In 2015 I embarked on a project at The Bike Station, to create an extension of Dr Bike, attempting to empower the general public and demystify the technicality of bicycle maintenance. Sound familiar? Demystification is something I have been into for a while, though I hadn’t really taken it into the realm of infographics before. The 2015 media was printed as 3 distinct Z-Cards which worked well, but lacked the media push to make them truly public.
This year we decided to revamp the Z-Cards adding a fourth, for symmetry. Professor Chris Oliver, Scotland’s premier hand surgeon and epic ambassador supreme of cycling social media and the link between science, medicine, politics and enjoyment, offered his support in writing material for the 4th pamphlet, in exchange for being able to share the media with his 17.3k Twitter followers. A pretty good deal all round.
Downloadable versions of the printed material are here: drbike1 drbike2 drbike3 drbike4 And on The Bike Station’s website. The printed material will be available from The Bike Station’s 15th birthday (and having recycled over 50 000 bikes), this coming Saturday 22/10/16.
Breaking these into around 40 Twitter friendly infographics has opened the possibility for the media to be expanded gradually, and my next additions will add a series on “family friendly” cycling – trainers vs balance bike, kid’s seats, trailers etc… And addressing different aspects of comfort on the bike, possibly with some tips from Douglas Shaw at Edinburgh Bike Fitting. Saddles, their differences and their comfort. Underlying physical imbalances. Ape-factor (relationship between upper body and lower body length) and how this can often leave you with a bike that is too big… I think there is a lot that can be put into writing and shared with #DrBike which will help people understand things that will help improve their experience of cycling and – in the long run – bring more active business to the industry.
I don’t remember how I came across the Indiegogo campaign, but it excited me and unlike all the other fundraisers I’d seen. I got my wallet out. I received the saddle almost a year ago and, for one or another reason, never got round to testing it before yesterday.
The design appeals to my ethics of trying to keep things as simple as possible. It is minimalist in its engineering and its aesthetic. The thought that went into solving an issue was concise and the solution is simple. We are beginning to see more of this cottage-industry lead by users (Morgaw was started by retired professional riders), but usually this leads to goods which are not refined because they are not developed within a network of people who know what they are doing.
What makes Morgaw saddles different is the fact that they have an elastomer link between the rails and the shell, and that this elastomer block can be changed to suit rider weight. The shell is relatively ordinary, with a moulded fibre reinforced plastic shell and an in-mould bonded pad/cover. The elastomer blocks are bolted onto the base, and the interchangeable rails then bolt into the blocks. I have the aluminium rails (the carbon ones cost a little more), which make for a 200g saddle. Unlike many saddles, the rails sit perfectly horizontal with the top of the shell, which is something I rather like from an aesthetic standpoint. In fact, the whole stack height of the saddle is around 45mm, which is slimmer than most.
There are a couple of potential issues: the oval rails mean that you probably can’t mount a Morgaw saddle on a seatpost which has side clamps, like those on Trek/Bontrager posts. During the Indiegogo campaign Morgaw was offering a seat post which did have side clamps designed for these rails and may have been compatible with other posts, however they are not currently offering these (and changing clamps would only be necessary on a bike which has a proprietary post, like many carbon offerings). The other issue is partly why I waited so long to test the saddle: the rails don’t accept the mounts for Ortlieb nor Rixen & Kaul equipped saddle bags, which meant that I didn’t want to take it on a long ride (almost no space between the rails and the shell). I was given an Alpkit Kowari for my birthday which uses straps rather than a clip, so I was able to take it out.
I took it for a 5h (100km) ride with 700m of ascent, on my newly built 1977 (steel of course) Emperor Sport, fitted with 25c Continental Gatorskins at around 80psi. The ride was mostly on tarmac with many rough sections, but also included a reasonable amount of gravel and mud. My bum didn’t hurt in the slightest, and I was pleased to find the ride to be very compliant. The non-scientific nature of my test is highlighted by the fact that it was the maiden ride of the entire build, so my first time on the frame, and my first time on the Felt UH Carbon seat post.
The saddle is comfortable. The shape seems to fit similarly to a Fizik Arione, despite being wider and flatter. The flatness did worry me as I really didn’t get along well with a Bontrager Paradigm RL that I’d bought last summer, which seemed to have a less of a curve to it than the Arione. The shape of the nose on the Forsage does allow for a lot of fore/aft movement, which meant that I was able to comfortably slide forward and tuck in whilst trying to keep up with traffic on the A904, without feeling any discomfort.
The current price point of the Morgaw range (around £100) puts it in an area full of high end competition, though the competition which I find as exciting from a design and innovation perspective are the Brooks C17 and Fabric ALM, both of which cost roughly twice as much. I am glad that I supported Morgaw’s entry to the market (they are distributed in the UK by Ison), and thrilled that the saddle stands up to my hopes and expectations.
I don’t actually watch feature films that often. I seem to be hypercritical to the point that my suspension of disbelief can be thrown by a minor detail, and the film can loose me in an instant. But thanks to BA’s inflight entertainment, I chose to watch Mr Sherlock (pity, pity they couldn’t be bothered to get a script written, nor have a photograph made which looked vaguely authentic, when so much work went into the rest of the film. Spoilt by two rather important ‘features’), and Frears’ The Program.
Last year The Program (2015) was released, and I don’t recall hearing much of it. Frears was—I had thought—a respected director. My first perplexity was with the American spelling of the title of a British film, but I know, that is just one of my pedantic pet hates.
Frears would have been aware that in making a film about a hugely controversial person of recent history, who is the subject of many articles, books and documentaries, his own creation would be under strict scrutiny. He chose not to take the creative license of fully fictionalising the story ‘loosely based on the life of Lance Armstrong’, but rather went down the route of the docudrama.
My opinion of the film is that the writing is very poor, making the narrative feel rushed and compressed. It would have been more interesting to focus on a part of Armstrong’s life or career, and build characters well enough that some empathetic connection could be made: this seems to be a common shortcoming, as though it were impossible to direct the empathy of a viewer within a non-fiction narrative. Nonsense. Cinematography was half decent–the race footage was well crafted, though the use of two ‘artsy’ shots seemed out of place (one close wide-angle shot of the journalist under fire, one sunset backlit shot of Lance). Production design was very poor, with many inaccuracies which were clearly going to be shat on by the cycling community. Sound design was—let’s say—creative.
Three particulars which stood out for me were:
In the opening shot—an artsy slow-mo of Lance cycling up a hill—the chain noises were oddly in your face, synthetic and totally uncharacteristic of a racing bike. Lance was famed for his cadence and fluid pedal stroke, not a slow clickety-woosh, clickety-woosh. these sound effects were used consistently through the film, which could be viewed as a good or a bad thing.
So Lance gets cancer, then he pesters Dr Ferrari into making him a winning cyclist. I have no idea why everyone insisted on his name being Michela Ferrara. These scenes presented a shocking historical inaccuracy, as Lance was pedalling on a turbo trainer with Ferrari talking about what they would do: the bike on the turbo was shown clearly to have a Hollowtech II bottom bracket (detail shot), which Shimano launched in 2003, this scene would have happened around 1997-1998. The film chose to focus on Ferrari’s use of drugs to cheat a performance increase when he also found that Armstrong’s loss in muscle mass could be compensated for by using an increased cadence. Thanks to Ferrari’s insight, Armstrong was the first cyclist in the professional peloton to use a high cadence (over 90rpm) which is today’s norm. They did briefly touch upon USPS’ revolutionary team tactics (also standard today), but chose to leave these two important details in the shadows, rather than focusing on them, which could have been interesting.
An editing mistake which would have thrown anyone of a non-mechanical persuasion was the springboard of Armstrong’s first post-Ferrari stage win: he’s at the back of the peloton with the team car: the mechanic reaches round and (detail shot) tweaks the cable pull on his rear-mech, which then catapults Armstrong’s performance past everyone to the win. Really?
The film left me feeling much the same as I felt after seeing 127 Hours (2010): baffled by the lack of character development, and disappointed that the film didn’t even try to suspend my disbelief.
The new ‘thing’ that the UCI is into is ‘mechanical doping’. The term ‘doping’ is clearly used in the same fashion that one can be a ‘chocoholic’. Let’s assume this part of the recent story is humorous.
The past couple of weeks have brought us rumours of the UCI having discovered the first electrically enhanced bicycle at a cyclocross race, and then videos of officials ‘scanning’ a bicycle with a tablet computer have also appeared. Now, the facts are few: all that we really know is that the UCI may have lost the most important races of the season from ASO, the body who owns the Tour de France and some of the other pivotal road cycling events on the calendar. This may call for some PR stunts, might it not?
Firstly, detection of large batteries, motors and planetary gear systems in a plastic bicycle would be easily accomplished with a DIY shop stud finder like THIS one for £40. Also, road race bikes weigh between 6.8kg and 7.5kg: so if a rider turned up to a race with a bike that weighed 7.8kg, this would be silly. If a rider turned up with a bike that weighed 8.5kg you would have to wonder what was going on. I mean, high end steel bikes in the 1980s weighed less than 8kgs, so using scales would also be a fast way of detecting a suspicious bicycle at a race. Understand, UCI?
Back to the alleged ‘doping’. THIS is the video in question, which seems to provide the speculation on Fabian Cancellara.
Going back to the weight, the motor unit and its battery (VIVAX) weighs “just” 1.8kg, which is light for an e-bike system, but would put most racing bikes over 8kg. If you read BikeRadar’s review of the Gruber system, they also mention how noisy it is, so there is a good likelihood that another rider would hear the motor. Carbon bikes sound like a bit of paper being flapped, and don’t produce a high-pitch whine.
If it weren’t for the BikeRadar article, I speculated that these units may not actually exist. Most of the images available online are not of photographic origin, suggesting they may be non-existent prototypes. Might I also add that the BikeRadar article does say that it cannot be installed in a carbon frame. I shall get to this later.
I don’t think the videos show anything erratic in sufficient clarity with regards to Cancellara’s hand movements, which the narrator is suggesting implicate that he is pressing a button to activate the motor. The video is of sub-PAL resolution. What the video does show with reasonable clarity is that Cancellara’s body movement does not change from the way he was pedalling previously: in the second clip (5:20) on the cobbles in Flanders he is bobbing quite a lot, suggesting he is fatigued but pushing. When he shifts gear he increases cadence, and moves forward. I think that if you had an additional 200w (the rumoured advantage of these systems) he would stop bobbing and take a more composed pedal stroke, and also drop gears to slow his cadence.
A historical point is that EPO allegedly gave riders 1% increase in endurance (a figure I recall from some documentary, though this article is suggesting much more), which over a 4 hour race could be significant. Both Pantani and Armstrong would take off like Cancellara in those videos, and we know that taking off in that way is not 1%, but rather something like 40% for a minute or two. So that kind of acceleration should be within the human athletic ability, and not made possible by blood transfusion or taking drugs.
Back to the motors, I am also curious about the structure of these things. The BikeRadar article suggests that the seat-tube motors can’t be installed in carbon frames, and I can assume that this is because they do not have smooth tubular interiors. The motor is held in by two 4mm bolts, screwed in from either side of the frame. So these are visible fixings (UCI?). Also, for that gear to not slip, the whole motor shaft would need to be held rock solid in relation to the bottom bracket spindle: holding it by two bolts would mean that it would tend to flip fore/aft. I would suggest that to be functional these motors would need to be fixed solidly to the frame within the bottom bracket shell. The lack of actual photographs of these drive systems suggests, to me, that they are a conceptual prototype and don’t actually exist. But this is also speculative and contradicted by the BikeRadar article. Also, most of the images of the motors show oddly angled gears which—to my understanding—would tend to push the motor up, and possibly slip, rather than pulling it in to keep it from slipping.
My conclusion is that I am extremely skeptical. I think there is a high probability that the UCI is trying to gain ‘good’ PR in light of the quarrels with ASO. I think the motors would be too noisy to ride in a group without competitors being aware of them. I think that the weight of 1.8kg is pretty high, and am doubtful that it could actually deliver sufficient power to make this weight increase viable in the hands of the cycling elite. I am skeptical that these motor systems work as they claim, as the fixing system looks delicate and subject to engagement issues, especially within the large, boxy, tapered tubes of Cancellara’s Specialized bike. And finally, I don’t think Fabian Cancellara would actually take this kind of a risk. Not that I am a fan, nor foe, but I just don’t see it within him.