Through a Tree Tunnel to the New Year

tree tunnel

What’s on the other side of this tunnel of trees? Story and photos in the new year. We’re off to enjoy the holiday with family. Hope you are too. Thanks so much for following and subscribing to our blog and magazine.

Mark V eBay find: Bianchi TSX/UL

Once upon a time, I was a completely into the mystique of Italian cycling products. I mean, I chugged the KoolAid and asked for seconds. And really, it was an easy time to fall in love with that old world romance. I scraped together every dollar I could to get a titanium Colnago…which was a piece of crap. I was pretty disillusioned. I felt like I had paid to for premium tickets to the opera and found discovered that behind the high price and self-aggrandizement, the performance was amateurish, or worse, apathetic. I sold the Colnago at a steep loss and counted myself lucky to be rid of it. With the leftover coin, I settled to purchase a lugged steel Bianchi…which was one of the best things I’ve ever bought. The Bianchi name was respectable but not considered exotic; likewise the construction and finish of this particular example would not be setting any new standards. And yet the bike proved to be balanced and dependable, as versatile tool in a hairball crit as during an endless day of training. The Bianchi was a different kind of Italian fascination, less pretentious, a little more real.

My Bianchi is a 1996 EL/OS in traditional celeste paint scheme, made in Milan. If the bike design can be faulted, it’s that the tyre clearance adheres to the fashion of the times. Forget about fitting anything bigger than a 23mm tyre. But I like the bike so much I have thought about buying another if I had the bike room the size of a small aircraft hanger and the money to fill it with nice bikes. My Bianchi currently has modern SRAM components on it; I thought it would be fun to build another one up with all retro components. So occasionally I look for Bianchi framesets from the same era. That’s how I found this 49cm Bianchi TSX/UL. I think that this particular example might be a 1995 model, judging by its paint. That dark, liquid blue was sometimes called 110 Blue, as it was also used on the 110th Anniversary titanium framesets that year. I could be wrong about the year, but the TSX/UL had the same geometry as my bike. The tubing was just a little unusual: oversize downtube that was ovalized at the bottom bracket lug but a standard 1” top tube. I can see some minor differences though, like a different seat lug and the addition of a chainstay bridge from my bike.

I think that this new-old-stock frameset is a great deal at $750. If memory serves, that is the exact retail price from 20years ago. It’s possible that my affinity towards those Bianchi framesets similar to mine biases my opinion on the value of the bike, but I can’t see how that price isn’t reasonable considering that someone else is trying to sell a Bianchi Eros frameset for the same amount. The Eros was a much cheaper bike, maybe $750 complete back then. And despite what the listing says about it being a new, unused item, that frameset looks like it has at least been assembled.

These days my Bianchi EL/OS doesn’t get ridden in the rain much, though it once served as my rain bike when I lived in Florida. Rain bikes in Florida don’t need fenders because the rain comes at you sideways like a fire hose; fenders don’t help against that. A Florida rain bike needs to be sure-footed in a wet crit. Yet in a sense, I do ride the Bianchi on rainy days though, since I have it mounted on a trainer. I do take extra care to wipe off the sweat. I own two lugged steel road bikes these days. The Bianchi that I’ll probably always keep, and a 1983 Sannino. The Sannino was already battered when it came to me, and honestly the paint would have been crap from the beginning. The Sannino has somewhat unusual geometry and vintage components, but I can wedge 700x30mm tyres into the frame and fork. It’s nice to have different tools on hand for whatever the job calls for.

The Sannino is currently serving as a test jig for the Schwalbe S-One tyre, a tubeless clincher made to conquer the spring classics.

Mark V reviews: Sealskinz Belgian Style Cycling Cap

The day before the shortest day of the year, and Seattle’s rain and cold seem to smoother all the warmth those sparse hours of daylight have to offer. But I’ve got places to go…going by bicycle. Time to pull the bill of my cap down and set my teeth as I grind away into the wet wind. I can’t say that I’m enjoying my current schedule, but I hate to think that I’m complaining all the time. But I am. I should be at least thankful for the small comforts, such as this Sealskinz Belgian Style Cycling Cap. Sealskinz is a British company that specializes in hats, socks, and gloves to keep wet weather at bay. Their Belgian cap has a waterproof yet breathable membrane between the acrylic outer and polyester fleece inner layers. A knit rear flap protects the ears and nape of the neck; light reflective stripes are part of the knit pattern. The Sealskinz cap is warm and utterly dry, but perhaps I can’t leave it be without just one complaint. Because of its construction, the cap ends up being a skosh bulky compared to the numerous single layer caps on the market. If you have a helmet that fits your meat globe particularly tight, this cap may be thick enough to prevent you from being able to comfortably fit the helmet over it. I own three different models of helmet, and I can only wear the Sealskinz cap under one of them.

The $45 Belgian Style Cycling Cap is available directly from their website.

On Test Now: Schwalbe S-One and G-One tubeless tyres

Schwalbe, the German tyre company, is going all in for tubeless in 2016. New CX, gravel, and a classics-style road tyre will compliment a line flagship line of road race tyres, and all of these models are tubeless-ready, or tubeless easy as Schwalbe calls them. The first of the new tyres that Bike Hugger has acquired are the S-One and G-One. I’ve been hot for these tyres since Interbike.

The S-One is tyre designed to conquer the legendary Paris-Roubaix, the high point of the northern European spring classics. In the modern trend, this tyre carries a lot of volume. Nominally 700x30, the S-One mounted up at 31.4mm on a 21mm internal width rim (25mm external width). At 353gr measured weight, the S-One weighs 24gr less than Schwalbe’s only slightly older “One” tubeless road tyre in 700x25, a fact that underscores how fast and how far Schwalbe has been pushing their tubeless technology. The new Pro One tubeless road tyres will only be a few grams heavier than standard versions of the previous One tyres. While we wait on the 700x25 Pro One tubeless clincher, I’ll be giving these S-One a go, assuming I can find the right bike to fit these. They’re a little too big for my road bikes, but when it comes to my gravel/CX bikes I’m even more keen to try out:

the G-One 700x35 gravel tyre. 428gr on the scale and 36.7mm when mounted on a 21mm internal width rim. I’m really excited about this one. For my bike when fitted with fenders for the wet winter, the 35mm size is perfect, but I might be inclined to try the 700x40 when summer comes around. The tread is a courser dot matrix than the S-One, and the round dot-shaped knobs are siped. The initial ride felt good, even compared to the Compass Barlow Pass tyres, but I’ll need to log a bunch more miles to really get acquainted.

German Tools

When a person earns a living by working with their hands, they gain an intimacy with those tools. In a shop environment, I rarely use multi-tools, instead preferring to use simpler, single purpose versions that are usually larger but more elegant. I keep a set of long L-bend Allen wrenches from Pedro’s handy, but if I can I prefer to use T-handle wrenches. Park Tools and several others sell Allen wrenches that combine the plastic handle of a T-wrench with the basic shape of an L-bend (one tool end poking out sideways from the handle), but that puts the ball-end at the long extension. The problem is that it’s easy to maul the head of a bolt if you tighten hard with the Bondhus. Thus I can’t put real pressure on the long extension of the Park Tool plastic handle L-wrench, yet plastic handle makes those wrenches awkward in many of the situations that you would want to use that Bondhus in the first place. That’s why I came to the solution of keeping both T-handle wrenches and simple L-bend wrenches. And I’m rather particular about my T-handle wrenches; I like a certain balance to them. My favourites are made by Wiha of Germany.

I keep duplicates of a lot of tools at home. In fact, one of my oldest tools is a Wiha 4mm Allen T-handle that actually pre-dates my baptism into cycling. It’s old enough that the handle says “made in W. Germany”; that is, it was made before the Reunification. It came with my Dutch-made inline skate frames. The handle is black plastic and shaped slightly different from the today’s red plastic Wiha wrenches. My newest Wiha is a green T-handle Torx T25, a long-delayed acknowledgement that T25 is here to stay. Now that I have a sturdy tool that is a pleasure to hold in my fingers, I am strangely more at peace with the heretofore despised industrial standard.

One tool that I have at home but not at the shop is a parallel-jaws plier from Knipex. This thing is amazing, like a cheat code to one of the golden rules of bike mechanics: thou shalt not use pliers on nuts and bolt heads. Usually if you use the common plier on fasteners, you end up badly marring the surface and any wrench flats, because the angling jaws rely on their teeth to grip. And then when you bring your bike in for me to service, I mock you as an uncultured savage. But the Knipex plier is different because it keeps its smooth jaws parallel like a proper box wrench. I still wouldn’t use it on a bolt that I needed to really hoss on, but I can confidently use it in most situations. At work, I have a wall of box/open wrenches hanging; at home the Knipex is a handy alternative that takes up much less space. And it’s quicker than hunting for the right size.

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