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Still Too Wet to Ride?

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Yesterday I listed the biographies and autobiographies in my collection of cycling books (see Too Wet to Ride?).

Today I will start with a memoir and a more general review of the cycling stars from the golden age of the 1940s, 50s and 60s.  Tim Hilton wrote “One More Kilometre and We’re in the Showers.”  Hilton’s breadth of knowledge and interest is evident in this scrapbook of cycling lore.

One More Kilometre

Tony Hewson of “In Pursuit of Stardom” fame wrote another book about the era of UK cycling in the aftermath of World War II.  “A Racing Cyclist’s Worst Nightmare:  And Other Stories of the Golden Age” is a collection of short stories written in a variety of genres:  autobiography, biography, discourse and fiction.

A Racing Cyclists

Now onto books about major races.  They don’t come any bigger than the Tour de France.  There are countless books about the Tour.  I have “Blazing Saddles:  The Cruel and Unusual History of the Tour de France.”  Matt Rendell complements his vivid storytelling, sometimes of the unsporting and unsavoury underbelly of the Tour, with more than 100 classic black-and-white photographs.

Blazing Saddles

Ned Boulting spent eight years covering the Tour for ITV.  “How I Won the Yellow Jumper” chronicles his journey from being dropped into the roving reporter role, despite having no knowledge of cycle racing, through to becoming the Tour commentating equal of the likes of Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwen.

How I Won

Bill Strickland co-wrote “We Might As Well Win” with Johan Bruyneel in 2008.  Bruyneel built an enviable reputation as a Director Sportif, winning thirteen Grand Tour championships in eleven years.  This book is about how Bruyneel, his teams, and his star riders Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, dominated the Tour from 1999 to 2010.  My biker chick was a fan of Bruyneel’s, at least until he fell from grace after the USADA formally charged him with administering a long-running doping program.  To this day she says that he broke her heart.

We Might As Well Win

My favorite history of La Grande Boucle is “The Official Treasures of Le Tour de France” by Serge Laget and Luke Edwards-Evans.  This is a compendium of historical tidbits, 275 archive photographs and 40 removable facsimiles of posters, postcards and other Tour memorabilia.  You will love this book if you are the type who pushes all the buttons on science museum displays.

The Official Treasures

There are books about particular editions of the Tour.  Like “Tour De Lance.”  Bill Strickland had unprecedented access to Lance Armstrong as he attempted an audacious comeback to win the 2009 Tour.  With his main rival Alberto Contador for a team mate no less.  This is another book that I need to reread now that Armstrong is no longer a winner of seven Tours de France.

Tour de Lance

Tim Moore is a British travel writer who rode the entire route of the 2000 Tour.  “French Revolutions:  Cycling the Tour de France” is his irreverent diary of that trip, as well as an homage to bike racing.

French Revolutions

I have only one book about the Giro d’Italia.  Herbie Sykes‘ second cycling history book, “Maglia Rosa:  Triumph and Tragedy at the Giro d’Italia.”  This does not read like a history book though.  Sykes presents a collection of stories together with 150 images to create his tale of the Giro.

Maglia Rosa

The Giro is central to Italian cycling.  It gets a big mention in this book about the history and impact of cycling in Italy.  “Pedalare! Pedalare!  A History of Italian Cycling” by John Foot.  Foot is a Professor of Modern Italian History at University College London.  He has written extensively about Italian history, including three books on Italian soccer.  He brings with him a historian’s eye rather than a sportswriter’s take on cycling in Italy.

Pedalare

I need to add a book about the third of the Grand Tours, the Vuelta a España, to my collection.  Actually there are many books that I want to add to my collection.  Where is that Kindle?

I have books about riders. I have books about races  Naturally I have books about bicycles.  Or more properly in this case, a book about a show about bicycles.

Bespoke:  The Handbuilt Bicycle” is the catalog produced by Lars Müller Publishers for the NYC Museum of Art and Design exhibition of the same name.  An exhibition of the work of six internationally renowned bicycle builders.

Bespoke

Robert Penn takes a slightly different approach to building a bicycle.  “It’s All About the Bike:  The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels”  is about his quest to put together the perfect bike.  He takes his readers on a journey around the world visiting the factories and workshops where the parts for his custom bike are made.

It's all about the bike

That man William Fotheringham pops up again.  This time as the author of “Cyclopedia:  It’s All About the Bike.”  An encylopedia-like collection of everything Fotheringham has learned whilst reporting on professional cycling for the past 30 years.  Something you can read from A to Z, or just dip into at random.

Cyclopedia

A true history of the bicycle is what David Herlihy produced.  “Bicycle:  The History” may sound like an overly-confident title, but this book lives up to it.  It is the definitive history of the bicycle.

Bicycle

The last book on my shelf about bicycles themselves is by Guy Andrews.  Andrews is the founder and co-owner of Rouleur, a bi-monthly British cycling magazine.  Rouleur is noted for its design and its photography.  So no surprise then that Guy Andrews’ book “The Custom Road Bike” is also beautifully designed and is full of lovely photographs.  Photographs of the very best bicycle components.  You will drool over this book so much that you might as well have gone out in the rain.

The Custom Road Bike

More books in my next post.

Jumping Into the Deep End

With each cheese and potato breakfast taco I thought more and more about getting a road bike.  My hybrid bike with the platform pedals had served me well from the moment I first dipped my toes into cycling.  It had taken me from those early heady days of 20 kilometer rides to keeping up with the Six Thirty group through 55 kilometers.  My fellow riders were suggesting that I join them on organised rides of 80 kilometers and more.  To do that would require a bike more suited to long road rides than my hybrid bike was.  A road bike.  But how to decide on exactly what to get?

I started paying more attention to what my Six Thirty friends were riding.  I took a closer look at the Specialized, Moots, Ibis and Independent Fabrications frames on display at West End Bicycles.  I browsed the Trek and Cannondale websites.  I read online reviews.  The choices boggled the mind.  Carbon, steel, aluminum or titanium frame.  Performance or comfort geometry.  Campagnolo, Shimano or SRAM groupset.   The decisions to be made didn’t stop there.  The options for pedals, handle bars, stems, saddles, seat posts, headsets, wheels, tires and other bits and bobs can and do fill catalogs the size of telephone directories.

As I did my research one thought stayed in my mind.  I had been sold a bike that was too small for me.  Bicycle frames come in a range of sizes.  Unfortunately manufacturers do not use a consistent method to measure the frames that they produce.  So the right sized frame for an individual of a given height and reach is a combination of stand over height, top tube length, seat tube length, seat tube angle, bottom bracket height and some eye of newt.  Throw in riding style and personal preference and the choice of an ‘off-the-rack’ frame often comes down to selecting from a range of two or three sizes.  Which will it be?  The larger frame or the smaller frame?

The more I thought about it the more attractive a custom built frame became.  A made-to-measure frame would solve the fit problem.  Being able to choose the paint design and other elements to make the bike uniquely mine added to the appeal.  A few of the Six Thirty group rode hand-built frames.  A chat with them convinced me.  I would bypass retail and go straight to bespoke.  It was time to go all in and find a frame builder in the area.  The list of exhibitors at the recent 2nd Annual Texas Custom Bicycle Show was a good starting point.  Some builders were immediately eliminated from consideration because they built only Dutch-style city bikes, or worked exclusively in carbon, or had a long waiting list, or were too far away from Houston.  That narrowed the list down to two or three frame builders.  I devoured everything on their websites.  I drooled over their gallery photographs.  And I made a telephone call to each of them.

The Alchemy Bicycle Company builder profile stood out on the Texas Custom Bicycle Show website.  There was something about the tagline “The Passion to Transform” that I liked.  James Flatman answered the telephone when I called Alchemy.  We spoke for more than an hour about where we were from, when James started building frames, the relative merits of various frame-building materials, what I was looking for in a bicycle, what sort of riding I did, and what else I should think about if I wanted to continue down the path to a custom frame.  I had a good feeling about James.  I was impressed that he devoted ninety minutes to a telephone conversation with a speculative contact.

I took James up on his suggestion to visit the Alchemy shop in Austin.  He asked that I bring my hybrid bike so he could see what I had been riding.  ZAZ, my ‘biker chick,’ came with me.  This bicycle was going to be my birthday and Christmas present from her for 2009.  James and I talked bicycles while he took all sorts of measurements.  He made suggestions about what material he would use to build a frame for me.  I tried out groupsets from Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM.  We talked about components.  We looked at colour combinations.  After three hours in the shop ZAZ and I had made our choices.  Two months later James delivered this.

He made me a steel frame with carbon seat stays and fork.  He built it up with a SRAM Force groupset.  The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed the Red crankset.  There was a problem with the Force crankset and James swapped it out for the higher specification Red crankset at no charge.  Easton EA90 SLX wheels, a Chris King headset and bottom bracket, a Ritchey seatpost and handlebars, and a Selle Italia saddle and Speedplay pedals completed the package.  James and I agreed that a sterling silver head badge would look best.  This cool-looking badge is a blend of the old alchemy symbols for silver and gold.

There is one custom touch that makes this bike unique to me.  A Texas star on the seat tube.

I have pedaled almost 11,000 kilometers on this bike.  I don’t think I have to say any more about what a pleasure this bike is to ride.

There have been some changes at Alchemy.  James has left and Alchemy has just moved to Denver, CO.  The company has continued to grow, adding the capability to build frames using proprietary carbon tubes.  If you are in the market for a first-class hand-built bicycle give Alchemy Bicycle Company a call.