as soon as we left the house and descended the cobbled 20% hill down to the town centre. The brakes were really bad and the rigid forks made riding the moderate cobbles very uncomfortable.

This is a bike that was prepared by arguably the top team in the sport to be used on the infamous cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. One would think that a fork with some flex in it would be chosen but this fork, although carbon, is super rigid. Maybe they thought that the extra layer of handlebar tape would absorb all the shock. The brakes were frighteningly bad although I was able to improve them a bit by reducing the spring tension. I may be able to improve them further by adjusting the cable/straddle set up. I will play around with them again to see if any more improvement can be made. Meanwhile Dede will be able to stop but not with the same efficiency as she is used to with her dual pivot brakes.

I have ridden the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix and it is truly amazing to me that the pros can ride them at the speed that they do. One would think that all the teams would make every attempt to have the bikes set up to absorb as much shock as possible. Some do: Specialized had polymer, shock absorbing inserts in their forks and stays and the earlier Treks which Michael rode in 2006 had shock absorbers in the seat stays. Michael says that these bikes were around for only a couple of seasons as the polymer inserts made no noticeable improvement.

A few years ago there was a period when almost all P-R bikes had suspension forks. Most of the winners in the early nineties used them. Now they are not used at all except on a few of the Cannondale bikes. Michael, who has ridden two Paris-Roubaixs, says that he believes that with the suspension the rider doesn’t have the same degree of control that one has on a standard road bike. And, of course during the hectic battle for the best line in those cobbled ‘sectors’ control is paramount.

The bikes need to be quick and responsive on the pavement and as comfortable as possible on the cobbles. Now, most of the top contenders ride standard bikes, some with a little more clearance, with bigger tires run at low pressure. Michael tells me the tire pressure makes the biggest difference on the cobbles.

Michael's Giant Paris-Roubaix bike now set up for winter training.

Julien DeVries, the Discovery Team mechanic, has worked with generations of champions ,from Eddy Merckx to Greg Lemond to George Hincapie, and when Michael rode Julien was responsible for their bikes for the race. While looking over their bikes beforehand he advised the riders against any changes to what he suggested: a single roll of tape on the bars, no extra brake levers, standard box section 32 spoke wheels, and his aged tubular tires. He turned his nose up at any other addition to the bike to improve comfort as it only detracts from the performance. After riding a few additions Michael said he was in agreement. Pressure, quality and care of the tires could make all the difference. The rest was superfluous.

Michael's training partner, David Millar (Garmin Transitions) has his Felt Paris-Roubaix bike also set up with mudguards for winter training around Girona.

David's bike does have some of the equipment that Julien de Vries terms "superfluous" like auxilliary brake levers and padded tape.

Unless one has actually experienced the cobbled roads of P-R I don’t think it possible to comprehend how bad they are. The stretches of cobbles found in city streets are as smooth as silk when compared to the Arenberg. Apparently it is easier when one rides them fast. I guess it must be. The pros go over them at fifty km/h-- I found them just about impossible at twenty. One can get a inkling of how bad it is at:

However apart from the poor brakes the Giant was nice to ride once on the smooth roads. It was lighter than my own steel Mariposas but I didn’t seem to go up the hills any quicker. With the mudguards fitted it will be a great bike for Dede to explore the narrow gravel Catalan mountain roads with Michael.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Bianchi brakes

In my last post I made mention of the Bianchi with the hidden rod brake system. I was baffled as to how it was possible to hide those rods inside the frame, particularly through the steering column and into the down tube.
Friend and Italian bike aficionado Steven Massland has supplied the answer.

This shows the mechanism fitted to a Taurus bike but the Bianchi has to be similar.
The purple/yellow parts are to the rear brake and the green parts are to the front. Quite simple when one knows how.
Still quite a caper for the mechanic to assemble however.

The Taurus

The Bianchi was rather more complicated as the brake stirrup was mounted on the seat stays and the connecting rods went through the b/b and up the seat tube instead of exiting the b/b as on this Taurus

The front brake on the Bianchi is somewhat more complicated too as the connections are hidden within the fork crown and blades before exiting at the stirrups. Taurus is cheating a bit here.

Details of the Taurus bike can be found at:

Many thanks to Steven Maasland for his help

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Museums in Italy

I’ve just spent a few days in northern Italy where 0ur son Michael was riding the two end of season races, the GranPiemonte and the Giro di Lombardia. It is a beautiful area and at this time of year a little less congested than in the heart of the tourist season.

The Gran Piemonte started in the town of Novi Ligure, outside the Museo dei Campionisimmi, a museum dedicated to the great Italian cycling champions. Novi Ligure was the hometown of Fausto Coppi so a special emphasis is devoted to him although most of the other top Italian cyclists are well represented.

I had visited the museum a few years ago and there have been a number of improvements since. If we had had the time I would have liked to spend the day there as there are many videos that can be watched which were not there on my previous visit. My particular interest is the old bikes. They have a couple of Coppi’s Bianchis which I have always found interesting. It would seem that he rode the same frame design for both road and track. The only difference that I could see was that the track bike had no mounting holes for brakes. It had road drop-outs with the gear hanger removed and quick-release hubs were fitted with the q/r levers cut down to about an inch long. I had always thought q/r hubs were banned on the track but I suppose that if your name is Fausto Coppi no UCI commissaire is going to give you a rough time.

Coppis track bike.

It looks like a road frame but there are no brake holes.

Road drop-outs on Coppi's track bike.

The quick release levers are cut short.

On the subject of rear drop-outs. I have always thought that rear opening track style drop-outs make no sense on any bike except perhaps on a specialized TT bike where every effort is made to get the rear wheel close to the seat tube. This is not an issue with a fixed wheel as there has to be a gap between the tire and the seat tube to allow the rear wheel to be slid forward to unship the chain when removing the wheel. Rear opening drop-outs have absolutely no advantage over horizontal forward opening drop-outs and have many disadvantages especially if fenders are fitted. However with the recent “fixie” craze every manufacturer is slavishly following fashion and building frames with ‘track ends’ It makes no sense. It seems that Coppi, or more likely his Bianchi mechanics, realized this back in the fifties but no one else has since.

There were some other interesting bikes in the museum but I was a bit upset to see how some were displayed. A number of the track bikes are displayed with the chain hanging down, no effort having been made to adjust it. The displays themselves are excellent but whoever mounted the bikes have next to no knowledge of bikes.

Moser's Obree style hour record bike. (With loose chain).

Moser's large rear wheel hour record bike. (Also with loose chain).

Down the centre of the museum’s main hall there is a good display of interesting bikes but again the display is spoilt by the signs describing the bikes are often in front of the wrong bike. How difficult can that be to correct?

Campagnolo's first generation Gran Sport derailleur.

(The derailleur that set the design for everything to come).

A pity that someone hasn't taken the time to clean it up.

An interesting very light (7 kg.) all aluminum bike with rod operated derailleurs. Made by Stefano Cavanna in 1947.

The museum is worth a visit by anyone interested in bikes or the history of racing. I will probably go back again.

A couple of days after being in Novi Ligure we made the pilgrimage to the Madonna di Ghisallo primarily to see the Giro di Lombardia riders as they pass this famous chapel. The chapel is dedicated to cyclists and is filled with bikes of various champions and memorabilia. Next to the chapel a new cycling museum is now open and worth a visit. In many ways it is similar to the museum in Novi Ligure. There are a couple of bikes that really interested me. One a 1930s Bianchi fitted with rod brakes with the rods completely hidden within the frame tubes. There is no visible connection between the levers on the handlebar and the stirrups mounted on the forks and rear stays. How it is done, I do not know. How do those rods make their way from the handlebars, through the stem and steerer into the down tube, around the bottom bracket to an opening on the seat tube? How does the front brake rod make it’s way from the steerer and into the fork blades? It is certainly one of the most fascinating bicycle engineering feats that I have seem. One has to ask how and why.

The Bianchi with all the brake rods concealed within he frame tubes.

The lovely wood Vianzone bike from 1945

Now that the museum is open it would be nice to see many of the bikes and memorabilia moved out of the chapel and into the museum. The chapel is so packed with items that it appears somewhat tacky. Perhaps the bike that Fabio Casartelli died on should remain and maybe the bikes of the greats Bartali and Coppi (Just how many bikes did he have?) but there doesn’t seem to be any need for all the jerseys of past and present champions.

There was one rather disappointing aspects to both museums. Despite the fact that there were hundreds of cycling fans outside each building to see the pro bike races few of those fans entered the museums. It would seem that not many have any interest in the rich history of cycling. Maybe it is because I grew up with Coppi, Bobet, Gaul and Bahamontes as my idols and by visiting these museums I can relive part of my youth. Perhaps in fifty years time those young fans will be visiting the museums to relive the exploits of Armstrong, Contador and Cavendish. Recently there has been a surge of interest in the classic bikes of the 50s, 60s and 70s perhaps that interest will get more visitors into the museums.

It is not just the racing bikes that I find interesting. There have been some very interesting designs in city and everyday bikes that get very little recognition. The Bianchi with hidden brake mechanisms is one, another is the wonderful Vianzone wooden bike from 1945. Probably the finest bike I saw during my short visit to Italy was not anything in the museum nor was it one of the fancy logo covered carbon bikes of the pros. It was a fifties Bianchi ‘gentleman’s bike' being ridden through the streets of Varese by an elderly gentleman who has probably ridden it through those same streets every day for the last fifty odd years. He had obviously taken great care of it as the black paint and chrome lugs gleamed like new. The Campagnolo Sport single roller three speed derailleur seemed to be working as well as it did in 1955. The full chaincase kept his suit pants off the chain.

These museums are just two of more than twenty museums dedicated to cycling in Italy. The only other one that I have visited is the Museo Nicolas near Verona. That is a wonderful private collection of vintage cars, motor bikes and bikes. It is well worth a visit.

Further details:

Monday, September 28, 2009

A memorable ride in the Alps (part three) Michael's version.

The following is written by Michael Barry (jr) now a successful pro in the European peloton.

The trip to France with my father, aunt and uncle in 1984, and more precisely our ascent up Mont Ventôux, marked me in a way no other trip has; it not only introduced me to Europe but in many ways turned my childhood dreams into reality. I had read about the Tour and the famous climbs and races throughout Europe daily for several years before we took off for France. I had visions of what it would all be like and wasn’t disappointed but captured. I had read about Simpson on Ventôux, had seen the photos of him struggling to climb back on his bike before finally collapsing, I knew the difficulty of the climb, its volcanic history, its mythic and mystic environment and anticipated our ascent as most children would a trip to Disneyworld.

Mike & Michael climbing Ventoux

As a very young child my father took me on some great adventures. Never one to take the quickest route anywhere, he opted for the most interesting. As a teenager, he had traveled to Europe from England (a short crossing now but one, which at the time, was unfathomable to most Brits) to watch his childhood idols race their bikes in the mountains. He rode through the countryside with friends experiencing moments on his bike that few others experience in a lifetime. A few years later, as a twenty year old, he returned on a Lambretta scooter, with his girlfriend, to cruise around again. Today, these journeys seem trivial in a world that is accustomed to flight and travel, but at the time, for a young lad from London they were monumental.

Over the years we have enjoyed some great journeys together--from the Netherlands to Quèbec we have seen some beautiful countryside on our bikes. But the ride up the Ventôux touched me in a way the others have not.

On the morning we were to climb my father woke me up in our hotel room--a small attic room in a quaint hotel in Sault. I had slept a little longer and he had made a quick trip down to the patisserie to buy a Milles Feuilles for my breakfast. I sat it bed, munched away scattering crumbs, while he read the paper. As we age, we begin to savour food for the memories it incites--decades later, when I bite into a similar pastry, through the icing and the layers of flaky dough, into the creamy centre, I am brought back to that morning.

In France, I was enchanted by Orangina, baguettes with pâté, and flaky croissants with jam. We ate simply but we ate well. We stopped in cafés, we dined in fine restaurants and we picnicked in fields. After visiting a vineyard we picnicked between their vines. Energetic from the meal I played in the dirt while my aunt, uncle and father slept off the wine.

In our hotel room, on the bedside table, beside the small lamp and pastry, was our highlighted route on the Michelin map. Each night, after dinner, we would lay in bed together and sketch out the next day’s route. In haste I would choose the shortest line from A to B but with my Dad’s guidance I learned that we were in search of the smaller roads with less traffic and better sites. Still today, when I pull out a map to plan a route I think back to those nights. The smaller the road the better as long as there is a good cafe along the way.

Nearly twenty years after we rode up the Ventôux I ascended it again during the Dauphiné Libèré. Nothing had changed. I felt as if I was on the back of the tandem again, with my Dad as captain, encouraging me. Each kilometre of road flashed before me like a snapshot from the past--the irritatingly loud crickets buzzed as they had in ’84, the gradient over the first ten kilometres absorbed my energy as the bike slowed before I broke into the open where the gusting dry wind pushed me out of the corners. I could still hear my Dad’s encouragement as we rode past the Châlet Renard, “We’re almost there. This is roughly half way.” Despite not being in contention for a decent result in the race I rode at my own tempo to experience and embrace the moment. I wanted to be alone in my effort so I rode past riders who pedalled slowly as they were only concerned with making it to the finish and I persisted until the end. Like a song brings back the emotions of a teenage romance the ride brought me back to that day with my Dad.

As I passed the memorial I glanced over my shoulder and then refocussed on the road ahead and the spaceship like tower which pierced the sky at the summit. For my father, Simpson was a fallen hero who had died tragically on the bike. For me, distant from Simpson's career, the memorial was a memory of the day I rode with my Dad, uncle and aunt. I now understand Simpson's story of complete sacrifice for victory.

Mike & Michael at Simpson's Memorial.

In 1984 I lived the first part of a dream which has now become reality. In the last twenty years I have ridden throughout the world and never forgotten the essence of what my Dad taught me as a kid: to seek out the smaller, more interesting roads. For years I saved the piece of tubular we had found at the roadside as a trophy from our ascent. And, I imagine it is still somewhere in the boxes of my childhood possessions amongst the Legos, marbles and HotWheels.

Michael, Ralph and Trish at the summit of Mont Ventoux

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A memorable ride in the Alps (part two)

A pretty Air Canada attendant who had looked after him throughout the flight from Toronto escorted Michael out of the arrival lounge. Around his neck was a large “Unaccompanied Minor” label. It was great to see him. I had been somewhat nervous about him traveling alone at eight years old but he had had a wonderful time. When he had left Toronto my wife, Clare had checked him in with our tandem. At the airport we then met our companions for the next couple of weeks. Clare’s brother Ralph and his wife Trish had flown in from Vancouver with their tandem. The bikes arrived safely and we were soon pedaling across Paris to the Gare d’Austerlitz where we took the TGV back to Grenoble. The tandems followed on a regular train. No bikes are allowed on the high speed TGV.

Back in Grenoble we had a day for the newcomers to get over their jet lag while we waited for the tandems to arrive. We were then on our way into the mountains again. Ian rode with us for the first day before returning to Canada.

Preparing the tandems in the hotel garage.

Michael let it be known early on that he wasn’t going to let his aunt and uncle beat us to the top of any pass. Ralph and Trish are known to be rather competitive and we had some great tussles for ‘KOM’ points. There were some good climbs over several passes as we made our way south towards Provence and our major objective the dreaded Mont Ventoux. Ventoux is an extinct volcano shaped like a massive cone rearing up from the surrounding forests and lavender fields. The upper reaches are bare white rock and in summer sun it is an inferno.

The two tandems set off into the Alps.

Mike and Michael tackling an early climb.

Ralph and Trish Lapp on their loaded Lejeune.

As it was now October we were not going to have hot weather to contend with. We spent the night in Sault, a village close to the base of the climb and in the morning explored the village market before setting off. Michael was anxious to start the climb but I think that the rest of us set out with some trepidation. We all had heard how tough the climb is and climbing on a tandem is never easy. We thought it prudent to leave our heavy panniers in the hotel and planned to pick them up after the climb. We took the climb steady and had a number of unscheduled stops. In 1984 most serious cyclists rode tubular tires and many of their cast offs were scattered along the side of the road to this cyclist’s shrine. Michael must have inherited some of his father’s ‘waste not’ habits and wanted to stop and collect all those punctured tubulars. In the end we came to a compromise, we would cut out the valve section and he could collect those. By the time we reached the summit he had a dozen or so Ventoux souvenirs. The first half of the climb through the trees was quite warm but when we left the shelter of the trees we were hit by a strong cold wind. By the time we reached the Tom Simpson Memorial it was blowing really hard and we feared a very cold descent. We stopped there to pay our respects but I was rather disappointed by the litter and poor state of the memorial. Cyclists had left discarded tubulars there along with water bottles and other cyclist’s articles. I suppose they thought they were making some sort of tribute to Tom but to my mind a far better tribute would be to keep the area clean and tidy. I understand that recently the memorial has been refurbished and that it is now better maintained.

The summit was reached with us all in pretty good shape although rather cold. Michael had certainly carried his share of the work and was elated to have climbed the famous mountain that he had read about in cycling magazines. The restaurant at the top was closed so we had to start the descent back to Sault without getting warmed up.

Michael and the trusty Lejeune at the summit of Ventoux

The wind was behind us and the road was slightly down hill as we spent the afternoon heading for Carpentras. The speed of the two fully loaded tandems kept creeping up and there was obviously going to be a big sprint for the town sign. Ralph and Trish now had the bit between their teeth and were giving Michael and me a bit of a rough time and I must admit we sat on their wheel for a while. The speed was really high as the two loaded tandems thundered towards the town, the ’captains’ staring intently ahead for the Carpentras sign. I can’t remember who won the sprint but I do remember that it was a great way to finish a memorable day.

The next day we rode to the medieval town of Avignon where we did some sight-seeing before taking a train to Cannes and then spending a few days riding along the coast. Although we were out of the mountains the riding was still quite challenging along the very hilly coast road. The weather was beautiful and we spent a good few stops building sand castles on the beach. Although Michael was half the size of any of us he was certainly a definite equal part of the quartet. In fact somewhat more than equal as his French was fluent and more often than not he was the translator for the group.

The coast road did add a little excitement when Ralph and Trish, while descending at speed, had their front brake cable break. Ralph can be congratulated for bringing that fully loaded tandem to a safe stop with one rear, not too efficient, Mafac cantilever on a steep hairpin descent.

Another interesting episode was when trying to find a nice beach near St Tropez we ended up at a nude beach. Ralph and I found it very entertaining but Michael found it “Yucky” and Trish sat staring straight out to sea.

Our cycling ended in Marseille where Michael and I boarded a train back to Grenoble and Ralph and Trish went straight through to Paris. I had left my single bike in Grenoble and had to pick it up before continuing on to Paris. A rail strike made the journey quite arduous and Michael and I arrived in Paris at 1AM. We wandered the streets for an hour or so trying to find a hotel but everywhere was “complet” due to the rail strike. Eventually a hotel manager allowed us to sleep on his restaurant floor along with about twenty others. He supplied us with blankets and pillows but insisted we were gone by 6 AM, as that is when the hotel owner was to arrive. For that rather uncomfortable three hours he charged me 100 Francs. However it was better than wandering the streets with an eight year old in tow.

We had an early breakfast in the railway station before picking up the tandem and single bike from the baggage department. By this time we were in the peak of rush hour and I had to get a fully loaded tandem, complete with eight-year-old stoker and my Mariposa touring bike across town to the Gare du Nord. What else to do but ride the tandem and trail the single bike with my right hand. This left me with a left hand to apply the front brake to slow the whole lot down. Fortunately the route is fairly flat and no difficulty arose. Drivers were very courteous and gave us plenty of room even while negotiating the chaos of the Place de la Concorde. We arrived at the Gare du Nord in plenty of time to catch our train to London and so ended a wonderful vacation in France.

That was the last time that I was on Ventoux but Michael has raced up a few times since whilst competing in the Dauphine Libere. I hope to go back, ideally with my son but perhaps this time on single bikes.

A bit about the bikes.
We rode two French Lejeune tandems. They were not fancy but did the job very well. They were equipped with 650B wheels and light Wolber tandem tires. We had 15 gears with TA triple chainwheels with a bottom gear of 36x28. We had installed the drive chainwheel on the front bottom bracket with a long chain going right through to the rear. The long chain line made it possible to use all fifteen gears efficiently. The brakes were Mafac Tandem cantilevers. Michael and I carried all our gear in two Kirtland rear panniers and a handlebar bag. Ralph and Trish had additional front panniers. Both bikes had fenders and generator lighting. Michael used 150 mm cranks with the saddle right down on the top tube.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A memorable ride in the Alps (Part one)

The recent TV coverage of the Tour stage finishing at the top of Mont Ventoux brought back wonderful memories for me. I have only ridden that mountain once and that was back in 1984 with son Michael on a tandem. Michael was eight at the time and I think that both Michael and I remember the trip as the best vacation we have ever had.

I had been over in Europe for a couple of weeks before the Ventoux trip. I had gone over with then business partner Mike Brown and good friend Ian Austen to visit the International Bike Show in Cologne, Germany.

While at the Show we had an interesting meeting with Alex Moulton who was there promoting his recently introduced AM series of suspended small wheel bikes. It was an interesting meeting for Mike and I as we had been selling a lot of the AMs and had, up to that point, sold more than any other dealer in the World except one in Germany. We were very enthusiastic about the bikes but had one major criticism, that being that the range of gears available with its single chainring set-up wasn’t suitable for loaded touring, particularly in mountains. We had modified a number of them with brazed-on front derailleurs and double chainwheels and also painted a few in brighter, more appealing colours than the standard grey. In fact Ian Austen was riding a bright yellow AM modified with a wide range of gears. Dr Moulton thought we were ruining his bike design and we got into quite a heated argument. He contended that his standard seven gears were ample for any type of riding. I often wonder if he would have changed his mind if he had seen the terrain we were to ride over in the following few days.

After the Show we took a train to Basel in Switzerland intending to ride from there to Grenoble taking in as many mountain passes that we could. Cold, torrential rain met us in Basel so we got back on the train and got off a bit further South in Geneva where we were met by bright skies and warmer temperatures.

Our first day took in the climb up the Salève just outside Geneva and finished at a wonderful country hotel, which we came across purely by chance. We were the only guests and our host served us a spectacular meal. A nightly ritual for the rest of the trip, we pored over our maps with highlighters in hand and planned a route through the Alps taking in as many passes as we could manage towards our destination, Grenoble. Eager to discover, we sought out the smallest mountain roads shown on the maps as dotted lines.

Some of the mountain roads were interesting both going up...

and coming down.

The next few days were filled with a succession of climbs through some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable. I cannot remember the names of many of the passes but some were little more than goat tracks across the peaks. Mike and I were riding our Mariposa touring bikes equipped with triple chainwheels but Ian was riding his near new, bright yellow Moulton. Its seventeen-inch wheels were perhaps not the best choice for those rock-strewn tracks despite the bike’s suspension but Ian was certainly pleased that we had installed the wide range of gears.

Although there was plenty of snow the weather was good.

Mikes Brown and Barry climbing yet another pass in beautiful weather.

A memorable day finished a few kilometres from the top of the Col de la Croix-de-Fer. We arrived at the base of the climb at the end of a tough day that had taken in a few passes including the Col de la Madeleine. We were all tired and as we turned off the main road onto the Col we agreed that the hotel advertised as being a couple of kilometers ahead would be our place for the night. We were on the climb and it was getting dark but when we arrived at the hotel we discovered that it was closed for the season--it was now early October. The sensible thing to do would have been to freewheel back down the pass to the town at the base but we looked at the map and noted that there was what appeared to be a fair sized village about fifteen kilometers further up the mountain. On we went with our generators barely lighting our way as we plodded slowly up the climb.
Everything in the next village was closed but someone suggested that we might have more luck at a ski village further on. On we pushed only to find that all the hotels were closed there too. There was, however, a pub open with a bunch of somewhat inebriated guys sitting around the bar. After explaining to them our predicament, one fellow insisted that we follow him. He climbed into a car and we followed on our bikes eventually arriving at another closed-up hotel. However, this time, the owner was present and when our inebriated guide explained the situation we were welcomed with open arms. The rest of the evening was wonderful. Our guide called his mates from the pub and they all joined us for a raucous evening with a substantial meal and many beers.

Two Mariposas and a Moulton at the top of the Madelaine

The next couple of days took us over a few more spectacular cols but by far the most breathtaking was the Galibier. A day or so before we arrived at its base there had been a heavy snowfall closing the road. Fortunately, the road opened up the morning we arrived as the sun was shining bright and had melted the snow from the road surface. As we neared the summit I looked down across the valley where everything was pure white except the black ribbon of road up which we had climbed. Having climbed a bit faster than the others that day I stood at the top of the mountain and waited for them to arrive. That moment is clear in my memory 25 years later. I was in awe as I looked down at what is now the most spectacular view that I have ever seen. It was absolutely silent and the only movements were the gusts of snow being blown from the peaks. During the hundreds of thousands of kilometers I have ridden this moment stands out as one of the most exhilarating. Climbing up into such a majestic environment was captivating.

My Mariposa at the top of the Galibier

Mike Brown parks his Mariposa next to Ian's Moulton.

At the top, we went into the restaurant for a coffee and sandwich. (Still to this day I have the small bottle of liqueur called 'Genepi du Galibier' made from the local herbs, which is claimed to be the cure of many ailments. On the label is a line drawing of the restaurant where we ate. The booze is so medicinally good I have yet to finish it). As we went to leave the proprietor handed us newspapers to stuff up our jerseys for the descent. We certainly needed the paper, as the wind was brisk and the air frigid. While in the restaurant the sun had gone down behind the mountain and the temperature had dropped at least ten degrees Celsius. I had no gloves and used socks and plastic bags to keep my fingers from freezing on the long descent to Bourg d’Oisans. There the hotel presented us with a hearty, warming meal of goat stew washed down with a presentable red wine served from a large earthenware jug.

There is still some left in the bottle 25 years later

The next day we had a relatively easy but wet ride to Grenoble. Here we were to part ways. Mike Brown took the train to Paris and onto London. Ian stayed in Grenoble for a bit more cycling and I took the TGV up to Paris to pick son Michael and the tandem up at the airport for the second part of the trip.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Peloso

Above: The Peloso today.

I had just finished a circuit race in Toronto’s High Park. I hadn’t done particularly well in the race but I felt that some fitness was returning. This was encouraging as I had taken a couple of months leave of absence from work and had planned a trip back to England. I hoped to compete in races around the London area where I had raced before immigrating to Canada. The year was 1970 and I had been away six years. I was looking forward to meeting up with my old teammates and seeing if I could still hold my own in the races after six years away. At the finish of the High Park race I leaned my cherished Bianchi against a friend’s car while chatting to friends and other riders. When I turned to pick up the bike it was gone. Stolen while almost within reach.

I was due to leave for England in a couple of days. The planned racing trip wasn’t going to be much good without a bike. What to do: buy a new one here in Toronto or buy one in the UK. I decided on the latter. I spent the flight dreaming of the best bike that I could get, a Cinelli perhaps, another Bianchi or maybe a good English bike. Then I remembered ‘Baron” Smith. The Baron was one of the numerous colourful characters in the London cycling scene of the sixties. He was known as "The Baron" as he always had the most expensive and up to date bike and equipment. He was always immaculately turned out and it was rumoured that his bedroom wall was covered in a display of all the Campagnolo components available. The Baron rode a Peloso. It was silver with chrome lugs. That was the bike that I wanted.

I got in touch with Baron Smith as soon as I could. Where can I get a Peloso I asked? “You have to go to his shop in Alessandria,” he said. “That’s about halfway between Milan and Turin. Tell him I sent you, it may help”.

I talked good friend Mike Greenwood into joining me on the trip and we set off by train to Alessandria. Mike took his bike along as we intended riding back at least as far as Paris.

On arrival in Turin we went to the baggage area to pick up Mike’s bike but although it was there the officials wouldn’t let us have it until it had cleared Italian Customs. The Customs officer wouldn’t be in until the next day. We concocted a story; in our practically non-existent Italian that Mike was racing in Alessandria the next day and we had to get on the next train with the bike. At least one of the rail officials seemed to be a bike race fan and after a great deal of discussion they gave us the bike.

It was Monday when we arrived at Peloso’s small back street shop. He had no stock bikes. All were made to order. “Yes I can make you a bike. When do you want to pick it up?” he asked. “We would like to leave on Friday” I replied. “Impossible, I have to build the frame, have it chromed and painted and then assembled by Friday! Impossible.” Then I mentioned that Baron Smith had sent us. “Well let me see what I can do” was the response. I think the Baron must have been a very good customer.

Mike and I spent the next couple of days down on the beach near San Remo and were back in Peloso’s shop on Thursday afternoon. The frame was still at the painter’s but he sent off the shop “boy” to fetch it. It was beautiful. It was to be assembled “all Campag” of course but there was some discussion about the brakes. Campagnolo had just introduced their brakes and Peloso had a couple of sets. I could have these fitted rather than the standard Universals but that would put the price up $20.00. I decided to go for it and at about 9.30 that evening I left the shop with the “all Campag” Peloso and two extra Clement silk Criterium tubulars after paying the grand sum of $220.00.

On the Friday morning we were up and on the road early. The route took us over the 6,600 foot Simplon Pass into Switzerland. I had ordered the bike with my standard racing gears of 48/52 on the front and 14/16/18/21/24 on the back but at the last moment had asked for a 42 inner ring to be fitted. Peloso was somewhat disparaging. “You don’t need a 42, a bottom gear of 48x24 will be fine”. I’m glad that I insisted and had the 42 on the bike and the 48 in my bag.

It was a beautiful hot day and the climb was quite a struggle especially as both Mike and I were carrying large ‘mussettes’ filled with all our gear. Mike was suffering really badly and kept stopping to fill his bottle from the ice-cold mountain streams coming down from the glaciers above. When we arrived in the Swiss town of Brig he could barely stand from the pain in his kidneys. I had to help him undress to get into bed.

Next morning Mike was a little better but it became obvious when we started climbing the Furka Pass that he wasn’t going to be able to make it to Paris. We decided that we would catch a train at the next town. The next town was at the other side of the 7,900 foot pass. A fantastic climb with walls of snow either side of the road and the most wonderful Alpine scenery all around. The descent brought us into a small town with a railway station where we bought tickets to Paris.

The train was already in the station so we loaded our bikes into the baggage car and went for a meal in the restaurant. We were told that we had an hour before departure so we had plenty of time. Long before our hour was up the train pulled out with our bikes on board.

Seeing our dilemma a fellow suggested that we get out onto the highway and flag down a car. "The highway runs parallel to the railway" he said " and as the route twists and turns through the mountains a car should be able to beat the train to the next station". The first car we saw stopped and picked us up. When we explained the situation the two businessmen inside thought that this challenge was great fun. It wasn’t long before the train was in sight and we were able to overtake it. But then the road veered away from the railway and when it rejoined the railway again the train was again in front. We overtook it again and managed to get to the next town with enough time for us to run over a footbridge and arrive breathless on the platform as the train pulled in.

The rest of the trip back to London was uneventful and I was soon out on the Peloso on familiar roads in Surrey and Kent. One of the first races I entered was on the old motor racing circuit at Crystal Palace where I suffered the ignominy of crashing while climbing the hill. My chain slipped on the cogs and being out of the saddle I was dumped onto the tarmac. Although I wasn’t hurt the ‘sag wagon’ driver insisted on picking me and the wonderful Peloso up and taking me to the finish. My mates thought it hilarious and asked if I had forgotten how to ride a bike while in Canada.

I still have the Peloso. It has been repainted once but for a thirty nine year old bike it looks pretty good. I haven’t ridden it for a while but I will have to get it out again and relive that wonderful ride in the Alps even if it is just on those hills north of Toronto.

Definitely a bike built for me..

The head badge is a bit worse for wear.

The first Campagnolo brakes have no name engraved. They are now widely sought after by collectors.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Two cranksets, two chains.

I recently attended the North American Hand-built Bike Show (NAHBS) in Indianapolis. I do not think that there is any doubt that most of the World's finest handbuilt bikes are now made in North America. The craftsmanship on show was truly outstanding but there were also a good number of quirky bikes.
Fixed wheel bikes (fixies) were much in evidence and there were some beautiful examples. The one that caught my eye though was the bike with two complete transmissions, one on either side of the bike.

When I asked the guy manning the booth what the idea was I was told that the second transmission was a safety measure that would come into play should a chain break or get unshipped. Normally with only one chain of course there is no means of stopping as the modern "fixie" rider wouldn't dream of installing a brake. Without brake or chain you are completely snookered. The thought of plummeting downhill with absolutely no means of stopping is somewhat unnerving. Rather than be seen with a brake these guys install two chainwheels, two chains and two sprockets. I shook my head in disbelief.

However it got me thinking about another bike I'd seen with a similar set-up but this one made a lot of sense. In 1982 Canadian rider Jocelyn Lovell rode the kilometre time trial at the World Championships in Leicester, England using a bike with two transmissions. His arrangement gave him two gear ratios, a lower gear to get away from the line and a higher gear that kicked in after about seventy metres. His ride in Leicester wasn't as good as he hoped for but the transmission worked well and it could not be faulted by the UCI commisaires.

Jocelyn's bike had a freewheel sprocket on the normal right hand side and a fixed sprocket on the left hand side. As he moved away from the line he drove through the RH sprocket and the left hand fixed sprocket began to unscrew from the hub. It being of smaller diameter it turned at a slower rate than the RH sprocket and being on the "wrong side" of the hub it would naturally unscrew. After about seventy metres the LH fixed sprocket came up against the lockring and at that point drive was through the LH side and the RH sprocket freewheeled. The distance traveled before the higher gear engaged could be adjusted by setting the position of the lockring. The bigger the space between lockring and sprocket at the start the longer the distance before the higher gear engaged.
Jocelyn experimented for some considerable time to come up with a combination of sprockets and chainrings that would not only give two suitable ratios but that would need chain lengths that would be at the correct tension. He settled on a low gear of 42x13 (87.2") and a high gear of 53x15 (95.4")

Jocelyn's two-speed transmission worked well but it was only one of the innovations that he tried. Note that in the above photograph he is riding a low profile frame, which he had built himself, fitted with "cow horn" handlebars and an extended seat tube connected directly to the saddle. All this was quite revolutionary in 1982. Tragically he was denied the opportunity to try it to it's full potential when he was hit by a dump truck in 1983 and paralyzed. That dump truck finished the career of one of Canada's finest athletes.

More about the fabulous cycling career of Jocelyn Lovell in a future blog.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The 2009 Paris-Roubaix Challenge,

The 2009 edition of Toronto’s Paris-Roubaix Challenge was a great success. Credit must be given to Heath Cockburn and Ed Veal of the promoting club La Bici Squadra for resurrecting the event after a lapse of a few years. They laid on a great event with plenty of volunteers to help with marshalling, registration and all the other jobs needed with an event like this. Thanks must also go to Rapha for their sponsorship.
The Hell of the North, as the event is now called, was over 95 kms of tough roads and tracks north of Toronto. Weather at the start was dry but cold (-2 degrees C) and there was a strong North West wind that the riders had to battle into for the first forty km.

There were four "sections" of really rough going for a total of about 20Km. The first section was under about a foot of ice-cold water on the day but was better than expected as the air temperature was below freezing. This made the mud at the sides a lot firmer than it had been the day before when the temperature was ten degrees Celsius and the mud was ankle deep.

Section two is the infamous "Trench", fourteen kms. of old railway bed. It was quite fast as the mud was frozen and the wind was at the riders backs but there was still some open water.

Sections three and four, each about 1 km long were just about unrideable by most of the field but the lead guys seemed to manage OK.

An originally routed fifth section through the Durham Forest had to be bypassed due to access problems. However I’m sure that most of the riders were not too upset about that.
Fastest on the day was Cam Jette who got around in 2 hours 55 minutes. That is 32.4 km/hr, not bad under the circumstances. Almost all of the 95 that started finished although the last were at least an hour and a half slower than Cam. The temperature didn't get above freezing for the duration of the event.
Amazingly everyone I spoke to thought it was great and many asked if a similar event could be run in the fall.
Make it tough and they will come back asking for more.

Thanks to Peter Kraiker for the above photos.
Go to his web site for more photos of this event and many others in Ontario.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Toronto's Paris-Roubaix Challenge"

The entrance to section 2. The "Trench".

Cycling is appealing to most because of the challenge. On a bike we can venture to new places, see unique environments, and push our bodies to the limit. The pain brings the accomplishment, which brings joy. Together with others the sense of elation is greater which is why I have always found an attraction to the toughest rides.

I organized the first “Toronto’s Paris-Roubaix Challenge” in 1988. For a few years I had been organizing randonnees for the members of the Toronto Randonneurs and had become somewhat unpopular for including stretches of gravel roads in the routes. My philosophy was that if the only choice was between a busy highway and a gravel road the latter was safer and preferable. Some members disagreed with this and many heated arguments occurred, particularly when a “secret control” was situated on a gravel section and those that avoided it and took the busy highway were listed as DNF (did not finish). However many other members agreed with my choice of routes and discussion began on the possibility of a route solely on gravel. And so the “Toronto’s Paris-Roubaix Challenge” was born. A route was selected starting at the Toronto Zoo, which is just north east of the City and finishing in Jackson’s Point, about 70 km North on the shore of Lake Simcoe. Jackson’s Point was chosen, as that was the location of the Irish House, a pub owned by John Watson and his son, local legend Sammy. Sammy had been one of Canada’s top riders in his day and knew all the roads and tracks in the area south of Jackson’s Point. Sammy and I got together and routed a course that took in all the worst roads and tracks between Toronto and Jackson’s Point.

The first event was a great success. Those that rode it really “enjoyed” the challenge and a challenge it is. The toughest section is a 14 km length of old railway bed. The tracks have been removed but the surface is a mixture of railway ballast and sand. It soon became known as the “Hell of the North”.

The Irish House was a perfect place to finish. By the time the riders arrived John and Sammy had a large log fire burning and the place had a marvelous welcoming atmosphere. On a couple of occasions Sammy arranged with the nearby physiotherapy college to have a fully staffed massage room available for the exhausted riders.

The event has always been run on the same day as the real Paris-Roubaix in France, which is usually the second Sunday in April. Southern Ontario’s weather can be almost anything in early April. I organized the event from 1988 until 2002 and during that period we had everything from bright, warm, sunny days to snow and probably the worst, freezing rain. One year I rode the event with my son Michael who was about thirteen. In those days I was still a bit stronger than Michael but on the “Hell of the North” section he fell way behind. I stopped and waited and eventually he caught up carrying his bike. The wheels would not turn; they were completely jammed with ice. There had been freezing rain since the start and both riders and bikes were covered in ice. Ice on each spoke was about 1 cm thick. With the help of a wrench we were able to chip away at the ice to get the wheels turning but this took some time. While chipping away at the ice beside the track we were passed by many riders one being a well-known local official and race organizer. On seeing me he shouted, “ This is the most stupid f-ing event I have ever heard of. You are f-ing mad”. However when we got to the finish and into the warmth and welcoming atmosphere of the Irish House, he came up to me and complimented me on a great event and said that he hoped that I would run it again the next year.

And that’s how it has always been. The tougher it is the more satisfaction riders seem to get from it. After the Spring 2000 event many riders came up and asked of I would put one on in the fall. After much deliberation I decided that we would put on the “last and toughest event of the millennium”. This event was to be out and back, covering a similar route as the P-R on the way out and incorporating a lot more abominable roads and tracks on the way back. Total distance was 148 km and it would be on the first Sunday in December. December is not recognized as being the ideal time of year to be cycling in Ontario. Most riders have put their bikes away for the winter. The weather can be awful and so it was. We had had a very wet spell, which produced many very muddy patches and puddles on the tracks. Then a couple of days before the event the whole lot froze. Deep puddles were now covered in a sheet of ice, which made riding impossible and running very unpleasant. Wet snow fell all day and the last finishers didn’t get in until after dark. However most riders finished and all agreed that it had been a great event. I organized both spring and fall events for a couple more years but quit after 2002.

For one or two years the Midweek Club organized the Spring event and then the guys at Cervelo had an “invitational” over the course for a couple of years. Many people asked me to put the events on again but I decided against it. This year however, Heath Cockburn from La Bicicletta approached me and asked if I would help him to organize it. He had been approached by the English clothing company, Rapha to put on an event that would fit into their schedule of tough events around the World. Heath immediately thought of Toronto’s Paris-Roubaix Challenge. On April 12th this year the event will go again. Heath is calling it the “Hell of the North” and it will be. It will start and finish at Musselman Lake, a few miles north of Toronto and will cover 95 km of the toughest roads and tracks that we can find. There are five “sections’ of really rough track including the fourteen kilometers of old railway bed which has now become known as the ‘Trench’. Many of the roads that were gravel in 1988 are now paved so there will be many quite fast stretches but we have managed to find some steep hills, which should add to the challenge.

The ideal bike to ride will depend a lot on the weather in the preceding week. I have ridden it on a good dry day with 23mm road tires but the best choice is usually a cyclo-cross bike with a large section road tire. Knobby tires are probably a bit slow on the fast stretches as are mountain bikes. However don’t get stressed out with the choice of equipment just use what you have and enjoy it.

Those masochists amongst you that feel like a real challenge this early in the year go to: / for details.

The following are photos of the course taken recently. Conditions will probably be better on April 12th.

Exit of section 2.

Exit of section 1. Probably most of the ice will be gone by April 12th.

There are some quite steep but short hills.

and rolling roads

Exit of section 5. Only 4 km from here to the finish.