Monday, 16 April 2018

Good Vibrations (104 Miles) (LGD - 27 Days)



There has been a lot happening at Captain Century HQ over the last few weeks. Preparations for the US of A tour are moving ahead rapidly. With just over three weeks to go I am really looking forward to clipping into my pedals early on the morning of 13 May and riding away from Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles.

With Mick Madgett and the CV
I reached an important milestone last week when I took delivery of the bike that I'll be riding on the tour. It’s been purpose built to my specification by Uncle Mick and Cousins Tony and Sean at Madgetts Cycles in Diss. The frame is a Bianchi Infinito CV and it’s equipped with a Shimano Ultegra Di2 chainset and derailleurs, Shimano disc brakes and a Fi’zi: k finishing kit (bars, stem and seat post). Wheels are Mavic Ksyriums shod with my tyres of choice – Michelin Pro 4 Endurance (28 mm for comfort). All completed with a specially designed, and unique Fi’zi:k: Antares Saddle. The Infinito frame supplied by Bianchi is in the 2016 colour scheme which is, in my view, beautifully understated (black with celeste detailing). I definitely feel that I will be pedalling across the US of A in comfort and style! The photos don’t really do it justice.

Before anyone tries to malign me there are a couple of details that I’d like to share with you. When we were discussing the build, Tony offered up some Bianchi branded celeste bar tape. I then committed a major sin because when I saw it I told him that “you can have too much Bianchi”. You could have heard a pin drop in the shop as Tony (and Mick and Sean who were some distance away) all looked at me in horror. I don’t think they believed that such heinous words had emerged from my lips. Realising what I had said, I engaged in some rapid but probably unconvincing backtracking. What I had meant to say was that in keeping with the understated design theme, “less is more”, some plain black Fi’zi: k bar tape would go nicely. We got there in the end, but I suspect a note has been made of my wayward remarks which may come back to haunt me.


Regular readers may also have noticed that I have used a word that usually doesn’t appear in my vocabulary. As you will know, I have long been a Campagnolo rider – i.e. a Campy man (no, not that sort!). Riding an Italian heritage frame seems to demand Italian heritage components. I can remember buying my first bit of Campy kit (a seat post in 1973) which I still have fitted to my winter bike supporting my Brooks Professional Saddle (bought in 1972) and now as comfortable as a reclining armchair!

Well the word in question is ‘Shimano’ or as I prefer to refer to it – Shimano-no. I’ve opted for Shimano-no solely because spare parts are much more widely available in the US of A. Campag is, I am told, harder to find. Hopefully I won’t need any spares but prudence has won over style and fashion – for now.

I had a couple of short test rides last week but the weather hasn’t been great and I really wanted to start getting to know the bike on dry roads if possible. Well, today was just right to take the CV out and put it through its paces on its maiden century. The route I followed took me north east almost to the Broads before turning south at Bungay and heading through the delightful South Elmham villages which I wrote about in Passione Celeste (In Search of Some Saints – 25 July 2016). From Halesworth I then followed a slightly winding route to clock up the mileage.

No expense spared - a butty rest!
I paused for lunch in Stradbroke where I bought a tasty egg mayo bap at the Stradbroke Bakery. A while ago I found out that the husband of the lady who works behind the counter there is a keen tester (a time triallist for non-cycling readers!) This is always good for a chat. Today I mentioned my US of A ride and the lady said she looked forward to hearing about it when I was back, I left her a note of my web address so she could read about it on these pages. And if, you are reading this dear lady, please excuse my bad manners as I forgot to ask your name! I promise to correct myself next time I pop in.

From Stradbroke I headed over towards Debenham before turning north for the last 20 miles home. You can see my route from the flyby (click here).



But what of the Infinito CV? It’s most distinguishing feature is the use of Bianchi’s countervail (CV) technology. This is a vibration cancelling system which involves incorporating a layer of viscoelastic material in between the layers of carbon that make up the frame. It was developed in conjunction with NASA and was first used on bikes (Infinitos) that were raced at the Hell of the North (Paris~Roubaix). I already own an Infinito which pre-dates the introduction of the CV technology so I was keen to see what difference it would make.

Over the ride I found that the bike was perfectly set up for me. It provided a really comfortable ride and is exactly matched to my measurements. There’s going to be no need for any seatpost height or saddle position tweaking. The handlebars are also in exactly the right position, so no adjustments needed there either. Getting the right riding position is crucial – especially for long distance rides and multi-stage riding. So, I’m happy with the set up.

The hydraulic disc brakes are very efficient and provide a reassuring stopping action with little effort. The real test will be riding downhill in the wet. But I’m pretty relaxed if it takes a while to discover the answer to that question.  The electronic gear changes are as smooth as silk – both when upshifting and downshifting. And quiet too. (I actually missed the distinctive, and for me reassuring clunk of mechanical Campag gear changes.) The only issue I had was with the shifters themselves. The large paddle shifts the chain over the cassette and moves the gears outwards to a higher gear (i.e. the reverse of the Campag paddle). And a few times when wanting to change down to a lower gear my thumb instinctively reached for the non-existent Campag snib on the inside of the brake leaver hood instead of the small front paddle that Shimano-no uses. Hopefully I will soon get the hang of this.

Now the big question is comfort and how did it compare to the pre-CV Infinito? Well I have to say that the CV is really smooth. British roads are renowned among cyclists for being heavy i.e. quite rough. Leaving aside the thorny issue of potholes and ruts I think British roads have less tar in relation to the proportion of chips in their surface dressing. This means that the surface is inherently quite rough creating a sort of low level background vibration that we gradually get used to – until riding on a really smooth (i.e. tar rich) surface.

Shimano-no
My sense today was that the background vibration had largely disappeared. The ride really did feel much smoother. But a word of caution. The CV is equipped with 28mm tyres running at a lower pressure so that is bound to have a dampening effect. My pre-CV Infinito runs with 23mm tyres at a higher pressure so conversely that will have a less dampening effect. Whatever the relative merits of CV and tyre width there is no doubt that the new machine is much more comfortable.

Performance-wise the CV is no slouch. I gave it a bit of welly at a few points on the ride and it responded eagerly though it’s not quite as responsive as my Oltre XR1 which definitely has a kick when accelerating. Climbing is a delight – in and out of the saddle and the CV responds well, even seeming to encourage the extra uphill effort. Descents are great. Although I didn’t have anything really testing to experiment with, this is a frame that definitely wants to lead me through sweeping downhill twists and turns. The reassurance of the disc brakes provides added comfort in the probably unlikely event that I get carried away.

For me, the real test of a bike is what I feel like when I get to the end of a ride. This is definitely a bike that wants to go places. Arriving home I felt as if I could have carried on for another century. It was just a shame that I had other things to do. So I am looking forward to getting to know the CV. I sense that we are going to have a blast in the US of A. And as the Beach Boys sang:

I’m pickin’ up good vibrations
She’s giving me excitations

Good, good, good – good vibrations


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