a symphony in steel and wool?
It occurrs to me that my initial, lycra-clad roadie mania (I blame the marketing people, personally!), is kind of at odds with the cycling I do. You know how it is. You buy a new bike, and the loud, red, black and white coloured road bike aesthetic hits you in the face. The associations with testosterone-fueled Tour riders, speed, and a general arrogant superiority over other road users are all powerful signifiers as far as modern-day cycling goes.
I guess it’s the ‘Formula 1’ effect – increasing levels of technology sets a kind of unspoken, but powerful, benchmark in your head and you feel, like a small boy in the playground, that unless you wear the latest carbon-soled white shoes and the gaudiest team kit (remember the Man Utd shirt pricing scandal?), and ride the bike that drips with the most carbon fibre, you are simply a weak, limp and pathetic excuse for a cyclist – a sad failure unworthy of the term.
You see, after an initial surge of such feeling myself, I have undergone a slow but sure conversion to a state of mind that can best be summarised as ‘old is cool’. First, I fell out with the SPD pedals and road shoes. Nothing particularly bad about cleats, though, it was just a personal preference. I plumped instead for a pair of Japanese track pedals, replete with Christophe leather toe straps and a pair of well-documented quoc pham retro road shoes.
Then, as time has gone on, I have found that my SKS raceblades have kind of stayed put, as opposed to being whipped off at every opportunity in order to give the bike its ‘pared down racer’ look once again. Let’s be honest, it rains in this country. Mudguards are a good thing. Finally, I have now done the first couple of rides on my lovely Brooks B17 Narrow saddle, which has usurped a hi-tech Specialized Alias. I guess you call it getting old.
So, as the bike is currently rigged up on the turbo trainer due to the weather, I also took the opportunity to take the wheels in to the LBS in order to get them trued up. This is a skill I have not tried, as the very concept of wheel truing makes about as much sense to me as the triple dative case in a Swedish verb. And, whilst browsing at said LBS, as is my wont, I saw bike after carbon bike dripping in ultra-lightweight goodies. And I thought to myself ‘No. This is not, for me, the way forward’.
So, my particular shining path has directed me towards an Audax-style of bike. It’s a kind of bike that, when funds allow, I shall enjoy specifying. What is it that I’m looking for?
Well, as I stated when I opened this particular post, my kind of riding is not competitive. I don’t time trial or even race generally. I cycle mostly alone, and try to cycle all year round when possible. This means a variety of weathers and road conditions, and a delicate carbon road bike with fragile wheels doesn’t really look as tempting a proposition on the wet roads of Suffolk as it may on the Col de Tourmalet. A more laid back frame geometry would suit, I think, as handling again isn’t a key consideration. And while my present road steed is hydroformed aluminum with a carbon fork, I yearn for steel. I have a reynolds 531 framed steel bike which rides beautifully, and I’m after something similar for my road set up. And you know something else? Well France and Italy are no doubt steeped in cycling folklore and history, but I really fancy an English-built machine. Ok, Taiwan is probably where the frame is actually drawn, cut and brazed unless you are prepared to shell out serious money, but at least something assembled and supplied in this country would be nice. I guess the ability to extend the bike into a light tourer would be a good thing too.
So, as I have expressed before, I’m looking longingly at a Thorn Audax with Ultegra spec. A truly gorgeous bike, with the ability to become a tourer if needed, this looks like the kind of machine to provide the kind of all-day comfort that I’m beginning to realise I wanted all along. And a cobalt blue one would look very nice with my recently purchased togs from Shutt VR (I don’t go for Rapha, unless they should decide at some point to flow me review items!). Again, a practical, low-key English look, made crucially of wool as opposed to sticky lycra, they seem to fill the gap between the high end stuff and the tacky team kits nicely. I shan’t elaborate on this gear at thew moment, but at the weekend, assuming it arrives, I shall dedicate a post to the reviewing of it. That obviously includes joining their group on facebook, of course, as is the requirement in the modern age….