Commodity Fetishism and the AudiWeight Urgelstadt Mamil Bongo Splurge

In recent years there have been a number of bike/car mash-ups. I seem to remember Ferrari and Colnago (the Ferralnago) producing something utterly revolting fairly recently. The genre plumbed the depths with the ‘land rover’ range of bicycle-shaped objects; marketed under the noms-de-plume of the ‘Blenheim’, the ‘Ascot’, and the ‘Windsor’. I’m not sure my irony filter could cope with the experience of riding a land rover bike whilst being shouted at by a barbour jacket in a Discovery 4×4.

I assumed we had reached ‘peak’ bike-car, or bar, or cike, but no… The gentle and restrained volk at Audi have teamed up with those purveyors of reasonably priced wheelsets, Lightweight, to bring forth the AudiWeight Urgelstadt, a veritable slice of monied Teutonic sturm und drang.

Audiweight Cike

It looks OK. It costs quite a bit of money. It wouldn’t pass the ‘I found it in a skip’ test, coming in at a shade under 17,000 Euros. I also don’t think it takes mudguards or has rack bosses. The AudiWeight Urgelstadt has no purpose beyond advertising two key attributes: disposal income and rank stupidity. It is an object devoid of purpose, at odds with what it purports to be, unraceable and unrideable. It’s a simulacra of a bicycle up there with almost anything by Storck, but especially the proposed new Storcklaren Supercike, the ‘Culture Storck’. However, any of these bikes would be suitable for the ‘race the world‘.

If you see someone riding one, you have permission to dole out the Team Cinzano pump-in-the-spokes trick.

The Italians are coming! On Super Cikes!

Sumer is icumen in, lhude sing cuccu

The early season races herald the advent of the season proper. They foretell of warm weather and fields of sunflowers, tanlines and treacly Tarmac. Occasionally, they speak of winter and the long grippe of weather that refuses to break.

It makes for a compelling spectacle and reawakens the myths of cycling. It also causes paroxysms of anger amongst the professional peloton, furious that the circumspect and fickle weather cannot be controlled unlike everything else in cycling these days.

Make the most of such ‘epic’ and ‘gruelling’ feats while you can. If Spartacus has his way, the extreme weather protocol might do away with such derring do.


on the myth of 28 millimetres (and a scathing review of vittoria rubino pro tech tyres)

As the four readers of this esteemed blog will know, i’m always one to follow a trend. Of late, the trend has been for faster fatter tyres. In days of yore, there were two certainties to cycling and the ageing process: gear sizes would shrink, whilst tyre width would expand. Maybe there’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

Some years ago i took the plunge and opted for a 25mm tyre  in winter. It felt like a bold step, sacrificing speed for comfort, pace for grip. In practice, I didn’t seem to make much difference; 2mm is not that noticeable. This winter I went big, busting out some 28mm rubber on both winter bikes. (n+1 applies to winter bikes as a genre). As a result, i’ve enjoyed an armchair ride, with low tyre pressures and a spongy experience. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed it. After years of feeling every undulation in the road surface, the sense of float takes some getting used to.

Allegedly, 25mm+ is the current choice of the peloton, for all sorts of pseudo-scientific, lab-tested reasons. The arguments are unproven and the lab rarely translates into real-world performance. It seems as though there is no real change in what was previously suspected; if you want comfort, go big, if you want a bit of zing, go narrow. What I do know is that the vittoria rubino pro tech 28s i’ve been using are flabby and particularly big, making it difficult to get them under the mudguard. They limit gear changes on a fixed wheel because you have no tolerance for moving the wheel in, and with tight mudguard clearances comes a host of irritating problems: wheel rub, noises, filth and clag, the lot. More that that, this particular set of tyres have cut up extremely quickly; from having no punctures at all for years and years, i’ve had three in short succession on about 700 miles of use, one of which needed a boot to cope with the slashed sidewall. the rubino pro techs are now in the bin.

In short, it’s back to the 25mm maximum for me and a nagging sense that the trend for bigger tyres and wider profile rims is entirely down to the bike industry’s constant need to sell us new things. Watch out for the next big thing: narrow tyres.


Daylight Robbery, Grand Larceny, Raw Power

Ian Stannard is fast acquiring legendary status. He is hard as nails. He rides on the cobbles just to stop himself from dropping the entire peloton.

This weekend he won the Omloop Het Neuwsblad. It used to be called Het Volk in the days when it was easier to spell. How he managed to win is still a rich topic for discussion. The Ettixx Quickstep team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Stannard destroyed them. At one point (7.46) he seems to let a gap open with the express purpose of dropping Tom Boonen. He then powers away, with Terpstra the only one to go with him. It’s amazing. Terpstra kindly leads him out for the win, his mind scrambled by events. The sprint has all the pace and panache of two articulated lorries overtaking each other on the M5, making it somehow all the more glorious.

There’s a degree of irony, as Cycling Weekly pointed out, in the most unpredictable result coming from the most ‘predictable’ team, with Sky and Stannard the underdogs for once.


on the corinthian spirit vs the consumerist ideal

I’ve spent a bit of time recently thinking about the Corinthian nature of cycling as a sport. In part it’s an ongoing reaction against the relentless consumerism of the cycling leisure market, the over-marketing of over-engineered machinery and a shift away from the egalitarian origins of cycling towards a more elitist and expensive realm. It’s not a simplistic paradigm, as evidenced by some of the recent comments on this blog, and it’s a difficult argument to present. On the one hand, I’m hankering after a more niche and narrow definition of cycling, one driven by a fellowship of participants, less prone to flawed notions of epic grandeur, more accepting of the past and tradition as a good thing. On the other hand, I’m completely welcoming of new entrants into the sport, and the more lowly and unpretentious their beginnings, the  more welcoming I am. It leaves a middle ground, defined by high-end leisure wear, beyond the wallet of all but the most affluent wearer, of high end erotica straddled by low-end riders, of cash cows and the unspoken tenet that somehow an explosion of cyclists is somehow an unambiguously good thing (the ‘more cyclists is always good’ mantra).

Cycling Weekly has had a bit of face-lift recently. It looks a lot better and seems to have stronger content, less sportive-related guff or completely bogus advice (shocking news: train more and you go faster), more acknowledgement of the identity and roots of  cycling in the UK. It’s not the finished article though (no pun intended). One of the things they have resurrected is a weekly feature on clubs. This is a good thing, but it’s interesting that the two clubs featured thus far are clear examples of ‘bike boom’ clubs. These typically consist of a group of individuals banding together, deciding that the current world of bike clubs is unwelcoming, somehow symptomatic of everything that’s wrong with everything, run by petit-bourgeois mittel-englanders as some kind of labyrinthine bureaucracy designed to crush the soul of anyone who wants to join. They then knock up a kit that looks suspiciously like a knock-off of Team Sky, declare loudly that they are going ‘to do things differently’ and ‘shake up the sport’ and point to the five billion members they’ve signed up in 5 minutes as proof of their evangelical and revolutionary power and the defining mark of success, as well as the definitive statement that somehow other clubs were doing it wrong all along.

It’s some way wide of the mark. It’s interesting how few events the new clubs organise compared to the amount of races run by other clubs, including the weekly TT series run by the local club, usually since time immemorial, by volunteers giving freely of their time. It’s also interesting how many events the new clubs and their legions sign up for, run by the luddite and monstrously outmoded Yesteryear Wheelers. The bike boom CC is a shaky model, one rooted in the superficial, the here and now, the mode, the representation of what they think cycling should be. It would be nice to see the Comic focus on one of the established clubs, document the warm welcome given to members, the support for the community, the roots established over a hundred years, the change in jersey design, the significance of the colours, the unbroken lineation back to the founder members seeking time and space away via the emancipatory power of the bicycle. The club as a corinthian institution, not a willing reflection of consumerist mores or the grubby power of professionalism which has the Astana debacle at its zenith. The myth of an unwelcoming cycling club is exactly that.

There is no greater representation of the Corinthian ideal at present than Steven Abrahams. I can wholeheartedly recommend the recent bike show interview with Jack Thurston.

This is not big money professional cycling. Steve has quit his job and cashed in his life savings to better the record of the man he regards as the greatest cyclist of all time. He’s assembled a small team of volunteers who will organise his routes and overnight stays, fix his bike, feed him, wash his clothes and upload his ride data to the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association which is validating the record attempt.

Steve’s shortest ride this week was 187 miles. Thats 60 miles further than my longest rider ever. He’s managed 10,000 miles so far this year, twice my annual distance.


On the hour

I awoke early this morning. As a result I watched Jack Bobridge take on the hour record. The event is experiencing a spectacular resurgence with most of the fastest men on wheels lining up a tilt at some point this year. For years the event lay dormant, the heady days of Boardman vs Obree seemed consigned to the archive, a series of dusty VHS transfers on youtube the only reminders of the struggle. The event was kiboshed by a rule change limiting all attempts to the ‘athlete’s record’, using the same equipment as Eddy Merckx in 1972.

In an era where technological change and science are the driving forces in improvement, it proved an anachronism. Brian Cookson tore up the rule book, opening it up to technological innovation and in effect luring in the big bike companies who now see it as both useful R+D and a raunchy shop window for their new bongo weapons.

Watching someone ride for exactly one hour in circles should be one of the more boring spectator sports; to be filed next to ‘golf’ in the pantheon of crappy crap things done by crap people. However, it somehow transcends the rhythmic, soporific loops to become a narrative event. Everyone is aware of the record, the time gaps are assessed and checked and reinforced and reminded, the velodrome goes increasingly more batshit crazy and the souplesse of the rider, so delicately tuned over the first 30 minutes, unravels like a loose thread pulled from a hand knit jumper. The more the lap times drift out, the harder it becomes to rein them back in, the crowd sense an effort slipping away and implore the lone rider to greater heights in the battle against the clock. It’s a knife edge of total accomplishment and complete failure. There is no second place in the hour record; you make it or you don’t. And if you miss out, it’s measurable in metres. Boardman beat Merckx’ 1972 record by 10 metres. Bobridge missed out by 500 metres, fading at the end.

“It’s by far the hardest I’ve ever done and the hardest thing I’ll ever do I think. 20 minutes in I think it sunk in what was happening and what was about to happen. 20 minutes, there is nowhere to go. You have to keep going. It was just brutal, it was brutal the whole time. There was nothing nice about anything.”

In the spirit of useless comparison; I reckon at the peak of my form I might just be able to squeak in a shade under 47km. This is based on my peak 25 mile time and a friend’s Military hour record. Right now, I’d be lucky to knock out a 25 minute 10. Next up will be Rohan Dennis on Feb 8, then Alex Dowsett, if/once he’s recovered from his unlucky break, with Dame Sarah Storey contesting the women’s record in around 3 weeks time. Later on the year it’s likely that the big guns will roll out, with Cancellara, Wiggins and Martin all rumoured to be attacking time by riding in tight circles on siberian pine. It’s an exciting prospect.


Taking the Bike for a Walk (uphill)

I came across an article on the Guardian bike blog the other day. It had the saucy and provocative title; “Is it OK to get off your bike and walk up a hill?“.

It’s not ok to get off your bike and lie down

It’s very much a bike boom piece of writing, as is most of the Guardian Cycling Blog; a lefty liberal and metropolitan take on what it means to be a cyclist. Nonetheless, it refers to a particular issue that bedevils us all: when is it OK to get off and walk? I have to be honest and confess that I have walked up a bit of a hill once before. In 2004 I was riding up the Wyche on a road bike which had jammed in the 53 plate. I wasn’t very fit and found it hard to cope with the incline whilst pushing a massive cadence. It was too much hill and not enough gear. I can’t think of any other episodes which have ended in such ignominy. I have been close to the edge, especially when riding fixed and misreading the contours or elevation of a route. On such occasions I have forced my way up and over the crest, usually at about 15rpm, because I can. I also think that most hills can be ridden up in pretty much any sensible gear; it’s a question of willpower and not physical capacity. The article in question challenges the mentality that it’s not ok to walk. I agree in one respect; if you’re wearing flip-flops or a suit and commuting to work (and don’t necessarily class yourself as a cyclist) then feel free to walk if it gets tough. It’s not worth the aggravation and there is no badge of honour.

The article goes on to quote Chris Balfour: “Some of the snobbery and sneering which exists towards riders using ‘granny gears’ or who occasionally walk is really quite divisive and disappointing. We should celebrate [cycling’s] ‘everyman’ appeal, not slide to the worst of golfing ‘etiquette’ where newer and less able players are excluded or mocked behind their back in the clubhouse bar for ‘having the wrong swing’ or ‘wearing the wrong gear’.” I do celebrate cycling’s everyman appeal, but I don’t think anyone I know has ever mocked anyone for having the wrong gear (unless that means no mudguards, in which case get to the back and stay there you slurry-spreading infidel) or the wrong bike, or sticking it in the granny and shaking it around a bit. Quite the opposite, the guy on the hybrid who smashes everyone to bits seems to be a staple of most club runs. It’s the materialistic guys in the ‘right’ kit, typically the full castelli europro lycra show, who have purloined an entry ticket to an inclusive club in the mistaken belief that it confers some sort of bragging rights. All sports or activities have a degree of snobbery, cycling included; it’s integral and important. As cycling broadens outwards, dragging in everyone and anyone, it’s fine to celebrate inclusivity, but also important to recognise that there is a justified exclusivity at the core, of those who train hard and ride hard, race and follow an unspoken creed, writ with obsessional traits and a commitment to cycling and the past. This isn’t snobbery, it’s the long traditions of the sport. You gain entry through learning from others, picking up the hand signals and not making stupid mistakes. Entry is not pilfered through the impulse purchase of a BMC Impec and full Rapha kit. And if you are riding an £11k bike with £500 of clothing, you should damn well ride it to the top of the hill.