I can’t blame my poor performance in last weekend’s time trial on my new frame, so I’m blaming my back wheel instead. No really, I am. Sure, I’ve spent much of the summer wallowing on the couch and drinking beer instead of training hard on my bicycle, but it’s definitely the back wheel that cost me precious minutes on Sunday. Look, I hate a whining loser as much as the next bloke but like any despairing former Wallabies coach blaming the referee and the dirty cheating All Blacks, I would rather hold external factors responsible than look at my own inadequacies.
But before I go into my description of Sunday’s Team Attic Cup, I had better revert to chronological order and inspect my new frame. In hindsight, the old frame was probably faulty from the beginning but it failed slowly and because I had had to buy it from a bike shop in Osaka as there were none in my size locally, I had been reluctant to have it checked up. The bike creaked a little from the beginning, although part of that was solved by tightening the handlebars so I decided to guess that the remaining noise was just a minor misalignment in the drive chain and could be coming from anywhere so I persevered and I didn’t notice that the frame felt in any way strange. By the start of winter last year, I had noticed a couple of small cracks in the gel coat where the chain stays meet the bottom bracket and sent a photo of this to the dodgy bike shop in Osaka and asked them whether they thought I should take it to be looked at by a local bike shop or sent to Bianchi Japan. Their answer was pretty unhelpful and I didn’t want to box the bike up and send it to them only to have them send it back and say nothing was wrong, then charge me for the postage.
This year, though the creaking has been getting louder and I started to feel the back triangle might be flexing a bit. Sometimes these things are in your head, though and also if the frame was bad, I might be without my bike for quite a while if there weren’t any new ones in stock. I kept ignoring it until descending the mountains near Mt Fuji with Dimitri, I felt like the frame was wobbling around all the corners which is a bit unnerving at high speeds. It was probably time to have it looked at.
Instead of phoning the bike shop in Osaka, I asked Kazuko to call Bianchi Japan and find out if we could have it checked up locally and, in direct contradiction of the advice from the bike shop in Osaka, they told us to take it to the local Bianchi distributor. I thought I’d be without a bike for a while but less than two weeks later I was walking out of the shop with a brand new frame under warranty. It looks like this:
Yes, the blue tyres don’t match at all but they were the only colour left in the shop. I’ve put black ones on since then.
I hadn’t realised how bad the old frame had become until I got on the new one. I wasn’t feeling every bump on the road any more which was probably because the last frame was flexing every time it hit anything. Also it felt like my power was going more directly to the wheel. It felt great. I tried to break my best time up Teineyama but fell short by about a minute which disappointed me but I came back the next day with a different rear wheel and managed to match my best time, which should probably have tipped me off that something was up. As to the new frame though, here are some pics:
I quite like the exposed carbon. The frame shape has been refined a little as well. Unfortunately they kept my old frame so I don’t get a chance to put them side by side and see exactly where the differences lie. Bianchi have announced the Sempre for next year which looks very much like a further refinement of the Mono-Q.
But back to my excuse. More than a month ago I was out on a group training ride and going reasonably quickly when I felt my back wheel momentarily seize up. It did this a few more times on the ride and when I got home I opened the hub and found one side of one of the cassette bearings had lost all its grease. I cleaned it up and re-greased it but it didn’t turn very smoothly. I don’t know enough about bearings or grease to figure out what was wrong so I just put it all back together and stole Kazuko’s rear wheel for my next few rides. When I spun the wheel round at home, it seemed to turn smoothly enough so I put it back on and it seemed to go okay up Teineyama so I thought maybe the grease had worked its way in properly. Or something.
So finally to the Attic Cup. I think this is the team’s one internal competition for the year and it was the same course as last year. This year we had a tail wind for much of the ride and it was a lovely, sunny day to boot. Next week is the Tour de Hokkaido, the biggest race of the season (not that there have been very many this year), so the 37km time trial was also good preparation. I don’t have aero bars on my bike but was resting my forearms on top of the handlebars for that aero look when, not too long after the start, I felt my back wheel suddenly pulling again. For all I know maybe I had accidentally touched the brakes as I slipped around the handlebars thanks to the sun cream on my arms but the seed of doubt was sewn and I spent the rest of the ride wondering whether the wheel felt like that because my legs were heavy or because there was something up with the bearings.
Thanks to the tailwind I improved on last year’s time but the bloke who beat me by a minute last year started a minute behind me and passed me 25km in to the ride. I think he beat me by four minutes or more in the end. I came in fourth all up. I have no idea if the wheel made any difference to my time or not but it did me the favour of breaking a spoke on the ride back to the start point and solidifying my decision to get new wheels. Coincidentally, Kazuko has just ordered a new set of wheels so I’m going to steal them from her for next weekend’s Tour de Hokkaido road race and criterium. If I don’t do well, I’m going to have to dig deep into my suitcase of blame to find something that isn’t me.