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!

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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!

good enough

 

Apologies to regular readers of this blog who’ve been waiting for the latest installment; things have been a bit crazy with pesky real life recently so I haven’t had much time for playing with bikes, let alone blogging about them.

Wait. There are regular readers of my blog, right? RIGHT?

Anyhoo, whether you are a regular reader, first time visitor or figment of my imagination, the important thing is I’m back and have finally found some some time for playing with bikes so here’s what I’ve been up to:

I like vintage wine, mature cheese and the older woman… these things tend to get better with age. And, whilst it’s true that new stuff also floats my boat on occasion, I think it’s fair to say my passion with bikes is also more on the vintage side these days.

The cause of much slow, sad headshaking from she who must be obeyed, my Coventry Eagle 3 speed and Falcon Panther 10 speed are cases in point. Both were originally a bit of a steal when I bagged them on eBay but, because of my bloody perfectionism, the resoration of both was not exactly cheap.

Now, we’ve already established (by which I mean Karen has told me) that I simply can’t keep all of the bikes I’ve ever owned in some kind of magical North American style barn adorned with Mantiques. Pfft. This kind of unrelenting (albeit logical) girlishness has meant that since their restorations, both the Coventry Eagle and Falcon have been up for sale in one way or another.

And yet, methaphorically at least, I do have my barn. Or, a small corner of it anyway. You see, as much as they’re up for sale, I’ve been asking quite unreasonably silly money for them. I suppose the me that’s sitting on his cracked old leather couch, listening to the jukebox and sipping a cold beer knows deep down that nobody was ever going to pay big money for them so they’d never sell.

Don’t tell Karen, OK?

This Coventry Eagle, my first vintage restoration in the shape of a single speed rat rod with carbon fibre brake levers was taken off my hands for £350.

What’s more, the guy who bought it damn near snatched my hand off as he laughing said “Really? You only want £350 for it???”. I wonder just how much it was actually worth…

Of course, it could have just been a fluke or it could have been that the guy worked in a bike shop on the same premises that used to be the Coventry Eagle factory… I guess things like this are really only worth as much as anyone’s willing to pay for them.

And so, an experiment.

Some time ago, I bagged another eBay bargain in the shape of an Elswick Hopper Safeway; another of the late, great steel framed, Sturmey Archer geared town bikes from England’s bike building days.

Here’s the usual ‘before’ shot… not in terrible shape, really. The paintwork’s a little rough in places and the chain is literally caked in oil and grime but mostly the mechanicals are OK.

Originally, as I was metaphorically sat on my metaphorical couch drinking my metaphorical beer, the plan was the usual ground up restoration with new bearings in the bottom bracket & headset, new tyres, new chain, new brakes, new cables, new saddle and most definitely new handlebars and stem.

The experiment however, has (so far) been much, much simpler. So far, All I’ve shelled out on is a pair of new tyres & tubes and a set of handlebars. I have ended up swapping out the rear wheel for another I had lying around which didn’t need truing and I raided my parts boxes for a replacement quill stem and set of pedals but everything else is pretty much exactly as it was.

I’m happy to recover my investment plus a little bit on this one so it’ll be going up for sale at a much more reasonable price with the hope that people will be more inclined to part with their cash.

An unexpected by-product of this approach has been my complete lack of any desire to keep this bike. I guess that makes me a motivated seller and Karen a less disgruntled girlfriend!

want you bad

 

Those of you who know me well also know that there are precious few things in life which make me grin like an idiot and giggle like a schoolgirl; chief amongst which is, of course, the prospect of laying my hands on some new cycling related shiny.

You see, for a while now I have been coveting another… I love my Merida dearly, it takes me just about everywhere I need / want to go; often with Kojak attached, filled with god knows what. Before that, I also loved my Graham Weigh cyclocross which is currently broken down in boxes waiting for me to decide what on earth to do with it. They’re both up for sale but I also have a very soft spot for my Coventry Eagle and Falcon Panther.

But, something has always been missing… it’s hard to explain what but there was definitely something. And so, after much research, a lot of saving up and an awful lot of time spent drooling over one in the bike shop, I am ridiculously happy to report that I shall very shortly be ordering myself a Surly Troll!

Do a quick Google Images search and you’ll see several custom builds, some of which are pretty cool and some others which are… not. A fellow blogger has done quite a good job on his Troll but I think I’m going to go in a slightly different direction.

I’m lucky enough to have an awesome bike shop at my fingertips which just happens to have a ready built Troll in stock which just happens to be exactly the right size for me so this weekend (my girlfriend has gone away for a few days) I popped into the shop, bribed them with some shortbread from the excellent Blue Daisy Cafe around the corner and took the Troll out for a spin around Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

The complete bike comes with a rather odd selection of parts including some very wide handlebars, Avid disc brakes, Kenda tyres and a rather cheap and nasty WTB saddle. The Shimano Deore 27 speed mountain bike drivetrain suits the 26″ wheels and the setup of the bike very nicely and the all steel frame and fork are surprisingly light.

The major attraction for me is the incredible versatility of the bike; it’ll take just about any drivetrain you want to fit from single speed to internally geared Rohloff hub and everything inbetween. You can run disc brakes or cantis (even v-brakes if you really must), flat bars, road bars or… any bars you like – some suggestions here. Unlike many other frames, you can also fit disc brakes, full wrap mudguards and pannier racks (front and rear) all at the same time with no interference issues and, if all that wasn’t enough, there are also dedicated mounts for Surly and BOB trailers!

What will I be running? Well, I’m glad you asked! Obviously, the frame is orange. Very orange. I’ll be going for a fairly clean and simple orange and black colour scheme with the ocassional silver / chrome accent here and there:

  • Wheels: Sun Rims 26″ disc specific wheelset
  • Tyres: Halo Twin Rail 26 x 2.2″
  • Drivetrain: 27 speed MTB specific Shimano Shadow derailleurs, Race Face chainset and Dia Compe full friction bar end shifters
  • Brakes: Avid BBDB mechanical disc brakes with Cane Creek Drop V brake levers
  • Bars: On One Midge ‘dirt drop’ bars with matching stem and seatpost

As I want my Troll to be a commuter, tourer and ocassional weekend trail runner, I’ll also be fitting full wrap mudguards (just as soon as I can find some wide enough to cover the tyres!) and front and rear pannier racks too.

Keep your eyes peeled for progress reports – I’ll be ordering the frameset and other parts tomorrow!!!

 

3 is a magic number

Just a quick entry today; I’ve just come home from picking up my next project which is an Elswick Hopper Safeway town bike circa 1970-something.

And here she is! A beautiful shade of an almost metallic red with steel full wrap mudguards, chainguard and rear luggage rack. The Union dymano powered lights still work perfectly (well, as perfectly as they ever did!) and the 1974 3 speed Sturmey Archer rear hub shifts as nicely today as the day it left the factory.

Overall, the paintwork is in pretty good shape for its age although there are some scratches and chips here and there so it is tempting to repaint the frame but that would mean losing all of the original detailing like this rather nice bit of lettering on the chainguard… I’ll have to have a think and see how well it cleans up before I go anywhere near the wet and dry.

There was an additional odd little bonus to be had with this bike. As I was just about to leave the place I’d bought it from, I spotted this old French tin plate advertising sign up on the wall which I just had to have. Parting with whatever small change I had in my pocket (about £2.73) just seemed like the thing to do! My girlfriend who was waiting with the car gave me one of those “What the hell else have you bought now?” looks as I carried it towards her… She was already annoyed that I’d bought another bike project, I think. But, I’ll ask you what I asked her the other day: Would you prefer I bought old bikes or had affairs?

I thought so.

Anyway, this one (like the Coventry Eagle that went before) is just too small for me so it’s another restore, make cool and sell on job but I haven’t quite decided what I’ll do with this one. Happily the wheels are in great shape and, being 26″, give me plenty of tyre options and the one thing that’s for certain is the bars and stem are coming off too… It may just end up being a laid back cruiser… white wall tyres, anyone?

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.

the chain

 

There’s something about fitting the chain to a bike build which somehow moves it on from just a collection of pieces to something resembling an actual bike; today I fitted the chain to my latest and, to date, favourite build. So, here’s the latest on my 3 speed Coventry Eagle build:

I originally picked this bike up for a mere £50 on eBay and, despite being around 50 years old, it was in surprisingly good shape. The saddle had a small tear and the springs were pretty much shot but I was never going to keep it and there were a few cosmetic scratches here and there but it was essentially in need of nothing more than a little adjustment here and there to get it on the road. But, that wasn’t the plan.

Before long, I’d stripped it all back so I could see what I was dealing with. The bottom bracket bearings were shot, as were those in the headset, the original bars and stem were destined for the big parts bin in the sky but, importantly, the 3 speed Stumey Archer hub worked just fine, the steel 27″ wheels only needed a little truing and, as first impressions suggested, the frame and fork had almost no rust on them. I decided to remove the original steel mudguards and replace them with modern plastic ones to test out the brown & green combination which I wasn’t really sure about to start with but it’s actually worked out really nicely. The chainguard will be staying and when I took this picture, I was planning to run a rear pannier rack too but that’s since been removed because I think it spoils the look somewhat.

 

 

 

I’d bought some new 27 x 1 1/4″ Michelin City tyres to replace the amber walls that came on the bike and, as I came to fit them, I realised the all steel wheels weren’t in quite as good a condition as I’d first thought. Happily though, with a little wire brushing and some fresh cloth rim tape (Velox is really the only way to go unless you’re worried about weight, by the way) all was good with the world again and the tyres went on with new tubes and little hassle.

Next on the list was the long awaited fitting of my gorgeous Soma 3 Speed II moustache bars which I’d picked up from the good people over at Keep Pedalling, Manchester for a bargain price. Here they are cradling an equally gorgeous real leather handlebar bag (it’s a Selle Monte Grappa) I got for an utterly ridiculous £7.99 from On One bikes in Rotherham.

It was always the plan to keep the original wheels and 3 speed Sturmey Archer hub but I agonised over which shifter to use as the original was toast; it turns out you can get brand new old style trigger shifters in exchange for a crisp fiver, or there’s even a *shudder* twist grip version you could go for, if you’re that way inclined. As you can see, I went for the uber cool option of an indexed bar end shifter which slots perfectly into my new bars and (so they tell me) will work with any Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub, no matter what its age. The cable anchorage with these modern shifters (more on that in another post later) is much improved on the original too so I reckon they’re the only way to go. I paid a little under £20 for this one which came with gear cable inner and cable anchor dealy which is quite simply a bargain.

So, all that’s left to do now is run the cabling for the shifter and brakes, wrap the bars in brown Charge U-Bend tape to match the Charge Spoon saddle and it’s all ready for pootling around Manchester!