mr postman

 

There’s a rather exciting development waiting in the wings here at lifeinthecyclelane HQ… I’m bursting to tell you all about it but it’s not all finalised yet so you’ll just have to remain on the edge of your seats holding your breath for a little while longer…

You will be familiar with the equation for working out the appropriate number of bikes to own:

n + 1
(where n = the number of bikes you currently own)

In the last few weeks, n has been in steady decline. Now, I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking this is a bad thing. You’re thinking several things must be wrong. You’re thinking “why are we doing maths?”. You’re thinking Karen’s finally had enough of all these bikes, killed me dead, given my collection away and taken over my blog.

Fear ye not. I am alive and well (a bit sniffly, but generally OK) and the only thing being killed off is my collection of bikes. This, believe it or not, is a good thing.

You thought the maths was bad? Prepare yourselves for some science!

“Horror vacui (Nature abhors a vacuum)”

Interestingly enough, I abhor a vacuum too. I’m sure we’ve got one in the cupboard somewhere but it’s far from my favourite household appliance.

Nature contains no vacuums because the denser surrounding material continuum would immediately fill the rarity of an incipient void. Or, if there is a space with nothin’ in it, somethin’ will fill it.

Here at the HQ, the void has appeared as a result of several projects finally making their way off to new homes:

425348_10150673432819863_784234862_8829403_132888241_nFirst, it was my beloved Falcon Panther 10 speed road bike which I rescued from the scrapheap. 27″ wheels, bullhorn bars, a Selle San Marco Regal saddle and full friction downtube shifters. That was a fun bike to ride! It’s currently somewhere in London being ridden around by a guy who always wanted one when he was a kid.

Raleigh Compact 3 speed folding bikeNext up was this quirky little Raleigh Shopper 3 speed folding bike. A major diversion from the usual things you see roll out of the workshop but it was heaps of fun all the same. All she needed was a fresh set of tyres, a bit of adjustment of the brakes & gears and she was off to Merseyside. No more sitting about in a dusty old shed, she can now been found pootling up and down the docks, transporting the lady who bought her back to her childhood.

Carrera Epic flat barsMore recently, I shocked the world with the pink & green madness that was the Carrera Epic flat bar road bike build. Deliberately different, deliberately challenging, I wanted this bike to turn heads and turn heads it did! Selling it proved to be quite the challenge in the end and when it finally did go, the guy buying it for his girlfriend asked me to include the original black saddle… Shame, I liked it with the pink one! Anyway, if you see it being ridden around London, do drop me a line and let me know which one it’s got on.

994151_10151707854699863_1000163482_nSince then, I ended up adopting Penelope here. Since taking this photo, I’ve swapped out the saddle, given her flat bars, new brake levers, new cables all around and fitted 2.2″ DMR Moto RT tyres. She loves hitting the back streets of Salford for a quick, hard ride but I just can’t devote enough attention to her since setting the Troll up as a mountain bike. Earlier today, I sold her to another guy in London (seems to be a dangerous shortage of cool bikes down there) so she’ll be off in search of new adventures down there in a few days’ time.

1236615_10151932228879863_88922407_nA little while ago, I bagged a Pashley Millenium workhorse, formerly spending its days delivering post around Manchester. I had all sorts of plans… I was going to have it blasted and powdercoated, I was going to give it a set of moustache bars, a top tube mounted 3 speed shifter, some vintage lamps and it was going to be my new winter commuter. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get on with the uber relaxed geometry so, I put it up for sale. A mere couple of hours ago, I was lifting it into the car boot of its proud new owner. And the best part? Ey, when he were a lad, it were all fields around St Helens and all his mates got racers but his parents couldn’t afford one so they bought him a £10 ex-postie bike from a 2nd hand shop. When he saw this one on eBay, he just had to have it because it reminds him of the one he had all those years ago.

Sure, I make a little bit of money on these bikes every now and again but there’s just nothing like the smile people get when they pick up something cool and it’s always nice to know it’ll be ridden and appreciated.

The resulting vacuum in the lifeinthecyclelane HQ workshop will soon be filled, have no fear. This next one is gonna be all kinds of cool… I CAN’T WAIT!!!

with arms wide open

 

“Hooning” the Young People call it, I believe.

Ey, when I were a lad, it were all fields around ‘ere and, what’s more, I’d hop on my BMX, push it to the top of the steepest hill I could find and go hooning down it with wild abandon and total disregard for my own safety. As I recall, I never wore a helmet and never hurt myself.

Now I’m a grumpy old man, I have to put quite a bit more thought into it before I go hooning anywhere. After all, I did once manage to break my collarbone when I rode head first into a gigantic steel post that’d been there forever. Another time, I inexplicably woke up on my back in a ditch, my bike up in the air still clipped onto my shoes, my ribs broken and my so-called-friend half laughing, half worried about me back up on the road.

As I reported on Monday, this week’s escape from the office was clearly earmarked for non-stop mountain biking. Of course, as is the way with such things, I ended up wasting spending 2 precious days doing work stuff and another day doing chores (there’s only so much anyone can get away with, I guess). I did manage to squeeze in a trip to the bike shop and a few miles exploring the local lanes but the excitement all happened in t’ hills around t’ Chorley about 20 miles north of t’ Manchester.

Surly Troll Rivington Pike 1 Surly Troll Rivington Pike 3 Surly Troll Rivington Pike 2 Monday was really a bit of a shakedown. My Surly Troll was devoid of its usual rigid fork, racks, luggage & road tyres and instead was sporting a Fox F100 suspension fork, 26×2.1″ Continental Speed King tyres and, well, not a lot else.

After abandoning the car somewhere in deepest, darkest Rivington, I basically spent a couple of hours getting well and truly lost, fiddling with the adjustable fork, trying to sort out the shifting issues I was having and dusting off my extremely rusty mountain biking skills.

The majority of my day was spent climbing, climbing, climbing so there was sadly no hooning to be done until right at the end of the ride. The scenery was pretty spectacular though.

When it finally came time to find my way back down to the car (it was somewhere down there by the reservoir), it seemed the perfect opportunity to give my new Jeff Jones Loop handlebars their first proper off-road test. You can check out the various hand positions they offer and the eye-watering price tags on the excellent Jeff Jones Bikes website.

Pointing the front wheel down the hill, I shifted my hands to the very outside of the bars, one finger on each brake lever (the rest firmly wrapped around the grips) and unleashed my inner BMX riding child. I shudder to think what speed I was going at but it certainly wasn’t the “safe and controlled pace” recommended in the brochure. The fork was doing everything it could to absorb the massive impact from each of the equally massive rocks it hit, my water bottles threatened to rattle loose from their cages and as I neared the bottom of the descent, I wondered whether my brakes were going to stop me in time.

The front wheel hit a particularly large rock and as I gazed down at the approaching trail, I wondered just how the ambulance would reach me. Happily, with all the extra stability and leverage the bars gave me, I stayed upright and the Troll just wanted to go faster. Moments later the front wheel dropped into a rut, caught the sides and again I was wondering how I’d look after facial reconstructive surgery.

The only thing you can do in that situation is let go of the brakes, get your weight back over the rear wheel, close your eyes and hope. “FASTER, FASTER, FASTER!!!” the Troll kept screaming and somehow we made it to the bottom in one piece.

I’d never been so happy to see a Vauxhall in all my life.

Friday morning, I was a determined man. I woke up and ate the contents of my fridge. I packed a bag with a couple of bananas, some malt loaf and a lump of Kendal Mint Cake. I grabbed a MUCH better map and set off to ride the curiously named Anglezarke Loop. All of it, this time.

Monday’s shakedown had taught me several things:

  • it might be only 30 miles but at least half of them are climbing very steep hills and almost all of them are on very rough trails
  • [this] man cannot survive on very little food
  • bigger is better

I made the decision to swap out the 26×2.1″ Contis for the only bigger tyres I had lying around the garage: a 26×2.4″ Maxxis Holy Roller for the rear and a 26×2.4″ DMR Moto RT for the front. Not exactly off road tyres but I was guaranteed good drive and sticky rubber on the rear and at least some directional knobblies to help keep the front going where I pointed it.

For reasons that escape me, I decided to ignore the “mountain bikers may find it easier to ride the route in an anti-clockwise direction” advice, parked at Anglezarke Reservoir and set off in a decidedly clockwise direction.

On the short road section, I was instantly glad of my tyre choice as, despite the increased volume, I had considerably less rolling resistance. As I hit the trails and unlocked the suspension, traction on the wet, slippery rocks was spectacular but in the deep, squelchy mud, it got a little skittery.

Anglezarke Loop 1 Jones Loop barsBefore long, the anti-clockwise advisory became clear. Heading this way, it’s uphill for what? 70 – 80% of the ride. At least that’s how it felt.

The loop is a mixture of very short tarmac road sections, bridleways, forest tracks, disused packhorse tracks and desolate moorland. This picture simply doesn’t do justice to the incline or the severity of the surface. Take one hand off the bars or one eye off the trail at your own peril. Believe it or not, this trail is actually on the map as a road. It’s got a name and everything.

Anglezarke Loop 2My Maxxis Holy Roller rear tyre was doing a truly spectacular job at finding grip on the loose, wet rocks and even the carpet of rotting leaves didn’t provoke any slippery moments. Up front, the DMR Moto RT (both tyres running at 40psi, by the way) was taking the bike exactly where I pointed it with the legendary Fox F100 fork soaking up the relentless impact from the trail. A previous rider had lost his water bottle (and cage!) when the welds finally let go under all the punishment.

Anglezarke Loop 3About half way round the 30 mile route, I made the mistake of stopping on a climb for a nature break and to nom a banana. The incline was so severe and the surface so rough, I really struggled to get back on the bike and start pedalling without losing my balance.

Once I did get going again, I shifted my weight all the way forward, grabbing the loop on the front of my Jones Bars which really helped keep the front wheel down as I ground out the remainder of the climb in the lowest gear I could find.

A few slurps of energy drink later and I was rolling onto the beautiful false flat proffered by Darwen Moor. See that big hill hiding behind the sign? Yeah, the car’s over the other side of that somewhere.

Anglezarke Loop 4I hadn’t seen another human being for over an hour and now my only company was the occassional disgruntled looking sheep. As I reached the end of the moor, I had to chase them away to keep them from escaping through the gate with me.

Another short tarmac section and I finally met some other humans. Oddly enough, all men. All just kinda hanging around on the trail. All looking a bit shifty. A few heading into the woods. A few giving me the ‘I wasn’t doing anything’ nonchalant look as I rolled by, checking my map.

Into civilisation, I rolled. Through a nice little park. Down a wrong turn into a very unfriendly looking farmyard. Quickly back down the lane. Up, up, up. Again the wrong way and this time onto open access land, flagrantly cycling on a pedestrians only footpath. Horizontal rain lashing my face as I crested an obscene climb and played with the traffic. Off in the distance I thought I saw Rivington Pike.

“Not far now, keep pushing. Not far now.” I lied to myself out loud.

Another huge slurp of energy drink and I hammered onto a bridleway I actually knew.

“COME ON! KEEP PUSHING!” I yelled to myself on the final hideous climb. Again, out loud.

With Rivington Pike at my side, I gazed down at the reservoirs, knowing the car was only a few miles away and all I had to do was survive the descent.

Anglezarke Loop 5Wild-eyed, hepped up on energy drink and malt loaf, I stuck it in the big ring, pointed it down the hill and hooned all the way down. I got out of the saddle, shifted my weight back, threw my arms as wide as they’d go on the bars and just went with it. By the time I’d made it to the bottom, the combination of rain, sand and abuse had eaten my rear brake pads, my leg muscles were screaming with lactic acid from keeping hold of the bike and I was filthy. Exhausted, exhilerated and… dammit! I’d parked in the upper car park! Those last few miles were pure agony.

And my verdict on my Jeff Jones Loop bars? Despite all this rambling hyperbole, there are only 3 words required:

Worth. Every. Penny.

under pressure

 

Good evening dear readers and happy Thursday to you all! Thanks for all the messages of concern, issuing of search parties, placards, marches and… wait, what? You hadn’t noticed I haven’t been posting much recently? Pfft.

Well, be that as it may, it is Thursday again which means it’s time once again for our uber exciting foray into the murky world of:

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

But wait! Order now using your credit card and we’ll double this offer by also including our semi-interesting, semi-regular, semi-new feature:

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

Regular readers (I continue to hold out hope I actually do have some) may remember I’ve recently been feeling like something of a lettuce; mincing about, worrying something rotten about the bike slipping out from under me, resulting in the less than pleasant experience of picking pieces of gravel out of my face.

I’ve been trying out all sorts of different things in an effort to overcome my irrational fears: knobbly v slick tyres, road bike v touring bike, short stem v long stem, heavily laden bike v stripped down speed machine, thinking v not thinking – that last one doesn’t come too highly recommended, incidentally.

But, above all things I’ve tried, one thing above all others has really made all the difference to my cycling experience. It’s changed how I think about cycling, how my bike(s) handle, how I lean into corners and how I think about the surface (whatever surface it may be) I’m rolling over. I am, of course, talking about tyre pressures.

Here at lifeinthecyclelane HQ, we get a lot of visitors searching the interwebs looking for wisdom about tyre pressures; me being me, I even tried my best to provide a little of my own experience which may or may not be of some use to this week’s search term trivia winner:

“DMR Moto RT 26 tyre pressure”

To be completely fair, I really need to strap them back onto the Troll at some point and give them a second chance… maybe my new found knowledge will change my mind about them.

Until such time, let me introduce you to a blog recommended to me by friends who own a bike shop: Guitar Ted Productions and the post in question: Musings on Tires. UK readers will have to forgive the repeated misspelling of ‘tyres’, such is life when you read US blogs.

Still with me? Full of new knowledge and ready to lower your own tyre pressures? No? Still not quite convinced yet? Need a bit more coaxing? Wondering what Surly would do?

Not for the faint of heart: Surly Bikes blog and the disturbingly ‘normal’ post: Tires (again, you’ll have to forgive all the Americanisms, bless ’em).

We should hopefully be back to more regular posting now I have a stable broadband connection and, with the Troll approaching its 1st birthday, a few tweaks are in order and it’s about time I reviewed some more kit I love and kit I hate – keep your eyes peeled!

halo

 

Something a little heavier than our usual musical interlude for you today… but hey, sometimes only heavy metal will do.

Play it loud or not at all.

Since my recent crash, I’ve been riding around with DMR Moto R/T 26 x 2.2″ tyres on my Surly Troll; largely this is because I was looking for something that was essentially still a road tyre but more suited to the changeable conditions and, with a little bit of luck, less likely to send me face first into the pavement at the first sign of the cold, slippery stuff.

206696_10151327132799863_2024200714_nAccording to DMR, the RT in the name stands for “road and trail” as this is a “great tyre for street riding, hard pack trails and dirt jumps”. Now, I don’t do a great deal of dirt jumping what with the Troll weighing just shy of a metric ton but I can report that thanks to the rounded profile and closely spaced yet flexible tread, these tyres do provide an extra level of stability, grip and confidence on the trails and I actually found them to be very capable in deep, wet mud. On the road however, I have to say these tyres really, really drag and the buzz you get from knobbly tyres on tarmac started getting on my nerves after a while.

Recommended maximum pressure is 60psi which I found to be perfect for the trails (I like a firm ride anyway but it still wasn’t too harsh) but on the roads I found even pushing the pressure beyond the limit and up to 70psi didn’t really help minimise the drag enough for me.

After a few weeks, I just couldn’t take it anymore; the Troll felt heavy, sluggish and really wasn’t much fun to ride. So, I went back to the tyres I had on before. The tyres I crashed on.

250942_10150987692164863_477781285_nAlso 26 x 2.2″, this isn’t the first set of Halo Twin Rail tyres I’ve owned. I used to run a set on an old mountain bike I had and I liked them so much I invested in a set for my cyclocross bike in the 700c size. These days, they make ’em in just about every size and colour you can imagine with single and dual compounds and they all come with puncture protection rivaled only by the legendary Schwalbe Kojak.

Halo decribe the Twin Rail as a “trail and street tyre” and recommend a maximum 65psi for off road use and 85psi for on road use meaning they “perform in almost all conditions”, which they do. As I’ve said, I prefer a firmer ride so I rarely let the pressure drop below 70psi and I’ve ridden through just about everything with these tyres.

They’re awesome on hardpack dirt, great on gravel, capable of dealing with everything but the deepest sticky mud and (critically for me) they’re phenomenal on the road. Unlike the DMR Moto RT which is really a trail tyre at heart, the Halo Twin Rail is a road tyre first and a trail tyre second; the name of course comes from the 2 central rails which (when the pressure is high enough) are they only things in contact with the black stuff so rolling resistance really is kept to the bare minimum. Of course, once you start to lean or you hit the trails, the smooth, rounded profile of the tyre kicks in and the recessed ‘knobbles’ (Halo call them ‘sleepers’) ensure you have plenty of grip without the tyre flexing as much as a traditional knobbler.

So, which is better? Well, that very much depends on the kind of riding you do. As different as they may appear at first glance, these tyres do deserve to be compared side by side because they both claim to be suitable for road, trail and skate park use… You’ll have to check with the local yoof which is better for dirt jumping and the like (I suspect the Halos) but for me it’s as simple as this:

  • If you ride mostly on trails (this includes gravel, grass, mud, canal towpaths and everything inbetween) and you only use tarmac to access said trails, the DMR is the clear winner.
  • If you ride mostly on the road but you want to be able to skip onto the trails or explore that bridleway on the way home, you need a set of Halos in your life.

556027_10150987707259863_1754207612_nOh, I don’t know whether this will form part of your decision making process but the DMRs don’t boast any puncture protection where the Halos do… but, nothing is totally puncture proof so you’ll want to carry a spare tube and a decent pump too (mine’s a Lezyne but that’s a story for another day).

Today’s ride was a mere 15 miles (I ran out of daylight and my lights failed so I had to get the train back) mostly on the road but with a few impromptu miles of canal towpath thrown in. It’s cold up here in t’ North this week to so there was plenty of the dreaded ice around… I’m happy to report no crashes, despite a couple of two-wheel slides which didn’t faze me.

My confidence is steadily returning and I’m back in love with the Troll now the Halos are back on. 2013 is going to be good.

epic

 

Ever since I moved up to Manchester from Birmingham, I’ve been on the lookout for some decent cycling routes. Back in the Midlands, I had hundreds of miles of country lanes around Warwickshire at my fingertips and, should the mood take me, I could even jump on a train over to the Black Country and enjoy the surprisingly good trails on offer at Cannock Chase.

And no, Birmingham and the Black Country are NOT the same place. Don’t ask again.

Anyway. Up here in t’ North there are actually quite a lot of mountain bike trails and, now the Troll has a suspension fork, I shall be doing my best to explore as many of them as possible. First up: the delightfully named Diggle Jiggle.

Just 11 miles long, the Diggle Jiggle seemed to be the perfect opportunity to give the Troll its first proper off road test, dust off some off my much underused mountain bike skills and work off Saturday night’s indulgences on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon. Opting to let the train take a little of the strain, I cycled into Manchester Victoria and jumped off at Greenfield station which dropped me onto the trail about half way round the suggested route map.

Described as a “mountain bike ride” and “…suitable for most mountain bikers…”, I was somewhat surprised to come out of the station and instantly head up a very steep climb on a very busy road. At first, I figured it was just a short tarmac section joining 2 sections of off road trail but, as the miles ticked by, the ‘trail’ just kept on climbing on roads… Roads? Hardly mountain bike country.

Eventually, the tarmac finally gave way to a bona fide mountain bike trail and boy, it wasn’t messing around. The seemingly relentless incline remained and the surface went from smooth tarmac to soft, uneven sand and large, loose rocks; quite the challenge for both Trolls.

I’d printed the map out before heading out this morning and, because the Diggle Jiggle itself isn’t signposted in any way and comprises sections of several other trails, it was my constant companion throughout the ride; sometimes in my pocket, sometimes in my bag but more often than not, gripped between my fingers or, when I needed both hands firmly on the bars, between my clenched teeth.

For the most part, providing you follow the description of the route carefully, you really can’t put a wheel wrong thanks to the attention to detail shown by the authors. There is one glaring error, however which will take you in completely the wrong direction up a very sketchy climb to nowhere – the very first words at point A in the description, too! Where it tells you to come out of the car park, turn right and head over the railway bridge, don’t. Just head straight down the hill from the car park (with the hotel directly behind you) and head straight up the steep climb; from there, the map is otherwise flawless.

After all the climbing, there is a lovely section atop the ridge of the hillside (sure, the surface sucks and I ended up axle deep in a flooded section but it was beautiful!) before a blink-and-you-miss-it left hander onto an incredibly sketchy downhill.

Check out that view – almost enough to make you ride into the hedge.

Almost.

The tyres making all this possible are both 26 x 2.4″; the rear is a Maxxis Holy Roller which provides incredible traction, stability and accelleration without dragging too much on the harder stuff. The front is a DMR Moto R/T with a more directional tread to aid cornering and mud clearance when it really matters most. They’re both designed for road and trail, rather than mud but I found them more than capable; I’m sure they won’t last too long what with the rubber compound being so soft but I’m willing to sacrifice a little longevity for increased performance.

Next challenge up is yet another descent on what is described in the map as “often very wet”. The reason for this routine moistness is that this really isn’t a trail, or even a path; nope, what this is ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is a stream. A stream with a bed of loose, slippery rocks and a quagmire off to the side all ready to catch out anyone stupid enough to put a foot down.

At the entrance to said stream, I lost my balance and before I could get my feet out my pedals, I fell ass first into a bed of stinging nettles with the Troll clinging onto my shoes for dear life.

Stop sniggering! Being stung all over your body is just not fun!

Anyway, back to the trail and it was lunchtime. Unfortunately, I’d brought nothing more than an expired Science in Sport Go! chocolate and orange energy bar with me so I took a quick break to nom it while I watched the foals playing in the field next to me; the sheep were doing nothing of any interest.

With only a few more miles to go, I stopped at the Diggle Hotel for a £2.20 glass of ice cold Pepsi to take in some much needed caffeine and headed back to the station via yet another stinging climb on the tarmac.

And so, my verdict on the Diggle Jiggle? Well, it’s a lot of fun in places and I found it quite the challenge in places. One thing is for certain, despite all the tarmac, this really is mountain bike country and a suspension fork is an absolute must. Also, even on a nice dry day like today, I was very much in need of wide, knobbly tyres; I feel certain thay my Halos would’ve let me down on several ocassions.

So, despite its rather jolly name, the Diggle Jiggle is not for the faint hearted.