Friday, April 29, 2016

Cork: For Weight Savings and Performance!

After a lapse of several years, I have recently gone back to using wine corks as bar-end plugs on my roadbikes. Straight away I began to get compliments. What lovely, quaint, old fashioned things those are! Perfect for a vintage racer. But actually, they're perfect for pretty much any bicycle with drop bars. Far more perfect than any other option I've tried so far.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review: Rapha Core Collection

It’s been a while since I have covered Rapha on this blog. But I’ve been wearing bits and pieces of their clothing for a good few years now. And in the course of those years I have arrived at the opinion that, putting questions of pricepoint and branding aside, Rapha makes excellent cycling clothes. The comfort factor is high. The fabrics are uniquely pleasant to the touch. The styling is flattering (inasmuch as such a word can be used to describe cycling clothes). The fit of the women’s collection - which was quite good to begin with - has improved steadily over the years. And the durability has, for the most part, proved excellent. Some of my oldest cycling clothes still in circulation are Rapha (i.e. my Ride Studio Cafe club kit circa 2010!), still going strong despite frequent wear.

It feels a bit unfair then to add, that I would prefer for all these praiseworthy features to come in a more low-key package. For I am in the category of those who find Rapha’s iconic white armband off-putting, their contrasting logos visually domineering, their themes of epic suffering comically exaggerated. I suppose what I really want from Rapha - whether it's "fair" to want such a thing or not - is their styling, fit and quality, without the overtly Raphaesque iconography. And even though in today’s landscape of boutique cycling apparel brands Rapha’s price tags are not as eyebrow-raising as they once were, of course lower prices wouldn't hurt either.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Beyond Recognition

If asked what we think defines a bicycle's essence, I believe that most of us - myself included - would say it's the frameset. Certainly the frameset, with other aspects - including components and aesthetics - being of lesser importance. It's amazing then, how much of an impact a makeover makes on a bicycle's perceived essence, as it were.

I'd be curious to know whether anybody even recognised the machine above as one I have already featured here. I probably wouldn't have. In fact, despite knowing they are the same bike, I have a difficult time thinking of them that way. And so, for those who have been following this unusual frame's adventures, I bring you the dramatic yet pragmatic conclusion of the Ralianchi saga.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Big in Japan

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
If you want to know a sure way to meet owners of unusual or interesting bicycles, it's really quite simple: Be seen with an unusual or interesting bicycle. Wandering through the small seaside town of Dunfanaghy on a pastel green folder, I encountered a woman named Janet. "I have a bike you might like to see," she said. "It's Japanese. Very typical Japanese. And old!"

Oh how easy it was to lure me up the narrow mountain lane that led to Janet's abode. And once there, I was nearly too stunned by the gorgeous house and view, to remember I came there to see about a bicycle. But soon enough it was wheeled out and I remembered!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

They Know What You Did Last Summer

In perhaps a premature burst of optimism, I ventured this morning into my long neglected drawer of lightweight cycling clothes. Stuffed with the likes of un-fleecelined shorts, gauzy-fabricked jerseys and teensy-weensy ankle socks, it was a drawer that had sat undisturbed since last September. And, opening it now, I was taken aback by the stale, concentrated smell of... I don't even know what, as it wasn't just one thing I could immediately identify. It was the smell of cycling-last-summerness.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Bundle of Joy for Drop Bar Commuting: the ILE Racktop Porteur Bag

On my way home from the grocery store last night, a neighbour - in the rural sense of the word, as this was a good few miles from my house - flagged me down as I pedaled past. She was holding a parcel for me, mis-delivered to her address. When she handed it over, I thanked her profusely, while wondering how the heck I would get it home. The bundle might fit into my front bag, just barely, on top of the groceries already in there. But the resultant bulge would surely prevent me from using the brakes on my drop-bars, as they were already quite close to the sides of the bag.  Happily, when I stuffed the parcel inside, this proved to be a non-issue: As the bag swallowed the goods, it grew in height but remained just narrow enough in width for the sides to clear my hands when I held the brake levers.

And that sums up what I love about the Inside Line Equipment Racktop Porteur Bag: It's a front bag that is not only handmade, durable and roomy, but - oh joy of joys! - compatible with drop bars.

Monday, April 11, 2016

How Do I Wash Thee? Let Me Count the Sprays

Here's one from the Monday Mailbox:
The other day I asked my LBS how they got my bike so clean after a tune-up and they told me they use a pressure washer. I was surprised, because everything I have read online suggests a pressure washer can damage your bike. However as the recommended method of "sponge, soap and water" does nothing for my clogged drivetrain, I am wondering what I am doing wrong. Do I need to remove components and clean them separately? Is a pressure washer okay to use after all? 
In high school I had a rather wonderful history teacher. He made events from centuries past come alive with gossipy candor. He kept a small bottle of rum in a locked desk drawer. And whenever anyone asked him for clarification on how to complete an assignment, he would grin, shake his finger at the inquisitive youngster, and reply with a horrible little proverb: "There are more ways than one to skin a cat." These grim words of advice remain with me to this day, and I believe they are applicable to the bike washing situation: Yes, people use pressure washers. Yes, people remove components and soak (or boil) them. Yes, soap and water can also work. You can do it any which way.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dudebike: The Vintage Folder Resurrected

We spotted them through the window of the Narosa surf shop in Dunfanaghy. "Oh look," said my friend AJ, "they have a couple of vintage folding bikes in there. Can you tell what make they are?" Cupping my hands and peering inside, I scrutinised the pastel-coloured frames but could not identify their make. And as the shop was closed for the winter, we could not get in to have a closer look. But through the storefront AJ took a snap with her phone, zoomed in to read the writing on the unfamiliar-looking badge, and set off to investigate - with surprising results!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Fine Day for a Bike-and-Hike

There are times when I feel an incredible pull for the forest. It is more than a desire for a stroll through the woods; it's an almost a physical longing - like a craving for a special kind of comfort food. On hot days and on days with stormy weather alike, the forest offers shelter. On days when I'm not feeling great, or can't focus, it promises quiet, a place to gather my thoughts. All I need do is grab my bike and I'll be transported there.

The bike-and-hike is a pretty low-key, low-commitment activity. It requires little special equipment or preparation. A bicycle lock, something to drink, and perhaps a change of footwear is really all that I bring. For walks up rocky, twisty mountain trails I take hiking boots. For meanders through boggy ground I prefer wellies. On a utility bike, I throw this into a pannier or basket. If riding a roadbike with clipless pedals, I tie my walking boots to the saddle rails. It does not need to be any more complicated than that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Mysterious Swiss Miss

SKS Swiss Mystery Bicycle
I suspect it was my exposure to Lindt Easter eggs over the weekend, with their shimmery red foil wrappers, that reminded me of her just now. But I don't believe I have ever told you about the Swiss Miss. A most beautiful - and, of course, most unusual - bicycle from the collection of Nick at Curious Velo.

Even beyond the Swiss connection, the Lindt comparison seems apt: When I first saw this bicycle it had the look, I thought, of an oversized confectionary product freshly plucked from within some giant gilded gift box, where perhaps several of such things had lain side by side in transparent tissue paper. It wasn't just red, but candy wrapper-red, with golden lettering and fanciful flourishes. And it looked utterly delicious.