Where to from here?

This blog continues on my new website.Β  It’s a website shared with one other user.Β  The new blog should allow much more space, and a few enhancements not possible here.Β  However this free blog at wordpress.com has been great for learning how easy it is to blog – thanks WordPress πŸ™‚

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Many kilometres later …

Wow … it’s been such a long time since my last post I feel like Rip Van Winkle, or somebody who’s slipped through a spacetime wormhole into the future.

I’ve done two 200 km audaxes since March. Both completed within the cut-off time, but one was very hard, and the other very easy.

The 12 March audax was hard. Nothing to do with the route as I was the weakest link. Everybody knows how important it is to eat on an all day ride in order to maintain energy; the trouble was I didn’t really feel like eating and while I forced some food down during the ride it wasn’t enough and I ran out of energy and had a very hard last 60 km, mostly in the dark. The first 80 km were completed in 3 hours and 10 mins, which may have consumed more energy than normal, leading to my subsequent difficulty. The whole ride was completed in about 11 hours 45 mins, but the last part was such a struggle I didn’t really enjoy it. It didn’t help that the end of the ride was the hilly part! Oh yeah and there was a cold rain falling for the last few km, but I was too far gone to notice it much.

The first part of the ride was lovely though. It was a beautiful route along the Avon Valley cycleway, around the “Rotten Borough” of Old Sarum, then across the edges of Salisbury Plain (NOT flat) to Pewsey where we looped back into Hampshire via Vernham Dean, Alresford, Cheriton, and back to Denmead. One of the really nice things about participating in audax events is that somebody who knows the territory has designed a lovely, fairly traffic-free route through delightful countryside, incorporating nice spots to stop for refreshments … how good is that!

I also found some problems with the set up of my Surly Long Haul Trucker … being in desperate straits I tried adopting a racing crouch to minimise wind resistance, but this didn’t really work with the high setting of the handlebars and I finished the ride with an ache between the shoulder blades (too much weight on the hands).

My second 200 km audax on 2 April was, by way of contrast, a great ride. The route started in Havant, went through delightful countryside to Hartley Wintney in North Hampshire, looped back to Stubbington on the coast, then back to Havant. The sun shone, I enjoyed my food (and had plenty of it), and we adopted the strategy of aiming to finish fairly comfortably within the cutoff time, rather than the ‘fast as possible’ strategy.

I use a Ventus G730 GPS data logger to record my routes, so I always know where I’ve been, even if I don’t always know where I’m going! The gap in the route between Havant and Marden is because I forgot to switch it on!

I also adjusted the saddle of the LHT further back and what a transformation! No more aching shoulders, and the bike felt less cramped. The high handlebars still give a good view of the scenery, which was very pretty on this audax, while allowing a bit more room to tuck out of the wind if necessary. The route was undulating rather than hilly, although the designer had managed to find a 1 in 4 gradient in the first part of the ride, which is quite something in Hampshire. Needless to say the 20″ bottom gear of the LHT made climbing the hill easy. With all the food stops, and some chatting at controls it took me 13 hours to get round, but I felt really strong at the finish and enjoyed a lovely pasta meal when I got back home.

The dividing line between completing a challenging ride and feeling good, and having a hard time is quite a fine one in 200 km cycle rides. It’s a great sense of achievement when the ride goes well; just pacing yourself to match the terrain and the distance is an interesting challenge. I’m now thinking about completing a 300 km ride in June … watch this space.

During the last few weeks I’ve also ridden a number of shorter rides of around 100 km or so, and my LHT has now completed well over 1100 km. It hasn’t really shown any initial problems. There’s an intermittent slight buzzing noise that I think must be coming from one of the front mudguard fixings. I’ll remove the mudguard now it has stopped raining so much to see if the noise disappears. I’m not very impressed by the Tektro Oryx cantilever brakes fitted as original equipment. They work no better than OK requiring a really hard squeeze on the levers. They are nowhere near as effective as the Campagnolo Chorus brakes fitted to my Principia 700 that I’ve also been using recently – these brakes are really powerful and I don’t need to slow down as a precaution in case I really need to make a quick stop. Brixton Cycles say they have a solution to the problem, so I’ll discuss it with them when I take the bike in for its first, free, service. Other than that the bike has been a pleasure to ride. It isn’t a fast bike, but it isn’t slow either; it just rolls along at a reasonably good cruising speed without too much effort required. I’m planning an extended tour on the bike when I’m expecting it to really come into its own niche application (it isn’t really an audax bike, but audax is a good way of putting it through its paces). Might be an idea to upgrade the brakes before I start running down steep hills with a heavy touring load though.

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Audible light

One of the nice things about bikes is how easy it is to change their character. My vintage Hetchins is currently a lightweight single speed, but it has a history as a minimalist fixed wheeler, or a derailleur geared road bike. Bell mounted on torch fixed to handlebars
On a much smaller scale, I regretted losing the bell on my Surly when I mounted the auxiliary lighting on the handlebars. Then I had the lightbulb moment πŸ˜‰ that told me to fix the bell to the torch! It looks a bit quirky, but is in fact a perfectly practical solution. Anyway the torch will be removed on Sunday, so the bell can revert to living on the handlebars.

It’s small changes like this that transform the character of a bike. I wonder how much they match the personality of the owner? How many of us ride a totally standard bike?

In this case I used a robust, quick-release bracket to mount the torch, but I wouldn’t want to use an elastic band (except in emergency). I’m sure the elastic band solution would be perfectly fine in practical terms, but it would be destined to fail sooner rather than later and looks a bit cheapskate, even for me. Not that I have anything against emergency repairs … the sense of self-reliance that comes from being able to mend things yourself is, for me, a very important dimension of being a cyclist.

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This is a saddle …

Brooks B66 saddle mounted on Surly LHT… the B66 saddle looks good on the Surly; much more appropriate than the original pseudo-racing saddle. I took the bike for a ride to check the adjustment of the saddle.

Surly LHT at the coastWe went to the coast.

Surly at the top of a hillWe went up a hill, where I discovered the chain was rubbing the front gear cage while in the bottom two gears. And then down again when I found I couldn’t get top gear. So a bit of fettling is needed to get the bike running perfectly before its 200 km audax on Saturday.

Surly LHT prepared for audax - front shotHere is a front view of the bike ready for the audax. The front reflector and bell have made way for the bracket that holds my super-bright Cree LED torch. The standard lights are powerful, but when riding narrow, poorly maintained, unfamiliar roads in the pitch black you need all the help you can get! Also the torch is useful for map reading, or finding lost stuff. Shame about removing the bell, but the extra torch is more important.

Audax Ready Surly LHT Rear ViewAt the back I added a battery powered flashing LED light to supplement the already bright dynohub light. You can put this down to my paranoia, and desire to emulate a Christmas tree during the hours of darkness. The disreputable looking saddlebag is a 1965 vintage Carradice Camper – still going strong. The magic thing about the “cotton duck” fabric is that when it gets wet it expands, therefore sealing the bag and rendering it waterproof πŸ™‚ No need for any fancy sprays to make a waterproof surface that is easily worn away.

My saddle adjustment run turned out to be a remarkably pleasant 40 km on a real Spring day. Let’s hope the weather remains good for Saturday.

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This is not a saddle …

Hard Saddle … it’s an instrument of torture.

I rode on this saddle for 92 miles from London to the South Coast on my new Surly, and the last 20 miles or so were a bit painful where every minor bump in the road felt like a hard kick up the backside.

It was my fault really because I had meant to take my old Brooks B17N to London to use for the ride back, but I forgot it. Brooks B17 saddle I guess even the manufacturers wouldn’t claim the original saddle was going to be comfortable for 100 mile rides. It is constructed from a hard piece of plastic covered with a layer of foam and a leather-look plastic top.
Hard saddle underneath

I removed the cheap and nasty original saddle from my new Surly and replaced it with the B17, but the day after my long ride and still a bit saddle sore, the B17N shown here wasn’t really comfortable, although I’ve used it for decades without problems. I always had in mind that a long distance touring bike really requires a super-comfortable saddle, and I’ve been using the very one on various bikes for the last 25 years. It’s a Brooks B66, and my saddle is a comparative youngster compared with this Dutch example. The double rail construction adds to the comfort but this means it is not compatible with modern seat pins 😦 Remarkably these gloriously comfortable saddles are still in production πŸ™‚

My B66 is currently living on my vintage Claud Butler Majestic which I regularly use for long days out, Claud Butler Majestic and I can ride this bike all day with no discomfort at all.
The saddle is a design classic. At just over a kilogram it isn’t light, but on a touring bike this doesn’t matter in relation to the extra comfort it provides. So I just need to migrate an old 27.2 mm alloy seatpin to my new Surly and transfer the saddle from my CB and I should be in business for some comfortable, long days out on the Long Haul Trucker.

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First ride …

A new bike is always exciting. I’ve been wanting to do some touring for a while and bought myself the bike for the job. It’s a Surly Long Haul Trucker in a rather gorgeous shade of blue.
New Surly Long Haul Trucker

I bought the bike in London so it seemed a good idea to ride it home to the South Coast. My route gave the bike (and me) a good workout including city streets, minor roads in the countryside, some muddy bridleways, some really muddy bridleways, and some steep hills up and down.Route followed from London to the South coast The journey was 148 km or 92 miles. I decided not to treat the bike with kid gloves and quickly slipped into tourist mode as I explored the bridleways around Ranmore Common and my lunch stop at Polesden Lacey. This was glutinous going; the bike behaved well as the fat road tyres kept things stable, even though the back wheel was spinning on the muddy uphill sections. My route through the North Downs was very pretty on quiet wooded roads and passing through villages that time forgot. Towards the end of the ride my route went up the very steep Harting Hill in the South Downs, and the 20″ bottom gear felt like a good decision, although it took even longer than usual to climb the hill!LHT resting in Holmbury St Mary A good test of a bike is how well it is going towards the end of a long ride. The LHT is not a fast bike, but it does have the quality of rolling along well and evening out minor variations in road and weather conditions; so for the last few kilometres on my journey South I was travelling at between 20 and 25 kph with that minimal effort from the legs needed to just keep things rolling along. It’s the “no hassle” speed that you can keep up for as long as needed. And that steady speed is OK by me as I’m not using this bike for competition.

Another good decision was to buy a spare front wheel for the bike incorporating a Shimano hub dynamo; combined with LED standlights front and rear. Hub dynamo and front light on Surly LHTTwenty first century bike lighting is a revelation compared with how things were in the past, and this system has no perceptible drag (although some magnetic drag must exist when the lights are on). The hub uses Ultegra bearings so is likely to last well, and in the long days of summer I can save wear on the dynamo and a little weight by substituting the original front wheel. For my needs this is the solution to the very real problem of adequately lighting a bicycle.
Rear standlight on Surly Long Haul Trucker
Speaking of needs I should express my warmest thanks to Brixton Cycles who supplied the bike. All the staff were knowledgeable, and happy to share their knowledge. What was particularly striking was their focus on trying to understand my needs, and then making well judged suggestions to meet the needs. Test rides helped me make my choice; I tried a Surly Cross Check which felt like any number of good quality frames I’ve ridden for decades. The Long Haul Trucker was really special though as it was noticeably more comfortable than the Cross Check, or indeed any other bike I’ve ever ridden in the racing — sports — touring spectrum. And as comfort was one of my most important criteria the LHT was the one for me. For day after day touring, or long audax rides comfort is very high priority, and the LHT promises to be a really good choice for this kind of work.Surly resting in Holmbury St Mary What a contrast to some other shops I won’t name where the staff seem to know less than me, don’t really try to understand what’s needed, and always seem to want to push the most expensive solution. Brixton Cycles gave really good advice that is priceless. I would never have bought the 54 cm frame had I been buying over the web; all my other road bikes are 56 cm or 58 cm, but some intelligent discussion, and testing different bikes made the correct choice obvious.Surly Long Haul Trucker head badge A bike is always a compromise and it’s hard to balance the competing requirements of weight, durability, load carrying capacity, close or wide gearing, lighting requirements, tyre choices, and so on … Let’s hope that the head badge on the Surly isn’t indicative of their quality control in general.

The bike has a 100 km ride this weekend and a 200 km audax next weekend, so I’ll soon know the answer to the question of how good the bike is for long days in the saddle. For some real touring we’ll have to wait until the weather is warmer and the days are longer.

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The joys of bike maintenance

I have friends who never clean their bikes; they just wait for the next rainy day. Speaking of which there have been far too many recently; we have had two dry days now, but there is still lots of mud and puddles around … the temperature isn’t high enough to dry anything.

Anyway I like to keep my bike clean, partly for the aesthetics, the weight reduction (mud sticks), and also because cleaning is a good time to detect problems and fix them in the comfort of home. Last week I found one of the nuts fixing my mudguard stay had cracked causing the stay to rattle and potentially come adrift. Today I found a little inner-tube egg where it shouldn’t have been, just where the tyre beds into the rim. I found some wheels I’d forgotten I had that had the right size tyre, so I replaced the dodgy tyre with a slightly less dodgy one.

I don’t have very many breakdowns on the road, it’s usually a p******e, but these always seem to happen when I haven’t cleaned the bike. (Yes I use a scrubbing brush to clean and check the tyre treads as part of the cleaning process.) Fixing a problem on the road, in the rain and/or dark isn’t pleasant and made even worse when filth from the bike spreads to your hands so you can’t even console yourself with a chocolate snack (unless you like chocolate with added road filth).

More soap, less oil is the way to go imho.

Recently I was given some Green Oil which is designed for bikes, and is water soluble. The downside is it washes off in the rain. The upside is it washes off when you clean the bike, making the bike really clean. I keep the plastic bottle of oil in my saddlebag so I can reapply it as necessary, such as whenever the rain stops.

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Cycle tracks

I like the use of the bicycle image painted on roads. These act as a frequent reminder that the road is a space shared by bicycles, horses, cars, motor bikes, all kinds of commercial vehicles and buses … and this is how it should be. a route to the sea ...

Would it be better to have a completely separate cycle track? Well some people think so, but I’m not so sure. Separating cyclists from traffic puts them β€œout of mind” for motorists, and as it isn’t practicable to provide cycle track everywhere it seems better that we all share the space with tolerance for one another, unless there are really compelling reasons for a separate track for bikes.

Studies indicate that cycling is very safe anyway, and safety is enhanced when there are larger numbers of cyclists around. This supports the idea that cycling (and driving) are safer when motorists begin to think more about the likelihood of meeting a cyclist, and conversely when cyclists remain aware of the likelihood of meeting a car. Off-road cycling is great fun, but the reality is that most of us spend most of our time on the road, shared with other vehicles.

In law, bicycles are vehicles. This status is something cyclists really need to hang on to … our predecessors fought hard to have the bicycle recognised as such. It would be a big step backwards if bikes were relegated to items of sports equipment, or toys.

Bicycles are entitled to use the roads alongside other vehicles. That is a right that brings with it all kinds of responsibilities, not least being to obey all the traffic laws.

Cycle tracks are sometimes useful, but we should recognise the disadvantages of putting cyclists out of mind for motorists, as well as the benefit of being (temporarily) separated from traffic.

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Just got back to my flat and found a bottle of champagne on the doorstep.

Cheers to the film crew who were filming in another of the flats on our floor. Waitrose Blanc de Noirs is really tasty. Does champagne taste better when it’s free? Or do we appreciate things more when we’ve forked out a considerable sum for them? Or does it depend on personality? Psychologists must have a theory … I think my champagne tastes nicer because it was unexpected. πŸ™‚

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Quirky Bike Rides

Just read 50 quirky bike rides in England and Wales by Rob Ainsley, Eye Books, 2008, ISBN 1 9030705 54

What an inspiring book! If you want to know where is the steepest hill (up or down – they are not the same), or the longest freewheel, or the most twisty route, this is your book. Written in a funny, intelligent and strangely analytic way it covers all kinds of interesting rides from Calais town centre to Lands End to John o’ Groats to where in England you can legally cycle (and drive) on the right hand side of the road (including road signs on the right) …

Yes I know John o’ Groats and Calais are not in England or Wales, but that’s part of the charm of the book.

There’s also a website πŸ™‚

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