Tuesday, December 29, 2015

7 Good Reasons For A Cycling Holiday.

I was asked recently to do an article listing my top 7 reasons for going on a cycling holiday. Since my primary impulse in putting together my own cycling touring operation came from a personal passion for bicycle touring, I really enjoyed the process of distilling those 7 major urges. In the end, the article never got used, so I'm posting it myself now.

This is what came out:

1. Discovery.

I think this is at the core of the true cyclist’s soul. The sheer joy of propelling yourself through a completely new environment, using your own legs and energy. This is undoubtedly my number one reason for my obsession with bicycles, and comes from my first discovery of the joys of self-propelled freedom as a child.

It is my passion for this simple pleasure that gets me scouring the planet for new places to cycle, and it’s the inspiration that started me running my own bicycle tours in Malaysia a few years back. We have a fantastic environment for cycling here, with a year-round climate, and an infrastructure, to perfectly support touring cyclists. I take great pleasure in introducing visitors to this incredible environment, as I can so easily relate to their joy in discovery.

2. A sense of personal achievement.

Whether you’re a weekend warrior, a competitive racer, or a bicycle commuter, we all enjoy the feeling of having taken on something beyond our normal scope. It can be consecutive days of riding that complete a goal distance, or something more extreme like a revered climb of challenging distance or gradient. Let’s face it, if it doesn’t present some sort of a challenge, it doesn’t have quite the same allure.

3. Develop some serious fitness

If you’re a cyclist, then the chances are that you’re keen on improving your fitness. Doing a cycling tour of several days in a row can really boost your fitness in ways you won’t know until you’ve done it. You can’t ramp up the distances like that with most other sports you might do. Increasing running, rowing, swimming, kayaking, or even hiking distances has to be gradual to avoid injury. Cycling, since it’s not weight-bearing, and involves gears to keep the load light, is one of the few things you can suddenly do a lot of in a short space of time, as long as you are relatively comfortable with your riding position.

4. Get a real sense of distance.

Transportation has got to the level where we’re no longer really aware of the land distance between places anymore. Even just 100 years ago, most people didn’t stray far from the town they were born in. Go back 500 and even people in the next village were foreigners. Now people can circumnavigate most of the globe in a day. We can have face-to-face Skype chats with people thousands of miles away like they’re in the room, and commute daily to work on trains crossing hundreds of kilometers.

The bicycle reconnects us with the human reality of distance that is a lost part of our heritage. We can get a real sense of our smallness against the elements of planet Earth, and connect every tree or blade of grass between cities, mountains, states, countries, and even continents.

5. Up close and personal with nature - and culture.

The sounds, sights, smells and sensations of our environment are acutely present when you’re on a bicycle. Even places you’re familiar with by car become entirely new when you’re out in the environment. You hear every bird, monkey and insect, feel every breath of wind or drop of rain. You notice things around you that would be unnoticeable from the inside of a vehicle. You connect with nature in a real way. I can cover hundreds of kilometers on a bicycle without a moment of boredom, but put me in a car doing the same roads and I’d quickly be looking for something to keep my mind alert.

You are also forced to interact with your environment, since you're right there in it. This means meeting locals along the way, trying road-side stall food, and stopping in places far off the usual tourist routes. You get an insight into the real, unadorned culture of a place, largely untainted by the cultural dilution of global commercialism.

6. Meet kindred spirits in your co-travelers.

Another great bonus with organized cycling tours is that it’s guaranteed that there will be other fellow travelers on the journey, with whom you’re very likely to have a lot in common. It’s one of the most rewarding ways of meeting people, precisely because they’re probably there for very similar reasons to you, and share many of the same passions. Recipe for cementing life-long friendships perhaps? At the very least it widens your community of like-minded souls who may then be able to introduce you to other great cycling experiences.

7. Endorphins

Oh yes - the endurance athlete’s drug - the natural high. These little babies are released into our blood stream whenever we exercise. All runners and cyclists are endorphin junkies. It’s the healthiest addiction possible, and possibly explains why it’s easy to keep going happily for hours without any real sense of urgency to arrive anywhere. It’s also amazing how a bad day can become a good day after as little as 15 minutes of pedaling, so if you factor in several consecutive days of a few hours of cycling daily, you’re talking about some serious euphoria!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Low Carb High Fat Cycling - A One-Year Snapshot

It's been now one full year since I basically stopped eating carbohydrates.

I did it because I read enough convincing evidence that carbohydrate was not essential to the human body, and that reverting to our pre-carbohydrate metabolic state was not only the best health option, but also a serious performance edge as an endurance athlete.

I go out for any duration of ride now without taking anything but water with me. I have no need to ingest anything for my immediate fuel needs as I have a supply in my fat cells that will last me for days. I eat if I'm hungry. I never run out of fuel. For me it's a no-brainer.

It seems so much a part of my life to eat the way I do now, that I sometimes forget how radical this appears to most of the rest of the human race. A year ago it was a ferocious awareness - outrage even. I thought I was on the crest of a wave that would change the world.


Once I started to dig into the science and piece together the evolution of how we all ended up hurtling down a dietary dead-end highway, I became possessed with evangelistic determination to spread the word, to rid the world of obesity, diabetes and all the other diseases of civilization. I quickly realised however that nobody wants to know, and that I'd have no friends if I kept going.  The party-pooper; the prophet of doom. Now, apart from my posts here, I go quietly about my day, and it only really surfaces sometimes when I'm eating with friends.

But this IS vital information. It is unfathomable, unthinkable... unforgivable that we have been steered like lemmings onto a path of self-destruction. But hey sorry, it's fun, haha. Have some more cake. We'll work it off in the morning.


The other day a friend asked me why I was eating like this, rather like the way you might ask someone why they sleep on a bed of nails. I replied jokingly that it was just the science nerd in me experimenting on myself. The question caught me a bit off-guard, but I decided it was time to give a run-down of my many epiphanies since I adapted my body to a LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) diet.

To borrow a term from Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek used in their excellent manual for the LCHF athlete: The Art And Science Of Low Carbohydrate Performance - the following is a "snapshot" of what being in the state of Nutritional Ketosis has done for me, and why I will never go back:

  • My energy does not fluctuate.
  • I maintain a healthy weight (low body fat) without thought or effort.
  • My mental focus is constant.
  • I can keep going during long working days without feeling tired (and then go for a run!).
  • I don't get lower back or other postural pains from hours of standing or walking.
  • I can train harder for sport.
  • I recover faster from hard training.
  • I can cycle for hours without needing anything but water.
  • I sleep better.
  • I get hungry much less when inactive.
  • Even if I'm very hungry it is never accompanied by feelings of weakness or anxiety.
  • If I didn't eat all day it wouldn't affect my energy levels.
  • My hair is fuller and darker.
  • My skin and eyes are clearer.
  • My muscle tone maintains itself better without training.
  • My teeth suffer much less from the food I eat.
  • Most of the aches and pains I'd accepted as symptoms of aging, have gone.

I've written about my journey of discovery in stages (see links below), so if you want to know more please follow the links. I'll let the above list speak for itself as my latest update. I intend to do some more scientific testing soon. Before I started I wasn't overweight, nor did I have any particular health issues, or challenges in training for the sports that I do.

I was intrigued by what some other endurance athletes were claiming about training their bodies to efficiently use the aerobic, fat-burning pathway through carbohydrate limitation, and as I started to read about LCHF diets and supporting science (in particular the writings of Tim Noakes, Gary Taubes, Steven Phinney and Jeff Volek), it just made too much sense to dismiss. I began to see this as it is: a major breakthrough in the thinking behind fueling the human body. Within a couple of weeks of starting the diet I had dropped from 76kg, which I then considered lean, to around 72kg, where I stayed for quite a while before deliberately working it up to around 73-74kg where it is now (my wife complained I was too skinny!)..

The entire way of thinking behind sport nutrition that has obsessed us for at least the past 50 years is based on the discovery of glycogen and it's role in muscular performance in (carbohydrate-dependent) athletes, and the subsequent obsession with optimizing carbohydrate intake to maximize glycogen stores. In our excitement we then completely forgot that we hadn't really investigated what a body might do if it was properly adapted to using fat as a fuel.

It's linear thinking at it's worst. Sugar works fast - at every level. It's quickly into our bodies, quick to provoke hormonal responses - or performance benefits - and quickly spent. We became obsessed with speed. Then we became obsessed with the allure of extending these speed benefits for endurance events - running marathons on jet fuel - wow! Though burning glycogen is ideal only for short, intense, anaerobic bursts of activity, we've spent billions of brain-cells on figuring out how to make it last longer... go figure! The net result was that instead of focusing nutritional science on adapting the body to efficiently use the abundant supply of energy-rich fuel it carries (fat) at higher intensities, we lost the plot in the folly of pursuing the easy-come-easy-go, fast-burning fuel (sugar) in the belief that we could somehow make pigs fly.

Now, the average endurance athlete has to meticulously micro-manage their fueling strategy for any longer training session or race in order that they don't crash and burn. Again, it's a multi-billion dollar industry providing gels, bars, drink mixes and supplements, so there are some real vested interests in making sure nobody realises that they don't need any of this shit.

I'm 57 now. I Yet I feel better than I've ever felt. If I'd discovered this when I was in my twenties...or thirties...how much more could i have achieved in my life. Not just in sport; the amount of energy I have throughout a day is incredible.

How much of my physical, mental, neurological... optical deterioration could have been avoided without the constant yo-yoing of hormonal surges racking my body due to poor fueling procedures. I had been convinced for a while that I was lactose intolerant. Something wasn't right and things seemed to run better without milk. Now I almost live on milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter and cream. It was actually all the innocuous-seeming, easy-to-digest stuff that was wrong all along.

So yes, it's easy for me to say that I'll stay with this one. I never want to go back to feeling like I did before, even though I miss some elements of the food sometimes. I still enjoy a glass or two of dry red wine, and after long hard rides I sometimes allow myself a slice of really good bread - there's no chance of a major insulin surge when the body's working so hard to repair itself. That's another perk of the long-distance cyclist.

Older posts on LCHF:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Review: Crotch Guard Skin Care Oil

After all this talk about bike-fit, saddle-fit and related comfort (or lack thereof), it's perhaps appropriate that I do a review of a relatively new product that attempts to add that little extra bit of comfort and relief to the saddle-weary bottom.

You may have noticed it in ads recently, since the reference to crotch is a little, shall we say, below-the-belt (!), but since the name is actually probably more suggestive of some kind of body armour for martial arts rather than a cycling skin lubricant, it may have escaped closer scrutiny. I think I would have probably chosen a different name for it, but then what do I know. It's kind of cute. As far as function goes though, it's a game-changer.
I have to admit I was never a big fan of chamois cream. For a start, we no longer use chamois in bicycle shorts, and haven't done for the past 20 years or so, and so the whole principle of softening up a brittle layer of dried leather has gone, and with the latter generations of cycling short padding using the ever-evolving iterations of gel pads and sponge, it just creates a soggy mess which is anything but comfortable. I must say I didn't persist with it, so if anyone feels compelled to have a go at me for the above statement, I'd be willing to lend an ear at least.

Vaseline was the lubricant of choice way back when I started getting serious with bike riding, mainly because, as a triathlete, I wasn't wearing a great deal of padding, and since Vaseline (petroleum jelly) is very water-resistant, it's a good one to put on before a swim, that'll still be there when you finally start the run after 40km on a bike. The only problem is: it's still there the next day when you wash the clothes too, and unless you're very diligent, all your clothes end up with a slightly oily feel to them even with copious amounts of detergent.

When I moved on to proper cycling shorts, that's just way too much absorbent padding to be able to get away with the use of petroleum jelly, which ends up as a permanent presence in your padding, and in addition kind of acts as a solvent to the leather coverings of saddles, which is not very good news.

So it's been a few years since I used anything at all really, aside from some skin cream perhaps, mainly to allay the damage already done after a few consecutive long days in the saddle rather than to prevent more damage happening. I just developed callouses in the right spots I guess.

Crotch Guard works like a barrier ointment, in the same basic way as Vaseline, except without the mess. It's definitely of a lighter consistency than petroleum jelly, you spray it directly onto the area you want to protect, and it absorbs into the skin rather than into the padding of your shorts.

Their own description:
Crotch Guard Skin Care Oil strengthens skin at the cellular level.  This is not a chamois cream, you apply directly to the skin.  The product will absorb completely for a clean and natural approach to the saddle.  Once absorbed the formula surrounds and strengthens cellular membranes creating an effective defense barrier to eliminate friction and chafing irritations. And that protection lasts up to 8 hours! We recommend applications before riding and after showering for continuous prevention of chafing irritations, and to maintain the moisture balance of the surface of the skin. This is Serious Protection for Serious Cyclists!!
Each bottle contains 4 fl oz with a fine mist fingertip spray closure. The mist has a great cooling effect against the surface of irritated skin, and the pump control avoids messy drips and wasteful spills.
  • Hypo-Allergenic
  • Anti-Bacterial
  • Absorbs Quickly & Completely
  • Does NOT contain Chemical Dyes
  • Does NOT contain Fragrance
  • Does NOT contain Preservatives
First big advantage is that, as long as you let it absorb into your skin before putting your shorts on, it won't create any of that gooey feeling of an additional presence in your shorts. The second big advantage is that it really does last for the whole ride since it's in your skin, rather than working it's way into your clothes.

The third big advantage is that you can use it after your ride to help your skin recover. This means it's a one-stop process for saddle-related discomfort.

It's very convenient to apply - though you'd better remember to put it on before you put on your shorts - and doesn't take up much space in your luggage when touring. I'd imagine it will also end up being used by triathletes for swim, bike and run chafing issues, though I can't say how well it might hold up against salt water. I'm sure there are a multitude of other sport- and non-sport-related uses for such a lubricant.

All-in-all, the only thing preventing it becoming a go-to item in every cyclist's bathroom is availability. For most of the globe it's only available online from crotchguard.com, though they do say that they have a fairly good presence in retail outlets in the U.S and Europe.

I'm definitely getting a few month's supply in before you all read this!

Blazing Saddles

I'm compelled finally to open that old can of worms that is the subject of saddles. I'm often asked for recommendations of "comfortable" saddles, since I spend so much time sitting in them. My stock answer is that you have to find the one that suits your own anatomy best, but the unhappy truth is that rather than ever finding the "perfect fit", I think you really just find the least painful compromise, and become hardened to the discomfort (rule #5!).

It's very difficult to talk about something as personal - and entirely subjective - as the saddle, but I feel that a lot of stuff about positioning - which accounts for 90% of saddle problems - gets misunderstood, and that though most battle-hardened cyclists ridicule the aspirations to finding a "comfortable" option, there are many things that those-of-us-who-have-been-there can share to make the search a little less agonising or interminable.

Firstly, the position of the saddle relative to the way you fit on the bike is crucial. Secondly, it can't be tilted in any way that unbalances you, or encourages undue movement or sliding around. Your butt must be perfectly "anchored" in the saddle.

A completely horizontal saddle is the place to start.

Between the 3 contact points feet, butt and hands, it's the relative position of feet and butt that must be dialed in first. If you get that relationship right, then you are stable, balanced, and free to move the position of the hands around to gain better control or aerodynamics. A good test is to ride in the drops and then take your hands off the bars without sitting up or moving otherwise. If you can do this without sliding forward or losing balance, then you probably have that part right.

Once you get position sorted, it's just a question of getting a saddle that supports your sit-bones in an "invisible" way - so nothing rubs or chafes, or puts pressure unevenly. Though often the brunt of much mirth among the non-cycling community, those rigid little "ass-torturers" are actually specifically designed to support the static bits, while allowing the moving bits full range-of-motion.

The bigger the saddle is, the less likely you're going to get that invisibility. Large, soft and well-padded saddles might be relatively comfortable for cycling to the shops and back, but if you're going to spend a couple of hours in the saddle, all that surface area is going to start getting in the way of movement.

From Andy Pruitt, Ed.D., who's done extensive research on saddles as the director of Colorado's Boulder Center for Sports Medicine:

"Saddles with a cutout in the nose work best for about 80 percent of riders by shifting pressure away from soft tissue and toward the ischial tuberosities (sit bones). Solid-nose saddles still work best for some, particularly cyclists who naturally sit crooked on their seats. If your bike fits properly overall the seat can be pretty damn hard. Some padding is needed to help disperse that focused pressure point over a slightly bigger area. But when you sit on overly thick padding, it can deform and migrate to places where you don't want pressure, like between the sit bones."

There are so many saddle shapes and sizes on the market, that it's impossible to say exactly where the search should start. A lot of the bigger and more progressive saddle producers have fitting systems that can measure the position of your sit bones, and make assessments based on your flexibility and seated position, but this will give you only a ballpark to start in. The rest is trial and error. Expect lots of error.

Selle Italia's "flow" options for open saddle profiles - spoilt for choice?

I have tried a lot of saddles in my time. I think the first one that I decided I could live with was Selle Italia's iconic Flite, which was very popular back in the 1990s, and has still survived in production until now. I then moved into triathlon and time trials, which require a riding position that rolls your pelvis forward a lot, and thus requires some different considerations, so I got into some of the soft-nosed options that were being developed for the growing tri market. It never really seemed to work for me and I was back on standard saddles pretty quickly. In the interminable interim I probably tried most shapes and sizes.

The classic 1990 version of the Flite/

The body, of course, changes over time. Quite apart from the obvious aging process, changes in your body fat percentage will definitely affect the place where you sit down more than most other bits of your body. So you might find one saddle working for a while, but as you lose weight it starts to put pressure on different bits, causing bruises, chafing or numbness.

At some point I decided that the wave shape of saddle worked best for me. Saddles are mostly either flat or have a wave which kind of pre-selects the seated "centre" of the saddle for you. Flat saddles suit those who like to move quite far forward on the saddle when going hard in the drops, while the wave shape tends to suit climbers who like to push back for more leverage on hills. I eventually decided though, that the standard full-surface saddle design didn't suit me as I was getting a certain numbness, which indicated that some crucial blood flow was being impeded. All saddles I choose now need to have an open "flow" section along the centre.

In recent years I have championed the SMP saddles with their pronounced wave shape and downward pointing beak tips. These work quite well for me as they have a wider open channel down the centre of the saddle that supports the blood flow in my nether regions a little better than many others. These are available in harder to softer versions, and wider or narrower too. The pronounced wave shape does force you into one specific placement on the saddle though, so not recommended for those that like to shift around, and the shape discourages riding in a low drop position since the wave crest at the front is quite high.

I've gone through a few of these to try and get the best option, and so far I like the Composit model best: basic leather-type covering but no padding. I even tried the Carbon model, which has no covering at all. Super-light of course, but I found that I slide around on the polished surface of this one too easily which is disconcerting and gives me less control.

Another one that I have found works quite well for me is the Specialized Romin. This has a wave shape, but much less pronounced, and the shell of the saddle is flatter, though it still has the open cut-out section down the middle. Better for lower frontal positions without the pronounced lump of the SMP at the front. It comes in 3 widths, and any Specialized dealer has the equipment to determine which is for you. I went through 2 of these though, which both broke in the saddle shell in the exact same place - on the left side at the front of the open channel (see photo below). Specialized replaced the first one but refused to help me with the second. I'd say these are a bit fragile, so if you're heavier than 60kg and expect a few bumps in the road, look elsewhere. These were both the Romin Pro: the carbon-railed top-end version.

The Romin Pro saddle's weak point

Because I like the shape of this saddle, I recently got hold of a second-hand, more basic version of it, the Evo Expert Gel, just to give it one last chance. The shell is the same material, so it may be just wishful thinking on my part, but there is a bit more foam-padding, so this might give it the cushioning to withstand whatever my ass is doing to it. Watch this space for an update on that.

A similarly shaped saddle is the San Marco Aspide. I'm currently giving this saddle a road test. It comes in 132mm or 142mm widths (narrow or wide), and open or closed (with or without the central cutout). Also a wave shape, but with a little less at the back, so the wave is even more understated. Again, this is a work in progress (aren't they all...) so no definitive verdict yet.

The company ISM have come up with a radical redesign of the saddle  which cuts the nose off, thus avoiding the compression on tender parts that the front of standard saddles are accused of. This design is particularly appropriate for riders of time-trial bikes with their extreme horizontal-torso requirement, though I know some road cyclists who also love them. Again, it's what works for you. I have this saddle on my TT bike, and though I did try it on a road bike for a while, it really only offers one position, which if you tend to ride on varied terrain, can be extremely limiting.

The ISM nose-less design - a big hit with triathletes.

Whatever your choice, you'll probably end up changing again after a while, unless of course you really do find the perfect saddle which is......dare I say it, comfortable!

If you do, please let me know!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Bike Building

Those that have followed this blog over the past couple of years will be aware of my penchant for micro-managing my bike builds. I have always liked tinkering with bikes, basically because I like to know how things work, but also because the precise mechanics of a bicycle are subject to a lot of abuse from the environment they are used in, and to keep things running smoothly requires constant tweaking, adjusting, repairing.

I can't begin to count the number of times I've taken my bike to a shop mechanic with a problem that I can't figure out, only to then find out that it was something embarrassingly minor I could have fixed myself in less than 5 minutes. I live and learn. It happens less these days.

When I first got into bikes in my youth, my process was to buy a ready-built-up bike with a decent frame but basic components, and upgrade parts little-by-little. With limited funds, and expensive tastes, this would often see a fairly average frame gradually amassing professional components. Perhaps satisfying at the time, but completely impractical, both from the point of view of replacing the rapidly-wearing top-end parts (chains, cassettes, chainrings, brake pads, tyres), and money spent against accumulated value for possible future sale (hard to get a good price for a no-name frame with Campy Record components!). However, the seed was planted for a lifetime of bicycle-nerd obsession.

Now that in my old age I've become what amounts to a semi-professional cyclist, my practicality in choosing the right elements in a bike build has gradually eroded my expensive tastes. I now temper my aesthetic and nerdy zeal with a focus on functional specificity, and I spend a disproportionate amount of my free time investigating bits of equipment. I've also put together a pretty well-equipped bike-mechanics workshop. Heaven! :)


Until a few years ago I still believed that there was a solid logic behind buying a frame from a reputable high-profile industry brand, despite the heavy over-pricing (they put the inflation down to R&D, but it's mostly marketing and advertising in reality). The logic being that their after-sales service would be reliable, since they had a reputation and image to uphold which would surely safeguard the consumer. Right?

Wrong. After my experience with one such frame, which the manufacturer refused to replace when it failed after 5 months of normal use, I made the decision to investigate the new breed of DIY frames coming out of China. Of course, many of these are copies of well-known bikes, possibly using the same factories and carbon moulds, some of which even infamously masquerade as the real thing. Many are not though. Many use their, by now extensive, R&D experience working for the big brands, to produce excellent new designs of their own. It's a natural process of evolution of the industry and market. Chapeau!

With several recommendations from friends and further investigations I settled on a company called Velobuild - you can read the details of this experience in a previous post. They have a great selection of frames for various types of riding, and you can specify carbon-weave type, finish, BB type and other customisations to get the exact beast you want. They respond quickly to enquiries, and in good English, and seem generally fairly flexible to your needs. The products arrive within a few days, well-packed, exactly as described, and ready to build.

The concern with a no-name frame is that it may somehow be lacking in proper R&D or build, and either has weak points, or is unstable or jittery to ride. I say no-name, but actually Velobuild are quite meticulous about their on-line presence and most products are backed up by customer reviews, so it's less of a risk anyway. My choice was the VBR-016, which, at the time of this writing, I've put 5,373km into, and I can testify that it's still the best bike I've ever ridden. No issues. Light, super-stiff in the BB, forgiving of road vibration, and descends on rails.

With most of these frames going for between US$3-400, this now brings the cost of frame and forks into line with anything else on the bike, and means that, whatever happens, replacing any one damaged element of your bicycle should not be an arm-and-a-leg job.


When it comes to components there are 4 considerations that have to compete for predominance:
  1. function
  2. strength/durability
  3. weight
  4. cost
Function: Beyond a certain entry level, all bicycle parts work in the way that they should, and it is really just a matter of applicability and personal preference as to what components you use. Obviously with so many types of rider and course even within road cycling, your frame and parts are chosen according to the type of rider you are, and how and where you ride. Heavy sprinters don't need light wheels; light climbers don't need stiff, deep-section rims.

Weight: Every cyclist wants lighter stuff of their bike. Every gram is going to be your enemy as you grapple with gravity up a hill. However, the difference of a few grams saved on a cassette can mean a 4-fold price increase. The difference between a mid-range cassette and the pro version is mostly about those few grams saved in using high-tech materials, not an improvement in function. Given that most cyclists could easily shed at least a couple of kilos of fat, the weight of components is really the last of the remaining 3 to be considered.

Durability versus cost: I would pit the other 2 considerations against each other, and say that the longer something is expected to last, the more money you can be justified in spending on it. Durability is a hard thing to assess from the outset though. You might think that a set of handlebars, for instance, should give you at least a good 100,000km - 10 years or so for the average serious amateur. Given the fragility of some materials like carbon, plus the possible mishandling in build or repair, or some unforeseen mishap or accident, you have to build confidence in the stuff you use to know it's strengths, and you have to know who you can trust to work on it.


At the bottom end though, there is definitely stuff which you should plan to replace regularly. A chain is probably the first of these. Chains stretch under normal riding stress, and no matter how much you spend on your chain, or how well you look after it, you should not expect it to last much longer than about 5-7000km. Failure to replace it in time will have an extra wearing effect on all the other components of the drive chain. This means it's pointless to buy a top-end super-light chain, unless you're happy to buy it again 6 months later.

The same goes for tyres, cassettes, chain rings, cables, brake pads, bar tape, cleats (not to mention shoes, and of course clothes). These are all things that, unless you take extra special care of them, you should expect to have to replace at least once a year, so these are not one-off purchases, but a part of your annual cycling budget.


Then there's the once-every-couple-of-years stuff like pedals, headset and wheel- or bottom bracket-bearings, or slightly longer-lasting things like wheels/rims, shifters and derailleurs. Stuff that moves repetitively and wears out gradually. Their durability is less predictable, but they may need to be replaced within a few years, and may develop problems or get damaged sooner. They will present a sudden and sometimes unexpected need for replacement, and it's best if you can plan for it, or at least be able to find and buy them easily. Again, pointless to spend on pro-level stuff just to shave weight unless it really is very affordable for you.

If you do develop a taste for unusual or hard-to-find components, you had better have the time to spend browsing around for these on a general basis, and buy them well in advance of any urgent need. You don't want to have a bike sitting around redundant because you can't find the right bits.

Other things like handlebars, seat posts and stems, should be as strong as your frame and forks themselves, though as I say, you try-and-test these things until you develop confidence in them. If you're confident that the super-light bars will withstand a good innings, then by all means....


Saddles are in a different category, and are about comfort, and very particular to each rider's anatomy. If you find a model that nails it for you, you might consider getting the lighter version, but bear in mind that the difference in padding might completely change the experience. Saddles with padding or leather covering have more to go wrong than the simpler ones.

I would think I have ridden at least 30+ different types of saddle in my life. I'm usually only willing to spend good money on ones that I'm sure will work. However, our bodies change over time, especially as our fat percentage drops, and I'm still not convinced after a lifetime of riding bicycles, that I've found the perfect saddle for me.


So the bottom line to those looking to build themselves a bike from scratch is:
  • get the best stuff you can afford to replace, and expect to
  • develop confidence in the equipment you use and stay with it
  • research carefully into new equipment before buying
  • learn how it works


I have become aware of a gap in the market for a bicycle build consultancy service completely independent of commercial ties. There seems to be a dire need for people that can give advice based on real-world experience in the aid of those who wish to get a completely custom-built bike for their demands and budget. No stock to get rid of. No bias towards anything except that which works best for the given job.

I think that I'm in a perfect position to do this. I have no affiliation with any brands or access to special job-lot deals with budget component providers. Through my experience I am able to assess exactly what a rider is looking for in a bike and construct one based on my awareness of the available options, their strengths and weaknesses.

For those that would like a bespoke road bicycle designed specifically for their needs, I am able to offer several levels of consultation, and design what you need, according to your size, strengths, type of riding, terrain, aesthetics and budget. I will source the best stuff online, and can either leave you in charge of assembling the pieces, or build the bike up for you.

My insistence is that there is no need for you to spend more than USD$3000 on a complete, top-notch, sub-7kg road bike. In addition, I can build one using different, but equally robust, components for USD$2000 that will weigh in with an increment of at the most 1kg. All this depending on your acceptance of my advice for selection of component parts.

For information: info@equipenomad.com