Archives for the day of: 1 July 2014

The 2014 and 101st edition of the Grand Boucle (the Tour de France) is around the corner and due to start this weekend. So the Southern hemisphere insomnia of July is due to hit as well. To get into the spirit I am nerding up on a few books that celebrate the most gruelling sports event in the world (N.B. I don’t want to get into the argument of whether the Giro d’Italia is really the tougher race).

Thanks to my father in law Benny (and the incompetence of international snail mail) I received two books about the Grand Boucle for Christmas. This post is about the first of those two.

Mapping Le Tour (the unofficial history of all 100 Tour de France races) by Ellis Bacon

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This book is fantastic for any cycling fan. Us cyclists are a strange type of athlete (pro, amateur, wannabe pro, or otherwise) in that there is just as much focus on geography and stats as there is in the effort. I find myself “analysing” my rides and bike travels in my post ride review. The analysis is not just on my performance (or lack thereof) but also the route traveled. So this book ticks a lot of these analysis boxes for the big race as well as the historical race results.

The foreword for the book has been provided by none other than the Manx Missile himself – Mark Cavendish. I like Cav a lot, he is a racer, but am not too fond of his post race interviews. But what is surprising about his quick writeup is the respect he shows to the race and what is required from all of his peers to compete in this ultimate of physical challenges.

The main body of the book itself is centred around the geography of the race. When I had the opportunity to attend a talk by the Director of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme, he explained to us that planning the route for the race was a painstaking three year exercise and it was planned down to the local street level within the towns. But it is not just an exercise of ‘which towns are we going to visit this year’, but there is also the technical and logistical details of the race itself that have to be accommodated. After all, the race is over 3,000km in length over a period of 23 days with 2 rest days. The course has to be a mix of flat stages, rolling hill stages, and mountain stages so as to cater for all types of riders in the pro-peloton and provide a mix of sport entertainment.

Each of the 100 editions of Le Tour has a few pages dedicated to detailing what happened at a summary level in the race and which cyclists were the main protagonists in the event. Coupled with this is a detailed map with of all the stages marked up on it. The scale of the maps is such that the subtle route changes around the towns don’t get picked up in the route delineation. This also means that the all the mountain switchbacks are lost in the route delineation too. I do like the illustrative style of the maps, which is more akin to that the paper atlases I was familiar with as a kid growing up before the days of Google Maps.

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There are icons that denote what type of stage it is (flat, hilly, or mountain), but one negative is that there are no notations on the category of climbs for the mountain or hilly stages – after all not all mountain stages are equal.

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The book has some key stats on the iconic climbs of Le Tour, but again given the detail in the rest of the book I was wanting more (I have another book for that). There is a spread on the stats about the winners of Le Tour and the holders of the Maillot Jaune (yellow jersey). Again I wish they had similar statistics for the other jerseys; points (sprint) – green, climbers – red polka dot, and youth – white.

One interesting aspect of the book is its treatment of the doping controversies. It doesn’t mince its words at all, and correctly identifies the official omission of the winners in the doping years.

The photography is fantastic and this book serves as a great collection of some of the vintage photos of the early decades of the race. Now here is where I have a personal, or should I say Australian, gripe. There is not a showpiece photograph of Cadel Evans. I know the author is British, but Wiggo has only won the race once and never before taken a podium place. “Cuddles” on the other hand hopped on the top step before him, was on the second step a couple more times, and never had the team (or team funding) like Wiggo did to deliver the goods (N.B. I am not taking anything away from Wiggo – but give Cuddles his due).

After each of the previous editions, the book contains a detailed stage by stage preview of the 2013 and 100th edition of the Grand Boucle. This part of the book is fantastic because it also delves into the local history of the geographic region that the race is passing through. The final part of the book is a write up of what the author considers to be the most memorable locations visited by Le Tour. Locations like le Mont Ventoux, Col du Tourmalet, and Col du Galibier are given the attention that they should.

Overall, I think this book is great (thank Benny)! It could be improved in parts, but that is me being a nerdy cycling fan – give me more detail. The book is rich and comprehensive and fills in a lot of details that I have not read about before. The book is very well written and reflects the experience that Ellis Bacon has as one of the modern era’s premier English language cycling journalists. When I compare this book to the details held on a site like Wikipedia, this book wins hands down. I was very happy when this book arrived, and I think that this will be one that I nerd up on in the years to come. I only wish that there was a way in which I could append future editions of the race.

I give this book 4 cranks out of 5.

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I knew this moment was coming soon, and right now I am blessed with proud parenting moments. My boy, AKA “The Pok”, has very much outgrown his JD Bug balance bike and is ready for pedals. This post has two purposes. Firstly to show how proud my boy is of his new set of wheels, and secondly as a guide for parents buying their children their first bike.

Specialized Hotrock 16

After searching long and hard for my son’s first pedal bike, what I finally landed on was a Specialized Hotrock 16. This bike is the business!

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The Specialized oozes quality all round, like the adult models. And I was quietly surprised at finding this. I thought that I would struggle and would end up having to get a custom 16″ BMX bike made up for him. Check out the paintwork.

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The frame itself is coated in paintwork, not flimsy decal stickers. There are also no dinky infant commercial “tie-ins” to sell this bike – no Thomas the Tank Engine, no Diego, no Ben 10, and no Mickey Mouse. This is a bike, and a Specialized at that.

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The wheels, like the name suggests, are 16″ with a a decent set of strong spokes. Probably slightly overengineered, but you really don’t want to be fixing spokes on your child’s bike. The rubber is decent too, with a good tread pattern and at 2.0″ there is plenty of cornering grip from these shoes. The reflectors on the wheels are big, and that is good because you want your child to be seen on their bike. The great thing is that these 16″ wheels will make it easy for my to replace the rubber when my boy has worn through them (did I hear someone say Maxxis Hookworms?). Oh, and you can inflate these babies to 65PSI if you want to run fast on the road.

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The design of the saddle is smart. There is a handle lip at the rear that assists parents to hold onto the seat as my boy learns how to balance riding. Smart!

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The stem is pretty much a rugged 22.5mm BMX stem. This is fantastic from a longevity point of view, because I will be able to upgrade to a full size BMX stem when he gets older and taller without any issues. It is solid too, rigid and no flex.

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It is a single speed, and the rear mechanicals are covered up well by the transmission guard. This is good because it means that there will be less muck getting into the drivetrain. The rear brake is engaged by pedalling backwards, and I have many fond memories of doing rear brake skids on my BMX bike.

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The transmission guard is well designed and has a smart cutout for chainstay. This is probably the cheapest looking part on the bike, but it is supposed to be a plastic guard to keep the leg from getting caught in the transmission.

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The grips are great for small hands, and the rubber is durable but tactile and not too hard. The front brake lever is adjustable for reach too, again quality.

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And in a final touch of quality, the brake cable is a Jagwire. Who puts Jagwire on kids bikes? – Specialized do.

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I said at the start of the post that this bike is the business and when you have a good look it really is. Probably the biggest thing that I noticed when shopping around for kids bikes was how much lighter it was compared to others. This won’t come out in photos, but is super important for your child. A lot of that has gotta be in the frame design and the wheels. You want them to enjoy the ride not spend their time lugging around an oversized piece of metal.

So if you are looking for the first bike for your child, don’t waste your money on crappy cheap bikes from Kmart or Target. Spend the extra $50 or so and get this one. The fact is the other department store bikes are cheap, poorly designed, and probably weigh more than my dual suspension MTB (I am talking about you Huffy). But also look hard at what you are buying if you go for some of the other big brands. I looked at the Trek Jet 16 and it was very inferior in build quality and design with a whole bunch of unnecessary plastic “extras” – heavy too. I also looked at the Cannondale Trail 16 which was better design, but it was heavy! The great thing about this Specialized bike is that it also comes in a trim for girls too – if only that was the same as the hot pink as Chavanel rode on in last year’s TDF.

And on the most important question… How does it ride? I can’t get my son off of it. The video will come shortly, as soon as I take off his training wheels – he is ready.

P.S. I tried to justify getting a matching McLaren Venge, but then realised that divorce was not a life experience I was looking for.

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