Thursday, July 12, 2012

Coming Back

August seems to be coming up very quickly - one year on, and we are still immersed in the agonies of PBP.

Thanks to a friendly connection with Brooks England - we have been reliving the whole project once again.

But this time with a new plan in mind.

In the coming months the web site and this page will take on a new look - maybe even a new name - aiming at a futher adventure which is LEJOG in 2014.

I'll leave you with that for now.  Please keep coming back to see what we get up to in the coming year.

Bon Chance.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Paris and Versailles

I've been stalling a bit - trying to get the story and details straight in my own mind.  Funny how the chronology of things gets a little out of kilter through lack of sleep ( and note taking ).

The heading image above was taken at the hotel - packed to the rafters with Italians, some Israelis, Japanese, Thai, Americans and an Alaskan.  The deck was situated right outside the breakfast room, and a bit of a buzz started as our bikes started to come out of their cases...

While I packed away the last of the tools, Andrew ( the silent partner and powerhouse ) took a photograph for posterity, and Gav and Craig went in search of baguettes for lunch.  Then it was into the wilds around Versaille in the afternoon for a trial ride and shakedown.

( after checking out the Versaille palace gardens) We made it back to the hotel without getting lost or crashing and I ended up staying out at Guyancourt, rather than stressing and catching the train back into Paris.

There are very few images from the actual ride.  I carried a camera the whole way, and didn't fish it out once.  I only took this one at the technical inspection with my 'phone, and everyone had moved away from closely inspecting the Malvern Star by the time the camera had sorted itself to take the image.

Not a bad contrast though - titanium Litespeed in front of an 80 year old Malvern Star with wooden rims.  You may also notice the dude in the dark blue jersey - a wollen Molteni number and real woollen knickers !

To say that the tech inspectors were distracted by the wooden rims would be something of an understatement.  They didn't even bother to look at my lighting - they just wanted to know if the rims were real wood, and then turned to call over other officials for a closer look.  Nice to get some more compliments...

The next day, an afternoon train ride to drop gear with Cait in Paris, turned into a mild stress as we found ourselves a little starnded, unable to sight a taxi or the right bus stop to get from Versaille back to our hotel after dinner.  Finally the right number bus pulled up and we gratefully scampered aboard - back to the hotel by about 9 Pm, just in time to receive a txt from Andrew stating the obvious that we should be in bed ( how did he know we weren't ) - only backpack packing and a radio talkback segment to do...

Here we are downing a fruit cake, coke and water, a small pile of spare parts on the floor in the foreground waiting to be packed, waiting for Adam Spencer to call.  By 10.30 he did - mispronounced my name live on air - and it was a good lark to make jokes about our impending pain levels and the logic of riding 30's bikes across France.  A nice experience - but it meant that we were finally to bed by 11 Pm, to be up at 3.45 Am to get to Andrew by 4.45 and into the startline stadium...

Kit and Caboodle

In case you are wondering about our snazzy kit ;

 Jerseys are by Champion Systems to our own design and very nice they are too.  These really are quality items, and the guys at Champion really came up with the best price under a tight timeline - and were extremely friendly and helpful about it too - thank you so very much for delivering a few days before the promised date- that really took the stress out of the last few days at home.

We have become something of a trio of Rapha-philes of late.  The seat in their bibs is plush to say the least and little details like the pocket in the back really do speak of a quality product.  ( the chamy cream is also pretty exotically pine scented and effective, wafting scandinavian freshness into nether regions ).  Their arm and leg warmers also rate something of a mention as they are deeply fleecy warm and I needed a medium size in both - amazing given the diamater of my stick arms and legs - thanks Rapha, I feel like a bit of a muscle, with guns and thighs.  Usually size smalls are sliding down at the first opportunity.

I can't speak highly enough of the Rapha merino socks.  I made do without overshoes during the most apocalyptic weather I have ever ridden in.  My feet spent literally hours completely soaked - I squelched them out of shoes in Fougeres and they were all white and wrinkled.  But they had been warm and comfortable all day.  The socks are something like $50 for 4.  Quite reasonable and literally the best socks I've ever ridden in.

One grizzle with Rapha gear, however, is the shape of the cycling cap.  Sorry guys, but you just didn't get that one quite right.  In-situ, it looks like a small boys private school cap, pin-headed and mean ( the cap, not the boys ), without the full-bodied float of a proper Euro cotton cap.  You need to study up on a few pics of Big Mig from the early 90's, you'll get what I'm trying to say.

While on the subject of merino, I also used a Smitten underlayer with some smug snugness.  This is a really nice item, well worth taking a look at.  Thanks Carl - for a quality Tasmanian product.

I would have to remark on the rather remarkable $40 DHB rain jacket.  Scotch-guarded nylon and semi-transparent, weird large neck opening, but we stayed largely core dry and warm through heavy, heavy, heavy rain.  If folds up into a light, neat package, what more do you need ?  It completely exceeded my rather minimal expectations - I hate wearing a cape, they are generally horrible - but I was thankfull to have it along and it worked very well.

No, I didn't wear double knicks - just lathers and lathers of anti-chafing cream - re-applied at intervals through each day ( even at the side of the road ).

I only wore double socks on the last day because I was getting sore under the balls of the feet, and I wanted some extra padding.

I didn't need to wear two jerseys, and was comfortable at all points except mid-afternoon on the way to Fougeres where I think I was close to hypothermic ( because of the heavy dousing from showers ) without realising it.  I seemed warm, but my hands were losing feeling.  Double gloves and a dry cap solved that problem and I recovered with a hot meal at the next control.

Even on the night stages, I didn't wear my merino beany. 

I guess at least we looked the part...

Before the Off

But what happened on the ride ?

Final tweaks to bikes took place on Sunday the 14th of August, and a test ride into town confirmed that all seemed to be working smoothly as it should.  Importantly, Gav felt that the Aero was running the best it had to date - reassured by a swap to a NOS Philco front brake caliper and flashy Velo Orange steel stem - finally giving him some much-needed reach, without looking outlandish.

Craig also seemed calm and satisfied after some front brake cable tweaking, while my timber wheels got their first real road airing.  These little specials caused quite a stir the night before as Gav held each completed bike on the scales and found that the Malvern Star had turned from Tank ( with a capital T ) to svelte swan at the lightest mark of 12.2 Kg's.  The Whatley measured in at 12.8 and the Aero 13.8 much to Gav's good-natured dismay - the extra heft explainable by about 20cm of extra steel seat post, heavy tyres, bigger light unit and a much longer steel stem.

Together and rolling...

Allow me a moment here to recap the detail ;

1939 Sturmey Archer rear hub in the Malvern Star.  Timber rims from CBItalia ( excellent value at a shade over $200/pair landed in Tas after a 10 day wait ) and Challenge Parigi Roubaix tyres - 27mm of lightweight hand-made and sturdy feeling tubular tyre glued to each rim carefully with layers of Continental rim/tyre cement.  The Challenge tyres are the modern incarnation of Clement - in another age the last word in racing singles.  The appropriately named Parigi's had, by chance, removable valves allowing the insertion of liquid latex to give some self-sealing capability ( thanks Mick ). 

The best available option for brake pads turned out to be relatively inexpensive BBB carbon pads in a campag cartridge shape, pad holders squeezed gently to snugly fit the new items.  Lovely period brake levers came from Warren Meade ( thanks Warren ) and finished off the bike's aesthetic beautifully.  Warren also came up with a NOS nickel plated top race clamp for the headset and a packet of new ball bearings - which transformed the handling and took a lot of worry away from the preparation, as the original item had been suffering visible stress after pervious rides.

The Gear ratio was knocked down a touch to 46x18, or 69 gear inches - a little lower than Oppy's 72 single.  Low gear and high offering the legs some alternative.  Wing nuts on the front hub only - period English Hub Company low flange item at 32 spokes.  Brand spanking Roselli 18 tooth track cog screwed onto the SA hub ( after quite a wrestle to remove the worn 30's original, an operation completed using a paint stripper for warmth and a claw hammer for leverage ). NOS TDC bottom bracket cups, new ball bearings, NOS Bayliss Wiley #15 spindle and a battered but true pair of 'Utility' crank arms ( about 167.5mm in metric ).

Handlebars are Velo Orange items - the closest we could get to the original swooping steel shape - new bars swapped in to remove any concerns with metal fatigue.  I wrapped a strip of Specialized bar phat tape ( 3mm ) under some leatherette from Fizik for extra cushioning.  I contine to use ( and really recommend ) the Selle Anatomica Titanico 'leather' saddle - something like a Brooks but with significant cutouts, a synthetic leather that does stretch but doesn't need care, and offering total adjustability with a 6mm allen key- you can alter the entire feel of the saddle quickly while out riding, which is fantastic after a day out when a different pressure point is needed to ease a sore posterior.

Gav and Craig's spec remained largely as previously described.  Both changed to a very bling and lovely Velo Orange steel stem.  Gav's Aero received a NOS 'Utility' brand crank set and never-previously-used 46 chain ring, to match his NOS bottom bracket and 1/8 ball bearings and NOS Bayliss Wiley #23 spindle which solved the crank hitting the chain stay mystery.   Craig made do with his slightly longer 172.5mm Solida cranks but with a 46 ring also mounted to a NOS TDC #4 spindle, and mated to NOS bearing cups and bearings.  In both cases the result was of the oiled glass variety, despite Mick ( from The Bike Shop in Derwent Park Road ) and I failing miserably to dislodge the right hand cups from each of these frames.  Each bike has its original 80+ year old item.  I still feel a bit guilty about your B/B tool Mick - I couldn't believe that the cups could withstand the force being applied.Both Craig and Gav swapped their tyres to Vittoria Randonneurs, Craig opting for the Ultimo version with a folding bead at 32mm and Schwalbe tubes with removable valves.  I did manage to piece together a nicer front brake lever for Craig, and adjusted Gav's front lever for reach after getting better stopping results with his new Philco.  Sorry Grand Bois, we loved your tyres until we came away from 3 flats in one session on wet roads.
Both Gav and Craig used a Brooks Professional saddle.  Craig's was a new item, contorted by use to suit his anatomy.  Gav used a 1950's item from my treasured items box and found it acceptable even on the longer days.  Aluminium bottles complete the aesthetic - but proved so annoying in practice that we gave them away at Loudeac and bummed some plastic ones to use to stop the rattling.

The following day, Gav assisted to pack the bikes into our swanky hard case travel boxes, and whisked them away for transfer to the airport in the back of the trusty Commodore.  All that remained was to triple check the piles of gear spread all over the lounge room floor before cramming it into a travel pack, suitecase and two day packs.

France, here we come.

A Little More Than Co-incidence

Our Tour of Tasmania ride was covered on Annie Warburton's eveneing program just before flying, so I won't recount the tales of rain, punctures, more rain, excellent Latrobe bakery, heavier rain, more punctures, 1 minute of fame on the evening television news and a flying tail wind for the home run on the midlands...

A big thankyou to John and Faye Bloomfield again for giving up a Saturday afternoon to assist in supporting us along the coast, it was very reassuring to know that you were there along the road if we needed you, and for looking after Caity also.

The story of that ride though is really with another elderly gentelman, 82 year old 'Barney' Dunham.  Barney had secured my number through the RACT and called, hoping to learn a little more about the Aero bike - one of our trio of machines and ridden ably by Gav.  Barney explained that his father cycled and made frames in the 30's and that he had a picture of one of the bikes with the lettering Aero-Star painted on the down tube.

Some co-incidence ?

Barney offered to mail photograpghs to me, but fearing that they may get lost or damaged, I asked where he lived.  Ulverstone on the coast road to Penguin.  Would you believe that our Tour of Tasmania route would take us almost literally past his front door just four days later ?

Standing dripping wet in his carport in a momentary patch of sunshine was a really nice moment as we chatted quietly and with smiles, enjoying the three images spread out on a towel on the boot of Barney' car.  We had declined going inside as we were wet through and would have made a terrible mess in his kitchen or lounge.

Peering out of the small black and white grainy prints was a cheerful, lively looking fellow in his thirties, one astride his own racing bike, another alongside a coached rider behind the track racer with the similar name.  Although tiny, it was possible to read the Aero name, and the font ( probably typically fashionable at the time ) seemed very similar to the remaining lettering on Gav's mount. 

Barney nervously agreed to be photographed with our Aero, and I'd like to think that, for a few minutes, he held in his hand - a bike made by his father at a time when he was a small child and his father an active and industious young man.  Barney was very young when his father died, and so had no real memories of him other than those held and treasured in the photographs before us.

Thank you for calling Barney, it was a real pleasure to spend a few minutes with you.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wheel Men

Before I really get down to the riding, French countryside, baguettes and electrical storms...

Quite a few nice things have happened along the way - rewarding in a way that PBP will never be.

The image attached is of a silver lapel badge sent to my by a 72 year old gentleman by the name of Bill Luke.  Bill had been tuned into the ABC afternoon show and listened with some interest to the 15 minutes spent talking with Richard Stubbs ( also a very generous soul who responded to our idea positively and gave us air time to plug the OCF to the Victorian audience ).  This was just a week or so before leaving for France.

Bill called the ABC studio following the interview and asked that his details be sent to me with the request that I call, as he had an old cycling medal that he would like to give to me... 

Deep in the throws of finishing up the bikes, and a little distracted, I typically took a couple of days to call - which I regret, as he struck me immediately as a very thoughtful and generous person.  He was quick to point out that he expected no payment - just thought that I might appreciate the significance of the item. 

This is as the date suggests, a membership badge of the League of Victorian Wheelmen from 1896-97.  The Wheelmen formed as the governing body for professional cyclists just a few years earlier in Victoria - and Oppy would have been a registered member on turning Professional.

When I asked, Bill exclaimed that ' it had been rattling about in a tin for about 50 years, and that his grandchildren wouldn't know what it was anyway - better to go to someone who will appreciate it...'

To say I was moved would be something of an understatement, and a little lost for the right words.

Due to my initial tardiness, the medal did not arrive by post in time to accompany us on the actual ride - however, the timing has proven quite appropriate for my current state of mind. 

What a lovely little gift to come home to following all that has happened in the last couple of weeks.  Bill, your thought and action means more to me at this point than PBP. 

I owe you a return letter Bill, and will get to it...


Nothing since July...

As is often the case, good intentions have been well and truly overtaken by events - the few short weeks before departing for France on the 17th of August were filled with days and late nights of bike prep, riding and last minute packing lists.

And now we're back and the whole thing is done...though perhaps not quite, and certainly not over.

I'm still jet-lagged and awake at night and thinking about what transpired.  Its a mixed bag - a little like the image above. 

There is a fair bit to tell, and I'm afraid that I now have time on my hands to bore you with the intricacies of personal detail...

Stay tuned.