Cervélo S5. Is it any good?

I’M VAGUELY ON THE LOOKOUT for a new racing frame. ‘Vaguely’ because the instinctive part of my brain really really wants me to race on a new frame in 2017, while the thinking, objective area of brain runs a script pointing out that such a purchase would be expensive, bothersome (swapping over all the parts) and above all unnecessary – as in ‘unlikely to make an attributable difference to my finishing positions in races’.

The conversation pings back and forth in my head, and from time to time I indulge my emotional, limbic system, pretending that if the right frame, in the right colour and at the right price was unearthed, maybe, just maybe, I’d buy it. It’s obviously a twenty-first century version – pleasure via shopping – of basic emotions and drives.

Cervélo S5

To my eyes there are more attractive shapes and colourways for expensive bicycles than Cervélo S5 , but arguably how you feel about it matters more

Anyways up, thanks to Phil Corley Cycles of Milton Keynes I took a test ride this week on the current Cervélo S5, the one they give to Cavendish and Cummings to ply their trade astride. Within 200 yards I knew two things about the ride quality of the frame (which is the bit that I was really curious about);

– it’s solid. Truly, as the S5 rolls along you can’t help but be impressed with how ‘all of a piece’ it is. However Cervélo layer their carbon weave, the end result is a frame that feels like it’s hewn from a single something

smooth S5

As smooth as a can of Boddingtons, the one with the floating widget

– it’s smooth. Creamy, glidey smooth like a can of Boddingtons bitter – the one with floating widget inside. That there’s not a hint of buzz, despite the solidity, would be a revelation to me, had I not previously tested a Bianchi embedded with ‘Countervail’ technology, which is at least as polished, if not more so, in this regard.

First impressions then were, um, impressive. Yeah, so big hits from bad tarmac weren’t absorbed, they jolted and thumped, but they departed the instant they arrived, their effects certainly didn’t resonate around the frame. The bike just got on with going forward, especially when I got out of the saddle. Sprinting was very, very purposeful. Even when I swung the bike from side to side below me, it still gave the overall sense that forward propulsion was its only intention.


Was there a touch of the pantomime horse about the S5? Too honking right there was

So, is there anything not to like? Ah, in my blog, plenty. Even if I ignore the chunky, angular aesthetics that don’t appeal, and the unexciting colourway too (it’s hard to find stimulation with variations on the ‘colour’ black, however well executed) there’s the matter of what the bike doesn’t do;

– I didn’t think it did hills particularly elegantly. Out of the saddle and sprinting on the flat, yes, but honking uphill, no – it had a touch of the pantomime horse about it – losing its earlier togetherness and feeling a touch out-of-phase with itself
– it never really urged me on. Granted, it did my bidding, translating my efforts into forward motion with all the faithfulness of a well-trained guide dog. Yet I was hoping for more, something frisky and exuberant, something that gloriously amplified, rather than impressively reproduced, my physical inputs.

In the end then, an admirable bike, not a lovable one. It just wasn’t enough fun. It didn’t zing, or sing, or even encourage a smile, and with a list price for a complete bike starting at £4,000 (or, for a mere £500 less you can get a frameset), I would want more. Yes, it is good, but just how good depends on how you define good.

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Good times

I DON’T KNOW WHAT ADVENTURE cycling looks or feels like for an independent-minded teenager these days, but back in 1978 cycle touring was both exciting, and real.

You packed your bags with clothes, fears and hopes, you ran a tap over your 500ml bidon, and zoomed off across London with a bunch of other 15 to 18 year old’s – to Paddington station. Into a spacious, dusty and near-empty guards van went the bikes, and to the adjoining carriage went us. And from that vantage point you later watched with some foreboding as the Black Mountains of Wales (actually red sandstone, but I didn’t know that then) presented themselves as a massed rank of dark solids. Essex had not prepared us.

What happened next was a mixture of YHA sensibility and juvenile high-jinks. Can we traverse a boggy hillside? Maybe. Can we leap across rivers? We can try. Should we fiddle with the crank orientation of a friend? Or, quite literally, close the gate on a run-off driveway on a sharp corner following a rather fast, rather long, descent. To both: of course!

Crest Ilford

Being on tour means being prepared to get your feet wet

Crest Ilford in black mountains

Can we leap across rivers in a single bound? We can try.

reorientated cranks

Cranking out the laughs, at someone else’s expense.


We did some proper hard cycling too. Fully laden and into the Brecon Beacons. If you know exactly where this is, do Tweet me, @vavaveteran

Over cooking it

Over-cooking the corner. At this point the driveway gate was wide open.

Overcooked again

It’s a good thing that gate is still open.


What would happen if we closed the gate before the others arrive? Let’s see.


Crest Ilford, the cycling club that means business

when train

Awaiting the train home. Craven Arms station in Shropshire wasn’t exactly busy in August 1978.

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A spanner in the S-Works

‘EMPOWERED’ IS ONE OF THOSE words that outside of the legal profession didn’t get much of a look in until the 1990’s, and since then it seems to crop up just about everywhere. So why not in a cycling blog?

It’s my bottom bracket that’s doing it,  you should understand.

External BB

The blue-coloured part is the frame. The silver-coloured part is the crank. And the brown-gold bit in between is part of the bottom bracket. Replacing it is easy-peasy – honestly!

For some reason that I’ve not been able to fathom, of all the little skills which are needed to keep a bicycle running efficiently that I’ve acquired over the years, changing my own bottom bracket (BB) has never been one of them. I suppose I’ve always imagined a difficult, messy operation involving lots of tools and grease and ball bearings. Writing this now, I can’t actually recall quite what I’ve imagined. Nevertheless I’ve always paid someone else to sort things out once the dreaded creak, or crank wiggle, or sometimes just the chain making more noise than usual against the front mech, announced itself. Has your chain begun to drop off the ring you are shifting towards – it could be lateral play resulting from a worn BB that’s responsible!

Having just changed a BB of my own though, my sense of empowerment, of exploring my own potential, so far outweighs my embarrassment that shame isn’t going to stop me writing this. Although truthfully, there’s not a lot to say.

Maybe it was all the easier for me because the BB in question, which happened to be on my S-Works but could equally have been on my Trinity (pictured above), was an ‘external’ design. I can’t honestly say whether press-fit (BB30 or PF30 or BB90/95 or BB86/92), or captive threaded BBs or would have presented different but equally conquerable challenges.

At any rate for anyone with an external threaded BB and who has not yet taken the plunge I’d say: save yourself the faff and expense of getting a bike shop to replace your bottom bracket, and just do it yourself.

BB removal tool

Bottom: external BB removal tool. Top: hex (Allen) keys. Middle: extra leverage – this tube was left over when a friend built himself a microlight!

A quick view of a video, I used this one, and you’ll surely be encouraged to look at the numbers on the side and order your own replacement BB.

Up on the stand, Allen key to release the FSA crank (much easier with extra leverage in the form of a metal tube), out pops the drive-side gubbins, then spanner off the old BB with my new £14, 16 tooth removal tool, clean up the BB shell, grease the threads and, well, watch a video, super-duper easy peasy.

The best bit? Pedalling around afterwards feeling all smug at an important job well done.

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You can’t parry a Parry

“THERE HAVE BEEN TWO OCCASIONS in my cycling life that I’ve been really down”, confided outgoing LVRC chairman Don Parry to me while, enveloped by our respective wing-backed armchairs, we each sipped on a smooth Rwandan coffee by the hearth of a Northamptonshire town-house, as outside an autumnal dusk began extracting what remained of the day’s warmth.

“The first time was in 1990. I was 42 years old then, returning to competitive cycle sport after twenty-odd years away. At the time I stopped racing I’d been one of the country’s bright young things, in 1966 beating no lesser names than Ian Hallam [1] and Graham Moore [2] – in a sprint I executed perfectly, clicking through from a 76″ to an 81″ and finally an 86″ gear to win by a length – and so become National Junior Road-Race Champion before being sent to Germany to represent Great Britain in the 1967 Tour of the Youth [3], and in 1968 training in the evenings alongside Peter Buckley [4] and Kev Wood in the hills encircling Manchester. Fast forward though to the spring of 1990, to my competitive come-back, and week after week I was getting a right kicking at the veteran’s races around The Milton Keynes Bowl. I was so depressed at how uncompetitive I was that I was ready to give it up, to go back to playing squash for Dallington Fifth’s, the ‘drinking team’, as we were known”.

Don Parry 1966

Beating future international riders Ian Hallam and Graham Moore into the minor podium positions, 18 year old Don Parry wins the 1966 National Junior Road Race Championship in Sherston, Wiltshire with what he describes as “a perfectly executed sprint”.

I’ve started, so I’ll finish

“And the second time, what depressed you the second time in your cycling world?”, I asked.

“Can I come back to that”, replied Don, “I’d like to finish off the first story?”

I inclined my head almost imperceptibly and added a superfluous wave of the hand, accepting without question that no cyclist likes to surrender momentum, even verbal momentum.

“I was depressed at being more than merely uncompetitive, I wasn’t able to finish the races – being completely cooked by their relentless intensity. Legs like jelly, and totally aerobically wasted. I came home after one event and said to Elaine that if I don’t hang on to the bunch in the next race, it would be my last and I’d pack it in. Except I did hang on in that race, and after three months – three long and painful months of getting a kicking every week – I managed to get race fit enough to able to finish. Later I came to realise that my physiology is made for The Bowl – in any of its configurations. I was able to win frequently”.

And indeed this must be true, for it has taken until 2016, that’s twenty-five years, for Don to finally not compete for the wins any more at The Bowl, with the massive caveat that this slide is only in age groups fifteen or so years his junior. Measure him against the F cats there – the 65-70 year old’s like himself – and it would take some unusual visitors to deny him the wins: “Alan Kemp [5] for example – he’s a fabulous rider and I’ve never beaten him fair and square,” admitted Don, “he’s the best veteran racer of my generation and I’m lucky he didn’t ride The Bowl”.


“So you raced out-of-category a lot in ‘training races’ in order to better compete for wins when it mattered more, do you think LVRC should do more to encourage that?” I asked, “both for the strongest riders to race with ‘youngsters’, as you’ve done, and for the weaker riders to race in older groups? A sort of back-door way of streaming races by ability, but without the administrative burden that ability-streaming requires?”

Don was inclined to agree, but with provisos, “You’d have to ensure that points and prizes didn’t accrue to out-of-category riders. And, you’d have to be able to send successful youngsters back to their own age group, so I wonder about the difference it would end up making. It couldn’t be a short-cut to glory, an alternative to the hard workouts that is often the real reason people leave this branch of cycle sport – the somewhat shocking realization of the high-intensity types of training needed, and an unwillingness to keep on doing it. Although having said all that, if it would help give people honest competition it could be worth discussing.”

At this point I could easily have headed off into an exploration of training protocols and tools, of periodization, peaking and recovery, but restrained myself. There was still the matter of the second cycling depression. I topped up the coffee and risked floating this topic again. I needn’t have worried.

Really Down

“Oh my second downer was much more recent, early 2016 in fact. I’d been LVRC Chairman for a decade and could see what needed to be done in the near future – applying technology more widely, and encouraging veteran women to race with us for example – and realised that the fresh people needed to achieve this just weren’t coming forward.”

Don Parry

Outgoing LVRC Chairman after a decade at the helm and now aged 67: that’ll be Don Parry

“The NEC was ageing and I was saddened at the very real prospect of LVRC withering away at the age of thirty-something. Fortunately, come the spring of this year came the volunteers, new young applicants at national and regional level, women too, which is fantastic. So as 2016 comes to a close LVRC is now in a much stronger place than it was at the year’s beginning.”

Parry on Peaking

“And what about modern-day cycling?”, I ask, as one does of riders of a certain age. “Aside from the obvious quality and efficiency of modern components, is there anything else that contrasts strongly for you when comparing your first cycling life to your second?”

“Well before answering that I’ll tell you some things that haven’t changed”, offers Don. “You still need to join a club or a group of like-minded riders, people whose ambitions match yours and with whom you’ve more in common than just riding a bike. At my age though I try to avoid youngsters; they are just too strong and their agendas are too far removed from mine.

“Also, you still need to build a good fitness base, adding speed-work only on top of that. So after a break, a transition from the sheer physical pain of race-intensity training and racing itself, you must put the winter hours in. 10-12 a week perhaps, although not necessarily all of it outdoors. The training needn’t all be slow and steady in my opinion; I’d advise maintaining some threshold ability throughout winter with sweetspot training such as 2 x 20mins @ around 10% below threshold. And, of course, you still have to manage your rest – for vets it’s crucial. Get all that right and come the season it’s possible to be in peak form a few times. This year I peaked for the National Road Race Championships where I got gold, the National Criterium Championship, where I got gold, and the UCI Gran Fondo World Series in Poznan, Poland where I came second to a chap who collapsed and was taken to hospital while I was on the podium receiving my silver medal!

Parry on Power

“Returning to your question, the big contrast in training now compared with a generation or two ago is really measuring power. For me, training ‘with power’ is a must, and easily justifies the associated costs, as you can quantify not only the workload but that vital follow-on to it: rest and recovery. One of the most important benefits of training with power is knowing when and how ‘hard’ to rest, although to do so you really do need to record (or at least manually fill in an estimate for) every single ride you do, or you’ll never know your true physiological stress level.

“Having stuff recorded isn’t the whole story though, as you have to use, and really understand, the software so that you can find the meaning in the data, see the patterns that reveal how to use power to its best advantage. It helps if you are a ‘detail’ person, or can work with someone who is, otherwise you’ll do as I did at first and be ‘fiddling around’ missing opportunities to use the data to its best advantage. I use Training Peaks software, which takes a while to understand, but once you know how to drive it you can create ‘what if’ scenarios quite easily. For example if I train in ‘this’ way for three days, where will that put me at ‘this’ point – maybe race day? That is hugely beneficial. And, I love to see in graphs and numbers how extreme physical exercise actually looks on paper or on screen, and how my body is reacting to training stimuli.

Don, I’d say it’s reacting pretty well. You, and your sponsor Phil Corley Cycles of Milton Keynes, must be pretty pleased with just how well.

[1] Ian Hallam: track medallist at Commonwealth & Olympic Games, and rode professionally for KP Crisps
[2] Graham Moore: turned professional in 1972 for Ron Kitchin, then rode for Raleigh and later Bantel
[3] Team mates then: Phil Edwards (later a key domestique to world champion Moser in the Sanson team), Bob Jones (professional rider with the Holdsworth-Campagnolo team of 1974) and Colin Clews (UCI International Commissaire and organiser of The Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic)
[4] Peter Buckley: road-race gold medallist, Commonwealth Games
[5] Alan Kemp: rode for GB in both the Milk Race and the Peace Race

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Arm-warmers: useful, or useless?

IF I’M GOING TO SWEAR by, rather than swear at, my arm-warmers, what is it that determines whether they cop it or not? After all, arm-warmers are probably the perfect garment for micro-modulating our temperature-related comfort on days when the mercury begins low and then edges up . They really do allow you to wear short sleeve jerseys on day’s that you otherwise wouldn’t, and spare you from wearing long sleeves on day’s you’d rather not. So why be fussy?

Well here’s why. For me, once I’ve started a ride, I don’t like stopping. Stopping messes with my rhythm and depresses my average speed. So of course I drink on the move, and eat on the move. And if I’m wearing arm-warmers, I like to be able to adjust them on the move too.

arm-warmers over wrist

Arm-warmers pushed down over the wrist is not, in Va Va Veteran’s opinion, a good look

The trouble is, not only am I uncomfortable with no-hands riding, but my rear pockets are often too full of stuff [1] to accommodate discarded arm-warmers as well. And supposing I get cold again and want them back on?

I could push them down to my wrists – many people do, ready to be pulled back up again, but a bunched-up doughnut of material sitting atop one’s hands as they grip the hoods is a stupid look, and most arm-warmers hug so tightly that the whole manoeuvre is easier said than done.

In my opinion there’s only one arm-warmer that’s worth wearing, and they don’t cost the arm, or even the leg, of every other offering in the market-place. Indeed they’re less than a tenner. The best things about them though are firstly that they work – providing insulation in lightly chilled weather, and secondly that when things warm up they can be single-handedly rolled up over the bicep while on the move – and back down again if it clouds over or you begin to descend from on high.

Prendas Meraklon arm-warmer

The original, discretely branded Prendas Meraklon arm-warmer. Yours to roll up, down, and back up again. All for for less than a tenner.

They go by the name of Prendas Meraklon and are perfect for spring and autumn riding.

They don’t weigh much, nor do they make you sweat. There is no seam or gripper to irritate you. Indeed the only things not to like are that the top edge needs careful placement if it’s not to curl up and cause a ridge near your arm-pit, and recent offerings are plastered with logos that I’d prefer not to display.

I swear by them, not at them.

The science of thermoregulation and comfort

Despite us pedalling in humid summer valleys and windy, wintry mountainous passes, despite solar radiation loading us with almost 1kW of heat per square metre of exposed skin, we humans maintain our core temperatures within a precise and rather small range, between 36 and 38°C.

It’s our skin that controls heat and moisture flow to and from the surrounding environment.The skin also contains thermal sensors that participate in the thermoregulatory control, and affect our thermal sensation and comfort.

Arm-warmers extend the body’s range of thermoregulatory control, and reduce the metabolic cost of thermoregulation.

[1] typically with tools, with a map, with a phone, with food, with maybe a gilet and certainly some money





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