fire

 

A new feature for you this week; something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while now… Random bike porn!

I was out cycling with my girlfriend a few weeks ago when she remarked: “God, it’s just like girls’ arses!” to which I responded: “Eh?”. She was referring to the two mountain bikers we’d just passed coming in the opposite direction who slowed down just enough to take a good long look at my ride and hers just as I’d slowed down just enough to take a good long look at theirs.

Bike envy, we all have it.

I can’t walk anywhere without checking out whatever rolls past me or is chained to a lamppost or whatever and I’ve long thought about taking photographs of the good, bad, ugly and uber cool stuff I see out there. And so, to get us started, here are a couple of pics of some Electra cruiser types I saw up in Tynemouth this weekend whilst visiting a friend.

What you see here is a collection of bikes available for hire, all ready to be ridden up and down the seafront, looking all cool and sexy. Which, I suppose, is all well and good if you’re into that sort of thing. Incidentally, I am not.

You could be forgiven for being seduced by the swooping lines of the frame, the abundance of chrome plated shiny, the fat white wall tyres and the ridiculous handlebars with leather tassles. However, there is something I find unforgiveable about this bike and no, it isn’t the awful green paintjob.

The problem with these bikes is that, whilst they might look very cool, they are actually a bit rubbish. Made almost exclusively from leftover pig iron, these frames are obscenely heavy and with only 1 speed are actually not all that easy to ride. The enormous saddle and massively wide handlebars might make it feel like you’re sat on the couch but have you ever tried pedalling your couch up and down Tynemouth seafront? It’s not so much fun.

And the problems continue, I’m afraid; those brakes are just about the cheapest and nastiest you can get and, on the bike closest to us, the brake pads are set at a rather peculiar angle; I didn’t think much of it at first but now I look closer at the picture, that bike simply shouldn’t be on the road (or anywhere near it).

Take a look at that fork. Spot anything unusual? No? OK, now compare it to the exact same fork on the other green bike a couple of spaces down the rack… See it now? Yep, that fork is horribly bent which tells me that this bike has been involved in an equally horrible front end impact. Not only will that play all sorts of havoc with the handling of the bike but there’s also a very real chance of something letting go in spectacular fashion whilst some poor unfortunate soul is riding it resulting in some rather unpleasant face surfing which is neither cool or sexy.

Fear ye not though, dear reader; not all of these bikes are potential death traps. I was actually quite taken with these tandems, what with the flames painted on the mudguards and the tyres… Sure, they’re made from rubbish old parts, weigh a metric ton and are harder to ride than… well, something that’s particularly hard to ride, but if you’re looking for a slice of Southern California in Tyneside, you’d be hard pushed to find anything finer.

My plea to you is to get to know what’s dangerous… Check the thing over for any obvious signs of crash damage (compare the bike you’re looking at to the others if you’re not sure), beware of flat, worn or cracked tyres and make sure nothing is loose; the main offenders (and those most likely to cause injury) are handlebars, saddles, pedals and wheels. Ask the people in the shop to fix it and, if they can’t or won’t, WALK AWAY.

Considering actually purchasing a cruiser? Well, I can’t stop you… but they are just not practical. I don’t care if Miley Cyrus rides one; in fact, doesn’t that make them worse?

Check out my girlfriend’s bike here; it started out life just like any other Specialized Globe Sport but with the addition of some cruiser type handlebars (alloy, not steel), some nice comfortable grips, longer brake levers and the all important wicker basket and you’ve got yourself a proper headturner.  What’s more, this little beauty came in at about £350, is nice and light, has 24 gears and a carbon fibre fork!

Check out my tips about choosing the right handlebar, get some advice from your local friendly bike shop and I guarantee you can get something which is not only cool looking but also very capable and surprisingly cheap.

Oh, by the way, Tynemouth seafront happens to form part of the C2C (sea to sea) cycle route; more on that in a later post but (having ridden part of it by accident) it’s certainly on my list.

EDIT:

The owner of the shop that rents the bikes I took pictures of and commented on in this post has since been in touch and he informs me the bike with the damaged fork was simply being stored alongside the others whilst awaiting repairs and would not be rented out to anyone in its damaged state. In addition, he assures me that all of the bikes were fitted with quality brakes, weren’t overly heavy, some had more than one gear and the frames were made of quality materials.

The things I write in this blog are purely my own opinions and experiences are are not meant to cause offence.

lollipop

 

“Cheap rubber is not necessarily good rubber” was the advice I gave to a friend recently looking to buy new tyres for her hybrid; I suspect the same applies to spotty adolescents nervously buying condoms in the chemist too.

When you think about it, you can spend hours and hours mooching around bike shops, trying to figure out which bike is best for you: mountain bike, road bike, hybrid, BMX, cruiser, cyclocross, tourer, folder, singlespeed, fixie or hack…. And, there are probably some more. Then, you’ll probably spend as much time trying to settle on the colour of said bike and you’ll try on every helmet and pair of gloves in the shop but, and be honest, just how much attention do you pay to the tyres? I’ll wager it’s perhaps not as much as it could / should be.

Now, there is a lot of talk about how you shouldn’t ride a mountain bike on the road and you shouldn’t ride a road bike on the trails and you shouldn’t ride a Brompton at all; whilst I agree that Bromptons (in fact all folding bikes) should be banned for all eternity, I must say I conform more to the idea that you can ride whatever you like, wherever you like.

I ride a Merida Matts mountain bike from the 1990s with a rigid steel fork on the road… In fact, I ride it on road, off road and everything in between. Also, I ride a cyclocross bike with a rigid carbon fork (which is essentially a road bike with clearance for mud) off road so, it’s really not an exact science; very basically, the various types of bike will give you very different riding positions so it’s more about finding one that works for you.

The thing that really matters is the 2 small contact patches connecting you to whatever surface you happen to be rolling over and this is where the science really does make a difference; so, here are some basics to help you out:

  • Tarmac – The smoother and thinner the tyre, the smoother it’ll ride on the smooth surface; the same is true with tyre pressures, the higher the pressure, the smoother it’ll roll. Beware, however, that the narrower and higher pressure the tyre gets, the less it’ll deform over lumps and bumps so the ride will be less comfortable but much more efficient.
  • Mud – If you want to get down and dirty, it’s quite the opposite; you want something wide and knobbly to grab hold of whatever it can in the squishy stuff. Equally, a lower pressure will help the tyre to deform under load and assist with the grabbiong onto stuff, giving you more traction than you thought was even possible.
  • Gravel – Now, I hate to break this to you but nothing, nothing actually grips on gravel surfaces but there are some semi-slick / semi-knobbly type tyres that help move some of the gravel out of the way and grip the hardpack underneath. Choosing something with a smooth central section and knobbly ‘shoulders’ run at a mid range pressure and spending some time working on your riding style will give you the confidence you need to safely navigate the loose stuff. There’s absolutely no shame in slowing down; it’s much more fun than face surfing!
  • Snow – Again, very little will provide much in the way of real grip here but a good quality knobbly tyre suited to deep, wet mud will work great on fresh, soft snow. There are also specialist snow tyres with metal studs that will bite into hard packed ice but these are very expensive and not for the average cyclist, in my humble opinion.
  • Sand – Now, I can’t say I’ve ever actually ridden on sand but, as I understand it, the only way to go is with the widest, lowest pressure tyre you can lay your hands on. Surly and Salsa are now building ‘fat bikes’ specifically for this klind of riding; very cool indeed but again, very specialist kit.

So, what do I ride? Well, on my go-everywhere-do-everything Merida, I run 26 x 2.00″ Schwalbe Kojak slicks at 70 – 80psi which give me an incredibly comfortable, stable, predictable ride.

I love my Kojaks so much, I had a custom wheel built for my BOB Yak and bought a 16 x 1.25″ version which has significantly reduced the rolling resistance over the awful knobbly tyre that came with it as stock.

What I simply can’t explain with science (or anything else) is the awesome grip level these tyres give in all conditions. I’ve ridden them on really hot days when they seem to almost stick to the road, freezing cold, icy days when they seem to… well, they almost stick to the road and, because I live in Manchester, I’ve ridden them in just about every type of rain there is from the annoying fine stuff that makes the roads greasy right through to full on monsoon rain and, you’ve guessed it, they just stick to the road! I suspect it’s the larger than average contact patch but they’re as predictable in cold and wet conditions as they are in hot and dry ones.

With Schwalbe’s excellent Raceguard puncture protection, they’re also bombproof and mine have reflective tyre labels so they give me the much needed side on visibility I need for commuting in the dark without a full on reflective sidewall – very cool indeed.

With a little skill and an awful lot of courage, they’re also great on gravel paths and they’ll even handle hardpack dirt without any problems. They suck like a $2 whore in any kind of mud, though. You have been warned.