hallelujah

river irwell 1

 

The final rays of the evening sun shone through the treetops.

The snow white tail of a wild rabbit disappeared into the undergrowth.

Overhead, a Heron flapped his awkward way down the river.

I reached down, grabbed another gear and tore through the woods without a care in the world.

Sweat dripping down my face, beard resting on the loop of my Jeff Jones bars and my 8 speed Shimano Alfine hub making that odd clickclickclickclickclick sound, I found myself wondering how something so apparently insignificant can make such a dramatic difference.

Surly Ogre Alfine 8 Jtek bar end shifterYou see, as fond as I was of my Surly Ogre with drop bars and a Jtek bar end shifter, I’ve been having shifting issues ever since I fitted it. For reasons that escape me and two bike shop mechanics, the gear cable tension would inexplicably go out of alignment every now and again even though I know for a fact the wheel wasn’t moving in the dropouts (thanks to a Surly Tuggnut) and there was no issue with the cable or shifter. Meh, blame it on Gremlins.

Unfortunately, Shimano only make one shifter for their Alfine hubs and it’s the trigger shifter type you find on most flat bar bikes (thank the lord it’s not a hideous twist-grip).

Surly Ogre Jones Loop bars Shimano Alfine 8 shifterSo, my only alternative to the Jtek was to take the drop bars off the Ogre and replace them with something a little more conventional… I peered around the garage and spotted the Jones bars on my Troll. A new set of brake levers, a fresh set of cables and a half an hour later and the Ogre was transformed.

All of a sudden, the gear alignment was perfect and the hub was running smoother and quieter than ever before.

There’s just nothing like riding down a perfect trail in perfect weather with the bike underneath you running, well, perfectly.

Surly Ogre cobbles disused canalAnd what of the Troll? Well, I happened to pop into the bike shop and they just happened to have a set of original Surly Open bars lying around… what was I going to do, not buy them???

Surly Troll Open bars

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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?

horse with no name

 

A while ago, I wrote about the perils of bonking and yet, this very weekend I found myself in a dark corner under a bridge over the Ashton Canal bonking my brains out with wild abandon.

Now, we all know the importance of eating well, not drinking too much and getting plenty of exercise so I won’t bore you with the usual holier-than-thou-go-for-the-burn-and-eat-a-granola-bar nonsense but I would like to share a cautionary tale with you, if you don’t mind.

As part of the whole me becoming a grown up extravaganza, I’m now looking at buying my first house and finally getting a foot on that shaky rung of the property ladder. Of course, there is a list of things the house must have (minumum 2 bedrooms, minimum distance from nearest council estate, maximum distance from nearest pub etc. etc.), chief amongst which is the ability to commute to work in under an hour without having to cycle along the shoulder of a 70mph dual carriageway.

Said potential new house finds itself in a little place called Carrbrook, roughly 10 miles from Manchester and quite literally perched on the edge of the Pennines; and, as it turns out, it’s possible to cycle almost all of the way along the Ashton Canal and Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

To test out my theory, I hopped on the Troll and headed out for a bit of recon. The trail itself is actually quite good almost all of the way and, with the exception of one puncture, a little cobble related unpleasantness and an impromptu detour around Ashton-under-Lyne, all was good with the world but that’s a story for another day.

Today, dear reader, is all about food and drink. On the day in question, I woke up early and shared a rather delicious breakfast of brown toast with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with my ever patient girlfriend, Karen. After doing a few domestic chores, I was allowed out to play on my bike so I filled my bottles with water and took off in search of the horizon.

The planned ride was a mere 35ish miles (probably ended up close to 40ish with the unplanned detour and my penchant for exploring muddy trails up in the hills) so it was hardly what I would call a big distance and, I’m sure, what many readers of this blog ride without even blinking.

About 15 miles into the ride, I suffered a puncture which seemed to take an age to fix (lousy Troll and its horizontal dropouts) which swallowed up the one spare tube I was carrying with me. By sheer coincidence, I skipped off the towpath at Stalybridge only to spot Johnson’s Cycles across the road (sorry, can’t find a website to link to; must be a fairly new shop) so I headed in, Troll and all, getting mud all over the floor and everything I touched. I grabbed a couple of replacement tubes for £8 and nommed one of the free bananas that was lying on the counter.

After enjoying said ‘nana, a short rest and a nice chat, I got back on the trail, found a great route through a country park, up into the hills, past a reservoir and around to the back of the potential new house. Could I live with these views on my doorstep? I think so.

From here, all I had to do was retrace my steps (minus the detours of course) and I was feeling fine. What I didn’t realise was that I’d been out for several hours and it was already long past lunchtime. Heading back, I made steady progress until I was about 5 miles out of Manchester city centre; that’s when it hit me. The combination of the previous night’s Prosecco, a relentless headwind, my less than adequate intake of food and fluids was starting to take its revenge.

The lactic acid starting building up in my thighs, I was a little battered by the cobbles, there was nowhere to hide from that awful headwind and my mind started wandering. Somehow, I kept the pedals turning (in a big gear, too!) and the Troll found its own way home for the last 12 miles. How I didn’t end up in an accident, I don’t know.

I realised later (after nomming a Scooby-Doo style sandwich, a large handful of salty pretzels and drinking 2 cups of tea) that I was dehydrated and running low on energy reserves, salt and probably several other things your body needs to keep going.

Looking back, I probably only drank about 500ml of water the whole time I was out and with only the banana I ate in the shop and a second one I nommed later on as fuel, I’d basically pushed my unfit body beyond its hungover limits.

It’s easy to remember to eat and drink in the summer when you’re out riding with the mad dogs because you can see the sweat pouring off your brow, you can taste the salt leeching out of your body and you know you need refreshments. The problem is, when the weather’s a bit colder, you really don’t feel that need to eat and drink as much as you do when it’s hot and this proved to be my downfall.

They say you should drink before you’re thirsty and eat before you’re hungry… I’m not quite sure how that works; I guess after a while, you get to know just how much fuel your body needs and you can anticipate it before it feels like your stomach is tied in a knot and your throat is like a piece of sandpaper…

There are plenty of options out there for getting the right stuff into you from ready made drinks to powders, tablets, gels, energy bars and the list goes on. Try a few out and you’ll soon settle on the one that works best for you but, in the meantime, keep taking in plenty of water and you can do worse than have a couple of bananas and / or oaty flapjacks in your pockets.

Oh, and spare tubes too!

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…