mr postman

 

There’s a rather exciting development waiting in the wings here at lifeinthecyclelane HQ… I’m bursting to tell you all about it but it’s not all finalised yet so you’ll just have to remain on the edge of your seats holding your breath for a little while longer…

You will be familiar with the equation for working out the appropriate number of bikes to own:

n + 1
(where n = the number of bikes you currently own)

In the last few weeks, n has been in steady decline. Now, I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking this is a bad thing. You’re thinking several things must be wrong. You’re thinking “why are we doing maths?”. You’re thinking Karen’s finally had enough of all these bikes, killed me dead, given my collection away and taken over my blog.

Fear ye not. I am alive and well (a bit sniffly, but generally OK) and the only thing being killed off is my collection of bikes. This, believe it or not, is a good thing.

You thought the maths was bad? Prepare yourselves for some science!

“Horror vacui (Nature abhors a vacuum)”

Interestingly enough, I abhor a vacuum too. I’m sure we’ve got one in the cupboard somewhere but it’s far from my favourite household appliance.

Nature contains no vacuums because the denser surrounding material continuum would immediately fill the rarity of an incipient void. Or, if there is a space with nothin’ in it, somethin’ will fill it.

Here at the HQ, the void has appeared as a result of several projects finally making their way off to new homes:

425348_10150673432819863_784234862_8829403_132888241_nFirst, it was my beloved Falcon Panther 10 speed road bike which I rescued from the scrapheap. 27″ wheels, bullhorn bars, a Selle San Marco Regal saddle and full friction downtube shifters. That was a fun bike to ride! It’s currently somewhere in London being ridden around by a guy who always wanted one when he was a kid.

Raleigh Compact 3 speed folding bikeNext up was this quirky little Raleigh Shopper 3 speed folding bike. A major diversion from the usual things you see roll out of the workshop but it was heaps of fun all the same. All she needed was a fresh set of tyres, a bit of adjustment of the brakes & gears and she was off to Merseyside. No more sitting about in a dusty old shed, she can now been found pootling up and down the docks, transporting the lady who bought her back to her childhood.

Carrera Epic flat barsMore recently, I shocked the world with the pink & green madness that was the Carrera Epic flat bar road bike build. Deliberately different, deliberately challenging, I wanted this bike to turn heads and turn heads it did! Selling it proved to be quite the challenge in the end and when it finally did go, the guy buying it for his girlfriend asked me to include the original black saddle… Shame, I liked it with the pink one! Anyway, if you see it being ridden around London, do drop me a line and let me know which one it’s got on.

994151_10151707854699863_1000163482_nSince then, I ended up adopting Penelope here. Since taking this photo, I’ve swapped out the saddle, given her flat bars, new brake levers, new cables all around and fitted 2.2″ DMR Moto RT tyres. She loves hitting the back streets of Salford for a quick, hard ride but I just can’t devote enough attention to her since setting the Troll up as a mountain bike. Earlier today, I sold her to another guy in London (seems to be a dangerous shortage of cool bikes down there) so she’ll be off in search of new adventures down there in a few days’ time.

1236615_10151932228879863_88922407_nA little while ago, I bagged a Pashley Millenium workhorse, formerly spending its days delivering post around Manchester. I had all sorts of plans… I was going to have it blasted and powdercoated, I was going to give it a set of moustache bars, a top tube mounted 3 speed shifter, some vintage lamps and it was going to be my new winter commuter. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get on with the uber relaxed geometry so, I put it up for sale. A mere couple of hours ago, I was lifting it into the car boot of its proud new owner. And the best part? Ey, when he were a lad, it were all fields around St Helens and all his mates got racers but his parents couldn’t afford one so they bought him a £10 ex-postie bike from a 2nd hand shop. When he saw this one on eBay, he just had to have it because it reminds him of the one he had all those years ago.

Sure, I make a little bit of money on these bikes every now and again but there’s just nothing like the smile people get when they pick up something cool and it’s always nice to know it’ll be ridden and appreciated.

The resulting vacuum in the lifeinthecyclelane HQ workshop will soon be filled, have no fear. This next one is gonna be all kinds of cool… I CAN’T WAIT!!!

crazy

538264_10150964770779863_1147176664_nIf you’re a regular in these parts, you’ll be familiar with my… shall we say… less than conventional ways. And, as this week’s episode of ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’ suggests, my readers are also just a little bit craa-aazy.

This week, people have been asking some of life’s most important and intriguing questions:

  • How should bullhorn handlebars be fitted? – Properly. By someone who knows what they are doing.
  • What is the expected lifetime of SKS Commuter mudguards? – Depends on how badly you abuse them, I suppose.
  • Schwalbe Kojak or Brompton Kojak? – Pssst… it’s the same tyre! The regular one has reflective tyre labels; do you really think the reflective strip on the Brompton version is worth the extra money??? Me neither.
  • Is Carrbrook a council estate? – Used to be, yeah.
  • What year is my Coventry Eagle? – I have NO idea, 1960s or 1970s probably.
  • Who makes Transporter Bumper trailer? – Raleigh, I think. Or, whichever Far East company builds stuff for Raleigh these days.

Right, with the mysteries of the universe finally solved, it’s on to some cycling related trivia. A couple of people this week have been asking about On One Midge handlebars and, having had a set for a little over a year, it’s probably high time I did a little report on them.

205302_10151055926794863_1096110797_nSo what’s the deal? Aren’t they just weird shaped road bars? Well, yes and no.

Essentially they are based on a road style bar in that they have flat tops and then drop down in the usual hooked shape. Naturally, they only suit road style brake levers (no, you can’t run flat bar type levers on them) and the internal diameter is big enough to accommodate bar end shifters.

But here’s the weird thing… or at least the first weird thing… they come with either a 25.4mm or 31.8mm clamp size; the likes of which you normally find on mountain bike stems [although many road bike stems now come with a 31.8mm clamp].

395814_10151077628534863_270717771_nThe other weird thing… or at least another of the weird things… is that angle which the drops are splayed out at. Why, WHY would they do this? Well, what you get with wider bars is more stability and (so those better and braver off road than I am tell me) the splay makes the brake levers more accessible when riding in the drops which apparently gives you the confidence to hammer downhill offroad at eye watering speeds.

You’ll notice however, the splay also places your brake levers at a rather strange angle. For me and my Cane Creek SCR-5 levers, this results in an unusually comfortable riding position, almost akin to that you get from aero bars. I do find myself riding on the tops most of the time but more recently, I’ve been making an effort to get down in the drops; it’s a little strange with all that extra width but it does make a nice change from the somewhat upright riding position I have on the Troll.

So, would I recommend them? Well, yes and also no.

  • For your regular common or garden road bike, they are all kinds of wrong.
  • Most mountain bikes will be set up with mountain bike brakes and derailleurs so consideration needs to be given to the types of levers and shifters you’ll need to buy to make it all work.
  • Cyclocross bikes tend to come with road style bars and integrated shifters & brake levers and are designed to hit the trails anyway so it should be a simple case of switching them over (you may need a different stem, remember).
  • Touring bikes like my Surly Troll are most suited, I think. All that extra width helps to give you more stability which is helpful when you’ve got stuff hanging off the bike in bags and / or on a trailer. There’s also plenty of room for fitting cross levers, lights and handlebar bags.

557294_10151077625149863_721584113_nMy personal opinion? I love the way they look on the bike, I love the way the bar end shifters are kept well away from my knees and I LOVE the way I can change gear with my little fingers when I’m riding in the drops. For me and my Troll, they work great even if they are so wide I have to lift the whole bike over narrow gates etc. but I suspect they are not for everyone.

553743_10150987700279863_347507007_nOh, and whilst we’re on the topic of craa-aazy things, we have a new contender for ‘Best search term EVER!’ with:

“weird things on woodhead pass”

Although that has to be closely followed by:

“public toilets woodhead pass”

That would be weird in such a rugged place!

girls, girls, girls

 

Being the lazy, no good civil servant I am, I haven’t been at work since some time back in late December; even then, I wasn’t really working… In any event, I’ve completely lost track of who I am and what day it is but those in the know tell me it’s Thursday today which can mean only one thing!

Yes, it’s time for yet another round of:

Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!

Please, try to contain your excitement.

As ever, I’ve been inundated with questions and keywords this week and here are my favourites:

  • “will a washer stop axle sliding in horizontal dropouts?”
  • “can you fit a BOB Yak to a bike with disc brakes?”
  • “do bullhorn bars fit any fixie?”
  • “Schwalbe Kojak tyre pressure”
  • “Surly Troll image”
  • “leather girl on bike porn”
    • Wait. What?
  • “spandex bodysuit see through wet messy”
    • Dude, you’re clearly looking in the wrong place.

A fairly obscure selection this week, I’m sure you’ll agree! Perhaps it’s high time I went back to work…

In other news, keep your eyes peeled over the next few days for a review of my custom wheelset I had built by the good people over at Keep Pedalling, Manchester.

blue

Happy Thursday everyone! It’s time for our weekly instalment of ‘random things people were searching for when they landed here trivia’.

  • Our first contestant this week “can’t fit mudguard to rigid fork”
    • Oh dear, that’s not good… I wish I could give you some specific advice but it very much depends on why you can’t fit your mudguards; it certainly can be a tricky job, particularly if you’ve never done it before and it’s certainly hampered in many cases if you use disc brakes and / or a front pannier rack. Really, the best advice I can give you is to take your bike and the errant mudguards to your local friendly independent bike shop (no, Halfords doesn’t count) and ask them to help you out.
  • Our next special guest this week tells me “my brake lever won’t fit my bullhorn bars fixie”
    • Firstly, don’t call me fixie. Now, the reason your brake lever doesn’t fit your bars is either 1) the internal diameter of your bars simply isn’t big enough; this is rare but it tends to happen with chopped and flipped vintage road bars and modern bar end brake levers – a practice I simply cannot condone. Or, 2) you’re trying to fit a flat bar style brake lever to your bullhorn bars; there are several reasons why this won’t work which are discussed here.
  • Finally this week, we have the somewhat obscure “surly blue ortlieb orange”
    • I can only assume you are considering putting orange Ortlieb panniers on a blue Surly. Please, I beg of you, do not do this. I don’t think I can think of a worse colour combination! Having said that, it would certainly be a unique combination and my opinions should be no barrier to you putting those two opposite colours together… *shudder*

Well, that’s all we have time for this week, dear readers; tune in next week for more of the same!

 

house of the rising sun

 

When the world gets me down (which it does on a disturbingly regular basis), I normally jump on a bike, point it towards the horizon and not come back again until I’m feeling better… I’m sorry to say the world got to me this week and I was very much in need of some cycle therapy; only problem was, I’ve been so busy recently that I was so tired I couldn’t face going for a ride.

So, I did the only thing I could do. I headed out to the shed and built myself a new bike instead.

I suppose it’s a little bit worrying that I have the makings of a new bike just lying around the place… I think what’s more worrying is that I actually have the makings of several… ssshhh… don’t tell Karen, she’d kill me dead.

Anyway, onto the build. Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me take any ‘before’ or ‘during’ pictures so you’ll just have to settle for these few ‘after’ shots:

45295_10151298532389863_480047877_nIt’s a Sun GT10 from the 1980s, originally built by Raleigh and quite literally bristling with parts branded as Raleigh and / or Sturmey Archer which (according to the internet) were effectively one and the same company around that time.

Essentially, it’s your traditional 27″ wheeled, steel framed 10 speed road bike which came to me with the original vinyl saddle, foam wrapped drop bars and awful ‘safety’ brake levers. The amber wall Schwalbe tyres you see here are modern replacements and really aren’t my favourite thing in the world but they have good tread, puncture protection and I suppose they suit the age of the bike well.

261409_10151298532684863_1337481825_nThe drivetrain is the original 10 speed with Raleigh branded chainset and derailleurs; I’ve got a feeling they’re actually made by Huret because they look exactly like the ones on my Falcon, only with different engraving on the derailleurs themselves and the downtube shifters. All I needed to do was throw a brand new KMC chain on, replace all the cables and make a few adjustments to get it purring again.

312836_10151298532509863_1800075579_nThe modern twist I decided to put on this bike was a set of Charge Slice bullhorn bars in dazzling cyan. The blue compliments the decals on the frame and the underside of the saddle (albeit a slight mismatch). The brake levers are the real extravagance on this bike though; they’re Cane Creek 200TT and yes, they are made of carbon fibre! I used these levers once before on a Coventry Eagle single speed and I can report they’re super light and really comfortable to use even if they were a little tight fitting into the bar ends.

484274_10151298532479863_1557117448_nThe final modern touch comes in the shape of a special edition Charge Griffin Bucket saddle with an odd camouflage design.

Normally, I like to match the colour of the saddle with the bars and / or bar tape but with the blue bars and the silver frame and the… whatever colour that saddle is, the only thing I could do was put black bar tape on.

Well, it’s not my favourite bike of all time and as similar as it may be to my Falcon, I don’t think it’s anything like as nice but that’s probably a good thing; if I don’t fall in love with it, it’s so much easier to sell!

in my hands

 

A tenuous musical link, I’ll admit; I just couldn’t resist a bit of angst ridden grunge from the 90s.

How does one measure the success of a blog? Is it by the number of hits every day? How many likes each post gets? Maybe the number of comments received? I don’t know and I suspect it’s different for everyone…

When I started this blog, the aim was to share some of my knowledge with the people out there in the blog-o-sphere and, hopefully, save them from making some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way. In the early days, I was lucky to get more than a few hits each day and now, as I approach 5000 all time views, I’m getting anywhere between 40 and 80 views every day; the majority of which come from Google.

So, I thought it was high time I started answering some of the questions I’ve been (indirectly) asked. This week, we’ll explore such mysteries as “Why do people hate bullhorn bars so much” and “Will bullhorns work on my MTB?” and “bullhorn handlebars gear shifter”. Unfortunately, we don’t have time today for “miley cyrus white wicker basket” or “barendi porn tube”… *slow, sad headshake*

If you’ve ever clicked around this site, you’ll know I’m the proud owner of a vintage Falcon Panther 10 speed road bike which I rescued from the scrapheap; regular readers will also know I’m no fair weather cyclist and I don’t shy away from taking my bikes over challenging terrain. However, when it comes to wheeling the Falcon out, all of this goes out the window.

The 40 year old centre pull Dia Compe caliper brakes do work but they’re hardly the most effective thing and, even the mention of moisture in the air turns stopping into a mere aspiration.

The 1 1/8″ wide Continental Ultra Sport slick tyres are fast yet sticky on smooth, warm tarmac but, again, the very mention of any kind of rain / oil spots / wet painted lines / shiny manhole covers and it becomes skittish and grumpy, threatening to throw its younger passenger off at a moment’s notice.

Give it 80psi in those 27″ tyres, point it towards the epic scenery only t’ North can provide on a crisp, clear, breathless Autumn day and the grumpy old bugger turns into a feisty teenager again; champing at the bit, wanting to go faster and faster, urging you to fiddle with the (less than precise) Huret downtube shifters and stick it in the big ring. What was I going to do, say no?

Exhausted as I may be today, I forced myself to throw some baggy shorts and a baggy jersey on (you can’t wear lycra on an old bike), grab my hipster style shoulder bag and, with no idea where I might end up, the front wheel turned left and up the nearest hill I went. The ride was as beautiful as the weather and, heading north from Middleton, I somehow ended up at Hollingworth Lake before looping back again through Royton and Shaw; a fine way to spend a couple of hours, despite the throngs of fat people queuing for fish and chips at t’ lake.

Anyway, back t’ t’ bars. When I restored the bike, I decided to remove the old drop bars and safety [suicide] levers in favour of fitting a pair of Charge’s excellent Slice bullhorn bars. Primarily, this was a bit of an experiment as I’ve often admired the look these bars give but I’d never ridden with them before.

Essentially, the riding position is the same as you get with traditional road (or drop) handlebars in that you can ride on the flats or on the ‘hoods’ by the brake levers and there’s always the relaxed holding-the-curved-bit-in-between-position which I favour. What you don’t get, of course, is the option to ride in the drops or the hooks (favoured by roadies) which helps cut down wind resistance and is arguably more comfortable.

You’ll notice here that my Charge bars clamp quite happily into the original stem thanks to the 25.4mm clamp; this means that yes, they’ll also clamp into standard 25.4mm mountain bike stems. But no, this doesn’t mean that would be a good idea. You see, the brake levers and gear shifters you find on mountain bikes generally have a 22.2mm (I think) clamp size and the diameter of these bars is much larger so they simply won’t slide on. I chose to go with Dia Compe time trial style levers which fit very nicely into the bar ends; now, here’s the other problem with using these bars on MTBs, the cable pull from these levers is designed for road style brakes so, unless you have cantilevers on your bike, they ain’t gonna work.

The final problem, should you overcome the stem & brake issues is gear levers. As I’ve already said, standard MTB style shifters simply won’t work on these bars so you’re down to fitting your shifters elsewhere; this really only leaves you with downtube shifters. And, of course, downtube shifters (unless they’re full friction) are designed to work with road style derailleurs which you wouldn’t have on your mountain bike…

…unless…

…are you thinking of using an old, steel, rigid mountain bike as a commuter with road tyres? And you like the idea of road bars but can’t get on with riding in the drops? Alas, bullhorns are still not for you. What you want is a pair of butterfly bars. But, that’s a topic for another day.

Bullhorns are great for me on my Falcon but they certainly aren’t for everyone; they also work great on single speeds and fixed gear bikes but I have to say, I think fitting them on a mountain bike would be a mistake.

hand in my pocket

After some discussion with a fellow blogger and, having done plenty of research myself recently, I think it’s probably time to share my musings about handlebars; a topic which generates much debate amongst cyclists.

Apologies to any Alanis haters, by the way. Judge me if you will, but I like this song and it’s my blog so I’ll play it if I want to. So there, nyah.

I recently blogged about the various different types of bike and how the rules don’t necessarily have to be applied quite as rigidly as they first appear; you’ll be pleased to hear that the same is true of handlebars but, whilst you’ve got one hand in your pocket reaching for an energy bar, it is important that whatever your other hand is holding onto is the right thing for you and your bike.

Now, the choices of handlebar available are quite simply staggering these days; some are staggeringly good, some are staggeringly beautiful, some are staggeringly ugly and some are even staggeringly expensive (many of the latter are also staggeringly shite).

OK, so some basics to get us started:

  • Flat bars are very much what they sound like; a straight bar with very little or no up sweep or back sweep. Flat bars are normally found on fixed gear bikes these days but do also make the odd appearance on hybrids and (if you’re a complete lettuce) on road bikes. As a rule, you get one hand position on the grips and maybe a second if you hold the bars themselves closer to the stem which doesn’t make for a very comfortable ride so I recommend them only for short commuting trips and the like.
  • Riser bars (like these fitted to a former mountain bike of mine) are basically flat bars with personality; the name comes from the fact that they rise up from the centre and then flatten out, giving a much more comfortable riding position. Risers come in all shapes and sizes with various different widths and heights (of rise) and generally have an amount of back sweep so your hands end up a bit more ‘square’ to your body. Designed for mountain bikes, they (somewhat unsurprisingly) work really well on mountain bikes and are also very common on hybrids. Again, you really only get one hand position but many mountain bikers choose to fit bar ends which give another hand position, make climbing hills so much easier but do spoil the clean looks of a naked bar, for me.
  • Road bars (also known as drop / dropped bars) are the ones you see lycra clad Tour de France types using and are mostly associated with ‘serious’ cyclists. Available in a bewildering array of widths, heights (amount of ‘drop’), shapes (notice my drops here have an extra ergonomic… err… kink?), these are the bars that can potentially cost hundreds of pounds. No, really. Now, these bars give many, many possible hand positions, most of which help with making one’s self more aerodynamic and / or more comfortable which is why they’re really the bar of choice if you’re doing any real distance. Beware though, they’re really not for everyone and the first time you use them, they’ll feel completely alien and you may very well hate them; given some time and, like me, you’ll fall in love with them and you’ll never go back to flat bars and you may even consider (shock, horror) fitting drop bars to your mountain bike…
  • Bullhorns are an interesting approach… I believe they came about when people started flipping their road bars over and cutting the drops off; these days, there are many options available and they’re primarily designed to be a base bar for time trial bikes where getting as low down and aerodynamic as possible is the ultimate gain. However, in recent years, they have also been adopted by single speed and fixed gear riders as there’s really no way of running gear shifters and they’re great for out-of-the-saddle storming through traffic duties. I happen to love bullhorns as they give plenty of hand positions and are a really good alternative to road bars if you’re not into riding in the drops.
  • Others is probably the quickest and easiest way to describe the myriad of alternative options available; here you can see merely two in the shape of Raleigh’s excellent North Rounder bars fitted to my girlfriend’s custom built Specialized Globe and Soma’s 3 Speed II moustache bars fitted to my Coventry Eagle restoration project. The thing with many of these types of bars (and many others from the likes of Soma, Nitto, On One and others) is that they look awesome but they also each have very quirky riding positions and, sometimes, you’ll be putting your hand into your pocket to reach for lots and lots of money to get yourself a pair.
  • Dirt drops are a relatively recent idea, catering to those who want to go off road but use drop bars; as I am one of those and will shortly be building a new bike with said bars, I’ll cover the pros and cons of dirt drops in a later post.

So, what does all this mean? Well, once you’ve been riding for a few years on a variety of bikes with a variety of bars, you’ll find yourself becoming fond of one particular kind or other and you may even get a bit of brand loyalty once you find some you like.

In the meantime, get yourself down to a proper bike shop (no, not Halfords or Evans or any of those awful faceless, money grabbing, devoid of knowledge pretenders) and ask for some advice. Here are my top tips for fiding the right bar:

  1. Width – You really don’t want your hands to be in a narrower position than the width of your shoulders (we road cyclists do sometimes ride with our hands in the middle of the bars but it’s really a temporary change of hand position thing) so, measure yourself! Wider bars give more stability too (great for cargo bikes; more of that in a later post), but go too wide and you’ll think you’re riding a bus.
  2. Girth – Stop sniggering. Now, this is where the science bit comes in; the diameter of your bars greatly determines which brake and gear levers will fit on them and no, not all brake levers work with all brakes and god no, not all gear levers work with all gear systems! Again, please, please, please get some advice from your local, friendly, independent bike bike shop and they’ll tell you what your various options are. There are also a few different options size-wise for the stem that holds your handlebars (25.4mm, 26.0mm, 31.8mm to name the 3 most common) so you may need to consider whether you want to fork out on a new stem or not… I’ve just realised I could write a whole blog post about the different types of stem… Maybe some other time.
  3. Squidgability – What? That’s a real word. Sort of. Now, as a rule, flat and riser bars are suitable for handlebar grips which slide over the end of the bar (some even have little pinch bolts to grip the bars with) and come in a huge variety of colours, styles and thicknesses; generally quite cheap and easy to fit, the more squidgy, the more comfortable. Road bars and many of the ‘other’ bars above are suitable for wrapping in handlebar tape (again, see le Tour de France riders). Bar tape comes in hundreds of colours, materials and thicknesses… Try ’em all out but don’t spend much more than a tenner for it. Oh, and get somebody to teach you how to wrap it the first time out!

So, there you go – my quick guide to finding the right handlebars for you. Feel free to drop me a line for some more specific advice.