Of the nine days of riding from London to Milan the two that I am both looking forward to and dreading the most in equal measure are days eight and nine—this is where we will go up into the Alps from Splügen (on a continuous 35-mile climb!), stay overnight, and then descend into Italy the next day. I have mainly been spending time thinking about whether I will have the appropriate gears to guarantee that I will get up the mountain. What I hadn't thought about until recently was the descent the other side.
A little Googling about the Splügenpass revealed this blog entry from an experienced rider who has done it before (emphasis mine):
“I had learned from the web that the downhill into Italy was extremely steep, was it ever. I have never seen anything like it. It scared the living daylights out of me. Just look at the pictures. Signs said SLOW. I rode basically the whole descent all but wearing my brakes out.”
My experience of riding in heavy rain a couple of weeks ago wasn't pleasant. My tired old Avid brake blocks that had been on my bike since day one were really not up to the job; it was quite scary to approach a roundabout at speed, pull the brake levers and just keep going at roughly the same speed! So, I figured that now is a good a time as any to upgrade my brakes.
@riderstuart recommended going for SwissStop GHP IIs which are meant to be good in both the dry and wet. They are not cheap—I bought two pairs with the cartridge and pads for about £45—but it seems to me that brakes isn't an area that you should skimp on in any fast-moving vehicle. Once the pads wear out they can be easily replaced for about £10 a pair.
I've only been on one ride since I fitted them and that was on a fairly flat route in the dry so I can't really vouch for their performance yet. From my limited experience they seem to work well so far and without any of the hideous squeaking that my previous brakes had. I've planned a hilly route for Sunday when a few of the Ride 999-ers will be heading out around the Chilterns and I am looking forward to giving them a proper test.