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by Iain Treloar
February 9, 2018
Photography by Matt de Neef
In this edition of Bikes of the Bunch, our Content Production Editor, Iain Treloar, shares the story behind his current road bike, a Vamoots CR from the revered US titanium specialists Moots.
A bike is never just a bike – it’s a reflection of where you are, where you’ve been, and, sometimes, where you want to go. With my Moots Vamoots CR I find myself at a crossroads, trying to hold on to a type of riding that I once loved but increasingly drift away from.
My life’s changed a lot in the last few years, and you can trace those faultlines in what and where I’ve been riding. As a tech editor at my prior role to joining CyclingTips, I had access to lovely bikes at a regularity that made it difficult to settle on a personal machine. I finally ditched the world of brilliant but boring mass-produced road bikes in about 2014 when I bought what I thought would be a ‘forever bike’ – a titanium Rikulau, polished to a dazzling gleam, with Songs: Ohia lyrics sandblasted down the back of the seat-tube and a custom headbadge. As my riding increased, though, my fit changed, and in the meantime I spent my working week wrestling with the treacherous joy of riding other bikes – more comfortable bikes, lighter bikes, objectively ‘better’ bikes – that only served to highlight my growing dissatisfaction.
When that special machine moved along to its next owner, I looked for perfection in its replacement. I just about found it in a Parlee Z5, a bike with some frustrating quirks (limited tyre clearance, bad bidon cage bolt placement) that nonetheless remains to this day the best bike I’ve ever ridden. I put that bike through hell for about six months of all-weather commuting and training for Peaks Challenge Cradle Mountain, and then cracked its top tube in transit on the flight home after the ride. Game over.
A year and a bit of #BAAWs. Four road bikes of four different materials, each trying to grasp something just out of reach.
An S-Works Allez was next, followed by a Ritchey Road Logic and then a Parlee Altum. Not long after the Altum came together, my partner and I welcomed our first child into the world. It was an event that threw everything up in the air in the best possible way, but when the pieces landed they did so in ways I’d never expected.
Although I can only speak for myself, I get the vibe from a lot of people that 2017 was the year that road riding lost its joy and took on a more menacing slant. From the death of Mike Hall onwards for a couple of months, like a series of aftershocks, it felt like every weekend brought news of another cyclist killed or maimed on the roads. With a small wiggly human waiting for me at home and the overwhelming love and expectation and terror of new parenthood consuming my existence, it felt like I finally had something to live for. I don’t mean that I had a death-wish before, but crashes were something that happened to other people, and if it happened to me I was just going to flip the car bonnet, land on my feet and serve the driver a sassy spray, you know?
Just before my daughter was born, when I got run into one ordinary morning at the first roundabout on my daily commute to work, I realised that was all bullshit. After I’d finished clattering along the tarmac and picked myself up, I was a lot of things – winded, confused, hot with rage and fear and punctured bravado – but I wasn’t sassy. I was so sensorily overwhelmed and shellshocked I could barely talk. Two blocks away, as I limped home, my partner slept with my daughter gently turning inside her. A few weeks later she came into the world, instantaneously made my life a million times better, and the thought I kept returning to – keep returning to – is that with a bit more speed and a different point of impact, I might never have met her.
That’s a thought that can almost break you, if you let it, so perhaps it wasn’t a surprise that I no longer found joy in cutting my way through traffic (and with 50km of commuting a day, I come into contact with plenty of it). With each too-frequent news report of another killed cyclist, we’d talk at home, and sometimes my partner would look at me and say “that’s how you’re going to die.” It’s not gallows humour when it feels like probability; when in the moment both parties believe it might just be true.
So I made a call. On my weekend rides on that lightweight Parlee, I began to actively seek out quiet backroads, gravel roads, and what were barely roads at all; anything that paired the thrill of exploration with the assurance that I’d make it home to my family afterwards.
The Parlee Altum was a blast to ride, but perhaps not the most suitable machine for some of the places I ventured with it.
Fact: the staccato of gravel on the downtube of a beautiful 750g carbon frame is guaranteed to make you feel guilty, and I soon found myself wishing for a road bike that I’d never need to question the durability of. I already had a dedicated gravel bike in my fleet, and had always liked the look of Moots’ road bikes, so when a good deal came up on a Vamoots CR I took the plunge. As much as an expensive frame purchase can be, it was in part an economic decision – I could reuse the wheels and groupset I already owned and liked, and it meant that I could push back the financial hit of switching to discs for a while longer. And one should never underestimate any cyclist’s ability to rationalise changing bikes, especially to one as beautiful as this.
Here’s the tech paragraph that you probably came here for:
It’s running SRAM Force 22, because it’s cheaper than Red and I like how SRAM feels better than Shimano. It’s not unmarked or pristine, because it spends half its life commuting, gets ridden hard in all weather, and I sometimes put it away dirty. I use a Wipperman chain because they’re quiet, durable and easy to remove for cleaning. I use an Ultegra cassette because it’s easier to clean than the equivalent SRAM model and a little bit lighter, and old weight-weenie habits die hard. I swap between a knackered set of 25mm Vittoria Corsa G+ tyres, which I prefer, and 28mm Panaracer Gravel Kings, if I’m feeling pragmatic. Gearing is compact with an 11-32 cassette because I have little legs that like to spin and my typical Sunday outing involves about 1,850m of rolling hills in 80km, much of it above 10%. The stem isn’t slammed, because I’ve got a dodgy back and no time or energy to add stretching or pilates to an already overcrowded life. My favourite bits of the build are the Paul skewers and the Spurcycle bell, because they’re pretty, they work perfectly, and they were gifts from people I care for. At ~8kg, the whole package is neither light or dripping with bling, but it’s unswervingly functional and feels composed. It’s a better bike than I am its rider.
And yes, sorry, it’s a bit dirty.
I don’t know if I’ll ever own a bike for life, but I already know that my Moots isn’t it. I enjoy it in ways that are abstract (how the stem, post and spacers match together; the organic way sweat blooms into salt as it dries on the satin finish) and specific (the perfectly machined fit of the seatpost to the seat tube; the way it carves that left-hander at the bottom of Brysons Road). But I’m a different person to the person I was when I bought this bike, just as I was for all the ones before that, and it seems counterproductive to try and shoehorn the same bike into a different life.
On any bike I look for that transcendental moment when the worries and mundanities of life disappear into the background, when the clouds part and it feels like the midpoint of that one song. I feel it with this bike sometimes but less than I’d like – not because it’s not superb, but because I’m at a complicated point where I want to spend the maximum amount of time riding as far away from vehicles as possible, and this is too nice a road bike to own if your heart’s not really in it. Dear Vamoots CR: it’s not you, it’s me.
What’s next? That’s difficult to say. I flip between wanting an upgraded gravel bike and a cheaper dedicated road bike – these parts hanging off something like a Wraith Hustle or another Road Logic – or just consolidating my road and gravel bike into one that can do it all – perhaps a Parlee Chebacco or Moots Routt, with a spare set of wheels. I don’t know whether that bike will be the right bike forever either, but I hope that it’ll make me happy for a good stretch of what’s to come.