Having picked up a lovely new 2017 TCR Advanced Pro Disc from my favourite bike dealer Giant Brisbane while on holidays, the new bike has fast become my favourite ride. Blessed with an incredible immediacy the TCR frame is truly addictive and a completely different ride to my previous bike the Giant Propel. I am not alone in loving the new bike, see the video below.
But the Propel has a distinct aero advantage to the TCR, especially above 35kph, which I suspect is 90% down to the Giant SLR 0 aero wheels. The TCR Disc comes as standard with Giant SLR Disc 30mm WheelSystem and Gavia SLR tubeless tires, that looked the part, but did not seem to have the inertia I was used to from the Propel’s wheels. There are plenty of articles on the benefits of aero wheels, but nice summary of the differences here.
So, of course, the inevitable search for new wheels took place. The first port of call on the interweb was Farsports, who I have bought several sets of wheels from in the last couple of years for various friends bikes, including our project Orange TCR. In the interests of research I did look at many other companies that supply Carbon Clinchers, but I could not find anything that came close to Farsports wide variety, competitive prices and with a quality I could trust.
The received wisdom these days is that wider rims are better, so I had decided that I wanted 58mm deep by 28mm wide rims. Darren had purchased these for his TCR Advanced Pro 1 last year and really loved the way the wider rims handled sidewinds and how nicely 25mm Continental GP4000s tyres fitted the rims, from an aero point of view.
While I have had great success with Novatec hubs on other Farsports wheels, I decided to treat myself to a set of DT Swiss 240, 12mm Thru axle hubs, as I plan to keep the wheels for a while and these hubs are generally regarded as the gold standard for weight, reliability and quality. Finally I decided I wanted 24 spoke wheels, as I am not too heavy and the wheels will be mostly used on Dubai’s smooth road and tracks.
However, Farsports comprehensive wheel option selections did not have the mix of rim, hub and spoke count that I was looking for, so a quick email to Sandy in sales was dashed off with the desired spec. Within the hour a very reasonable quote arrived in my inbox, even giving me a decent bit of discount for being a previous customer.
After the usual 20 day wait for the wheels to arrive from China, they finally pitched up in Dubai. After unpacking, a quick inspection showed that the order was exactly what I had hoped for, quality of finish, trueness and general appearance were all perfect. Much as I have come to expect from Farsports. The rims measured up as nearly 30mm at their widest and an internal width of 20mm, which is excellent for the new generation of wider tyres. Being disc braked the TCR can pretty well fit any tyre up to 32mm between the stays, as there are no brake calipers to foul.
I was curious to see what the difference in weight would be from the Giant 30mm, carbon climbing wheels and the Farsports 58mm Aero wheels would be, so I decided I would measure the total wheel package, with tyres and tubes, as well as the total difference in bike weight. Firstly I weighed the wheels as they came out of the box, with the front being 720g and the rear 820g, making a total weight of 1540g, which is very decent indeed.
The bike weight with stock wheels, Ultegra pedals, plastic bottle cages, Stages power meter and Garmin holder came out at a very decent 7.97kg
A new set of centerlock 140mm Shimano SM-RT 81 discs were married up to the new wheels, rim tapes, tubes and the obligatory Conti tyres were all fitted in short order.
Fitted with the new wheels and tyres, the bike weighed in at 8.04kg or a whole 70g heavier. I was truly surprised as wheel sets generally become 130g heavier for every cm added to (a wheel pair’s) rim depth, so I was expecting at least a 300g increase in weight.
Interestingly there was a noticeable difference in rear hub performance compared with the Giant rear hub, which for some reason on the TCR Disc are not that “spin-able” and appear to have a little bit more stiction than rear hubs normally have. The new DT Swiss hubs spin up much easier on the work stand and take a lot longer to slow down.
Here is the TCR with the new Farsports 58mm wheels all fitted, ready to go (yes the handlebars need rotated down)
Out on the road, the first ride revealed all the benefits I could have hoped for and more. At speeds around 40kph the wheels seemed to have an inertia of their own, especially in a bunch. Whereas the 30mm stock wheels always seemed to want to slow down, it’s hard to explain and a very subjective thing, but the new wheels are simply faster.
In breezy and gusty conditions, the Farsports wheels seem to be much more stable than the narrower (23mm) Giant Aero SLR 0 aero wheels that I had on the Propel. Again subjective, but I put this down to the wider rim, better aerodynamics and the more modern toroidal shape.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the TCR Disc has lost none of it’s immediacy and agility with the deeper rims, I kind of expected that to happen, but thankfully not. All in all very happy with the new wheels, the problem I have now is a redundant set of Giant climbing wheels. After all what’s the point in changing wheels for the hills to save 70g of weight ?
Cycling in the city in Dubai is not without its challenges, however the authorities are doing a remarkable job of putting in a significant amount of great infrastructure for us to make moving around the city on two wheels much easier.
The 8km cycle track at District 1, Meydan or Nad al Sheba has been pretty well established for a couple of years now, with it gradually getting polished into a really top quality venue. With its perfectly engineered surface, few and well controlled traffic crossing points, it has obviously had a lot of thought put into its design and implementation. The missing link has always been the need to drive with your bikes to the Meydan track and park your car, but that is shortly to be solved. At least for those accessing from proximal parts of the city.
A visit to the HSBC branch at Safa park today, lead me to breaking out the Fixie, with the notion of exploring the recently opened canals walkway and the new Safa cycle path that links to Meydan. Due to limited available information, I only found out after the ride, that the Canals walkway is just that, NOT a cycle path or indeed a cycling allowed area. There is a very good chance you will be sent elsewhere if you try to cycle canal side, that is until they build a specific cycle path. It kind of makes sense, as a shared pathway for cycling and pedestrians is never going to work well in Dubai. Especially as pedestrians would have to pay attention and not look at their mobile phones while walking!
So leaving from the HSBC branch I turned left towards the canal which is on the North side of Safa park, riding about 2km along the pedestrian walkway, under the Sheikh Zayed Road, before picking up the dedicated blue surface cycle path, near the new W Hotel. As you can see in the video, the path is still very much under construction, but gradually winds its way through Business Bay. There are several pedestrian crossings and care is certainly needed, as you should never have the expectation that Exocet powered pick-up trucks are going to stop for you. In the middle of Business Bay a bit of creative construction site navigation was required, as the blue cycle path came to an abrupt dead end at a flyover that was being constructed.
After negotiating a few more pedestrian crossings, and a bit more bike path you eventually come to the side of the Al Khail Rd, with the new bike dedicated bridge crossing the highway looming up ahead. A quick nip up and over the bridge, you sweep down onto the wonderful 8km Meydan track. As it had been a while since I had videoed the Meydan track, I thought a lap would do me no harm. Though I have to say Fixie gearing into the wind requires a bit more effort, especially as last night’s ride was still in the old legs.
Heading back to Al Safa was much easier, as the route under the being constructed flyover was easier to navigate with prior knowledge of it’s current idiosyncrasies. At the W Hotel, I stayed left and followed the cycle path all the way to the bottom of Safa Park, where it comes to an end pretty well in front of the Union Coop Crossing the Wasl Road at the HSBC, I then turned right down the side of Choithrams and then paralleled the Wasl Road to my finishing point at the new Starbucks on Al Sinyar Street. Never have been the biggest fan of Seatle’s finest grind, but having forgotten to take water with me it seemed like a perfect stopping point for a coffee and reward brownie.
So in conclusion the new bike path from the bottom of Safa Park out to Meydan is about 95% completed. As it stands it’s not perfect, but definitely usable with a little care. I have no doubt it will gradually be polished into a very effective route out to Meydan and I believe eventually out to Al Qudra. The Canals are not bike friendly yet, but again I think that is only a matter of time.
Here is a video of the route at double speed, its’s about a 23km route and took about 55mins, so fast forward to any portion you are interested in. Also if you want to look at the detail of the route on Strava, click here
Last year’s cycling holiday in Tuscany whet our appetites for another European two wheeled adventure, thoughts wandered to Spain, France and possibly Italy again. Initially it started out as just the two of us, but then Sara mentioned that she was going to be in Northern Italy for the summer, staying with her parents. With her semi-retired Bianchi holiday steed, she was suitably equipped to meet up with us and act as menu translator extraordinaire. Darren decided after little persuasion that it would be a good idea too, as he had no plans for his summer, being abandoned by Sally his wife.
With a loose idea of numbers, and a point in the general direction by Sara, the search for somewhere with suitably gorgeous riding terrain, accommodation and places to visit was sought out. AirBnB has fast become our go-to place for finding somewhere to base ourselves when on foreign adventures and after much procrastinating we zoned in on a pretty little lakeside town called Orta San Giulio, on the edge of Lake Orta, about 45mins north-west of Milan Malpensa airport.
The beginning of August is peak season in Italy, so there was some urgency to securing a booking, as appropriate properties seemed to be disappearing fast. Due to lack of suitable properties, initially we felt we had to make compromises, but regardless we settled for a Charming little duplex apartment on the town’s main street. It featured one lavatory and up to seven single beds, four of which were upstairs in the beamed loft. No double beds…. as mentioned compromises were made, but it did offer us incredible flexibility.
Spare beds seem like a waste, so my nephew Iain decided he could probably fly down from the UK for a few days with bike in tow, sometime later my niece Megan was roped in for a few days diversion while on her European Inter-Rail tour. Six people one Loo, this was going to be interesting!
Our riding group here in Dubai is sometimes referred to as AGMC Team Rolls Royce, which makes us sound way more posh and competent than most of us are. One of the mandates of TeamRR is that we have regular strategy meetings, often taking the form of a post ride recovery brunch. During one of these meetings, Brett voiced the opinion that we should all do a cycling holiday next year, our response was bu**er next year, what about this year. Two weeks later there were nine of us signed up to invade Orta, with Brett, Megs and Steve finding rooms in a hotel 200m from our apartment.
Flights and the other aspects of the plan fell into place relatively easily. With the area being unknown to us, it seemed like a good idea to figure out some rides before departure, so that we could upload routes to our Garmins. Some of us were not as strong riders, or as good climbers as others, so optional climbs were built in to the easier routes to add a bit of extra exercise for the keen. A dozen or so suitable routes were mapped out using Strava Heat Maps to figure out where the locals rode most. The best clue was to look for squiggly lines on the Strava Heat Map as they generally highlighted a good climb.
Packing up your bike and all the required bits for a foreign trip requires an act of faith, a bit of preparation and a suitable box or case. We used a mix of manufacturer supplied cardboard boxes, as well as Scicon bike bags, both worked very well. As I was travelling up to Ireland for a week before heading to Italy, I used the cardboard box option, as it is much lighter and I could get two bikes and a 15kg suitcase in my 40kg Emirates baggage allowance. Emirates is excellent in this respect, as it only cares about the total weight of your baggage, so there is no extra charge for a bike.
Along with the bikes, helmets, shoes, some basic tools, spares and a travel track pump were put in the box. One of the spares we always carry is spare derailleur hangars, this proved to be a wise move after locking up my chain between the front chain-rings and ripping off the rear derailleur and sending it through the rear wheel spokes while in Northern Ireland. Shimano parts are easy to find, but a derailleur for your specific bike can be a show stopper. The rear end of my bike was well and truly trashed, with the derailleur plates, cassette and chain ring all bent, as well as a broken spoke.
Thankfully when it happened I was 2km from home and flying to Gatwick the next day, a visit to Evans Cycles warehouse was rapidly penciled into the plan. £300 later, my bike was back in action with a new Di2 derailleur, Ultegra cassette, chain-ring, spoke and a trued wheel. Evans car park in the summer is an excellent place to fix a bike; they even offered me a job.
After a few days of riding in West Sussex, while visiting friends, it was off to the main event in Orta. Easyjet was our carrier of choice to Milan Malpensa (MXP) and everything worked fairly seamlessly, both bikes arriving with no issues. By the time we got our hire car organised, it was time to pick up Darren from T1 where he had just got in from from Dubai.
Three people, three bikes and our luggage squeezed nicely into our hideous little Fiat Qubo. Although Darren’s neck required a few days of physio after sharing rear head space with his bikes front wheel, but as a Yorkshireman he will do anything to save a penny.
We arrived in Orta to be greeted by a late afternoon downpour; the main car park in Orta is remote from the town centre, as the streets are positively Medieval in width, designed for horse and cart.
So we trudged down the road in the teeming rain to the apartment, with a plan to return to the underground car park to build up the bikes later.
The apartment turned out to be exactly as advertised and perfect for our purposes, even if it was on the fourth floor, still post ride stretching is meant to be good for you.
Our first ride the next morning was the Orta lake loop, which rapidly became our default ride for new arrivals and also recovery in afternoon if we had done a morning climb. The loop is a 38km spin around Lake Orta, with a nice constant 5% climb of 200m to work the legs a little, but generally pretty flat.
The Orta loop is all on main roads, generally the traffic was light, very patient and bike friendly. The views were all we could have hoped for and more, with stunning scenery and perspectives across the lake.
A local café in Alzo di Pella became our standard meeting and watering hole, especially if someone decided to do an optional climb up to Quarna Sotto. Waiting with a cappuccino or even a Prosecco just seemed so much more civilised. After all it was mostly downhill the whole way home.
The plan for day two was for Sara to arrive in the afternoon, Dawn was still nursing a bad shoulder from a race crash earlier in the year, so decided to wait for Sara to arrive and we could all do the lake loop in the afternoon. As we had a free morning Darren and I decided to do one of the shorter local climbs up to a village called Coiromonte, which was only 11km away.
Starting almost from the town of Orta, this little 570m climb was a perfect introduction to the hills, for us world-is-flat Dubai riders. Winding our way up to Coiromonte village on a perfect road, we were only passed by three cars and by far and away the nosiest thing on the way was the cows with their alpine bells musically clanking in the fields.
The next day Darren, Sara and I decided we should go and investigate Mottarone, possibly one of the best climbs in the area. Mottarone is a lovely little climb of 1170m topping out 15km from Orta at a Ski resort. With gradients up to 18% and constant grinds of 15% it promised to be bit of a killer.
A bit of a monster Mottarone was too, but with such beautiful weather and scenery, it seemed rude not to keep tapping and grinding it out, gradually winding our way up to the cool of the cloud. Darren and Sara climbed the extra 90m to the very top; I decided that the road junction just short of there was good enough for me, pathetic.
Over the next few days the rest of the team gradually joined us, by which time we had thoroughly investigated the local restaurants, pizza places and watering holes. Just like Team Sky we find time is rarely wasted in research.
Early the following morning Brett and Steve decided that they should wander off to do Coiromonte as a leg warmer, before our scheduled group ride. However a wrong turn at the village of Armeno found them making it half way up Mottarone and were taken a bit by surprise at how hard the so called little climb was.
Much entertainment was had over the lunch table, especially when they found out that I had made it to the top, particularly as I possess the poorest climbing prowess of the group.
Our afternoon ride that day had the whole group represented and was a tourist spin over to Lake Maggiore.
Initially not the nicest of routes, as we went through a few fairly industrial towns to get around to the head of Lake Maggiore, but once heading South all was good.
Winding along the lakeside, through the incredibly picturesque towns of Stresa and Arona, we slowed the pace down to drink in the views, with coffee stops on the side of the road a pre-requisite.
Needless to say the boys had to have another crack at Mottarone, dirty tricks were attempted by some unknown person, by hiding the front wheel of Iain’s bike, as it was anticipated he would be the fastest, having youth, fitness and weight advantages in spades.
This of course was futile, as he was secretly planning to ride my bike, as his Felt was a bit lardy. With the fact that I had got to the top firmly in the back of their minds, they all slayed the hill and the natural order of things was resumed. Megs also got to the top, which really only surprised herself.
Over the next couple of days we settled into a routine of group and individual rides, to suit our various needs for rest, recovery and activity. A longitudinal study was conducted on the recovery merits of Cheese, Prosciutto, Salume, Pizza, Pasta, Gelato and various liquid products that were available on every corner in Northern Italy. A tough job, but we persisted none the less.
Life in our little apartment worked out really well, the tired trudge up the flights of stairs became so normal we hardly noticed it, especially as the fridge usually had some suitable recovery tonic waiting for us. A strict six minute Loo time slot was generally adhered to by all and no noticeable Princess moments were experienced. What we lost in privacy and the comfort of a double bed was easily made up for with banter and camaraderie. The general consensus was we wouldn’t have changed a bit of it, but next time I want a double!
Orta San Giulio proved more by luck than anything else a perfect place to base ourselves, while it lacked a supermarket; there was no shortage of restaurants, bars and gelato emporiums. The local roads were generally excellent and we probably only scratched the surface of the available local rides. We were blessed with almost perfect weather and ideal cycling temperatures.
What a brilliant week that was, thanks to all involved.
Sara’s Giant Propel Advanced Pro 1 is just over 9 months old and having been regularly ridden throughout that period, it was time for a full service in preparation for the looming summer.
Dubai can be hard on bikes as the hot dusty climate creates a perfect storm of conditions to allow grease to gradually disappear and grit to get in to components, joints and bearings. Ideally your bike should be continually looked at and kept on top of, but what kind of sad, feckless waster has time for that?
The easy option of course is to drop it in at one of the Local Bike Shops (LBS) who will do it all for you for a small (or not) fee. However doing a full service on your own bike is well within the scope of the home mechanic or enthusiastic amateur. Remarkably few special tools are required and the ones I used added up to about 200aed in total.
OK, there is no doubt a Troque wrench is ideal for all work on a bike, especially Carbon Fibre components, but if you have a little mechanical feel you can get away without one. Saying that at 150aed from Wiggle they are not exactly expensive.
First order of the day was to clean the chain, it seems obvious, but working on a bike after the chain has been cleaned is much nicer. I generally just use some petrol from a jerry can I have sitting around to get the bulk of the crap off the chain, then use de-greaser and a chain cleaning tool to finish off.
Once the chain was reasonably clean, time to strip the bike down to the bare frame, removing all the components that need servicing. Wheels, forks, head-set, crank, chain-set, seat-post and brakes were all removed for inspection, cleaning and lubing.
A quick inspection once stripped down revealed no obvious nasties, but lots of sand and grit everywhere. One area that I have seen a few problems recently on bikes, is the head bearings that support the steerer tube, especially the lower bearing. Gravity and heat have their way with this bearing and evidence of the grease leaching out can be seen on many bikes after even a short ride in the heat.
Over time this bearing can dry out and steering can become quite knotchy or loose, often resulting in the need for new bearings. Thankfully Sara’s still had plenty of grease, even if the surrounding area was pretty dirty.
Bearing removal and cleaning is a matter of using your fingers to remove bearing from the cup, cleaning the bearings and cups with a rag and then re-greasing them. This is really a 15 minute job with the only tool required being a 4mm Allen key.
Onwards to the depth’s of the Bottom Bracket (BB). Until you pull yours apart you probably think this is something mysterious and complicated, but it is really not. There is only one special tool required to remove a Shimano front crank and chain-set, this being is a bung plug socket, apart from that all you need is a 5mm Allen key
Once stripped of the crank and chainset, you can see that the bottom bracket bearing seals have done a great job in keeping the dust and sand out of the bearings, just as well, as replacing bearings especially in a press fit BB like the Propel is a bit of a bigger job. So with no evident wear or damage, clean and lube, once again order of the day.
Chain rings and crank were also checked and cleaned, with no significant wear, as you would expect on a relatively new bike.
Onwards to the rear dérailleur, which was partially disassembled for servicing. The jockey wheels on the rear dérailleur are worth taking apart, as they often get cluttered up with rag threads from chain cleaning and coated with old chain lube.
Sara’s were pretty clean and in good nick, soA quick clean and lube of the ceramic bearings on the jockey wheels with some Teflon chain lube was all that was required.
Next to the wheels and cassette. Removing the rear cassette on a bike requires two fairly cheap special tools, a chain whip to hold the cassette and a special cassette socket to undo the centre retaining nut. Possibly the best investment for a road cyclist tool-wise, as this enables you to swap cassettes in a matter of minutes. Useful if you plan to stray from the flatlands of Al Qudra to something more challenging like Jebel Jais.
To the uninitiated a disassembled Ultegra cassette looks like a complicated thing, but Shimano has made them virtually impossible to assemble in the wrong way, at least if you have your eyes open that is. Simply put if it looks right, then you have done it right. Sara’s cassette had a bit of wear, but considering the mileage she has done in 9 months, well within what is expected. Her chain had been recently replaced, so that required nothing more than a re-lube.
Wheel bearings were inspected and required nothing but a dab of grease and a clean. The freehub was removed from the rear wheel, as it was starting to get a little noisy. The Giant wheels on the Propel have a free hub made by DT Swiss, a quick clean, grease and reassembly made things much quieter and noticeably smoother.
All shifting and brake cables were inspected and found to be in good working order. A squirt of Teflon spray was put down the J tubes on the brake fittings, as these areas are prone to ingress of sweat and can corrode the cables, especially on the rear brake.
The final thing to service on the Propel is the Aero SL brakes which are made by TRP. This is one of the reasons I suggested the service to Sara, as if Propels have one weak spot, it is the bearings on the Speed Control SL brakes. These need regular servicing, as with heat and sweat the Cadmium plated bearing caliper pivot can seize up and is an utter bu**er to disassemble when it has seized.
The way to identify if you have a problem with these brakes, is if there is any stiction or drag, when they are meant to spring back from the rim. If you find yourself adjusting the spring tension on one side to balance the gap, then you may also have a problem.
The Propels brakes are fantastic in use and must save at least 3 watts by their Aero design, which as we all knows really matters, especially if you have a pathetic little engine like me! Relatively easy to take apart, it is a 20 minute job to do all 4 brakes, only tool required a 5mm Allen Key. Simply put if these brakes are serviced regularly, say every 6 months, there is no issue.
Sara’s rear left pivot showed a little wear on the plating, but nothing a smear of grease couldn’t fix
Most Ultegra group-set bikes won’t feature the above brakes and with “normal” Ultegra calipers their is less of an issue. But the old adage stands, five minutes of maintenance can save hundreds of dollars, lots of time, and tons of heartache.
The rest of the service, was a matter of cleaning, checking and lubing as appropriate. Total time taken was just over 2 hours, probably less time than it would take me to drive to the LBS to deposit, then return to pick up the bike, way more fun and considerably less expensive.
Remember YouTube has instructions on every single facet of bike servicing, you are not alone, who needs phone a friend, when you can watch a video. Go on have a go, service your own bike, you know it makes sense.
So the big cycling event in the Dubai calendar rolled around again with much anticipation, strategising and a little bit of preparation. This was to be my second Spinneys 92 Challenge and also for many of the group of born-again-cyclists that I ride with, it was the same or even their first.
One of the aviation magazines I used to read voraciously when learning to fly featured a monthly article called “I learned about flying from that”. Usually the story involved some hair raising dice with nature, human error or plain stupidity, that led to a near-death experience, which inevitably the author learned a big lesson from.