The Hickensian is the journal of Jon Hicks, one half of Hicksdesign.

Troika #12: Le Tour!

Troika #12: Le Tour!

I had planned a different Troika for #12, but I was so late getting it ready, I was going to miss the fact that the Tour de France starts this weekend! So that will become #13, and here is my rather hurried tribute to the annual cycling pantomime that is the Tour!

  1. ‘Tour de France’ by Alexis Roche
    This one is apparently a bit rude, but it’s in French.
  2. ‘Tour de France’ by Benôit Charest
    From the fantastic Belleville Rendezvous soundtrack.
  3. ‘Tour de France’ by Señor Coconut
    As I’ve mentioned before, I can’t abide Kraftwerks’ ‘Tour de France’, but this is a cover version I can really get behind!

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #12: Le Tour! as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #11: All about the Bassists

Troika #11: All about the Bassists

Hello peoples! This Troika is all about the bassists!

Squarepusher (real name Tom Jenkinson) is mad multi-instrumentalist as well as mentalist. His music swerves from smooth electronica jazz to drum and bass, to (quite frankly) an unlistenable avant-garde load of bobbins. Mostly its somewhere in the middle! There is even an album ‘Solo Electric Bass’ that does what it says on the tin, but it’s in tracks like Hello Meow that I really enjoy his bass playing. Particularly that bass solo!

Les Claypool of Primus is one of those musicians that took the bass into weirder territory. I’d thought all slap bass sounded like Level 42 until I heard him play. He made sounds with that bass that I never thought possible, and raised it from being a ‘hidden at the side’ role in a band to the main instrument. So much so, he was the one that really inspired to want to be a bassist. I never stuck at it, but I still like Primus.

I couldn’t do this list without Flea, and while I could’ve played something lesser known like Atoms for Peace (a collaboration with Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich), I’ve gone for an overplayed, you’ve heard it jillions of times already Red Hot Chilli Peppers song, By the Way. Because its great.

  1. ‘Hello Meow’ – Squarepusher
  2. ‘Jerry was a race car driver’ – Primus
  3. ‘By the Way’ – Red Hot Chilli Peppers

This was one of the hardest Troika’s to do, in terms of all the ones I left out. I could’ve included Jaco Pastorius, Paul McCartney, Melissa Auf de Maur, Steve Lawson to name but a few. They may be on future podcasts though :)

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #11: All about the Bassists as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #10: For Leigh

Troika #10: For Leigh

Eighteen years ago, I sold my car! It was a bright yellow early 70’s VW Beetle with Empi5 alloy rims (that might mean something to some people). I loved that car, but the long commute I was doing convinced me that I needed something that used less fuel, and went wrong less.

I was working for a charity in Leicester at the time, and through a colleague I heard that an ex-employee called Leigh was looking for a beetle. She was living in Oxford, and I was in Leamington Spa. Leigh came up to see it, and when she drove it away I realised I was sad, but not for losing the beetle. I had to see her again. Friends joked at the time I “just wanted my old car back”, but I’d met someone really special, and was bowled over. We married before a year was out :)

This Troika is all about songs that evoke that special time – May 1997. Meeting Leigh and those first few dates in Oxford.

  1. ‘Step into my World’ – Hurricane #1
    A week before I met Leigh, ‘Step into my World’ was being played a lot on Radio 1. Hurricane #1 was a new band formed by Andy Bell from Ride, who had split the previous year. I loved this single, especially the last half which is just Andy’s guitar, and played it to death. Then, on my first date with Leigh, she asked if I’d heard of Hurricane #1. Turns out she was good friends with Andys parents who lived around the corner! We got to meet Andy not long after, and I was typically star struck and didn’t have much to say for myself, and Richard and Rachel are the most lovely people you could ever hope to meet.
  2. ‘Don’t Whiz on the Electric Fence’ – Ren and Stimpy
    When I talked with Leigh about which songs remind her when we met, the first and last choices here were the obvious ones. The other one could’ve been Prefab Sprout (we were both fans), something from the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack (like the cute ‘Little Star’ by Stina Nordenstam). However one of the first things that came to mind was the answerphone message I had at the time, which is this little warning ditty from Ren and Stimpy.
  3. ‘No Surprises’ – Radiohead
    We were together just two weeks when Radiohead’s seminal ‘OK Computer’ was released. I remember the Headington roundabout had a huge vinyl banner advert with Stanley Donwood’s album art on it, and I was desperate to steal it! I’m sure many of you will have heard this song a jillion times, but like ‘Step into World’ it evokes a very particular, and special time in my life.

This one’s for you Leigh!

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #10: For Leigh as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #9: For Mum

Troika #9: For Mum

This coming Sunday is three years since my mum died, so I wanted to dedicate this ninth episode of Troika to her memory!

  1. ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ – The Beatles
    I grew up in a house with classical music. My dad would only ever allow Radio 3 on, and I was in my early teens before we were allowed to watch Top of the Pops. While mum didn’t talk about music particularly, she liked the Beatles and Paul McCartney’s solo work and it was her that introduced me to the Magical Mystery Tour period. ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Penny Lane’ were here favourite songs.
  2. ‘Ukelele Lady’ – Peter Sellers & The Temperance Seven
    One deviation from classical in my dads record collection was a selection of Peter Sellers LPs, and this lovely bit of whimsy was one that my mum and I used to sing together.
  3. ‘The Lark Ascending’ – Ralph Vaughan Williams
    We played Vaughn Williams musical interpretation of the George Meredith poem about a Skylark at mums funeral. It was another favourite of mums and a fitting, if rather tearjerking, tribute. Still find it a hard one to listen to, but its a truly beautiful piece of music.
  4. ‘Dear Friends’ – Elbow
    Finally, because its my podcast and I can cheat if I want to, there’s one more ;)
    I thought hard about which one I cut to make a proper trio but I felt I couldn’t leave any of them out. If there was one song that en up the grieving process after the funeral, it was this one. “You are with me today. You are here are in my head, in my heart”.

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #9: For Mum as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

A Big Assed Post about bike saddles for my Big Ass

Your nether-regions are not for sitting on. Your feet are for standing on, your legs are for walking on, and your bum is for attaching your legs to your body.

Finding the Right Saddle – Cycling Tips 2009

I have a problem with bike saddles. I won’t show you a list of all the ones I’ve tried, as that would just be embarrassing. Most people seem to use whatever comes with their bike, and stick with that, but it’s taken me ages to find the ‘right one’ – comfortable, light (and,because I’m a Bike Tart) good looking. I also use my road bike to commute to the office, and finding something that is comfortable without padded tights is useful. (On that note, I’ve also found that white saddles and jeans don’t mix, unless you actually wanted an indigo saddle).

Now to be clear, I’m talking road bike saddles here. My Pashley Guvnor has a lovely Brooks B17 in honey brown that is a fantastic saddle. Especially now that’s breaking in nicely (didn’t take long!). It just doesn’t look right on a carbon road bike though, and the weight makes it much less suitable.

To try out so many saddles, I’ve been mostly picking them up secondhand on ebay. As well as others selling saddles that didn’t work out for them, you can often find cheaper versions with steel or manganese rails, rather than posher Titanium or Carbon. Its also likely that you can pick one up that has already been ‘broken in’, This is less of an issue than it is for Brooks traditional leather saddles, but I’ve found a used Charge Knife was more comfy and flexy than a brand new one. This meant I could try one out, and if it didn’t suit, pop it back on ebay. There’s also a ‘Saddle Swap’ forum on Bikeradar’s Forums where you might find someone to exchange seats with.

Here’s what I’ve learnt about saddles so far, but be warned, there is inevitable talk of my genitals…

Position

Even the smallest adjustment can turn a harsh saddle into a comfy one. There’s a lot to adjust too; height, position fore/aft, vertical angle (pointing the nose up/down very slightly, or keeping it dead level) and even horizontal angle. Unless you have an aero seatpost, it can also be tilted left/right very slightly. I’ve found some scooped saddles that need to be setup dead level, and some that need the back to rise slightly. The only way I’ve found to test a saddle properly is to ride it a bit, adjust it, ride for a bit again, rinse and repeat (A turbo trainer isn’t a great place to test saddles – they all feel harsh). After a while you can take note of how your sitting and adjust accordingly – e.g if I found myself pushing back on the saddle, it needed to be further forwards.

Shape

Saddles have different shapes – from flat ones (Fizik Arione, Selle Italia SLR) to rounded and scooped (Charge Spoon, Fizik Aliante, Prologo Scratch), as well as cutouts for dangling your delicate bits should you have them (Specialized Romin), or even with rails placed in the centre to allow the sides to flex while pedalling (Selle Italia Signo). The slightly rounded & scooped shape seems to suit me best. Channels or cut outs don’t always work for me though, e.g the Romin cutout was OK but with the Fizik Aliante VS I could feel the edges of the channel digging in.

Padding

Padding is not necessarily a good thing – too much and it can cause chafing.

If you think about it, a deck chair doesn’t have any padding and yet is still comfortable, so padding in itself is not the cure for an uncomfortable seat. A deck chair is comfortable because the fabric has tension in it and supports you with a low average pressure through-out the seat.

I’ve tried saddle recently that pretty much just a carbon shell, with only a mm or two of padding, but it wasn’t as uncomfortable as it looked, due to the supportive shape.

Width

Specialized focus on the width of your sit bones with their ‘Body Geometry’ saddles. The distance between the bones is measured, and then you choose a saddle with just enough width to support these bones, but no more. They are one of the few manufacturers that offer 3 different widths for their range. To measure your sit bones you can sit on a special gel-pad widget at the bike shop, or try and recreate it a home. Its quite a sight though, it involves sitting half-naked on carpeted stairs with tin foil under your cheeks and leaning forwards – hoping to get two clear sit bones bumps in the foil.

Flex

The more expensive Carbon, and particularly Titanium, rails are meant to help filter out road buzz, but I can’t say I’ve felt any big difference. It feels like more of a slight weight advantage. I have found that Nylon bases are more flexible than Carbon ones though.

Spine

Fizik have a system called ‘spine concept’ which looks at the riders flexibility rather than sit bones. From rigid ‘Bulls’ (unable to touch toes, which is me) to flexible ‘Snakes’ that can easily touch their toes easily. It may sound like marketing guff, but actually is quite common sense: I have low flexibility, so need to rotate my pelvis a lot of achieve a road riding position. I sit on the saddle with different parts of my undercarriage than someone with high flexibility.

Fizik saddles are lovely, the quality is superb, and I love how they have a built in clip system, which makes it quick and easy to switch a saddlebag between bikes. Its the best system I’ve ever used.

The Arione (above) in particular has a stylish racy look that makes it ‘the saddle I wish I could fit’. Sadly it felt like sitting on a rail – too narrow to support my sit bones. The Antares was wide enough, but hard on the sit bones, while the Aliante (which has been my saddle choice so far) has been comfy on the sit bones but pushed up into my squashy bits a little too much on long rides. I’ve always felt that I needed a saddle shape inbetween the Aliante and Antares.

The one?

Two years ago, Charge Bikes (who make the Knife Saddle, and the very popular spoon) came out with a new product – the Charge Scoop. A simplified three-part construction: a foam top, vacuum bonded to a nylon base and rails, with no staples or glue.

It was such a hit that other bike manufacturers wanted to spec the saddle, so it made sense to split off Scoop production into a separate company, and so the company Fabric was born. Now these are being specced on Cannondales and the gorgeous new Mason range.

This is the Fabric Scoop Shallow, and its now my favourite saddle. The level of fit and comfort is amazing, a revelation even, and it looks lovely! The shape is spot-on, the padding is comfortable without being too squishy, but I think the most important aspect is that the base is flexible. For the first time, I can sit on something, and really forget about. All my bikes now have a Scoop (with the exception of the Guvnor of course).

I’ve also been trying out their rubbery knurled bar tape, and that’s great too. It’s very easy to wrap, cushioned with a gel backing (without adding too much bulk) and feels nice and grippy. Although similar, Lizard Skins tape was harder to wrap, and the tape moved about after a few weeks, leaving gaps. Fabric’s still looks as good months later.

So fabric have won for me!

The Hickensian is the journal of Jon Hicks, one half of the creative partnership Hicksdesign. Take a look at the work we do.

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