Wednesday, 10 April 2013

342 Days Later

Spring may be here any week now, so it’s high time for another blog post. It’s fair to say that for me, last year has been all about bikes. As I discovered with Bambi, bike building can be even more fun than shoe manufacture so I set out to explore some possibilities in that direction.
I contested last year’s West Lothian Clarion’s weekly Time-trial series and the idea was to do this on a homebrew bike, making just one modification per week to allow a scientific analysis of what works and what doesn’t.  That was the theory but it all went out the window when I got involved in an ugly arms race with the pesky JenTaylor, when any and all measures needed to be deployed each week in ever-more desperate attempts to keep her at bay.

My bike started off like this, a “Flying Gate” modification to my dumpster BH bike, using tubes from an aluminium garden clothes dryer.
 Flying Gates are a 1930s design from a time when race rules didn’t allow manufacturers to advertise their name on frames. As a result, they devised distinctive designs which would be instantly recognisable.  You can still buy a proper “Gate” from TrevorJarvis, if you’re feeling flush.  

By week 12, the bike had a tri-bar and aero tubes and forks with the aid of some carpet tape and a few Aly baking trays from Asda.  Next year, I’ll be seeking sponsorship from Alcan.  I improved from 28:45 to 23:07 for the 10 mile course (actually 9.4 miles but “10” sounds better).  Bizarrely, Jen improved by almost exactly the same amount and most weeks we were within about 10 seconds of each other. In order of effectiveness, the five things which improved my speed the most were:

1)     The fear of being caught by Jen, when starting as her minute-man
2)  Changing from “on the drops” to the Tri-bar
3)  The Aero-Foil mods (boy, did it feel good to pass a £2k bike with those!)
4)      “Obreething” – a bit weird but it really works!
5)   Duck tape over my helmet vents

Next came the Clarion Freewheel Champs (gravity only, no pedalling) for the fiercely contested Cobble Trophy.  For this I commissioned The Bomber.  The only problem with this design was that we needed to do a 30 mile Club Run before reaching the "Hill of Destiny", so I put another saddle in the normal position and removed it for the descent.
The Bomber. Next Year I'll add lead shot to the frame tubes
As an engineer, I know that if you chucked me and a random selection of club fatties out of a plane, we’d all fall at the same rate so I’m a bit perplexed that the anorexically-challenged seem to do so well in this type of event.  Is it because a) Fat-cat types tend to be wealthy and can afford better quality hub bearings?; b) ‘aero belly- trumps skinny ‘parachute ribs’? or c) it’s psychological?  Probably a combination of all three methinks.  

In the event, the Bomber performed well but I was soundly thrashed by a few more naturally gifted downhill athletes.  I didn’t do myself any favours though by bottling it on a bend in the course and I’m sure that coming out of my Superman tuck onto the bars robbed me of a few valuable yards…. 
Me, bottling it on a bend
Steve - A gifted Downhill Athlete
By contrast, here’s the winner Steve Fleming showing perfect technique. (Ace photography thanks to Neil Greer)

October is Hill Climb season and the BEEB was in town, featuring the Clarion-organised Kingscavil Hill Climb on BBC2’s Adventure Show. The programme provided great coverage of the club but sadly has disappeared into the ether as I missed the original broadcast and it only lasts for a month on iplayer.  Strangely enough, all the Freewheel stars were “injured” for this event.  My TT bike was put on a diet and I used up the remainder of my garden clothes dryer to aluminise the rest of the frame.
The "Kingscavil Conqueror". Won't be using that bamboo saddle for an
End to End attempt but it's OK for a 5-minute effort!
I had a nice wee interview on the start line about the engineering merits of nylon tights for joining the frame together and my dread as I puffed my way up the hill was of something going pop on-camera and me being the object of ridicule for eternity.  Fortunately it all held together, though the engine could have been better tuned for the event, as you can see from the heaving wreck in Lewis Forsyth’s Youtube footage HERE

This year, I’ve been tempted towards The Dark Side, aka the wonderful world of Recumbent bikes. Because of lower air resistance, these are much faster than even the most hi-tech upright bike – compare Chris Boardman’s 1996 hour ‘upright’ record of 35.03 miles to Francesco Russo’s 2011 record of 56.89 miles on a recumbent.  'Bents are a bit of a niche market and you won't get much change out of £2k for a commercially available one, so it's back to the garage for me I'm afraid. Not that I’ll necessarily be going to the extremes of the Graeme Obree “Beastie”  but I’ve joined the British Human Power Club (a collection of uber-Geeks if ever there was one) for inspiration and have already hacked a road bike to pieces to graft them onto a bamboo pole in a different arrangement. 
Sara foolishly left her scooter too near the garage and that too has now been dismembered to provide the steering column pivot.  I’ll report on future developments but safe to say, the completed bike won’t look anything like the pic.

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