Saturday, 28 March 2015

All Wired Up

I have an ambivalent relationship with bicycle gadgetry. I've used cycling computers practically from the day I (re-)started cycling as an adult in 2009, but I've spent months at a time without any, and haven't had one on my main commuting bike for several years. I log a general estimate of commuting miles on the mycyclinglog website but am not really interested in any other data coming out of my daily commute.

On my 'good bike', however, I've always been interested in how far and fast I go -- though I am by means speedy nor am I what is known amongst audaxers as a 'Mileater'*. Nonetheless, the 'best bike' gets the best miles and I do like to know what I've been doing, in concrete as well as visceral terms.

The first few years, I used Cateye cyclo-computers. My first two computers (on the Brompton M3L) were wireless but found they sometimes fail to record what you're doing but likewise sometimes pick up interference from nearby devices, so just weren't reliable enough. I switched to wired versions and ran those on the Cross Check and Pacer quite happily. 

Then I got the Enigma** and decided it was time to move up a level. I got a Polar CS200cad system using discount points with my private health insurance. I was particularly keen to try using the cadence and heart rate sensors to measure my level of fitness and (hopefully) improvement. But all I can say after 15 months is, the computer is lovely to use in every respect but all the extras have been disappointing. The various sensor/transmitter units are large and clumsy and were a pig to fit, and try as I may I've never been able to get the cadence sensor to work at all -- I think partially due to the shape of my cranks and partially due to the really naff tape supplied to affix a plain square magnet. The tape de-laminated in short order, leaving a messy residue on the crank arm. 

So this week -- after several months of casual Internet browsing and reading lots of reviews -- I've bought a Garmin. I gave a lot of thought to what data I want from my rides. If a route needs to be planned beforehand, I prefer to do that using an online tool such as bikehike or ridewithgps, so being able to download a route onto the unit is important to me, but I don't want to use the unit to plan routes and don't really need a big bright screen for wayfinding. Basically, I simply want to record the ride - distance travelled, moving time, elapsed time, average miles per hour, maximum speed (and I'll know which hill that was!), and now, if I can, heart rate and cadence, elevation/climbing and even have a handy little map of the route that I rode, to look at later. While on the move, I may check the current time and speed on the unit but nothing more, so I don't need a screen any bigger or more sophisticated than what I've already been using (as shown above). 

It seems to be taken for granted in many circles that technology moves on and if you don't keep up you get left behind. But a state of the art GPS computer unit with all the bells and whistles would be wasted on me. 

Fortunately, Garmin make a GPS-enabled unit hardly any bigger than the Polar unit: the Edge 500. It was first launched in 2009, so I had to be sure that Garmin still support it, as the last thing I wanted was to purchase something that will be completely obsolete soon, if not already.

The trusted DC Rainmaker website came to my rescue. The initial review was very thorough, but the real value for money lies in the comments, where readers give feedback and share information. It seems the general opinion is that the Edge 500 is a great little unit. All the initial bugs have been fixed and Garmin continues to support it and provide updates. So why not? 

I fitted it this afternoon. Nearly as much cursing was involved as with the Polar, again mostly to do with fitting the cadence sensor and magnet. This time, the interesting thing is that, computer/GPS aside, all the readings for the bike (the heart rate monitor feeding directly to the computer) are taken by a single sensor/transmitter unit secured with zip ties to the non-driveside chainstay. This unit has two sensors: one on the outside that must be lined up with the magnet (attached with a ziptie, not tape) on the inside of the crankarm and a second (on an adjustable arm) on the inside that must align with a magnet fixed to a spoke in the rear wheel. The fun was getting both pairs of magnet + sensor all lined up to work. And I had very little latitude as to where to position the unit on the chainstay, due to how short my cranks are! The nice thing is that the unit has indicator lights to confirm when things are working.

At the moment I have confirmatory lights for the cadence but nothing on speed/wheel revolution. Hmm. Meanwhile, the GPS unit is on the charger in the kitchen so not tested yet. 

I hope to finish the set up by Good Friday, as I'm planning to cycle over towards Stevenage to take advantage of a Breeze ride being run from there, described as being "challenging". Given the stated distance is only approximately 35 miles, I expect the challenge will be provided by the terrain! 

Oh and I got it in RED. :) 

* Although... why not? I do ask myself. One day. 

** Finally, I had a bike designed to fit me, which meant it had a stem long enough to actually attach a computer to! I have to say, I felt like maybe I was finally a "proper cyclist" -- not so much for having a computer on my stem, but for having a stem to which, if I so wished, a computer could be fitted.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

A Vintage Mystery: Kerry Bicycle Company

What is it?


The LSTF-funded Travel Choices project in our area is coming to an end this summer. One very successful initiative (largely run by Adam) over the past year has been the bicycle workshops. This has included people bringing in their own bikes for free-at-point-of-service checks and then having it serviced/repaired by one of the project's mechanics, or learning how to service/repair their own bicycle themselves using the workshop's tools and having a mechanic on hand to assist and answer questions. 

The other aspect of this Travel Choices initiative, run through the workshops, was a donation scheme: bring in your old bicycle and donate it, then choose another one that suits you better from the ever-growing stock of bicycles donated by others. This effectively recycled a number of bicycles through the community. Each donated bike got checked over, serviced and repaired to the extent needed to make it road-worthy. Any bicycle that could not be made safe to ride would become a donor, 'cannabilised' for any useful parts. 

With the project coming to an end, the two local councils are working on transitioning their resources into "legacy" projects that can be run by local volunteers. The Luton and Dunstable Cycling Forum has been a key partner throughout the Travel Choices project, so it is the obvious contender to take over some of the activities that the Travel Choices project had run. And so the Forum finds itself the recipient of a lot of the cycling-related stock and inventory. 

And thus it came to pass that a van-load of donated bicycles (and boxes of components) was disgorged on our driveway this week!

All of the bicycles are children's bicycles. Most of them are very poor quality "bike shaped objects" and most of these are likely beyond repair. (This is a particular pet peeve for Adam; that the mainstream market for children's bicycles consists of clumsy, heavy, over-sized "toys" that are difficult and unpleasant to ride and, even if possible to assemble into acceptable running order when new, usually impossible to service, repair or otherwise maintain.)

Much to our surprise however, nestled amongst all the "junk" was THIS. 

The Reveal 

The first thing that struck me was of course the rod-actuated brakes.

A frame pump is present, although we don't know if this is the one that the bike would have left the dealer with.

The chainset is mucky but has been kept well-oiled, with only very small amounts of surface rust. The gearing is 29 x 14 singlespeed, quite sensible for a child.

The frame number is on the offside (right) chainstay in front of the rear-facing horizontal dropout.

The Michelin 16 x 1-3/8 (37-349) tyres are in very good condition which makes me think they're not original. 

The vinyl saddle seems to be unbranded. I've checked the underside and all the metal work for markings but found nothing.

The bicycle frame measures 16 inches from centre of the cranks to top of the seatpost and the effective top tube length appears to be approximately 16 inches as well. I like the symmetry in those numbers, along with the 16 inch tyres. The crank arms are just over 4 inches long, at 105mm.

Overall the bicycle is in remarkable condition. It would benefit from a good clean and service but everything is in good working order, so we anticipate only rubbing down the frame lightly and applying a coat of polish, cleaning the chain ring and rear sprocket and adjusting the brake cables slightly. 

I find myself utterly entranced by this bicycle, partly of course due to its age but also because it is such a perfect miniature of a fully-fledged adult roadster bicycle of the same period -- whatever period that may be!

Its History and Its Future

As to what to do with it, I wonder if it belongs in a museum? I think this must be quite rare but have no idea if Kerry bicycles have any particular value. If they were sought after or desirable, I would expect to find references to the brand on cycling forums, but so far searching the Internet has failed to turn up anything at all about them. In the past 10 years, there have been a couple of "calls for information" (here and here) but so far no one has posted replies or comments that move the enquiry any further along. Following up the reference made to ELRCO in the second of those links led to a website called the Museum of Trademans Delivery Bikes, which provides an undated ELRCO catalogue featuring a few Kerry-branded items, such as a children's sidecar and a tandem frame, but little information of substance and no further hints or leads to follow to try and find more. 

Once I know a little more about this bicycle, I will make enquiries of a few collectors to see if this bicycle is something that ought to be preserved or restored. Assuming that it is not, I would love to see it put back into use by a family that appreciates and uses vintage machines.

If any readers have any information that may shed some light on the age of this bicycle or the history of its manufacturer, I would very much like to hear from you! 

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Mini Reviews of Women's Bib Shorts - Some Brands "Get It", Some Don't

Some time ago, a discussion about womens bib shorts came up on the LovelyBicycle! blog. The usual issues were covered: lack of availability generally, lack of choice for sizes and body shapes and of course the inevitable challenge of the Toilet Break, or as some manufacturers delicately if somewhat obtusely put it, the "Bio Break"*. 

At some point in the middle of the discussion, I was struck with the impulse to dig out all the bib shorts I owned and take comparative photos. So I abandoned the computer for 15 minutes, dashed upstairs, upturned a few drawers, arranged various samples on the bed, snapped a couple of shots, then uploaded them to a photo website so that I could post a link to share with the other ladies in the discussion. On each of the two photos, I jotted down the brand and style name of each item, a link to where they can be bought (ideally where more details are provided directly by the manufacturer) and then a summary of what I personally thought of each pair. 

A suggestion was made that I blog about this myself. I certainly intended to but somehow it didn't really make it onto my To Do list. 

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I had a clear-out of all the cycling kit that I don't wear regularly, for one reason or another. When it came to the bib shorts, I realised my experiences over the past few years have refined my preferences considerable, down to the point where I really only ever wear Gore branded bib shorts or bib longs.** So everything else went into the Outbound bag. And I decided it might be helpful to capture and preserve my "overviews" (not "reviews") in a more accessible place, i.e. here on the blog. 

So without further ado - I present a selection of bib shorts of various designs, highlighting where I think some manufactures have successfully figured out the whole Women's Bib Short "thing" and where others are just playing a Gimmick Game

Styles of Top

From left to right: 
  1. GORE BIKE WEAR'S POWER 2.0 Thermo LADY Bibtights - Y FRONT
  2. ICEBREAKER GT RHYTHM Merino bib shorts - Y FRONT
  4. dhb LADIES VAEON 3/4 Padded Bib Tight - PULL-UP VEST

Styles of Bottom, i.e. dealing with the Bio Break or Not, that is the question

Same shorts, from left to right: 
  3. PEARL IZUMI WOMENS AMFIB DROP TAIL bib tights) - "DROP TAIL" DESIGN (vest style top tucks in, pull elasticated waistband of bottoms up over the hem of vest)
So how did I find these in use?
  1. GORE BIKE WEAR'S POWER 2.0 Thermo LADY Bibtights - No issues on bike. Use for loo breaks requires a little practice to wriggle the seat of the shorts down enough. At first you fear stretching/tearing the material but it's more robust than it looks. Fabric is stretchy, fleece-backed but not overly thick. These tights are unpadded, which I have found to be versatile as I can layer them in winter over various shorts chosen according to the chamois pad I prefer for the type of ride I'm doing.
    VERDICT: Best to date.
  2. ICEBREAKER GT RHYTHM Merino bib shorts - I know it doesn't look like it in the photo but the straps and clasp rest higher on my chest than with the Gore pair, and they tend to slip askew. The fabric is a quite heavy merino so works really well in winter with my Ibex leg warmers of similar weight. Loo breaks require removal of jersey to pull entire garment down. Clasp can be niggly so I always base layer, which does mitigate chill factor during loo breaks. Chamois pad quite comfortable even for long rides.
    VERDICT: Good for rides of 5-6 hours in cold temperatures.
  3. PEARL IZUMI WOMENS AMFIB DROP TAIL bib tights) - Functions okay for loo breaks but top tends to ride up and/or bottom drag down a bit so a gap opens up when in road riding position. That's always annoying and a deal breaker for me. Top is lightweight lycra; bottom is roubaix/fleece, so intended for winter wear. 
    VERDICT: Did not work for me. It's one thing to have a loo-break feature work for the loo break but quite another for it to spoil the rest of your ride.
  4. dhb LADIES VAEON 3/4 Padded Bib Tight - Top is a bit compressive, which I like. I found the chamois to be uncomfortable on rides longer than 10 miles. No loo-break feature but for commuting, that's not an issue.
    VERDICT: Versatile spring/autumn commute wear.
  5. GIORDANA bib short. This was a Xmas present, possibly from Wiggle. NEVER WORN.

* Contrast this with the much wider availability of men's bib shorts, which, as far as I can tell, come in variations of what is still one basic design concept, as the whole "Bio Break" is, apparently, a much simpler proposition for them. The variations tend to address "technical performance" e.g. fabric, cut and fit. Whereas for women, manufacturers who still haven't sussed the whole issue of how to incorporate a design that allows the wearer to get (partially) in and out of them for very short periods of time without taking all the rest of her kit off offer think they can get away with just one option as to fit, fabric performance etc.... so long as they are offering a BioBreak solution! That's the gimmick. As to every other possible feature we may be looking for in a pair of bib shorts, we have to take whatever we can get. 

** Having 'settled' with Gore, I am aware I am not watching this segment of the market with the same focus (and frustration) as before, so it's very possible that great strides have been over the past year to increase the range and availability of women's bib shorts that actually do what they're supposed to do. I do know however that quite a few brands continue to ignore the issue altogether, offering bib shorts cut to fit women's bodies but with exactly the same design features as their men's range. I am not knocking this. But it does mean that I will likely never ever try the bib short version of what I consider to be hands down the best women's (non-bib) shorts on the market. Which is a bit of a shame. 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

#Errandonnee 2015 Challenge: Rides 6-8

Errandonnee #6
Date: Friday, 13 March 2015
Errand:  Get drugs (!)
Category:   Personal Care
Destination:  Local pharmacy
Steed: Lorelei the Puch Princess 
What I learned/observations:

I had my timing wrong and reached the village just at school leaving time. The streets were heaving with children... and with people driving their cars for the school run. I saw two other people on bikes: one a young lad cycling slowly on the sidewalk keeping pace with his mum who was pushing a stroller and a small girl about 5. The other was a teenage boy who lives near us, who walked by our house just as I was leaving home. He was hammering back up the street towards the village again, riding no-hands as he shrugged into a jacket. Late for his after-school job, I reckon. I envied his no-hands skills and was pleased to see him putting them to practical use rather than showing off!

Deja vu! Today was warmer and the bike has been rebuilt

Errandonnee #6
Date: Friday, 13 March 2015
Errand:  Post Junk Mail Back to Sender
Category:   Non-Store Errand
Destination:  Village Post Box
Steed: Lorelei the Puch Princess 
What I learned/observations:

The last collection from this post box is 5.30pm on weekdays. Good to know. 

I noticed the new railings a few evenings ago in the dark and had a good look at them today. Apparently they are in response to all the illegal car parking in this area - on the pavements (sidewalks) and even on the pedestrian crossing. I'd rather see ticketing and don't really have much confidence this will help. In fact, as I walked along here, a car that had been parked up behind one of these railings was pulling away. 

Errandonnee #6
Date: Friday, 13 March 2015
Errand:  Get a few groceries
Category:   Store
Destination:  Local convenience store
Steed: Lorelei the Puch Princess 
What I learned/observations:

In the few minutes it took (total) to lock and unlock, six people came up and put something in the litter bin next to The Village Bicycle Parking Stand. It was disconcerting to catch, out of the corner of my eye as I bent to my task, someone striding purposefully (in one case, running) straight toward me. The bin was the attraction, however - not me, not my beautiful bike, not The One And Only Bicycle Parking Stand.

Total mileage was less than 1 mile but the 30 mile minimum for the entire challenge is not going to be a problem in any case.  

Friday, 13 March 2015

#Errandonnee 2015 Challenge: Rides 1-5

Here's my first batch of Errandonnee rides. I haven't really got to grips with the new controls. In the absence of specific food/drink categories and given my current unavailability for any ride that could remotely be construed as "social", I foresee too many errands being categorised as Personal Care when they are anything but! (If only I were looking after myself as well as my anticipated over-use of this category might imply...)

Errandonnee #1
Date: Sunday, 8 March 2015
Errand:  Get Cash
Category:   Personal Business
Destination:  ATM in Luton town centre
Steed: Riley the Enigma
What I learned/observations:

When an ATM is unable to dispense cash, it will still take you through the entire menu right up to selection of the amount you want before telling you so. Why can't the cash option be disabled or displayed as unavailable right on the main menu?

Take 1:

Saturday, 7 March 2015

#Errandonnee 2015 Has Started!

Up to my eyeballs in coursework with a final law exam looming in just 3 months, much in "real life" is passing me by. For example, this year's edition that fabulously fan "Farewell Winter, Hello Spring" cycling challenge called the Errandonnee started on Thursday. 

30 Miles over 12 Rides in 12 Days.

The "rules" are designed to get those creative juices flowing and get you out in the fresh air with that trusty steed which may have been languishing (just like you) a bit too much through the winter. 

Much of the fun happens on the Facebook page, where people from all over the world post photos every day from their pedal-powered outings. And the Twitter hashtag is #errandonnee. (That's 2 Rs, 2 Ns, 2 Es.)

So where will you go? We want to hear about it! 

selection of #errandonnee photos on Twitter today

Though perhaps the burning question is:  You carried WHAT on your bike??!

@rachelcannon lobbied for the addition of this new category to this year's challenge.
I wonder what else she has up her sleeve?!

Friday, 13 February 2015

The London Bike Show 2015

After the almost-overwhelming experience of trying to take in the NEC Cycle Show in Birmingham last September, this year's London Bike Show seemed... well... almost provincial by comparison. It is certainly much smaller than the NEC show. The hall in which it is held is huge, but as you explore the Bike Show you find that, all too soon, you come up against the neighbouring shows (the Triathlon and the Outdoor Adventure & Travel shows, with the International Dive Show running Saturday and Sunday) 

The Bike Show itself takes up perhaps only a quarter of the total exhibition space. 

That said, the smaller size makes it easy to find specific stalls very quickly. I did not set out determined to see 'absolutely everything' and, unlike the past few years, I had already decided not to try and write a blog post giving comprehensive coverage. I had earmarked a couple of specific product launches I wanted to look at, and a few people I wanted to search out and say hello to. I did that and then took my knees home before they began grumbling too loudly! (This consideration was especially important as it was my first day back on the road bike this year and I had six miles to cycle home last night.)

So without further ado - 

As always, I visited my friends at Enigma (recently re-launched as Enigma Bicycle Works) and drooled over their two new models. 

The Evade is somewhere between the Etape and the Evoke:  lighter and faster than the Etape, without "fully loaded tourer" being part of the specification, but better suited to long days in the saddle than the racier Evoke. It is, as ever with Enigma bicycles, a "looker" and very appealing as a candidate for "fast day ride" or "Sunday best" bike. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Time To Try Again

I last cycled a 200km event in July 2010, riding completely solo and self-supported on my 1979 Puch Princess (at that time with original gearing of 48 x 14-28 five speed).

The following year I attempted the same ride with an assorted mix of friends of varying abilities, most of whom I hadn't cycled with before. We were a disorganised mess, perpetually unsure of who was ahead, who was behind, who was waiting, should I wait?, etc., etc.  About 60km in, I found myself alone in the pitch-dark countryside with a pulled muscle, with none of my cycling companions answering their mobile phones. So I phoned a friend who lived nearby and arranged a "DNF".

In 2013, I tried the same route yet again -- this time with a small group of fellow FNRttCers, which means we all stick together -- but again did not finish for a variety of reasons, including an unfamiliar saddle not set up correctly. 

Since then, I've got a good bike that fits me, kitted out with gear that suits me, and I have bullied and cajoled my knees into behaving fairly well most of the time. 

So here we go -- not the Dunwich Dynamo this time but a proper organised audax with controls and time limits, in day light through countryside I'm somewhat familiar with. I've known of this audax for a while and was vaguely tempted but finally threw my hat in the ring when I found out quite a few friends (FNRttCers and CycleChatters) had signed up.  

I'm certainly not fighting fit enough to do it tomorrow but I've got nearly four months to get myself back up to that level. I'm really looking forward to it. 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

On Turning Two

Yes, the vélovoice blog is two years old! And thanks to all of you who read and comment and share, it's been a very good year indeed.

I don’t care all that much about stats – I care far more about interaction, conversations, engagement. Nonetheless, it’s gratifying to see that pageviews the past year were double what they were the first year, with most visitors hanging around to read more than one page each time they drop by. The split between brand new first time readers and returning ones has shifted slightly from 70/30 to 65/35, which suggests more “retention”, in which case I must be doing something right! The British audience has dropped from 50% to 40% while the American audience has grown from 20% to 30%, with the remaining 30% coming from all over the world (Germany, Canada, Australia, France, Singapore, Japan, Netherlands and Spain filling out the rest of the Top 10).

As ever, I am always thinking about ways to reassure people who visit vélovoice for the first time that they are “in the right place”, i.e. that they will find the information they were looking for and hopefully other things of interest as well. With that in mind, I find it illuminating to see what Google search phrases lead people to this blog. Other than searches on the word “velovoice” (gratifying in itself!), more visitors arrive here for the first time having asked Google for information about the Ortlieb Zip City bag, the Brooks Swallow saddle, the Trakke Bairn bag or the Carradice Stockport bag for the S-type Brompton bicycle. Why? I think because there is so little customer-driven information out there about those products. Manufacturer advertising and press releases can only go so far. People want to know “what is X really like to use?”, if at all possible, before committing to purchase. I hope what I’ve written about those four products, both the good and the bad, is helpful.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Week Of Rollers

I've not been on the bike much in the past month due to sinus problems. I've been running recurring lowgrade sinus infections since last April but at the moment am not taking any medications, just avoiding (to the degree possible) having icy cold air blasted up my nose. This has meant: (a) no cycling when it's windy and (b) even on still days, no cycling outside the village because every road out goes downhill... fast. 

I'm been trying instead to get to grips with riding my bicycle on my new Tacx Antares rollers. In the first 10 seconds of my first attempt, I was confronted with a shocking truth: I don't know how to ride a bike!  No, I didn't fall. But I can hardly pedal. The only strength in my legs seems to be brute downward force through my quads, one leg at a time, which on rollers basically causes my bicycle to behave as it is being ridden by a drunk. 

Glamorous work out location in the garage!

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