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!

how bizarre

 

People give me strange looks from time to time… sometimes, children point and say things. I suppose I should be offended but there’s something I quite like about being quirky, enigmatic and just a little bit unhinged. Maybe when I get old, I’ll live in a ramshackle old house and yell at the neighbourhood kids for playing on my lawn…

Anyway, I’ve always put these odd looks down to my homeless guy beard, my patented so-long-and-messy-it’s-not-actually-messy hairstyle and my rock hard body (OK, I made that last one up) but recently I’ve been getting more looks and pointing children than is normal, even for me.

And the cause of this fascination? Well, I live in (but am not originally from) Manchester so maybe the local wildlife is trying to figure out why I’m not dressed in a tracksuit, don’t look like a member of Oasis and haven’t got a ‘retro’ vinyl Lonsdale sports bag permanently slung over my shoulder. But no, I suspect it’s something much simpler than that.

Powder coated in a shade of bright orange any Manc would be kill to have a tracksuit made in, my Surly Troll and its matching bright orange Ortlieb panniers is the kind of thing that stops people in their tracks and makes them say things like “Maaate, look at them tyres”, “F**k me, he means business” and the suchlike… I don’t know, maybe they’re only used to seeing bikes right before they cut the locks off.

Attach my BOB Yak to the Troll and even the traffic stops to gawp. This has its benefits of course, primary amongst which is the extra room you’re given on the road but it’s certainly not the kind of thing you want to do if you’re self concious.

This week, I realised the bearings in my wheel hubs had reached the end of their usable lives and were slowly but surely eating themselves resulting in the kind of noise that forced me into the bike shop (yeah, right, I need to be forced to go there) and further forced me to determine that buying a brand spangley new wheelset would make more financial sense than having the current hubs rebuilt; my girlfriend was not quite so easily convinced.

A few days later and my new wheels are built! You’ll have to wait for pictures of them fitted to the bike (that’s a job for this weekend) but for now, imagine this:

  • Halo Aerowarrior 26″ rims in white
  • Shimano XT quick release disc hubs in black
  • 28 strong, stainless steel spokes per wheel in shiny silver

Yep, as if it wasn’t already a head turner, those white rims are only going to make it stand out more!

So this morning I attached my BOB Yak single wheel cargo trailer to the Troll using the dedicated BOB Nutz I spent so long fitting to the frame and dragged it into work so I could pick up my new wheels on the way home. It’s a fairly odd experience pulling an empty trailer behind the bike and it certainly provokes more than a few odd looks; it also has a disturbing tendency to spring into the air if you crash it through a big enough pothole – you have been warned.

Loaded up with a bit of weight however, the Yak starts making all kinds of sense; it stays planted thanks to the really low centre of gravity and, because it mounts from both sides of the frame and has a single wheel at the back, it leans with the bike, flows through corners in a perfect curve with the bike and comes with almost no aero drag because it’s no wider than the bike. It really is genius.

The Troll too is weird. The geometry of the frame is all kinds of bizarre, no matter which way you slice it; stick drop bars on like I have and it just gets stranger… But again, start weighing it down with stuff & things and it all makes perfect sense.

The awesome people over at Keep Pedalling in Manchester (yes, it’s a shameless plug – go there and spend money!) have been really good to me, offering to take in a delivery of the afore mentioned stuff & things this week which I picked up today with my wheels – I’d got the Troll & the Yak… what could possibly go wrong?

Well, nothing as it turns out! It has to be said, I wasn’t quite expecting so many stuff & things to be there but I somehow managed to stuff it all into my panniers, strap it onto my front & rear racks and load it into the trailer. With all that bulk and weight, lesser bikes could certainly become unsettled on the road but my On One Midge ‘dirt drop’ bars provide me with a really wide, comfortable riding position which helps to keep the overall centre of gravity low and the whole load nice and stable.

Sure, a lot of people gawped at me on the ride home and several children pointed and said things I’m sure they thought were funny but hey, this is why I spent all that money on the bike and trailer:

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.