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Emma Nicholson went to watch stage nine of the 2016 Giro D’Italia, to try to capture in photos the essence of the ‘race of truth’

Morning broke like any other in Tuscany. Mist slid through the valleys, grazing the perfectly cultivated patchwork of vineyards draped over the landscape, and accompanied, as ever, by the morning chorus of swallows.

 Emma Nicholson. Emma Nicholson.

On Sunday 15th May, this perfect morning tranquility was about to be interrupted by one of the biggest travelling circuses on earth, for the Giro d’Italia had arrived in Chianti.

Stage 9 of the Giro this year was the second of three individual time trials and the longest at a little over 40km. With nearly 2000ft of climbing and some technical sections, this time trial was touted as one of the key stages which would have the potential to really shake up the general classification.

 Primoz Roglic on his way to an unlikely victory. Emma Nicholson. Primoz Roglic on his way to an unlikely victory. Emma Nicholson.

On paper it looks tough. In the flesh, it is a beautiful race course of a route. The rolling hills and lush woodland create an almost Alpine aesthetic, with roads that snake their way between terracotta towns perched on the hilltops.

Dented only slightly by a worrying performance the day before, everyone was predicting that a certain Dutchman would post the fastest time on Sunday afternoon. However the forecasted thunder storms threatened to write a different story.

The cycling culture in Tuscany has deep foundations. It is home to the white roads of the Strade Bianche, l’Eroica and the legendary Gino Bartali. The people are almost as mad about cycling as they are about wine. Every other shop in Greve (finish line) sells cycling kit with only meat, wine and cheese caves in between. There is a constant stream of cyclists on the rolling Chianti roads, most of them enjoying the late afternoon, twilight years of their lives, upon steel Colnago, Pinarello and Bianchi frames, their dark, leathery skin indicating a lifetime spent out of doors.

 Emma Nicholson. Emma Nicholson.

Caravans were already parked on the roadside 48 hours before race day and barbecues, beer and laughter were plentiful. On the morning of the time trial, the chain of caravans lining the 5km climb to Panzano glittered in the sun, and we could hear the merriment from the other side of the valley.

Time trials are seldom the most sought after viewing experience because it is bike racing reduced to the dash from A to B. However, it does give viewers the opportunity to see every single one of their favourite riders up close, grit, determination and pain etched into their faces.

 Panzano.  Emma Nicholson. Panzano.  Emma Nicholson.

Watching on an Italian roadside was a special experience. There was a party atmosphere, not interrupted by the storms that would come, and the enthusiastic cheers whenever any Italian flew around the corner were inconceivably high in volume considering the size of the crowd. We were positioned in Sicelle, a tiny hamlet boasting an ancient church, popular ‘Osteria’ (bar) and not more than half a dozen properties. Perched at the top of a short climb, Sicelle is on a corner, after which the road wraps around the hill and begins the technical descent (that would nearly bring down Mikel Landa) to the foot of the longer climb to Panzano.

The first rider to carve through Sicelle was IAM Cycling’s Matthias Brändle who had already overtaken the first man off the start ramp, Ji Cheng of Giant-Alpecin, earlier in his storming ride. His excellent effort would end up being good enough for second place. From then on, the riders came every two to three minutes, all 186 of them.

 Emma Nicholson. Emma Nicholson.

The bad weather held back until about half the field had passed through the 15kms-to-go mark, then unleashed all its power on the GC contenders at the pointy end of the race. Rather than dampening the spirits of our little crowd in Sicelle, the rain and thunder seemed to inject even more energy into the afternoon. Now there was drama, greater stress on the riders (and staff), more risk in the technical descents and far more interesting photographs!

It seemed that the storm reserved its energy until the tail end of the day and the top ten received the brunt of the force as the skies emptied upon them. Wet through and seemingly in more discomfort than anyone to come before, the GC favourites ground up the hill, mouths hanging open, sucking in as much oxygen as they possibly could. When Nibali appeared, cries of ‘Vincenzo’ could have masked a passing jumbo jet as the nation’s favourite rounded the corner, a string of dribble dangling from his grimace.

 Emma Nicholson. Emma Nicholson.

After the equally well-received Italian, Gianluca Brambilla roared through Sicelle, on an impressive ride that would see him keep the Maglia Rosa, it was over abruptly. The half dozen men who had set up at 6:30am, appeared from nowhere and immediately started to dismantle the barriers as the crowd dispersed.

At the finish line in the piazza in Greve, where restaurant seats were selling for €300, an unlikely story had unfolded. The top ten on the stage was dominated by those riders lucky enough to ride in the dry and sunny conditions earlier in the day. Fabian Cancellara had not been able to do enough to get close to the podium, while the first rider home, Matthias Brändle, was joined by teammate Vegard Stake Laengen on the lower two steps of the podium. Winning the day though, with an adrenaline or anger-fuelled ride on a bike that was too small and with no water on board, was former ski jumper Primoz Roglic – a rider who has certainly made his mark on this Giro.

Other big winners on the day included Team Etixx-Quickstep with one incredible ride from Brambilla to cling onto the race lead with just one second over his teammate Bob Jungels, who put in a phenomenal performance to take 6th place on the stage, despite riding through the worst of the storms. The biggest losers on the other hand were pre-race favourite, Tom Dumoulin, who fell nearly two minutes short of the podium and Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin, whose time trial was fraught with bad luck. Falling early on and ripping open his skin suit, only to fall again 300m from the finish, the Russian starlet came in 54th on the stage, causing him to fall out of the top ten on GC.

A beautiful day for spectators, a difficult day for the racers, the time trial was a story of literal and figurative twists and turns, and the riders would surely have been glad of the rest day to follow. Days like Sunday remind us never to count on anything. Modern cycling is sometimes criticised as having become predictable, focused on numbers. And it is predictable. Until it isn’t. All you need is some changeable weather and a dash of crafty route-planning, and the story becomes a blockbuster in the making.

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Bespoked 2016 was a great show for ourselves at Cloud 9.  It was a chance to exhibit 2 new models of bike, meet up with suppliers and fellow builders, as well as having a chance to talk about bikes with prospective customers.

NEW MODELS

At the show we exhibited two new models, the first was the Street Fix.  This is a fixed gear city bike that shares the geometry of our Street Racer but with no rear brake and a set of track ends. On the front is a disc brake for controlled stopping.  Wide bars for optimum leverage and carbon components to keep the weight down for quick acceleration. For full information about the model look here.

This bike was entered into the ENVE Build Off. A competition for bikes specifically built with ENVE components. Then the show goers voted for their favourite.  We were delighted to get first place in the competition being crowned Bespoked 2016 ENVE Build Off Champion.  Drop by the shop to see the winning bike and award in person.

The second model released at the show is our new Adventure bike.  It can go wherever you want to ride and for as long as your legs can turn the pedals.  A comfortable and stable geometry will give you the confidence to ride all day long, wherever the journey takes you.  For full information about this model look here.

OUR HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SHOW

Ogre is a builder who specialise in titanium, based in Japan.  Going for quality over quantity he produces around 20 frames a year. The finishing touch to their amazing show bike was the saddle. A hand shaped custom saddle made out of one sheet of titanium.  Now that’s what Bespoked is all about!

At Cloud 9 we always like a mountain bike and what Starling Cycles are making is no exception. A single pivot suspension design gives the bike an elegant simplicity without loosing function. We’re looking forward to the 29er version, no word of when but here’s hoping it’s not too far away.

Finally we have Dear Susan’s awesome single sided mountain bike.  The bike has a single sided fork and mono-stay rear end as well as a pinion gearbox which pivots to tension the chain. Unique thinking to create a unique design.

MORE TO COME

As always Bespoked was an inspiring show. Seeing what other builders were putting out, the paint work available on the bikes and the variety of frame parts available has given us more to think about for next year.  We hope to see you there!

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If you’ve never been to Bespoked before, let us enlighten you about exactly what it entails. The “UK handmade bicycle show” (to give it its full tagline) is an event designed to celebrate Britain’s frame builders and makers of custom or handbuilt bikes. It’s a great opportunity for members of the public too – especially if you’re interested in having a custom build made – to check out a bunch of different builders and see which is likely to be the best fit for you. 

This video from the 2015 show gives you a great sense of why Bespoked is so special and features a couple of our friends, including the Bicycle Academy and our man Ted James. It also showcases the beautiful venue, Brunel’s Old Station in Bristol, which is one of the most unique places you’ll ever attend a cycling show!

Bespoked 2015 from Bespoked on Vimeo.

The success of getting a custom bike built rests just as much on the builder you choose as it does on the parts you pick. In fact, it’s probably more important because a good builder will be able to steer you (pardon the pun) to the right componentry choices. That’s why meeting face-to-face before embarking on a build project is such a valuable part of the process – you can talk about what you want to get out of a build and ultimately your finished bike will be much the better for it. We’d love to see you at the show for a chat about your dream bike – and how Cloud 9 can make it a reality!

In the past we’ve unveiled new bikes at Bespoked, such as our Cloud 9 Street Racer and we always enjoy the opportunity to show off what we’ve been building – as well as checking out the competition! This year we’re keeping things tightly under wraps until closer to the show, but we can tell you we’ll really be pushing it in terms of producing an array of bikes in different cycling disciplines.

We’ll be at Bespoked for the full show weekend, which runs 15 – 17 April, so please do come and say hi! Get your tickets here.

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If you check up there ^^^ in the top navigation of our site you’ll spot that we’ve added a link to  our brand new online shop, which, fortunately for you uninspired gift-givers, is here right in time for Christmas.

You’ll find many of the same great brands that we stock in our London store, including CInelli, Hope Tech, Nitto, Lynskey Titanium and Brooks England – all of which have featured on our blog because of their great quality products. In fact, we only sell gear that we really believe in, both online and in the flesh.

We’ve got a selection of full handbuilt bikes, but you can also purchase frames & forks, and other bits of componentry – ideal if you’re looking to build up your own project bike.

If you’re looking for a great gift for a loved one this year, you know where to look first! Even better, send your friends and family the link to the shop and ensure you get something you actually want this year!

Lets go shopping!

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We’ve had a couple of fresh products come into the store lately which we’re excited to share with you. They’re both designed to make your day-to-day cycling life that little bit easier.  

The Bikezac: £10-20

The Bikezac is straight outta Copenhagen, so you know the people who made it know about cycling. It’s a crafty piece of kit, a real ‘why didn’t I think of that’ idea – a hassle-free and green solution to one of cycling life’s little annoyances. Check out the video:

You know how it is, you cycle home after a hard day at work, stow the bike in the garage/shed/hallway then head inside, only to realise you’ve got nothing in for dinner. If only you had a way to convey your essential ingredients home on the bike without them getting battered in transit.

Enter the Bikezac, which clips onto your bike’s luggage rack and allows you to pick up the groceries on your way home without dropping all your fresh goodies into musty old pannier bags or putting them in your backpack and potentially smashing them to bits (as well as your spine). 

With a basic option retailing at £10 and a premium at £20 they are exceptional value!

It’s reusable, durable and practical. Genius.

Finn Bike Phone Mount – £11.99

Continuing the Euro theme, the Finn bike mount is made in Austria and is a versatile and lightweight solution for fixing your smartphone onto the bars of your bike, so whether you want to find your way with Google Maps or turn your iPhone into a bike computer with an app like Strava, you can do so without constantly reaching into your pockets.

The Finn’s strongest selling point is that it’ll work with any phone size and fix onto handlebars of any dimension – so you don’t have to buy a new mount when you upgrade your phone (or your bike!).

It’s made of a single piece of silicon that you can easily remove when not in use, so it won’t spoil the sleek profile of your bars and you won’t be faffing about with interlacing rubber bands all the time. Oh and it’ll hold your phone rock steady, even when you’re thrashing around pulling 180s on your BMX, see:

We’ll have the Finn and Bikezac products available online soon, but if you can’t wait then we’ve got them in our shop, 38 Store Street too!

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Britain’s leading hand-built bike show, Bespoked 2015, is just a few days away and we’re really excited to be taking part again. Long-time Cloud 9 fans will remember we launched our awesome Street Racer at last year’s event, so you know you can expect something awesome at Stand 37 in Bristol on 17 – 19 April.

Cloud 9’s Kris has been hard at work on our builds for weeks now and while we don’t want to give too much away, what we can say is we are building the best city bike the world has ever seen! 

Here’s a few snaps of the build in process to whet your appetites!

You must Be-spoking!

For those not familiar with Bespoked, it started as an opportunity for the best British frame builders to show off their wares, but it has quickly expanded into one of the leading shows for premium bike brands and frame builders from from all over the world. In fact, we’re as excited about seeing what the other exhibitors, like our pals at Feather Cycles and Ted James Design, will bring as we are about showing off our own work.

There’s really something for everyone at Bespoked, with awards categories as diverse as ‘Best Utility’, ‘Best Road’, ‘Spirit of Cycling’ and of course, the much-coveted Constructors Challenge – which sees teams made up of builders, designers and customers exhibiting a custom-built bicycle created for a real-life task. As the Bespoked website puts it, “The [Constructor’s Challenge] will demonstrate the diversity of possible uses for this simple and adaptable machine – and that they form a viable alternative to the car for everyday work and daily life.”

If you’re interested in buying a handbuilt bike, love design and innovation, or you’re just passionate about cycling then you need to come join us at Bespoked. Get your tickets here.

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We had an amazing opportunity last week to visit Number 10 Downing Street for a meeting with none other than the Prime Minister, David Cameron, himself. It seems he was interested in having a look at some of our hand-built frames and we were only too happy to oblige.

The reason for our invite, apart from DC’s genuine interest and enthusiasm for our frames, was our involvement with a government programme called School for Startups. A few years back we applied for a loan from SFS so we could purchase the equpiment we needed to start building frames by hand. It’s hard to overstate the importance of that loan, without it we simply couldn’t do what we do! 

Believe it or not, the event wasn’t just about us. There were loads of other businesses there that have benefited from the programme, plus a host of MPs and leading business people. See if you can spot former Dragon, James Caan, in the background of the photo above!

Not only was it exciting to be invited to the PM’s place, it was great to see a genuine passion for cycling from the country’s most powerful politician and reassuring to see that he intends to support cycling more in the future – if he wins the general election of course!

We left David with a gift bag of bike-related products, including three Mini Hornits for his kids, you may remember the Hornit as the product we helped our friend Tom pitch on Dragons’ Den.

Here are the rest of the snaps from the day.

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