Monday, 30 January 2012

I have a split biking personality

The weekend just passed I have got my bike back – it is now repaired with many upgrades from its initial buying specification.

As I have rebuilt my bike over the last month or so, I have noticed that I am becoming more and more obsessed with the weight of my bike. This has not taken on total insanity levels – for example I have bought a good pair of Zipp drop down bars (about 260g) – why would I want to spend £200 more to save 20g and buy carbon handlebars? But despite these sensible choices weight is becoming more and more of a factor in my decision making. The bike shop (without me asking) has told me that the weight of my bike dropped from 11kg to 9kg overall, this is not super light by any stretch of the imagination (the frame is aluminium with carbon forks) it still represents a reasonable weight and quality for a fast commuter bike. When I add the drop down bars I expect this will save about 300g – 400g as well.

I have bought a lighter wheels / cassette / chain / chain-set / pedals – these are justifiable decisions – I went for the Sram Rival or Force components. I am not crazy or rich enough to go and blast my money on the Sram Red bits. Besides I think there is a very serious decline in bang for the buck you get as you move up the components price table. I felt that Apex (which the bike was primarily fitted out with) was good but I prefer the extra quality and slightly less weight of the Rival – I will only get Force for the chain-set, front mech and shifters.

I realised that I am becoming weight obsessed though when I got the angle grinder and hacksaw out over the weekend in an attempt to make my own bike stand for my garage at home. My reasoning for doing this? Well if I build a bike stand, then I can take the kick stand off my bike. The way I figured it out was that removing the kick stand, lighter pedals and my new wheels, I will make the most significant weight savings at the cheapest cost (in the case of the bike stand which I am mostly making from scraps the cost is nothing) I was going to buy a cheap stand but I looked at the reviews and they all said what was on offer was awful and I have no desire to spend £80 on a decent item!

So where is all this leading me? Well when I first got my bike there followed a period of gadget buying – all of these little items ending up on the bike – the weight increased, nothing dramatic, but bit by bit it got heavier. So there then followed a period of stripping off – pointless reflectors, lock holders went. Then as I replaced things like the saddle the weight came down a bit (comfort was still the top priority)! Nowadays though I am actively thinking about weight as well as quality when I buy something – I look to see how much it weighs – price point is still the top priority and quality even more so.

Evans has proved invaluable in this process, especially a great Salesman called James in their London Bridge store – he has taught me things about quality that would never occur to me and fortunately he also realises that I am not going to be totally crazy about weight in my buying choices. Yet there still remains the fact that I have replace my pedals for something lighter and I have got rid of my kick stand. I would like to point out that the light wheels and tyres were driven by me winning the gift voucher – otherwise the old ones would have remained for now.

But I am not really a racer boy – yes I like to move on at a good pace and whilst not enjoying being overtaken whilst commuting in (I do still feel a little miffed when it happens but I am not going to kill myself trying to overtake them again). Whilst I am on this point has anyone else noticed that Brompton bike owners really hate being overtaken? What is it with them is their some sort of small bike syndrome yet to be discovered?

But I also like tootling along on my bike, taking in the scenery and generally being unstressed. This does not gel with my new bike setup (and especially not with my further plans with respect to a new frame). Whilst trying to analyse myself – I have come to the conclusion that I am a person of extremes. Some days I just love to bomb into work – build up a real sweat and feel like I have had a thorough workout, other days I just want to amble along. So here is the problem – can I amble when I am on a “go fast” bike? Let’s be honest here – an older guy on a carbon fibre steed cannot get away with ambling along – people are going to think – look at that old guy, money wasted on a good bike that he is not fit enough to use. If I was young and healthy looking then people would think “look at that guy, he could really crack on if he wanted to on that bike – but he is a sensitive soul and is taking in his locale and the scenery – either that or he is recovering from a 400 mile mountain race”.

Oh the confusion of it all! What am I going to do when I want to amble? Nothing else for it but I am going to have to get some 2nd hand “Dutch” bike for those days, trouble is that is going to mean even more expense (money, given that I am saving up for  a “go fast” bike that I just don’t have (nor given the cost of components that will need replacing from time to time, that I am not sure I will ever have). What I spend must at least be realistic with all of life’s other costs. The truth of the matter is though that I want a go faster bike more than I want a tootle around bike – so it is just going to have to take priority.

Another worrying aspect is – what if I get a tootle around bike and then start thinking about how I want to make it go faster (a Q bike if you will) or is it called a Z bike, I can never remember?

Now we get back to our friend the Brompton bike owner – is this his problem and why he has to beat everyone, is it because he is on what is conventionally seen as a slow bike and he feels the need to prove his own personal athleticism by beating a person on a grown up bike and therefore showing what an exceptional dude he is?  

Now that my bike is back and all fixed up and all go faster, I have firstly noted something very fundamental that improves speed and distanced travelled more than everything else! It turns out it is not carbon fibre noodles but is in fact the rider himself that makes the biggest difference. Because I have been out of the saddle so much in the past 3 months, with my broken ribs and injuries from the crash; I noticed something very interesting as I tried to ride the bike back the 800 meters from the bike shop – I was very slow and very unfit (and still in pain)! This also offers an additional problem for me when I review the new parts – how can I compare them to the old one when I myself am so below par? So rather than rush out reviews on new parts I am going to take my time – firstly because of that the reviews will be insightful and secondly because I cannot make an real judgement on the parts until I can compare them on an equal personal fitness level to where I was with the old parts.

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