When I first started this blog way back in the autumn of 2008, I had just purchased my first ‘proper’ road bike, an Orbea Aqua 2009 model. It was a £500 bike, as I recall, and it set me on the road to my current lifestyle in many ways, as I have cycled as a matter of course when ever time allows, ever since.
As regular readers of the blog will be aware my cycling tastes have evolved ever since. The Orbea donated many of its parts to my next purchase, a lovely Post Office Red Thorn Audax Mk3. That was ridden a fair bit, including my first 100 mile ride, and in the summer of 2010 I sold that and bought my Thorn Raven Sport Tour with the Rohloff gear hub. Along the way, I also acquired a Circe Helios tandem as well. So why, you might ask, am I now writing about my most recent purchase, a 2011 Cube Streamer road bike?
The Cube was one of those ‘too good to be true’ bargains in the autumn sales, when bike shops habitually clear out the ‘old’ year’s models in readiness for the coming years bikes. This one was reduced in price significantly, but also had an extra 10 percent off as well, which made me crack. But why a road bike, after all this time?
Well, I have to admit that the frequency of my riding has dropped off somewhat this summer. Partly that was due to being busy most of the time, but it was more than that. The Raven Sport Tour is a heavy bike. It runs 1.4 inch tyres on 26 inch wheels. I guess I was finding it hard to get excited about doing my regular circuits on a bike which, I was painfully aware, took a massive amount of dragging around. And the problem with doing less riding is that you get less exercise. Which kind of leads me full circle – I began to recall the excitement that a lightweight bike with close tolerances gave me.
Since about March this year I have been using the excellent Garmin Edge 500 GPS computer on my rides. This, when you connect it to the Garmin Connect web site, allows you to upload ride data and analyse it – average speed, distance, time, elevation, heart rate, etc. When you are faced with actual metrics regarding your riding, it becomes too stark to ignore. My average speed was declining, my ride frequency was less; in other words, alarm bells were ringing. And so it was that I began to seriously consider a road bike again, as an addition to my stable.
A quick look at the bikes on sale caused the usual problem – where to start? I anted to go for something rather less entry level than my Orbea, which, although an excellent bike was rather sparsely equipped. And I must admit to having considered Cube last time around as well – the dealer I bought my first bike from was also by chance a Cube dealer. Being German, they are a very respectable marque, who along with the likes of Focus, Rose, etc have penetrated the UK market quite successfully in recent years with bikes that have a standard spec way above their price bracket. The Streamer is a mid-point model – between the entry-level Attempt and the ‘serious’ level Agree, it had the same Aluminium frameset as the higher priced line, and a decent level of kit – which included Ultegra levers and rear mech, 105 triple chainset and front mech, cassette and chain, and ‘old’ 105 brakes. I’m not sure why the Germans tend to supply so many of their bikes with triple chainsets, and after much pondering I decided to change this to a double Ultegra chainset and front mech.
So, what was it like taking to the tarmac on a sleek road bike, after a year of riding an upright, long wheelbase comfy tourer? In a word, my first ride scared me senseless. The excitement and engagement that a road bike gives you came flooding back. I rode around the village in a mile long loop, and came back heart pounding and smiling all over. Since then, I have managed a couple of decent rides, the last one being just over 30 miles. I am getting accustomed once again to the feel and position of the bike, and the very direct feedback that it gives.
I have replaced the standard fit saddle with a bargain last years model Specialized Romin SL, which is feather light and very comfy. I have also fitted the cadence sensor that came with the Garmin, so I can now use the ANT+ links that allow the heart rate monitor, speed and cadence sensor as well. These modifications have got me motivated once again.
The bike has a Deda carbon fork which gives a nice comfortable ride, and on normal road surfaces it is a very firm but not uncomfortable bike which seems to be stiff and not given to flexing under accelleration. The standard fit Easton EA-30 wheels [made specially for Cube, I guess, as you can’t seem to buy then anywhere else] are perfectly reasonable hoops, although a wheel upgrade will be on the cards at some point. But even so, it gets up to spped easily, and seems to hold that speed as well, the awesome Ultegra brakes bringing me back to a more sensible pace when applied. I have taken the step of replacing the standard pads with Koolstop Salmons for the winter. The Ultegra levers, which are carbon bladed, allow very precise modulation on the brakes, and the gear shifts are sweet. Having moved from 105 triple to Ultegra double seems to have been a smooth transition, given that the left hand [front mech] shifter is actually designed to work with three gears not two. I just figured that living in flat old East Anglia, there would be little use for the small 30 tooth ring and I always liked the 52-39 gearing on the Orbea, so have replicated this against a 12-27 rear cassette. I just have to accept that next time I try and do Holme Moss, Mark will beat me to the top as I struggle and puff away….
I’ll report further in a few weeks, but initial impressions are good.
So, as is traditional at this time of year, it is with great relief that the artificial tree is packed away. The excesses of the weekend are consigned to history and the ice is a-thawing. In the mean time, I have fitted dynamo-powered lighting to the Thorn. Here is what I learnt:
I have already written about the process of selecting light and dynamo. I have now also ordered a rear light from Bike24, but I will deal with that later. I ordered a wheel and hub, plus a light, on 21st December and resigned myself to receiving it some time between Christmas and the New Year. After all, the newspapers have spent days proclaiming with glee about how the country has ground to a halt and deliveries are piling up at sorting offices. But I had not reckoned on German tenacity and efficiency [Bike24 is an online bike shop based in Dresden, Germany, if you are not already au fait]. On Christmas Eve, I got my parcel and within an hour or so, I had fitted the light and hub / wheel.
On the left, the old front wheel, soon to be usurped by the new dynamo-hub wheel, right.
The box contained one new wheel, with a Mavic 317 rim and a Shimano DH-72 Dynamo Hub. This is a lovely bit of engineering, with Ultegra-quality bearings and a 3 watt, 6 volt output. The wheel was beautifully made, and true running. After fitting the tube and tyre to the rim, which incidentally is far more suitable for my kind of riding than the old Mavic 721 rim, which is only built for wide, low-pressure tyres, I fitted the skewer and locked the wheel in place. Next, I unpacked the light, a Busch and Müller IQ Cyo [175qndi, if you wanna get geeky].
The light is a beautiful, solid item, and obviously German – made. B&M make the lighting for BMW among others, so you know you’re getting a quality product. One note – you may find, if you have a Thorn like mine, that the standard-fit bracket fouls against the bottom part of the FSA headset. If this is the case, then a stout pair of pliers will soon sort it out, although I opted for an old SJS bracket that was in my spares box. I fixed the light onto the fork crown, and then began the fiddly process of clipping the wires to the fork, being careful to avoid the recently installed Cateye wireless computer [I have cleaned the bike since this picture was taken, you will be reassured to know].
**NOTE: In the picture below you will see two mistakes I initially made. One, the Cateye sensor is, as Cateye advise, BEHIND the fork. I have now repositioned it in FRONT of the fork. If an obstruction got caught up in the spokes, the sensor would have been pushed into the wheel The second is the wire from the dynamo, which is now routed INSIDE the fork to protect it from damage.**
Having fitted a lavish number of cable clips, the only really irritating part of the install was to insert the bare wire ends into the two little greased connectors on the dynamo hub. This seems to be a process that has to be repeated every time the front wheel is removed, which I shall have to learn to deal with. Then, I gave the wheel a quick spin and, behold, light issued from the small black pod.
I lost no time in getting wrapped up in my thermals, and then hitting the road for a ride. I used the light as a day light running light, and could barely wait until darkness descended so I could witness its legendary output [I chose the 60 lux version, which throws the light beam further forward that the 40 lux version of the same light, which simply has an altered beam pattern designed for slower riding].
A fuller report of the light’s qualities and the rides I have done so far with it will be along shortly.
For those of us not in a position to afford entry to the exclusive and rarefied echelons of the Rohloff hub geared bicycle owners club, the gearing of bicycles is a complex and fiddly affair, requiring patience and much cleaning and fettling in these trying winter months.
The derailleur is our weapon of choice, a system born out of necessity once single speed bicycles became restrictive many moons ago. And from its early 20th century beginnings as a crude method of forcing a rotating chain from one cog to another cog, each geared to a slightly different ratio, it has in reality not evolved that much. We still have the same mechanical solution, and whilst today’s kit might be engineered to finer tolerances and using more exactly machined moving parts, the basic bits are still the same. Revolution, in the metaphorical rather than strictly physical sense, has not really occurred again when it comes to gear changing on road bikes.
Partly due to the budget I am on, my road steed employs Shimano mechanisms. I am not one of those obsessives who waves an Italian flag and demands Campagnolo kit as a basic right. It has often been said, when comparing the two giants of the groupset world, that one makes components that work beautifully, while the other makes beautiful components that work. And the one I chose also makes fishing reels. Go figure.
So, where are we going with all of this? Well, my cycle sports the Shimano 105 groupset. This is the workhorse of the ‘serious’ Shimano range – the kit fitted to most real world bikes. It is solid, reliable, lasts for ages, and is, well, a bit boring. Whereas the super-desirable Dura-Ace has recently had a makeover with the 7900 version, and the space-age Di2 electronic version, and the slightly less desirable Ultegra now wears new carbon and titanium clothes as well, poor 105 has, Cinderella-like, been shut out in the cold.
Until now, that is. For it seems that, like its older sisters, 105 has now been given a new outfit for 2010. For the 5700 version has been announced today, and apparently it has inherited some of the genes that splash around in the high-end Shimano pool. It seems that compatibility, to an extent determined no doubt by marketing people as opposed to engineers, has been built in such that the levers are in effect the same as the two more expensive ranges, albeit made from aluminum as opposed to carbon.
The chainset features hollow cranks, but lacks the hollow chainset found on the higher end versions. It also lacks the gorgeous Dura-Ace (and now Ultegra) visual style, where the chainset-side crank looks as if it is part of the chainring. But hey, let’s cut it some slack here!
My 105 brakes calipers are superb – the new version has improved pads (I replaced mine with Koolstops anyway), and in the front and rear mech department, Shimano claims to have significantly improved the up-and-down shifting abilities in terms of both speed and smoothness.
The UK distributor says that the new groupset will be on the market May/June time and will be priced lower against the two higher end versions. So we can look forward to the ‘cooking’ road bike for the second half of 2010 having a whole new level of refinement available to it. But it’s interesting to see how many bikes, such as the Orbea Aqua 2010, are coming with full Ultegra grouppos at a £1400-ish price point, and with this kind of competition and the ‘democratisation of luxury’ as Volkswagen once put it, one wonders how desirable it is possible to make the 105 kit.
The bike restoration continues apace. The frame is now with T&B Blasting at Thetford, where they will be (carefully) blasting frame and forks back to bare metal and then powder coating it in a nice, but slightly less violent shade of sky blue.
I’m due to pick it up Saturday morning, but in the meantime, I have procured a new straight handlebar for it, and also have replaced the inner tubes and shod the wheels in Schwalbe City Jet tyres, which are at a solid 85psi.
The ropey old standard fit saddle has been retired to the bin and replaced with a nice comfy touring saddle which should be considerably more comfy than the specialized alias that I have recently fitted to the orbea.
I now have to get some new axles and bearings for the wheels, the previous ones, shown below, having been guilty of making a truly terrible graunching noise when the wheel is spun.
The spokes need a tweak too, so I may well take them into the lbs for this purpose tomorrow. Finally, a set of black mudguards are winging their way from parkers of bolton, ready for fitting, and the rear pannier rack has been plastic coated.
More pics to follow after the weekend!