Monday, November 30, 2009

Charge Bikes Poetry

From Beer Fridays, the day on which the nice people at Charge Bikes offer a goodie bag that includes beer for twitter messages including their name. (One name drawn at random, etc etc).

Nothing inspires a chap like the thought of free booze.

Riding Belgian Cobbles / Rattling out yer teeth / Would be far more comfortable / With a @CHARGEBIKES spoon beneath

I once met a girl / She said my riding style could be looser / "How so?" I asked / She said "By riding a @CHARGEBIKES juicer".

Boris Johnson saved a lady / By riding his bike at a thug / Would he have been more scary / Riding a @CHARGEBIKES Plug?

@CHARGEBIKES make nice stuff / In Somerset En-ger-land / They also feature in a film / What was done by Nick Hand.

@CHARGEBIKES comp today / features tasty Charge Ale / Tweeps who don't win / Will surely weep and wail

Although they're called @CHARGEBIKES / They also make other stuff / You can win some of it / Just tweet their name (once is enough)

People might think you're odd / If you say you ride on a spoon / But those who've heard of @CHARGEBIKES / will not think you're a loon.

Merry Christmas from @CHARGEBIKES / We thought we'd send you a knife / It's one of our saddles / No need to fear for your life.

If you look at @CHARGEBIKES / You might think they only do fixed / But have a look at the Juicer / Their range is really quite mixed

I'm writing @CHARGEBIKES Rhymes / Not for the prize (though it seems) / I'm fulfilling my life's ambition / To start a couple of memes.

If a young lady were to ride a bike / A cad might try to kiss her / But she could ride off at speed / If her bike was a @CHARGEBIKES scissor

The problem with my rhymes / Is sadly they're a little bit crap / But @CHARGEBIKES are great / Like the Plug, the Mixer and Tap.

Would my rhymes be better / If I drank a load of beer? / If I win this competition / @CHARGEBIKES will send some here.

If I ride my Brompton / I'd wear a bowler hat / But I wouldn't riding @CHARGEBIKES / Because I'd look a bit silly.

If you want @CHARGEBIKES schwag / You've only got ten minutes / If you tweet their name / There's a chance to win it

On a @CHARGEBIKES Duster / You'll ride around with ease / Could this be because / The frame is Tange Prestige? #INFORMATIONAL

On a @CHARGEBIKES Plug / You won't look like a wally / It is Navy Blue / And made out of Chromoly. #INFORMATIONAL

There's so many @CHARGEBIKES rhymes / I'd put them in a book / I doubt I'd sell very many / As no one would have a look. #SeeWhatIDidThere?

The @CHARGEBIKES rhymes I've done / now number nearly forty / I like tweeting them / But my followers think it's naughty

Some of my @CHARGEBIKES rhymes / Are sweary like gangsta rap / The fatman he likes those / And thinks the others are rubbish. #tribute

If you own a @CHARGEBIKES fixed / do you ride it in the cold? / I worry about my knees / Because I'm very old.

I had a @CHARGEBIKES Plug / It really was a looker / Someone scratched the paint / So I called him a clumsy person. #rhymebarrel

There is a @CHARGEBIKES chain / Half linked and called the Masher / It comes in different colours / To make your bike look flasher

@CHARGEBIKES handle bar tape / Recommend it to a friend / Walk into your LBS / And ask for some "U Bend" #FiftiesJingleWriter

@CHARGEBIKES saddles get great reviews / but the test they always pass / Comes once you pedal away on one / With an incredibly comfortable a

If you have @CHARGEBIKES in Canada / Remember that it's Beer Friday / Why not enter the comp? / And then go for a ride, eh? #FunWithAccents

@CHARGEBIKES are ideal / for riding in the city / As you filter though the jams / And make the drivers feel quite silly.

I like to ride @CHARGEBIKES / While eating a pack of Rolos / Perhaps on a classic climb / Like the Mortirolo. #clunkyrhymes

I first saw @CHARGEBIKES / When a Plug went whizzing past / I tried to catch him up / But he was too bloody fast. #100%ofFact

If you tweet @CHARGEBIKES / And write some stuff below 'em / You could win some stuff / As long as you also follow 'em #competitionrules

It seems my @CHARGEBIKES rhymes / make my followers want to run / I find this odd / As I'm having a lot of fun

I hear @CHARGEBIKES make clothes / Perhaps they make a hat / Then you could ride your bike / Without looking a bit silly.

One of @CHARGEBIKES cycles / Is called the Lazy Susan / The pedals on it aren't SPDs / So keep your normal shoes on. #that'sbetter

@CHARGEBIKES announce the winner / Very much later / Which makes Friday a trial / If you're a rhyme hater.

If I ever rode a fixie / I'd rock a @CHARGEBIKES plug racer / Its good looks stole my heart / Like the Surly Pacer

The @CHARGEBIKES Griffin / Isn't really my cup of tea / But you'll probably like it a lot / If you're considerably hipper than me

If you want leather bar tape / you could pay a fortune for Brooks / Or pay significantly less / for
@CHARGEBIKES with similar looks.

You might not get on with the saddle/ That's included in @CHARGEBIKES prizes/ But I believe you'll find the beer/ Suits Cyclists of all sizes

@CHARGEBIKES make a saddle / It is called the spoon / If you live in Newcastle / Why not ride it around the toon.

@CHARGEBIKES stuff / Sometimes has a funny name / But it is very good / And not at all lame.

As the prize includes drink / You should probably make time / To compose your @CHARGEBIKES tweets / In poorly done rhyme.

It's the end of the week / and Friday's here / Mention @CHARGEBIKES / And you could win some beer. (You need to follow them too).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Exciting Things

Exciting Thing No.1
The new Ragley Rodwell frame - I'm not sure why I'm excited about this, as the chances of my building one up are next to zero. I love the idea behind the frame though, and the attention to detail on it (see the designer's flickr stream for more, here).

The roller above the chainstay bridge allows a bottom pull mech (i.e. a road mech) to be used with the bike's top tube cable routing. The headset mounted cable hanger is also a thing of great beauty, although my personal feeling is that fork crown mounted hangers work better unless you have your bars set up pretty high.

These frames look like they'll build into really nice fat tyred road bikes - ideal for someone wanting to go in that direction but not take the Tourer route that I took with my Surly LHT.

Exciting Thing #2
Regular readers (ha!) may remember my dithering over a folding bike earlier in the year. I finally got a chance to test ride a Brompton last week (an S6L, in case you're wondering) and was impressed by it. Far less twitchy than I'd expected, and a lot of fun to throw around the car park near the bike shop where the test ride took place.

I've decided on an S3L (I do live in Cheshire, after all, so six gears seems like overkill) with a "C" bag as luggage. The bike is being purchased via cyclescheme, and I found out recently that my voucher application has been approved. I have that new bike feeling all over again...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mine's a Priscilla *BROOKS UPDATE!*

Brooks B17 Champion Standard #1
My New Secondhand B-17

As twittered a day or so ago, I made a recent impulse purchase of a used B-17 "Champion Standard" saddle. Having looked at the various ways of pressing a modern (bag loop-less) saddle into carrying a traditional Carradice saddlebag, it occurred to me that the weight of such an arrangement wouldn't be far off that of a Brooks. Buying second hand meant that the cost wasn't vastly different either.

Before I knew it, the eBay purchase was made, and the saddle arrived yesterday. Condition is pretty much ok, a bit scruffy, with some scuffs, but its probably a better option for me than paying £50+ on a new saddle for the purposes of trying out a Brooks. I'm one ride in, and starting to believe the hype about these saddles - although (obviously) the sit bone depressions are someone elses, the comfort is immediately apparent. It's quite different to the comfort offered by (say) an Arione, because of the movement in the top of the Brooks. The bag loops are a hugely better solution for the straps of the Carradice too.

I'm hoping that I get on with this saddle, as going back to the zipties to secure the bag doesn't seem very appealing at this point.

Brooks & Carradice Lowsaddle
My New Secondhand B-17, with the Carradice Lowsaddle Mounted

I'm wondering quite where this slippery slope will take me next. Touring Bike, Carradice, Brooks Saddle. Are SPD sandals and a beard and pipe now unavoidable?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Other Business

Just a quick update regarding the "To be continued..." posts left hanging recently (namely, The Tiny Tour and My Wheel Building Adventure ).

They're not forgotten, but the image files I need to complete them are on a PC that is currently disassembled and in the cellar while its usual home is decorated. Once that's done, I'll complete those particular stories.

Mine's a Priscilla

On the Bike, Dog in Attendance
My Carradice Lowsaddle Longflap, on the bike with a happy dog in attendance.

My Carradice Bag, that is. Inside, on the label, is written the name of the person who made the bag, in my case, Priscilla. The desire for an old fashioned saddlebag for my commuting bike grew out of the realisation that my panniers were a less than ideal solution. Using two results in a bike that's hard to manoeuvre on and off the train (and with panniers barely half full). Using one results in a bike that handles oddly - not unrideable, but I didn't like it.

The solution seemed to me to carry the load centrally on the back of the bike. Given that my panniers are 20l capacity each, I figured a 10-15l saddlebag would provide enough space for most of my commutes.

I'd discounted rack bags because they tend to top out around the 10l mark in capacity, and I have to admit that I liked the idea of a traditional, British made product like the Carradice saddlebags for a bike like my Long Haul Trucker - the ethos seemed to fit, to me.

I considered the Carradice Barley for a little while (often recommended as a commuting/day ride solution) but worried about the days I'd need to carry a bit extra. (Good job, as it turned out, the Barley would have been way too small for me).

My eventual choice was the Nelson Longflap, and I asked my local bike shop (Manchester's Bicycle Boutique) to order one for me.

An ordering mix up meant that I actually ended up with the Lowsaddle Longflap (similar dimensions to the Nelson, but slightly less high to account for bikes with less clearance between saddle and tyre/mudguard/rack). This turned out to be something of a happy accident, as the bag rests nicely on my rear rack.

On the Bike #1
On the bike, using the "Longflap" closure - this allows the carriage of slightly more stuff.

So how did it manage with a typical commute's luggage?

Bag Interior, Packed For Regular Closure
Packed for a normal commute - will be closed without the longflap

The picture above shows the interior of the bag. This is what I'd carry most days - a book to read on the train, moleskine pocket notebook and diary, and work clothes. The space left is where I'd put my lunch most days, and the bag liner is the bag that the Lowsaddle saddlebag came in (handy that). With all this in the bag, it can be closed using the "normal" closure without problems.

On the Bike, Regular Closure
Packed for a normal commute and mounted on the bike - closed without the longflap here

There isn't room for my waterproof in the bag (actually, there probably would be if I laid it on top of the contents and did up the flap over it. Hmm). In the pictures it's secured to D rings on the top of the bag using toe clip straps - I think it provides a helpful bit of extra "hi vis" for following traffic, by coincidence. The light loop on the flap is occupied by a Torch9x light which has an integral reflector. (It supplements a rack mounted Smart Superflash light for rear visibility). With the bag hanging at its natural angle, the light faces rearward in just the right position. (I believe some people press the nice metal Carradice plaque into service for light mounting where the angle of the bag is not right for the light loop to be effective).

Right Hand Pocket
Right Hand Pocket

Outside the main body of the bag are two side pockets. Carradice lore suggests that these will spill small items (because of the flap closure, and angle of the bag). In the right hand pocket, I have a spare inner tube (Continental Touring 28-35, from memory, fact fans) and a Rema Tip Top touring puncture repair kit. Both fit nicely, and are large enough not to unexpectedly depart the bag.

Left Hand Pocket
Left Hand Pocket

In the left hand pocket is a Bagaboo tool pouch - this holds another puncture repair kit, tyre levers, my multi-tool, cable ties, chain quick link &c &c. The bagaboo pouch is a tight-ish fit, but not so much as to be awkward. My pouch is the truck tarp version, so should be waterproof enough to survive this location in a downpour. (The cotton duck material of the saddle bag is waterproof due to its close weave and proofing wax, but can transfer moisture from its internal surface, apparently).

What about when I needed to carry more? It's here that the "Longflap" closure comes into play. Essentially this is a piece of extra material that tucks under the flap used for the "normal" closure of the bag (when not in use, it's held in place by press-studs). It sports an extra set of straps for closing the bag over a larger load.

Bag Interior, Packed for Longflap Use
Bag Interior - Packed for use with the "Longflap"

As shown above, the bag has an 800g sliced Rye loaf, work shirt & underwear, paperback (H.P. Lovecraft's "Haunter in the Dark" omnibus), lunch box, moleskine pocket notebook and diary inside.

On the Bike #1
on the bike, closed using the "Longflap"

The photo above shows how the longflap closure looks on the bike - notice how it makes the bag slightly taller. The photo at the start of this post shows a rear view, and a clearer view of the extra straps on the longflap in use. The drawstring closure inside the bag is large enough to cope with the bigger load too, meaning that it isn't exposed at the sides.

The only thing I'm less than happy about at present is my mounting solution for the bag. I've gone with the infinitely useful cable tie, for the time being.

On the Bike, Cable Tie Bodge
Cable Ties for Saddle Loops

The cable ties go around the saddle rails, and the bag straps go through these (buckles inside the bag, as any fule kno). Despite this giving the saddle a whimsical, whiskery look (a bit like a cartoon mouse), I suspect the edges of the ties will not be good for the leather bag straps, so will be looking to change this mounting method fairly soon. (There's tons of ways to do this, from the fettling heaven of Carradice hackery, to the clamps and racks and bits supplied by Carradice themselves).

I love the bag so far - build quality is great, and it seems, up to now, to be ideal for my purposes. It isn't terrific on the Arione saddle, because the back of the saddle extends a fair way over the bag, but I've not had problems accessing or repacking my stuff that outweigh the positives of it. (The inconvenience amounts to reaching slightly further into the bag under the top flap - not too onerous). The feel of the bike is far, far better than with my old, single pannier solution too.

Useful Links:
Carradice Website
Wallbike's Carradice Hacks
Peter White Cycles' Carradice Page (far better pictures than on Carradice's Website, and lots of useful information).

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Tiny Tour: From Crewe to France and Belgium, Day Two

Mrs Monkey at the Start of the Route #2
Mrs. Monkey at the outskirts of Veurne

During the night, the slight disadvantage of a hotel on the road around Veurne became apparent. In Belgium, it seems, people discuss parking their BMW X5s in tiny spaces in VERY loud voices at midnight. Garbage collection is also done by VERY noisy trucks during the wee small hours of the morning. Closing the window largely resolved the noise problem though.

Westhoek Kajakclub
Westhoek Kajakclub, where we joined the canal side route out of Veurne

Our plan for today was to strike out towards Brugge, using the route along the Canals (Kanal Veurne Nieuwpoort, Kanal Passendale-Nieuwpoort, Kanal Gent-Brugge-Oostende). Navigation from this point was straightforward, using the excellent system of "knoppunkten". Rather signpost numbered routes, a la the NCN in Britain, the Fietsroute system in Belgium employs a series of numbered points. Using your map, you decide which points to follow to your destination, and then just follow the signs between them. The signs are intelligently placed and easily interpreted. It's a system that works superbly, and both Mrs. Monkey and I became big fans of it during our tour.

Mrs Monkey and Friends
Traffic on the Fietsroute

As you'll see from the pictures, the day began a little overcast, and we did get a shower around midday that was heavy enough to require 5 minutes or so sheltering under a tree. Along the way out of Veurne, we encountered these sheep, and this unusual path side tableau;

A Pathside Tableau
Flat Eric has a Deadline to Meet

We also saw a pedal pub, although this was, unfortunately, on the other side of the canal to us, we couldn't take up the occupants' enthusiastic offers of drinks! Another sight we saw for the first time along this part of the route was the large, guided rides that seem to be an everyday occurrence. I'd estimate that about 20-30 people, mostly seeming to be in their 60s, led by three or four people in Hi-Viz tabards were headed towards Veurne along the fietsroute. We were to see these groups pretty much every day, along with training racing cyclists, and commuters (the latter more common the closer we were to towns).

On the Veurne - Brugge Canal
Me, where the route turns towards Brugge

After turning towards Snaskerke and Oudenburg, the day began to brighten, and we stopped just over one of the bridges on the canal at the "Bistro Nieuwweg" ("New Way Bistro"). I don't think we'd have spotted this place had we not been cycling (it's seriously out of the way).

Our Bikes at the Bistro...

And Our Bikes in context.

As you can see from the pictures, most of the other patrons had arrived by bike too - generally (and the folks at Amsterdamize/Copenhagenize would be proud) on city bikes, helmetless, in "normal" clothes. Here, the bikes outnumbered the parked cars by around three to one. Had another guided group stopped (one passed as we were enjoying a Kriek and a Hoegaarden) that would have risen to ten to one. You can also see our first taste of Belgian pavé here. We were to become more familiar with this on day three...


We did make a stop in Oudenburg, but found that a lot of places had already closed. We stopped at a quite swanky restaurant, and felt so out of place among the suited clientele that we left having only had a drink. Eventually, we happened across a small bakery, and I used my (frankly limited and dreadful) Dutch to order us a couple of sandwiches (which were delicious, although I couldn't figure out what was in them) and pastries to sustain us for the rest of the journey.

Arrival at Brugge
Arrival at Brugge

If I look somewhat uncomfortable in the picture above, it may be because I'm trying not to stand in the trash surrounding the foot of this sign. Once in Brugge, we used my Nokia N82's GPS navigation system to find where we were staying, the B&B Marie Rose Debruyne, on Langeraamstraat. This is a really well situated B&B, handy for the centre of Bruges, and run by lovely, friendly people. (As we left, they were 'phoning the train station at Zeebrugge to find out for another guest whether left luggage lockers were available). The house was designed by the proprietor, and is unusual architecturally, but comfortable and friendly (super breakfast too). One word of warning is that the numbering on this road is slightly confusing - you may need to use your (frankly limited, and dreadful) Dutch to get directions.

Grote Markt, Brugge
Brugge Grote Markt.

Brugge itself is wonderful, and bikes are EVERYWHERE. The "Uitgezonderd" exceptions for bicycles and mopeds to the one way system are ubiquitous, and the world has not stopped turning, nor does there seem to be the daily carnage that opponents to such systems seem to predict. As you can probably see from the pictures, the evening we were there was lovely, sunny and warm.

Horse Drawn Carriages, Brugge
The ubiquitous Horse Drawn Carriages...

Brugge Bike
...and even more ubiquitous bikes.

Dinner on this night was in a "Tante Marie" restaurant just off the Grote Markt. More pasta for Mrs Monkey, although I tried a Vlamse Karbonade (Flemish Stew) which was very tasty indeed.

Miles Covered: 34, at an average speed of 10.18mph

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Tiny Tour: From Crewe to France and Belgium, Day One

Ticket(s) To Ride
Outward Journey Tickets

Back in June this year, Mrs. Monkey had an idea. She thought that, as her Mum was willing to look after the monklets for a week or so, we could do a little holiday on our own. Knowing my enthusiasm for cycling, and having started to ride a bit herself, her suggestion was a small tour of France, or Belgium. Ferry tickets for us plus the bikes were cheap, and the train to Dover and our accomodation/meals would probably be the greatest outlay.

It cemented the idea I'd had for building a slightly more versatile bike than my (wonderful, but racy) Giant SCR2.0, and led to my building up a tourer/commuter on a Surly Long Haul Trucker frame.

Surly Long Haul Trucker - "The Sarge"
"The Sarge" Sans Luggage and Bottle Cages/Pump

I also began to ask around on Cycle-Chat for ideas for a short (5 days, 30-40 miles per day) tour in northern France or Belgium. Eventually, we settled on an itinerary of;

Day One: Crewe - Veurne
Day Two: Veurne - Brugge
Day Three: Brugge - Ieper
Day Four: Ieper - Hondschoote
Day Five: Hondschoote - Crewe

Day One
Expanding on the potted version above, this day consisted of a ride from home to Crewe Station (about 2 miles), a train journey to London Euston, a bike journey across London to Victoria station (you can't take bikes on that part of the tube), a train from Victoria to Dover Priory, and then another short bike ride to Dover Ferry port. From there, we'd travel to Dunkirk by ferry, and then by bike to Veurne.

The journey to Crewe isn't so different to the one I do every day (as I catch the train part way to work from the station anyway). We'd readied everything the night before, and so at 6am we set off for Crewe. We arrived in plenty of time to fix the cycle reservation tickets to the bikes, and ask the platform staff where they needed us to be when the train came in (the Pendolinos are L O N G trains, and the bike bit is always at the end you aren't, it seems, if you don't ask).

Once the train came in, the platform staff unlocked the door to the compartment for the bikes, and we stowed them away, securing them with the seatbelt type straps provided. The bike storage area is also used by the train's cleaning crew, although with this being one of the early trains, it wasn't too cluttered on our journey. The journey to London Euston was pleasant and uneventful - we let the train manager know that we had bikes aboard (so she could arrange for the storage compartment to be unlocked at Euston) and enjoyed a few STRONG coffees.

We'd printed a route from Transport for London's journey planner for the ride to Victoria, although coming out of the station on to Euston road was pretty disorientating, and we lost our bearings and a fair bit of time trying to figure out where we were in relation to the route again. Shouted requests for directions, and some quick riding got us to Victoria with 5 minutes to spare before the Dover train left - fumbling for the tickets at the ticket barrier before we got onto the platform (I made sure to keep them in the front pocket of my handlebar bag for the journey back). Although it was all a bit frantic, cycling through London was a great experience - loads of other bikes around, and drivers for the most part aware of them and considerate (on this journey at least - I'll mention a bit more regarding cabbies in Day 5's write up).

We stowed the bikes as best we could on the Dover train - these trains are a slightly odd design, with room to stow one bike straight along one side, and one or two diagonally across one side of the carriage without blocking the aisle. The Northern Rail coaches I use day to day seem to me a better design, but in common with most of Northern Rail's staff, the staff on the Dover train were friendly and helpful. We'd not been on the train long when we discovered, from an announcement over the train's PA that the carriages would split at Faversham - unfortunately for us, we had ended up in the part heading for Ramsgate, not Dover. The conductor on the train told us not to worry, and simply to change carriages at Faversham (he had to himself, as he was staffing the Dover journey too).

Once at Dover, we cycled the short distance to the port and checked in. On the ferry, we stowed the bikes on two of about five "Sheffield" type stands towards the end of the boat's lorry deck. One of the crew helped us secure them with ropes on the stands. With hindsight, I wished we'd locked the bikes too, as I spent most of the journey to Dunkirk worrying about them being stuck in a van and spirited off (Mrs. Monkey is a trusting soul, and thought I was just being silly).

On docking at Dunkirk (and finding the bikes still where we'd left them) we had the unpleasant surprise of finding that our map didn't include the ferry port, starting at Saint Pol Sur Mer, rather than Loon Plage and the car ferry. We'd not realised this, as the map did have a harbour on it, just not the harbour we'd arrived at! After a quick discussion, we decided to go left at the roundabout at the end of the ferry port's exit road, and strike out straight on until we could pick up the map again. This stretch of road is probably the worst part of the whole of the tour on the French side of the channel. The drivers are far more considerate than we found them to be in Dover, and much less impatient, but there's little escaping the fact that you're effectively riding on a fast dual carriageway with little more than industrial units and scrubland around you.

We were able to get directions in Grande Synthe, from a very nice lady who came over to help when she saw us poring over our map. At this point, we weren't too far from the start of the map so picked up a route once more heading for the town of Dunkirk, going via Petite Synthe.

I have to admit to not knowing quite how far we followed the N1 for - Mrs Monkey spotted a sign for Veurne, and took the turning, not realising that it was a sign for Veurne via the autoroute, which, obviously, we could not follow by bike. (Looking at the map, I think it was either the "Route Du Pont", or the D302(?) heading towards Melhoeck and Ghyvelde).

En Route
Mrs. Monkey Strikes out for Melhoeck's Centre Ville

We picked up the Rue De La Frontierre, and decided on a more direct route through Cabour than following Mearestraat. This followed a road called "Cabourweg", which, unfortunately, turned out to be covered in a fine, silt like sand. Riding through this tended to either have the wheels of the bike slip alarmingly, or bog down as they sank spoke deep into the soft surface - we walked the bikes much of the way until we could rejoin a paved road. After our turn off the N1, however, we'd begun to see more of what we'd come on this tour for - woods and countryside, and small, picturesque towns.

Nearly There
Me at the outskirts of Veurne

After around three hours of riding, we reached our destination, the town of Veurne. The town has a circular road running around it enclosing the centre and the Grote Markt. Riding in on this, we stopped to look at the town map placed on one side of the road in order to find our way to the B&B we were due to stay in. Having done that, and looked up from the town plan, I saw the sign for the hotel (Chez Gaston) just 50 metres or so ahead of us, a welcome sight indeed after our long journey!

Chez Gaston is, I would say, well situated - I like places that are easy to find after a day that started at 6am! Joking apart, it's close to the Grote Markt, and the beginning of the Veurne - Brugge canal, which is a great way to cycle to Brugge. Bike storage is outside, in the owner's locked and enclosed garden. The room we had was large, with a shared bathroom (although no one was staying in the other room sharing it when we were there) and we found the owner friendly and helpful without being imposing. That night we ate a hearty meal at the Taverne Flandria (pasta all round) on the Grote Markt, and looked forward to the following day's trip to Brugge.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Wheelbuilding Adventure, Part the First

My knees and a partially laced wheel.

Disclaimer: This article describes how I chose to do a particular task. It is presented as information, not recommendation - use your own discretion to decide whether my method suits you. If in doubt as to your capabilities, use your local bike shop.

Wheelbuilding is one of those tasks that makes people draw in breath through their teeth - as close to magic as anything in cycling, the mystique of the wheelbuilder is powerful indeed.

So can a small, slightly mechanically adept monkey turn his hand to this most occult of bicycle tasks?

The Specification.
The wheels are for a fat tyred road bike - in my case this means a rear hub with 135mm OLD (over locknut distance, or rear spacing), a fairly wide rim to accomodate tyres up to 45mm (unlikely that I'll run anything that fat, but it's a possibility, even with mudguards on the Surly Long Haul Trucker frame). The bike is intended to be a load hauler, commuter, and occasionally a tourer. In terms of wheels, for me this means high spoke count (36), traditionally (i.e. 3 cross) laced wheels. Wheel size is 700c.

The Components.
Mavic A319 rims (double eyeletted, 700c), tyre sizes 28mm to 47mm, 36 hole.

Shimano Deore M530 hubs (36 hole - irritatingly supplied mismatched (one silver, one black) - original supplier wouldn't respond, and it seems the silver is hard to get. Time is short on this build for reasons I won't go into, so my hubs will be mismatched. Oh well).

ACI Double butted Spokes - 36 x 294mm for front wheel, 18 x 290mm (drive side), 18 x 292mm (non-drive side). Edit: I think 292mm would be better for the front wheel (damn you, DT Swiss spoke calculator).

The Tools.
My truing stand is built from scrap timber (from kitchen cabinets, as it goes) according to the plans in Roger Musson's Wheelbuilding book (of which, more later).

I use a Spokey Red as a spoke wrench.

I lashed out on an adjustable nipple driver - Musson's book does have plans for making your own from a cheap philips head screwdriver. I don't have the means to grind one of these down, and quite liked the idea of the variable length pin on the Cyclus tool I bought - it has proved handy so far. The plus of using the nipple driver is that you get a guaranteed level of "screwed in-ness" of your spokes and spoke nipples. (This is becasue the central pin of the driver disengages at a given point, e.g. when the top of the spoke is 3mm below the top of the nipple). Some people do this by using the spoke wrench to tighten the nipples to a point where a given amount of thread is showing. Whichever method you use, screwing the nipples to a defined point should mean that, given a true, round rim, you start to take up tension and true from a point where your wheel begins true and round...

As a dishing guage, I use a piece of stiff cardboard (from a box that Chain Reaction cycles supplied some tyres in) and a steel ruler. Again, plans for this can be found in Roger Musson's book. I do intend to build the wooden guage also in the book at some point, but the cardboard one works just fine for now (and has the plus of being very quick to make).

Part Two - the method, information used & thoughts on the process itself.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bike Maintenance - Bottom Bracket Removal

Disclaimer: This article describes how I chose to do a particular task. It is presented as information, not recommendation - use your own discretion to decide whether my method suits you. If in doubt as to your capabilities, use your local bike shop.

My BB Removal kit - L-R: Crankbolt and washers, outside tap nut, Cyclo Bottom Bracket tool (shimano compatible).

The time had come to change the Truvativ square taper bottom bracket on my Giant SCR2.0. I had confidence that the bottom bracket (hereafter "bb") had been installed properly, as my bike was supplied by Rick Green's of Handforth, an excellent bike shop. (This is significant - poorly fitted bbs can "cold weld" into frames and become a large headache).

Before I started, I made sure I knew what thread my bb was. This is important, as "English" threaded bb cups loosen in different directions, depending which side of the bike you are working on. Not knowing the threading of your bb could mean you spending a day leaning on the spanner, getting nowhere and developing ever more inventive combinations of swear words to throw at your bicycle. As my bb shell on the Giant is English threaded, the tool must be rotated towards the front of the bike to loosen (clockwise on the drive side, anti clockwise on the non drive side). If this seems counter intuitive, it's because the tightening action thought to result from pedalling is the effect of the bearings on the bb cups, not on the cups directly. I think.

My first attempts were made using the tools from my Lidl bike tool set (a shimano splined BB tool with tall splines, that uses an 8mm allen key to turn it). The problem with this tool is that it has no way to hold itself into the splines on the BB. A properly fitted BB will be in the shell plenty tight, so without gorilla like grip, you'll struggle to hold the tool in place while applying the large amount of torque required to move the BB - at worst, you can damage the splines as the tool loses engagement. Pictured above is my bottom bracket removal kit, based on advice from my local bike shop, Manchester's excellent Bike Boutique. They suggest the use of a tool with shorter splines (measured vertically from top to bottom of the tool), a bolt the right size for the crank bolt hole in the bb spindle, and a large washer (usually sold in hardware stores as a "repair" washer).

My kit differs slightly, in that I used bits from around the garage - the bolt is the bolt from the square taper crankset that was originally on this bb, and instead of a repair washer I used the nut from an old outside tap kit (the washer and cap on the crank bolt are large enough to hold this securely).

The bolt and washer are used to hold the tool on to the bb cup, as pictured below;

End on view - the tool is held in place by the nut, which has been bolted through to the bb's spindle.

Another view showing the whole stack.

Remember that the purpose of the stack is to hold the tool in place so that it doesn't slip on the splines - it doesn't have to be hugely tight (you don't want to be working against it when turning your wrench). One advantage of the stack I used (as opposed to the repair washer) is that it doesn't overlap the wrench flats of the bb tool. I guess (although I didn't use one myself) this would make the use of a ring spanner or socket wrench possible. (On the cyclo tool, the wrench flats are 32mm in size, incidentally).

Once the tool is bolted in place, use a suitable spanner to turn the bb tool. On my bb, the drive side was movable using a headset wrench. Unfortunately, the non-drive side was far too tight for this to work, so I invested in a good quality 10" adjustable wrench to remove this side. Even here, a fair amount of force had to be applied to "break" the first turn- in my case applied with a rubber mallet to the end of the wrench - I'm not sure I'd recommend that approach to you, although I used "taps" of hopefully gradually increasing force.

As with lots of bike jobs, once I had the correct tools, and a bit of advice, the whole process was pretty straightforward. The Giant had its bb shell cleaned out, regreased heavily, and now sports a Hollowtech II bb and a Tiagra crankset. The old square taper crankset (with a lovely new FSA outer ring) will be used on my Long Haul Trucker build, once a replacement square taper bb arrives (the Truvativ one originally in the Giant is a bit gritty, so will not be reused).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Le Tour, Classifieds

I've often heard it said that pro-cycling teams sell some of their kit at the end of the season, as a way of raising funds and divesting themselves of unused bikes and parts.

Obviously the Tour de France doesn't mark the end of the season, but we found these interesting little snippets in the classifieds section of a little known cycling magazine.

(Or we strung together a lot of tenuous in jokes as an excuse to put another post up without doing too much work).

Team Astana Rider Trading Cards.
Complete Set Available, Happy to Split.
Contact: J. Bruyneel.

"Win Friends and Influence People" Book (French Edition).
Contact: B. Hinault.

"It's a Family Affair" - Sly and the Family Stone (CD)
Contact: A. Schleck

"O Brother Where Art Thou?" DVD
Contact: B. Feilliu

"Tales of the Unexpected" DVD box set
2009 Italian and French editions available.
Contact: B. Wiggins.

"Nice Guys Finish Last" book.
Contact: K. Van Hummel

Stage Winner T-Shirt - Euskatel Euskadi Colours.
Medical Condition forces sale.
Contact: M. Astarloza

Mountain/All Terrain Bikes (x9)
Can exchange for 9 slightly dirty Time Trial Bikes.
Contact: BBox Bouygues Telecom Team HQ.

Complete Team Kit.
Most pro-tour considered, Not Astana please.
Contact: A. Contador.

Stabilisers / Training Wheels, or Racing Trike.
Cash offered, or can offer exchange/part exchange (can offer road bike, tt bike (with torn handlebar tape and some scrapes from use) or several pairs of bib shorts (torn)).
Contact: D. Menchov

Entire post inspired by a joke I saw on twitter about Denis Menchov offering several pairs of scraped up Rabobank bibshorts for sale.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

What Will You Do, Jim?

I picked this book up on a recent trip to Devon. It's been my pleasure, on such occasions, to visit a great little book shop on Station Road, Teignmouth.

The owners of the shop had, as their interests, both rock climbing and cycling. The cycling section of the shop was my destination, and however little I might think it able to offer me after previous visits, I'd inevitably leave at least £20 poorer, and several books richer.

It was at Teignmouth Books that I picked up William Fotheringham's "Put Me Back on my Bike", and Freddy Maertens' autobiography, for instance. (I also bought Lance Armstrong's two books, but I won't hold "Every Second Counts" aganst them). The shop is a treasure trove, full of interesting tomes, some devoted to subjects as specific as space-frame Moultons, and some as wide ranging as studies of the bicycle in "War, Love, Life and Literature" (S. McGonagle), some rare as hen's teeth, some as ubiquitous as "It's Not About the Bike". (Few people know that by law, there must be at least one copy of "It's Not About the Bike" in every book shop's "Cycling" shelf - shopkeepers found guilty of breaking this law are made to read the English translation of "A Tempered Passion", the Indurain biography. Cruel and unsual indeed).

Sadly, it seems, the shop is to close - despite my best efforts to empty their shelves, fill mine, and fill their coffers, it seems that they're unable to keep going in the present climate. The proprietor was kind enough to point me in the direction of the book whose cover adorns this post. I know nothing about it, or the author, but am a sucker for a striking cover, it must be said. A couple of touring books (one from the '60s, one from the early '90s), a Graham Watson coffee table book "Heroes of the Tour", a training guide from 1975, and the McGonagle book I mentioned completed my purchases.

If any of you are heading over Teignmouth way soon, you'll find that I've left some books there for you still. Have a browse, buy something interesting - if you've the money, that history of Spaceframe Moultons looked really interesting...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Le Tour for Commuters

Cyclists are an unusual bunch (no pun intended) in many ways. Not least, in the UK, is the tendency for those following the sport of Pro Cycling to be cyclists themselves. (I could be wrong, but I don't see the same proportion of fans of other sports participating and spectating).

In the cycle commuter, the excitement of a grand tour, like the Tour de France, can bring out a certain enthusiasm for the course, and a desire to emulate your heroes in a way that can be inappropriate on the public highway.

Being a civic minded monkey, I thought it might be useful to outline a few ways to relive the Tour on your commute in a responsible way, rather than Silly Commuter Racing.

The Early Years

Maurice GarinMaurice Garin (centre), Image from Wikimedia Commons

Given that the tour De France began over a century ago, you'd be forgiven for thinking that you had little hope of emulating the very first riders. But don't despair!

The Spares and Repairs Experience
"The sky is gloomy and washed out. Huge, grubby clouds extend to the horizon. It is as if nature itself were grieving. In the outskirts of Valenciennes, Eugene Christophe stands on the pavement. He pushes in front of him, the saddle towards the earth, his bicycle: the fork is broken. It seems to me a mighty lyre whose broken strings sing his final misery." -Henri Desgrange
In the early years of the Tour, riders were expected to carry their own spares, and effect any repairs required themselves. Obviously most of us bicycle commuters do this already. However, do watch out for people offering to lend you tools or assistance as you crouch by the road refitting your punctured tyre - should they help you, the commissaire will undoubtedly impose a hefty time penalty upon you.

You should also beware of allowing anyone to pump the bellows of the local forge for you if you need to fix your broken fork.

The Second Tour (1904) Experience
"The Tour de France is finished and the second edition will, I fear, also be the last." -Henri Desgrange
There are several ways the bicycle commuter can relive the uneasy atmosphere of the 1904 tour.

Instead of gesticulating futilely at the car that passes too close, imagine yourself to be Garin, or Pothier, who were attacked by masked men in a car trying to delay them on the first stage of the race.

Cycle paths (or the Etape Caledonia) provide ample opportunity to relive the 1904 tour's fifth stage, during which nails were strewn on the route. Users of cycle paths will have to substitute the (usually) ample broken glass for nails, but isn't it the spirit of the thing that matters? Extra authenticity could be gained by finishing your commute on two flat tyres, like eventual winner Henri Cornet, although this monkey advises that there is authenticity, and there is buggering up your wheels, and the former should be sacrificed in favour of not doing the latter.

The Octave Lapize Experience
"++Have crossed the Tourmalet on foot stop ++
++Road passable to vehicles stop ++
++No snow stop
++" -Telegram from Adolphe Steinès to Desgrange
Relatively few of us have a commute including anything much resembling the Tourmalet and Col d'Aubisque, beyond a general trend upwards. However, if you have a hill that leaves you knackered and grinding away in your lowest gear to ascend it, why not shout "Assassins!" at the top, to relive a moment of tour history from 1910?

"I still feel that varable gears are only for people over forty-five.
Isn't it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailer?
We are getting soft...As for me, give me a fixed gear!"
-Henri Desgrange
Those of you using fixed gear bicycles can be smug in the knowledge that you're reliving cycling early years, although if you're not also rocking tweeds and an enormous handlebar moustache, you've only gone part of the way. All is not lost for those of us with variable gears though - why not pretend that you're Stéphanois Panel, who experimented with variable gears in the 1912 edition of the tour? For full authenticity, ride a fixed for the next 25 years, as variable gears were banned in the tour until 1937.

The Modern Tour

Very much a feature of the modern tour, the doomed French breakaway allows riders that are French, or Jens Voigt to ride ahead of the pack for most of the stage, only to be reeled in and passed with 5-10km to spare (usually).

The Doomed French Breakaway Experience, #1
".... just discount this breakaway right? It has Voeckler in it, thus 99% doomed" -Poster on PodiumCafé (Voeckler went on to win the stage)
Easily done if you're a city rider.

Inevitably, there will be times when you find yourself ahead of a group of cars, simply because the motor vehicle isn't that efficient at getting through cities. Ride away, and then allow the "catch" to occur once the roads have cleared enough for the "peloton" to get to you.

The Doomed French Breakaway Experience, #2
Again, more easily done in the city.

In this case, the cars passing you are the break, and you're the peloton. Inevitably (unless you're riding at three in the morning) the cars will choke the street and slow to a stop - at which point the "peloton" makes the catch.

A fortuitous combination of traffic conditions can sometimes mean that you get the rare (although less so in the 2009 tour so far) occurrence of the successful breakaway, with your pursuers left fuming in your wake. In such a case, you're welcome to zip up your jersey and roll to the end of your commute with your arms aloft.

Although you may never live this down if your workmates catch sight of you.

The Mountains Experience
Again, the poor state of Britain's cycle paths comes to your rescue here. As you're unlikely to encounter crazed fans waving flags in your face, why not pretend that those branches and bushes the council fail to trim back every year are the flags of the Basques, or the trident of the devil? Ride through them with a grumpy look on your face, but don't get carried away and throw your bidon at them, there's usually nettles in the bushes as well...

Added authenticity can be gained if you can bring yourself to believe that the frequent graffiti along the path names famous local cyclists, in the style of the names painted on the roads of the tour. Hard to do when all you have to work with is a spray-painted Dazza, or Wayne, but needs must.

The Marcus Burghardt Experience

Lots of Britain's dog walkers seem keen to recreate this, with you in the position of Burghardt.

DON'T - it's not the dog's fault their owner is an idiot.

(See also, The Sandy Casar Experience)

The Astana Experience
For this, you'll need some sort of group ride - if you have a "Critical Commute" or similar organised ride with a dedicated leader, that could work.

Ride until the group splits while the back markers wait for traffic to pass, or a green signal. At this point, ride like fury on the agreed route, ignoring the protests of the designated leader. If possible, put "your people" on the front, and either;

a) explain to anyone that asks that "the road has decided who is the leader".
b) explain to anyone that asks that "my legs felt good, and it was a spontaneous attack to gain a few seconds".

Coming Soon;

The Denis Menchov Experience
In which you forget which way up your bike goes.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review - Howies (Timbuk2) Messenger Bag (Medium)

Bought from
Price Paid: £30, shortly before they were reduced again to £24 :/

Addendum: Howies' collaboration with Timbuk2 seems to have ended, and they now offer two self branded messenger bags, the Chevron Bag, which is a really interesting idea (I'm not sure the reflectives are quite right for traffic behind though), and the gorgeous Hand Me Down bag, which costs a fair amount (to say the least) but is built to last forever.

The bag I review here is essentially the Timbuk2 meduim, so hopefully the information is still of use.

I ride a commute that consists of two cycling parts (2 and a bit miles, 12 and a bit miles), with a train journey in between. I'm generally carrying work clothes, something to read, waterproofs etc, and found the load space of a rucksack a bit inconvenient at times (essentially tall and narrow, meaning that if you packed the thing you want under the waterproof, a degree of unpacking is necessary).

The courier bag appealed because of the wide, shallow load space - in theory, this means I can get to things without unpacking other things. It struck me that it might also be a more convenient place for my train ticket etc, given the ability to access the bag while wearing it.

Timbuk2 messenger bags seem to be reasonably well regarded by commuters, and the chance to pick one up at a lower price than the somewhat eyewatering £80 RRP was too good to pass up, even though the Ltd edition one does look slightly like it's made out of '70s curtains. (Sorry Mr Oakley).

First Impressions:
The bag is very well made, and under the cotton duck outer is a solid looking waterproof liner. The main load space contains a good sized organiser pocket (more than enough room for spare tubes etc) that consists of pen slots, a large zipped pocket (which contains patch type pockets (I put my tubes in those), smaller zipped pocket, and a clear, id type pocket (which seems a bit useless to me, as asking someone to peer into your bag to see your license/security pass etc is, well, odd). On the outside, you have one decent sized zipped pocket (under the main flap when the bag is closed) which has a pocket without a closure behind (good for wet gloves, for example).

The bag arrived from Howies in good time, and ordering & delivery was straightforward, as it has been every time I've used them.

In use:
Well, the bag swallows up a deceptively large amount of stuff - I used it on a short shopping trip when it first arrived, and was able to cart a boxed DAB radio, and two boxes of washing powder home in it. My commuting gear goes in very easily, and I suspect I could carry a pair of shoes in addition to all that without really stretching the bag at all.

It is important to remember that the back of the bag is unpadded, and as such a degree of thought is needed to pack it so that you aren't tormented by stuff digging into your back throughout the ride. The main carrying compartment is one space too, so you need to give some thought to whether things will slide about in it.

It also may not be suited to the lower position of a racing bike - unless the bag is packed exactly right, it will inevitably slide one way or the other across your back, and seems to need constant readjustment. Again, the key to this is packing properly, but this particular pack is one I manage to do once a week at most, it seems. I suspect that a more upright riding position (on a flat bar bike, or the hoods of a drop bar bike) would make this far less of a problem. More burly riders may also find that less of a problem, as the stabilising strap may sit better for them. (I find it doesn't go quite high enough up the main strap, personally, and would be better if it could be fitted over the shoulder pad).

In Summary:
Solidly built, huge carrying capacity, but expensive at RRP, and may not be ideal if you ride head down a lot.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What Sort of Cyclist Are You?

Like any group of people interested in things, some cyclists have an urge to classify their two wheeled brethren.

I don't really have any answer to offer here, although I do think some sort of Cosmo style "What Sort of Cyclist Are You?" quiz would be helpful.

My contribution would be this question;

Another cyclist waves to you - do you;

a) Wave back
b) Give a slight, barely perceptible nod
c) Wonder whose party you met them at
d) Mentally assess the net worth of their bicycle and kit, waving only if it matches or exceeds your the value of your own bicycle and kit
e) Look around to see who they were waving at
f) Ignore them, they're probably some sort of serial killer
g) Ignore them, otherwise you'd be waving at everyone, and where would that end up?
h) Ignore them, as your goal is to normalise cycling, therefore there should be nothing unusual about seeing another cyclist that merits such a gesture and as such you should obviously SHUN this traitor to the cause

(My answer is A, incidentally).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How Cyclists Buy Trainers...?

I wonder if this ever happens on running forums?

Someone pops up to ask for advice on which trainers to buy. The questioner intends to start jogging to work, and may do a bit more running at the weekend if he finds he likes it.

The first post in reply points out that the only answer is for the questioner to go to his LTS (Local Trainer Shop), and try several to see which he likes running in the best.

Then someone should turn up and insist that the only proper choice is a hand sewn trainer built to his exact specification by an expert local cobbler.

Someone else should then post saying that for the sort of running the questioner does, he'd be better with a pair of heavy Dutch clogs, as they are virtually maintenance free, and can be left outside with no ill effects in all weathers. Pointing out that this is all the rage in Europe is optional, as is disparaging the use of a "sport" shoe for commuting to work or running errands.

Someone else should then post saying that as the questioner will mostly be running on the road, his best choice is a top of the range lightweight shoe, probably made at least partly from space age fabrics. The shoe will be uncomfortable in the wet, but the questioner should have a "hack" shoe for running in the wet anyway, as any fule kno.

Yet someone else should appear to say that the ideal choice is actually a track shoe. The spikes may be inconvenient, and a bit hard for the new runner to get used to, but they foster a zen-like connection with the road, or something.

At this point, the questioner should then say that he might run on canal towpaths occasionally. It is here that people should variously suggest fell running shoes (they do it all! and you can tour in them!) and walking boots.

All parties should then get the arse with each other and carry on an argument about whether the "true" do it all shoe is the fell running shoe or a comfy brogue.

By which point questioner will have gone to Winfields/ShoeZone/Brantano and bought a pair of those trainers that look almost like Adidas, but with one too many stripes.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cycling Proverbs

Born out of musings on avoiding slippy crisp packets, oddly enough, on this morning's ride, and mostly posted to Twitter.

Any person posting to a cycling message board asking for "which bike" advice as a new commuting cyclist MUST be recommended a hybrid costing not less than £700, and a further £200 worth of accessories by at least one respondent. The fact that the person asking is only commuting a 6 mile round trip shall not be taken into account.

The best time to realise that the rain *is* hard enough for you to need overtrousers is BEFORE you leave your house.

No matter what bike you have, or what kind of riding you do, someone, somewhere is waiting to tell you that it's the wrong bike.

No motorist's car is so old and rubbish that they won't say you'd be better off with one of those rather than your bike.

Most cyclists agree that taking up cycling to save money would probably be a good idea, in theory.

Surveys including the question "Why don't you cycle?" will never offer the answer "Because I'm too bloody lazy" as a possibility.

People who don't ride wonder why you'd want to on rainy days. People who do ride wonder why you wouldn't want to.

Junk food that you "earned" by riding all week tastes far better than junk food normally does. (Also applicable to beer, chocolates, takeaway curry, chinese food &c).

People will assume you're saving the planet and/or ridding the roads of Britain of cars even if all you want to do is enjoy riding in the sunshine.

No bike lane is so crap that motorists won't demand that you use it so that they don't have to reduce speed for half a second.

Riding your bicycle in ice is the best way of breaking your elbow and/or wrist (that doesn't involve interaction with other road users) yet discovered.

Whenever you decide to drive or take public transport, you will feel a deep sense of regret at the first cyclist you see enjoying their ride.

Anything shouted from a passing car will sound like "Blargh blah blaaaaargh" and is best not given too much thought.

Wearing any lycra at all allows people to jokingly call you "Lance Armstrong" and ask if you're off to the Tour De France.

Red light jumping, pavement riding cyclists allow any motorist to put your life at risk even if they've just watched you scrupulously obeying traffic law throughout your ride.

Injure any part of your body whilst cycling, and people will say that you should have been wearing a helmet.

Injure any part of your body whilst cycling, and people will say that it was good you were wearing a helmet.

The best day for a long ride will always be the day where you can't be out of the house for more than a couple of hours.

The further you are from your bicycle, the more ridiculous you look in lycra (unless you are a member of a glam rock band).

If you don't want to get wet, pack your waterproofs. Because then it won't rain.

No queue of stationary traffic is so close that a motorist won't overtake you to reach it.

The wet crisp packet is summer's equivalent of damp autumn leaves.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

In Which Rousing Tunes are Sung, for the Benefit of Mr. Gordon

A tweet from Evilgordon last night;
"Listening to the Lemonheads 'Shame about Ray'... This is not going to cheer me up! Suggestions please??"
alerted me to a freind in need, so I leapt into action, and tweeted some suggestions - as ever with twitter, there sometimes isn't enough room to post everything you're thinking of, so a blog post seemed in order.

This post was originally titled "Happy Songs", but on reflection I think "rousing" is a better description. Especially given the inclusion of the blood curdling "Mars Forevermore", which describes just what the crew of the "HMS Agamemnon", under the command of Nelson at the time, hoped to do to the Spanish.

Happy Days are Here Again - The Harry Reisman Orchestra (hosted at
Donkey Rhubarb
- The Aphex Twin (
The Boy With the Arab Strap - Belle and Sebastian (
Enjoy Yourself (It's later than you think) - Todd Snider (
Robots Need Love Too - Superpowerless (
Let's Play Video Games - Derek Williams ( - no preview)
Mars Forevermore - Holdstock and Macleod (Stumbleaudio)
Eyen - Plaid (
De Fiets Van Piet Van Pa - Henkie (

The selection is a quick, and very much off the top of my head set of choices, but on the day I chose them, these are what I'd listen to if I'd had a bad day. Incidentally, "Robots Need Love Too" now has a pleasingly bonkers video, a development I thoroughly approve of.

Note that the Aphex Twin and Plaid tunes can be bought from Warp Records' "Bleep" site (drm free too). "Happy Days are Here Again" is available as a no cost download from . "The Boy with the Arab Strap" is available on the album of the same name, and should be avilable on iTunes et al. Todd Snider's "Enjoy Yourself" is on eMusic, Derek Williams' "Let's Play Video Games" is on the "Music to Play Games By" cd available through Amazon, and Superpowerless' "Robots Need Love Too" is on his website. My favoured version of "Mars Forevermore" is by Johnny Collins, on his cd "Best of the Early Years" available from Amazon, although the version posted here is on iTunes. I can't find anywhere to buy Henkie's song, I'm afraid, although I first heard it on the Ruby's Chicky Boilups Tour De France special, which is available here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Things Are Different in Holland, A Tyre Epiphany

It will come as no surprise to people who have visited the Netherlands, or the Amsterdamize site that things are different in Holland for cyclists. (They're different in France, and lots of other continental countries too, but that's a story for another time).

In any case, I was somewhat surprised on my commute homeward yesterday, by a car with right of way giving way to me. (Cars doing this when I have right of way is rare enough, some days). I'd stopped at a junction to give way to traffic on the road (as I needed to according to the road markings) when the driver of a small hatchback slowed to allow me out. Whilst I appreciated the gesture, I waved the driver past, as I didn't want to slow traffic, or jump in front when I was making a left turn fairly shortly after negotiating the junction.

I was thinking that this was most unusual, and then noticed the country code on the back of the vehicle - "NL". Which explains it, I think. I'm not sure whether this consideration is due to an instinctive bike friendliness, or the feeling that cyclists are in some way unpredictable, but it did make for an odd enocunter, in a nice way.

Pro Race 2 Tyres, Or I'm a Believer.
At the weekend, I finally got around to fitting a pair of 25C Pro Race 2 tyres to my wet weather/commuting wheels. Ever since I began cycling, I've heard paeans of praise to Michelin's Pro Race series of tyres - "The Pro Race is proof that God is a roadie, and wants you to be happy", for example. Although I've never ridden really top flight tyres, I have Continental's GP4000 on my "good" wheels (not a cheap tyre) and should say that I like them a lot.

The Pro Race 2, however, is a different animal entirely. From the first pedal stroke the road feel is superb, and the tyres roll incredibly well. The profile of the 25C is rounder and fatter than the Continental Ultragatorskins that these tyres replaced, and they do feel somewhat less harsh at 95psi than the 'gators did. I guess I should be expecting "better" from a tyre that cost nearly £10 more than the set of 'gators (the latter including tubes) I used to run, but the improvement is akin to fitting new, better wheels to the bike - the Pro Race really is THAT good.

The durability and longevity of the tyres will be interesting to see - they are on my commuting/wet weather wheels after all, and so will be getting the worst of Manchester and Cheshire's roads.

The only problem I can foresee now is that I won't be going back to any other tyre - who said taking up cycling saves you money?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In Which I Inadvertently Frighten a Pedestrian

I frightened a pedestrian today.

This is the sort of thing I normally frown upon, believing that bikes and riders should not behave towards pedestrians in the way that some motor vehicles and drivers behave towards us.

I hope that you might allow me a certain dispensation in this case, because unfortunately, the young gentleman in question was too busy shouting "Faggot" and similar at an oncoming cyclist on the Crewe Road shared path to notice me approaching from the other direction.

My friendly shout of "Watch out behind you mate" may have been a little loud and sudden, and it is my sincere hope that the shouty pedestrian in question didn't poo his pants, as he appeared to jump considerably with surprise upon hearing me.

As I say, I'm really very sorry. Really.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In Which I Sing the Praises of Cloth Bags

Well, musettes really. I posted this on a while back, and having done another post run using my musette at the start of the year, thought it might bear repeating here.


Small lightweight cotton shoulder bag, used for containing food and drink given to riders in a feed zone during a cycle race. The bag is designed so that it can be easily grabbed by a moving rider. The shoulder strap is placed over the head and one shoulder, the contents are then removed and placed into jersey pockets or bottles (bidons) are placed into bottle cages. The bag is then discarded.

I'm quite sure this is old news to those of you who've been riding for a while, but the musette (bonk bag, feed bag) is a great piece of kit for when you have things to carry that amount to too much to stuff in jersey pockets, yet not quite enough to warrant grabbing a messenger bag/backpack or panniers.

One of the things I quite often do on my Sunday ride is taking the post for the people who used to live in our house up to their new place. I can stuff the envelopes, catalogues etc into the musette, drop it all off, then the musette rolls up small for the onward journey - as any cyclist knows, half the fun of a "little errand" is figuring out what mileage you can add on after the fact. The musette is also small enough and light enough to take along on a ride where you might decide to stop off at the bakery on the way home, or similar, very handy for someone whose saddle bag and top tube bag are full of tools &c. (And I'd never get a loaf in either of those anyway...)

The musette itself can be the simple cotton bag described above, and there is, somewhere on the web, a guide to making them from old sheets - I couldn't find that for the purposes of this post, but did turn up this rather lovely page in which a lady had made one for her husband. If you're not up to making one yourself, the excellent Prendas Ciclismo sell a couple of styles of traditional cotton musettes for £6, whilst for slightly more, Urban Hunter offer a modern styled nylon musette, made by Banjo Bros for £6.95, and also sell traditionally styled cotton musettes emblazoned with manufacturer logos for £12.95.

The ne plus ultra of musettes is probably the Rapha Ultimate musette, which retails for a heady £60, and is as far from the simple cotton musette as today's carbon superbikes are from the bikes of cycling's early years. If you can afford to discard this one after emptying it, you probably have a team car to carry your stuff for you anyway.

I'm currently using LPR Brakes and Team High Road musettes, as these were what was available on eBay at the time I bought mine. Look to pay from around £3, depending on the team featured on the bag.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ban this Sick Filth.

There is nowtrage surrounding singer Duffy's appearance on a bicycle without lights or helmet (and not paying road tax neither, damn her eyes).

Of course, it's not just Coca-Cola corrupting the young of the country by showing inappropriate road behaviour that will be instantly copied by the impressionable. Look at this ad for the Nissan Qashqai;

In this piece, the owners of buildings are encouraged to turn them into giant marionettes to menace innocent car drivers. It evidently takes so many people to operate these that the streets are devoid of anything other than cars - imagine the effect on productivity when everyone stays in to operate their giant building robots instead of going to work.

And just look at the irresponsibility on display in this ad - despite clear lines of sight, these drivers recklessly drive into each other;

And not a single one stops to exchange insurance details.


Assuming you're not already slavishly imitating Duffy (because that's what people do when they see something on TV, right?) please do use lights when you ride at night - you're nigh on invisible without them, and in the UK it's against the law not to. As for wearing a helmet, look at the facts and make your own mind up.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In Which Buying Another Bicycle is More Difficult than Expected

I've been taking the train all the way to work a lot more than I do normally, and this results in a walk of around 3 miles each way, in total. (Two miles to the station, a mile from the station at the other end to work, and the same journey in reverse in the evening).

As any fule kno, 3 miles is a distance that any bicycle laughs at, so I've been seriously considering a folding bike for those days when 28 miles a day of riding seems a bit much.

Why a folding bike? In their wisdom, Britain's railway companies offer little in the way of carriage for full sized bicycles, and will occasionally make you reserve in advance, pay a supplemental charge, &c &c. (A to B magazine provide an excellent summary of train operators' cycle policies here). The rail part of my usual commute is handled by the excellent and pragmatic Northern Rail, who will carry bicycles on a first come, first served basis, so long as they do not block exits &c.

However, because my "long train" commute is at a later time, I can end up travelling with different train operators, and at busier times, so my chance of being "bumped" from the service increases. Here's where the folding bike comes in - almost all operators will carry folding bikes without restriction. Plus, of course, on my later commute, I can unfold the bike at the other end, and cycle to work, an advantage over using a full size bike to get to the start of my train journey only.

Having read around a little, I'd pretty much decided upon the British designed "Mezzo D9" which looks to be a nice bike with compact fold and what's claimed to be "a big bike ride". (I think this is at least partly to do with it having a steering offset (it has a conventional stem on the fork, as opposed to a steering column directly above the forks).

(Mezzo bike Video)

Of course, no plan survives contact with a bike shop, so I've now convinced myself that the battle to be my folding bike has been joined, between the Mezzo, and the Brompton. Your take on either bike would be welcomed, but I suspect the final decision will hinge (no pun intended) upon a test ride, to be undertaken some time in the next couple of weeks.

(Brompton Folding Demonstration)

Useful Links;
The Folding Society
A to B Magazine
Mezzo Bikes

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In Which Britain is Colder than Expected

An old picture to illustrate a topical condition.

At the time this was taken, the cold weather seemed quite the novelty, rather than the seeming never ending freeze it's become more recently. I spotted this frosted gatepost and chain whilst walking the dog, and stopped to take this snap. Unfortunately, the dog was quite keen to get moving again, and it's largely this that's robbed this particular image of its sharpness. I'd advise you not to look at the larger versions, which are increasingly blurry/impressionistic.

The picture was taken on a Nokia N82, which is a surprisingly good tool for quick snaps, not shown off to particularly good advantage by this example.

The cold has cut my cycling to the minimum - I've ridden a few days, but they're seeming to be very much the exception rather than the rule. This is at least partly my fault, as I've an aversion to riding in icy conditions that doesn't seem to be shared by some of my fellow commuters (if you've ever tried to keep 25mm slicks on track in freezing conditions, you might share my misgivings). On the bright side, (literally) both mornings and evenings are getting lighter - springtime, and hopefully some nice riding weather, is on its way.