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Archive for the “Bicyclism!” Category

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I appreciate Giant’s conundrum over how to market its new 2016 TCR Advanced SL (and all the other bikes descending down that range). It’s a busy market out there with lots of similarly focused and at least equally race pedigreed offerings pitched at serious to enthusiastic road cyclists. They could do what others do and simply pitch a perfect correlation between podium wins and the winning character of the bike. But we canny roadies know that much of that pedigree is related to how furiously each maker sponsors pro-teams to ride their bikes. If you provide bikes to a bunch of teams (like Specialized does), you’re bound to come up with a winner now and then through which to endorse your bike. Colnago and Pinarello certainly flog that line a lot to sell their bikes. A maker might also attempt to go all scientifically objective and measure the qualities of their own bikes over others. Which is what Giant is trying with its new TCR via a new ’stiffness to weight ratio’ comparative test across a range of competitors bikes. Naturally, the TCR comes out on top. But that test, though no doubt fascinating, is not going to convince me to hand over my cash. Bike decision making is always more complicated than simply going for some kind of quantitative score. Actually, bike decision making is a wonderfully deep wallow in subjectivity. I’m always impressed by how many choices are made just on maker’s ‘reputation’ (like Colnago) or even just on appearance alone (it’s stunning to me how many people did NOT choose a Merida Scultura SL because of its eccentric lime green paint scheme…despite the abject brilliance of its engineering design). I am perpetually bemused by folk who proclaim Specialised over all others, despite rarely knowing what those ‘others’ are actually like. Bianchi ’nuts’ are as crazy as they come, in this regard (anything as long as it is in Celeste…). And why, would anyone necessarily choose a Dogma F8 just because Chris Froom is paid to ride one? But they do and the waiting list is at 3 months right now.

I am wondering if there really is any kind of objectivity that can be applied to the choice of one road bike over another. Or is it all a bit more like choosing art? Or is it both art and science with a bit of religion thrown in?

I’d really like to make a big statement about this new 2016 TCR, because it is worth making a statement about. As I don’t think measurement is the answer, I think I’ll couch my review in terms of Zen. Which is a bit different I guess, so I will need a bit of space to explain myself. 

Let’s start with the conclusion. This major 2016 upgrade to the Giant TCR Advanced SL is a big event for pro-tour level road bike tech. This latest TCR is the best yet of that line and is, via the convolutions of the probably eccentric and definitely unusual reasoning outlined below, the best road bike I have ever known and possibly less arguably than you might think, the best road bike ever made. 

It’s very un-zen to explain Zen. As the old Zen precept goes: those who know don’t say and those who say don’t know. All of which neatly avoides the necessity to clearly define the central theme of this review: that the one core characteristic of road cycling that appeals most to me is it’s ‘zen character’. Given the ‘aesthetic obscurantism’ of Zen, I can give myself licence to simply say that, for me, there is something deeply compelling, and very ‘Zen’,  about a machine that works as well as it looks. Which is the old form meets function deal that rather goes missing for so many contraptions these days. Going even deeper, the ‘Zen perfection’ of something like a bicycle happens when you just ‘know’ that a design is right simply from looking it over. This does not happen all that often! Most bikes miss that wonderfully hard to describe mark to the degree that a test ride is required to confirm any convictions to performance you might have assumed. But there are some bikes, some rare bikes, that simply speak the perfection of Zen without the need to prove or test. It’s a ‘yes’ aesthetic. Like I said, these philosophical-aesthetic notions are hard to describe and that is the point. Of the 20 road bikes I have formally tested over the past 20 years, this hammer blow of obvious perfection has only happened to me four times: the first was for my Vitus 979 aluminium racing bike from 1985. The next was for my Wilier Zero.7. And the third was for my Giant TCR Advanced SL from 2012 (the Rabobank team edition). And the fourth was the new TCR.

One aspect of this self-evident bicycle perfection thing is that there can be no kind of engineering compromise in evidence in terms of inferior bike components or any pandering to current trends just for the sake of pandering. Putting it another way, a bike can only reach this peak when it is pretty obvious that no economist or marketer has had any kind of fiddle with the design. Ever. A GREAT bike is a pure statement of engineering perfection. The purity of that statement is a big part of the Zen aesthetic I am talking about. For instance, I reckon that any bike that comes with road disk brakes is going to scream the interference of marketers in a bike’s design. So too is the offer of a top end frame dragged down by cruddy wheels, or other components stripped of performance in order to meet some predetermined lower pricing point. Which is not necessarily to imply that a GREAT bike must be expensive and out of reach. Actually, if a bike can escape the baggage of price point compromise, avoid pandering to ‘marketing trends’ and still come out more affordably than others on the market, that’s a boost to its overall character of ‘the perfection of Zen’. Which also implies that if a bike is offered at an astronomical price (like the Wilier Zero.7 at $16,500!), it really, really needs to deliver on the engineering side to meet the mark. All that Campagnolo Super Record EPS on the Wilier must be seriously, seriously good to justify that price over, say, the similar perfections of a bike like the Giant TCR at slightly less than half the Wilier’s price. You can spend more than you might on the Giant TCR, but it’s unlikely any more expensive bike will be ‘better’. At best, the more expensive bike will be a differently nuanced statement of perfection. Which is luckily the case for bikes like the Wilier Zero.7 or, perhaps, the Colnago C60. 

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There’s another aspect of the Zen character of a machine and living with a machine that adds to the overall picture of perfectionism I am describing here. That’s the dimension of ‘being in total knowing connection’ with both the operation and workings of that machine, as all so wonderfully obscured by Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. That’s when your deeply realised ‘knowing’ of how a machine operates or works meshes with and supports your ‘riding experience’. When you know the workings of the machine (which is more than simply knowing the basics of bicycle mechanics, but truly understanding how the thing works as opposed to how to repair it), your capacity to experience becoming at one with the machine is enhanced. This is the dimension of the Zen perfection of bicycling that connects most with me. Have you ever seen that tee shirt design that depicts the evolution of man from ape-like to upright-walking-man to man-on-a-bike? That’s what I am talking about. When we ride a momentously GREAT bicycle, we become one with that bike. We are something new and something greater than a person doomed to riding in a car or taking a train or being gassed by fumes and viruses in a ‘plane. 

Not all bicycles offer the prospect of a connection like this. Mountain bikes, for example, don’t do it for me: too many springy bits to disconnect rider from the road. I consider the necessity to read a manual to decipher the workings of modern suspension settings a pretty big fail in terms of necessary man-machine empathy. No, mountain bikes are busy technology tools, that, though great fun to ride, don’t do the Zen thing for me. Many road bikes also don’t do it for me in terms of offering up a real connection to become at one with the machine. A road bike that rattles and squeaks will not do it for me. A bike with brakes that don’t work too well won’t do it either. And a bike with shifters that are imprecise or with buttons deployed in less than ergonomic perfection will insert a layer between the bike and my experience of the ride. For instance, the appalling shifting of the old Dura Ace 7900 mechanical gear train was a blot on the landscape of any bike that groupo afflicted. That would never, ever, do it for me. But more subtly, a bike with an unnecessarily harsh ride is going to remind you that your bike is separated from you via a layer of pain. That’s not good either. And, as a climbing enthusiast, a bike that flexes during out-of-the-saddle climbs is going reduce a ride to a man-versus-machine rather than the man-and-machine-are-one result I am looking for.  

As you can see, there’s a lot involved for a bicycle to be declared as ‘GREAT’ if not to be ‘the BEST’. At least according to the metric of my admittedly eccentric conditions through which that greatness is claimed. In all of this there are the hazy justifications I use to convince myself of the need for yet another bike. Otherwise, I’d just be a ‘collector’ and I can’t see much point in collecting as a point worth the kind of investment these bikes require. After all, collecting bicycles is a vastly dodgy affair when compared to endeavours like collecting art. The depreciation that blights bikes damns bike collecting to the point of insanity. No, there has to be better reasons for collecting more and more bikes. I justify this path as being the search for that enlightenment when all the dimensions of ‘Bike-Zen’ mesh together in a rare but enlightened spark. After all, if we are to explain cycling as meditation on wheels, it’s nice to clear that meditative path via the context of perfection that becoming at one with the bike and, therefore, at one with the experience of the ride that a great bike can support. A great ride via a great bike is the church! This is a vastly more benign religion than declaring some kind of jihad or getting obese on a pew. 

I needed to work through these philosophical notions in order to justify and explain my contention that the new 2016 Giant TCR Advanced SL (the top-of-the-line version) is, quite simply, one of if not the best bikes I have ever ridden. The notion of ‘best’ is all explained in the philosophical notions around the nexus of ‘Zen’. Which, while hard on the brain, is, I think, a more honest and compelling justification for describing something as ‘best’ than simply declaring it so. Or, if you like, the ever so common game of asserting something as being ‘the best’ needs some kind of justification if such claims are to be believed. By justifying myself via philosophical notions, I am making the point that making claims that one bike is better than others or is better than all the rest is indeed a murky, imprecise business. But, after riding my new TCR for over 1,000km in the past two weeks, I invoke all the insights of Zen through which to declare that this new bike is the one that really, really, does it for me. This new bike is IT. It is home. It is a home run. It is the best. I just KNOW it is. I don’t need to measure my claim. It just is. 

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Lets’s start with the notion of ‘being connected with the bike’. We riders are more in control than we could ever be with cars or motorbikes. Sure, there are some cyclists who don’t even attempt puncture repairs, but the point is, the opportunity to take full mechanical control is higher for a bicycle than it is for any modern, computerised car. I never tire of watching all the bits of a bicycle working together as some astoundingly profound exemplar of synchronicity at work. Now that is art! Why should I pay someone to have all the fun of tinkering with my bikes? For me, a bicycle is at the limit of mechanical self-sufficiency; and that is reassuring when I am way out in the backwoods riding roads as unpopulated as the canyons Mars. There’s Zen in there… there’s a beauty in a design that manages to combine mechanical complexity with practical simplicity. Which does not necessarily imply that I wouldn’t enjoy being followed by a team car loaded with spare wheels, food, water and motivation speeches shouted from the open window. It’s just that the freedom from being self-contained and in-control is a tonic counterpoint to otherwise dragging an elaborate support network of commercial services through which to keep your adventures mobile. The road bike sings to control freaks like me.

The Zen-like simplicity of a road bike also tends to have been lost by modern mountain bike designs. I guess there’s a bit of a thrill to be had to mastering the intricacies of dual suspension settings and keeping all those pivots moving about, but to me, all that’s all a baggage that diverts from the pure simplicity of a dedicated road bike ride. Which is why I tend to prefer riding cyclocross bikes than having to ride heavy, overly complex mountain bikes. Which is not to say that I don’t admire the modern mountain bike. With the emphasis on the word ‘modern’. Because, and here is my main point, mountain bikes are the product of a rather more disturbed and frantic heritage than the calmer trajectory of road bikes. The perfections of the road bike were pretty much as well embedded 20 years ago as they are today. My Vitus  979 from 1985 is still on the same page as the latest Giant TCR to which, believe it or not, this review applies. You can’t say that about mountain bikes from 20 years past: nasty, harsh, heavy, disagreeable bogan-like contraptions – they were a veritable punk anti culture bash to the refinements of the road bike. The evolution of the mountain bike has been a shouty, brash exercise of histrionics compared to the quiet, collected, considered trail we roadies have enjoyed from then to now. Consider electronic gear shifting. Mavic started that game way back in the ’80’s. It’s been a slow considered path since. it was the biggest thing to happen since Shimano invented index shifting. With the latter being the progenitor of the former. This has been an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary path. Each iteration along the way was a comprehensible upgrade, rather than an explosion of ‘the next big thing’ that seems to colour mountain bike evolution more along the lines of computer tech than the glorious conservatism of change in the road bike scene (putting aside the mindless pointlessness of road bike disc brakes…) 

I don’t think I have ever ridden a bike that offers such a profound, unfiltered connection between rider and machine as this latest TCR. Along the lines of the preceding model, the new TCR simply disappears when you really start to ride. It becomes a part of you and you become a part of it. One reason for this enhanced connection is the astroundlngly uncluttered character of the TCR. The new bike is pared down to the absolute essentials and those essentials are utterly refined. The ride is sitting right on the balancing point of stiffness and compliance. A bit more in either direction (like the Propel which heads off into a stiffness focus and, say, the Defy which shades down to the domain of compliance), and you would start to notice the bike as an insertion between you and the road. For me, the new TCR’s longer wheel base (over the older model) and its astonishing SLR0 in-house wheels clinch the deal over the old model. And, of course, the integrated seat post is a key engineering feature of this bike and is fundamental to how well it performs.  

There is astonishing  beauty to behold in simplicity. The whole is apparent from the sum of its parts and the parts add up to a whole lot more than anyone would at first guess. Each bit is worthy of a deeper look. The more you look the more you see, all the while while keeping the context of the whole in view. If that does not confuse. Which good design never does. Just about every aspect of the new TCR combines to proclaim a breathtaking statement of simplicity. There is nothing out of place, nothing that is not needed and no single part that does not connect to and enhance every other part on the new TCR Advanced SL. It’s raw carbon and somehow utterly ‘right’ electric blue colour patches is perfect for the overall character of ‘purposeful simplicity’ that is at the core of the Zen aesthetic. But in keeping with the Zen concept of layers of perfection unfolding like a Mandelbrot Set the deeper you look, we can be ever more impressed when we look more deeply into the new TCR’s carbon frame down to the carbon itself. This is Giant’s own T-800 carbon fibre material woven in Giant’s own composite factory. This is the best carbon you can get and it is restricted to this top-of-the-line model TCR. No one does better carbon than this. It’s a stunning frame material that warrants a good look via a magnifying loupe. Lovely stuff.  

All those fiddly fads of market driven design are slow to take hold in the road cycling scene. Just look at how slowly the argument over disc brakes for road cycling is taking to resolve. That’s the way it should be. Don’t add complications to a winning model unless there are very good reasons to do so. Each and every part of a road bike is the product of a process of engineering evolution with a history that way precedes the motorcar. The thing is that road bike design has, by and large, always worked and worked better than almost any other engineering work with which humans have  been involved. The things we add and change are worked through in agonising detail and at the studied pace of cautious scepticism. We all need at least one benchmark of engineering that works at the pace that engineering drives rather than being driven by the vastly more frantic and, often pointless pace of marketing or economic inspiration. It keeps us grounded. The new TCR is grounded like nothing else I have ever seen. 

A road bike is a statement of minimalism; nothing is added that does not add to the ultimate efficiency of the whole. Which kind of explains the reluctance of we road cyclists to accept things like valve caps, reflectors and guards of any kind. There are people out there who endlessly search for the ultimate weight:efficiency ratio for water bottle cages and saddles, and even handlebar tape. (Guilty). To prove the value of this otherwise ineffable design-engineering aesthetic, I need only point out that the more a bicycle maker refines this aesthetic, the higher the price that is charged for the final product; and we cyclists have proven time and time again that we are willing to pay a premium for what, in effect, becomes less and less (at least in terms of weight and clutter). How many car drivers out there could care less about hiding, for example, all the wires that clutter under the hood (have you ever, really looked at a modern car’s wiring loom?). How many roadies would not prefer internal cable routing on their bikes these days? And if this art of paring down and down weren’t real, why is SRAM investing in wireless gear shifters as their next big road bike thing? The art of creatively engineering for pared-down-efficiency rather than pointless complexity is a defining beauty for the road bicycle.

Yes, less is more in the road biking scene. Of the 20 plus road bikes I have ridden over the past few years, none have hit this ‘perfection of minimalism’ better than the new TCR. Giant took a razor to clutter on this bike. If there was an award for the perfection of bicycle design austerity, the TCR would win. Which, if you followed the arguments about the perfections of design simplicity, you’d know this is the ultimate compliment for road bike design. Finding that design point which is the nexus of minimalism and engineering efficiency is the BIG THING these days: from Apple Inc’s agonisings over too many  buttons on iPads to Max Richter’s epic 8 hour Sleep, an exploration in music with almost no notes, the aesthetic splendours of pared down ‘Zen’ deign is at the deep freeze end of Cool. Yes, the new Giant is a masterpiece in purposeful minimalism moulded in deep Cool.

If all this appears to be overly philosophical to you, consider just why it is that you would ever, if not for an at least implicit empathy with notions such as these, be prepared to pay a price premium for a bike sans all the bells and whistles that you might demand for things like cars. I suppose, it might just all boil down to less is more in terms of speed and speed wins races. Whatever floats your boat. I don’t want to be carting an anchor of unnecessary technology around in any boat I ride up my local 12 per cent hills. But try to sell me a car without at least 6 speakers and an on-dash GPS, and auto sensing windscreen wipers and light sensing automatic lights and I will tell you to go away. If I decided to buy a car. Which I won’t. Because that would detract from my budget to buy more bikes. 

All of which brings me to the final dimension of Zen that I would like to discuss. The engineering perfectionism aesthetic of the road bicycle needs to apparent and evident without any kind of recourse to packaging, dressing, pretension or, really, anything else that marketers might determine to matter for their own bottom line. A great bike makes a statement without shouting its own name. The greatness of a bike does not need a name to assert its value. The true cycling connoisseur can detect greatness without the ugly brutality of marketing. No one ever needed to promote Beethoven with TV prime time jingles; the music sells itself. The true cycling connoisseur will ‘know’ the feeling of perfection when a maker crafts a statement of the form-meets-function of engineering perfection. He or she will just know when the mark is hit square on bull’s eye. He or she will just know when nothing more can be added or taken away from a design that has hit the level absolute perfection possible within the context of the nexus of art and science. 

So, I have worked through a couple of thousand words to say now what needs to be said. It is indeed possible for an enterprise like the Giant bicycle company to produce as much of a masterpiece of the bike maker’s art as a company such as Pinarello, Colnago or Wilier. And they have. 

The new 2016 Giant TCR Advanced SL (the top of the range offering in this line) is an unmitigated work of art. On any terms, in any place, at any price. 

I am not just talking through my hat. I have lived with top-end Pinarellos, the esoterically magnificent Wilier Zero.7. I have a Colnago and I have a top-end Trek Madone. And a line-topping Merida (Scultura), a top-end Bianchi Oltre. I have ten top-of-the-line, pro-tour-level road bikes currently in my shed and have sold off many more. Even a Specialised S-Works or two. I am not trying to boast any kind of psychopathic bicycle elitism here. I am only trying to suggest that I am comfortable with making a grand statement like I have. This new Giant TCR is definitively THE best bike I have ever owned. At half the price of the Wilier and the Pinarellos in my shed. 

How do I define ‘best’ in this regard?

The TCR and Propel

The ride for one. This new Giant has needle-pointed the absolute bulls-eye of frame stiffness and compliance. No other bike I have ever ridden comes as close as this. When a bike misses or does not quite hit that mark, the contest is always compliance verses stiffness. The search is usually for the best compromise. Were compliance wins, comfort overlaps speed. When stiffness wins, we get a rougher ride. Some bikes get close to the perfect balance (where compromise seems to have been completely removed and  both facets win in seemingly impossible equal measure). The Wilier Zero.7 is a close, close performer in this regard. Others, like the Pinarello Dogma and the Giant Propel don’t even seem to bother. Stiffness and speed are all that seem to matter. You don’t need to be any kind of roadie connoisseur to know that both stiffness and compliance are the two most desirable traits in any bike and the talent of a bicycle designer is judged by how well balanced these conflicting traits can be controlled. All set, of course, within the context of minimum bicycle weight. Bicycle weight, stiffness and compliance; choose two. Until now. My M/L Giant TCR weighs in at 6.4kg with Look Blade 2 (Ti spindles) attached. Beat that! Go on. Try. And try that without spending more than AU$8,500. My Wilier was $16,500. 

Photo Above Left shows the new TCR and the Propel, indicating a very coherent design brief for both

There is, of course, more to a bike than stiffness, compliance and weight. Let’s look at a few additional bits of the TCR equation.

The new TCR is one brilliant descender. While some rides like my Wilier and even the Giant Propel can seem a bit highly strung, if not ‘nervous’ when it comes to a flat out descent, this new TCR descends so well that all thoughts of caution with regard to bumps in the road and devious side wind gusts disappear. As for the old TCR Advanced SL, which I still own too, this new bike descends with authority and a degree of stability that is utterly confidence inspiring. You rarely need to feather your brakes. Or think about doing so. 

The new TCR is one brilliant ascender too. This is a climbers bike. There is no flex. None whatsoever. Not in the frame or, importantly, in Giant’s own new included carbon 30mm SLR wheels. Whatever power you might have goes straight to the ground. If you are lean, this lean bike will reward you to a degree approaching the limits of gravity aggravated by the degree of incline.  But it is not a skittersh fragile climb of the kind that characterise so many ultralight climber’s bikes these days (aka the Scott Addict, say). No, that same planted, grounded stability we noticed on furious descents also applies when going up hill. The rider always seems to be a part of this bike rather than sitting on top. The avid climber becomes one with this bike when going up or down hill, not to mention when moving along the flats.

Which brings me to the all important comparison to bikes like Giant’s own Propel: the speed freak’s aero sprinting machine. I love my Propel. It always feels like riding a hot knife when negotiating the hot butter of a head wind flat road ride. Until the first side wind hits those gigantic 55mm ZIPP 404 rims. Or the first set of pot holes that Council workers always seem to so creatively neglect via some kind of plan aimed at converting us to the poverty of driving a car. Surprisingly, the new TCR is almost as quick on the flats as the Propel.  But with considerably more comfort via a vastly less harsh ride. I was thinking the demarcation between the Propel and the TCR (and indeed, the endurance orientated Defy) would be greater than this when riding fast. I never felt such a close match in this regard between the Propel and the old TCR. But the new TCR is even more of a speed machine than its always admired predecessor. Frankly, the Propel now seems rather marginalised to the more specialised end of sprinting and time trials. The TCR does everything well and some things  brilliantly so: namely climbing and descending. The Propel is a great sprinter and serviceable descender. It’s an OK ascender unless you are running for GC. The Propel and the TCR are offered at the exact same price. I suspect that the Propel’s sales are about to fall faster than the new TCR can climb. 

But there is more on offer here by way of becoming the embodiment of ‘ best’.

Giant is now following the lead of Trek and Specialized in in-housing production of more than just the bicycle frame. Like its rivals, Giant is now in the wheel making game. This is no OEM rebranding exercise. Though the new top-of-the-range SLR0 carbon wheels feature DT Swiss hubs, the rest come from Giant’s vat. These rims are the product of an engineering exercise at least as intense as the design of the new bike. Giant has now launched itself from zero to the max with its new wheels. They now sit on most models in the TCR, Propel, Defy and vastly neglected and almost always overlooked (but nevertheless brilliant) TCX (cyclocross) range. This is a serious taking-on of ZIPP et al effort on Giant’s part. I can not judge as I am not comparing like with quite like, but the new Giant SLR0 30mm all carbon clincher wheel set on the TCR Advanced SL are as stiff and compliant as the ZIPP 404’s most definitely aren’t. The ZIPP’s (firecrest 404, not the newer fire strike 404’s) which are or were standard on the Propel flex when out of the saddle efforts are required. On the Propel, the ZIPP’s flex to the point where they cause brake rub unless those brakes are adjusted out a fair way. Not deal killing flex. Just flex that can be noticed as opposed to the none at all you don’t notice with the new SL0’s on this new TCR. The new wheels weigh in at about 1,300 gm, which is an industry podium placing for wheels like this. They are not the lightest wheels available, but then again, they were designed to match and synergise with the intentional engineering characteristics of the new TCR. That is the point and the true advantage of building wheels in-house. The wheels and the frame become two components of a whole under the total control of the same engineering team and within the same engineering brief. It’s about time. I never could understand why something as fundamental to an overall bike design as the wheels should ever be ’outsourced’ to the general market place. Sure, the bike designer can tap some inspired wheels for OEM. But that exercise becomes a search for wheels that are as close to a desired engineering brief rather than being a part of the same brief. The potential to reap the engineering rewards of intentional, designed synergy between wheels and frame are maximised, in theory, when the same team does both. In theory. Not disregarding the idiosyncrasies of the wheel building art that engineers focused hitherto on frames might now need to also master. But theory meets practice with these new wheels. Giant has delivered a coup to no doubt concern the independent wheel makers of the world. And by the way, the all carbon top-of-the-line PSX1 rims on the range topping Giant TCX Advanced Pro 0 CX bike are also ZIPP level plus. 

In terms of spec., the new TCR leaves nothing to desire. The new bike is dressed in Shimano Dura Ace Di2, say no more (other than to simply wonder what a Campagnolo Super Record EPS set up on this bike might be like). Giant has equipped this bike with its all carbon Contact SLR handlebars and stem. That is a great team of carbon bits to no doubt even further sweeten the new bike’s ride (but not by as much as that work-of-art integrated bar-stem combo on the top-end Propel (sigh). And while I am at it, where oh where are the sprint shifters I got with my Propel? I love those things when riding in the drops. Oh well. 

The new TCR comes in three divisions of declining price. The Advanced SL comes with Di2 at the top or mechanical 9000 Dura Ace for a few thousand less. Then there is the Advanced Pro group with lesser carbon and no integrated seat post. Last is the Advanced range. But for me, the integrated seat post is not negotiable. For me, this integrated post is what has always defined the TCR. It is also the source of some, if not more, of the TCR’s compliance qualities. The ISP soaks up the bumps on both this new machine, the old TCR, on the top-end Propel and to a modified degree, on the Defy and TCX range toppers as well. [photo below shows the new TCR (bottom), the new TCX (middle) and the Propel (top)] And there is no chance of slipping or creaking seat posts ever again!

TCR TCX and Propel

To conclude, if you carry a bias against Giant for reasons to do with (misplaced) snobbery and the like, the looser will be you. Take it from someone who does possess some of the everests of road bike art (e.g.. the Wilier Zero.7 and Pinarello’s finest), this new Giant is right up there. You can pay more,  but you will not buy a better bike than this. If you define ‘better’ in terms of engineering perfection and performance as usually described. Plus, in its naked carbon and slightly less than subtle electric blue colour patches, the design of this bike is the very essence of Zen. It is a fundamentally beautiful bike. Nothing it does not need and it needs nothing more. In my view, this new bike is exquisite, in a total holistic sense.

I have ridden the new TCR for over a month. Just today, I decided it was time to ride something else. So I took my one time all time favourite bike, the Pinarello Prince (the classic ultimate Pinarello from the pre carbon Dogma era), out for a ride. I always regarded my Prince as the sweetest riding bike I ever owned. Now, I can only see it’s flaws. The new TCR has me thinking about selling a pile of bikes on eBay. 

The genuine, intelligent road bike enthusiast will not be blinkered by the stupidities of brand bigotry. He or she will choose a bike based on all the qualities of any bike under review. I don’t care if this TCR is made by Giant or Bianchi (and Giant probably makes both, anyway). Mount Everest is Mount Everest. To find a better bike, you’re going to need a space suit and a good imagination, because right now, there is nothing higher up than this latest TCR. 

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Rage 1587

I have developed a perception of death. Death happens if and when I can’t ride my bikes anymore. And not the other way around. Day in day out, every single day, I sometimes wonder how on earth I can stay motivated to ride so persistently; especially when the experience, sometimes, is less than pleasant. It’s not as though I have nothing else to do, despite what our neighbours might think and say (and say they do, apparently). So, when is the riding experience less than pleasant? When the hills are really, really tough?  No, for reasons I don’t understand, I love riding up hills. Is it when it rains and howls a headwind gale on a near zero fridge/freezer day? No, there’s technical gear for that and, really, the sheer ludicrousness of riding in such conditions gives a kind of perverse pleasure. 

When then, does the cycling experience turn bad? When some car driving troll tries to run me off the road, or worse. 

All cyclists know about this one. It happens frequently. 

Maintaining a long term cycling habit implies some kind of coping routine through which to recover from every incident of this kind, presuming, of course, that we survive the latest assault. 

Think about it. How many other endeavours involve the necessity to recover from potentially fatal encounters with the deep, deep darkside of abject, and usually unmitigated human aggression? Add to that the fact that cycling is an endeavour that we do voluntarily, and with enthusiasm, and passion. How many other pleasures could sustain such a persistent onslaught of outrageous hatred directed, almost always, at us without any kind of reasoned cause? This hatred is extraordinarily unbalanced. While we might hate at least some car drivers and more than a few car drivers might hate us, it is the expression of this hatred that is the problem here. I have no liking for any car driver unless that car driver proves him or herself worthy of my respect (usually by not trying to run me over). I react like most other people when some troll vomits abuse from the lounge chair comforts of his (almost aways, his) car window, or cuts me off, or, like yesterday, actually chased me down and baled me up in the middle of a shopping mall suggesting that I should depart this earth in a most timely way. If not at his hand, then by some other person’s righteous hand. While I might have repetitive strain injury in the middle finger of my right hand, do I attempt to run car drivers off the road with my bike? Do I slam on my brakes in order to promulgate a painful collision? Do I ride around, through and over cars expecting them to get out of my way when they have the right of way? I can prove that I don’t do any of these things. I am still alive. At least for today.

If this were any other endeavour, I’d probably have given up by now. Assuming sado-masochism is not on the cards, why bother to keep on attracting a seemingly never ending barrage of abuse from the dark side of the human race? Wouldn’t it be cleverer to cosy up to water colour painting or wood turning instead? I don’t know the answer to this. I do not enjoy encounters of this kind. I try to wash the fallout from my mind within seconds of each event. But you’d have to be a pretty accomplished buddhist monk to pull off that rather extreme perfection of equanimity. It is always a struggle not to allow each encounter to accumulate into an ever deepening pool of destructive resentment. Which rather implies that the positives from cycling must be pretty profound to push back the impact of anti-cyclist vitriol and supremely unconstrained motorist ignorance. On balance, the equation balances out in cycling’s favour. At least it does for me. But I know of cyclists who can’t keep the equation balanced. They give up. Or stick to mountain biking instead. And yes, I have engaged in cycle commuting in the big angry city. Really, cycle commuting in Sydney is, on balance, a more ‘comprehensible’ endeavour than the kind of rural cycling with which I am engaged these days. Around here, the breeding pool from which car drivers are selected is rather smaller and less discerning, and education is so frequently all done in by the age of five. 

So how do we cope with and overcome the exhibitions of car driver hate? And cope we must if we want to continue to ride on public roads. 

I have no doubt that the best response it to ride predicatably, courteously, righteously and passively with the equanimity of a buddhist master. Do the right thing and never, ever, let them get you down. If you are abused, wave and smile. If someone runs you over, show genuine concern over the panel damage you might have caused to their car. Offer to wash your blood off their bonnet. Bless them and be on your way. Or apologise for inconveniencing them if an ambulance is needed to take you away. 

Clearly, this committed misanthropist is challenged by an approach of that kind. Only this year, a fellow cyclist I know and for whom I have genuine regard (not frequently given by me as many who know me would attest), was killed by a hit and run encounter with a car driver on our local rural roads.

I use my misanthropy to sustain me in my cause. I will not let that minority of car driver trash keep me from the biggest and greatest passion of my life. They will not win. They will not prevail. But I will not let the desolations perpetrated by car-drivers build to a consuming hate that taints the purity of whatever it is that keeps cycling alive for me, year in, year out. 

One insight that helps is that the kind of car driver that I encountered yesterday are a minority. And that their toxicity is fuelled and cooked in the ovens of their cars. When they step out of their vehicles, they turn into just ordinary, unlikable, generally harmless non-entities of the kind it is easy to ignore. 

It helps me to classify car drivers into a kind of toxicity scale. 

At the bottom are those who are, simply, ignorant. These drivers are not aggressive, in any kind of considered way, to cyclists, or even in possession of any definitive attitude towards those who choose to ride bikes on their roads. These drivers are usually just as ignorant of the rights of other car drivers to use what they believe to be their space on the road. This kind cuts everyone off. This kind think nothing of overtaking any other road user and then slamming on the brakes to turn left 20 metres down the road. The problem for us cyclists is that we are particularly invisible to car drivers of this kind. Their car-induced comas generally admit the possibility of giving space to, possibly, a truck; but, never, ever, to a cyclist. This is the behaviour of people who fully absorb the sensations of removal that sitting in a tin box seems to encourage. The world outside of their car becomes a kind of video game where the only real person is him or herself. They probably never spare a thought for the cyclist they have just cut off enroute to turning left. They never see the middle finger raised in the trail of resentment they blissfully leave behind. These drivers are dealt with most effectively through assuming that all car drivers are of that kind. We cyclists need and must assume the very worst if we are to stay alive. I know some cyclists think that taking on such an extreme stance of defensive riding tends to taint the experience of what should otherwise be our blissful rides; but I reckon if we ride as though every car driver has fangs and a predilection to strike, we can soon acclimatise to the realities of the road and the car-induced behavioural perversions that sitting in a climate controlled tin box seems to invoke. 

Next up the scale are those who are both ignorant and intentional in their hurling of abuse. These are the horn honkers, the window down ‘get off the road’ (or worse; much, much, worse) aggro bloatards who are so unaccountably annoyed that anyone should ever get in their way. We should take consolation that this kind also take umbrage to other car drivers as well. The aggravations from this level of the ‘toxic spectrum’ are short lived. When you take them out of their tin boxes, they almost seem normal, if not the kind you’d ever want to invite around to dinner. It is here, and only here, I think, that we cyclists can be successful in playing the ignore them routine. There is, generally, and by my definition at this level of the toxicity scale, a cap on how far this kind will go. Should they choose to get out of their car at the next set of traffic lights or roundabout to confront the cyclist victim of their hate, they have self-selected upwards to the next highest level on the scale.

That next level are pathologically disturbed. These are the people (usually male) who, via a flood of testosterone, will exit their car to raise a fist or deliver the very antithesis of a Shakespearian sonnet in the direction of the cyclist who, at least while ensconced in the delusional protections of their car, seemed  to be an easy target for the exercise of their territorial hate. A hatred that peters out very very quickly when standing man to cyclist outside the protections no longer on offer from their car. This kind are cowards. This is the kind who confronted me the other day. This rather time ravaged bloke with a fascinating lack of front teeth and an astounding inability to string more than five words together before brain fade, burst out of his SUV to confront me in the pedestrian mall where he saw me pull up. The fist I knew of his presence was when he pushed his body right up against me, bloated stomach and gap toothed red-necked rage as physically forced as he might without using his fists,  to articulate his intention to ‘do me here and now’. Whatever a fat enfeebled 60 year old might imagine he could actually inflict on someone, let’s say, who was taller, fitter to many orders of a degree, and, most impressively, I thought, laughing in his face. ‘Do me for what?’ I enquired. ‘You think you own the road’ he suggested. ‘Really?’, I asked.  ‘Who was it that illegally overtook me at the traffic lights and then slammed on his brakes to turn right into some pastry shop?’ Yes, I gave his car a good slap to wake him up. Which was dumb because the then took off after me and swerved across the road in an attempt to knock me off my bike. I disappeared between two cars and he then took up the police car chase of his dreams to take a victory of confrontation in that mall. Or so he thought up until about a minute had elapsed from leaving the securities of his SUV. I rather ungraciously proffered some suggestions about his likely long-term residency in a low rent caravan park and accompanying lack of front teeth before he rather gave up the game only to reappear, half an hour later, in a last ditch attempt at a road block with his ample body and opened car door back at those traffic lights where we first met. I upset him again by ignoring him totally. With a practiced straight ahead focus on what I was asserting to be my uninterrupted ride. On reflection, I was also at my worst by way of response. I could see that this guy was rather past the stage of actually giving grievous bodily harm without the backup of his car. But I neglected to consider how he might have subsequently used that car to take me out. And, really, I was rather concerned that he might elect to kick my bike and take out some spokes as an alternative to his struggling inarticulate verbal abuse. I had my number one most treasured bike by my side; my Bianchi Oltre. That gave me pause for concern, then and through to now. 

And what if that tragic, enraged simpleton had turned out to be on the next level up my toxicity scale? What if as well as being ignorant, profoundly uneducated, and hyper aggressive, he’d also been willing to actually use his fists. Or worse, actually go the next step and run me over with his car without fear of consequence? Then, I would be in some other place. 

Fortunately, I have rarely encountered that kind who inhabit the enraged murder-end of the scale. They certainly exist. Cyclists are killed off by that kind every year. There is no defence from pathologically toxic characters of that kind. I have only ever met one of these, and my escape was lucky rather than the outcome of some kind of considered strategy. I survived  because he was driving a truck and I managed to escape between two cars as he attempted to throw me off the Urunga bridge, into the river below. Literally. My crime was to simply be on the road, in a 50km/hour urban zone. There was no verbal intercourse on my part. I was simply doing a Cavendish sprint to avoid this truck driver who had most intentionally tried to run me off the road to the point where he almost hit a tree with his b-double truck. What a man! And what a man he wasn’t when he exited his vehicle to confront me on the bridge. Stubby shorts, thongs, fluro singlet, lots and lots of body hair, five foot six, and 11 months pregnant with fat. And a terry towelling hat.  Only the residual image was funny. I have never seen such vitriolic burning hate  before. 

So, yes, I have seen them all and survived, at least until today. I am not going to give up because I love to ride and riding is my thing. 

I can only recommend a simple strategy here. We can never really know where an aggravated car driver fits on the toxicity scale until we have made his unpleasant acquaintance and that is an encounter we should go out of our way to avoid. So, the strategy I use and recommend (as best I can given my imperfections with dealing with humans of this kind) is to treat all car drivers as, at best, ignorant and dangerous until their actions prove otherwise. Never, assume we will be given the right of way. Always stick to the road rules to avoid confrontations where we can be officially judged in the wrong, and learn to forget as fast as we can. Why give toxic losers rent free space in our minds? These types should never be privileged above the pleasures we take from riding our bikes. They are not worth the space of our attention other than for the duration avoiding them requires. 

One other recommendation is to consider one observation I’ve made trough over thirty years of riding on the road. The vast majority of car drivers are simply incapable of recognising the different ‘tribes’ to which we cyclists belong. Most car drivers cannot separate a difference in likely behaviour between casual cyclists and serious shaved legged, lycra wearing roadies. Or any class of cyclist between. To these drivers, all cyclists are simply pedestrians on wheels. We all ride at 5km per hour and are, like roadkill or truck spill, something to overtake or otherwise pass without forethought or consideration. Nearly every bad encounter I have ever had with car drivers was the result of their profound ignorance of my capacity to more than keep pace with cars at least around town. I cannot count the number of times I have been overtaken by car drivers while I was, at least, at the legal posted speed limit. The desperation these drivers exhibit to overtake what their simian brain perceives as an almost stationary road obstacle is often something to behold. And is frequently astoundingly dangerous to both me and other road users. And guess who gets the blame when the overtaking car driver almost collects an oncoming car via his or her profound misjudgment? It’s at this point that that frequent accusation of me being ‘insane’ originates. When forced to reflect on a near miss, any car driver I ‘question’ post-encounter almost always shifts blame to their perception of my insanity to ride in such an unexpectedly rash way. Whereas, my perception is of myself as a road user obeying the road rules and travelling at pace with the prevailing traffic. Most car drivers simply cannot conceive of a cyclist who can keep up with their car driving brethren, or indeed, that a cyclist could possibly be a legitimate vehicle for travel on those roads. Most people do not like their perceptions to be shocked in such an unseemly way.  Most people don’t like to countenance the merest possibility that perceptions alternative to their own might even exist.The proof of concept of this behavioural theory is that these self same car drivers also treat truck drivers the exact same way. I have discussed this at length with a few truck drivers I know. These car drivers with an ‘overtake at all costs’ mentality are the bane of truck drivers as well. 

The message here is that even if you do look like a GC level pro-cyclist and you are riding a bike worth more than just about any car on the road, you will be grouped with those twice a year, shopping bag-on-the-handlebars, street-clothed, wobble cyclists who really can’t travel at more than 20km per hour. 

As a related piece of advice, I have this controversy to add: never, ever, ride on the edge of the road. That is absolutely asking for death by being run over. Most car drivers are, let us say, somewhat less talented at the art of driving than the designers of those cars might have intended. When you ride on the edge of the road, you will find yourself being overtaken as a matter of course and with even less consideration than you would receive when riding in the middle of your lane. When you encounter that overtaking car, you will be encountering the non-driver side. The possibilities for your survival depend entirely on how well that driver judges where, exactly, the off side of his car might be in relation to you. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever want to be giving the average car driver the benefit of the doubt in relation to his or her driving skills. Not when the loser in such a judgement call will always be the cyclist. If you ride on the edge of the road you are only reinforcing the drivers’ perception that you are an obstacle on the road to be by-passed. And you will be putting your life in the hands of that driver’s driving skills. Why would anyone do that? It makes absolutely no sense. Ride in the middle of your lane unless you are riding up a really steep hill that is wide enough to accommodate three vehicles abreast (you, the overtaking car and the inevitable car coming the other way – which will force the overtaking driver to crowd you off the road even more). But even then I stick to the middle of the lane. 

I cannot reinforce the last point more other than to say that casual cyclists who persist on riding on the edge of their lane are not just putting their own lives on the line. They are endangering all cyclists through reinforcing car driver attitudes and behaviours that are at least as deadly as a deranged nutter blasting away with a shotgun in a shopping mall. If every cyclist rode in the middle of their lane, car drivers would soon get the message. Cyclists require an at least basic degree of thought to overtake. Even if in so doing those car drivers feel the need to vent some rage. Just watch out for the nutters who live further up the toxic driver scale. If they pass and seek to confront, pass them by and don’t interact. Hopefully you will survive. 

Having said all that, to avoid the accumulation of driver-rage induced misanthropic sludge in my mind, I recommend taking regularly to the mountain bike (in the dirt, where mountain bikes exclusively belong), or to the freedoms of riding remote rural dirt roads on a cyclocross bike. Drivers out there are, almost always, of a vastly more benign kind. A ride on a remote rural road or cross country where cars can’t go is the recharge I need to stay on the road. Sometimes, that recharge takes some time. All roadies should invest in a mountain bike! And a GoPro video camera for their handlebars. For evidence in court. 

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Oltre

Stop the Press

I have had it all wrong for years as a captive of the Latest is Greatest Marketing Putsch. I have suffered the feverish attraction to the latest is greatest in bikes while, all the time, knowing full well that old is not necessarily… well … old. Just like me! Of course, you are now saying ‘so what, everyone knows that!’ Or ‘gee… he’s slow’. Maybe so. 

The seed of my personal revelation happened just six months or so ago when I decided to go for a ride on my once Number 1 cherished bike, the Pinarello Prince (from 2009). Having far too many road bikes, I can rotate around my bunch on a long cycle between visits. This was my first ride on my Prince for over a year. My immediate impression of said Pinarello was just how much I forgot how well this thing rides. My Prince has legs longer than the annual techno geek cycle bi-cycle makers seem intent to pretend for bikes these days. Actually, any bike used by the Pro-Peloton in top-end races is pretty well current for five years or more, rather than the two or three bike marketers would have us believe (by way of contribution to their nevertheless worthwhile bottom line). I am no longer on the cutting edge. Or rather, my cutting edge just extended its width out from 12 months to five years or more. It’s harder to fall off an edge as wide as that and I really do not like heights. 

Why? From where did this rather obvious insight come to pay me a visit?

Propel

It all started with the opportunity to purchase my very first factory demonstrator; a Giant Propel Advanced SL 0 (top of the line) wonder bike from way back in 2014… As this bike has a cut seat mast, it’s life as a demonstrator was, let’s say, rather constrained. So much so that until I came along, just about no one was able to ride the thing without the advice of a hack saw. Uncanny miraculous coincidence or not, what’s the chances for a current model demonstrator cut to exactly (to the mm) my size? My seat height is unusually high. So off I went and so did the bike. Mine. All mine. For 50% off! When I purchased my new ofd bike, it had just been replaced by the 2015 model. So was I out of date? Not exactly. Except for the paint. Mine is nero (black) raw carbon with blue highlights on the back end. The new model is raw carbon with white highlights on the back end. And that is about it. So, here I am with a new bike for 50% off feeling terribly pleased about extricating myself from the anxieties of the new model cycle cycle. Could there be more from this rich patch of bargain revelation?

 

Madone

Enter my new old Trek Madone 6.9SSL. Top of the top end, hand made in the USA (f-yeah!) from 2012. This one was a new bike that was never, really, delivered to its owner who, like me, was caught up in the throes of new bike fever. It had spent a year in my Local Bike Shop’s workshop waiting final delivery decisions. Out it went for, wait for it, 70% off! $13,500 down to $4,000. For all intents and purposes, band spanking new. Dressed in HED Ardennes wheels and Dura Ace (albeit 7900 rather than 9000 and 10 cogs on the back rather than 11). Having never ridden a Trek road bike before, I don’t have a benchmark from other Treks, but against the other 8 road bikes I own, it is a serious revelation! Just about perfect at everything. Now the new Trek 7.9 Madone may be better kitted with Dura Ace 9070 Di2 et al. but from all I have read, the upgrade is rather modest. If the trip from 6.9 to 7.9 is any kind of upgrade at all. Success again.

But now comes the piece de resistance! 

Could it be possible for anything to match if not better my Number One All Time Greatest Ever bike: the Wilier Zero.7? Not likely, unless possibly the Wilier Zero.7 Mark II released earlier this year. Maybe. How could anyone improve on the perfection of this Mark 1 Italian masterpiece, decked out as it is in Super Record EPS? 

 

And so I was confident in my confidence until I picked up a sadly riderless Bianchi Oltre Nero Limited (2012 model) sitting in a Specialized retail store (traded by someone who  is really, really, going to regret his choice for downgrading to a S Works Tarmac). There it was. The one and only bike I had ever and always liked to the degree of a Wilier Zero.7 (at least on paper) but had never seen let alone ridden first hand. Never liking the prospect of a celeste green Bianchi Oltre, I was rather taken by this limited edition nero (raw carbon black) option way back when it was released in 2012. Though now owned by a Swedish manufacturing concern rather than being Italian to the core like Wilier, Bianchi is the oldest bike company on earth and this Oltre was a revelation, even to Bianchi, when some genius designed it by way their big come back to the technological cutting edge. The Oltre was the most important bike in Bianchi’s recent history. It was a make or break model though which to elevate themselves back into the limelight of the pro-peloton. And so it was, via Bianchi’s sponsorship of Vacansoleil and a team issue of this very bike. I do confess to having never, ever, seeing an Oltre in the proximity of my personal touch before. Bianchi does not have any kind of presence where I ride. It might sound silly, but seeing this lonely but much loved and meticulously-to-obsessively maintained Oltre was kind of like seeing my favourite Goya’s for the first time in the Prado Museum. The real deal up close is a big deal indeed. How could anyone ever imagineer a more magnificent bicycle than this? 

And then to be reminded of the appalling horrors of bicycle depreciation, I could hardly comprehend the guilty possibilities of, for once, being on the side of beneficiary rather than on the miseries of the too-cruel selling side. A genuine Bianchi masterpiece for 50% off all by virtue of being just two years old. My new Bianchi, to pervert the usual story, had only ever been raced. Never used for training rides. It is, effectively, as new. Unmarked. Mechanically perfect.  

Oltre 2

What could I lose? This Oltre is still cutting edge. The subsequent Oltre XR (2013) and XR2 (2014 to date) iterations are not exactly significant upgrades. There’s not much in these updates other than 30 grams or so of ever higher modulus carbon and updated Shimano group sets. My Oltre has Shimano Dura Ace 7900 Di2. Ten speeds and one cog shifting at a time. Oh well. Campagnolo Super Record EPS it is not. But maybe one day I will contemplate a full-on Campagnolo restoration to the all Italian perfections it so seriously deserves. 

But what could I gain? It only took three rides. This bike is, quite possibly, the greatest bike I have ever ridden. And, yes, that includes my Wilier Zero.7. Like my Trek Madone 6.9SSL, the Oltre is pitched to be great at everything. But unlike the Madone, the Oltre is just a little bit more: it is perfect at everything. This thing has a miraculous ride. And if I am using the Zero.7 (and the latest Giant Propel super bike et al.) as a benchmark, the Oltre has a ride that must be ridden to be believed. This thing is just as great a climber’s bike as the Trek Madone and (my all-time favourite climbing bike) the Merida Scultura SL. But the Oltre rides like a floating carpet of pure silk. The Oltre has a liquid ride. And boy oh boy did I take it on some dodgy roads! Round and around the worst roads in the State where I live (the goat tracks around Bellingen if you know the place). Nasty flood damaged roads that even make my local New England roads look good. It’s a simply astounding climbing bike. It is as stiff as I could ever imagine a bike could be. It’s efficient to the degree that would placate an efficiency obsessed climbing specialist in any pro-tour. It’s ride is magic. It is fast! And faster still. It is light. Almost as light as my Zero.7 (but not as light as my Madone). And, importantly, it is a work of art that just happens to be legal for the road. This is the bike that should be attached to a deep space probe in order to impress our alien neighbours with the engineering genius of the human race. 

Now I am a Bianchi man. Hell, I might even paint my house in celeste. 

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Descent

I have always considered that the essence of what defines a person’s intellect to be either engaging or as dull as an Australian politician is the degree of reflexivity inherent in that intellect. A reflexive intellect is one that recognises that other points of view are not only possible, but that you might actually be wrong!. And if you are open to the possibilities of being wrong, you are likely to be open to the possibilities of learning! I enjoy the company and conversation of people who genuinely enjoy being challenged by new ideas and/or having existing mental models challenged. I don’t enjoy any kind of conversation with people who have closed minds. But then again, the latter usually only converse with rubber stamps or tick boxes to be checked.

This is quite pathological with me. I really, really, do not enjoy the company of dull witted types who’s idea of argument is to put a position on the table and then proceed to stick their fingers in their ears while you waste your time arguing to the contrary. Or worse, who don’t bother to reason why I might be wrong other than to say that I am wrong and that my arguments are ‘bull’…

I know more than a few people like this. Sometimes they have other redeeming characteristics. Usually they don’t. But things get really bad when these dull wits have managed to sludge their way into some sort of empowerment wherein their stupefyingly robotic mental models can be asserted over others. My local council (The Armidale Dumaresq Council) is utterly bloated with this kind of stupefying dullard. You will know the kind immediately, I am sure. These are the kind who claim that we must comply with some inane regulation or requirement ‘because the rules say so’.  

My last encounter with the Planning staff at this council left me looking up membership forms for the Misanthropist Society. We had a road that connected to a new house we wanted to build. But that road did not have clearly specified access rights (despite the fact that it was our road on our land). So this asylum for the mentally deranged decided we had to build a new road at the cost of $20,000 or be refused permission to occupy our new house. I had a one hour conversation with the head Planner involved. I wanted to know why we couldn’t use our existing road to access our new house. ‘Because it is illegal’. Why? Because it is illegal. Why is it illegal? Because it is. But why? Because the title deeds don’t specify your rights of access. But it is our land and our road. Does not matter, the Title Deeds don’t say so. Well, add some words to the Deeds. Can’t. Why? Because. Why? … In the end we had to build a new road because us spending $20,000 was easier for Council then it was for Council to add those words to the Deeds. Why? Because no one knew how. There was no real pathway with neon sign posts to show these dim wits how to proceed. No path, no journey. You can’t expect a robot to clear a new path when his programming neglects to support a challenge such as active thought. 

My one time university (the University of New England) was also bloated by mental unimpressives of this kind. The second from last boss of that now appalling degree-factory-with-delusions-to-relevance operated on the astoundingly inane premise that whatever happened in his last university should now happen to the one over which he now had the reins: to shut down any research group not in a faculty silo. Why? Because! That’s why. So out I went along with all my students. It might sound strange, but I found as big a dearth of intelligent life at that university as I found at our local Council. The dullards are in control. One place feeds the other. Literally.

And here is the rub. When the dullards mange to grab empowerment, they empower themselves over recruitment. And if there is one thing a dullard likes is even duller dullards under him or herself to control. So recruitment processes proceed along the lines of an ever descending spiral of stupidity until the point when an entire organisation becomes one big turgid bloat of dullards with the collective intellectual breadth of a beach sponge. Professors who should inspire us with the mind of a mental gymnast are, instead, more like the intellect in your local Automatic Teller Machine. Try to conduct an intellectually provocative argument with an ATM and you will just have your card confiscated. Try to conduct and intellectually provocative argument with one of these new generation professors and you will have your career terminated. Just like happened to me. 

You can understand why the robot brains are taking over. If you are in charge of an organisation, and you have a mind with less capacity for intellectual creativity than a traffic light, you will hardly be wanting to appoint more creative thinkers than you as your deputies, will you! I reckon you can always pick the character of an organisation through interviewing that organisation’s leader. I should have known my career was on the skids when I first met this new university head. I have met more inspiring carrots. I should have known we were in for it with our new house when I first met the General Manager and the Mayor of our so-called local council. The intellectual lights are definitely out in both organisations.

Yes, dullards can be dangerous.  

Cycling, for me, is my escape. This is just about the only place where I can fly outside the gravitational anchors of the robo-brained dull-wits-in-charge. 

Think about it. Just imagine being allowed to take a F1 grand prix car out for a spin on a public road. Yeah right. But that’s precisely what we can do with our Pro-Tour racing bikes. Breathtaking! 

Yes, we have to wear helmets, and have to obey the traffic rules. But, for most practical purposes, we can ride at the limits of our power and still stay legal. Try that in a car. Even if we do speed, we are not required to have a speedometer on-board so can plead ignorance (despite the Garmin 510 with second by second incriminating evidence if only Mr Plod knew…). We don’t have to ride with a number! Where else in society can we play without a number through which rule enforcers can enforce their rule? We can get away with things like carbon wheel braking (aka, no brakes when it rains) and glue on tyres. We can avoid obstacles that leave the car trolls holed up for hours simply by dismounting, hopping a fence or barrier, or weaving through the metallic mess they cause when they bash into each other rather than into us. Just imagine having to have our bikes inspected by bureaucrats with clip boards once a year. Just imagine if the OH&S ATM Brains were put in charge of designing road rules for cyclists and the bikes we ride. Just imagine what an OH&S bicycle would look like!! Just imagine how it would ride…

And then there is the breathtaking lack of regulations over the engines we cyclists use. No emissions controls, no caps on horse power. No catalytic converters and silenced exhausts. Indeed, government campaigns exist to encourage us to keep adding ever more horses in our corsets. The world’s most powerful cycling engine is every bit as legal as the most feeble. We don’t have to pay penalty insurance premiums as our watts go up. We don’t have to reduce our air intakes to constrain our power. Where else is power so unconstrained as it is for we cyclists? And, even if you don’t consider regulations and rule making, where else does performance remain so unconstrained by use? With a car, engines wear out and servicing costs go up with use. By and large, for cyclists, increased use only makes us go faster and longer! (Within constraints, as Strava over-performers will no doubt confirm).  Where else are the curves for costs and rewards so skewed in our favour as with cycling? Yes, cycling defies the axioms of economics in a most reassuring way!

Yes, we have many of the freedoms car drivers once had back in the 1950’s and before. Yes, we are not entirely un-constrained. But those constraints are nowhere near as intrusive as they are for any other road user. Basically, I am amazed that in this era of robot-brained idiocracy that we are actually allowed to use the road at all. I certainly have encountered many many car drivers who are also amazed at this too; and do everything they can to redress the problem by trying to run us off the road. 

Often times I think that riding my Wilier Zero.7 on the road is some kind of glorious aberration. I should enjoy it while I can, before the bureaucrats finally have their way. Can such an endeavour as riding a high performance bike on a public road really be a long-term pleasure? I ride like each day will be the last that such a thing will be allowed. Often, I think that riding is like receiving a lottery win on the wrong ticket. We have the money but surely, someone will pick up on the mistake and ask for the money to be returned. Can such a pleasure that is so profoundly at odds with the ordered, rule-bound machine world of  bureaucracy continue so profoundly under the radar of its reach? I ride like someone who has stolen something. I am getting so paranoid that I even feel guilty after a fast hard ride. What? Haven’t they banned this yet? Really? Wow. Off for another ride before some bureau-brain fills this hole in the social fabric matrix of our machine ruled world.

I know I am being controversial, but I think we are getting dangerously close to the end-of-cycling-days every time some bureaucrat orders the construction of a new cycleway. 

Maybe cycle ways work where you are, but around here they are simply an exercise of bureaucratic contempt; an exercise in ‘harmonising’ we cyclists into the matrix of ordered rules that has squashed the life out of everything else that once gave us pleasure. Building a cycle way usually involves painting a stencilled bicycle logo on what was otherwise the shoulder of a road. We are then expected to cycle on the glass/gravel detritus that car drivers effuse as part of the pollution package they dump wherever they go. We are expected to ride on road shoulders used by cars to park or otherwise decompose. Worse still, we are expected to share these ‘cycleways’ with pedestrians, wobbling casual pre-cyclists and worst of all, ebikers!; and all at speeds half that at which we can cruise on the road. My main worry is that once installed, the legislators frequently insist that we have to use a cycleway when one is available. I am not going to start riding a pedestrian infested gravel trap on my 120psi 23c tyres any time soon.

But where there is a cloud, the sun also often shines. I dream of the ‘metre matters’ metric being turned into law. Just imagine if the car trolls could actually be fined for brushing our handle bars or wing mirroring us into a ditch. This would be a veritable culture shifting catalyst for driver behaviour, especially if that new rule were to be ruthlessly enforced. I am sure the very next must have gadget for our handlebars would be a combination one metre radar detector and number plate recording device with satellite streaming to police stations everywhere! I can dream, can’t I?

I rather suspect that the reason for our relative freedoms on the road is more to do with the ‘monolith effect’ than it is to do with any laxities in rule maker diligence. By monolith I refer to that wondrous black slab that appears in front of the pre-bone weilding cave men in the film 2001. Any attempt to control we cyclists with the comforts of deep litter rules must hurt the brains of diligent mono-tracking rule makers just like making sense of the black monolith must have been to those pre-historic man-apes in the film. But once they did consider and enter the gateway, evolution went through a worm drive upgrade. I wonder what kind of a brain shift might happen to otherwise rule-bound dull thinking bureaucrats should they fall through the monolith into a life of active cycling. I rather think the effect would be like flying. They would be reborn in some mysterious hotel room into the higher plane of creative, reflexive thinking that had hitherto been evolutionarily denied by the dystopian rule-bound bog within which they currently primordially wallow. 

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FaStrava pagecebook? Phooey. Phaw. Here I am… I’m eating Maccas and guzzling Coke. My favourite colour is puce and my favourite band is … Gee whiz. Fancy that. I keep hearing the bleating of 1 billion sheep.

Strava? Now we are talking. Today I crushed five King of the Mountain records before expiring from exhaustion in the middle of the road… Here is the map of my ride and here are my KOM’s for you to try. Go on, I dare you… And I am in 237th place in Australia (out of 18,000 people on the current list) for people my age in terms of average weekly distance ridden. Now we are talking! Yes.

If you are going to expose your egotism issues, what better place could there be? CAN you stand out on Facebook? You sure can on Strava!

Consider this. What is the biggest metric for how totally brilliant you are on Facebook? Number of followers, that’s what. Now consider the kinds of people with a huge following. Shakria with 71, 397, 098? Lady Gaga 59 million. And, yes, I am not making this up: Coca Cola 73 million. Are they serious? 73 million followers of a vomitous lolly water drink? Really? What stimulation do these followers receive by way of response? If these deadheads would follow a bottle of Coke, I bet the’d follow Adolf Hitler if he reincarnated into the next iteration of Justin Bieber (56,849,339, and counting, like sheep, in your sleep).

Is there anything more pointless than this?

I reckon I can outperform a bottle of Coke…

If you are going to suffer egotistical neuroses, why not head to a social networking site that encourages exercise rather than the doubtless delights of following a bottle of Coke. Stava is the social network for people with something to actually boast about. Followers are earned. Pedigrees are created rather than claimed. Does Facebook test your assertions to fame? Strava does. You have to submit data to climb in that social crowd!

Just in case there is someone reading this who, perchance, does not know what Strava is, let me briefly explain. Strava is the website to which you connect your Garmin cycling device (or iPhone). When you go for a ride, you upload your data and you get to see all the essentials neatly plotted out on a map. Totals are tallied and you get a cumulative score. You can see how far you have ridden today, this week or this year. You can compare and contrast with your records from the past. Your rides are broken down into their constituent hills. And then the fun starts. You are given timings for the most exciting segments of your ride (like hills or circuits or stretches of note) and the times for other people who have ridden the same segments in the past (Strava finds these comparisons automatically). You are automatically ranked. If you have the best time, you are awarded a King of the Mountain (KOM) time. And a ‘suffer score’. There are now millions of Strava subscribers so you are comparing yourself with a pretty large pool.

But that’s not all. You don’t have to compete. You can simply use Strava to keep your records and keep track of your training progress. And you can explore the routes, courses or the rides of others in your area or in areas to which you might be planning a visit. You can download these courses and install them in your device. Then you can follow the route and maybe not get lost. But there is more! You can chat and interact with others with a similar mind. You can share and brag to your heart’s delight. This is a great place to set up a group ride. It is a great place to discover fellow riders you might like to meet. You can use your records to keep on track with various goals Strava allows you to set. You can compete in public challenges or simply set a weekly goal for yourself. You don’t even have to make your rides public if your ego is well under control!

Strava is free. Except when you decide to pay AUD$60 per year to add power recording, route making and suffer scoring to your list. But most of Strava is free for all. It’s the lowest priced drug in town.

Strava is for boasting and posing about stuff that’s real and for stuff that you have genuinely achieved. Facebook is for all those car drivers out there. If you are such a loser that harassing cyclists with your 40 tonne SUV is the only source of egotistical reward, Facebook is the place for you. You can rant on about cyclists all you like on your Facebook page. You can form a cyclist hate goup and work yourself into a sweat (the only sweat you’re likely to get in this crowd). You can become a cluster of muttering tossers like trolls in a cave. Or you can become a Strava elite!!

But let’s not get carried away. Strava is dangerous. Strava is the next great opportunity for dopers and cheats. I can see it now.

Some I know (not me of course!) will do ANYTHING to wrest a KOM from someone else. Strava has given rise to a new breed of cyclist; a breed I’d rather not find out on the road: the Strava Troll. Strava Trolls search out inane little KOM’s they reckon they can steal. They drive their cars to the bottom of a likely Strava hill, unpack their bike and ride each challenge without the context of having to ride there first. The Strava Trolls seek out KOM’s that are off the regular cycling routes. They seek out KOM’s held by hybrid bike riders or lower (you can see what bikes a rider has used in the segment reports these Trolls so like to read). Strava Trolls avoid routs used by pro cyclists and the like. They hit the hills for which they have the best possible chance for a kill.

Some Strava folk are in a perpetual sweat; they develop anxiety over their KOM records and monitor them like guards on a castle wall. Life is suspended to defend an attack.

All Strava diehards live in perpetual terror of a cycling pro firebombing their KOM routes.

I can see the day, if that day is not already here, when dopers move into the Strava scene. I can see a new market for EPO. I can see some folk hitting themselves up for an enhanced Strava raid. I can see midnight marauders. I can see records taken on the tail winds of hurricanes. (Which is how I explain every KOM record that is taken away from me!). I can even see Strava riders getting a tow up killer KOM record hills through hanging on to a friend’s motorbike or car; under the cover of dark, or through some other nefarious scheme.  Recall that Maurice Garin, winner of the very first Tour de France, was caught out cheating on the second Tour though hopping on a train. Such tactics are bound to start blighting the Strava scene!

I can see the UCI starting to police Strava record taking . And that would not be before time!

As I write this, I am wondering if someone has taken my hill from this morning’s ride? I am wondering how long I can resist checking my email for the dreaded message that my record is lost!

I am starting to think that there is a point to Facebook after all. How cozy it must be to simply worry about competitive colour choice, band preferences and messages detailing who is in hospital and who is not. Sounds like a much more relaxing place to be…

Oh, and my Strava page is strava.com/athletes/roderic_gill Don’t you dare take away my hills!

 

 

 

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A quick question: what’s the best road bike in the world?

Surely this is the ultimate question in the road cycling geek’s big list of things to argue over. There are probably 42 answers… All contestable and subject to revision daily, as more and more bikes are unleashed for our endless temptation. 

As with all unanswerable questions (e.g.. is there a God, which is the best State to live in, what’s the best country in the world, who is the world’s greatest author and what’s the best music band in the world?), everyone has at least an opinion. Society is shaped by the way people answer questions such as these. Remember the Spanish Inquisition? That’s one way to answer questions pertaining to God. Or driving a few planes into the World Trade Centre. Or the Second World War, the First World War and even the Peloponnesian Wars. Clubs, tribes and friend circles are defined by localised consensus on how we might answer any of the great unanswerable questions. Football clubs anyone?

Our consideration of the ‘best (road) bike in the world’ is one of these biggies. Not something to go to war over. But a Big One nonetheless. And, as a Big One, there is no universally agreeable answer.

But there are ways of dealing with the utter unresolvability of this question. First, we might, and many do, simply partition their personal answer to country of origin. Eg. the best bike in the world MUST be Italian. Or French. Or from the USA. That’s one approach.

Some might just go by price. What’s the most expensive? Some might go by weight. What’s the lightest road bike in the world? Or exclusivity. 

And there are always those extraordinarily tiresome types who use the annoyingly simple metric of simply declaring that whatever bike they might have is, by virtue of their astounding good taste, THE best bike in the world. That’s pretty much the metric many people I know use for answering questions about religion, choice of motor car, musical taste, or the best place to live. Most of us have some biases of this kind that colour, or at least taint our thinking on questions such as these. 

And then there are the scientistic types. These are the lab coat set who propose to address THE big questions through the purity of science; measurements, quantification: proof! You’d be stunned to know how many seemingly intelligent people go for this line; that the bogus measurement routine is a valid response to dealing with tricky questions. Academics often suffer this appalling quantitative disease. Why a disease? Because not all the dimensions of any unanswerable question are amenable to measurement.; so insistence on quantification disfigures the rich field of choices that the more subjective realm can inform. And, really, it’s often he case that the best things about the things we are wanting to rank and rate are completely incompatible with measurement. Like the aesthetic dimension. Like all the ‘feel good’ bits that drive our choices. 

Besides, who would want a bicycle that an accountant might assess to be the best? Or who would want a bike that a Human Resources bot might determine to be the most Politically Correct? 

So… knowing that this is an unanswerable question, and that anything that I might suggest by way of an answer is a single sand grain in an entire beach of prospective, legitimate answers, I feel compelled to have a go because I am on the hunt for a new bike and the bike I want is one without the usual constraints that shape my choices. This is my once in a lifetime crusade to pick the Best bike I can find. Or more precisely, I want a bike chosen without all the usual constraints of money, lack of information, of what’s in stock and what’s not. I want to wallow in my own prejudices, biases and sense of the aesthetic. I am not buying this bike for anyone else! And I am NOT recommending my particular choice to anyone else. This is an entirely personal crusade. The most self indulgent thing I have ever done! (It’s a good thing I hate cars… buying the ultimate bicycle is at best 5% of the cost of searching for the ‘ultimate’ car. Besides, to my mind, the ultimate car is always parked permanently in a wrecking yard…)

I gave myself a year for this search. Research is what I do. So researching this particular question was going to be a pleasurable journey. Knowing that, at the end, there will be NO perfect  choice, and that, perhaps, the final choice might actually prove to be unavailable or unaffordable, I wanted at least my search to be uncompromised. It costs no more to search without constraints than it would to search with all those usual qualifiers of economics and the practicalities of the market place to constrain my choices. 

My aim was for a short list of Five.  To narrow the field, I subscribed to 10 cycling journals and numerous web forums. I tracked bicycle industry news like a zealot. I harassed and harangued every person who’s opinion I imagined was worth a listen (and often some who’s opinion was not). I collected test reports with the dedication of a hypochrondriac searching the web for an imagined disease. I looked, I listened, I visited bicycle shops. Everywhere I went. 

I decided from the start to avoid the custom route. I know some would say that having a bike custom made is the ultimate path. But I am not that patient and I want a bike that others might also have. I need the reinforcements of reviews along with the validation that those reviews might provide. Custom bikes are a once off and almost never reviewed by the cycling press. Custom bikes are too exclusive for someone in permanent search of others who might have made the same choice as me… It’s a tribal thing. 

To reach my short list of five, I would allow only one simple rule: no bike on my list could be second to any other; just different. It should not be possible to find a better bike than one on my list; just a bike that’s different. Of course, I am not actually defining criteria like ‘best’ or ‘better’ in any measurable way, because at this level, choices are beyond the resolution of quantifiable measurement. This short list of five will be sitting above the altitude of objective measurement. At this level, we are in the realm of the spectacularly, wonderfully, embracingly subjective. I am not buying an office stapler here. I am buying a work of art. A pice of history. A statement. So, I can embrace rather than pretend to avoid my cycling biases. The search is tough. If I were to find any test report that justifiably faulted any aspect of any bike, that bike would not be on the list. But context matters. Criticisms need to make sense and they need to matter. If a bike has a design fault that is repeatable and serious, it’s off the list. If a criticism is about aesthetics, I will be my own judge. 

Without even the delusions of pseudo scientific method in place, I had fun massaging my list down to five. Five universally lauded bikes. Five bikes that have never attracted any kind of serious negative comment. Five winners.

Here’s my list:

Pinarello Dogma II

Look 695

BMC Teammachine SLR 01

Wilier Zero.7

Colnago C59

Already, you are questioning and arguing my choice! I can hear you from here… Where is the Giant TCR Advanced Rabobank? Where are the top end offerings from Ridley, Parlee, Trek,  Cervelo, Specialized, Fuji, Canyon, de Rosa, Bianchi, BH, Orbea, Time, Merida or Merckx? And did you notice my Italian bias? As I said, this is my choice and me wallowing in my own context of aesthetics and mechanical art.

And yes, A bike is a frame plus a set of parts. I can’t avoid the latter. I have to choose there too. I have to wade into the perpetual fires of equipment choice: Campagnolo, Shimano or SRAM. I already have bikes with Super Record, Record, Dura Ace, Ultegra and SRAM Red. I detest Dura Ace with a passion (shifting like a broken spoon flapping in a bowl of porridge). I kind of like Red (a proper click) and I am passionate about Super Record (20,000km without adjustment, even once. A serious. Proper. Click). And on top of that. Electronic or mechanical? Another subjective nest of snakes. With that admission, my audience here has splintered into three abuse hurling shouting camps. Such is mountain climbing into the stratosphere of the ultimate bike… I made it simple. Campagnolo Super Record. EPS (electronic), or mechanical I’ll decide in due course. 

And then there’s the wheels. I want 50mm deep carbon clinchers. I don’t care for tubulars these days. I’m not going to argue with myself over that any more. I had tubulars for 10 years. I want my rims with an aluminium braking ring. I have a set of Fulcrum all carbon clinchers: never again. Sometimes, it’s nice to stop…

Here are highlights from my review notes:

Dogma

Pinarello Dogma II. Innovative frame geometry, superbly stiff, but compliant. Fast, but OK for all day rides. I love curves! I love Pinarellos (I have three already). History. Aesthetics. Pedigree! Italian, yes, but Taiwanese cleverness with monocoque. Overpriced. Paying for the brand. A bike dentists tend to buy. I am not a dentist… $16,000 on the road with Super Record EPS. The obvious choice. Too obvious? Tour de France winner but under the wrong rider… Who could forgive Sky colour scheme! Have they no shame? Do I really want 4 Pinarellos?

 

 

 

 

 

Look695

Look 695. Iceberg clean looks! Zen. Efficient. Brilliant. Stiff (super). Purebred to race. Fast. Too associated with Shimano. Eccentric. Understatement. French! Unmistakingly French! Lack of bling equates to more bling than bling. $11,000 on the road. Hard to convince the distributor not to taint with Shimano Dura Ace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slr01

BMC Teammachine SLR 01. Ruthlessly efficient. Innovative rear end. Home spun carbon! Light! Stiff. Won the Tour de France. Underdog. Clean zen like aesthetics. Good climber. Good in a sprint. But climbing is great. I am a climber. I love hills. Yes. Great price too. Save $6k on a Dogma. $10,000 on the road. With SRAM Red. A Swiss made analogue of the Giant TCR Advanced Rabobank Team Issue bike with which I have been totally, and utterly enthralled for the past year. 

 

 

 

 

 

Wilier

Wilier Zero.7 Where did this one come from! I always liked the Cento 1. But this is a breathtaking statement that must have embarrassed Pinarello big time. Ultra light weight, ultra stiff, but ultra comfortable. A reconciliation of opposites! A pure, unmitigated, unapologetic statement of Italian art. Hair standing on back of neck looks. Expensive… Innovative new carbon technology you’d have expected from Pinarello – or Giant –  first. One of the oldest bike makers on the planet. Hardly zen-like looks! Bling on bling. Only from Italy. Put Shimano on this and die. $15,000 before the pedals but with Super Record EPS and Fulcrum Red Wind XLR/Campagnolo Bullet wheels. Rationality takes a hike. I am in love.

 

 

 

 

C59

Colnago C59 Especially with disc brakes! Understated, overstated, all at the same time. Lightish, but not light. Stiff, but not too much. Lugs! Made in Italy. Customisation possibilities are endless. This one is not from a distributor of boxes. Passion on wheels. I can’t find a single colour scheme I actually like… Old school. Last of its kind. A lifetime keeper. Colnago too often goes over to the dark side of Shimano. Shame! Colnago and Pinarello should shop locally when it comes to component choices. Take a look at Wilier… $12,000 if I go for mechanical Super Record. The bike to aspire to after a lifetime of bike love. Pure bicyclism! 

And…the Giant TCR Advanced Team Issue Rabobank is not on my list because I already have one… As good as a Dogma at 1/3 the cost! Flawless. Magnificent. Logical.

And the winner? Or, perhaps more appropriately put, which one did I choose? Isn’t it obvious? Stay tuned for the next instalment. 

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MoneyGreedGod

People who know me and know of the issues my family have been dealing with over the past few years keep telling me the same thing: all families have their problems. Weasel words. Platitudes. No one, I would contend, could possibly have connections to as psychotic a bunch of sociopaths as my wife’s abysmal family.  All that is needed to expose their character is the catalyst of money. And money is something they always like to have around. 

I have always reckoned that a family that can reconcile the invariably asymmetrical viewpoints on the distribution of ‘family wealth’ is one that is both rare and worthwhile. My own family is like that; we have a history of simply letting stuff disappear into the hands of the ruthless and greedy, rather than pursue our rights to the death. Not good for the bottom line but we are a long lived family with few scars. But my wife’s family is different (with the exception of my wife, who is as opposite from them as it could ever be possible to stretch genetic attachments without appearing to be adopted). Money is their religion, their reason for existence, their goal, their passion, and their misery. Measured by the cent. One cent at a time. Odious, obnoxious trolls. I am not being subtle here, am I…

I mean, how would you react to advice from the forthcoming brother-in-law just after the announcement of intended nuptials: ˆyou know you shouldn’t be marrying her for her money, don’t you! Because you won’t be getting any. Our business is none of yours’. Which is pretty hard to swallow when being part of their farming business is quite possibly the last thing I could ever possibly want. Having invested ten years into the getting of qualifications and experience towards an academic career, why would I want to take up farming instead?! But being a family farm their business would be a business from which it would be pretty hard to stay totally removed, especially when it is the location of our home and the focus of my wife’s life passion (a passion that makes mine for cycling seem like a momentary fad). Theirs is a farm that has always depended entirely on her intelligence and, frankly, brilliance as a manager of animals and on her extraordinary intuition in relation to the challenges of the rural market place. My intuitions are more academic, having been, for 26 years, a lecturer in farm business management (and later on more diverse, ecological-economic themes) at the local university, and thus shielded from the inner workings of The Family Business. I’ve been viewed as an exotic threat since the day we got married. Watched, feared, reviled. It has been fun… 

All farming businesses pass on; but some pass with more grace than others. Some pass via an agreed plan. Some pass via the attrition of a war. Ours was more the latter than the former, given that the rules of engagement and most of the ensuing plan were dictated by The Eldest Brother upon the context entirely of what was best, exclusively, for him. The Eldest Brother had ruled the roost for over 30 years. He ran the books. He decided what could be spent and what could not. Which always pretty well meant that anything that was to his advantage was approved and anything else was beyond financial reach. But my wife ploughed on, doing her thing. Producing wool of world class renown. The only one of the three siblings with a genuine love for the place. 

So we ended up at the intersection in the road; the old guy, the head of the clan, decided to give in and split the place across his offspring. The Eldest Brother was born for this day. Like a coil hard-sprung for years, he launched his greased plan. First up, he took away our house. Gifted to us via promise by my wife’s parents, we now were forced to buy it back. Full market price. The Eldest Brother managed to value our house at 10 times the price as that of his own. But then the real nightmare began: unravelling the family books. Kept like a sacred scripture by the Eldest Brother for years, no one had ever managed to see within and no one was ever going to short of a SAS-like covert audit. 

So we paid our millions for our share and still The Brothers managed to keep a hold over us through refusing to let us buy our share of the livestock and plant. We had to lease our stock and pay above market rates by way of interest, for years to come. How would anyone run a livestock business when denied ownership of the animals involved? My first step was to enlist a legal-accounting team to find us an escape. It took two years! Mainly because the Eldest Brother refused to let even our accountant see the books to work out a payout price. But it got even worse. My wife’s father had extended an interest free loan to her by way of mitigation of damage caused by reneging on the handover of our house. For two years, we had taken him at his word. Until one day, hiding on his kitchen table, we found The Invoice. The Eldest Brother had, apparently, taken exception to this ‘interest free loan’ and had decided, without telling us, to charge us interest from day one. And, because we never knew, he’d been compounding those interest charges into the principal stacking up a healthy potential income stream. He’d written this loan contract with his wife on the day we all split the place. The solicitor involved had told us there was no problem, interest was optional. But not to the Eldest Brother to whom interest is the sacred sacrament of his perverted sense of self worth. 

I unleashed my legal team. We shut the racket down. We escaped. We are now free. Funded entirely from my personal life savings. And we had two victories along the way. First, we won on the question of interest for my wife’s father’s loan. $9,000 saved. The second victory was to secure interest relief over the past 6 months of haggling over our non-access to the books. Access is a legal right, not a benefit to be bestowed. $6,000 saved. $9,000 plus $6,000 = $15,000. The exact price of my new bike. My new bike is a statement of rights restored. The only victory I have ever scored against the tyranny of my wife’s greed bloated family. My new bike is a symbol of our freedom, funded by the curtailment of The Brothers’ relentless greed. I love this bike for what it is and for how it came to be mine. What better statement could I ever have to mark the occasion of the dawn of a new life for my family and what will probably be the last great fling of my cycling career. This bike is a sweet reward. It almost doesn’t matter what it is but it is something extraordinary nonetheless. To celebrate our freedom, I devised a simple plan: I simply want the best bike money can buy. Period. No compromises. The best there is. Funded through righteous relief from the tyranny of greed. So what did I get? Stay tuned. 

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Tv2

I wasn’t there when they first invented the TV. But I do recall once watching an early era black and white set before colour broadcasting began. I remember the wooden box-like set. I remember the small glass screen. I remember the single mono speaker and the big fuel tank  filler cap-like channel switcher. I remember the turned cylinder legs and the flower pot permanently planted on the top. I do definitely remember that all this felt so amazingly modern. And I do not ever recall thinking that all this technology would be in for much in the way of change. Colour was not something that ever occurred to me. Yes, that little Pye set was bigger and better in every way than its predecessors that more resembled a gramophone set with a window than a Jurassic Home Theatre array. But progress felt… gradual. Not frantic. We didn’t purchase on the knife edge of fast paced imminent redundancy. We didn’t worry that what we might purchase today would become an antique the very next day. 

Which is how I feel when I buy a TV these days. Which is exactly how I feel two days after installing the one I have just bought. Two days after purchase, that model has been deleted. But it was current two days before. So now, apparently, I have an antique…

But it’s not just TV’s that give me this riding-a-technology whirlwind feeling these days, And that’s not because I am some kind of grumpy technologically outpaced old man either, I might add…

This latest model Macbook Air I am using here was fresh for five days. Then Apple added USB 3. So now I am a legacy user disconnected from the world of high speed devices to which, it seems, every other Mac user now has access, except me. Now I’m stuck with USB 2.0.  One day I was on the cutting edge. Now I am in the dust. Feeling like the victim of technological assault. Inadequate. Left behind. Old. Which is all very odd because before the latest Macbook update, USB 2.0 was just fine. I was happy using the equivalent of black and white TV serial bus technology. USB 3.0 was for PC users and I wasn’t one of them. And that was just fine. 

Which is why, and I am sure I am not alone, so many folk are having such fun with LP records once again. Vinyl has become a concrete barricade of protection from the howling gale of technological change. We can tinker and enjoy without any fear of becoming out-of-date. Indeed, in those Jurassic vinyl grooves is a sound that even the highest end computer audio would find it hard to match. But I digress.

If you are a person subject to techno-adadequacies or insecurities of this kind, the whole world becomes a little unsettling. We seem to be tuned to the pace of being left technologically behind. Most of us know that what we have today is not going to cut it by some time mid next week. Some of us don’t care at all (to a degree that improves the closer we get to the nursing home), some are mildly unnerved. And some are in a perpetual state of panic (like those who choose to queue every time Apple releases a new iPhone). 

My bandwidth of concern is pretty wide. Relishing, as I do, the technological resilience of bicycles and vinyl LP’s, I can drift off to an island of unconcern. But when it comes to computer IT, I dread every upgrade. I am, after all, that guy who bought into DCC and MD (remember those?) only to watch both music formats completely disappear within a space of two years, along with the media needed to keep that equipment in use. Go on, try to buy a Digital Compact Cassette these days. Go on. Try. I feel like I have been robbed. Dropped. Ditched. Redundant without redundancy pay. And no one cares…

All of which explains why I seem to be permanently carrying a back pack of worry around whenever I enter some kind of electronics store, or search for a new car, or search for a new ebook to download. Will I be left with unusable stuff all over again? It’s like carrying a permanent virus, or having to live with a permanent limp. All the while knowing that, really, it’s all self-inflicted and induced by the evils of modern marketing and a raging culture of consumerism. Which is why it’s so great to know that I can aways drift off to that moated barricade of bicycles and vinyl LP’s when ever I like. In that place, I can overtake anyone’s million dollar cutting-edge super car when all that oil-fuming technology trickles down to a sludge in congested city streets; and from where I can nuance away all I like to the nth degree of fidelity on my LP’s while the techno buffs are all reinventing bit rates and DAC codecs in a battlefield mess of unsettling audio attrition. 

But all this presents a context through which to frame every visit I choose to make to my local bookstore, my local record shop, or even to my local newsagent. I pick up a book and find myself Amazoning the price of its ebook counterpoint for my iPad. I pick up a magazine and check out the price of subscriptions on Zinio. The latest issue of Peloton magazine is $15.99. An annual sub for my iPad is $12. Knowing these choices makes it so hard to commit. Which translates into a non- commitment to the continued existence of these stores dancing their death throes on the tipping point of relentless change. Every time I buy an ebook, my local book store is one page closer to that final closing down sale. I can’t enjoy buying the latest cycling ezine without reflecting on the abject economic disaster about to dump on my friendly local newsagent. What’s life going to be like without those local stores? Is our community to become an array of disconnected social recluses all hardwired to the internet while the village green transcends to jungle and unemployment reaches 100 per cent?

Stop the bus. It’s time to get off. 

I’m done with all those awkward silences of unsaid condolence I feel whenever I visit my newsagent, bookshop or that last, assaulted record store. Is it time to become a technological recluse? 

It’s hard to listen to music on my bike with a LP turntable strapped to my handlebars. I want the latest toys but want the social infrastructure of community commerce as well.

It’s hard to put my head in the sand. But I don’t want to put a knife into those gentle decent folk who run their Last Stand book/record/newsagency stores, waiting for the vultures to finally swarm the poverty of their final days. 

Where do they all go in these days of 10 per cent plus unemployment and global recession? Too young to retire, too old to begin again. Do they all just go off and die? Do they all just go off to live under a bridge? What happens to the human-centred purveyors of technologies-left-behind. Who’s going to provide the spare parts for TV sets rendered obsolete when the product cycles cycle around to less than a week? Who’s going to service anything when all commerce is transacted by faceless drones in cyber space. What happens when the economic efficiency of technological improvement leaves us all unemployed? Do we only ever reflect on such things when the impacts hit us hard in the face?

Of course, the world these days is not just transmitted in black and white. Fortunately there are lots of shades of grey in between. But I do fear that it’s that grey scale that’s the real issue under assault. Are those shades reducing to a five tone scale? At one end, we have the Made-in-China globalised cess pit of the economic rationalist’s  sado-massochistic perverted world view. On the other end we have us cyclists and LP lovers ignoring the assault. But in the middle are all the struggling record stores, magazine sellers and book store purveyors bleeding tears as they reconcile their tills at closing time. I can see a time when the technologies of the recent past reduce to be serviced by niche markets of residual cranks and luddites perverse in their pleasures from stuff from the past. Like readers of paper books and magazines. And cyclists eschewing the bestialities of e-motors and even stupider electronic gears. What’s the ideal market size for a niche of paper books and plastic compact discs? One store per town or one store per million of population? Who’s going to catch a plane flight to visit the nearest record store? What’s the business plan for my local newsagent these days? Or worse, for that local record store? We know that technologies get left behind (remember the Digital Compact Cassette and Mini Disc?). So stuff will fail and markets will crash. They can’t all be sustained by niche markets for the hardcore. The grey scale between no market and the global market place is going to get really thin. And we all need to consider this final point. How many local jobs will there be when the global market place has entirely diverted to an exclusive serenade between the Chinese shop floor and their faceless, country-less global corporate sponsors? 

Which is why, maybe, this current post- Global Financial Crisis Crisis is a good thing after all. When the world economy slows to a crawl, the wheels of commerce slow and we get time to work out a better plan. There are some economists who have given this process a name: Creative Destruction.

Which is why, in turn, I have that unsettled feeling of impermanence and insecurity when it comes to making technology choices these days. We are in a world just like we were when black and white TV became mature. We are sitting on the edge of a great tipping point. The grey scale is about to turn into colour. Hopefully the next spectrum of our economy will be displayed in something better than VGA. Hopefully, the middle will fill out and niche markets will return to a broader base; just like the LP industry these days where more and more and ever more people are re-introducing themselves to the latest technical iterations of the good-old turntable and the latest grades of heavy weight vinyl. And, yes, as more and more people discover the whole-of-life enhancement of cycling as a wondrously steam punk synthesis of the old and the new, cycling and re-cycling all over and over again. 

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Golf. Noun: a game played on a large open-air course, in which a small hard ball is struck with a club into a series of small holes in the ground…

Cycling. Noun: the sport or activity of riding a bicycle…


…A wave of enthusiasm for cycling is sweeping through London’s financial district as people swap Porsches for Pinarellos, the Financial Times reported


SoStAndrews how, exactly, is cycling supposed to be the ‘new golf‘?

And why do people keep on making this seemingly absurd claim?

Are we to believe that golfers are downing their clubs and  taking to riding bicycles instead?

Or is it, possibly, because those corporate knights who once, in theory, conducted their strategic interactions on the golf course are now busy plotting takeovers and tax avoidance stratagems on bicycles instead? 

Have you actually witnessed power meetings in the peloton as opposed to the more usual Board Room or Michelin-starred restaurant?

Have you actually witnessed creative corporate strategising as the echelon rotates to the cadence of monetary greed, world domination and the head wind of the market place?

Or is it that cycling is now the way to get to know a new client or the character of your employees? If so, what’s to be gained if the client can’t keep up or escapes into a breakaway? How does an executive impress if his underling drops his boss on the very first hill. What kind of management pecking order can be established on a ride rather than via the machinations of bureaucratic policy? Imagine if one’s position in the office hierarchy were to be determined through a 300m sprint? Or by arrival order over the Stelvio Pass?

But golf is not just about open-aired corporate interaction. Some people play golf because they enjoy hitting a ball with a stick. How, exactly, is cycling supposed to superscede the supposed thrills of hitting a ball with an over-priced stick? I’m struggling to find some kind of pathway here. You’d be as likely to convince a pro-footballer to shift into pro-chess as a career upgrade path. What’s the natural transition for those who would wear golfing jumpers while driving a golfing cart to take to lycra and pedals instead? Maybe the affinity is that we both wear strange shoes…

Will the St Andrews clique be transforming themselves into some kind of exclusive membership cycling club instead? What will become of their tweed suits and caddy slaves? Maybe they’ll dress in Rapha cycling tweed and re-enlist their caddies as domestiques. 

Or are we talking about the transformation of pro-golf into pro-cycling? Are we to see all those pot-bellied cycling pros taking to the peloton instead? Is Tiger Woods about to challenge Andy Schleck on the Col du Galibier?

Or is it that the golf buggy is a natural progenitor to the post-bank crash era e-bicycle? Now that I could believe.  If so, are we now supposed to run e-bike criteriums around the golfing greens? Or are we supposed to play e-bike polo into those now re-purposed 18 holes?

I suspect that what’s actually implied by this supposed transformation of golf into cycling is, rather, more to do with a cultural shift than with the shifting of gears. And that shift is nasty.

Let’s try a word association game. When I think of golf, here’s a few instant word associations:

  • conspicuous consumption
  • delusions of exercise
  • green cancer
  • golf carts for people incapable of walking more than 10 metres
  • exclusive clubs
  • servants carting clubs for big bwanas
  • the world’s only obese professional sporting heroes
  • an ultra expensive way to play marbles

So, when they say cycling is the new golf, do they mean that our sporting passion of hard-won physical prowess-driven achievement is to be replaced by a consumerist culture of pretentious posing and faux-everything? Is the humble post-ride latte tradition to be replaced with vintage wine sipping at some stately exclusive membership arpres cycling clubhouse? Are we now supposed to start paying membership fees to ride with a group? Will our various cycling clubs now be sorted via some kind of psychopathically imagined scale of social/material exclusivity?

Or are we talking about the transcendence of one of the world’s most pretentious twattages of a faux-sport into an activity that actually involves the application of genuine exercise and classless interaction? In other words, is the evolution under question one where the values of cycling somehow rewrite the code of the culture of golf? I suspect that that’s not what’s being implied. 

There’s evidence of a hostile cultural takeover happening to our beautiful two wheel passion. The golfing hoards are indeed spewing their values into a place where these things should not fit. 

I remember a time where spending up big on a bike was an expression of one’s dedication to winning more races and riding ever harder. A top end bike usually meant going without ever more by way of other stuff. Like food. Or a car. I remember when buying a bike like a top end Colnago, Vitus, Look, or some custom crafted job was a commitment to the sport rather than to some kind of image to be conveyed. Spending big meant more hurt. More pain. More sweat than ever before. And to winning races, or at least losing less. 

But if we are to extrapolate the ‘golfing culture’ to such a game, spending up big is what you do when you want to consume the image of decreased age or your preferred position on the emperor-has-no-clothes sporting hero scale. Money is a tool through which to aspire to an intended image. Even if that image is an image exclusive to your own mind. To a golfer’s mind, perhaps, cycling has the appearance of a proper post-global warming warmed, post-banker-wanker image. And to a golfer, perhaps, image is something to be consumed rather than earned. And which pro-level bike maker is going to deny such people an exclusive cycling-poseur pricing scale? Is it a total coincidence that those shops that specialise in top end bicycles are almost always located in urban baby-boomer-dentist-neo-golfer locales where real estate prices barely match the pretensions of their self-image obsessed residents? Swimming pools, Ferrari’s, exclusive gym membership, golfing … PInarello Dogma owners… 

I definitely do not deny that there are many golfers who simply play golf because they love that game. To these happy humble types, the Pinarello Dogma golfers are as much an affront as they are to us. 

So, I am wondering if the source of this new social meme of cycling as the new golf are those humble golfers hoping – seeking – to rid themselves of that pretentious faux-golfing clique through cunningly convincing them to take up cycling instead… 

To which I have a cunning counter plan. Let’s set up some exclusive membership cycling clubs for the well-heeled latte Dogma owners recently dispossessed from their Ferrari powered golfing carts. Then we need to convince those elites to concentrate only on the clear social superiority of single speeds and the like. Custom bikes for the custom elites. Bike makers can apply those profits to subsidise the grubby pro-biking tools that only those in the trade would ride… We cyclists could then afford to buy top-end bikes once again. Like Pinarello Dogmas.

But, having run through my argument, I still think this social meme is entirely wrong. Cycling is NOT the new golf. Gymnasium memberships are the new golf. Let’s try and keep it that way!

 

A Cycling is the New Golf Reading List

Sydney Morning Herald

Bloomberg Business Week

The Telegraph

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Motivational poster 2

It’s always a bit curious how cycling manages to attract so many spectators for what, really, is a pretty difficult sport to watch. Track cycling besides, the best we can expect when we go out to watch a race is a fleeting glimpse; a blur of speed, colour and noise. Then they’re gone. And we contemplate the two days it took to fight for our position beside the road, on top of the cliff, and for that motorhome parking lot that European alpine passes become whenever a Tour is on the cards. 

So it’s no wonder that the fans try so hard to add a prologue of entertainment of their own, to string out the fun. There’s the company of fans intent on alpine peaks of inebriation; the Tour village fair, and the fun of the pre-peloton parades. Our glimpse of bikes passing by becomes just a fixed point in a much bigger day of cycling social display. 

Think of the character of roadside celebrations we can watch as the season goes on. They are at least as entertaining as the bike race to which they are attached. 

If we could imagine some kind of scale through which to measure the passions of spectator display, the far left would have to belong to the bemused, frigid indifference beside regimented Chinese roads. The Chinese tifosi  are a bit like a plague of satiated zombies just after feeding time. Here, cyclists can almost hear the sound of one hand clapping as they jostle for points. These threadbare crowds are a bit like professional mourners at the funeral of an accomplished anti-social recluse. 

Then we move on through the quiet, controlled, still bemused, but definitely curious Middle Eastern cycling crowds. Here, the officials all seem to be wearing swords! In France they just rely on Bernard Hinault’s fists for crowd control…

The Malaysian Tour of Langkawi offers more of the same but with rain forests instead of sand. It’s always fascinating to watch the roadside crowd segment itself into the order of men on one corner and women-only on the next. I always wonder how the dressed-for-modesty spectators might perceive the rather less modestly attired cyclists they have come to watch. 

And of course, at the rampaging other extreme, the Italian tifosi rule supreme. How far can you get from those unimpressed Chinese cycling fans? How far is Mars? About that far. Watching those alpine Giro ascents we get another dimension added to the race. The peloton must peak the hill. And thread itself through the raucous, screaming hysteria of the tunnel of cycling fans. Thanks to the crowd, these roads become as narrow as an economist’s perspective on the social benefits of sport. 

Italian cycling fans are the true pros of the spectator side of our sport. Their colleagues in France are slightly less rabid depending on how many drunken dutchmen have taken up possies beside the road. The Belgians are scary for the intensity of their dedication; The Spanish seem to confuse the peloton with a running of the bulls… The English are very polite when the yobbos are all off watching their football instead. 

There are deep labyrinths of social nuance and history to inform why and how the European crowds perform. This stuff is in their DNA. Have you ever watched the miraculous parting of the wall of fans as the peloton threads its way up a mountain pass? It’s as though these crowds have a collective intelligence of their own.  If you could wrap such a scene through the language of mathematical Chaos, you might win a Nobel Prize. 

But there is an emerging New World of cycling fans. Most of them are in the US of A. In California, to be exact. Until recently, they simply grafted the appearance without the substance of the European cycling scene. Nutters with horns and funny sumo suits. The emphasis seemed to be on being seen on TV rather than seeing the riders at least some came to watch. These American fans were, once, a bit like one of those American remakes of already successful European movies; like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the US rendering of The Office. All super whitened teeth with the intricacies of nuance all squashed out. 

But now I am not so sure. Something is afoot. This bear is waking up. These American fans are starting to actually understand. I mean, here we are, ready for Stage 3 and we’ve not seen one single naked American ass… Those fans with wet suits and surfboards running inland up a Cat 2 hill were making some kind of statement I’m still keen to understand… But these four with their Motivational Poster sign are showing some serious class. Now that is a sign of the times and one for the book. It’s now the wallpaper on my iPad home screen. Well done. And what a stunning landscape for a ride! I am starting to really relish this race. Actually, I am enjoying it more than the Giro that’s on at the same time…

 

 

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