Thursday, 20 December 2012


The Heuvel fits and thus will remain in my possession. It’s a nice jersey, especially when considering that it cost less than half its recommended retail price. But I think I prefer the Descente after all: the fabric is softer, the fit is just that little more intimate, and, practically speaking, it is one of a kind. It is also the perfect hue of blue – rather like the tint of Everton’s football kit circa 1983-1985. So despite the Belgian theme that informs The Heuvel, and the emergence of Dirk Baert as some sort of project patron saint, it could well be the Descente jersey I’ll be wearing for next year’s London to Brighton. We shall see.

Which finally brings us to the unveiling of my prospective team’s name. This is the remit: a moniker that calls to mind some of the professional outfits currently racing the grand tours. The reason for this is because these sponsor-induced sobriquets often have an amusing ring to my ear: Saxo-Bank Tinkoff; Garmin Sharp; Argos-Shimano; Orica GreenEDGE; Saur-Sojasun. Although I'm not forming an actual cycling club, whatever title I come up with will represent my own de facto organisation from here on in, even if after the London to Brighton is done it continues to exist as an affiliation of one, with myself as its only member – a mere figment of my imagination.
My confederacy might endorse competing in the odd sportive but will only occasionally meet up for training sessions – and they’ll be optional. My syndicate will not have an official team jersey but will persuade its riders to find their own sartorial niche. My coalition will applaud individuality. My club rejects the notion of a club. We’re not going to be called the Pan-Southwest London Cycling Club, or the West Thames Wheelers, or anything else that so readily suggests who we are and what it is we do. We shall ride under the curious appellation that is Carlos-Weltschmerz (observing the German pronunciation of the second word). Ostensibly, this might sound rather absurd, but I think it has a plausible ring to it. Moreover, it functions as a tribute to Dirk Baert and his loyalty to the guys at Carlos, whilst also reflecting – via the medium of phonology – the Latin/Germanic duality that defines Great Britain’s position on the European cultural spectrum, for road cycling is a very European endeavour.
Weltschmerz has a particular resonance in and of itself, this Teutonic locution roughly translating into something approximating ‘world weariness’. Dissect its meaning still further and you’re really onto something: it conveys more than to be simply jaded and articulates the realisation that the physical reality of the human condition can never conform to the idealistic demands that one’s self places upon it. This seems appropriate, given the impervious nature of the task at hand: a vain attempt to replicate the sensation of riding in a grand-tour – an exercise in futility if there ever was one. Despite embracing the concept of Weltschmerz, I'm not necessarily resigning myself to its implications. One could say that I'm seeking joy in anomie… or solace in resistance.
I can pinpoint the precise moment I finally ‘got’ road cycling. It was during Stage 5 of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana and, early on, Javier Chacón (racing for Team Andalucia) broke away from the rest of the field, built up a 12 minute lead before being chased down by the pack approximately 30 km from the finish ( in what was a 168 km race). He was rewarded with the stage’s Combativity Award for his efforts, deservedly so. Without anyone supporting him, Monsieur Chacón had little chance of pulling off this audacious stab for victory, but he gave it a go anyway.
What really left an impression was the instant he must have known it was all over, when Javier glanced back over his shoulder and saw the Argos-Shimano led peloton gradually bearing down on him. It was a singular spectacle that evoked in me both fear and humour, and I can’t think of any other sport that draws out a moment like that. In football, say, a shot on goal might hit the back of the net, veer horribly wide, or end up in the arms of the goalkeeper. Whatever the outcome, it’s resolved in a split-second. With cricket, the batsman plays the stroke and either scores a number of runs, gets caught out, misses the ball entirely and – depending on the bowler’s intention – finds his wicket smashed to pieces or lives to face another delivery. Either way, it’s pretty immediate. 
In cycling, though, the real drama (not the crashes or sprint finishes) tends to gently unfold, suspending one’s emotion to the point where you don’t quite know what to do with it. It’s like watching an explosion in slow-motion, energy dissipating – so incomprehensible that the only natural response is to laugh a little.
I hope my cadres buy into my vision of an existential cycling outfit, with no official membership, no hard rules and regulations, no sense of being part of a greater community: a sort of cycling militia, kicking against the imperial velocipedists who look down upon the rest of us.

Team Carlos-Weltschmerz Code of Conduct and Ethics
  1. Always behave in a gentlemanly fashion.
  2. Comedy cycling jerseys are bad and should be avoided – they’re not for you.
  3. Assimilate the consumption of a static beverage on cycle rides of reasonable length.
  4. Have respect and admiration for the steel bicycle, for it is a pure thing.
  5. Buy Dirk Baert a beer if you ever get the chance.
  6. Offer the Spanish team Caja Rural your support – they seem like a nice bunch.
  7. Riding alone is good; embrace solitude.
  8. Be sure to take in the view.
  9. Don’t take cycling too seriously.
  10. Take cycling very seriously indeed.

[POST-SCRIPT: After writing the above, I unearthed a website – and I can’t recall how – peddling a level of obstinance comparable to my own, and was left with the feeling that maybe I'm not so wide of cycling culture as I’d assumed. Velominati (Keepers of the Cog) lay down 91 rules, no less, many of which I’d gladly slip in alongside those I've devised for Carlos-Weltschmerz. For example:
Rule #16 – Respect the Jersey: Championship and race leader jerseys must only be worn if you've won the championship or led the race. 
Rule #26 – Make your bike photogenic: When photographing your bike, gussy her up properly for the camera. Some parameters are firm: valve stems at 6 o’clock; cranks never at 90 or 180 degrees. Others are at your discretion, though the accepted practices include putting the chain on the big dog, and no bidons in the cages.
Rule #80 – Always be Casually Deliberate. Waiting for others pre-ride or at the start line pre-race, you must be tranquilo (sic), resting on your top tube thusly. This may be extended to any time one is aboard the bike, but not riding it, such as at stop lights.
A picture of pro-cyclists draped over their handlebars, chewing the pre-race fat, is provided as a suitable example to illustrate that final decree. There’s also a link to an article examining the ‘delicate art’ of convincing as a Pro. It puts forward the case that cyclists are amongst the hardest sportsmen there are, but also the most vain. And if you too aspire to be Casually Deliberate, then a number of pointers are provided: 
‘A pre-ride espresso is the perfect Casually Deliberate means to prepare for a ride: fully kitted up, loyal machine leaning patiently against a nearby wall, cycling cap carefully dishevelled atop the head, sunnies perched above the brim.’
This sort of thing is right up my street. I'm not particularly hard and I'm not particularly vain, but I am hard and vain enough to elicit pleasure from an approach such as this.
It’s a tricky dividing line. When I see a gathering of cyclists wearing full pro-team kit (especially if it’s Team Sky issue), their carbon bikes sprawled all around them, I'm inclined to think they look preposterously arrogant (or arrogantly preposterous?). But were these guys to wear more low-key gear, ride older bikes and maybe relax a little, then my perception could waver.
I think the Velominati is an Australian conceit – Antipodean, at least – so maybe it’s not so much a cycling issue as much a cultural one? Let’s face it: the British cycling enthusiast does tend to be quite a middle-class beast, capable of emitting all the superciliousness that this can entail – you only have to watch them picking fights with dozy motorists to see that.
Let’s not get carried away: Carlos-Weltschmerz does not concern itself with the verisimilitude of things, and isn't interested in promoting class conflict. Really, aesthetics is what it’s all about.]

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


There had been some sort of mistake. After over a week of waiting, that second-hand jersey I’d ordered off of eBay – the one made from a wool and polyimide mix – still hadn't shown up. At first we blamed the post, and the guy who ran eTailBar was preparing to refund me my money. Because we were only talking about £16 (and because I was wondering what to buy my brother, Evans [S], for Christmas this year) I asked if eTailBar might prefer to send me the Descente jersey I really liked but had previously concluded was probably a little too big for me. And if it was too big for me then my brother could be its lucky recipient. To this plan eTailBar was receptive.
It was in preparing to send my replacement jersey that it was realised my house number wasn't registered with eBay. This is not the sort of information I would normally neglect to enter, but this was the first item I had purchased off of eBay (of any description) so it is hard to know for sure whether this was a technical hitch or an uncharacteristic oversight on my part. But the Guy At eTailBar was happy to send the substitute jersey regardless of where the fault lay, which was in keeping with the excellent level of customer service he gave throughout this protracted transaction.(The Descente jersey was approximately £3 cheaper than the one I ordered.Therefore, assuming that my original purchase eventually finds its way back to France, I should have almost covered the cost of sending its successor).

Meanwhile, there’s a Dutch company called ONBIKE.NL auctioning off some of those Solo jerseys I like the look of. They retail at £63 on Wiggle (and that's hawked as a reduced rate) so it’s very much worth pursuing. Based in New Zealand, this is what Solo has to say for itself:

'Each Solo Classique jersey is our interpretation of the styles worn by the great riders of the 50's - 70's. Our jerseys are tailored from Nuovotech polyester with superb moisture-wicking qualities. This means we can use colours, patterns and styles that are not possible with wool. It's the best of both worlds - retro style using modern fabric. Look closer and you’ll notice the meticulous attention to detail throughout each garment. Solo Classique jerseys look amazing and feel great to wear.'
According to the sizing chart on their website, with my 38ʺ chest I should take an extra-small. However, the reviews on Wiggle consistently lay claim to the unreliability of this information and advise potential customers to order a size up. This is surprising because in my experience the people of New Zealand are buff, sport-loving types. Further, there’s an extra-extra-small size in Solo’s repertoire, purportedly for folk with a chest measurement of 35.5ʺ, which, if the reviews on Wiggle are to be believed, pitches me at just below average (for sizes reach extra-large at the other end of the scale). I don’t mind admitting that I'm quite a thin fella, so I wouldn't normally expect to find myself so high up the chest measurement scale. Perhaps Wiggle’s customers just like a looser fit?
I discovered all this before the eTailBar situation had been resolved, when I assumed the first jersey was still on its way and at the point where I’d begun to think about buying a cycling shirt for my brother. With his physique more to mind, I threw in a speculative bid for the medium-sized and very handsome Café Serrano – ‘dedicated to Spanish cycling’. I set my maximum bid at £8.50 and saw the jersey sell for £33 six days later. Good value, you would think, but I sensed we could do better…

Onbike.Nl doesn’t carry the full Solo range and has only limited sizes available amongst their stock, so I decide to submit fresh tenders for: the medium sized Moretti – reflecting the passion, colour and excitement of Italian cycling’ – with a ceiling of £16.50; the medium sized ATR – ‘dedicated to Denmark’ – with my limit set at £5.00; and the small Heuvel – Solo’s tribute to the great cycling nation of Belgium – with a maximum offer of £8.00. This time around I intend on monitoring the situation and upping my bids accordingly. I'm certainly not interested in buying all three.
Unfortunately, come the final day of auction my second-hand Descente still hasn't arrived. This presents something of a quandary for it was to inform the focus of my continued bidding. On balance, this supposedly medium-sized jersey will probably fit my brother, so I let the Solo ATR pass me by. This, it turns out, is a grave error, for the thing goes for the paltry sum of £16 (I’d have probably been able to sell it for double for that myself). I raise my limit to £16 for the Moretti but bail out when I see the price heading towards the £25.90 it eventually sells for. I was right: there are bargains to be had.
I'm now left with just the Heuvel. I'm sort of hedging my bets here: if the reviewers on Wiggle are correct about the sizing then it will fit me well, but if they’re not then it will be too big for me but should be just right for my brother. The only thing to consider now is that I could end up with two cycling jerseys that fit my brother but nothing that’s of any use to me.
I am victorious in the war for The Heuvel with a winning bid of £26.55. In those nervous closing stages of auction I submitted a maximum bid of £29, but the guy I was duelling with – and who very nearly caught me out – obviously hadn't gone as high. I suppose you could say I got a bit carried away.

The very next day the Descente shows up, and it fits me like the proverbial glove. This I did not expect but I am pleased. For one, it really is a very nice jersey. Second, if I possibly can, I’d rather buy my sibling something brand new.
            Unsure of which way The Heuvel’s going to swing, I submit another bid for the medium sized Bear – ‘dedicated to Russian Cycling’. I think I can safely assume that The Heuvel will have been delivered before this latest auction reaches fruition and I’ll be well placed to know whether to keep bidding for the Bear in the name of my brother (assuming my offer of £8.00 is trumped, which it almost certainly will be). Because I now face a reversal of the scenario entertained at the beginning of the week: two jerseys for me, but nothing for my brother. But now I know my bike for the strange Franco-Belgian hybrid that it is The Heuvel has taken on a deeper resonance, and it would make for a suitable homage to both Dirk Baert and Carlos if someone’s flying the Belgian colours come next June. And despite the obvious beauty of that Descente jersey, I'm not sure if I’d rather that someone was actually me.


Wednesday, 28 November 2012


I’ve been struggling to find any meaningful information pertaining to the Carlos ever since I first saw the bike advertised on Gumtree. The guys at the Vintage Bike Cave couldn't tell me much either, other than that the company originated from somewhere in north-east France. I like to think I'm fairly adept at sourcing intelligence on the world-wide-web, but all I could find was a discussion on Bike Forums (under a thread headed 'Classic & Vintage - Where are the Belgian Frames?') in which somebody had announced that, ‘Carlos was basically a French make, close to the Belgian border.’ I’d found this snippet of near worthless material – for it merely corroborated what the Vintage Bike Cave already told me – by typing something like ‘French bicycle Carlos 1980s manufacturer’ into my search-engine.
            Once the bike was mine, and I could study it more closely, I’d employed the tack of adding various components to my search: Ofmega (shifters), Suntour and Triplex (derailleurs), Vetta Gel (saddle), Shimano 105 (headset), and Gian Roberts (chainring) – but still nothing. Frustrated, I widened my investigation even further by using Google France and writing in French (Belgique, bicyclette, Francais…). This reaped instant reward. I unearthed a thread on some French website that alluded to Carlos being a Belgian company (with amused references to the Venezuelan political terrorist Carlos the Jackal thrown in) and the fact that a few Belgian teams used to race their bikes during the seventies and eighties. This was progress of sorts, if only because it was my first indication that Carlos used to make half-decent bicycles.
            Slightly obsessed, I started trawling through any cycling archive I could find, on the lookout for obscure pro-team names from the seventies and eighties. At first this proved futile, but did inadvertently direct me – via a brief overview of the 1982 Giro d’Italia on Wikipedia, and the Belgian rider Lucien Van Impe’s 4th place finish in it – to a comprehensive list of all the professional Belgian riders that have ever competitively ridden a bicycle and the teams they raced for. I was nearing the end of this inventory when I clicked on the name of a Belgian Cyclist called Eddy Vanhaerens who it transpired once raced for a team called Carlos-Galli-Alan! Running a search on Carlos-Galli-Alan led me in turn to a website called Cycling Archives, an old photograph of said team and the results garnered during their singular year in existence. It seems that a Mr Dirk Baert was actually Carlos-Galli-Alan’s most successful cyclist, with three placings compared to Vanhaerens’ one, and probably should have featured on Wikipedia’s list of professional Belgian cyclists too. Anyway, feeding the phrase ‘Dirk Baert Carlos’ into Google revealed not only a great vision of the man, but the fact that he had also ridden for Carlos Cycles in 1975, Carlos-Galli in 1976 and 1979, and a team called Carlos-Gipiemme in 1977. Dirk had been those teams’ star man as well.

(Dirk Baert - Courtesy: Guy Didieu)

Born in Zwevegem, Belgium, in 1949, Dirk had embarked on his vocation with a team called Hertekamp-Magniflex in May 1970. In 1971 he moved to the more well-known Flandria-Mars marquee and continued to change teams every year before moving to Carlos Cycles in 1975, and remaining with them – or a variation thereof – until 1979. A time-trial specialist, Cycling Archives attributes 87 victories to the man, most of them road-races and criteriums. But he did partake in a few tours, and in 1974, riding for MIC-Ludo-Gribaldy, he competed in his only Tour de France, finishing 93rd in the General Classification; along the way, he came in 5th in the prologue in Brest; 7th on Stage 6; 6th on stages 8, 14, 20, and 21 (part a); and 4th on Stage 21 (part b). Eddy Merckx won that year, and I hope that Dirk looks back on his own participation with some pride. (Do you think he does?)
So Dirk’s the main man as far as Carlos is concerned, although he’s brought me no closer to finding out anything about the bicycles Carlos built, let alone how old my Carlos actually is. It's an ambiguous issue anyway, because bikes are very often re-badged, or built in conjunction with other firms. From the pictures on Cycling Archives, for example, it's clear that Alan bikes were ridden by at least one of the permutations of the Carlos marque (as is evident from studying the picture above). Still, the ambiguous Franco-Belgian credentials of Carlos established, I now have a theme with which to inform my prospective team name. I will attend to this matter when that damned jersey shows up.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


I am contemplating jerseys and what to call the team I'm supposed to be putting together for the London to Brighton Bike Ride, 2013. I'm thinking about the culmination of all that has gone on since I began my search for the appropriate bicycle; the point of it all – the race. Although the British Heart Foundation is keen to point out that the L2B isn't supposed to be race at all: it’s a charity event, to be taken at a pace that feels comfortable – just a bit of fun. Which is fair enough, and if I was really serious about road-racing then I’d be better off joining a cycling club, obtaining BC and/or CTC accreditation, and finding a local sportive in which to partake. That means I’d have to wear whatever jersey my notional club decreed. We naturally like members to wear club kit,’ declares one such institution local to me, but it’s a pretty brutal offering, their kit, and the club’s handle displays little in the way of imagination. So that’s not going to happen.
They can be quite expensive, can cycling jerseys. There are cheap tops on the market as well, but they’re really rather uninspiring. That said, the most visually appealing jerseys aren't necessarily the ones that cost the most. I should probably lay my cards on the table here: I like replica team jerseys and I like jerseys of a bygone era, and, ideally, I’d like a shirt that combines elements of the two. The jerseys occupying the opposing ends of the fiscal spectrum, however, share a utilitarian approach to design that doesn't interest me at all.Primary colours overbear the palette, with black and white getting quite a look in too. Logos and patterns are conspicuous by their absence, which is admirable on one level but quite dull on another.
This ‘camping and outdoor’ attitude towards cycle wear is still a credible alternative to the third strain of tunic on offer to the aspiring cyclist: that of the novelty jersey. A company trading under the name 'Foska' appears to be the leader in this particular field, and they’re responsible for some real abominations: shirts adorned with adverts for various foodstuffs – Spam, Colman’s Mustard, Cornflakes, Marmite; wholesome cartoon characters from old-school comics; tax discs, flags and maps – the cycling equivalent, all, of wearing a wacky tie to the office. These atrocities come in at about £50, which represents the middle of the range with regard to cost. Fortunately, for that price there are far worthier alternatives.
I'm currently unemployed and so would like to exploit the fact that people might want to buy me things for Christmas, and stock up on cycling gear. My first thought had been for my team to be dressed in matching shirts. I have five people down for the L2B and I'm hoping these five people will still be with me when I start asking for money to sort out our accommodation come January. So I consulted the two potential members of my as yet un-named team who had cycled the London to Brighton Bike Ride before, to ask them for their thoughts regarding team attire. I’d started to have my doubts about matching jerseys, figuring it might give off rather arrogant vibes. Ben, who was the first to respond to my line of questioning, agreed that it might not be entirely appropriate, that one might want to consider entering a sportive if one wanted to take the ‘race’ so seriously, but that the L2B couldn't really be bettered for atmosphere. My brother, Simon, followed this up to say that he couldn't justify the expense of another jersey, for he did not cycle enough and owned a few already (Simon’s thing is marathons and the occasional triathlon). And so the way was paved for me to pore over cycling jerseys at my leisure.
I’d already been doing so, in fact, but with an eye to what I thought might be financially acceptable to my fellow riders. I’d identified the Giordana Tech Silverline, reduced from £74.99 to £37.50 on-line, as having solid potential. Available in black, white, lime green, red and blue, all with a white panel covering the chest and black trim around the collar and down the shoulder – and with a small motif perched upon the left breast – it was neutral enough to satisfy a miscellany of sartorial aspirations. At that price I figured I might go for the lime green rendition, if only as a jersey to train in, for as pleasing as the Giordana is there are far prettier shirts out there on the market. For £59.99, for instance, I could buy myself a Morvelo Chasseur de Cols Alpine race jersey, whilst £63 would afford me something from the excellent Solo range, the Moretti probably being the most attractive candidate. This is what I mean when I say that cycling jerseys can be quite dear, although I saw retro-style jerseys from Le Coq Sportif that were more exorbitant still.

                                                       Solo                                                                         Morvelo

So I drew a line under the Giordana – asked my parents for that – and decided that I would wait to see what the new year’s sales might bring with respect to either the Morvelo or the Solo. Besides, there was always Prendas Ciclismo – a small independent firm based in Dorset, apparently in their 17th year – selling retro-inspired jerseys for anything between £30 and £40. (I instinctively like this company and if I wasn't so bloody minded concerning all things aesthetic I’d have probably ordered from them already, and do not rule out doing so in the future.)
Before putting these accoutrements to one side, I thought I’d have a cruise on eBay and was instantly struck by the ineluctable presence of an organisation called I’d searched for ‘retro cycling jerseys’, not because that’s what I was specifically after but because I didn't think eBay would have anything out of the ordinary listed under any other category. In fact, eTailBar do not deal exclusively in retro or second-hand goods but in cycling and running wear in general. Their presence on eBay, then, is probably to shift their fine line in second-hand cycling apparel, for the official website makes no reference to their vintage stock.
I saw a 'vintage' jersey that I liked – really liked – manufactured by the Swiss firm Descente, but the chest was measured at 38ʺ to 40ʺ, whereas I think mine measures just over 36ʺ. The guy who modelled it looked pretty buff too, although it did cling slavishly to his torso. The thing was, this top was going for a little over £13, including the postage from… France. They were a French company, and I backed off a little, just because… because I had no experience of that. I continued to run through their stock anyway and came across another shirt, this time in my size, made of a wool and polyamide mix, and coming in at just under £16. 
Ah, what the hell…

[POST-SCRIPT: A subsequent measuring of my chest revealed it to be just over 38ʺ – good news in some respects, but I might have saved myself a lot of bother if I’d scaled it from the off.]

Thursday, 8 November 2012



It’s been cold of late, but the wet weather has abated.  The wind continues to be an irritating presence - it is Autumn, after all - but there's been nothing to stop me from getting out there and riding my new bike.  The sun has even been moved to put in a few appearances of late, providing the perfect conditions for a spot of bicycle portraiture. (At this time of the year, the sun sits quite low in the sky, allowing for good pictures throughout much of the day.)  I don’t expect such clemency to hold out for much longer, and it won’t be long before Carlos is retired for the winter, whereupon I shall be running instead.
            So grab these pictures while you can – perhaps these aspects represent Carlos’s Blue Period?  Note the addition of a sympathetic Elite Ciussi aluminium bottle cage, and what I think will be the final resting place of the Vetta Gel saddle.  I’m still not sure about the position of my brake levers, but that aside I think Carlos has now been pretty much tailored to my form.

[Images: author's own] 

Thursday, 25 October 2012


Punctures, like buses (or sagacious oriental apes), appear to visit themselves upon me in batches of three, so I was more put out by the prospect of sustaining further damage than I was about fixing this singular perforation. It was your run-of the-mill sort of puncture: a small, almost central intrusion – just one of those things. I hadn't expected it to be anything else, but was glad to know that it hadn't been caused by the bicycle itself: an errable spoke or suchlike.

It was Tuesday before I finally had the opportunity to conceive what this Carlos was really made of, and it appeared to be good stuff, save for a few entirely corrigible concerns. Before departing on my test-run, I had raised the saddle by a couple of inches. It’s a deceptive exercise, raising a saddle, and it soon became clear that I had not heightened it nearly enough. Having not thought to take a spanner with me on that maiden voyage, I was obliged to spend a fair bit of time out of the saddle. This was a basic error that I admonished myself for.
The handlebars were angled a little awkwardly, too – another minor quibble easily remedied. At worst, I envisaged having to remove the bar-tape and adjust the position of the bake levers to invoke a more relaxed geometry, but I wasn't going to rush into anything.
            The optical illusions that had plagued me now gradually shifted into focus. The bottom bracket was lower on the Carlos than it was on the Jamis Beatnik, accounting for their apparent – but inaccurate – similarity of stature. I concluded that if the stand-over of any given bicycle is correct, and the top-tube sits the requisite couple of inches below the crotch, then the bike probably fits. The saddle, seat-post and handlebars are designed for adjustment, it’s simply a case of playing around with them until one feels comfortable – crises over. I couldn't complain. Indeed, I was content with what my £295 had delivered and looked forward to taming my steed over the coming months.
It’s been cold of late but the wet weather has abated. The wind continues to be an irritating presence - it is autumn, after all - but there's been nothing to stop me from getting out there and riding my new bike. The sun has even been moved to put in a few appearances providing the perfect conditions for a spot of bicycle portraiture. (At this time of the year, the sun sits quite low in the sky, allowing for good pictures throughout much of the day.) I don’t expect such clemency to hold out for much longer, and it won’t be long before Carlos is retired for the winter, whereupon I shall be running instead.
So sit back and relax, then, and take a look at these pictures, taken in far from ideal conditions, but tweaked in Picassa to make them just about passable:

[Images: author's own]

Saturday, 20 October 2012


£450 was my final offer, and it had neither matched nor exceeded the reserve. The only circumstances under which the Pinarello could now be mine was if I remained the highest bidder and that £450 was close enough to the seller’s valuation that he/she might let it go for less. By now I'm not sure I even cared.
            I left my house at 18:41 and the auction was due to reach fruition at 22:10:11. I assumed this time-scale was dependent on the exact moment the sale was floated and calculated on the basis of that – how else can you explain those extra 11 seconds of opportunity?
            When I logged on to eBay the following morning I was quite relieved to see that I had failed in my bid. But it was funny: my final offer had been the second-to-last tender of the day, before some opportunist came in with a bid of £460 at precisely 22:10:08. How’s that for taking it down to the wire?
As far as I could tell, at 22:10:04, the leading bid – my bid – was visible at £400. Somebody else then attempted to trump my bid with an offer of £422. I’d set my maximum bid at £450, so they were destined to fail, but this now placed me as the highest bidder with an offer of £430, because eBay raises the bid (in increments determined by the current value) on your behalf. Waiting in the wings, the eventual winner then submitted an offer of £460. I can only wonder what would have happened if, with the bidding set at £430 with just 3 seconds to run, the bidder had decided to chance his arm on a maximum offer of, say, £440. At least I think that's how it works...
But they still hadn't made the reserve. Had they taken a chance on my bid being close? Were they confident that the seller would acquiesce to the sellee and take whatever they could get?  Was I missing something concerning the nature of eBay? Was this a green light for the winning bidder to now enter into a personal dialogue with salesperson whereupon they’d thrash it out between them, reaching some sort of fiscal compromise? Consumed by intrigue, I sent the following email to the seller:

'Hey - are you selling your Pinarello for less than the reserve? I see that I was outbid at the last minute. If I'd known what the reserve was I might have bid higher in the first place. I don't really understand why people keep their reserve price secret - it just encouraged me to pull out of the bidding early. Anyway, if you let me know what you are prepared to take then I might still be interested.

Also, why did you buy a new saddle if you intended to sell the bike? I think you priced a lot of people out of the auction by having to cover that cost in your reserve.'

I wasn't expecting a reply to this and nor did I get one – which is a shame. It is a shame if only because it would make for more interesting reading, especially if the seller had somehow taken offence and sent me some sort of invective in return.(I never intend on being provocative or insidious, and it genuinely surprises me how irascible some folk can be when questioned via the medium of email. This rarely happens vis-à-vis, after all; people tend to take you at face value. There’s something about the email that seems to fool people into attributing a more cynical tone to the text. Maybe that says more about them than it does me. Or have I missed some sort of social convention here?) Anyway, the Pinarello was gone, the Raleigh had been long shipped and presumably received (to a disconcerting silence on the receiver’s part) and I was finally at liberty to buy that lovely looking Carlos.

And so I did. On Friday I climbed aboard the train to Waterloo, changed onto the Northern Line, vacated at Highgate and walked back down Archway Road. I felt strangely anxious as I neared the Vintage Bike Cave, so much so that I sought refuge in a delicatessen on the opposing side of the road, for a coffee to settle my nerves. This can be explained in part by a job vacancy at the Vintage Bike Cave that I had expressed a vague interest in. It seemed like it might be a nice place to work, I was unemployed, and working with bikes has to be kind of fun, no? But I was having second thoughts about that, because I’d noted the 70 minutes it had taken me to reach the Vintage Bike Cave, which was tolerable post rush-hour, but would be less so mid.
            I felt a little calmer after drinking mediocre coffee, and when I arrived through that back door the Carlos looked as impressive as I had remembered it. A ride around the block did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm and I knew that if there was any residual hesitation on my part, now would be the time for it to reveal itself to me.
And so the deal was done, the job was discussed (and left mutually open-ended), and I was on my way.
            The man who worked on the lathe – the proprietor of the Vintage Bike Cave – had scoffed at my reluctance to cycle back to Twickenham. It had been estimated that the journey – a journey that involved dicing with death on London’s very terrible roads – would take over an hour and a half, but I had already planned on riding to Gospel Oak to take the train home from there. This I attempted to do, although it was hard to know which way to go about it. At first I pushed my new bike down the Archway Road as far as Upper Holloway, because I thought it might be a good idea to see how long the walk would take, just in case I did indeed end up working at the Vintage Bike Cave. On reaching the intersection beneath Archway Tower I realised that Gospel Oak was too far from Highgate for this theory to make any sense, estimating that it would take at least 20 minutes on foot, thus negating any advantage the Silverlink Metro direct to Richmond might have to offer. I climbed onto the Carlos and started cycling in the vague direction of Gospel Oak.
            It should be pointed out that when I had ridden the Raleigh Record Ace to my courier I was struck by how comfortable it had felt. This was unexpected as I had been riding my Jamis Beatnik in order to preserve the Raleigh for sale, and had got quite used to that smaller machine. This physical amenity, then, took me by surprise, but it reassured me that the Carlos – whose dimensions I had measured to be almost exactly the same as the Raleigh – was probably of an appropriate size (the new found comfort of the Raleigh had also motivated me in continuing to bid for the Pinarello). But now I had the Carlos with me I was convinced that it was smaller than the Raleigh, although still bigger than my Jamis. This bode well for it assuaged any fears that it might be either too big or too small, but the fact that I could simultaneously consider it both left me rather perplexed.
            Meanwhile, my normally reliable sense of direction was letting me down. Meanwhile, the normally unreliable BBC weather forecast was also letting me down – or not. ‘It would remain dry for the rest of the day,’ they had told me this morning, but now it started to rain. I found myself in Kentish Town again, but knew I needed to be further west. I took a turn down a road that furthered itself in a westerly direction, but it led me straight into the bowels of an industrial estate. I retraced my steps and pushed my bike along Kentish Town Road instead, for I knew I’d get very wet if I continued cycling. This allowed me to admire the reflection of my new bicycle in the shop-windows I passed and assess its scale in proportion to my own form.
            I went too far: found a map of the area just outside Camden Gardens and saw the error of my ways, turned down Hawley Road, but on the wrong side, crossed over the road to join Castlehaven Road, which I knew would take me to onto Prince of Wales Road, allowing me to catch my train at Kentish Town West. As I got back on my new bike to ride up Castlehaven Road, I noticed that my rear tyre had a puncture.

[POST-SCRIPT: I did eventually receive a response from the Pinarello Guy, sent some weeks later and only picked up by me a few weeks after that again. He explained that he was in no hurry to sell the bicycle and that he happy to hang onto it if nobody offered what he considered to be a reasonable price. He assured me that the bicycle was not stolen (I'm not sure where that notion came from), that he wanted to sell it to someone who would appreciate it (admirable) and he intended to put it on eBay again – with a reserve in place – but if I was still interested than I was welcome to view the bicycle before bidding.
So far so very reasonable, but then he went on to explain the point of putting a reserve price in place – to keep it, in secret – and that if I didn't like this method of doing business then there were alternatives, both on eBay itself and on other websites (Gumtree, I assume). Maybe that made no sense to me but it did to him – and others too, apparently. It was obvious I’d rubbed him up the wrong way.
He confirmed that he had bought the new saddle prior to his decision to sell the bike and that it was his prerogative to change his mind. I couldn't argue with that but I got the impression that he thought that I was questioning the value he had placed on the bike itself, which was not the case. I just thought that he hadn't done a great job in trying to sell it. This was my reply:

‘Thanks for getting back to me - I only just picked this up as it wasn't sent to my email (or maybe it went to my spam?)

Everything makes a little more sense, now you've said you don't need to sell and are prepared to wait (I never for one moment thought it was stolen, by the way). It's just hard to know whether something is worth bidding on when you have no idea what the seller is holding out for. But you are right: it is a beautiful bike, and you should expect more than £460 - I was never calling into question your valuation. Unfortunately, money is tight for me right now so I ended up buying a Carlos for £295. It's no Pinarello, but it rides well and serves its purpose (and it’s sized right, which I could never be sure of with the Pinarello).
Good luck with the sale - with that saddle it's got to be worth at least £580. List it next time as a Pinarello 'Veneto' (just the one t) and hopefully someone will meet your reserve.’

I hoped he would not submit a response this second time around – what would be the point? He evidently hoped to make more than £500, but he’d only provided the bike’s measurements after I prompted him to do so, and hadn't even spelled Veneto right.]

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


The next day, after having discussed the contrasting merits of Gumtree and eBay (sic) with a friend of mine the night before, I whimsically decided to take a look at what sort of bicycles there were for sale on the latter. I had begun to feel like I was having some sort of affair behind the Vintage Bike Cave’s back, ogling over all these bikes after supposedly betrothing myself to the Carlos. But I couldn't help myself. Besides, I still fully expected to end up in bed with the Carlos come the end of the week.
I've only ever bid on eBay the once, and that was for something completely unrelated, but it was enough to get the drift. I understand that serious bidders tend to wait for the dying moments of any auction to launch pre-emptive bids, I am aware that some sellers put a reserve in place, that others offer the opportunity to Buy It Now (italics host-site’s own). What I also learned, snooping around eBay on a Sunday evening, is that you are not supposed to contact the seller with an offer until the auction has run its course – assuming that the opportunity to Buy It Now does not apply – but that you can email them to request further information about whatever it is they’re peddling
The first thing that grabbed my roving eye was a red 1980s Duravia, another French marquee that proved almost as elusive as Carlos. The bicycle in question was available for me to buy (it) now for £295, with only about 15 minutes left until sale’s end. Despite the absence of any bids, there was nowhere near enough time left to table my own. No, I needed a good few days to procrastinate, weighing up this and that, before deciding, quite viscerally, whether something convincingly appealed. But the Duravia was a good looking bike, sold by yet another vintage bike dealership bothering to clean up and present their stock for maximum impact (although the new triple-tone black/green/white Vittoria Pro Team tyres they’d fitted were a terrible choice). It was just as well, perhaps, that the sale was about to run its course, because I would have been lumbered with another dilemma to wrestle with for the coming week and I was starting to grow very weary of this whole process. When was I just going to buy myself an appropriate bicycle and start riding the damned thing?
As I was about to knock my eBay surfing on the head, I only went and stumbled upon a vintage Pinarello Veneto! The auction had another three days to run – there was no Buy It Now option on this bike – and the reserve had yet to be met. In truth, it looked like the velocipede might be marginally too big for me. The seller reckoned it was either a 58 cm frame or 60 cm, that he was 183 cm in height and it fitted him fine – and that was all he had to say on the subject. I'm about 180/181 cm, so it was not an altogether improbable fit. But I’d struggled with these sizing issues with the Raleigh and had since come to conclude that whilst my inseam implies I could handle a 58-60 cm sized frame, my ‘reach’ does not. In other words, my legs are in longer proportion to my body – perhaps. Dear old Carlos, on the other hand, had been quoted at 57.5 cm, which looked like a nice compromise. Why was I even considering submitting a bid for the Pinarello?

Because it was one of the most beautiful bikes I’d ever laid my eyes on; because it dated back to 1989, so was not so old that the parts should have suffered too much wear; because it had new wheels and tyres; it had a brand new Brooks Swift titanium saddle… but why had he fitted his bike with a new Brookes Swift titanium saddle just to then sell it on again? A Brookes Swift titanium saddle goes for about £180, so I could only assume his reserve was pitched to cover this extra cost. Why price yourself out of the market like that? Why add value to something that doesn't need adding value to? Maybe he bought the saddle not long before deciding to sell, because the pictures corroborated his claim that it was indeed brand new. I could resell the saddle but there was no guarantee of finding a buyer willing to cover my costs – not even for a pillion of Brookes’ calibre.
I asked the seller for a few more measurements, but they were inconclusive. I increased my bid anyway, because I thought I had a fair idea as to the bike’s real value. Still the reserve remained undisturbed. The next day I upped my bid again, no doubt irritating those who like to leave their bidding to the final moments. Again the reserve remained undisturbed.
I emailed the Vintage Bike Cave to reassure them of my sustained enthusiasm for the Carlos but would probably have to wait until Friday now. (I would have done this regardless of my bidding for the Pinarello because I had decided against picking the Carlos up late on Wednesday and cycling it across London to my bouldering place. It just looked far too dangerous on the map – that journey on a bike to which I was unaccustomed.) I thought very carefully about how much I would be able to pay for the Pinarello, because I wouldn't be near a computer for the final five hours of auction and would need to rely on a pre-prepared maximum bid to secure any purchase. My fingers hovered over the keyboard with much hesitation. I had no idea whether my last bid of £400 was anywhere near the reserve price but doubted that it was - £500 would have to be a safer bet. How far was I prepared to go?