Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Clinchers fight back

Back in the mid-nineties, it looked like tubular tyres were destined for the scrap heap. High quality, lightweight clincher rims like the Mavic Open Pro became the standard while super-light, super-stiff factory-built wheelsets like the Mavic Ksyrium began to take top honours in most races, and all the while, clincher tyre technology continued apace, with manufacturers experimenting with new compounds (often using more than one in one tyre) and puncture proof belts to make clinchers THE choice for serious cyclists.

And then carbon happened.

Carbon lends itself to simple shapes like a tubular rim, which is simply a circular tube with one edge flattened off to allow a tub to be stuck to it. While an aerodynamic, stiff, aluminium clincher rim weighed in at around 475g, an equivalent carbon tubular rim was at least 100g less, and probably stiffer to boot, allowing the use of fewer spokes.

As the nineties became the noughties, carbon became the dominant material in high end road racing wheels and now, as we reach the end of another decade, the majority of racers at any level are riding carbon - tubular - wheels.
Just as the nails were being driven into the tubular coffin, along came carbon and saved the humble tub for another decade.

This rebirth of the tub came at the same time as a rebirth of cycling as cool pursuit, with it's long and varied history. Tubs fit in with the nostalgia for the old days that brands like Rapha hang their coats on. In fact, issue 13 of Rouleur, published by Rapha, has a huge feature in it about tubs. It suggests that gluing on tubs is at once a trip down memory lane while also taking you a step into the future - the wheels they use to illustrate the feature are Mavic's space-age and uber-expensive Cosmic Carbon Ultimates.

My problem is, carbon wheels are mostly a fashion statement. And like most fashion statements, they're not that practical for most of us.
Carbon wheels have notoriously bad braking, especially in the wet; they're expensive to buy and expensive to maintain and repair; they force you into the world of pain that is the tubular tyre.

Tubs have their place, no doubt - it's just that place is a wet Belgian field. Tubs are essential for cross, clinchers can't compete with the traction you can get from a 32mm cross tub pumped up to 20psi. And even if clinchers dcould compete in terms of traction, try running them soft and you'll suffer a pinch flat in five minutes. The only other application where tubs are essential are the cobbled classics, where avoiding pinch flats is essential. But with the advent of tubeless, for how much longer that will be the case is anyone's guess.
Everywhere else, clinchers win, hands down. And the top reason is not price, or practicality - it's grip. Well, it's price and grip. If you want grippy tubs that you can really rail corners on, you're looking at £50 per tub; clinchers, you're looking at more like £20 per wheel. For example the tyres above - both Conti GP4000s - currently costs £49.73 for the tub, and £22.05 for the clincher on Ribble.

As a cross racer, most of my road racing takes place in criteriums where cornering speed is paramount and for me, the grip of a quality clincher tyre combined with the secure braking of a aluminium rim provides a more cost effective, faster combination than carbon wheels and mediocre tubs. And lets face it, most of us ride mediocre tubs. I know that when I came to replace my worn out GP4000s I went for Sprinter Gatorskins more for price and puncture resistance than anything else, and yet they still cost twice that of a good racing clincher.
Finally, the idea that tubs provide a more comfortable ride than clinchers is nonsense in my opinion. Regardless of how the tyre is formed, 110psi feels like 110psi, and that is, pretty harsh.

So tubs, or clinchers? If you've got tub sponsor and a pro tour mechanic to do all the dirty work, tubs are still worth pursuing; if you're an average Joe like the rest of us, clinchers won't let you down.

This post was inspired by Crossjunkie's Defense of Tubs

Nocturne - quality scans

Better scans of my nocturne shots are now on Flickr, but they're mostly of my Dulwich Paragon team mates

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What would Eddy Merckx do?

I sometimes find myself asking: "What would Eddy Merckx do?" or "What would Bernard Hinault do?"
The answer is always the same: "They'd drag their arse away from the internet/TV/bed/sofa (delete as applicable) and go training - further, faster and harder than you could ever ride, you wimp!"
Perhaps every cyclist asks themselves the same thing. I bet everyone who's ever read the Rider does. For all our modern training methods, power meters and carbon this, that and the other, there are no shortcuts to being a double hard bastard like Messieurs Le Blaireau and Le Cannibal.
What got me thinking about this, was that ever since I discovered cyclocross, I've barely ridden my road bike for more than two hours at a time, and mostly I've been doing intervals. It's all very targeted and effective, but in a lot of ways, I've gone soft. The idea of riding for four hours by myself now fills me with horror.
With this weekend's good weather, I decided to put myself on a bootcamp: four hours Saturday, followed by a split day on Sunday, adding up to a total of four hours. And you know what, with one ride to go, I'm actually enjoying it. I can actually feel my pain threshold increasing as I ride.
What would Eddy Merckx do? He'd be out on his bike putting the boot in, which is exactly what I plan to do right now. What's your excuse?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Photos I wish I'd taken

Originally uploaded by wideopenwaugh

Geoff Waugh was up in Fort William with his army issue Holga and got some absolute corkers. Go check the album on flickr.
The great thing about the Holga is the only thing you can really change is the film speed, and thanks to those lovely film borders, you can see what film other snappers have been using. Looking at Geoff's stuff, he's using 800iso colour film on a lot of them - interesting. That's just found its way onto my shopping list. That and some 3200iso black and white film. Next stop, Mr Cad in Croydon

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Smithfield Nocturne, Saturday 6 June 2009

For the third year running Rapha put on a spectacular evening of bike racing right in the heart of London. And this year, despite dire predictions, it stayed dry. The racing was exciting in all the events, but the Elite race took the biscuit - it was wall-to-wall action from the gun. Unfortunately, my crappy Holga couldn't really cope with the dark so my shots of that race are dire, but the Holga captured the support races pretty nicely in my opnion. There's more of my photos here.
It's totally understandable why this kind of racing has grown so massively over the last few years. As a country we are poorly equipped to deal with traditional road racing, but shutting a couple streets for an afternoon? Well, that could be an option, if you pay the right price. Plus there's the entertainment value. Without TV coverage road racing is not a spectator sport. Crit racing on the other hand, is very exciting, as I'm sure the 10,000 people that flocked to Farringdon on Saturday will testify. An hour long race is fairly straightforward to train and recover for, so the riders can race every couple of days which - hopefully - earns them a decent living. It also allows TV to create a bit of a following. When a sport only shows up on our screens every few months, you forget who the main protagonists are. When it's on every week, you learn a bit about the riders and the spectators actually begin to "care" - not something that I can recall really happening with cycling and cyclists in the UK before.
It's still not as good as cyclocross, but in my opinion, it's the next best thing.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Southern XC 3 - Pippingford


Sunday's round of the Southern XC was held at a new venue in the Ashdown Forest - Pippingford Estate. Take a peek at the video to get some idea of what the course was like; I thought it was brilliant. It didn't exactly suit my strengths as there was a lot of climbing, but as a true test of mountain biking skill and fitness, it was one of the best courses I've raced on.

One thing that I'm getting kinda despondent about is the whole category thing in XC racing. It's a shambles.

I race as an Expert and we're on the course at the same time as the Elites (who do one lap more than us), the Masters (30-39 year olds, race four laps like me) and the Sport category (do one lap less than us). I think I'm right in saying there were 12 in the Expert category on Sunday, a similar number in Elite and more in Sport and Masters.

The thing is, we're pretty much all going at the same speed. At the last race at Crow Hill, my finishing time for fifth place in the Experts was exactly the same as the guy who came fifth in the Masters category - we covered the exact same distance as each other in exactly the same time, to the second. The only difference between us is that he was maybe two years older than me, say 30. Hardly over the hill eh? So why aren't we RACING each other?
The problem is that having loads of undersubscribed categories means there's no real sense of competition. The range of abilities even in the 12 riders in Expert is huge, and I was 8mins behind the winner at Pippingford (In a race that lasted 1hr40mins). That's a big difference. If they at least made Expert and Masters one category, I'd actually have some people to compete against. How are you meant to motivate yourself to dig really deep when the guy ahead of you has 3mins in hand, and you have 3mins over the guy behind you? How do you improve if the only person you're competing with is yourself?

It's only one man's opinion, but I say make Masters and Expert one race at local level, make it really competitive and everyone will have a better experience, and be much better prepared for national level competition. After all, it's meant to be a race, not a casual ride by yourself.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Yet more video...

Me and Danny mucking about on the North Downs last week. Filmed by the two of us, edited by me.

North Downs Chill Session from Mountain Bike Rider on Vimeo.