The longboard and short of it – SKS P45 Longboard Beige. A review.

When I acquired my Raleigh Clubman it came with an affliction common to many sports tourers of its era, namely fenders that are too narrow for the tyre.

The delightful ESGE 35mm gold fenders that came stock with the bike in 1983 wore their 31 years well but with 27 x 1 1/4 tyres beneath (i.e. 32-630) they weren’t exactly roomy.

The problem was exacerbated when I swapped the stock Raleigh tyres for a set of Panaracer Paselas, which, aside from being wonderful, are the fattest 27 x 1 1/4 hoops in all of Christendom. So portly are they that they forced a period of fender abstinence.

Now this was fine during the hot, dry spell that has shocked and stunned the UK for the past week but, as any proud Stark would say, ‘winter is coming’ so a fender solution was sought.

So to cut to be chase I ordered a set of SKS Longboard fenders in the 45mm width in ‘beige’. Now don’t be put off by that word. Antique cream would be more accurate. They look fine against the metallic claret of the Clubman’s frame and pick out the decals nicely.

But the coverage… My oh my, I went out and wilfully sought out puddles in the country park and lo, my be-sandalled feet are clean and dry.

In short this is a hearty recommendation for the longboard. And a review of sorts.

As with all proper fenders, monkish levels of patience are required in order to fit them. There’s a knack too, which I’ve developed over a decade plus of fendering bicycles.

Rivendell have a great video on how to do it on YouTube. Seek it out. Me? I’m waiting for it to start raining so I can test them out some more.

I bought mine for £23 minus 10% plus £3.95 express delivery from ProBikeKit. They came well packed, on time and with a free bottle of Lipton ice tea, which my son quickly swigged. Very civilised.

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Viva Bellissimo. Not a review.

Well ok it is, well it would be if I was impartial and since I’ve bought the bike and emotionally and financially committed it’s not a review in the objective, magazine sense of the word but notwithstanding and without further ado…

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I’ve owned my Viva Bellissimo now for around a month and now feel justly qualified to tell you about it and fill you in on the changes and tweaks I’ve made to the bike so far. I’ll start with the basics.

The frame is made from plain gauge chromoly steel, TIG welded, nice skinny un-manipulated. No hydro forming, tube manipulation or changes in tube diameter threaten to spoil the aesthetic. Angles feel fairly laid back if you come from a road bike background. We’re not talking Dutch bike or Pashley Guv’nor here but it’s relaxed when cruising at normal speeds and sails over road irregularities with little complaint. Mine is the 56cm size as far as I can ascertain, with a similar length top tube. Despite a slightly sloping top tube it’s therefore not a ‘compact’ frame dimensionally.

The frame is beautifully finished with neat TIG welds, cast dropouts and fittings for fenders and a rack. No bottle cage mounts though, this is a city bike and such appurtenances are not required.

The rear dropouts are forward facing horizontal with 120mm spacing, meaning the single, fixed and internal hub gear are all possibilities. The only downside of the forward facing dropout is that the tyre needs to be deflated to remove the rear wheel. A pain if you want to flip the wheel when out on the road or if you are taking the bike in and out of a car a lot. But not a problem in ordinary use. Just remember if your fixing a flat to inflate after fitting the wheel, not before.

The best thing about the frame however lies upon the surface, that lustrous Ferrari red paint, which literally glows when seen in the flesh. This is topped off by Viva’s brushed stainless steel head badge and 3D down tube logos. The Bellissimo model name is written in gold metallic flake script on the top tube, and a discrete Danish flag at the bottom bracket gives away the bikes country of origin (at least where it is designed, the Viva is built in Taiwan).

The red colour scheme continues on the close fitting aluminium Giles Berthoud style fenders giving the bike a wonderfully integrated look. Beneath the guards there’s room for 28mm tyres (provided they’re a modest 28mm that is). More on the fenders later.

Wheels are simply beautiful or beautifully simple, if you will. Unbranded large flange single speed hubs in polished Alu complement 36 plain gauge stainless spokes and high polished logo free double wall rims, the latter in a beautiful retro profile, reminiscent of the Endrick rims that graced many an old English cycle. The rear hub is flip flop with provision for a fixed and lockring on the other side. As standard the bike is set up as 48/18 single speed.

The chain is a beautiful nickel plated KMC jobbie with a tool free joining link for easy maintenance. The chain set is a nicely sculpted polished Alu device with an aluminium chain guard built in.

As standard the bike comes with a comfy Fizik Arione style saddle (made by Velo) atop an unbranded but very nice polished Alu seat post with a fair degree of setback.

Braking is taken care of by a pair or medium drop dual pivot brakes in polished Alu (you’re getting the polished Alu no logos theme, yes?) operated by a minimalist set of levers. The bars are a sweeping arc design in a generous 610mm width, with simple foam grips. The stem is a old school road style quill with a hidden bolt. All in all very classy.

So how does it ride? Smooth, silent and deceptively quick sum it up. The 72″ gear turns over with more ease than it has any right to. The drivetrain is quiet, simple and efficient.

Coming from a quick steering Ridgeback Flight with steep angles and little fork rake, the front end of the bike took a little getting used to; slightly slower to steer at low speed. The trade off is relaxed cruising and a plush ride.

I’ve made a few changes to the bike. Some out of personal choice, some out of necessity. The saddle had been changed for a Velo Orange No.5 in dark brown for reasons of comfort and aesthetics. The wellgo pedals have been swapped for a polished Alu pair of DMR V8s which are the grippiest platforms I’ve ever experienced.

The fenders, though beautiful, caused me some headaches. First off the bulky wraparound stays caused major toe overlap which caught me out from time to time. Then the rear guard cracked in half at the brake bridge due to premature fatigue, which caused me great annoyance. However undaunted I secured a set of SKS Longboards in the 35mm width which look beautiful, overcome the toe overlap issue, provide awesome coverage and are tough as nails, more suitable for the rigours of daily commuting. The new guards necessitated a swap from the stock (and excellent) Kenda Kwest tyres, which are the fattest 28mm tyres you’ll ever see. I opted for a set of 25mm continental gator hard shells, which look awesome and fit nicely under the close fitting fenders. I’ll report back on the effectiveness of the Hardshells after an appropriate length of time.

All in all I’m enraptured with the Viva. It’s purposeful, simple beautiful yet utterly practical for the daily commute. It’s got a timeless look which suggests both utility and speed. Fixies like it, retro folk like it. Roadies like. Women like it. Men like it. People who don’t like bikes like it. I love it.

Review: Velo Orange Il Postino Handlebar

I’ve been using my Velo Orange Il Postino handlebar for a month or so now so I figured it was high time to share my views on what has turned out to be the bar that I’ve been looking for for a long time.

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The Il Postino – a flat riser bar, if you will…

The Il Postino is Velo Orange’s take on a classic Italian city bike bar, named (by means of a contest on VO’s blog) by one if their fans. It’s that most rare of rare things; a bar with back sweep but without rise or drop.

I’ve tried a number of different bars over the years. Straight bars, riser bars, drops, north road bars and moustache bars but I’ve always had a nagging feeling of ‘not quite right’. Well folks, I’m pleased to report that the Goldilocks feeling is no more: I’ve found my perfect commuting bar.

Il Postino is 57cm wide and made from something or other series aluminium. Whatever it is has produced a nice stiff bar that doesn’t complain when a bit of body English is applied. It’s zero rise with a classic forward then backward sweep, the bar ends at a 25 degree angle.

For me, this width and sweep combination is perfect. The fore then aft sweep means that no stem changes are necessary and the 25 degree angle equates to my natural wrist position. (Dangle your arms down by your sides and you’ll see that the hands come to rest roughly in this position)

The grip area is spacious enough for generously sized grips and controls and the satin finish is very classy, accompanied by the subtle VO logos.

The comfort and control that this bar affords is excellent, with great leverage when climbing out of the saddle, less weight on the wrist and the elbows tucked in, unlike with straight bars.

The retro looks might not be to everyone’s taste but I find that they team well with old or new bikes. If you’re the kind of person who likes to festoon their bars with gadgets and lights there isn’t much real estate due to the double bends, but that’s not an issue for me.

There’s nothing I don’t like about these bars and a lot I love. After a month of daily use, there’s nothing I’d change about their design or finish. Teamed with Velo Orange’s model 5 sprung leather saddle, the bar has transformed my Ridgeback Flight into a fast, comfortable and (IMO) classy town bike, that’s lost none of it’s élan.

I’ve yet to ride long distance on them yet so can’t comment on whether the lack of a secondary hand position is an issue. However I can say that the position that these swept back beauties affords is very comfortable and I don’t find myself ‘searching’ for another hand position like I have in the past with all the other bars I’ve used.

I’d be keen to hear from anyone else using these or similar bars.

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Theeverydaycyclist’s bike, rendered as a high speed city bike courtesy of Velo Orange

Merino base layers at Aldi

An anonymous tip-off the other night drew my attention to the fact that merino t-shirts were on sale at Aldi as part of their ski-wear promotion.

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Merino sheep, we hail thee…

Regular readers will know that I’m not averse to cross pollinating my cycling/living wardrobe with garments intended from other purposes (eg hiking, running, loafing, fighting wars, etc) so I duly hot-footed it down to said budget supermarket and took a look.

The base layers are 100% merino wool in what looks to be 150 weight. A great year round weight I’ve found. The quality looks to be up there with icebreaker and redram. They are machine wash and air dry, Henry Ford black and retail for the princely sum of £15.99. I bought two as presents for myself from other people (if that makes any sense). The only problem now is I will have to wait until after Christmas to give them a full road test.

However my brother has also purchased two shirts and vouches for their comfort and itch free nature.

If I were you I’d get thee to Aldi now and brave the mob of outdoor bargain hunters.

Good luck.

 

Wax cotton jacket for everyday cycling?

On my daily commute I’m a firm believer in dressing like a normal human. I used to believe that my motivation for doing this had a political root; that if somehow everyone who cycled to work wore normal gear then it would send a subtle message to non cyclists – that you don’t have to dress up to get into everyday riding, thus removing a barrier to getting involved.

This may be true but I’ve figured lately that my real motives are somewhat more selfish, lazy and vain. My commute is two parts bike and one part train ride and to be honest I just don’t want to look a dick on the train.

Don’t get me wrong, cycling gear has its place. If I’m out for a long ride with my bikey friends I’ll wear cycling stuff, for reasons of practicality and the powerful human need to assimilate. It takes a strong character to stand out from the crowd and I’m sorry, I’m not that guy.

I’m also lazy. I tried wearing cycling gear for the commute and changing at the end but I just could not be bothered with the hassle. Wearing normal clothes and riding slow means I can just turn up at Manchester Velodrome, my current place of toil, hang up the bike and get on with the thorny business of promoting cycling.

Which brings me to jackets. It’s been raining a lot lately in these parts and keeping dry and looking normal has risen to the top of the simmering stew of my obsessions.

I’ve long hankered for a wax jacket that looks good and does the job on the bike. I’ve ogled the Swvre wax jacket but it’s price is prohibitive for a poor church mouse like me. So I found a Superdry Transcontinent jacket that fit the bill. It’s waxed cotton and linen mix, short in the body, long in the arm, unlined and rather stylish.

First ride in the deluge showed that it was pretty water resistant but highly breathable – much more breathable than any membrane type fabric. It let in some water on the arms though – I think that the wax coating applied in the factory was cosmetic only – the fabric wetting out too easily.

However a good spray with Grangers Wax Spray and it beads like a mallard’s back. I can’t wait to get caught in a proper monsoon situation to see if my extra waxing has done the trick.

Has anyone else out there had success with wax jackets for normal, everyday, slow bicycle movement style riding? I’d love to hear from you.

Review: Velo Orange Model 5 Saddle

Saddle comfort is undoubtedly the most subjective area of bike ergonomics; an area where no hard and fast rules apply. What is comfortable for one person, in a particular position, doing a particular type of riding, is uncomfortable for the next person. It is with this caveat that I recommend the Velo Orange Model 5.

Velo Orange is a US based company that designs and markets parts and frames for the cyclotouriste and urban cycling markets, producing beautiful retro frames and components which give a generous nod to the French constructeur aesthetic.

A few years ago the company began to market leather saddles in the style of Brooks’ esteemed offerings, made by Taiwanese company Gyes and addressing some long standing gripes with the West Midlands based company’s more famous offerings.

The Model 5 is a sprung saddle with very similar shape and dimensions as
the B17. Indeed Brooks fans will recognise it as a close copy of the Flyer – effectively a B17 with a sprung frame suitable for micro adjust seat pillars.

My need for a sprung saddle came from my Ridgeback’s ultra stiff frame and it’s tendency to kick the rider in the backside over rough roads. The supplied saddle was a narrow plastic model made by Velo (no relation) which, as standard race oriented saddles go, was pretty bearable. But a saddle should be more than bearable shouldn’t it?

The Model 5’s price is similar to the Flyer, at around £65.00 but it terms of spec it’s similar to the much more expensive Flyer Special or indeed Select. The VO saddle has a thick Australian hide top, much thicker and less liable to premature stretch than Brooks current standard line (an issue they’ve addresses with the Select line). The VO 5 also features skived apron edges, a feature only found on Brooks’ higher spec perches, along with a punched and tied apron to further address the dreaded spectre of saddle sag, which normally forebodes the death of one’s Brooks.

The rails are chromed steel, more pleasing to my eye than Brooks’ standard black powdercoat and the rails themselves allow much more fore and aft movement than Brooks, addressing a vestigial design hangover from an era of very different frame geometries which means that many riders mounting Brooks saddles on modern frames with more upright angles will struggle to get the saddle back far enough.

After a week of riding, first impressions are very positive. The saddle shape is perfect for me, being a B17 user for so many years however this comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the out of the box comfort. Although rock hard and allegedly requiring a break in period, I find it perfect from the get go, doing exactly what a saddle should do – supporting the sit bones without putting pressure on the perineum or chafing the inner thighs while pedalling.

I’m not even going to mention saddle weight. Those considering a springy leather saddle are wise to the folly of counting ounces over comfort. Suffice to say that a saddle as comfortable as this will do more for your ability to ride all day than a lighter less comfortable one. I’ve had more rides cut short or ruined by saddle soreness than carrying an extra few hundred grams do I’m not cracking out the digital scales anytime soon.

The Model 5 comes in three colours: black, brown and honey and has a satin finish with a dimpled top, with a tasteful, embossed VO logo on the flank. Mine is the brown model and very fine it is too.

The saddle had loops too, meaning those using saddlebags will be happy. My favourite touch is the black moleskin drawstring bag that the saddle came in. A lovely touch.

I’m hoping that the saddle’s thick hide and laced aprons will result in many years of happy riding. I used to think I was a lifelong Brooks advocate but now a bit of much needed competition in the leather saddle market has shaken things up.

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Portage: 40 litre MOLLE backpack

I’m pretty obsessed with bags. I believe that bags maketh the bicycle. The ability to carry reasonable loads converts your bike from being a piece of sporting goods to a useful machine.

I’m a big fan of the urban, courier bag aesthetic but not a fan of the unbalanced load on the left shoulder. I’m a big fan of military designs too. So imagine my joy when I found a bag which combined military spec with an urban friendly look.

The bag in question is Kombat UK’s 40 litre MOLLE bag. ‘MOLLE’ is an acronym for the multi tabbed system on the bag’s outer, enabling all manner of stuff to be secured externally. More on that later.

The bag is made from ultra heavy duty PVC backed cordura – 1000 denier to be precise. This promises long long life and a fair degree of weatherproofing too.

The straps are well padded and comfortable with a sternum strap and broad, comfortable waist strap to keep everything stable when you’re out of the saddle.

The back system is simple, just padded mesh but in my experience complex back systems rarely do a better job of keeping your back sweat free.

The bag also features a hydration pack slot behind the paddle mesh back, so it’s useful for longer rides and hikes.

The main body of the bag, however is where the action is and features three roomy compartments. The main compartment is big enough for a 13 inch laptop, charger, full change of clothes and more besides. The medium sized compartment is perfect for waterproofs, tools etc – the sort of stuff that you might want to separate from the main compartment. The smallest compartment is great for small items that you access regularly, such ad wallet, keys, phone etc.

Each compartment is secured with chunky self repairing zips which feel very robust if a little stiff when new.

Quick release compression straps cinch the load in when not full but allow easy access to gear when needed.

The bag isn’t light: anything made from 1000 denier ‘truck tarp’ material will never be but it’s ultra hardy, with not a single mark on it in nearly a year of commutes in all weathers.

It’s not completely waterproof but it holds off most of the weather. I’ve gaffer taped the drain holes in the bottom to prevent road spray entering from beneath.

The real USP of this bag is the MOLLE system on the exterior. While conceived to attach ammo packs etc it’s great for attaching bike related items. As you can see from the image, I’ve attached my lock and slid a hi viz wrist slap into the tabs. The possibilities are endless.

In winter or at night the bag is easily festooned with led lights or you could easily strap big bulky items to the tabs.

I love it. It compares well with high spec bags like Vans’ Fortnight pack and Timbuk2’s Especial range but it’s a whole lot cheaper. Just £35. Kombat UK are not the only supplier of these US military inspired bags. Google MOLLE rucksack and you’ll find a variety of styles, manufacturers, colours and pricepoints.

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