Sunday, 26 April 2015

Bridget Gets A Facelift

One of these days I will write a long term review of the stalwart in my stable, my Surly Cross Check -- I promise. I bought this bike in October 2010 and she's been my daily commuter and faithful friend. The fit isn't perfect but with a few tweaks to her over the years and, to be fair, improved strength, flexibility and better posture on my part, we've sort of grown into each other. 

I mentioned a few tweaks. The significant transformations that Bridget has gone through are recorded in the series of photos on the My Bicycle Family page. Meanwhile from time to time she gets a few minor updates. 

I'm not quite sure how to classify yesterday's 'operation' -- transformation or minor update? Basically, Bridget got a whole new "head"! This was in fact the final, most time-consuming, stage in a series of changes that saw all three contact points significantly changed. 

We'll call this stage "The Facelift". 

Bridget has sported On One Midge dirt drop bars for nearly two years. These were fitted in the summer of 2013 when I started working for Sustrans at the Travel Choices Hub. While my commute was entirely on paved roads, the cycling I was doing during the course of my work ranged all over local roads, tracks and trails on a wide variety of surfaces, including spots of deep loose gravel. Dirt drop bars gave me my preferred default position on brake hoods but also offered a wider stance when the going got rough. I love these bars and wouldn't hesitate to put them on another bike (or iteration of this bike) if mixed-surfaces regularly feature in my life again in the future. 

With the various light brackets removed, the "make sure the lift door is shut" sticker was revealed. I had completely forgotten about that. That brand of humour seems to fit in with Surly's unique persona. 

Much as I love these bars, I no longer ride anything but paved roads these days. I love my new commute to Harpenden train station. It consists of three miles of country lanes with three turnings at t-junctions (rarely need to actually stop), one set of traffic lights at a crossroads (where a bicycle is enough to trigger the phase to green), one more t-junction with a right hand turn onto a busy A road, which then delivers three more miles I can take as fast as I like, with a few side roads but in terms of junctions two mini roundabouts, two sets of traffic lights and one zebra crossing. 

Over the past 4-5 weeks, Bridget and I have been running this six miles in about 25 minutes inbound (cumulatively downhill with a few lumps at the beginning) and 36-37 minutes homebound (cumulatively uphill with one long slog and then those lumps again).

Bridget is not a featherweight but basically, her job description is now Road Bike With Luggage. So some adjustments have been needed to take her from being an all-terrain tank to robust road commuter. 

Two weeks ago, I swapped my old Brooks saddle for one of the Selle SMP models that seem to suit my undercarriage so much better. Then last week, I swapped the platform pedals (huge ones that could handle the enormous footprint of my Brooks Adrenaline trainers) for my spare set of Speedplay Light Action pedals (the same ones I have on my Enigma). 

Immediately Bridget and I felt smoother and faster and I was arriving home less fatigued. (I put that down to improved knee stability from the foot retention more than anything else.) But I found myself wishing I could shift my hands to the tops of the bars for more than a few seconds at a time. The tops of the Midge bars have a round profile of standard 26mm diameter. I was missing the "wings" of the FSA bars I have on both the Enigma and Puch. 

It so happened that Adam had just such a bar stashed away in the garage. It had come with his Planet X ti bike when he bought that a few years ago. Oddly, the bike is a size 56 but the bars on it were only 40mm wide, much too narrow for Adam. He removed them after less than 100 miles in favour of a nearly identical but wider set. As they were FSA Wings, he thought them worth hanging on to and I am so glad he did.  

Temporarily Headless

With the Midge bars removed, we noticed a bit of dampness inside the stem. So Adam removed the stem and all the spacers to check for rust. Yes, there is a little but only on the surface just around the hollow where the stem meets the steering. A quick clean (not enough to expose fresh metal) and squirts of GT85 put matters to right. 

Next came the fiddly job of removing the foam adhesive still stuck to Adam's old FSA bars.

After a bit of experimenting with the rotational position of the bars and "toe-ing in" of the brake levers, I left Adam in peace to fit Cinelli gel pads and brand new Fi'zi:k tape. He is a perfectionist about wrapping bars and I really ought to have been indoors studying rather than messing about with bikes. 

Some time later, he came in and told me he was done -- and then made sure he told me all the little things that were not quite perfect before I got outside, apparently to forestall any criticism!  I have never attempted fitting bar tape though it's one of those things I really should learn, so am in no position to criticise! The basic problem Adam always complains of is that the wrap is never long enough for him to space the degree of overlap exactly the way he would like. 

This is one area where he is definitely more picky than I am! I told him so, which made him laugh, as I am notoriously fussy and he is famously laid back! 

So here is Bridget with her new bars and red tape. I have never had coloured tape before so this is rather a departure but I think it looks rather smart. 

I have a few reservations which only time will settle. One is that the most comfortable wrist position for me with my hands on the "wing" portion of the tops of the bars meant rotating the bars significantly downward, which puts the 'on the hoods' position a bit lower than my saddle. This is a new position for me. However, the bars themselves have much less reach than the Midge bars, so the overall reach is reduced which somewhat offsets the perceived increase in how stretched out I feel. Positioning the brake levers themselves was somewhat of a challenge. The bar is designed with the idea that the levers would be fitted at the top curve of the "ergo" section". But doing that would move my hands even further forward and down, which I did not want. So the levers are sitting a little high, which somewhat "shortens" the area of the hoods where I put my hands. One of my favourite things about Tiagra levers is the long flat surface area and this is now slightly compromised. But I seem to be okay with a similar outcome on the Enigma with Shimano 105 shifters, so this may not be a problem for me after all. We'll see. 

In the course of her facelift, Bridget also got new brake cables and new rear brake pads. She got new front pads a couple of weeks ago. She is amazingly still on her original cassette and chainrings, having had only one chain replacement over more than 6,000 kilometers, and everything still looks in very good shape. 

Every day while cruising along, I find myself thinking "this is such a good bike". She has proved to be worth looking after and doing whatever tweaks seem indicated to keep us working well as a team. 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Day Ride in France

The long awaited Day Ride in France!  It was in fact an exceedingly long day: one of the cats woke us at 2am following which we did not get back to sleep. The alarm went off at 04.15 and we did not get home until 00.15 the next morning!

Adam and I took the train to St Pancras where we transferred onto the High Speed service to Dover. We spotted Sonia while walking through the station and found Jurek already settled on the train. Arthur and Tony joined us at Ebbsfleet. The weather from home was damp and foggy and it didn't look much better in Dover.

We went through several check-in formalities and found our assigned lane to board the ferry. We then realised it would be at least an hour before we would be cleared to board!

Sonia and I had been half-jokingly grumbling about the lack of coffee in our system all the way to Dover, so this was a good opportunity to remedy that! We abandoned the boarding lane in favour of Costa to fill in our waiting time to good effect. 

Once on the ferry, we stowed our bikes away. The ferry carries a flimsy old rack with space for 8 bikes. Two bikes were already there when we arrived (later to be identified as Mark's and Gail's). There isn't much to prevent the bikes from moving around during the crossing, potentially even coming off the rack altogether. Jurek experimented with a small bungee cord to hold his front wheel in the rack but decided even that might not help much. 

The crossing itself was smooth and uneventful, although it was with some concern we noticed the darkening skies as we approached France. 

Coming into Calais port, we told ourselves the ferry windows are tinted so it's probably much brighter out there than it looks like from in here - right? And the Norwegians (trusted far and above the UK's Met Office with regard to preparing clothing and bikes for night rides over the past several years) had said this:

So the worst that might happen was damp roads after morning showers, but otherwise great cycling weather. Right?

Let's draw a visual veil over the first hour's proceedings. Suffice it to say, the rain stung and the headwind was brutal. The group got split up while negotiating a series of twists and turns where the riverside path turned inland under a railway crossing. Jurek, Sonia and I huddled in the tunnel looking somewhat glumly at the rain but then fell into conversation with a charming if eccentric old gentleman passing through who conveyed the fact that his cousin lives in Oxford and he was off the very next day to visit him and did we need directions to Guines? His dog took a shine to Sonia so was in no hurry to leave us. Meanwhile, Jurek got through to a mobile belonging to someone in the group ahead and Adam came back to lead us onwards. By that time, the wind and rain were approaching biblical.

Oddly enough, I found my stride so to speak and, though soon soaked to the skin, wasn't cold and was rather enjoying myself. 

Nonetheless, I whole-heartedly agreed with Sonia's prescription (announced at volume several times in the 1-2 miles before lunch):  "Whiskey!" 

We did not rush over lunch. It's France - it's impossible. We had the restaurant -- and a devoted waitress -- all to ourselves, and over the next two hours or so enjoyed three courses of delicious food (none of which was photographed), several beers in some cases, whiskey in others, and coffees to finish. Meanwhile, much to our relief, we watched the clouds break up and small areas of blue appear in the sky, which grew and grew until, by the time we left, the bright sunshine reduced the still-persistent wind to a trifling nuisance. 

(c) Ian Rauk 2015. Used with kind permission. 

(c) Ian Rauk 2015. Used with kind permission. 

Four hours of glorious cycling followed. The terrain is rolling, with hills requiring some effort but rewarded with sweeping long descents. Road surfaces were very good, even on the quiet singletrack lanes where we encountered virtually no motor traffic. On the main roads, the treatment from drivers was generally quite civilised -- sufficient space given while overtaking, suitable adjustments to speed, usually both -- with the exceptions (as of course there were a few) being few and far between. 

The first set of rollers right after lunch, straight into the wind.
(c) Mark Grant 2015. Used with kind permission. 

(c) Mark Grant 2015. Used with kind permission. 

(c) Mark Grant 2015. Used with kind permission. 

(c) Mark Grant 2015. Used with kind permission. 

The strong headwind prompted a unanimous decision to cut off the southern end of 50-ish mile route that Adam had originally planned. Instead we struck off towards the coast somewhat sooner, cutting off a big chunk of the route. Another series of rollers over the hills brought us out on the coast at Sangatte. 

(c) Ian Rauk 2015. Used with kind permission. 

To be honest, we had just one choice to make:  battle our way around the full 50 miles with a question mark over whether we'd get back to Calais in time for our 8.35pm ferry.... or take a short cut to the coast, find a restaurant with an outdoor garden and have beers in the sunshine. Hmmm. 

(c) Sonia Williams. Used with kind permission. 

Our total distance was only 36 miles. But the smiles were, I think we'd all agree, endless.

(c) Ian Rauk 2015. Used with kind permission. 

#30daysofbiking 2015, Exhibit B

My cycling this week ranged from commuting to errands to Touring In Foreign Lands, utilising four different bikes!

Monday, 6th April 2015

On Monday (which was a Bank Holiday), I accompanied Adam to our local Recycling Centre to get rid of a cargo bike + trailer load of mostly electrical goods. 

We then went to B&Q and bought paint to re-decorate our kitchen, dining room and utility room. 

Tuesday, 7th April 2015

A normal day of commuting in Bedfordshire and central London. I love getting home before dark, now that the clocks have changed and the daylight hours are lengthening. 

Wednesday, 8th April 2015

An evening out in Dunstable, starting with a quiet meal in the Gary Cooper, then meeting up with other members of the Luton and Dunstable Cycling Forum for chat and a few drinks in The Globe pub. 

Thursday, 9th April 2015

More reliable miles with the Cross Check. In town, I took the bus as Astrid the Viking is long overdue for a clean and service. I'm not quite trusting the brakes at the moment! She will come home at the weekend for some TLC. 

Friday, 10th April 2015

Less than a mile with Astrid, having got a lift up the hill from Luton train station. 

Saturday, 11th April 2015

The long awaited Day Ride in France - see next post

My #30daysofbiking score is now 10 days out of 11. I have still not "officially" pledged.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

#30daysofbiking 2015, Exhibit A

I tried the #30daysofbiking challenge two years ago but didn't get very far. Last year, I dismissed the idea out of hand because, to be honest, by the time we reach April, spring itself is incentive enough to ride. 

I have not "signed the pledge" this year either so, on an official level, I am not doing it. But unofficially, looking at how my schedule is shaping up over the next couple of months, there is in fact a very good chance I will be on a bicycle of some description for at least a few minutes' duration nearly if not every day. And I've got this new toy to play with. So I may as well record a few rides as we go. 

Wednesday, 1st April 2015

As is usual on Wednesdays, I did a split day at home, studying in the morning (on this particular day finishing and submitting an assignment) and working in the afternoon. I didn't really have time to get out for a proper bike ride but I have finally called it quits on the very last remaining Brooks saddle in my fleet, so needed to fit and dial in the new Selle SMP that I purchased for the Cross Check. 

Ride:  only 1km or so! No photos. 

Thursday, 2nd April 2015

My commute:  20k in Bedfordshire/Hertfordshire plus 4.6k in London. The London segment is long-standing, the Bedfordshire thing is new. I used to cycle to and from Luton station to catch the train to London but that (a) was fraught with traffic and (b) included a dreadful hill on the way home (in terrible traffic), resulting in (c) the temptation to get a taxi home far too often

Commuting to Harpenden includes a stretch along a busy main road into and out of Harpenden, so this is makes up the final bit of the morning commute and the beginning bit of the evening bit. And the evening is not too bad. If I end up working a bit late, I'm riding this around 8.30pm and the whole ride home is just bliss, in cycling terms! There is one slow grind of a hill but it's on a very quiet country lane so I just chill out as I spin. Meanwhile, taxi costs are half again what they are from Luton and I am finding that price difference to be just enough of a greater disincentive to actually be effective at discouraging me from falling into a taxi when disembarking the train, as happened all too frequently from Luton!

Ride: 24.6k. No photos. Must try and get a few from my commute!

Friday, 3rd April 2015

Another fettling session, this time testing the Garmin, having reinstalled the Polar... "just in case"! I had decided I didn't want to risk "losing" perfectly good data from rides on the Enigma due to user error, so for a few weeks I'll be running both units side by side. 

My pootle round the block revealed that on steady efforts, the units record the same speed and distance, but the Garmin is much more quicker to respond to changes in speed due to being GPS-measured, whereas the Polar relies on several readings from the transmitter lined up with the spoke magnet, so it takes several revolutions of the front wheel before the computer has enough information from the transmitter lined up with the spoke magnet to record a change in speed. 

Ride: 1.7km. No photos. 

Saturday, 4th April 2015 

I intended to ride out with the Ivinghoe Veloes today, for their weekly social called the Tea Ride, but unfortunately I set off from home too late to make the start (12 miles from home). I gave it a go but once I realised there was no chance of getting therein time and asking them to wait upwards of 20-30 minutes for me wouldn't be fair, I set off on a "frolic of my own" round the country lanes on the eastern edge of the Aylesbury Vale. It's lovely and flat out there -- a welcome respite from the Chiltern Hills where we live -- but very exposed. I chose to cycle directly into the strong headwind for a time, saving the tailwind for later to get a power boost home! This worked out very well. I got a decent work out -- my first non-commute ride of any length at all since last autumn. 

Ride: 38km

On the Sewell Greenway - a disused railway line.
A nice change from the unplanned stint on the A505!

Do you think I'm collecting enough data?
(LOVING my new Dill Pickle handlebar bag!)

I may only get out for brief rides tomorrow and Monday, as my law course approaches the final exam, but I should be commuting Tuesday and Thursday if not Friday -- with a day ride in France planned for Saturday. So we'll see how I get on. 

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. 

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