Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A box-sectioned eulogy

Not that long ago, the cobbled classics were an anomaly in the cycling calendar. While a team might employ the same frame, component and wheel choices for 95% of their race calendar, the month or so bounded by semi-classic Omloop Het (Volk, Nieuwsblad) and Paris-Roubaix was a special time. The ubiquitous, obvious choices went out the window, replaced by cobble specific setups. Custom frame geometries, cantilever brakes, doubled-up seat clamps, chain catchers, aluminum rims—a myriad of hardware rarely seen outside of the season. For the tech-junkies among us, it was an assault of unique, purpose driven bikes, and it was glorious.

By the early oughts, teams stopped with the total insanity the 90's had introduced in to these races—the Rock Shox and full suspension rigs replaced with frames like Specialized's Roubaix, or in some cases, teams employing cyclocross bikes. Sure, there'd was the occasional one-off custom, carefully hidden under paint, but they became the exception rather than the rule. The last bastion of unique was the rim.

Up until the last handful of years, box section aluminum rims were the only option for the cobbles. Rims like Mavic's Paris-Roubaix SSC dominated. As the supply of SSC's dwindled in the late 90's, the Ambrosio Nemesis became the rim of choice. A similar extrusion to the SSC, it was easily identified by its polished brass badge, supposedly placed to compensate for the imbalanced introduced by the drilling of the valve hole, but just as likely there to make sure no one would question what rim you were really looking at—for although everyone knew they were being ridden by a majority of the peloton, only a handful did so without some token attempt at rebadging them.

The last few years have been unkind to the box section. To butcher a quote often credited to Andy Hampsten, it would seem the only thing scarier than riding the cobbles on carbon rims is not riding the cobbles on carbon rims. The past three years have seen all of the cobbled classics won on carbon—the last win on an aluminum rim was Boonen's in the 2009 edition of Paris-Roubaix. The SSC, Nemesis or similar aluminum box section, once the rims of spring, have been largely replaced—and while 6 out of 9 of the last cobbled classics wins came on Zipp 303's, the other wheel vendors have also gotten in on the wins as well, including Mavic, Campagnolo and HED. Their reputation for fragility, whether ever warranted or not, has fallen by the wayside as they've demonstrated they're ready for the rough stuff.

2012 saw few aluminum box sections actually hit the cobbles, being mostly relegated to spare wheels or also-ran teams. Mavic tubulars, in particular, are few and far between, save a relic or two riding neutral support. While we'll probably a few of these aluminum shod wheels around next year, their day seems to be coming to a rapid—and unfortunate—end. So long old friends.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Campagnolo Doppler Tech Notice

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Less spoken about is the value of a drawing.

Often the source of head scratching is the orientation of the dished spring washers for the Campagnolo Doppler retrofriction shifters. Do the two washers nest in to one another, or are they opposing? Do they face inward or outward?

The above information notice, dated April 30, 1987, should answer those questions once and for all - they nest in each other, with the convex side facing the frame boss.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

1999 Mavic Mektronic Catalog

So just the other day I found myself at dinner with former French pro Jacky Durand. The sole non-French speaker at the table, I spent a pretty ridiculous amount of time nodding and smiling when I really had no clue what was going on. In between stories I'm pretty sure were about Jacky's mom dropping her friends on rides on the farm and how the sound of a pig being slaughtered can carry for kilometers, I picked up an all-too-familiar story about Mavic Mektronic. Power lines in the distance, Jacky related, were a sure sign that he and anyone else in the peloton stuck riding Mektronic were about to be in for a sufferfest - the system, when encountering interference, would cause the derailleur to reset it self, dumping them in to the smallest cog in the back.

Apocryphal or not, hearing Durand (and watching him act out) the effects of this on his performance were very comical - the guy can tell a story. I never got to play with Mektronic when it was new, given what it cost. I've since acquired a couple of sets, but haven't been able to bring myself to use it - a combination of fragility, obsolescence, and stories involving my already poor climbing abilities suffering in the presence of overhead power lines have killed any curiosity I once had about what it was like to ride.

Should you find yourself in possession of a set, and feel motivated to give it a try, I hope these manual pages come in handy.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

It's not all new-tech at Paris-Roubaix

Mavic 571/2 HG hubs laced to Paris-Roubaix SSC rims. These were loaded on to one of the Mavic neutral support vehicles following the peloton in today's (2012) Paris-Roubaix.
I wasn't able to check the date codes on the dust shields, but these wheels are probably 15+ years old. Not too shabby.

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