Chikashi Miyamoto

philosopher by training, gentleman by accident, pervert by nature, glutton by choice

Category: l’Eroica

Lest We Forget that Cycling Wasn’t Always the Same

I returned to Gaiole in Chianti earlier this month for my third Eroica jaunt. It was a wet one, but like the previous outings, it was delightful on so many levels. On the other hand, it is always a humbling experience. The strade bianche are not for the sensitive cyclist. To ride it on a century-old fixed gear rig takes things to an entirely different level. It’s hardly the same sport.

I said ‘Ciao, Luciano!’ to Luciano Berruti, the Eroica poster boy, as we overtook him on one of the hills. He was riding the same event, but I know that the 72-year old on a rusty, ancient rig wasn’t actually riding the same route as me riding an 80s Eddy Merckx equipped with a 5-speed transmission the size of a luncheon plate. To him, the distance and the gradients meant something completely different.

Today, we ride lightweight bikes equipped with a freewheeling 11-speed transmission. And, we continuously fuss about this stiffness, that stiffness, rotational weight, power output, aerodynamics, etc, etc. Also, outside of the velodromes, we have come to associate fixed gear bikes with a certain urban subculture. Outside of English-speaking countries, all single speed road bikes tend to be called fixies regardless of actually being equipped with a fixed gear or a single speed freewheel. ‘Fixie’ has a certain perception attached to it.

It’s an image that is so far apart from the hard men of decades past, racing through white roads in the Tuscan hills or through the Alps, the Pyrenees and other mountain ranges across Europe. No smooth tarmac. No shifters. No freewheeling. Just one gear.

The men and women who earn their living as bike couriers in San Francisco… I don’t know how they do it on fixed gear every day. Seeing them going up to Telegraph Hill made me doubt my own eyes. It’s even more difficult to imagine how they descend a 31.5% gradient without brakes on the way back…

Thierry Saint-Léger did Evian-Nice in June on a fixed gear bike, assisted but non-stop. He actually used 2 bikes with different gearing: one for climbing and another for descending, but both fixed. 57-year old. A hard man.

It’s humbling to see these hard men and women. They put things in perspective.


Kool-Stop, a Name You Can Brake On

koolstop_bannnerThe recent experience of riding a rented Basso in Sicily reminded me that I wanted to say something about Kool-Stop brake pads. The full carbon Basso had an entry level groupset made up of Microtech and Shimano parts. The basic Microtech brakes were fine except the brake pads were basically useless during steep descents, as I found out on a somewhat scary approach to Modica. As a result, I decided to nix my plans to go up Mt. Etna as I would have had to come back down again at some point… (So much for my training plan in Sicily.) The ability to stop or slow down depends more on the quality of the pads than on the calipers.

My first experience using Kool-Stop brake pads is a bit over 30 years ago when I used to race BMX. With each heat being only a couple of hundred metres long, there is literally no room for getting deceleration and acceleration wrong. I used the Kool-Stop Continental pads with Dia-Compe calipers and Haro 2-finger levers on alloy, nylon and graphite rims. The stopping power is phenomenal.

When I picked up a 1960s Motobécane beater to rebuild a couple of years ago, I got 2 pairs of Continentals to install on the rather basic Weinmann centre-pull calipers. As it tends to rain rather more frequently around here than I would like, I got the salmon compound for wet condition. I was half expecting that Kool-Stop may have changed the compound over the years to economise on production costs, but I found the same, uncompromising stopping power.

One unique aspect of Kool-Stop’s assortment is that, aside from their products’ impressive performance, they offer replacement pads for current model Campagnolo and Shimano brakes, as well as for vintage models from Campagnolo, Modolo, Mafac, Weinmann and others. It is like a one-stop shop for all your brake pad requirements.

If you are the sort that is quite careful with bike maintenance, your routine probably includes a check of the brake pads to see if there are foreign objects, such as tiny fragments of the alloy rim, stuck in them. Kool-Stop claim that their pads are gentler on the rims. It seems counterintuitive to think that a brake pad can be powerful and yet be gentle on the rims, but it is true. I have never found bits of the rim stuck in any of my Kool-Stop pads. I’m still amazed, to be honest.

Last year I went to the French Alps with the Brunette’s bike that had a set of 20-year old Campagnolo brake pads that needed regular attention (getting rid of alloy shards) and were rather hard and dry. Somehow, I did not think of replacing them before the trip and found out the hard way on the way down from Col du Galibier. The next day, I opted not to descend from Cime de la Bonette because I was not confident about dealing with a technical descent whilst relying on suboptimal brake pads. The first thing I did when I got home was to replace them with a dual compound Campagnolo 8/9 pads from Kool-Stop. Sorted.

I then replaced the rock-hard, useless original 1980s Campagnolo Record pads with the Kool-Stop salmon compound old Campagnolo pads on the Little Brunette’s Peugeot. Sorted.

For alloy rims, the black compound is for dry condition, and the salmon compound is for wet condition. The dual compound is meant to deal with both types and give you a more controlled and smooth stop, but I haven’t quite discerned the benefit of dual compound over the salmon compound even though it is explained on their web site. Unless one is exclusively a fair weather cyclist, I think the salmon compound is just the ticket, in all weather conditions. One might note that the salmon compound is a bit too aggressive in the dry, but all one needs to do is to squeeze the levers a bit less. It may be pointed out that the salmon compound wears faster than the black compound, but it’s not as if the salmon version wears out after just a few thousand kilometres.

I have no experience with models made for carbon sidewalls, or any of the disc brake pads, but I trust that they are one of the best, if not the best, options available on the market.

If you have any questions about compatibility or anything else, the friendly staff at either Kool-Stop HQ or Kool-Stop Europe will help you. Just send them an email.

Cicli Berlinetta

Proprietor Dustin Nordhus said on Cycling Tips, If you’re after this season’s latest cookie-cut oversize decal-smothered abomination, this isn’t the right bike shop for you.

I’m cackling, of course. I’ve never met Dustin, but I like this chap already. When I’m in Berlin next, a visit to Cicli Berlinetta will be on my agenda.

It turns out he and his mates were at l’Eroica last year. No surprises there, I suppose.

Calculating Calories to Replenish during a Ride

Bonking was not a concern for me until I started going on longer and faster rides.  And then, it happened one day, in the middle of nowhere, far away from base.  That was not fun. Since then, I try to take sufficient food on rides but had no idea how to methodically, intelligently determine how much food (if you can call those things ‘food’, that is) to take. And consume.

I just read Ian’s post about bonking, so I recalled my own little problem. About a month ago, I came across an article on, which recommends a way to calculate the required Calorie intake during a longer ride. N.B., the author mentions calories, but I am assuming that she meant Calories.

Based on the formula proposed by the author, I made this spreadsheet to calculate the required intake. The input fields are on the left.  If you use metric, then enter the values in metric, which will be converted to imperial for the purpose of the exercise.  If you use imperial, then simply bung the imperial values in the appropriate field.  Simplz.

Except that on a supported ride with feed stops, I have no idea what sorts of food contain what amounts of Calories. The intake is driven by ‘I’m hungry’, ‘I want something savoury’ or ‘I want something sweet’, usually followed by ‘That was horrid’.  In other words, it does not get more sophisticated or intelligent than ‘I need to refuel’. When I am consuming packaged food that I brought along, then I can see the Caloric values on the label, so it’s a bit easier.

Putting aside my utter ignorance of nutritional values, I also note that the author did not provide coefficients for slower average speeds.  I don’t think I achieved an average speed of 24 kph on the way up to Cime de la Bonette, to be honest.

The chart here shows tomorrow’s 133 km route of the Tour of Flanders sportive.

2013 Tour of Flanders Cyclo 133 km route summary

1) Start of sector (km).

2) C=cobbled; F=feed station.

3) Sector length (m).

4) Maximum gradient.

I would think that riding the cobbled sectors or the strade bianche in Tuscany must burn up more Calories than on a smooth tarmacked stretch, even when it’s flat. Therefore, I wonder if a reasonable approach is to try to consume the maximum recommended Calories to be replaced per hour.

Complete Your 2013 l’Eroica Registration!

180 l'eroica 2011 gaiole start

If you were successful with the registration lottery, then you should have received a confirmation email from SDAM today. If it is not in your inbox, check your spam folder. Be sure to complete the registration within 15 days, or you’ll lose your spot!

And, hotel rooms are getting rather scarce already!

L’Eroica 2013 Registration Interim Update

230 l'eroica 2011 75km

There are 1,363 under-60 non-Italian hopefuls entered in the draw. The list is here. The first 1,000 names drawn will receive an email inviting them to complete the registration within 15 days.

The odds are 73% in favour. Not as bad as I feared, but certainty remains elusive for a few more days…

UPDATE: go here.

L’Eroica 2013 Registration by Lottery

l'Eroica 2011 Luciano Berruti

photo by the Brunette

The 2013 edition of l’Eroica will take place on 6 October. The good news is that registration will open in less than a week, on 21 January. The rest is a bit mixed.

The number of riders registering through the regular channel will be capped at 5000. I think this is sensible because there is a limit to how many participants the organisers and the region can handle.  The regular channel does not include those invited by the organisers, sponsors, 200 spots being sold at a premium in May and June, and spots allocated to tour operators. There is also no limit to the number of over-60 and female participants.

If I remember correctly, the further limits on under-60 riders is new: only 2500 under-60 boys, 1500 Italians and 1000 non-Italians. The registration period for us is between 21 January and 3 March.

Now comes the real twist: It is no longer first-come-first-served. Rather, 1500 Italians and 1000 non-Italians will get a spot by a random draw. That is, LOTTERY. Many people were disappointed last year because they did not register quickly enough (I think it sold out in less than a week…). I take it that, in order to be ‘fair’, the organisers have decided to disappoint (and delight) at random instead. They have not yet announced when the draw will be.

The registration period for over-60s and women is between 1 February and 30 June. There is no limit to the number of over-60s and women, both Italians and non-Italians.

So, some anxiety ahead for us boys then.

UPDATE: go here.

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