Sunday, 30 March 2014

A Done Deal - Kuota KOM Air

Calls were made, emails were sent. Sleep was lost, relationships tested and tempers frayed but a deal was finally struck.

What I can say right now is that a bike is being built up somewhere in the sky blue city and we'll meet on my return from La Belle France in around 10 days.

I'm literally wetting myself in anticipation right now. In the meantime, there's some 'work' to be done here the Midi-Pyrenees ...

That is all.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Amp Hoops 32mm Carbon Tubular Wheelset - Review

Drought, famine, global warming – the world is full of life’s problems and quandaries and that’s before you even get to the Tubular vs Clincher argument. As a race, we really do have some work to do so, leaving the less pressing issues for other mere mortals, I thought I’d take on this business of the wheel...

It’s widely accepted that wheels are awesome – fact. I’ve known this for some time but the Gods have seen fit to bestow a problem upon my fragile mind that I feel compelled to explore. Most of us are well versed in clincher wheel sets – it’s the wheel we grew up with as we cut our teeth on swapping tyres and fixing punctures with mum’s favourite teaspoons. The humble clincher has come a long way and with full carbon-tastic flavours now lighter, reliable and more widely available than ever – why would anyone bother with a tubular? After some obligatory Googling, I contacted British company Amp Hoops to find out…

Amp are based in London, import their rims and hubs and build up their wheels to order here in the UK. I liked the idea of getting a set of wheels from a small UK company and, after a few emails with Mark at Amp, we agreed it would be worth me trying a demo set of their 32mm carbon tubulars to find out for myself. Mark was keen to promote the virtues of tubular but Amp also offer clinchers for those afraid of glue and punctures. Claims of lower rolling resistance and better cornering aside, for me, the fact of the matter I can measure is that they’re a lot lighter than their clincher equivalents and that alone appealed to my weight obsessive mind. With that, Mark agreed to send a set and I agreed to post my thoughts.

The wheels look awesome - fact. These were a demo set used by prior to me so have done some winter miles already but nevertheless look nice with their matt UD carbon finish, bladed spokes and fairly discreet graphics. The red matches the colour of my Kebel really nicely and I’ve never seen my bike looking more epic and ready for the road!

Amp do offer Euro white and stealth black decals for those looking to colour match their frame. The hubs are black, unbranded and completely inoffensive to look at.

Naturally, the first job was pull out the Thirty Something Cyclist kitchen “scales of fairly accurate truthfulness” and got weighing. Irrelevant of the what the scales say though, there’s no denying their ruddy light and you notice this immediately as an uncontrollable grin spreads across your face! Now, since these are demo wheels, they arrived with Continental Sprinter tubs already clued on so I was unable to test Amp’s claimed weights for just the wheels of 1070g. We’ll do the math though and work back to some rough weights in a mo.

With glued tubs but with the provided skewers the weights are:
Front: 806
Rear: 979g
Total: 1785g

By anyone’s standards this is light and a great start before I even mounted them to my bike! Now, Amp say its 1070g for the wheel set so if we assume that the claimed weight of a Continental Sprinter Tyre is  275g, that would leave 1235g on the scales, which if Amp's wights are to be believed would then leave 165g for skewers, glue and valve extenders. Seems pretty reasonably to me.

Clearly, from the previous paragraph, we know that Amp sent through some lightweight skewers. These look light and minimalist  too but also have a cheap feel to them and never gave that feeling of reassurance that they were up to task. Having said that, they never came loose or gave me cause to doubt them, but when clamping down on the dropouts and forks there was never that sense of quality and robustness that you get with Dura Ace Skewers for example.

Brake pads swapped out and aligned, I added a cassette, checked pressure and waited eagerly to hit the roads and try them out.

Mark had advised that although tubular tyres can be run at higher pressures to clinchers it’s not a necessity and much more of a preference thing. It would seem that running tubs at high pressures (140psi+) isn’t always better in real-world conditions and, with this advice, I opted to go for my preferred pressures of 110psi on the rear and 100psi on the front. At least that's what I was aiming for but annoyingly I could never be exact with this as the valve extenders used are the basic tube type and never quite made a seal with my pump to allow the pressure gauge to provide an accurate reading. I tried with another pump but the result was the same. This could just be my stupidity or a feature of most valve extenders but I found it a little annoying. The only saving grace was the tyres didn’t seem to lose much air at all during the course of the review period - being used to latex tubes in my clinchers I found this a bit of luxury!

On the Road
I shouldn’t neglect to tell you that I’m not an experienced user of deep profile carbon wheels and my lightest and best set of wheels for comparison are my Dura Ace 9000 C24 clinchers. That said, make no mistake – these spin up really quickly, are super stiff and you instantly know you’ve got a light set of wheels beneath you. It’s impossible for me to say whether they’re faster or easier to get turning than my DA’s but there’s definitely an identifiable lightness to them, along with that amazing sound that only carbon wheels can make as they roll along the tarmac! If nothing else, this brings a smug grin that you'll be wearing for the first ten minutes of every ride.

My first proper trip out with these was a Sunday morning spin on one of my regular short but fast routes. It was a very windy morning and not the best day for a test of deep section wheels. Nevertheless, I was eager and mindful of Rule 5 and 9 so gritted my teeth and got stuck in.

The first and most obvious thing to me was the effect of the wind on forward motion. The wind on this first ride was coming across me from 10 o'clock and gusting from this angle provides a noticeable feeling of drag on the bike. The effect was quite noticeable until the wind direction was coming more directly from the front or behind - where it was barely noticeable. This isn't a problem all of the time but would make me think twice about choosing aero rims for longer rides in windy conditions - particularly on my own.

Somewhat conversely, the wind didn't ever seem to catch the deeper profile of the rim and effect steering as such, but lets not forget that 32mm isn't that deep in the aero wheel arena and would more likely be an issue with 50mm rims or deeper.

Wind and crappy cycling conditions aside, on a good day when you get these spinning and giving off that whoosh of a carbon wheel, they instil a feeling of rapidness, of self-propelled speed and awesomeness that makes you want to keep pushing. Its a hard thing to attempt to describe or quantify for objective review purposes, but on quite a few outings I genuinely felt as though I was steaming along - almost like they want to go faster and harder and they reward when you do. It took me a little time to find my confidence in the tyres (a personal thing) but once I did, throwing the bike round bends at speed was a joy. The additional stiffness of these wheels over the DAs is never more obvious than when hitting a corner. There's a stiff, reassuring and planted feeling that I just don't get from the my other wheels when cornering at speed.

Speed and cornering is all very well and good but what about when it comes to stopping? I'd read a lot of whining on the internet about reduced braking performance on carbon rims and, to be honest, was a bit concerned it would be a problem I wouldn't be able to get over. In reality I could not disagree more with what I read in relation to braking with these particular rims. Amp supplied a set of Swisstop Yellow pads that had clearly been worn in through previous reviews and worked perfectly. In fact, I preferred the progressive feel of the braking with these more so than my alloy rims. The stopping effect is even across both wheels and there's a nice sound emitted as the wheels slow and the pads grip.

In the wet, I'd say there was marginally less response on initial application of the brakes but a revolution or so of the rim on pads creates the friction needed and its all good. I'm sure that descending down a mountain at speed in the wet would be more….butt clenching than in the dry but once you know how they react in wet and dry conditions its a feel that I actually missed the moment I swapped back to my DAs.

Tubular Vs Clincher
The most obvious reason, to me at least, to choose tubular over clincher would be the inherent weight difference. There's no escaping the fact that if you are looking to lighten your pride and joy, this is undoubtedly the way to go.

The Gods then go and balance this feather-light loveliness with the constant, paranoia-inducing threat of a puncture and I was a little pre-occupied with this on my first few outings. I risked it and didn't buy a spare tub to carry about, despite Mark's advice, but even with the winter debris I cheated the Gods and suffered no punctures. The need to carry a pre-glued or taped tub around for longer rides was off-putting to say the least but further discussion with Mark and my LBS revealed the perfectly viable option of tyre sealant - many of which are easy to get hold of and relatively cheap. I didn't try any of these myself during the review period but from what I have read I'd be happy to squirt a bit of this sealant in the tub at the mounting stage (before installing the extender) and head out happy that I'd be OK for most situations. Clearly, if you have a penchant for riding over barbed wire, glass, or razor blades, then this isn't the miracle cure but for anything other than a gaping hole it seems you're golden with some sealant. This would of course add a few grams to the wheel itself but would be saved in both convenience and weight in carrying a whole tub and having to fit this at the roadside.

I don't know about you, but all my punctures are inflicted in wet, cold and dark conditions - particularly when I'm trying to get home in a hurry or can't feel my hands. For this reason I'd consider squirting some of this in the clinchers I use for commuting.

It seems odd to me that we should have to choose between the clincher and tubular variety of wheels and so I say get both!

Having tried a set, I'm happy to go tubular for my best bike and purely for the weight savings alone (Amp's 38mm clinchers in the same spec weigh in at 1445g Vs 1070g).

I'm not going to get into the issues some have faced with heat-induced warping to the rims with carbon clinchers, because I simply can't comment but that might also be a consideration you find in favour of the tubular if you're into such dramas.

From a convenience perspective, tyre sealants and tape reduce the risk and mess that have traditionally scarred the tubular wheel set's PR; and I personally think the reasons against their use for average Joe are becoming largely immaterial. Nevertheless, common sense still has to prevail in certain circumstances and tubular wheels wouldn't be the obvious option for a LEJOG attempt for example!

All in all I enjoyed my first experience with tubular wheels and I was sad to send these back if I'm honest! Aside from the weight, the stiffness and whatever aero advantage a deep section wheel might bring, there's no escaping the simple fact that carbon wheels make bikes look epic! It's no surprise then that my new bike (see what I did there) will be coming with wheels of the carbon tubular variety and its arrival cannot come soon enough…

For those interested in finding out a bit more about Amp, I'll publish my brief interview with them in a future post and update that link here.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The First 10K

Today was witness to a pretty important milestone.

Contrary to popular belief, it wasn't that I laid my first artificial turf lawn today and nor was it that I managed to spend 8 consecutive hours outside without getting rained on. It was in fact that Thirty Something Cyclist just ticked over it's first 10,000 page views!

Hurrah, thanks guys! This calls for a beer.

That is all.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Kuota KOM Air - This might just be my new bike

After much painful deliberation, I think the KOM 2014 might just be out of the running as the most likely contender for my new bike. 

I've spent the last few weeks researching, pondering, jotting down pointless technical details and boring my Fiancee and friends senseless. I've been certain I'd only buy Italian, then veered towards German and, like Charlotte whilst clothes shopping, I've come full circle and back to the first shop I walked into: Kuota.

The new KOM for 2014 is lovely. It's got nice lines and looks to be an all-out mountain goat and race machine - it just doesn't come in a colour I like!

My Kebel is mix of timeless 3k black carbon, white and red detailing and the new KOM is just a bit too similar. It sounds silly but when when a lot of bikes are all similar specs, weights and geometry it can literally all boil down to how awesome it looks - and looking awesome is important.

My 2012 Kebel

The all new KOM 2014

I was about ready to click the button on a Canyon Ultimate CF SLX but the lack of SRAM force as a group set option was putting me off. Luckily it did, because one phone call to Dave at DHW Agencies saw me knocking back on Kuota's door to see if the KOM Air was allowed to play out.

This is essentially the new KOM Evo, but lighter, with internal cable routing and matt black.

KOM Air 2013

She's not only an Italian thoroughbred but she's the right weight (770g for the frame), colour and geometry - It's now just for me, Dave and my LBS to work on the price. More on how this pans out in the next week or so but I'm excited to be back on the Kuota wagon once again.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

New Cycling Shoes: Fizik R3

Been on the look out for some new cycling shoes over the winter but nothing much had taken my fancy.

Just when I'd almost forgotten about it (this doesn't happen often when it involves new stuff), SportsPursuit wanted to sell me some lovely Fizik R3's and how could I refuse?

They're beautiful in the flesh and remind me if the 1920s wing-tips from the gangster movies - just for cycling obviously.

A full and frank review will follow as always but for now I can say they are amazingly light and unbelievably stiff. I wore them out for the first time this morning, in the glorious sunshine I might add, and impressed me no end. 

Whether they make any difference to power transfer, average speeds or comfort is largely irrelevant at the moment, I'm just in love with that carbon sole!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Winter Sportive Review – The Rawlinson Bracket 2014

Looking for some early season punishment, I recently completed the Rawlinson Bracket sportive. As with most things I'm a little tardy with the write-up but finally here it is -  2 weeks post event. Grab an espresso….actually make it a large a flat white and get comfortable….


Like you perhaps, I'd never heard of the Rawlinson Bracket and only did because my Father-in-law-to-be passed on some blurb he received at work. I'm sure he was looking to inflict some pain on me for stealing his eldest daughter and I think this is how he knew he could hurt me without me even realising it. Got to love the man's work.

I was looking for something to keep me riding through the winter to add to the Tour of Pembrokeshire sportive and, upon seeing it described as a "hilly sportive in the wilds of Warwickshire", it was a no brainer - It's local, it's hilly and it’s for a good cause so what's not to like? I signed up immediately, as did some cycling chums, and I promptly went about the rest of January (and most of February actually) getting fat and unfit in preparation for 52 miles and 4500ft of ascent. I’ve taken in the bpm raising delights of Edge Hill and Sunrising Hill a few times before, but even I was surprised at just how lumpy such a short route in Warwickshire could be. Kudos to the organiser Steve who clearly has a talent for course design!

timing_chips Timing chips at the ready

On the day, things didn’t quite pan out as originally planned. My neighbour and his wife were planning on doing the longer, hillier ‘Top Bracket’ route with me and I was relishing my chance to dish out some hurt. Having waited for over a month for their return from Whistler, I was in need of some motivation and what better way than jostling with your weekly cycling partner to see who could unleash the most carnage! However, this wasn’t to be since Matt had an injury and had to change to the shorter ‘Bottom Bracket’ at the last minute – Rule 5 Matt, Rule 5. This was a shame from a competitive perspective but I’d also hoped we’d bash it out together as an eager little unit and share some of the work whilst basking in ‘team spirit’! Gutted, I was to go it alone and fend for myself in the bad lands of Warwickshire.

Both courses started and finished at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon, with the Top Bracket riders departing first. Having signed on, got my timing chip and number, I lined up outside in the damp, chilly air to await the start. The atmosphere among the groups of riders was a mix of banter and nervous anticipation as each group of 20 or so riders were ushered over the timing mat and onto the course. I set off with a lad who knew my neighbour, Trevor, who was looking to get around in a reasonable time. We agreed we’d start out together, see what our paces were like and go from there. We set off in the next group to the sound of cleats clipping in to pedals and Garmin’s beeping out of sync with one another. There was a  bloody awful wind that had been brewing for days and today it seemed intent on making things difficult. As soon as we were out onto the open road it was apparent it was going to be a tough day for a large part of the route but it wasn’t raining so I silently thanked the Gods and got on with business of laying down some Rule 5 and as much hurt as I could muster.

Trevor and I  stuck together for about 20 minutes or so but my eagerness got the better of me and, moving to the front of a small group, I unintentionally managed to lose him and the group altogether! Surprised but feeling good I decided I’d just trundle along and see if I could catch some other groups in between the climbs. They’d be going much quicker than me in the wind but on the hills I could make some time up and use them along the flatter sections.

burton_dassett_bottom Start of the Burton Dassett Climb

Burton Dassett, the first hill of the day, soon emerged into view as the tarmac ahead just seemed to suddenly point skyward. I’d not ridden this hill before but from the profile it had a steady first section, followed by a false flat centre and then another kick up towards the top. Chasing the wheels ahead soon saw me roll over the top where it was blowing a proverbial gale! The view is one to savour but today in the wind it was a serious effort to keep my line so I moved back into the big ring, got my head down and after fairly short descent later, and now fully warmed up, I spent most of the time on the flat section anticipating the next hill!

rawlinson_bracket_2014-1Me, grinding up the first climb.

As the road straightened and levelled I could see a large group in the distance and it felt like an age before I was able to catch them. The wind was pushing against me, sapping all my energy and ruining my efforts to make up time. Each time I’d get up to a cruising speed, a huge gust would slam into me and the bike, noticeably slowing my speed and forcing me up the gears. In the interests of Rule 9 and stubbornness, I gritted the teeth and got on with the work and before long I’d caught up to a rider wearing a Rawlinson Bracket jersey.  He’d started in the first group with the ride’s Patron Brian Steel, but was now settling in to his own pace and had let them go on ahead. We agreed it was a slog on our own and worked together to catch the group – which we did just as Edge Hill loomed into view.


I’ve tackled Edge Hill a few times before but it still strikes fear into my heart each time. It’s not the distance but the acute nature of gradient (14%) and I always seem to hammer up it, get firmly into the red and not leave an awful lot for the rest of the ride.


rawlinson_bracket_2014-3 Me, under the illusion I was the caretaker of the keys to the hurt locker!

Today however, I was much more reserved and settled into a rhythm, passing the group at the bottom (and those who’d resorted to walking) and slowly tapping out a tempo whilst listening to my own rhythmic panting.  Towards the top, a younger chap (later I found his name to be George) from the group I’d caught at the bottom had followed me up along with another lad, so it made sense to work together as we moved into the flattish stage before the next hill. I was feeling good at this point but knew we still had the long drag up the Lady Elizabeth hill to come – though there was the feed station to keep me motivated. The pace was fairly good and we shared the work in a rapidly changing pace line until the gradient ramped up and we split to find our respective climbing paces once again. By the time the incline levelled out the hill had claimed a casualty, leaving just the two of us to cruise the rest of the drag to the feed station in the lay-by ahead. Two friendly faces handing out bananas and refilling water bottles were a welcome sight as the casualties of the hills gradually caught up to wolf bananas and take on fluids.


People were in quite a hurry and I found myself left behind trying to scoff a banana whilst stocking up on energy drink. I never look better than when being photographed chewing a banana so I’m glad that Audrey Laperre (today playing the volunteer photographer) managed to capture this for all eternity!


Fortunately the right turn immediately after the feed station was a nice flowing descent so I could drink, chew and open a gel in relative comfort. The speed of the others through the feed zone had made me feel like I’d lost valuable time and I found myself hammering along trying to catch up. Unbeknown to poor old George, he’d become Matt for the day and we would be handing out some pain to each other (and others) if I could catch him! The thing was, they weren’t messing about and were seemingly putting some work in, meaning it took a mile or two to catch them up and then recover from the effort. I was foolish for thinking feed stations were for stopping and feeding – what an amateur.

Another long drag at a steady gradient ensued, although the wind now felt off to our backs, and once again it was me and my 'hill friend' George left churning up the climb before a short flat section to mark the approach of Sunrising Hill as the final climb of the day. Helpfully, someone had removed the smooth tarmac surface of the climb and replaced it with what I can only describe as a 16% rumble strip. This meant that the last hill was not only a slow, grinding effort but it was done so to the joyful and energy sapping rumble of chewed up tarmac. It was a real treat for us all and something I think more climbs should be adorned with! George saw his chance to break me and accelerated past me cresting the climb first just as  photographer caught us both looking our very best.

rawlinson_bracket_2014-4 Me, internalising death behind George on Sunrising Hill

rawlinson_bracket_2014-5 Out of the saddle and in trouble

Reviewing the photo above, its no wonder I'd struggled so much - my ears aren't as aero as they could be and would surely have been costing me precious watts in the wind!

With that climb over we both recovered on the flat before the rewarding descent of Edge Hill at the opposite end of the escarpment. This section was like an agreed neutralised zone where neither of us pushed ahead or ramped up the pace and instead just took the time to regain some composure whilst attempting to hide our state of body and mind from the one another. We made idle chit chat until we arrived at the top of Edge Hill for the rewarding but short-lived descent.

The drag to Kineton from there is a false flat and gradually climbs to the centre of the village and the pubs and, just as important, the cake shop! Today however we had other things on our minds and cake would have to wait until the finish. At this point my legs felt tired and the fast, smooth road back to Gaydon wasn’t really registering as such and instead felt as though it was the longest road in the world. Taking turns on the front, George and I didn’t exchange words - everything had been said and it was about getting to the finish now.

Suddenly the tail wind delivered the calls and chatter of a group gaining behind us, which provided some renewed vigour to our cycling! It was soon apparent that they were happy to let me and George sit out this last section on the front and so what better way to finish a great day than giving it all we had so see who we could drop! Gallantly, everyone hung on until final turn into the Heritage Motor Centre where our group of 6-7 started to break up but made it across the timing mat within a few seconds of each other. Surprisingly, George and I were thanked for our efforts in dragging everyone back in those final few miles – which made the fact I was literally on the brink of cramp somehow  worth it!

Overall, a great day in the saddle, amazing organisation and a great cause too. The post-ride cake, applause and hot drinks that awaited our entrance into the event hall just topped it off perfectly.

A massive thanks to Steve Jefferies and his team of volunteers for a great day, the photographers who provided these photos free of charge and of course George who had a hand in this record suffer score:


Thursday, 6 March 2014

Kuota KOM 2014 - Plagued with indecision

As if the pain and torment of the decision between K-Uno or KOM wasn't bad enough, Kuota had to go and add to the anguish with this beautifully shot (if not a little grey) promo video for the new KOM.

It just gets harder by the day and, at this rate, my bike shop will probably close and relocate just to avoid me bending their ear about it any more!

Thanks Kuota

KUOTA | Kom 2014 from Valerio Musilli on Vimeo.