As cyclists we all understand the ever-present fascination with equipment because as soon you settle on one manufacturer for an item then another rival brings out almost the same thing but, it appears, shinier, sleeker or lighter. Sometimes it’s all three and then you really want it.
The classic example is groupsets. Campagnolo versus Shimano. Super Record versus Dura Ace. You have one and yet, as soon as you see the other option, the rot sets in.
I used to work on the premise that if you were paying for a groupset then you wanted Campagnolo and if you wanted to use it for racing then the performance was slicker with Shimano. With those guidelines firmly established, you can quickly see the chaos caused when you were paying for your racing equipment.
The appearance of Suntour or a visit to Spain and the discovery of Zeus could have solved the dilemma if they were consistently as good as the main contenders, but they weren’t so the headache continued. And now you have SRAM. Agh, help! Throwing Americana into the mix doesn’t solve anything.
I first became aware of desire early on in my racing career when Duegi brought out shoes with a wooden sole that were stiffer and lighter compared to the all leather jobbies I was using. So I saved up my meagre wages from the factory and procured a pair. Oh lord, what a mistake they turned out to be.
Yes, they were stiffer and yes, they felt lighter, but that was hard to quantify due to the numbness induced when I wore them for more than fifteen minutes. They weren’t just uncomfortable, they were torture devices, but when anyone asked what they were like, I said they were great.
Competitions can be won and lost on details of comfort, so if I was going to be handicapped by excruciating pain then I figured I may as well share the burden. I was glad when they brought out the update, no doubt due to consumer feedback, and I was able to get rid of them under the pretence I too was moving forward. I was lured to some Pumas – yes, they briefly made cycling shoes – which were like slippers. Literally. Another useless fixation.
Now you would think that all this envy for the greener grass in the equipment stakes might end when you’ve procured a professional contract, but you would be wrong. Very wrong.
You see, that same little cyclist that wants, needs, desires shiny, slick or lighter still lives inside you, even when people take pictures and you appear on television. And that means trouble.
Having been indoctrinated to all things French at ACBB, I was well aware of the limitations of Simplex, Stronglight and oddities like plastic CLB brakes but it was light, free and, with Campag brake blocks, stopping was just fine. Even in the Simplex catalogue there was a pecking order that started with plastic gear levers and derailleurs and graduated to glossy alloy alternatives that didn’t flex when you asked them to work.
I could tell I was improving in the hierarchy when I eventually was given the metal upgrades and moved onto bits of carbon frame too. I wouldn’t have bought any of it, but it did the business and when it was tired – after three months usually – then replacements were provided, so it was fine.
Then the man from Adidas decided I needed to wear their shoes. All the contact points on a bicycle are deeply personal and I didn’t get on with their shoes, so I had nice handmade leather ones from Belgium. Made by a man who understood feet. The plastic monstrosities (there was a lot of plastic in French teams) I was told to use hurt just as much as the wooden Duegis so I declined their invitation.
The man from Adidas insisted and I tried, I really did, but it was no good. I cut the three stripes off and glued them to my Belgian footwear… He then hated me and as he was also a Scot, an exchange of views followed. Let’s just say since then I have never purchased anything with those three stripes.
Time for new horizons and some Campagnolo at Panasonic which was great until Look brought out clipless pedals and Campag, in their wisdom, tried to do it better. They didn’t. Their C-Record Delta brakes were way too heavy, but that wasn’t as bad as all the other ingredients that made up the groupset. It was all heavier than previous versions. Though they claimed it was stiffer, I couldn’t have cared less about that.
Add in the Eddy Merckx frames that were made not to break (i.e. heavy) and the head mechanic was soon making frames out of something lighter and having them sprayed in the appropriate colours. Luckily titanium spindles, axles and bolts of every description were available, so I bought (yes, bought) a whole range of them and went back to the previous Super Record as much as possible.
Of course, Campagnolo complained and Selle Italia moaned about my Concor saddle, but the biggest hoo-ha was when I appeared with Look pedals. No. Nein. Don’t even think about it, I was told. Toe clips and straps it was.
And then it was a move to Fagor. Oh dear… Frames made by Klingons and because Stephen Roche liked Vittoria tubs, we were supposed to put up with their squealing when leant over. I brought my own Clements and covered the label. I had to look longingly at Colnagos and Bianchis for a whole year before a return to Peugeot and the joys of Stronglight. Even though all the equipment was good enough, those Look pedals were still a want. I was allowed to try them but discovered I couldn’t get on with the fixed position. So much for desire. Again.
Luckily, I was rescued in my pedal fixation by Time and gradually gave up on my beloved Sidis when they proved too weak to deal with clipless.
I was okay for a good length of time until Colnago provided a twin downtube titanium frame for Raul Alcala, the Bititan. Looking at that and then at my ordinary steed brought up all manner of envy. I didn’t need excuses. It was obvious his bike was better and so even with my own super-duper light wheels, courtesy of Pete Matthews, and ultra-light tubulars for special occasions, I got a kicking most days.
Oh, how I lusted after a titanium Colnago. I still want one now alongside a C40 which I want as well, but I wouldn’t ride that. No, it could just be in a bike bag and be looked at occasionally, probably on a dull day when some art would be a welcome sight.
Luckily I avoided the Kirk precision machines at TVM but they still had Gazelle frames for a season. They were made of 531 tubing and worse than my training bike. Their Pariba tyres were so dangerous in the wet that I once stopped an Italian race when in the front group because it began to rain. I was allowed Clements after an argument with the team boss after that fiasco.
As the end of my career approached, I was briefly sated with a Bianchi, though it was cursed by Suntour trimmings but I didn’t have to apologise for my choice of saddle, shoes or hide labels on tyres as the management were fairly relaxed – probably too relaxed, as it all went tits-up, but that’s another story.
And there you have it. If you think pro life is wonderful, it is. You get to try all the latest and greatest and then you go back to your choice of handlebars, saddle and shoes. You might have to modify them a bit to stifle the complaints, but when all is said and done, it’s still Campagnolo when you’re buying and Shimano when you’re racing.