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.

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Budget bicycling: Aldi ultra light cycling jacket review

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Aldi's Ultra Light jacket (teak coffee table for scale)
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The jacket dans le stuff-sac (tin of soup, also for scale)

Discount supermarket Aldi has for a few years been selling a range of no nonsense highly useful cycling gear and this year is no exception. Hitting the stores at the beginning of may was a great range of gear at real rockbottom prices. Like a decent track pump for 4.99GBP, a multifunction cycle computer for the same price and, the item that found its way into my shopping basket, an excellent hi viz ultra light jacket for a paltry 9.99.

The jacket is gossamer thin windproof, water resistant and breatheable, rendered in hi viz yellow with reflective logos, weighs virtually nothing (3 ounces) and packs down into its own integral stuff sack which is smaller than a can of soup.

The fit of the jacket is slim to prevent flapping and just the right length to avoid bunching up at the front. The ultralight fabric is excellent for keeping wind and showers at bay but thin enough to keep you cool, even on mild but rainy days. In short a better bet than a thicker, heavier full waterproof, which always tend to give you that boil in the bag feeling after a few miles.

The high viz colour, while never winning you any fashion points, does a great job of getting you noticed, especially in poor visibility conditions and the tiny pack size means there’s no reason not to leave it in your commuting bag permanently, always on hand for a chilly evening ride or a freak downpour.

However the best part of all is the price. At a lowly 10 quid, you could buy one for the whole family for the same price as its established rival, the Montane ultra light jacket at around 40 pounds. Of course the montane is better, but four times better? Of course if you’re hell bent on getting rid of your disposable income you could go for Rapha’s Stowaway jacket for £160…

As regular readers will know, I’m not one for cycling specific stuff generally but a featherweight wind/water resisting layer that doesn’t boil you on hot wet days and doesn’t break the bank is well worth bending the rules for.

Review: Wellgo LU987 Flat Pedals

It's all about the grip pins and the concave platform

Let’s just get something straight. This isn’t a product review in the bike-mag sense of the word. Yet in a way it’s more valid – as it’s based on long term use and the level of ‘buy-in’ that only emerges once you’ve stumped up the cash and lived with a product.

I’ve been using Wellgo’s budget flat platform pedal, the LU987, for around 18 months and feel I’m in a good position to comment on its usefulness for all kinds of cycling.

The LU987 is a large cast aluminium platform pedal, running on standard ball bearings, with around a dozen grip pins on each side. They mimic the classic Shimano DX BMX pedal from the 1980s, with a parallelogram shape and a large concave platform. The LU987 also has provision for clip on reflectors and drillings for mounting toe clips. However, I seriously doubt you’ll need the latter, for reasons I’m about to extol. The LU987 sits near the bottom of Wellgo’s flat pedal hierarchy, which includes models with removable pins, sealed cartridge bearings and other delights. However, in these cash-strapped times of ours, I think I’ve stumbled upon an everyday gem of a pedal.

Another view of the pedal - yes I know - I could have cleaned them before I took the shot... The pins are replaceable and they accept toeclips (if you really feel the need)

Why? Well firstly, the level of grip that the pins (allied with the concave platform) provide is astonishing. Wet or dry, just team them with a rubber soled shoe of any kind and you’ve got grip that’ll make you seriously wonder why you ever entertained the idea of toe clips or SPD (clip-in) pedals. I’ve used these pedals in all weathers, on road, off road, commuting and on long cyclosportive rides and I’ve never once missed the security and (alleged) ability to ‘pull-up’ that clip in/strap down systems are purported to provide. Unlike clip-in/strap-down systems, alongside the ‘grip-aplenty’ scenario, you’ve got the ability to quickly remove your feet should you and gravity have a difference of opinion.

These pedals allow you to wear any shoes you like, saving the bother of getting in and out of cycling shoes. The ability to just jump on your bike in normal shoes is not to be underestimated. Suddenly errand running and bike commuting become a whole lot simpler.

Another reason why I’m sold on these pedals is something quite subjective and that’s ‘pedal feel’. I don’t enjoy the feeling of using stiff ‘cycling specific’ shoes on a bike – they lack feedback – in my opinion you get no sensation of grip. However, the Wellgos, in conjunction with a fairly thin, flexible soled trainer (e.g., Adidas Samba, Gazelle, Converse Chuck Taylors, etc) give masses of feedback without a hint of discomfort. This might fly in the face of the ‘you must wear stiff shoes’ maxim so dear to pedal/shoe system manufacturers, but it works for me.

Durability is also a huge plus. Like I said before, I’ve had these pedals on my all weather, all terrain, all purpose bike for 18 months and the bearings are just getting sweeter and sweeter with each ride. They’re not cartridge bearings and they’re not sealed – however, this doesn’t seem to stop them working well in spite of wet weather riding, off-roading and general neglect.

Lastly, they’re cheap – seriously cheap – I paid around £10 for mine – at the time I had a second bike (A Dahon D7 folding bike) and I got two pairs. The Wellgo’s instantly transformed the ride of the Dahon, giving me way more confidence than the slippery rubber folding jobbies that came as standard.

Any downsides? If you’re commuting in dressy shoes, you might want to sacrifice some grip and go for a rubberised pedal that won’t mar the leather soles of your brogues. Some may not appreciate the looks of the pedal on a classically-styled town bike like a Pashley, but once you try these pedals out, it’s hard to feel secure on anything else.

Availability – pretty much everywhere. If you can’t find the LU987, there are many others out there with the key features, which, to recap, are:

  • Large format
  • Grip pins
  • Concave platform

If you want to go upmarket, there are a number of options, including the DMR V12 which is a CNC machined version with super smooth cartridge bearings. However on an all-duty bike, I regard pedals as a consumable item along with chains, cassettes, tyres and tubes, and I’m happy with the real-world performance of the Wellgos.