Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

The moustache could easily grow on you
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Indy Lifestyle Online

A friend of mine - rides a Specialized Allez - told me he's worried that this column is "insufficiently nerdy". That's kind of the point.

The appeal of cycling to nerds is plain enough, and they have plenty of places where they can express themselves - magazines, clubs, online forums. The job here is to establish that cycling is for cool people too. At this point, in a real face-to-face conversation, you would say, "So how come you're writing it?", and I would adopt an expression of pained dignity behind which I would sulk. But you know what I mean: the kind of bike you ride, whether you favour derailleurs, internal hubs or single-speed - such topics should be as acceptable a dinner-table conversation as Celebrity Big Brother and house prices. Not that those are ever acceptable.

Still, I take my friend's point: nerds will always be the core constituency; and nerd is what I am. So I thought I'd talk a bit about my handlebars. These are a set of moustache handlebars, designed by Rivendell of California and manufactured by the Japanese firm Nitto. Moustaches are an instance of a trend in America for the rediscovery of olden bicycles, and particularly British designs. Back in the Fifties and Sixties, when cycling in America languished as a pastime for children, the "English racer" was the epitome of cool, and English frames retain their cachet over there. When I was in New York this autumn I was pleasantly surprised to come across a couple of rugged and beautiful tourers by Bob Jackson of Leeds. This isn't just about nostalgia: those slender steel frames are still about the most practical and hard-wearing.

The moustache goes back further. It's the sort of bar you might have ridden in a road-race circa 1910. Seen from above, it's a kind of Cupid's bow shape; from the side, you can see that as it sweeps back it drops gently. I got them mainly for aesthetic reasons - the curve is strangely sensuous, and it gives my bike a touch of elegance and individuality. But there is a practical argument for the moustache, as well, as a compromise between upright handlebars and drops. Most people prefer to ride upright, because they feel stable; but a lot of uprights are nothing more than a straight bar, which pitches you forward on the seat, spreads your arms at an awkward angle, and cramps your wrists. The moustache offers you choices of hand-position and the option of crouching low, much like ordinary drops. But because their profile is quite flat, you can pick a fairly upright position, and they have an extra width that gives you a tiny edge of stability in traffic. I've also seen them installed upside down, giving the old maid cycling to church posture: not what I want, but it's extremely cool. Either way, they give a width. The only UK source I know of is hubjub.com, a website that I'll be discussing in detail soon.

Now, nerdy enough? Nerdier?

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