the freshmen

 

Early spring in Northern England. April 24, to be precise.

Around that time a couple of years ago, my good friend Matt had invited me along for a quick overnight bike trip. We rode bikes, we talked, we drank coffee and ate cake, we rode some more, we camped, we drank beer until the small hours, and we desperately tried to sleep in the freezing overnight conditions.

It was a blast.

16142407_10155794050854863_2098317652403036742_nThe need to escape was once again growing strong in both of us, our respective lives dispensing their usual frustrations. However, my first world problems were mere trifles in comparison to the truly hellish couple of years Matt was going through.

Although, we did have fun selling stuff at the cycle jumble in January.

If I remember correctly, he let that brand new SP dynamo hub go for £25, despite my clearly thorough advice on how to price it.

Being the crazy fool he is, my lanky friend here is training for some pretty impressive trips this year. Something about a solo, unsupported bike ride across the Alps (camping), and an equally silly hike in the same part of the world (again camping). Me? I hadn’t been on the bike since… November or something. Needless to say, I was horribly out of shape.

18057781_10155210077467930_8340944974660531391_n18157077_10155210077352930_3943389049730249283_nA coast to coast ride has been on my list for a number of years now, so of course I jumped at the chance when Matt suggested we ride the Way of the Roses.

It was just the excuse I needed to get back on the bike. To shed some weight. To improve my declining mental state.

So, I started training. In the early days, I could barely ride 10 miles around the local country park; by mid-April, I was boring my Facebook friends with pictures from the 20, 30, 40 mile rides I was doing night after night. I was riding my Surly Ogre over terrain it simply wasn’t set up for. I was pushing myself. I was chasing the sunset every night. It was all coming back to me. I was feeling strong. I was eating better, drinking less, and losing weight. I was feeling happier. I was forgetting my worries.

The weeks preceeding our trip were bathed in glorious sunlight, and unseasonally high temperatures. I pulled my Surly Troll off the hook I’d hung it on so long ago, and fitted a set of flared drop bars, with TRP HY/RD hydraulic brakes, and bar end shifters. I treated myself to a reassuringly expensive hydrophobic down filled sleeping bag (more about that later), and packed up my gear. It was time to go. An indeterminate number of days lay ahead of us. We planned to camp every night, and we’d make choices about when / where to stop en route. We were going to take it easy. No worries. No rush.

On the train from Manchester to the start line at Morecambe Bay, we remarked on the angry cold front which was rolling in from the North with a vengeance. The forecast gales, rain, and snow seemed determined to ruin our trip. We tried to stay positive, but we couldn’t help letting our moods slump a little.

Looking across to the beautiful hills of Cumbria, we warmed our faces in what we were certain was the last of the sunshine. We took the obligatory cheesy start line photos and pushed off towards Lancaster.

18157070_10155210076772930_3056265565961236169_n18157418_10155210077147930_8077545131865518900_nThe route started with great promise, taking us out of Morecambe on a traffic-free path through the woods where we exchanged pleasantries with the other trail users.

Before long, we were drinking in the views afforded by the River Lune, and I was explaining the very specific purpose of each of the 5 pairs of gloves I’d brought along. In the end, I used only 3 pairs, but I still say the peace of mind was worth the extra grams.

Turning onto quiet country lanes, we saw signs for a ‘Scarecrow Festival’ in a nearby village. Our attention was soon drawn to a new distraction, however, as we pondered the ins and outs of a such a thing. It wasn’t until we rounded the corner proper that we saw the third T in this sign.

Cruel and unusual.

18077084_10155211738857930_8418442425199680209_o

As it turned out, the route would take us directly through Wray, the village hosting the Scarecrow Festival. A kind of eerie quiet held the village, with oversized characters outside almost every dwelling, shop, and pub staring back at us from their straw-filled heads. Everything was represented; from Donald Trump to Donald Duck, The 3 Little Pigs, Death Himself, and even a woman doing Pilates.

Behind each of the increasingly creepy creations lay a tale, which it seemed would be told by the property owner at set times. Sadly, we’d arrived too late, or too early for storytime.

18118862_10155210076637930_1543058072753888808_n18119486_10155209719927930_6196627986041348467_nThe lure of the ‘open for refreshments sign’ was undeniable. Inside the hall, I was delighted to find plastic tablecloths, hot soup, sandwiches, and homemade cakes; all available for tuppence ha’penny, and served up with great humour by the good people of the village. We filled our bellies, and took it as a good sign that we hadn’t burst into flames upon stepping foot into what turned out to be part of the church.

With fear of damnation fading, we purchased rice crispie cakes for the road, and made our polite exit. The bikes we hadn’t bothered to lock up outside were, predictably, unmolested; save for a brusque Cumbrian gent who quizzed Matt about our trip.

We pushed on towards Settle, the caramel from the rice crispie cakes giving us a much needed boost as the sharp climbs continued to come and go. We were both feeling unusually fresh, and our spirits were high from the freedom of the road. The sun continued to shine, and we were grateful for every minute of it.

We coined a new phrase or two on this trip, my favourite of which is a new verb: ‘Contador’. To get out of the saddle, to dance on the pedals with pure contempt for the incline.

“They Contadored their way up that climb.”

And so we did. We Contadored our way up every single one of those climbs on day 1. Almost in sync, we’d shun dropping a cog, grab the hoods, climb out of the saddle, and loudly compliment each other on the chosen gear ratio. Alberto would be so proud.

I knew then, I wasn’t in anything like the shape I used to be, but I knew I was fresh. I knew it was going to be a good trip. And on roads like this, who was I to complain about a little bit of climbing?

17991848_10155209719547930_8556752752530210050_n

Travelling as we were West to East, the stiff Northerly was a biting crosswind, often testing our resolve, and occasionally, testing our bike handling skills.

18119098_10155210076477930_8720194309273788286_nIn Settle, we stopped for a warming cuppa, and made the decision not to camp that night. I could tell Matt was disappointed, as was I.

Picking hail out of my beard, I pointed at the huge black cloud that had been chasing us all afternoon, and Matt promptly booked us into the youth hostel in nearby Malham.

I popped into the local bike shop and had a rather confusing chat about energy drinks. Eventually, they understood what I was looking for, and overcharged me for some horrid lemon flavour powders. When I checked later on, the expiry date was mere weeks away, so I guess there must not be much call for such things in Settle.

18118630_10155210076332930_751002594572818983_nBeyond the Forest of Bowland, we entered the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and the scenery just kept getting better. More Contadoring followed until we reached a plateau promising a spectacular descent into Malham.

As we approached, Matt told me about a natural stone amphitheatre near Malham; and, wouldn’t you know it, our route took us right alongside it.

I tipped my front wheel over the top of the descent, looked back at Matt with a wry smile on my face, and said:

“Be safe, my friend. I’ll see you at the bottom.”

You see, Matt is a lettuce. A great wet lettuce. Or, perhaps, he has a more healthy fear of death than I do. Either way, I like to descend. And I like to descend as fast as possible. Sometimes, that’s too fast. As my Garmin flashed up 41.4 miles per hour, I thought perhaps, here on this single lane road with its stone walls and blind turns, perhaps this is one of those times.

Reluctantly, I pulled on the brakes, and the TRP HY/RD calipers grabbed my brake discs, slowing me down better than I ever imagined they would; especially in these conditions, especially with so much weight on the bike. My confidence only increased, and I continued descending at a frightening pace, braking hard and late into the corners. Until…

18156968_10155210075982930_3863702613662900924_n“What’s that burning smell?” I asked myself.

Taking my eyes off the road for a second, I looked down at my front disc which was getting severely warped by the abuse I was giving it. On the next corner, I pulled the brakes, and nothing happened. My pads had overheated, and I had to plough into a field gate to stop myself.

When a pale-faced Matt joined me some time later, my discs had cooled off, and (almost) straightened out again.

“What’s that burning smell?” He asked me.

The remainder of the descent was, shall we say, interesting? I was using the brakes as little as possible, looking over the walls for oncoming traffic, and apexing every turn, getting as close to the walls as I dared. My brakes were juddering now, sending horrible vibrations through the forks. But, we made it down into Malham without further incident.

Checking into the excellent YHA, we were both taken aback by how they’ve changed since we were young uns. I tell you, I’ve stayed in worse hotels, and paid a whole lot more money. We’d somehow managed to bag an ensuite room to ourselves, in which we argued over who got the bunk bed.

The bikes spent the night securely locked away in a dedicated bike shed, and we headed for the pub. Much hilarity followed, along with more beer, an excellent meal, and a piece of pork pie for dessert. What? I was hongry.

By the time we headed for bed, the outside temperature had dropped to close to freezing, and there had been some small snow flurries. I was glad of our indoor digs, but was eager to camp. I unrolled my sleeping bag onto the lower bunk and slept like a log.

Maybe the weather would be kinder to us the next day…

18157249_10155211730637930_6075236858268737061_n

All photographs courtesy of Northern Walker.

spaceman came travelling

 

There are certain perks in having an addiction to bikes, chief amongst which is also the simplest.

1441436_10152198917554863_2044853909_nOn a crisp, clear Sunday morning you can hop on your bike, head into the hills with good friends and just while away the hours.

This happened. And it was good.

Excused from my usual weekend cake selling duties, I abandoned Karen at the market and with the bike on the roof of the car, I picked up Spanner Monkey and novice fat bike rider Sylwia along with her super-shiny, almost-never-been-ridden Salsa Mukluk and together we headed for Hollingworth Lake where we met up with Rich & Shona before setting off in search of adventure on t’ Pennine Bridleway.

As is often the way with such things, the deceptively flat trail began rising and rising and rising. Soon enough I was in the granny ring, grinding out the relentless climb as Sylwia suffered with her mahoosive tyres and Rich & Shona made an utter mockery of us both by storming up the hill on their single speeds like it was nothing at all.

1472910_10152198917169863_51681481_nThe fleet was certainly turning heads. I was riding my Surly Troll in its usual off-road setup with suspension fork and less than ideal tyres. Sylwia was tearing up the trail with her brand spangley new burnt orange Salsa Mukluk, Shona was rocking a beautiful titanium something-or-other with flat bars, hydraulic disc brakes and well, not a lot else. And Rich? Well, despite striking a rather camp pose, Rich had brought along a steel Jeff Jones Spaceframe & Truss fork.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fatSet up ‘half fat’, the Jones was running a 29″ wheel in the rear wrapped in (I think) a Surly Knard tyre and up front was a true fat bike wheel & tyre. The awesome stopping power was delivered by Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes and minimalist Paul brake levers. The drivetrain couldn’t have been simpler: one ring up front and one at the back with a chain inbetween. And the bars? Jones Loop Bars of course.

And then it happened. As a red faced Sylwia got her breath back and I cursed my lousy tyres, Rich came over and nicked my Troll. Git.

As I watched him pedal away, tyres hopelessly skidding in the deep slimy mud, I threw my leg over the Jones and pointed it towards the horizon.

It took me a while to get used to the relatively tall front end and what I thought was a bizarre saddle angle, but a few hundred metres later and I was settling in. Maybe it wasn’t the right size frame for me but I did find the whole thing a little bit short in the top tube and for my taste, I would’ve liked a couple less spacers under the stem. That said, the Loop Bars have never made more sense; on the Troll they still feel super wide but they fit the Jones perfectly. On a short road section I could even get down into the elusive beard-resting-on-the-bars aero position.

Jeff says: A Jones is a high-performance non-suspended bicycle. The ride is both efficient and comfortable and the handling is immediate and assured. With the default choice for off-road cycling nowadays seemingly suspension before anything else it might seem odd to ride rigid but that is the last thing my bicycles are – the geometry and construction provide an extremely satisfying and direct connection between the rider, the trail and the bike. It’s pure cycling and a lot of fun.”

I tend to agree. The bike felt responsive, sharp and direct but not harsh or jarring, even on the really rough stuff. The full effort my puny thigh muscles put into the pedals was instantly delivered to the rear wheel and, even with that gigantic tyre, the front end felt precise and controllable.

Before long and we turned onto a steep gravel climb. Once again Shona & Rich took off and monstered their way to the top as Sylwia and I took turns losing traction, losing balance, running out of strength and running out of talent.

I couldn’t tell you what the gear ratio was on the Jones but for me in that moment on that climb it was just that little bit too tall. Getting out of the saddle and giving it everything I had, I managed to lumber the bike up to speed and get enough momentum together to keep going until I hit the next patch of gravel or fell into the next rut or was forced to stop for breath. Eventually Sylwia gave up and started pushing but not before singing ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe to me as I nommed half an emergency banana and gave it every little bit I had left to crest the hill.

Despite being so high, that was the low point.

After the climb came the flat. And with the flat came a narrow track on a ridge, mossy drystone wall to my left and jeebus-that’d-hurt-if-I-fell-down-it drop to my right.

“Don’t you have any proper mud tyres???” Rich complained from behind me as the Troll refused to grip anything. “I’ve got some mud tyres. I’ll give you the damn things if you promise never to lend me this bike with these tyres on again!!!”. Then, as some kind of sick punishment, I finished sniggering about the awesome mud-shedding ability of the tyres on the Jones and the front wheel snatched in a rut, throwing me and the bike towards the perilous drop.

Somehow, some way, the thick tufts of grass managed to catch the bike and break the worst of my fall. Clinging on for dear life and listening to Rich laughing at me I realised just how close I came to a really horrible accident.

Salsa Mukluk 2With that unpleasantness out of the way, we stopped for some emergency chocolate, a photo opportunity and some downright childish jumping over a mound of earth.

Seeing just how much fun Sylwia was having, I simply couldn’t resist taking her up on her offer to swap bikes. So, I handed over the Jones, watched Rich skid all over the trail and embarked on my first true fat bike ride ever.

Salsa Mukluk 1Obviously, it was a million sizes too small for me so I had to stay out of the saddle and just pedal like I was riding a kid’s BMX. In fact, that’s exactly what it felt like, the best, most fun BMX in the world. In fact, I yelled “THIS IS LIKE RIDING THE MOST FUN BMX IN THE WOR…”

…and then it happened.

Like finding a worm in your half eaten apple. Like realising there’s a spider creeping up your arm. Like a rodeo bull throwing a cowboy across the arena. For reasons that escape me, Sylwia’s Mukluk suddenly realised some big hairy guy was riding her and she threw me to the ground in spectacular style. Gracefully, the Mukluk executed a perfect landing next to me and just sat there laughing at my misfortune along with my so-called friends and the walkers on the trail.

Oddly enough, Sylwia came and rescued the Mukluk, Rich rescued the Jones and I was reunited with my Troll for the final stretch of the ride.

Bruised and battered, I gingerly made my way down the trail only to find Shona stopped and off her bike (this almost never happens); turns out the Mukluk had struck again and thrown Sylwia into some rocks. Luckily she escaped with only minor cuts and bruises but it was a healthy reminder of just how careful you need to be on unpredictable trails (no matter how big your tyres are).

We all struggled with the last section, even Rich had to put a foot down as the Jones sunk into a bog but we all made it safely back to Hollingworth Lake, heralded down the final super fast descent by Sylwia crowing like a demented cockerel. Bless.

You know when your face hurts from smiling and laughing so much? Yep, it was one of those days.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fat 2

unloveable

 

I should say right away, this music video is a little bit… challenging. Probably not suitable for work, certainly not suitable for children and is likely to cause offence.

But hey, it’s my blog and it’s a great song so it’s staying up.

Last time we were doing science, maths, Latin and generally making up new words. Tonight’s post contains graphic images of engineering, detailed descriptions of science and flagrant use of mathematics. Oh and that scary video. You have been warned.

BEHOLD: The Roadgre.

Surly Ogre 1Or, some of it at least. No sooner had I got the frame home from the shop and I was already throwing the wheels on to get an idea of how the finished article might look.

PDW payload pannier rackThe swoopy looking pannier rack was a bit of an impulse buy as I handed over an envelope stuffed with cash for the frameset. It’s a Portland Design Works (PDW) Payload and it comes complete with a rather fetching bamboo deck to appeal to your inner hipster. Time will tell how well it performs in the cargo carrying stakes (it’s rated to an impressive 35kg / 77lbs) and I’m most interested to see how the double-ply bamboo will stand up to Manchester’s wet and grimy back streets. In the meantime, the cool factor is off the scale and you’ll be unsurprised to learn I’ve been scouring the interwebs for matching bamboo mudguards ever since I first laid eyes on it.

The wheels are Shimano WH-S500, 700c diameter and 17mm wide; quite a bit narrower than the usual 29er offering you’ll find on most Ogres out there but still recommended for tyres up to 37c wide. Until the ice starts settling in, I’ll be running a set of Halo Twin Rail dual compound tyres (700×38) which fit perfectly. In fact, I’ll wager those skinny hoops would quite happily carry a much wider tyre without any problems. When the temperature really starts to drop, I’ll swap over to a set of Schwalbe ice spike tyres (also 700×38); I’ve never ridden with spikes before so that’ll be an interesting experiment.

The front hub comes equipped with a Shimano dynamo hub which I’ll be tying into front and rear lamps with built in standlights just as soon as I’ve settled on a pair with a good balance of features, affordability and lack of ugliness.

The rear hub is the real reason I ended up splurging on these wheels in the first place, it is of course a Shimano Alfine 8 speed internal gear hub (IGH). The IGH is by no means a new thing, in fact just about everyone (whether they cycle or not) has probably heard of the legendary Sturmey Archer 3 speed IGH. When looked after well, those old beauties will probably outlast the frames they’re attached to and even some of the people riding the bikes – it’s no surprise that even today the really good ones from the 1960s and 1970s can be found all over the world, turning out mile after mile of weather-proof, tickticktickticktickticktick commuting.

Surly Ogre Shimano Alfine 8 20t cogDo a little research and you’ll discover the woes of the 1980s and 1990s Sturmey hubs when it’s fair to say the company wasn’t exactly at the top of its game. Happily (and with considerable help from Sunrace) modern Sturmey Archer hubs are as good as, if not better than, the classic originals. Essentially, the Alfine 8 speed I settled on is cut from the same cloth; the internal gearing is based on the same basic yet horribly complicated looking principles and, unlike a traditional cassette & derailleur setup, most of the important moving parts are safely sealed away inside the hub, happily swimming around in grease, shielded from the elements.

Front and rear hubs are both compatible with Shimano’s Centrelock disc brake system which is previously unseen and untested here at lifeinthecyclelane so keep an eye out for a report on how they compare to the more common 6 bolt mounting most systems use these days.

Shimano Alfine chainsetAs with all Shimano gear, the wheels, cassette mounting kit and cog all come with excellent instructions in a variety of languages; there are even easy to follow pictures if you get tired of searching for the English section.

A word to the wise however: the neatly assembled hub you see above didn’t come about by accident. Nu-uh. First, there is mention of installing a dust cover which, as it turns out, I didn’t need to fit at all but I only realised this after far too many minutes of trying to make something fit that simply was never going to. Happily, once I’d realised the error of my ways and thrown the stupid mangled piece of plastic in the bin, the cog slipped beautifully into place and was held in place with a thumb-torturingly tight snap ring. A real pain to get seated but once it’s on, the cog is firmly snugged up against the hub body. Next comes the weird, cheap plastic feeling cassette joint which requires a little bit of lining up before a so-simple-it-seems-wrong lockring is clicked into place with whatever remains of your bleeding stumps and hey presto it’s all ready to go!

With the wheels finally put together and mounted on the frame, I turned my attention to mouting the matching Shimano Alfine S500 chainset. The external bottom bracket cups went in like a dream and, as I admired the beautiful mirrored black finish and slid the bottom bracket axle through, that horrible realisation washed over me…

Here’s an experiment for you. Head over to Google Images (other high quality search engines are available) and type in “Surly Ogre Alfine 8” and you’ll find loads of ’em out there with the same rear hub as mine. Now, try “Surly Ogre Alfine Chainset” and you won’t find a single one. I didn’t think much of it at the time but I now know why you don’t see the S500 chainset on the Ogre…

Surly Ogre Shimano Alfine ChainsetSurly Ogre Shimano Alfine Chainset Bottom BracketThe Ogre has a 73mm wide bottom bracket shell and it turns out the Alfine S500 chainset is only suitable for 68mm bottom bracket shells… that’ll explain why the chainring is about to foul the chainstay and there’s still a good 5mm of axle yet to install.

So yeah, whilst fatties might fit fine, what would appear to be a completely logical choice of chainset simply won’t.

Normally, I’d chalk this down to my not doing enough research before buying the parts but at no point in the product description or the multi-lingual instruction pamphlet does it say the chainset is only suitable for 68mm shells. What’s even more strange is that all other Shimano chainsets I’ve come across with external bottom bracket cups are suitable for both 68mm and 73mm shells, you just use or discard a 5mm spacer accordingly.

So. If you have a 68mm wide bottom bracket shell and you’re looking for a 39tooth single speed chainset, drop me a line at jimmy.phoenix@yahoo.co.uk

For now, it’s back to the drawing board for me as I try to figure out which chainset I now want to use and I’m still waiting for my Jtek bar end shifter to arrive.

In the meantime, I’m sorry to say that the surprisingly disappointing Shimano S500 single speed chainset will be the first entry into the ‘kit I hate’ section.

that’s not my name

 

A little something for the young people to listen to this evening while the rest of us break out our slippers, cuddle up in front of the fire and settle down for a story from the archives of:

Ω What I’ve been reading Wednesdays Ω
(or whatever day it happens to be when I’m posting this)

Recently, I paid a visit to the rather excellent Northern Walker blog to read about recent developments with the only other Surly Troll I know of in Northern England. I’m assured there are loads of others but I’ve certainly never seen one… now I come to mention it, despite us living relatively close to each other and frequenting the same bike shop on an all too regular basis, I never even seen this one in the flesh err… steel.

But I digress.

Originally christened ‘Tango’, the Northern Walker’s Troll has recently been treated to a whole load of new shiny including the eye-wateringly expensive but (according to what I’ve read) the-very-best-money-can-buy 14 speed Rolhoff internal gear hub. Behold: ‘The Trolloff’.

Dutifully obeying the n + 1 equation, next up on the Northern Walker shopping list (after some suitably distracting shiny for the missus, no doubt) will be a Surly ECR with the considerably cheaper Shimano Alfine internal gear hub. You can read more about how to pronounce ‘Alfine’ and various musings on said hub here.

During such musings, I somehow decided it would be a good idea to buy a set of spare wheels from our freaklishly tall friend and we arranged a secret rendezvous somewhere in t’ North whilst I was on punishment duty selling delicious cakes to the masses from the incredibly excellent Karen’s Baking Room.

You of course know me as Jimmy Phoenix of lifeinthecyclelane fame but I’m sorry to say my real name is much less interesting… I am known in some circles as ‘The Drizzle Monkey’ (don’t ask) and at work I’m all too often referred to as ‘Slave Boy’ (no really, don’t ask)… but whatever my name actually is, what I did to our friend who so kindly came all the way down to deliver some obscenely cheap wheels to me is simply unforgivable.

Yep, I overcharged him for cake. Massively.

Later that same day, I knowingly sold non-gluten free, sugar laden cake to a celiac and a diabetic.

I also talked an impressionable young lady into buying a whole load more cake than she wanted or needed. And convinced her she was getting a killer deal. Which she wasn’t.

I am SO going to hell.

Anyhoo… all this talk of new shiny has gotten me all itchy and that vacuum in the workshop which I abhor so really needs to be filled. Soon.

Until yesterday, my PayPal balance was really quite healthy and then, in a moment of sheer indulgence last night, I blew the lot on (almost) all of the parts I’m going to need for my next bike build:

  • Shimano Alfine 8 speed internal gear hub built into a 700c wheel and small parts kit
  • Shimano Alfine dynamo disc hub built into a 700c wheel
  • 160mm rear and 203mm front Shimano centre lock brake discs
  • Shimano Alfine 39t chainset and 20t rear cog
  • Jtek bar end shifter

Lying around in the workshop I have:

  • Cane Creek SCR-5 & crosstop brake levers
  • On One Midge bars
  • Avid BB5 road disc brake calipers
  • Brooks saddle
  • Schwalbe spiked winter tyres
  • Various other bits and bobs

All of which will be bolted onto an army green 29er steel frame with rigid fork, more braze ons than you can shake a stick at, horizontal dropouts and dedicated BOB / Surly trailer mounts…

Oh yes I did.

I’ve got my name on what I’m reliably told is the last 18″ Army Green Surly Ogre in the UK.

There are only 2 problems:

  1. It’s currently built up as a demo bike in the bike shop, and
  2. Because of my recent splurging, I have plenty of boxes of bits on the way but insufficient ‘spare’ money to buy the sodding frameset!

I suppose I’ll just have to get out there and sell my body more cake.

In any event, before too long I shall be inviting you to behold ‘The Roadgre’.

See what I did there?

Hello?

Is this thing on?

nothing compares 2 u

 

3020_71527479862_5268368_nAs time goes by, new people come into your life; some stay for a while, others only for a fleeting moment. A precious few (for me, at least) stick around forever.

The same (again, for me, at least) is true of bikes. Just like the various people I’ve come across have taught me a lot about life, love and loathing, the bikes I’ve owned have taught me so much about being fat, being fit and going fast.

Interestingly, I don’t remember my first love… she might’ve had brown hair… maybe… was she the one with a VW Beetle? Were we happy together? Did we have plans for the future? I honestly couldn’t tell you… for one reason or another, I’ve blocked out those memories or they simply weren’t important enough for me to retain.

3020_71527364862_6393263_n 3020_71527369862_3687761_nAsk me about my first bike build and I can tell you everything you want to know! She was an orange Specialized Hardrock with Marzocchi MZ Comp suspension forks, a 27 speed Shimano Deore drivetrain and Avid Single Digit v-brakes. Followed quite closely by my second love, ‘the Race Face bike’, also with Marzocchi forks, Shimano XT drivetrain, Avid BBDB disc brakes, Race Face cranks, saddle, seatpost, stem and bars. It had Odyssey Sharkbite pedals, Halo Knobbler tyres and was just an awesome machine.

The Race Face bike eventually got broken down and largely sold off in parts (you’ll recognise the cranks on my current Surly Troll) but I kept the orange Hardrock for many years as a spare bike for my friend to ride around whenever he came to visit.

33932_444266934862_5527787_n I forget exactly why but I ended up getting rid of the original Marzocchi fork at some point and rebuilt the bike with… another Marzocchi fork! But, this time, it was also sporting a whiter than white Charge x Wiggle Spoon saddle and matching handlebar grips which stayed white for at least 10 seconds. In this guise, my fondest memory is watching it pull a spectacular 6 foot long, 2 wheel drift across a frozen wooden bridge on an equally frozen winter’s morning, deep in the woods of Cannock Chase on a deserted trail in the hands of my good friend.

6770_115343424862_5312862_nIn the meantime, I had a foray into the weird world of single speeding and built up the Hardrock with a rigid Onza Lite Guy fork, 26 x 1″ Specialized All Condition slicks and flat bars. That was fun!

Why am I boring you with this orange tinted nostalgia? Well, unlike whatshername, I was decidedly reluctant to part with my beloved Hardrock. She taught me so much and gave me so many miles of happiness… and yet, today I boxed her up, taped the lid down and sent her off for new adventures somewhere unpronounceable in Aberdeenshire.

It broke my heart to see her go and the PayPal boost I received in return only eased the pain a little… at least up there she’ll get to see some great countryside and I’m sure she’ll make some Scotchman very happy indeed.

Sigh… time for a new MTB build, I think.

girls, girls, girls

 

Being the lazy, no good civil servant I am, I haven’t been at work since some time back in late December; even then, I wasn’t really working… In any event, I’ve completely lost track of who I am and what day it is but those in the know tell me it’s Thursday today which can mean only one thing!

Yes, it’s time for yet another round of:

Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!

Please, try to contain your excitement.

As ever, I’ve been inundated with questions and keywords this week and here are my favourites:

  • “will a washer stop axle sliding in horizontal dropouts?”
  • “can you fit a BOB Yak to a bike with disc brakes?”
  • “do bullhorn bars fit any fixie?”
  • “Schwalbe Kojak tyre pressure”
  • “Surly Troll image”
  • “leather girl on bike porn”
    • Wait. What?
  • “spandex bodysuit see through wet messy”
    • Dude, you’re clearly looking in the wrong place.

A fairly obscure selection this week, I’m sure you’ll agree! Perhaps it’s high time I went back to work…

In other news, keep your eyes peeled over the next few days for a review of my custom wheelset I had built by the good people over at Keep Pedalling, Manchester.

blue

Happy Thursday everyone! It’s time for our weekly instalment of ‘random things people were searching for when they landed here trivia’.

  • Our first contestant this week “can’t fit mudguard to rigid fork”
    • Oh dear, that’s not good… I wish I could give you some specific advice but it very much depends on why you can’t fit your mudguards; it certainly can be a tricky job, particularly if you’ve never done it before and it’s certainly hampered in many cases if you use disc brakes and / or a front pannier rack. Really, the best advice I can give you is to take your bike and the errant mudguards to your local friendly independent bike shop (no, Halfords doesn’t count) and ask them to help you out.
  • Our next special guest this week tells me “my brake lever won’t fit my bullhorn bars fixie”
    • Firstly, don’t call me fixie. Now, the reason your brake lever doesn’t fit your bars is either 1) the internal diameter of your bars simply isn’t big enough; this is rare but it tends to happen with chopped and flipped vintage road bars and modern bar end brake levers – a practice I simply cannot condone. Or, 2) you’re trying to fit a flat bar style brake lever to your bullhorn bars; there are several reasons why this won’t work which are discussed here.
  • Finally this week, we have the somewhat obscure “surly blue ortlieb orange”
    • I can only assume you are considering putting orange Ortlieb panniers on a blue Surly. Please, I beg of you, do not do this. I don’t think I can think of a worse colour combination! Having said that, it would certainly be a unique combination and my opinions should be no barrier to you putting those two opposite colours together… *shudder*

Well, that’s all we have time for this week, dear readers; tune in next week for more of the same!

 

ice ice baby

 

It was always going to happen, I suppose.

Sooner or later you have to crash every bike you own. I remember my dad once swearing me off motorbikes by telling me “It’s not a question of if you come off, it’s when and how badly”; I suppose the same could be said for bicycles.

Since you’re reading this, it means I’ve finally managed to crash the Troll. And, since I’m able to type this, it means the crash wasn’t too bad at all; it certainly could’ve been an awful lot worse.

You see, it’s been rather chilly up here in t’ North for… well, forever, but particularly so the last couple of weeks. Has this stopped me cycling? Am I some kind of lettuce? Do I only get my bike out when it’s warm, dry and breathless out there? Hell no! I ride all year round in whatever weather happens to be out there.

I will admit to slowing down a little and not hammering through corners quite as much as I normally would in this colder weather with the roads as greasy and unpredictable as they are. Even still, I just about survived a two wheel drift scary enough to stop the traffic a few days ago; that was a close one.

And so, after mincing all the way to work this morning, dodging white lines, shiny manhole covers, tram tracks and hundreds of Mancs, I made it to within 100m of my office door. I was in the bloody car park leaning into a right hand turn I must’ve taken a thousand times when I suddenly realised the bike was still going forward…

I slid with balletic grace for a good 2 feet before the rear wheel also lost traction on the ice and I hit the concrete; stupidly, I put my hand out to break my fall which sent daggers of pain right up my arm all the way to my shoulder blade. As I lay on the ground, guessing how many bones I’d broken, the kindly cyclist following me in picked up the Troll and checked I was OK before heading off to complain to the building managers about the lack of grit.

After I’d hobbled down to the nearest NHS walk in centre, I was assured the only damage done was a bruised elbow and matching ego. Having broken a collarbone before, I know all too well just how lucky I was today…

It won’t stop me cycling and neither should it stop you but it just goes to show you can’t let your concentration slip for a second in icy conditions.

 

Anyway, it’s Thursday again so it’s time for my new feature: ‘Stuff people have been searching for when they landed here’. Catchy title, eh?

  • First up this week: “fitting SKS mudguards to Merida bike disc brakes”
    • Well, it very much depends on whether your bike has mudguard eyes; if it does, full wrap mudguards like SKS Commuter may work but your disc calipers are likely to cause interference issues. I’d recommend having a look at SKS Beavertail; I’ve used the regular ones (good for narrower tyres) and the XL ones like I had fitted to my Merida (good for wider tyres). As they mount just from the brake bridge, you shouldn’t have any problems with your discs and you’ll still get plenty of coverage.
  • Who’s next? Ah yes: “Marzocchi fork makes a dinging noise”
    • Dude, that’s not good. Get it to a bike shop right away and no, don’t ride it there. Having said that, it could just be a stray brake cable knocking against the fork legs or, if you’re running disc brakes, they may be adjusted too close which could also be causing a sound like that. Hopefully, it’s not a small crack about to turn into a face plant inducing failure. Best of luck!
  • Time for one more? Well, how could I resist this one: “my tracksuit is made”
    • Err… good. Yeah. Mad fer it. etc. etc.

So there you go; I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s insight into just some of the visitors to life in the cycle lane – tune in next week for more!

Oh, and stay off the ice!

watched you fall

 

Well, it’s been a mixed few days. I’m still suffering from deep post-holiday blues, I didn’t get the promotion I wanted so badly and I haven’t done any cycling for about 10 days; all of this makes me somewhat grumpy.

On the plus side, the guinea pigs came back to us today from their little holiday at a friend’s house, I picked up my Surly Troll frameset yesterday and had planned in today to get most (if not all) of the building of said Troll completed.

It seems the universe had other ideas.

First up: fitting the rear mudguard. Now, this may seem like a strange thing to do what with mudguards technically being one of those ‘finishing touch’ type things but (and here’s a free tip for you) getting your mudguards loosely fitted before even thinking about putting your wheels anywhere near the frame will save you plenty of time in the long run. Fancy another free tip? Make sure you clean out the threads of any mounting points you’ll be using later. Mine happened to be filled with overspray from the powdercoating and whilst I could have just forced the bolt in there, that runs the risk of cross threading the hole, damaging the bolt, damaging the frame and causing whatever it is you’re bolting on to fall off at some inopportune moment; again, taking care of this whilst the frame is all stripped down and you’ve got ready access to everthing will make your life considerably less stressful.

If you don’t own a tap and die set, you should go out and buy one first thing tomorrow. Buy a good one made from tungsten carbide or similar; it’ll be worth every single penny. Oh, and when you’re out there putting threads on everything in sight, please remember to clean any excess metal shards / paint from the tap / die after each use and applying a little grease before starting will make the cutting easier and help prevent corrosion later on.

With the threads all cleaned out, I fixed the mudguard in place with the lower mounting point at the chainstay bridge (the one I won’t be able to reach once the wheel’s in place) and loosely tightened the others; throwing the rear wheel in for a test fit, I could then adjust the gap between the fully inflated tyre and mudguard with the greatest of ease. And, now it’s fitted, it’s fitted and there it shall stay evermore; I can get on with all the other stuff and not have to worry about any access issues.

Wanting to get the frame into rolling chassis, the next step was fitting the fork which can be a job all its own. My advice here is that if you don’t know what you’re doing and / or you don’t have the right tools, just don’t attempt it. A poorly fitted fork / crown race / headset will cause a nasty accident; it’s not a question of if, it’s more when and how badly you’ll be hurt. My fork here is suffering from some really poorly finished excess paint which (if I’d left it alone) would’ve ended up causing the aforementioned poorly fitted crown race and associated unpleasantness. A little attention to detail with a carefully handled flat-blade screwdriver and some sandpaper took care of it and the Cane Creek headset all went together beautifully.

With the fork fitted, my attention turned to fitting the front wheel which again seems like a good idea but don’t forget to clean out all the threads for any pannier / mudguard mounting points and get the disc fitted to the wheel and the brake caliper fitted to the fork first. While I was at it, I stuck the rear brake caliper on too along with the rear derailleur, bottom bracket and chainset. Now, there’s quite a lot involved in fitting a bottom bracket and chainset (and disc brakes too) so I might do a feature on those in a later post.

Anyway, with all that fitted, I was getting towards the end of the box of available parts so spent quite a lot of time fabricating custom brackets to fit the front mudguard on the strange fork around the disc brake caliper and threw a temporary stem on to give a good idea of what the completed bike might look like. It’s coming along quite nicely and hopefully, the remaining parts will arrive tomorrow so it’ll be ready for a weekend shakedown.

Very shortly after I took this picture, a gust of wind blew the bike over which means the right hand side of the fork is already sporting considerable damage to the paintwork… Needless to say, damaging a brand new bike before I’d even finished building it didn’t do much good for my mental state so (after taking out my frustrations on some inanimate objects) I gave up for the day.

Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

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!!!