The Hum

The best tires money can buy: FMB.
The best tires money can buy: FMB.

One of the things that strikes me most about the English is they don’t appear to have developed any sort of “inner dialog”. It seems anything that passes through the brain is parlayed directly to the tongue; if the thought being expressed is an insult to you, it will generally include a query for confirmation: “You’re not terribly clever, are you?” At least the English have developed the sophistication to keep their voices down which is a skill English children apparently don’t develop until adolescence. I recently spent some time on a small aircraft sitting opposite a young English girl who loudly narrated the progress of her camera’s zoom functionality which, due to the plane’s low cruising altitude, meant it was pointed out the window and in constant operation for the duration of the two-hour flight.

While I don’t consider myself a savage, I also don’t possess the dignity of soft speech; my voice carries as it is, let alone if I’m enthusiastic or angry, which between the two covers about 99.93% of my existance. I’m not sure why people place value on speaking quietly or, for that matter, having any sort of inner dialog. I think this is why I get on well with the English: I spend most of my life trying to sort out what the living beings around me are thinking; if they all had a readout on their forehead or spoke every thought that ever crossed their mind out loud, it would save me loads of time which would free me up for riding my bike.

Riding tubular tires is kind of like riding the tire equivalent of the English, except less cold. Riding tubular tires on deep-section rims is like riding the tire equivalent of English pre-adolescents. (I realized during proofing that I am getting dangerously close to pedaphile territory; this analogy isn’t as clever as it seems, is it? New paragraph, then.)

A well-made, hand-stitched tubular tire is a revelation to ride. The first time I rode tubs, it was aboard a set of Vredesteins which are excellent tires. I was immediately struck by how responsive they were, and how well they cornered. Then I rode a set of FMB Paris-Roubaixs and was struck by all those same things except they also felt like two cushions under my rims, carrying my smoothly from one imperfection to the next as I floated over the tarmac. The most striking thing was the sound: a hypnotic hum that brings the mind inexorably closer to becoming One with The V, the hum sooths and makes you more alert in equal measure; its pulsation reveals the smoothness or imperfections of your stroke with every revolution of the pedals. Clinchers can do much of the same, particularly when ridden with latex tubes, but nothing compares to a well-made tubular to sing the praises or holler the frailties of your stroke.

The Hum whispers to me when I’m climbing well; it shouts at me when I’m suffering worst (read: climbing badly), reminding me to stop pedalling squares and focus on the fluidity of the stroke. The more V is channeled into the pedals, the more difficult it becomes to achieve a Magnificent Stroke. It also hints that its easier to push round smoothly at a low cadence than it in in a high cadence; track racers who can turn round at 160rpm while delivering full power astound me.

The Hum has brought me closer to a Magnificent Stroke. It calls out when I stray, it soothes when I am near. I seek it, I embrace it. Always.

Vive la Vie Velominatus.

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148 Replies to “The Hum”

  1. It’s all about being smooth Frank…smooth application of power…at many many RPMS. :-)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVbwngNoHm0

    Ironic that you posted this today in that I just switched my Walker off of the clinchers to a set of my Golden Tickets with Vittoria Pave CG’s glued to them. As I rolled along this morning on the way to work I was enjoying at how my beloved steel was singing a little crisper and clearer to me with the new tubular on board. Now I can’t wait to get my Stainless Steel Walker…the one I am putting my FMB shod wheels on. I expect that to be a very glorious experience.

  2. It appears that someone got an early start on some variety of noble grape. 

    Nonetheless, this is an important topic, and I’m curious about the environmental conditions under which one hears the Hum betterly or worsely. If one played the guitar, let’s say, and one were a tone geek, on what road surface would one play for maximal satisfaction? 

  3. Riding tubular tires on deep-section rims is like riding the tire equivalent of English pre-adolescents. (I realized during proofing that I am getting dangerously close to pedaphile territory

    Wow, that was close. And funny. If in doubt, always go to new paragraph. 

     

  4. While we’re at it: old people can’t whisper. That must be especially fun when they’re English. Just today at a lecture my mentor leaned over and discretely shouted in my ear “THIS GUY’S DATA IS CRAP…”

  5. Tarmac gets better with a bit of age. A nice 10-12 year has been worn smooth, with just a hint of sticky, and hums sweetly on a summer day. Older vintages have their charm, but you’ll pay for it.

  6. @ChrissyOne I take that back about you and a filter ^??? With vino @Franks is borderline.

    @Frank yes to tubs and the best possible. It’s been years since I’ve treated myself but the memories of 210 gram silk Continentals fore and aft on light rims gives me shivers.

  7. Different top tubulars each have their own sound.  FMBs hum, Veloflexes fizz, the Schwalbe Ones I have fitted recently sizzle very quietly. I love them all.

  8. @Haldy

    I can’t wait to hear the hum from these….

    Sooooooooo sexy.  My tongue is lolling.

    A guy once referred to my Golden Tickets as “training wheels” whilst comparing them to his Zipp 404 clinchers.  No class.

  9. In Australia, if you hear humming on a ride, it’s probably summer, and there are probably flies. There may well be a dead carcass. Once, while one the rivet out west, with my head down and bum up,trying to outrun a tailwind, I nearly cleaned up a dead emu which was on the roadside.  Now, it was on the hum, for sure.   That would have made a funny tale.

  10. @Haldy

    I can’t wait to hear the hum from these….

    What hubs?  Chris Kings?  BEAUTIFUL wheelset, though, no matter what.

  11. @Haldy

    It’s all about being smooth Frank…smooth application of power…at many many RPMS. :-)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVbwngNoHm0

    Ironic that you posted this today in that I just switched my Walker off of the clinchers to a set of my Golden Tickets with Vittoria Pave CG’s glued to them. As I rolled along this morning on the way to work I was enjoying at how my beloved steel was singing a little crisper and clearer to me with the new tubular on board. Now I can’t wait to get my Stainless Steel Walker…the one I am putting my FMB shod wheels on. I expect that to be a very glorious experience.

    Will your FMBs be on carbon rims? That is nirvana:

  12. @PeakInTwoYears

    It appears that someone got an early start on some variety of noble grape.

    Nonetheless, this is an important topic, and I’m curious about the environmental conditions under which one hears the Hum betterly or worsely. If one played the guitar, let’s say, and one were a tone geek, on what road surface would one play for maximal satisfaction?

    The smoother the better; concrete is also quite good. If you can climb alongside a wall (concrete ideally) it will reflect the sound even more. It is sexy and beautiful.

  13. @Nate

    Different top tubulars each have their own sound. FMBs hum, Veloflexes fizz, the Schwalbe Ones I have fitted recently sizzle very quietly. I love them all.

    Oh, good point. I’ve got some 26mm Schwalbe’s that sound very nice. The VF’s definitely have a higher pitched sound, but the new Schlalbes that are handmade are very good for an everyday tire.

  14. @antihero

    @Haldy

    I can’t wait to hear the hum from these….

    Sooooooooo sexy. My tongue is lolling.

    A guy once referred to my Golden Tickets as “training wheels” whilst comparing them to his Zipp 404 clinchers. No class.

    Some people, you just can’t reach.

  15. @frank Looking for a polished Record 9 or 10 speed hub to finish a Campagnolo Victory Strada set — 36h. Then I will mount the FMB Pro – Roubaix (© 2014 Specialized Bicycle Components)

  16. @antihero

    @Haldy

    I can’t wait to hear the hum from these….

    Sooooooooo sexy. My tongue is lolling.

    A guy once referred to my Golden Tickets as “training wheels” whilst comparing them to his Zipp 404 clinchers. No class.

    I hope you stabbed him repeatedly with his tire levers for such heresy!

  17. @Walbly –

    Well…I do own a purple, yellow and orange bike…with Nemesis rims no less. These wheels will be going on a bike that will be pink/blue/black. The new team colors for next year.

    Here’s the Purple one-

  18. @frank

    @Haldy

    I can’t wait to hear the hum from these….

    You’re going to be disappointed unless you put a cassette on.

    Very true. I await the completion of the frame before ordering up the gruppo.

  19. @frank

    @Haldy

    It’s all about being smooth Frank…smooth application of power…at many many RPMS. :-)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVbwngNoHm0

    Ironic that you posted this today in that I just switched my Walker off of the clinchers to a set of my Golden Tickets with Vittoria Pave CG’s glued to them. As I rolled along this morning on the way to work I was enjoying at how my beloved steel was singing a little crisper and clearer to me with the new tubular on board. Now I can’t wait to get my Stainless Steel Walker…the one I am putting my FMB shod wheels on. I expect that to be a very glorious experience.

    Will your FMBs be on carbon rims? That is nirvana:

    I will probably mount some FMB’s to next years race wheels..might even get some FMB tires to roll at the races on the track next year too.

  20. Are tubs realistic for daily use commuting on crappy Dublin roads? I roll gatorskins which don’t sound all that sexy but much better than the sound of a flat tire!

  21. @rfreese888

    Are tubs realistic for daily use commuting on crappy Dublin roads? I roll gatorskins which don’t sound all that sexy but much better than the sound of a flat tire!

    Ordered new Hardshells this week. You can make your tires sound sexy especially when the rest of the bike is silent. This is the third set now worn out without ever flatting.

  22. @rfreese888

    Are tubs realistic for daily use commuting on crappy Dublin roads? I roll gatorskins which don’t sound all that sexy but much better than the sound of a flat tire!

    I’m skeptical about using them commuting, but they are realistic for daily training; a flat is a flat is a flat.

    Incidentally, I feel Gatorskins are totally backwards; they try to avoid flats by being very rigid, whereas I’ve had the least flats on the most supple tires. For example, on Keepers Tour we always have flats from people riding Gators, and rarely from anyone crushing tubs.

  23. @rfreese888

    Are tubs realistic for daily use commuting on crappy Dublin roads? I roll gatorskins which don’t sound all that sexy but much better than the sound of a flat tire!

    In a word:  Yup. 

    Go tubs and you’ll never go back.

  24. Anyone tried the Sprinter Gatorskins? (Conti puncture resistant tubulars)

    This is making my new 9 bike project more interesting!

  25. One of the things that strikes me most about the English is they don’t appear to have developed any sort of “inner dialog”. It seems anything that passes through the brain is parlayed directly to the tongue;

    Really? I’ve always been told the opposite, we tend not to share our thoughts until we really get to know someone. In my experience, meeting someone new who wants to chat usually involves me leaving knowing:

    where they work, live & what they earn

    a quick run down on their immediate family, including everyone’s age and aspirations.

    full medical resume

    at least two boastful descriptions of recent achievements (whether they are actual achievements or not)

    guidance on what they perceive to be my immediate goals.

    In return, they may find out my name.

  26. @markb

    One of the things that strikes me most about the English is they don’t appear to have developed any sort of “inner dialog”. It seems anything that passes through the brain is parlayed directly to the tongue;

    Really? I’ve always been told the opposite, we tend not to share our thoughts until we really get to know someone. In my experience, meeting someone new who wants to chat usually involves me leaving knowing:

    where they work, live & what they earn

    a quick run down on their immediate family, including everyone’s age and aspirations.

    full medical resume

    at least two boastful descriptions of recent achievements (whether they are actual achievements or not)

    guidance on what they perceive to be my immediate goals.

    In return, they may find out my name.

    Do you work for the CIA? Sounds like you really know how to get folks to open up!

  27. @frank

    @rfreese888

    Are tubs realistic for daily use commuting on crappy Dublin roads? I roll gatorskins which don’t sound all that sexy but much better than the sound of a flat tire!

    I’m skeptical about using them commuting, but they are realistic for daily training; a flat is a flat is a flat.

    Agreed. I know a few cycle couriers in old London town. Some ride tubs when it’s for fun, but for work clinchers rule. One can easily change an inner tube in under 5 mins and be back on the road whatever the conditions. Fucking around on a busy carriageway in the dark, cold and rain with sticky tubs is just stupid.

  28. @wiscot

    Do you work for the CIA? Sounds like you really know how to get folks to open up!

    I always carry a bucket of water and clingfilm around with me.

  29. “One of the things that strikes me most about the English is they don’t appear to have developed any sort of “inner dialog”.

    What a load of rubbish. Even if it’s a joke a good gag has to have a ring of truth to it. In this instance it doesn’t.

    The stereotype of English people, known to everyone except the author, is one of reticence almost to the point of coldness.

    However stereotypes suck ass. We’re all different.

  30. Goddamn, I spend a lot of my time analyzing what people are thinking as well, Frank! Gotta cut that out so I can spend more time riding.

    Planes, thank goodness I don’t have to fly that often. Just a few years ago, ya know, before I matured…I grew exasperated with a fellow traveler while boarding the plane. I told her what I thought of her behavior and she actually told on me. Yes, told on me like a child. I was escorted off the plane by an attendant and had to have a meeting with the four attendants, the crazy woman, and…the captain. Oh boy, 5th grade all over again.

    I’m only a lowly clincher rider, but Vittoria Open Corsa SCs on Open Pro/Record wheels with Vredestein latex tubes definitely give me the feeling of two cushions under the wheels.

    Life is too short to ride so-so tires. Now that I’m having less time for longer rides, I appreciate having nice gear that much more.

  31. By strange coincidence I have just bought my first set of tubs, although possibly not what Frank had in mind. They are Mavic CRX80s to go on the TT bike.

    This Trinity is quite a milestone – as well as being my first proper TT bike it will also be my first time on Group-san and first time on tubs. Probably won’t notice any difference – I’m not exactly like the princess-and-the-pea with most things on a bike anyway.

    And on the English, yes I agree with you markb. Frank is quite deluded about their inability to contain themselves, but then the English have been confusing and confounding foreigners for years.

    There is a story, probably untrue but that isn’t the point, about two Victorian gentlemen in the desert on their respective ways between some remote outposts of the Empire.

    They have been travelling in opposite directions for some days without meeting anyone but eventually each party sees the other on the horizon, heading towards them on the same trail. Hours pass as they move closer and closer and it becomes apparent that  headed towards them is the only other Englishman within 100 miles and possibly the only white face they will see for days or weeks.

    Mounted on their camels, the parties meet. The men lift their hats, offer a polite “Good day” and pass on. They were not acquainted and no gentleman would accost another with unwonted conversation. Much like a London tube today.

  32. Wow, talk about cosmic convergence.  Yesterday I get an email from Belgianwerkx (cool name and just as cool a shop!) telling me for the first time in a long time I actually won something of value.  And now this article..

    Since my knees don’t let me run for CX or anything else, they were gracious enough to substitute a pair of Paris-Roubaixs.  Now my first-world problem is deciding whether to put them on my Golden Tickets, my Aeolus D3 35s, or my Nucleons.  Do I want to look like old-school Tommeke or new-school Faboo?  I have a winter of tire aging to decide:)

  33. @markb@ChrisO

    Oh I agree you lot share fuck all. Its just you won’t stop talking about whatever thought is passing your mind, “There we go, I see there is a stone on the street, that’s a bit strange isn’t it? I suppose we might as well head down the pub and see if we can’t get to the bottom of this American political problem. Why is there a leaf on the sidewalk, that’s a bit unkempt isn’t it? I believe its been four days since the sun shone. Why can’t Americans get anything right?”

    That sort of thing.

    Getting you to talk about anything real…not a chance.

    @markb

    One of the things that strikes me most about the English is they don’t appear to have developed any sort of “inner dialog”. It seems anything that passes through the brain is parlayed directly to the tongue;

    Really? I’ve always been told the opposite, we tend not to share our thoughts until we really get to know someone. In my experience, meeting someone new who wants to chat usually involves me leaving knowing:

    where they work, live & what they earn

    a quick run down on their immediate family, including everyone’s age and aspirations.

    full medical resume

    at least two boastful descriptions of recent achievements (whether they are actual achievements or not)

    guidance on what they perceive to be my immediate goals.

    In return, they may find out my name.

    You must be speaking to an American in this case. I have the same experience.

  34. @markb

    @wiscot

    Do you work for the CIA? Sounds like you really know how to get folks to open up!

    I always carry a bucket of water and clingfilm around with me.

    Well, that explains why you are able to strike up conversations so easily: “Say there Mark, whatcha doin’ with that big bucket of icy cold water and a roll of nice clingfilm?” Always a guaranteed icebreaker at parties!

  35. @frank

    @PeakInTwoYears

    It appears that someone got an early start on some variety of noble grape.

    Nonetheless, this is an important topic, and I’m curious about the environmental conditions under which one hears the Hum betterly or worsely. If one played the guitar, let’s say, and one were a tone geek, on what road surface would one play for maximal satisfaction?

    The smoother the better; concrete is also quite good. If you can climb alongside a wall (concrete ideally) it will reflect the sound even more. It is sexy and beautiful.

    And temperature. My Vittorias sound so much sweeter when there’s a bit of frost about.

    The first time I really noticed how beautiful tubulars sound was on the Sunday after riding PR on KT13. A fucking freezing ride through the silence of dawn but most of us were on tubs and the noise was glorious.

  36. @frank

    “There we go, I see there is a stone on the street, that’s a bit strange isn’t it? I suppose we might as well head down the pub and see if we can’t get to the bottom of this American political problem. Why is there a leaf on the sidewalk, that’s a bit unkempt isn’t it? I believe its been four days since the sun shone. Why can’t Americans get anything right?”

    and all done in this accent

    No self respecting Brit would use the word “sidewalk”.

  37. I can’t tell what my Veloflex tubs sound like because whatever noise they may emit is drowned out by the sound of AWESOME that my 50mm carbon wheels make. I say gawd damn! …puts face down on table and snorts a massive line of pharmaceutical grade cocaine…

  38. @Chris

    If you think you can trick me into starting that youtube video, little mister, think again. Dick van Dyke (sounds Belgian) singing some horrible musical number about sweeping chimneys, no, I won’t do it. I can’t do it.

  39. I believe Frank is generalizing about all English from the interaction with one obnoxious English child. Fair enough, sweeping generalizations, that’s what we do here.

    I’ve actually spent a lot of time in England, drunk a shietload of excellent english ale. English are very funny fucks and natural born drinkers, both excellent attributes. They have to learn to drive on the correct side of the road, FFS, but beyond that, great.

  40. @wiscot

    Well, that explains why you are able to strike up conversations so easily: “Say there Mark, whatcha doin’ with that big bucket of icy cold water and a roll of nice clingfilm?” Always a guaranteed icebreaker at parties!

    I also do weddings and Bar Mirzvahs.

  41. @frank

    @rfreese888

    Are tubs realistic for daily use commuting on crappy Dublin roads? I roll gatorskins which don’t sound all that sexy but much better than the sound of a flat tire!

    I’m skeptical about using them commuting, but they are realistic for daily training; a flat is a flat is a flat.

    Incidentally, I feel Gatorskins are totally backwards; they try to avoid flats by being very rigid, whereas I’ve had the least flats on the most supple tires. For example, on Keepers Tour we always have flats from people riding Gators, and rarely from anyone crushing tubs.

    I am presuming that is because of tubs resistance to pinch punctures at lower pressures…I suspect any clinchers would struggle on the pave, the beauty of tubs on the cobbles is the enclosed nature of them preventing tubes pinching against rims?

  42. @Haldy

    @antihero

    @Haldy

    I can’t wait to hear the hum from these….

    Sooooooooo sexy. My tongue is lolling.

    A guy once referred to my Golden Tickets as “training wheels” whilst comparing them to his Zipp 404 clinchers. No class.

    I hope you stabbed him repeatedly with his tire levers for such heresy!

    There was no violence, other than in my mind.  If he’s that stupid, he’s best just left to his misery.

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