Posted by: Ian | November 28, 2010

November

Earlier this month, after my lacklustre run in the Exmoor Beast, I took the Astraeus in to Bicycle Chain in Taunton for a session with Alex, their fitting specialist. I was perfectly happy with the fitting I had on the Felt from BespokeCycling but wanted to see what my “LBS” (as they say at Cycling Weekly) could do, especially as I have no need to get the Astraeus up to London in the foreseeable future. Although Alex didn’t use Retul lasers, the fitting process was very similar, leaving me with a set-up that should be more comfortable for longer rides and also help me deliver more power to the pedals. I took in the stem that came with the Felt (which I upgraded to a 3T stem after the Bespoke fitting) because it allows me to try angles of +/- 6, 10 or 14 degrees. Being worried about the aggressively low head tube of the Astraeus, I chose the 14 degree up slant for now. Van Nicholas’s user-contemptuous cabling had to be corrected, which was a drag, but Alex managed to get it done on the same day as the fitting. As he pointed out, the pros who manage to run on severely low front ends are getting massages and stretching extensively after each ride and there’s no shame in choosing a more relaxed geometry than they have.

I haven’t yet managed to get in enough miles on the Astraeus since the fitting to give it a fair review; I plan to do so in December. A couple of weeks ago Emily and I were cycling through Bloomsbury one evening when I spotted a Zephyr locked up against some railings. This is the bike that I originally tried to buy when I ended up with the Astraeus and it’s so far the only one I’ve seen in the metal. It was as funky as I thought from the photos but I suffered no pang of regret.

My few rides around Crickleaze this month have all been in true winter weather. First, we had fog and the leaves that fell to the road in autumn mulched up to create treacherous orange/black stretches. Here’s a snap from the Blackdown Hills:

Today the challenge was the ice. The relatively busier roads have only the odd patch of black ice but the quieter ones, including those immediately by our house, have long runs of uninterrupted ice that span the whole lane. Late last night, driving out to collect Heidi, I took a slide in the Audi on Giant’s Grave Road, which alerted me to be cautious as I cycled along it today. This morning, again in the car to collect Zoe from a different party, I drove over the Quantocks, taking a favourite cycling lane up to Dead Woman’s Ditch. It was so icy at the top that I feared my decision to route down the 25% Crowcombe Hill (Emily’s second-least-relished descent by bike) might have been a big error. Luckily I made it down without incident.

When I went out on the Astraeus this lunchtime it was so cold that I fleetingly considered returning home to get a bluff, or simply to give up. Along Giant’s Grave Road my back wheel twitched out a few times on the ice. The downhill into Bishopswood was achingly cold but the rise out warmed me up a bit. I only rode for around 10 miles keeping to the high but well-used roads above Corfe and Staple Hill. For the last few miles I wandered indirectly around the small deserted lanes near Crickleaze. This was much better. The Quantocks prominently display their designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it’s unquestionably deserved. I love cycling there. The lanes around South Somerset, and especially around Crickleaze, are also beautiful but with a darker oneiric quality. They feel as if I know them from a dream.

Before I set out today I switched my better front wheel – a Mavic Elite that once graced Emily’s Scott – back onto the Felt and out a slightly less good wheel – a Mavic Equipe – onto the Astraeus. (Reviewing the Felt F4, Cycling Weekly this week trashed the Equipe wheel claiming it ruins the bike’s ride. I wonder how good you need to be for a difference such as this to feel so impactful?) I also, in preparation for the harsh weather, took off the Conti GP4000S tyre to set aside for the Spring and put on a 25mm Schwalbe Ultremo DD. I’m hoping that the extra width gives a shade more grip and the double-density compound with enhanced SnakeSkin protection reduces my time spent fixing punctures. I plan to swap the back wheels too, bringing the CycleOps power meter onto the Astraeus, along with a matching Ultremo DD tyre. Since this involves switching the cassettes, and giving them a good clean while doing so, I left this until I have a bit more time. The intention is to have the Astraeus configured as my workhorse winter trainer and the Felt as my light and sprightly summer racer.

The DD is the tyre I wanted when I bought the Conti 4 Seasons tyres for my Tempo. The 4S’s have been absolutely fine but are noticeably slower than the GP4000S’s. Now my motive for trying the DD’s as my winter trainer tyre is speed greed. Speed greed is arguably also the reason I spent two hours in Bristol yesterday taking the naughty speed school course that the police run as an alternative to points on the licence for drivers who have committed “grey area” offences. Much of it floated over me because I don’t really see myself as a motorist these days: this year I’ve done more miles, I think, and spent many more hours on the bike than in the car. Paula and I travelled to and from Bristol by train, which is my second favourite mode of travel.

Tomorrow I blot my Friends of the Earth copybook with another flight, this time to the States. I’m in London now and forgot to bring my specs with me, and I have an inadequate supply of contact lenses. I rode with my contacts in today to see if it made my back ache less. I’ve been riding in ordinary specs more over the past few months and I’m coming to think that this correlates to increased back pain due to me craning my neck to avoid looking over the top of my glasses. I hope that going back to cycling in lenses (or at least sports glasses) together with my new set-up on the Astraeus makes the back pain go away.

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