I’ve been kicking around ideas for a blog this week. Sometimes I’m just blank then something just plants a seed. That’s how it played out again this week. The idea for this post was inspired by Paul Astin and reading about all the bikes he owned his Facebook post this week. Don’t know why or how but it lead to this idea. Probably the nostalgia. Happy Reading
I started cycling quite late at 15 years old. I bought a Raleigh Equipe road bike and just started riding everywhere on it quite randomly and just fell into the club scene (Bromsgrove Olympique CC) before doing a bit of racing. Then things got more serious. That was back in 1989, the year LeMond won the Tour de France on the last day by 8 secs. In those 30+ years cycling tech has changed a lot so here are some that had an impact on me and my riding.
I was as early an adopter of clipless as my money would allow. I started with your typical Sidi shoes, clips and straps but I just didn’t like them. That loosening of the strap as you eased up was just a faff. I can remember been blown away by the sheer simplicity and faff-free looks of clipless pedals. They were in the Tour de France and I wanted some. I can’t remember how long after I started cycling I got some but I remember opening the multi-coloured Look box and seeing these pristine white pedals and red (Delta) cleats and bolts in a separate poly bag underneath. Clunky and heavy by today’s standards but uber cool at the time. I felt like the pro I aspired to be as we did as kids. Mates wanted to be Paul Gascoigne or Gary Lineker, I wanted to be Gert Jan-Theunisse in PDM kit. I bought that kit too. It was weird, had like a towel feel to it inside.
From a riding perspective they just made stopping and starting easier but as with all clipless pedals, its a rite-of-passage to fall off while you get used them. I was no different and I still ride Look clipless today. I’ve never changed brand. When I owned my shop I briefly tried Shimano SPD-SL’s as a personal experiment but I just couldn’t get on with them for some reason. Setting up Speedplay cleats for customers put me off them and when I raced in the 90’s everyone had Time pedals and Carnac shoes but I’ve been a Look fanboy for three decades now and will probably never change. No reason too.
Offroad was a bit different. For the bulk of my time riding offroad I used Shimano SPD’s but when I took up cyclocross in 2007 I switched and stuck with Crank Bros Eggbeaters for weight, mud clearance and the fact they were effectively four-sided. It seemed like common sense to me and a better option than SPD’s. I’ve use them ever since until last year when I switched back to an SPD compatible Wellgo pedal for my commute/gravel bike. Because the pedal body is bigger, I’ve found they’re a bit more comfortable than egg beaters on longer rides.
Indexed gears were just beginning to take a hold in the industry when I started, like clipless pedals. The tech the pro riders had been using for a few years was filtering down and becoming more affordable to the masses but still a chunk of money. My first race bike was a Raleigh Triathlon and then I splashed out and bought a Vitus 979 Dural which I kitted out in Campag Athena. OMG what a bike. Alloy bonded tubes it just felt awesome compared to steel at the time. I bought a another after in black too.
The Campag Syncro II indexed gears were pretty primitive. The down tube shifters were fitted with a coloured insert which specified how many gears it was for. Once in and setup, the lever just ‘clicked’ backwards and forwards and skipped the chain between sprockets as indexing does without the need to find the sweet spot. There was no indexing on the front. The other cool feature, if that is what it was, was that on the outside of the shifter was a barrel you could turn to turn the indexing off on the fly and go back to friction if you wanted.
From a ride perspective it wasn’t a massive game changer. Unlike today’s indexing and gear changing you can do out of the saddle, very quickly, smoothly and precisely, back then you still had to sit down and change and you had a limited amount of gears too. But the kudos for having Campag wasn’t lost on my peers. So more vanity than a practical advantage I think.
When the current stock of brake lever based indexed gears arrived, well that was a gamechanger wasn’t it? Shimano’s STI (Shimano Total Integration), more gears, changing gear out the saddle, swifter, more precise shifting, it changed transmissions on bikes forever and I for one tip my hat to Shimano who brought the technology to road from mountain bikes and has tirelessly moved it forward ever since and continues to do so making Di2 (electric gears) an affordable prospect for all us average joe riders. Nothing else to say really.
Oh man, these were a revelation. It was the early 90’s and I was riding time trials and like we still do, I was looking for extra speed. You would look around at events and everyone was on tubular tyres. 18mm wide, silk carcasses, latex tube and pumped to 120-180psi. I had to have some so I bought a pair Mavic 500 28h hubs and had them built onto Wolber Profil 18 rims. No flat or bladed spokes back then. No deep section rims, just a tiny, thin sliver of a rim, normal spokes, decent hub and an expensive, supple, light tubular tyre. I’m sure my first were Vittoria Corsa’s but I did dabble with Veloflex tubs later on too.
This was the time when club mates were still training on tubs and would have one folded in a bottle cage or in their pocket in case they punctured. I’ve never trained on tubs only race but boy that moment I pumped them up for the first time with my old silca pump (Remember those?). I think I did about 120psi and I rode off. They just felt like I was floating. I know that the science tells us a lower psi is more efficient now but back then it highlighted the difference or shortcomings of traditional tyre and tube combos, a gap that manufacturers have closed with much better tyre tech these days.
I used tub tape rather than traditional glue. There was never a need for me as I only rode TT’s in straight lines and I was very light.
The second time that tubs blew my mind was when I took up cyclocross. As I’ve always done, I threw myself into a different branch of the sport and then took it very seriously. So what was a cheap sub £1k cross bike, no spare for the first season became two £2k Ridley cross bikes with two sets of tubular wheels each with different sets of tyres for different conditions. The Dugast and FMB tubs were very expensive and a bit of a bitch to fit unless you prepared your wheel and tyre properly. I later moved to Tufo tubs which were as good, in my opinion, but cheaper and fitted easier too.
The ride and grip in races was a gamechanger. The benefit is that if you take your time and fit the tyres with 4 layers of glue you had no fear of them rolling off in corners. You can run them at really low pressures so the tyre deforms and grips much better. The lower profile rim reduces the chance of an impact or snake bite puncture too. I literally bought more speed in gloopy conditions and my results improved. I’d ride the course, find the roughest section and ride it as race speed and let the air out until the rim barely bottomed out. Sometimes it was less than 20psi and you would glide through the mud. If I ever rode TT’s or Cross seriously again, tubular tyres would be top of my shopping list.
Made famous by Greg LeMond (although technically illegal at the time breaking UCI points of contact on the bike rules) winning the 1989 Tour de France on them, they were very quickly adopted by the pro peleton and very quickly filtered down to us amateur time triallers. It was so innovative at the time, yet so simple.
Before the full TT base bar/aero extensions we see now, Tri bars were effectively a U or diamond shaped piece of bar that clamped onto your existing bars with a couple of integrated pads. Quite simple and more importantly a relatively inexpensive purchase that bought REAL speed gains. And you could just fit them to your regular bike too, no need for a TT bike.
My first set were made by Profile and I just clamped them on and gave them a go. I played around with the angle. No science just comfort was the guiding factor but the difference in speed was quite amazing. Anecdotally 1-2 mins after over 25 miles. A massive difference.
As the seasons passed the tech got better and more refined and my last hurrah with TT bars was a set of Vision that I popped on my road bike which I’d converted into my dedicated TT bike. No carbon, no aero profile frame just deep section wheels, tubs, TT bars, skinsuit and a TT helmet. As fast as I could be at the time.
It nice to remember the old days.
Thanks for reading