Saturday, May 21, 2011

Short term review: Grand Bois 30mm tyres

Contrary to popular perception, narrow tyres aren't necessarily what most cyclists need. They might be fine for racing, but for the vast majority of us a wider tyre is going to be just as quick, a lot more comfortable, safer and durable.

I've been running Schwalbe Marathon 32mm tyres for the last few months. They're impressive tyres to be sure, plush and sure-footed and resistant to punctures on the dirt roads I do most of my travelling on. The only downside is that they're heavy and not terribly sexy.

I treated myself to a pair of Grand Bois Cypres a month ago, but thanks to various commitments I haven't had much of a chance to test them out until this weekend. They are a very impressive tyre.

First impressions are they they're light. Thin-walled and with a folding bead, there's not much to them. They went onto the rims fine and present a pleasantly rounded profile at 70 psi, which is what I'm choosing to run them at for the time being. A little more air might make them a shade faster, but at the cost of comfort. They're sold as 30mm tyres, but they're closer to 32mm.

On the road the Grand Bois Cypres live up to their reputation as a supple smooth-rolling tyre. That lovely hum that good road tyres make is just audible, even at the lower pressures. They soak up the bumps nicely and feel safe through corners. They feel particularly smooth at lower speeds - something I've noticed on climbs.  There's not much tread on them and it's not really thick, but customer reviews and none other than Jan Heine reckon they're durable and puncture resistant. Time will tell, although 70km of dirt roads over the last few days hasn't put a mark on them.

They're made in Japan, apparently for the delightful Grand Bois bike shop. I'd love one of their stunning Model C  frames pictured right, though I don't speak Japanese and very possibly don't have the money.

What I like most about these wider, softer tyres is that they give me the ability to safely roll off the shoulder onto the dirt to let traffic by. The Grand Bois are as sure-footed as the Schwalbes in that respect. And are they fast? They'll do fine. A steady ride this morning turned into a personal best for a course I ride most weeks, so they're certainly not slowing me down.

2291km so far this year.

Long term review: cheap cranksets

You can spend a lot of money on a crankset. There's a lovely Campagnolo piece for sale at Wiggle for $1077. Lots of carbon, weighs in at 585 grams. Nice, thanks, but I'll pass.

My tastes run to the more utilitarian end of the spectrum where you're also likely to run into a little more sanity than the 53/39 tooth chainrings that come as stock standard these days on just about every bike from a Tour de France wannabe to hybrid commuters. Big gears are fine for sprinting, when you're going to hit 60km/h or more. They're of no use at all the rest of the time. I'd like to keep my knees thanks.

About a year ago I bought myself a Shimano Deore crankset for the Crosscheck. It was relatively inexpensive and had external bearings so it seemed to be an upgrade. I whipped the old Stronglight Impact crankset off and sold it on ebay.
A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the chainring teeth on the Deore crankset were hooked. This isn't that unusual in cranksets that have done hard miles, but this crankset is barely a year old and has probably only done about 4000km. Not real flash.
So it's back to the Stronglight crankset (723 grams) for me. It's good looking, a basic workhorse, though it doesn't even have ramps or pins to help with the shifting (though it doesn't seem to affect performance) but it's light and tough and durable and works just fine for my purposes. (It's reviewed here with muted enthusiasm) I even had a couple of old bottom brackets lying around the workshop which it fitted on just fine. The biggest advantage is that is comes with 44-34-24 ratios, which are just perfect for the sort of riding around I do, where speeds of 60km/h plus are a little uncommon. And for only around a hundred bucks, they're a bargain too.

2256km so far this year.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Man with the Hammer

I took our two dogs for a six or eight kilometre ride today, something they need every day or two or they get restless. We arrived home, but then the restless one was me and something seemed to be calling me to head out exploring so I locked the dogs inside and turned straight back around. I'd had a light lunch about an hour before and briefly considered grabbing an energy bar but couldn't find one in a hurry and I was just keen to get out on the road.

It had been my rough plan to just take an easy spin out to the foot of the Denison Range about 10km from home, take some photos of the view and spin home. It's a pretty flat ride by Tasmanian standards, with only a 300m climb right at the end. There were dark clouds scudding across the valley, though it didn't look like rain was overly likely. The first few kilometres went by pretty quickly as I burned off some excess energy and settled into a rhythm on the Long Haul Trucker. 

I arrived at the bottom of the Denison Range climb and decided to ride a little way up to enjoy the view. I took some photos and I noticed the Lonnavale Road I've always wanted to check out was just down the hill. Not being in a hurry I rolled down the hill and turned left.

I've probably mentioned it before, but the countryside in this part of the world is absolutely stunning. The well-made dirt road snakes along the river valley, there are little farms and scattered houses on either side and there is hardly any traffic. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds and silhouetted the trees on the ridgelines in the distance. So far, so good.

The fist pangs of hunger hit about five kilometres up the road. I knew what would happen eventually, but I thought I'd tempt fate and see how far the road went. This was virgin territory and who knows what wonders lie beyond the next bend? About eight kilometres from the turnoff I passed the campground, then a crossroads and ended up at a bridge across the Russell River which seemed as good a place as any to turn around. The road back was mainly downhill, I had a gentle tailwind and was still making good time and although my energy levels were starting to drop I was confident I'd just make it the remaining dozen kilometres or so home before I blew up.

There's a famous Daniel Rebour cartoon showing what happens to cyclists who don't match their energy intake to their expenditure. It shows some poor bastard copping it from The Man with the Hammer. It's a pretty accurate depiction of what happens. In a more innocent age, we used to call it "bonking": there's a gradual lead-up to be sure, but ignore the warning signs for long enough and one minute you're moving ok, the next you're sitting starving and spent at the roadside wondering how the hell you're going to get home. It's sufficiently memorable that I can say with certainty that it's happened to me exactly four times in my life, and it's not a pleasant experience. By kilometre 35, with 5km left, the Man with the Hammer was about 100 metres behind me and gaining fast. I was pushing lower and lower gears and my pace was slowing and all I could think about was how soon I might be able to get something to eat.

The Man struck about two kilometres from home, a short distance up the long climb to my place. I was ok, then I wasn't. I gave up pedalling and slowly wheeled the bike up the road, wishing I'd been slightly less ambitious with the distance or at least taken something to keep the hunger at bay. All in all not a bad 40km jaunt, but the visit from the Man With the Hammer is not something I'm going to need reminding of for a while.

2204km so far this year.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Kaoota - Margate tramway

Having the right bike for the job is an overrated obsession. I've recently sold my mountain bike, so my venerable Surly Long Haul Trucker is filling in the the gaps. It's supposedly an on-road tourer but plenty tough so I thought I'd give it a blast on the Kaoota tramway.

This ride is a favourite of my mate Benny, who is sporting an unstoppable new 29er. We met at Margate and spun up the hill to Allens Rivulet, where the climbing began in earnest, up a long gravel road I've long wanted to follow on a bike. Despite my fairly ordinary fitness we were up at the start of the track in less than an hour having greatly enjoyed the climb up past the shacks  perched improbably high on Kaoota Road. What came next was even better.

The tramway itself winds down from around 400m to sea level over 12km. You seldom get back what you put in on the climb, but the gentle gradient prolonged the pleasure. It has has been raining a bit lately so the first three kilometres or so was an interesting experience on the wide slicks, the front wheel jagging left and right on the greasy trail as I tried to pick a line though the worst of it. I let a little air out of both tyres, which seemed to help. 

The track dried out from there on in and we were treated to a thrilling gradual descent through the forest. Ben, familiar with the track and daring on his new bike, disappeared from view as I picked my way down the trail. Some knobbies might be  handy if I'm doing this sort of thing more often, though the bike handled the conditions surprisingly well. The return to Margate took in some of the local horse trails between grassy paddocks.

I love it when a ride I've wanted to do for a while lives up to my expectations, and this ride delivers in spades. Hopefully I'll be back for another go soon. 

2165km so far this year.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mr Abbott's beater bike

It's reasonably well known federal opposition leader Tony Abbott is a keen cyclist and sometime triathlete. There were some nice shots of him riding up and down Black Mountain in Canberra braving the pre-dawn chill in the middle of the week. Keen cyclists learned something about the man who would be prime minister:

1. He has a winter beater bike in Canberra. It looks to be a steel-framed Merinda running an old eight- or nine-speed group by the look of it. The bike he's most often seen out on in Sydney is a carbon fibre Trek.

2. He's put his front wheel in backwards. The quick release lever is on the wrong side.

3. In addition to that, his front brake quick release is open.

4. It's not as obvious from this photograph, but his saddle is a little high.

Friends don't let friends ride carbon, but would you vote for a man who likes an each way bet?

(Update. I'm reliably informed Mr Abbott's beater has an aluminium frame. Shows how much I know.)

2111km so far this year.