Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Bike panoramas

Country roads, early in the morning. No cars in sight. Somehow I get thinking about the new 'panorama' function on my phone camera, and decide to see how it works on the bike and on the move. The results are a little abstract!


Sunday, 2 September 2012

Bike sketch

I like to sketch. I like bikes. I'm suprised I haven't put the two together before now.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Blurry worlds

I've really been enjoying the photographic coverage of the Tour this year, and was reminded about the difficulty in photographing cycle racing when I came across my archive of photos from the 2010 World Championships. In some ways a blurry photo of the peloton passing by at speed somehow captures the experience of being on the barriers at a bike race.

Go Cadel!

Some front window Tour de France support in Collingwood, Melbourne.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Hell Ride

Healing Bicycles advertisement, 1936. State Library Victoria Collection.

Sunday, 3 June 2012


I was recently measured up for a new custom bike. After the initial excitement there came the hard decisions. Foremost among these is the groupset selection.

Firstly I ruled out the electronic groupsets. Apparently Shimano's Di2 works like a dream, and I could probably even afford it (unlike the Campagnolo electronic offerings). But for me it's a bit like a car - not too long ago you could pop the bonnet and tinker to fix things. Now a specialist needs to plug your car into a computer to do anything. I don't want a bike like that.

Also, I think the electronic groupsets are creating a fix for a problem that isn't really there. Shifting isn't that big a deal for me.

And finally, I think there are a couple of very big steps to be taken in integrating the electronics with the bike. One of the key benefits of an electronic groupset should be less cables creating a more minimalist bike. Instead the electronic stuff seems to clutter bikes up with wires, battery packs and motors.

I've always ridden Shimano. Dura Ace most recently, which has lasted me for years and performed like a dream. So it seemed like a logical thing to go with the familiar. But when the options were layed out on the table, Dura Ace wasn't appealing as much as I thought it might. Firstly, the crankset just doesn't do it for me aethetically. Then, in speaking to friends (including people in the bike industry), it became clear that the current Dura Ace 7900 is widely considered a bit of a lemon.

So, I started looking elsewhere. The other two options are Campagnolo or SRAM.

The big issue I have with the Campy stuff is that funny little thumb-operated down-shifter. It seems like a deficiency to me. I'm tall and catch a lot of wind, so I spend a fair amount of time riding in the drops. And it seems to me that I wouldn't be able to downshift in that position. Which is a pity, because I love the look and the European heritage of the company. Their curly font logo alone is almost enough to make you buy their stuff. On the down side, my bike industry insiders suggest that parts are a real drag to get in Australia.

The other option, SRAM, seemed like the way to go then. No thumb shifter, but instead a 'double tap' system that I'm sure I could get used to. Their graphics are a bit too bold for my liking and try to steal the show (does a brake lever really need that much in the way of big fonts and colours?). And there is some dispute about how good the new kids on the groupset block are. They are also the cheapest of the 3 options. Normally this would be a big positive. But I'm building a custom-made dream bike here.

Then, just as the decision was about to come down to a coin toss, Shimano came to my rescue by announcing the all new Dura Ace 9000 11-speed groupset. I remember well when they changed from 9 speed to 10 speed, because I had the option of holding out for a month or two, but choose instant gratification and ride 9 speed to this very day. A jump to 11 speed is going to give me more gears than I know what to do with.

It's due out in September, I hear. Which should mean that it will be available before my bike makes it out of the queue and onto the welding jig.

All reports so far indicate that Shimano have been hard at work on the things that were lemon flavoured in the old groupset, and they have modified the old crank arrangement. It's still no Campagnolo, but I think it's an improvement aesthetically. Perhaps it's just that it's new and shiny, and it's easy to fall for that. But, I think a decision has been made.

And now for wheels.....

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Electronic gear shifting #2

Malvern Star Bicycle Factory, c1940. Photo: Llye Fowler.
State Library Victoria collection

Electronic shifting

John W Parsons, 1895, State Library Victoria collection

Friday, 25 May 2012

The bicycle factory

Circa 1940, Malvern Star bicycle factory, Australia.
(images from the State Library Victoria collection)

Sunday, 20 May 2012

A bike from scratch...

The bike fitting process:
- measure up the existing steed
- transfer measurements to the 'fit bike'
- pull on the lycra and get sweaty
- make any tweaks to improve position
(in my case longer cranks and bringing the bars up about 5mm)
- transfer the measurements to the computer and play with shapes and angles.

Bike building, involving titanium tubes being tortured into shape
with some seriously chunky machines.

Bike finishing, involving lots of intricate paint work (no decals here).
The frames and forks get the full treatment, but they also strip back
head stems and seat posts to make sure they look the part too.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The dream bike

I've loved bikes since I was in primary school. As was customary in our family, I graduated through a range of hand-me-down bikes and then got my first 'racer' for my tenth birthday. A silver K-mart special. That kept me happy until mid-way through high school, when I started taking an interest in cycling and triathlon magazines at the local newsagent while waiting around for early morning paper deliveries as part of my job as a paper boy. I was swimming competitively at that stage and had always been a decent runner, so there was only one part of the triathlon jigsaw to fill. After a failed attempt to do up an old frame my grandfather had found at the tip (it was an old track bike which I still have, so turning it into a road racer was always going to be a challenge) I ended up buying a shiny new Repco Olympic 12 in blue and white. It had Wolber Wheels, Shimano SIS gears, and I thought it was great. After a year or two it sprouted some Scott DH bars, as I began to enter triathlons and enjoy that kind of competitive riding and the joys of hours on country roads  (which was far more inspiring than swimming training - staring at the black line on the bottom of the pool).

Half way through university I decided that an upgrade was in order and bought a gold Avanti Giro road bike, this time forsaking the aero bars, as my strong interest in triathlon was starting to wane. This bike had Shimano integrated brake/gear levers (which were pretty new at the time, and one of the main reasons to upgrade to a new bike), and red Mavic rims (which stood out a bit more back then than they would now that every second fixie has wheels bordering on flourescent).

The Avanti was the bike that I became a 'roady' on. I started doing big rides with friends, including Audax Alpine Classics, Around the Bay in a Day, etc.

The next bike came about thanks to an unexpected windfall. After working for a year in London (sadly without a bike), I had a tax refund cheque arrive in the mail (in pounds, which used to be worth a lot more than the Australian dollar). It was enough to let me walk into a bike shop and build up a fairly fancy bike. A Wilier 'Angliru' steel/carbon frame with full Dura-Ace and Shimano wheels. It's the bike I still ride today, about a decade later (now with Spinergy carbon wheels, as pictured below).

But all of that is about to change. Tomorrow I'm off to Geelong to take the first steps in procuring a new custom made machine to last me at least another decade, ready in time for my 40th birthday in late December this year.

There are a lot of decisions to make, and a budget to keep in mind, but it's a process I'm really looking forward to. Expect to see more on this blog about it before too long!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

cycling risks

An article in the paper relating to the recent unfortunate death of a hockey player after being struck by a ball mentioned that a sports insurer rated hockey the second safest. The website of the insurance company includes a sports injury calculator that is interesting to have a play with. Although cycling is perceived to be a dangerous sport (and seeing the skin lost in the stage 3 Giro d'Italia sprint tends to make me think likewise), but it is far from the top of the pile based upon insurance data.

Sports that have a greater risk of injury than cycling for a male in the 30-39 age bracket with a good fitness level are:
  • baseball
  • equestrian
  • fencing
  • football (Australian rules)
  • football (Gaelic)
  • gridiron
  • hurling
  • ice hockey
  • motorsports
  • netball
  • rugby league
  • rugby union
Cycling has the same risk as weightlifting, and is only marginally (within 1 or 2 percent) more likely to result in an injury than golf, handball or racquetball.

It's also interesting to note that both BMX and mountain biking are listed separately and have lower risks than 'cycling'.

The calculator also casts doubt on the claim of hockey being the second safest (lawn bowls anyone?), but the newspaper article does state that the overall safety is calculated using 6 risk categories, and risk of injury (as identified by this calculator) is only one. Risk of death is the other obvious one, and apparently this is the first recorded hockey death in Australia ever.

Playing with the calculator, I was also interested to see some of the figures approach 100% risk. People in the 99% risk category include:
  • 'world class' male cyclists over 60 years of age (99%)
  • 'high fitness' male hurlers over 30 years of age (99%)
  • male Australian rules footballers over 50 years of age, no matter what their fitness level (99%)

Thursday, 22 March 2012

1956 Olympic Road Race

Road Race

The road race was held on a circuit at Broadmeadows about 12 miles from the centre

of the city, on Friday, 7th December. The distance of the race was 187.7315 kilometres (116

miles 1,144 yards) according to a survey made by the Royal Australian Survey Corps for the

Organizing Committee, and consisted of eleven laps of 17.0665 kilometres (10 miles 1,064 yards)

over an undulating road which had a few steep slopes.

In the morning the weather was mild, indeed perfect for the road ; the afternoon,

however, was rather warm. For many participants these conditions proved a telling factor.

The race started a little late because two Irish cyclists not belonging to an affiliated

association tried to start ; they were removed.

In this trial there were two classes—individual and team : In the individual class 88

participants represented 28 nations ; 20 nations competed in the team section.

The early stages of the race were rather quiet with the stronger cycling nations' teams

trying to test the strength of the others. After the third lap the pressure was applied.

Because of this, and the heat of the day, many riders were left behind. The fast tempo of the

race was maintained until the fifth lap when feeding was allowed. During this time, one of

the few falls of the race occurred when Trickey (Australia) had a food-bag tangle in his front

wheel, causing him to fall heavily ; an Ethiopian, Menghestu Negussie, crashed into him and

neither rider was able to continue in the race. In the seventh lap it was clear that many of

the participants were feeling the effects of the hot humid conditions and at many points

around the circuit representatives and managers were throwing water over their charges.

During the eighth lap the speed was stepped up. Four groups formed with Baldini

(Italy) dominating the race and looking a winner even with more than 30 miles to travel. It

appeared that the only thing that would rob Baldini of victory would be an accident or

machine trouble. He must have realized this fact by constantly accelerating until he was alone

in front of the field. Riding brilliantly and slowly increasing the lead over his rivals, he rode

the last three laps alone to win the race by two minutes from a bunch of four riders headed

by Geyre (France) second and Jackson (Great Britain and Northern Ireland) third.

France with three riders finishing in the first twelve took the team victory from Great

Britain and Northern Ireland by only one point, Germany being third.

After the race an objection was raised against Baldini stating that he had received

assistance from the photographer's car. After a brief inquiry the commissaires dismissed the


Of the 88 participants, 44 completed this race, one of endurance and one which calls for

perfect fitness of body. The course was a very hard and exacting one.

(pages 415-6, The Official Report of The Organising Committee for the Games XVI Olympiad Melbourne 1956, via http://www.la84foundation.org/6oic/OfficialReports/1956/OR1956.pdf)

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Holiday ride

I'd ridden out to Tatong while visiting my parents in Benalla over the Christmas break. These are roads that I regularly ride and that have some serious cycling pedigree.... I've been passed by former Tour  de France green jersey winner Baden Cooke motorpacing on this section of road at the same time of year. The roads are quiet, although there was more traffic than usual becuase people were getting out and about early to avoid the 40 degree heat forcast for later in the day. Still, I saw no more than 10 cars out of the town limits in a 60km ride.

I was riding back into town when I passed an old bloke on a Bianchi. I'd clocked up a few hundred kilometers riding solo at Wilsons Promontory the week before so was keen for a chat. It turns out this guy is about the same vintage as my partners dad , Peter, and used to race as an amateur and professionally. We were talking about riding in that era when I asked him if he watched the Olympic road race in Broadmeadows. The 1956 Olympic road race is a bit of a passion of mine (watch out for more about it on this blog), helped along by the fact that Peter grew up nearby, watched the race, and did a lot of training and racing in that area. Not only did he watch the race, but as a recent Italian migrant he hung out with the Italian team, and bought the bike of the second placed Italian (7th overall) for 50 pounds after the race. Baldini, an Italian, won the race in a solo break, but he didn't buy his bike because Baldini was a very big bloke - well over 6 foot - and he bought it to ride, not as a museum piece.

He invited me back to his place and I checked out the bike in his garage. A Legnano frame, with original leather saddle, aluminium drink bottle, wheels (Ambrosio) and drivetrain (Campagnolo). Handling the bike that was part of that race was a fantastic experience - a physical connection with that day over 50 years ago. I was actually surpised at how 'modern' the bike looked and felt. You could easily ride the bike today without too many people giving it a second glance. The aluminium drink bottle is probably the biggest give away that this is a genuine vintage machine.

He raced the bike himself after buying it, so it's not as pristine as it would have been on race day 1956. For photos of a similar bike in mint condition, check out this website, which also gives you a bit more background on Legnano frames: http://www.theracingbicycle.com/Legnano_1958.html. Also part of his bike museum cum garage were a very nice 1970s Bianchi, as well as the carbon Bianchi he now rides.

We also had a look through some of his old photos and start lists, and sure enough, Peter was listed on the start list in one race in 1958. It was a handicap raced at Tullamarine  - Peter off second scratch and my new friend a few minutes ahead. He rode for the 'Collingwood International Cycling Club' (the international part referred to the number of recent Italian migrants on the team). I now live in Collingwood, so I might have to revive the club, or at least get some replica jerseys made up.

The final twist in the tale is that when we got back to Melbourne I showed Peter the photo I'd taken of the start list. His face lit up and he dug out some clippings from the Sporting Globe proving he won - he remembers it because it was his first win after graduating from the junior ranks. 

It's a small cycling world, and I love it! 

Collingwood International Cycling Club, late 1950s

more details on the 1956 road race here http://cyclingtips.com.au/2013/12/riding-through-history-the-1956-olympic-road-race/