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Where there’s a wheel there’s a way
There’s no denying it, cycling is experiencing a real purple patch in terms of its popularity since the Olympics, especially road riding. GB’s success in London 2012 had a lot of the other well renowned cycling countries asking some (let’s face it) pretty impertinent questions.
The French even went as far as to suggest foul play but were soon put in their place after the release of Dave Brailsford’s articulate explanation alluding to the fact that simply “Marginal gains” were his secret to
GB’s team success. It makes perfect sense when you break it down and so it got me thinking as to how I could improve my performances using the same train of thought.
I had nothing to lose!
Now the obvious marginal gain is weight, as everybody who has ever owned a bike can testify, the lighter the combined weight of bike and rider, the easier it is to power along at a higher speed, especially up inclines.
Firstly, I looked at the most cost effective way, which was to try to reduce my own body weight and gain an advantage that way. This was always going to be a problem for me as I resemble a skeleton with a skin graft already. I did my best to eat as carefully as I could for a few weeks but very quickly found out that denying my body of those extra calories meant that I suffered on my club rides and the endurance just wasn’t there.
Putting that right, I looked towards the next most obvious upgrade, a new set of wheels for my pride and joy. I’ve had my eye on a new set for the best part of a year now and as the write ups on the stock items that came with my bike were damning to say the least, I decided to move forward with it? The magazines told me I needed lighter wheels, stiffer wheels, more aero wheels, I needed wheels with bladed spokes with ceramic bearings, I needed carbon hub bodies, I needed alloy spoke nipples! After much research I came to the conclusion that I could afford pretty much none of this stuff; I was going to have to compromise and purchase something that was lighter than what I already had, stiffer than what I already had but above all would still give me a certain twinge in my bib shorts every time I opened the garage door.
When you weigh it all up…
After reading endless reviews of the wheel sets that fell into my modest budget I became an expert (read bore) on the features, benefits and claimed weights. I decided that from an aesthetics point of view I wouldn’t be happy unless the new wheels were deep section, this brings up the issue that unless you are willing to pay top dollar, there is going to be implications when resting them on the scales. Accepting this, I decided on Campagnolo’s bullet wheels, a 50mm section carbon wheel with alloy braking track, I sourced the best price I could find, pressed the “order now” button then counted every second until they arrived.
A few days later I was literally skipping with excitement as I snatched the parcel off of the delivery man. My plan was to strip the original wheels down to basics and log the weights of both them and the new Campagnolo wheels before comparing total bike weight of original and new set-up then revel in the delight of how much weight I’d shaved off my beautiful bike.
I was looking for marginal but…..
90 poxy grams, that’s it! The new wheels turned out to be 110 grams lighter than the OE wheels but by the time I’d put the new more puncture resistant race tyres on, the gap had narrowed to 90!
I put this slight disappointment down to optimistic claimed weights from wheel manufactures together with over exaggerated bad press from journalists needing to spice up a review. Either way, a gain is a gain no matter how marginal so once I’ve cut my nails and plucked my nose hair I should be well on the way to improving.
Aesthetically the bike has been transformed! It looked nice before but now it wouldn’t look out of place on the start line of a pro tour race. If I’m honest, that’s all I really wanted; I don’t race, I’m not looking to break records so If I can improve the bike even slightly whilst feeling like I’m riding something special and without braking the bank to do so, then mission “marginal gain” accomplished.