safety dance

 

Wait. What? It’s Thursday already??? That must mean it’s time for yet another thrilling episode of ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’… please, try to contain your enthusiasm.

It’s been a fairly busy week over here at lifeinthecyclelane HQ with quite literally some visitors sent our way by various search engines, all of which are (as usual) high quality contenders for the grand prize of being immortalised on a Thursday; but, there can be only one winner this week and it’s this little gem:

“is it safe to cycle on a canal towpath when it’s icy?”

Yes, and also no.

But mostly no (for me).

It all very much depends on how much of a lettuce you are, how good your bike handling skills are, what tyres you have fitted, what the towpath surface is made of and how much you fancy the idea of potentially slipping on a patch of ice and ending up taking a swim with whatever happens to be lurking in the canal. Of course, you won’t survive too long in water that cold anyway…

And on that happy note, I’ll leave you!

Oh, I’ve been thinking about a new weekly feature to delight my beloved lifeinthecyclelane readers… or, is there something in particular you’d like to see here?

Advertisements

f.e.a.r.

 

Something strange has happened to me recently; I can’t quite put my finger on what’s caused it but I have most definitely turned into some kind of lettuce.

Quite possibly, it’s down to when I dropped the Troll on the ice a while back… ever since that happened, I seem to have lost all confidence in the tyres and my own ability to stay upright. Admittedly, the weather hasn’t improved much since I crashed so I’ve had good reason to be on the lookout for black ice but to say I’ve been cautious through the corners must be the understatement of the year.

I now find myself gingerly mincing around traffic islands and slowing right down for corners I’d previously have attacked at high speed… what has become of me???

406476_10151161830094863_453640121_nIn an attempt to get some peace and quiet, I decided to ride home via the canal towpath earlier this week; something I’ve done countless times before, something I felt sure would help me recover some of my confidence in the bike and myself away from the distractions of rush hour traffic. As you can probably tell, much of the canal towpath in these parts is paved with cobbles. Huge, great big slippery cobbles. Just the kind of thing you need when you’re feeling unsteady…

It seems almost clairvoyant that this week’s winning ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’ entry is:

“towpath accident”

Happily, I didn’t actually have an accident but I was utterly convinced I was going to… perhaps to the point where I’m feeling so unsure of my balance that I’m tensing up and actually increasing my risk of coming off…

It’s not good. Any advice?

halo

 

Something a little heavier than our usual musical interlude for you today… but hey, sometimes only heavy metal will do.

Play it loud or not at all.

Since my recent crash, I’ve been riding around with DMR Moto R/T 26 x 2.2″ tyres on my Surly Troll; largely this is because I was looking for something that was essentially still a road tyre but more suited to the changeable conditions and, with a little bit of luck, less likely to send me face first into the pavement at the first sign of the cold, slippery stuff.

206696_10151327132799863_2024200714_nAccording to DMR, the RT in the name stands for “road and trail” as this is a “great tyre for street riding, hard pack trails and dirt jumps”. Now, I don’t do a great deal of dirt jumping what with the Troll weighing just shy of a metric ton but I can report that thanks to the rounded profile and closely spaced yet flexible tread, these tyres do provide an extra level of stability, grip and confidence on the trails and I actually found them to be very capable in deep, wet mud. On the road however, I have to say these tyres really, really drag and the buzz you get from knobbly tyres on tarmac started getting on my nerves after a while.

Recommended maximum pressure is 60psi which I found to be perfect for the trails (I like a firm ride anyway but it still wasn’t too harsh) but on the roads I found even pushing the pressure beyond the limit and up to 70psi didn’t really help minimise the drag enough for me.

After a few weeks, I just couldn’t take it anymore; the Troll felt heavy, sluggish and really wasn’t much fun to ride. So, I went back to the tyres I had on before. The tyres I crashed on.

250942_10150987692164863_477781285_nAlso 26 x 2.2″, this isn’t the first set of Halo Twin Rail tyres I’ve owned. I used to run a set on an old mountain bike I had and I liked them so much I invested in a set for my cyclocross bike in the 700c size. These days, they make ’em in just about every size and colour you can imagine with single and dual compounds and they all come with puncture protection rivaled only by the legendary Schwalbe Kojak.

Halo decribe the Twin Rail as a “trail and street tyre” and recommend a maximum 65psi for off road use and 85psi for on road use meaning they “perform in almost all conditions”, which they do. As I’ve said, I prefer a firmer ride so I rarely let the pressure drop below 70psi and I’ve ridden through just about everything with these tyres.

They’re awesome on hardpack dirt, great on gravel, capable of dealing with everything but the deepest sticky mud and (critically for me) they’re phenomenal on the road. Unlike the DMR Moto RT which is really a trail tyre at heart, the Halo Twin Rail is a road tyre first and a trail tyre second; the name of course comes from the 2 central rails which (when the pressure is high enough) are they only things in contact with the black stuff so rolling resistance really is kept to the bare minimum. Of course, once you start to lean or you hit the trails, the smooth, rounded profile of the tyre kicks in and the recessed ‘knobbles’ (Halo call them ‘sleepers’) ensure you have plenty of grip without the tyre flexing as much as a traditional knobbler.

So, which is better? Well, that very much depends on the kind of riding you do. As different as they may appear at first glance, these tyres do deserve to be compared side by side because they both claim to be suitable for road, trail and skate park use… You’ll have to check with the local yoof which is better for dirt jumping and the like (I suspect the Halos) but for me it’s as simple as this:

  • If you ride mostly on trails (this includes gravel, grass, mud, canal towpaths and everything inbetween) and you only use tarmac to access said trails, the DMR is the clear winner.
  • If you ride mostly on the road but you want to be able to skip onto the trails or explore that bridleway on the way home, you need a set of Halos in your life.

556027_10150987707259863_1754207612_nOh, I don’t know whether this will form part of your decision making process but the DMRs don’t boast any puncture protection where the Halos do… but, nothing is totally puncture proof so you’ll want to carry a spare tube and a decent pump too (mine’s a Lezyne but that’s a story for another day).

Today’s ride was a mere 15 miles (I ran out of daylight and my lights failed so I had to get the train back) mostly on the road but with a few impromptu miles of canal towpath thrown in. It’s cold up here in t’ North this week to so there was plenty of the dreaded ice around… I’m happy to report no crashes, despite a couple of two-wheel slides which didn’t faze me.

My confidence is steadily returning and I’m back in love with the Troll now the Halos are back on. 2013 is going to be good.

changes

 

I’ve lived in Manchester now for nearly 11 months and, with the exception of a few hangover and / or exhaustion induced days, I’ve cycled into work every single weekday in just about all weathers.

For the first couple of months, I was taking the most direct route I could find which was a solid 6 miles along the rollercoaster that is the A664 Rochdale Road. Now, as much as it’s (largely) a nice wide road with cycle lanes and / or bus lanes and I very much enjoyed the variety of the short but sharp hill climbs & descents, in hindsight I’ve come to realise just how dangerous a route it actually is and just how lucky I was to never have an accident.

Of course, the problem with bus lanes is that they are frequented by buses. Sure, they’re useful for avoiding most of the traffic but leapfrogging loud, dirty monsters largely driven by idiots with no spatial awareness and no idea what their mirrors are for is just not fun.

A few close shaves later and and I started looking for a quieter, safer route. This came in the shape of the B6393 which runs largely parallel to the Rochdale Road, past JW Lees brewery, through an industrial estate, over the M60, past the Greater Manchester Police HQ and finally into Manchester through the usual inner-city suburbs.

Whilst this route is almost completely devoid of cycle lanes and carries only slightly less traffic, it is considerably safer. I think this is partly thanks to the much more controlled crossing of the motorway and the fact that drivers are forced to give you more space on the road when you’re sharing the same piece of tarmac.

I do have a theory about cycle lanes… I think some drivers see that white line as some kind of magical barrier which protects them and the cyclists from each other; of course, the truth is, you should give cyclists the same amount of room as you would any other road user but I find cars, buses and trucks buzzing right by me all too often whenever I’m ‘protected’ over there with the drain covers and broken glass.

But, I digress. Along with the not being killed bonus, my new road route takes my daily mileage up to 15 miles so I’m able to get a little more of a workout in every morning and afternoon too.

Of course, the Troll was built to be rugged and has already proved itself more than capable both on road and off road. With that in mind and my new road route bringing its own fair share of close shaves, I’ve been looking for some kind of off road route which has materialised in the shape of a stretch of NCN Route 66 and the Rochdale Canal towpath.

Keep your eyes peeled for a post about riding on route 66 and, while we’re at it, riding on canal towpaths in general; for today, a brief report on how the Troll has been handling this new route.

I don’t currently have a computer fitted to the bike so I’m not quite sure what the mileage is of my new route but, considering it takes me significantly away from the 2 road routes, I reckon it’s approaching 10 miles each way. Of course, it’s mostly flat but there is a gradual incline all the way home with several locks and flights of steps along the way.

The surface varies wildly from freshly laid tarmac to thickly spread granite chippings to deep mud to herringbone brickwork, most of which is in a fairly poor state of repair with several areas actually fenced off where the towpath is falling away into the canal.

The oldest sections of the canal are somehow the most solid, most likely thanks to the brilliance of Victorian engineering. Whilst this is all very nice and interesting and historical, the problem is those pesky Victorians were rather fond of using cobbles; cobbles, which you’ll know if you’ve ever ridden on them, are very rough and get VERY slippery when wet.

For the the last couple of months, I’ve been taking the safer road route into work and the canal route back home again. With the rigid fork, the journey in is effortless and generally takes about 30 minutes but the return trip can take up to 1 hour and, thanks to those cobbled sections, is a bit of a boneshaker.

And so, a new experiment! I managed to bag a set of Fox F100 air suspension forks which are actually lighter than the standard rigid steel fork that comes with the Troll. With preload and rebound adjustment and lockout within reach of the bars, they’re also suitable for every kind of terrain at only a moment’s notice. Sure, they’re silver and blue so they don’t match the original colour scheme but I’m not too worried about that.

What I am slightly worried about is the coverage provided by my new SKS Shockblade front mudguard… I went for the 28 – 29″ wheel version as it’s slightly longer than the 26″ wheel version and, despite being slightly narrower, still covers my 2.2″ Halo Twin Rails quite well.

Ugly as sin as it may be, it’s really the best option for keeping as much crap off the bike as possible when running a suspension fork; we’ll see what the coverage is like on next week’s commute. No doubt we’ll be back to rain by then; it is Manchester, after all.

I really didn’t like how the new front mudguard looked with the old full wrap one so I also invested in an SKS X-Blade rear guard. I’m still not happy with the overall look so it’ll need some tweaking but I’m willing to live with it for the comfort of a suspension fork over the dreaded cobbles.

I took it out yesterday for a quick shakedown along the canal and first impressions are very promising indeed; with the fine preload and rebound adjustment right there at my fingertips, I was able to apply just the right amount of cushion for each section of the trail and lock it all out again as soon as the path smoothed out.

Only time will tell if the fork stays on and the towpath becomes my commuter route of choice…