The Seduction of Symbols

Two golden tickets to Hell

There was a time when bicycles were lovingly handmade by artisans who themselves loved the sport more than those for whom they built the machines. Lugs were filed to become Luggs; chain and seat stays were beautifully chromed for durability despite the grams it added to the frame’s final weight; spokes were chosen for their purpose and laced to hubs and rims in a pattern that suited the specific purpose the wheel was intended to serve. Throughout the process – from building the frame to manufacturing of the components – extra care was taken to make every element of the bicycle beautiful; these bicycles, when you are in their presence, radiate La Vie Velominatus.

As was customary at the time, components would be pantographed and frames repainted and rebranded, leaving behind little evidence of their origin. But hidden in the components and frames were symbols that the manufacturers stamped into their wares to preserve their identity; Colnago their Fiore, Cinelli their C, and Campa their Shield. These symbols have come to hold great meaning within the sport and we of a certain ilk scour the photos of our heroes’ bikes for evidence of their existence.

For a variety of reasons including cost, proprietary tube-shapes, and repeatability of production, these practices have largely died away in mainstream bicycle manufacturing; in fact, nearly every element in the art of bicycle building that requires attention and skill is slowing being eliminated from the craft. Ahead-set stems have replaced the need for a carefully adjusted headset and stem, sealed-bearing bottom brackets and hubs have eliminated the subtle touch required to hold a race in place with one hand while tightening the assembly with the other. By and large, the machines and riders are stronger than the terrain they race over, leaving little practical need for the attention to detail and customization that once came as a matter of course.

There is, however, one magical week of racing where the terrain is still stronger than the riders: the cobbled classics of de Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. This is the one week during which the Pros still require highly customized machines and we, as fans, can scour the photos of our heroes’ kit, looking for the symbols tucked away in the components to discern their origins. One such symbol is the brass badge affixed to the valve-hole on Ambrosio rims.

These rims are chosen by the Specialists for their strength on the stones regardless of what wheel sponsorship obligations might exist within the team. Their mystique is further deepened for those of us living in the States because they aren’t available here. It follows, then, that the Golden Ticket, as I call it, is something I’ve coveted for as long as I can remember (which, admittedly, isn’t very long and, upsettingly, keeps getting less long) but have never had a good enough reason to justify procuring from Europe. But Keepers Tour, Cobbled Classics 2012 provided the perfect justification to go about finding a set and I wasted no time in doing so. Upon arrival, the rims spent the better part of two weeks sitting in my living room or next to my bed, patiently waiting for me to pick them up and rub my thumb over the badge, just to reassure myself they were still there.

Not long after the rims arrived, I excitedly loaded a picture of Boonen in the 2010 Ronde and turned the laptop to show my VMH.

Frank: Hey, what do you see.

VMH: Boonen. Goddamn, he’s a stud. Don’t let me too close to him; I can’t be responsible for my actions.

Frank: What about his wheels.

VMH: What?

Frank: Don’t you see? He’s got my rims.

VMH: You can’t possibly know that.

Frank: Openly shows his exasperation by groaning audibly and rolling his eyes. Yes, I do. Check it. You can see the Golden Ticket on his back wheel. Its obvious as shit. What’s wrong with you?

VMH: Sighs, pours another glass of wine. Exits stage left. Hopefully not for good.

*Coincidentally, on the same day that this article was being written, Inrng published a similar (better) article on a related subject of hand-built wheels. Well worth the read: The Dying Art of Wheelbuilding

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486 Replies to “The Seduction of Symbols”

  1. @Chris
    Man, the road is where you REALLY feel the difference. I was riding the same roads on my tubs that I had only ridden on clinchers and it was truly remarkable, no placebo effect there. The truth was in the pudding and the tubs make a WORLD of difference. Now I just have to wait three weeks for my rear wheel to be rebuilt. Rim was toast from the accident but the local shop is going to order another rim and rebuild the wheel. Hub was fine. But, as I have to go to Honduras tomorrow for 17 days, it will not cramp my riding style too drastically! Got to LOVE the tubs!!!

  2. @Chris

    Tried gluing my Paves onto the Nemeses with mixed success. Did the front first and when I’d got the tub onto the rim I went to give it a bit more air and the valve core came out when I unscrewed the pump head. By the time I’d got it back in securely, the glue was getting to solid to be able to adjust the way in which it was sat on the rim which wasn’t terribly even. Fucking ‘rse!

    I blame Michael Jackson. The TV was on in the other room and some docudrama about him came on. You can’t do zen shit like that to Michael Jackson. Properly fucking fucked with my shit that did. What’s the best way forward, a bit more glue and pop it on now or wait 12 hours and try it again?

    The rear went on well though.

    This is why I only mount my tubbies to videos of Paris-Roubaix. The vintage doesn’t matter, but the cobbles do.

  3. @Buck Rogers

    @Chris
    Man, the road is where you REALLY feel the difference. I was riding the same roads on my tubs that I had only ridden on clinchers and it was truly remarkable, no placebo effect there. The truth was in the pudding and the tubs make a WORLD of difference. Now I just have to wait three weeks for my rear wheel to be rebuilt. Rim was toast from the accident but the local shop is going to order another rim and rebuild the wheel. Hub was fine. But, as I have to go to Honduras tomorrow for 17 days, it will not cramp my riding style too drastically! Got to LOVE the tubs!!!

    Word. I feel the same way. So compliant yet direct. Cornering? Fuggedaboudid – same traction at 45 degrees as at 90. Climbing? More direct road feel. All around, so subtle but significant. Loves me my tubbies.

  4. Argh. I know. I know, I know I know… I love them, but they are just so damned annoying that I can’t give up clinchers. I have a set of Mavic GP4s with Campagnolo Record hubs on my Pinarello Treviso and nothing feels better, but I just can not stand mounting those things.

  5. @frank

    @Buck Rogers

    @Chris
    Man, the road is where you REALLY feel the difference. I was riding the same roads on my tubs that I had only ridden on clinchers and it was truly remarkable, no placebo effect there. The truth was in the pudding and the tubs make a WORLD of difference. Now I just have to wait three weeks for my rear wheel to be rebuilt. Rim was toast from the accident but the local shop is going to order another rim and rebuild the wheel. Hub was fine. But, as I have to go to Honduras tomorrow for 17 days, it will not cramp my riding style too drastically! Got to LOVE the tubs!!!

    Word. I feel the same way. So compliant yet direct. Cornering? Fuggedaboudid – same traction at 45 degrees as at 90. Climbing? More direct road feel. All around, so subtle but significant. Loves me my tubbies.

    Yeah totally Merckxed on them myself. I feel like I’ve gone from being competent but sometimes tentative cornering on descents, usually out of concern for gravel in the road, to being on rails. The tubs grip with confident style, and the Golden Tickets have a terrific bomber feeling of rolling over anything — almost like mountain bike wheels — if the corner is rough.

  6. No tubs yet for me, but one thing I’ve noticed in many tubs discussions on the interwebs is that a person goes to tubs and feels way better in cornering but is usually also switching to a tubs low profile rim and away from their Great Wall of China aero carbon rim.

    My question to the Velominati tubbers – when you are talking about a huge difference in handling and road feel, is everything else similar?

  7. @itburns
    For me, it’s fairly apples to apples as my clincher wheels are HED Bastogne, the whole point of which is to make an alloy clincher wheelset perform more like tubulars.

  8. @Buck Rogers, @frank

    I’m sure that they’re going to be awesome when I get them out on the road (the five am ride did not happen for reasons that can only be put down to a general lack of V) but there’s no placebo effect going on on the rollers. There’s nowhere to hide on the 2 x 20 and without a massive difference in rolling resistance I wouldn’t have had the legs left to be shifting through the smaller cogs in the last five minutes of the second effort. I was doing 42kph with 5 minutes to go, minimum 45kph from there to 2 minutes out then 50kph to the one minute mark and 54kph to the finish. On the clinchers, I’d be struggling to hold 42kph for at least the last 6 minutes.

    Rather than setting off at 50 x 16 for both sets, next time I’ll start at 50 x 15 which gives me an extra 3kph, not much but I suspect that 50 x 14 is not far away given a good solid block of training.

    I know these numbers don’t mean anything away from my rollers but 3kph is about a 6% improvement.

  9. @Calmante

    Argh. I know. I know, I know I know… I love them, but they are just so damned annoying that I can’t give up clinchers. I have a set of Mavic GP4s with Campagnolo Record hubs on my Pinarello Treviso and nothing feels better, but I just can not stand mounting those things.

    You can feel appeased in mounting a set of the new Michelin PRO 4s. I can post an image soon of the 2012 Open Pro Black vision — wheelset !!

  10. First road ride on the Nemesis/Dura-Ace/Pave combo this morning. 40km session with my Sensei, taking turns pulling on an out an back course with a strong head wind on the way back. Felt so much more connected with the road, great cornering, braking (the braking surface is brutal compared to the rims that cam with my bike) and general rolling along, feels effortless – well in comparison, I still felt like I was going to vomit and black out.

    Can’t wait to race on them tomorrow!

    [dmalbum: path=”/velominati.com/wp-content/uploads/readers/fleeting moment/2012.03.16.13.25.46/”/]

  11. That didn’t come out quite as planned! @frank how do you post portrait photos the right way up?

  12. @Chris
    Depends on your camera. Usually it figures it out, but seems your camera is using a funny rotation setting. Best option is to edit those in a photo editor when they’re like that.

    Also apologize, also misread your post in my haste and thought you were asking me to edit out the duplicates.

  13. @frank
    They were all the right way up in Picasa. Better luck next time. Thanks for deleting the duplicates, that was a bit messy.

  14. My mocheene is in its near-final Keepers Tour config. My-oh-my, that’s one tightly built bike. I had to abandon the TRPs for a second time to accommodate the 25’s as the back didn’t leave sufficient clearance. I also had to ziptie the front derailleur cable out of the way so it didn’t rub the tire. It will be interesting should it be muddy.

  15. @Chris
    I fixed them for you. Can’t really debug it; sometimes they work, sometimes not. And I noticed the main pics were pointed correctly, the album ones weren’t – and it’s the same image rendering script that draws both, so no clue why one would have it right and the other not. I would like to resolve such things, but alas it falls too low on the list to ever make it into the active stream.

  16. @Dr C

    @Chris
    You truly are a Velominatus Exceptionel with that set up – chapeau – looks awesome

    His bike setup is nothing. Taking photos almost a year in the future, now THAT’s impressive!

  17. @Dr C
    Shame about the less than awesome rider!

    @frank
    Thanks for fixing the photos.

    The kids must have been playing with the date thing on the camera!

  18. @Dr C

    Locked and loaded

    Some green on my machine

    Damn that’s a fine bike for Belgium. My teef will be rattled out and you will be cruising. I’m jealous. It looks most pro.

  19. Looking to build up a set of Nemesis/White Industries. What ERD are people using for the rims to calculate spoke length? I’m seeing 616.5 most often; is that reliable enough to caculate/order spokes, or should I wait for my rims and measure directly (which I kinda suck at….). Thanks!

  20. I have finally built up the nemeses rims to the hubs I’ve bought, and they are currently sitting under the bed waiting for tubs. I found a great mechanic in Canberra, who  ran through how to lace them and bring up to tension. Need to wait for finances to improve before laying down the dosh for the tubs and glue, (probably Schwalbe training tubs and a set of racing tubs as well) and we lost the fricken camera in the move/unpacking (I’m sure it’s in the house somewhere – the surest way to find it is to buy a new one) but might get some iphone pics up tonight.

  21. @minion

    Awesome minion.What racing tubs are you thinking of?You mean you’re getting another wheelset?

    By the way I used this new product recently and it worked very well just with a rag!

  22. @TommyTubolare

    @Nate

    Cheers, Tommy I would like to migrate all my wheelsets to tubs but that might be on a replacement strategy (as  I wear out my clincher wheelsets) but I will have to wait to purchase the tyres, rather than another wheelset. I have heard good things about Schwalbe’s cheaper training tyres, and might buy two pairs – one pair of Milanos for training adn eventually a pair of ultremos for racing.

  23. @gravity bob

    You cant avoid using solvents, unless you use clinchers. But man – be careful with the benzene.  Acetone is bad enough but benzene, if it really is benzene, is quite a bit nastier, and I would not allow my kids, and ABSOLUTELY NOT my pregnant wife anywhere near it, and ABSOLUTELY NOT inside.   Its a serious carcinogen.

  24. @roger

    That was a great video. I couldn’t get over how not connected the bikes looked to the ground. Unreal.

    -Dinan

  25. I give you the H Plus Son SL43, Alloy deep rim rear laced with a mix of Sapim Race and Strong spokes to a Shim 105 hub. Being a big old clyde had this made up to withstand the awful roads around Northumberland. I love the lack of symbols besides the very subtle H on the valve hole…

  26. When I initially commentedd I clicked thee “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a coment is added I get
    four e-mails with the same comment. Is thee any way you can remove people from that service?
    Thanks a lot!

  27. this type of shit is what brought me here in the first place.  the passion and reverence (often irreverence) for exactly THESE undeniable icons, speak to the true nature of a life well loved, and lived, on two wheels.

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