call me when you’re sober

It’s been a long week over here at life in the cycle lane HQ… all is not well with the world. I’m in much need of some cycle therapy but pesky real life is getting in the way…

In any event, Thursday is upon us once again and I’ve started a weekly tradition of exploring the murky world of search term trivia and, dammit, explore it we shall; no matter how tired and crabby I am!

Welcome one and all to this week’s semi-thrilling edition of:

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

Exciting, no?

This week we’ve had lots of people wanting to know things about:

Is it just me or is it all getting a bit surreal around here?

Advertisements

the king of wishful thinking

 

Every year about this time, Geordie and I normally take a couple of weeks off work, load up the bikes with camping gear and disappear off into the countryside; looking to escape real life for a while.

This year, Geordie finds himself in Rome nomming pasta and (no doubt) drinking the region dry of fine wine which leaves me back in England with a week off work and nothing to do…

Inspired by a fellow blogger and Surly Troll owner who’d recently been on a solo bike tour around the Hebrides, I thought it was high time I took my Troll out for its inaugural tour.

I’ve always wanted to do a coast to coast ride and this seemed like the perfect opportunity, what with the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) being on my doorstep and all. But, with pesky real life limiting the spare time I had available, my week long trip gradually got trimmed down to 5, then 4, 3 and, eventually, 2 days.

Needing only a fresh jersey for day 2, a change of clothes for the evening, my camera and a few munchies, I decided against taking the Yak and instead opted for just a set of Ortlieb Back Roller Classic panniers in orange and black. I very nearly bought a matching set of front bags but, as I wouldn’t need them for this trip, decided to save my money. For now, at least.

Jumping onto the Trans Pennine Trail at Hadfield, my journey started out on the Longdendale Trail which forms part of NCN Route 62. The trail from here all the way to the Woodhead Pass is really well signposted and the surface (being an old railway bed) is largely flat, wide and hardpacked earth with a little gravel here and there; ideal for a relaxed ride without any sudden surprises. Being a Tuesday morning, I had the trail almost completely to myself with the exception of a few dog walkers and the occasional mountain biker. As with much of the trail, walkers and cyclists share the main portion of the path with a separate, parallel route on much softer ground for horseriders. In the main, the few pedestrians and their canines gladly moved to one side upon hearing my crunching along the trail or my friendly “Hello!” as I approached them.

You’ll notice I don’t have a bell on my bike… Never have, never will. I think there’s something quite arrogant about ringing a bell at people to get them out of your way… It almost assumes cyclists have the right of way when, actually, the TPT etiquette dictates cyclists should slow down (and stop, if required) for pedestrians. Having ridden with others who do favour a bell, I can say with some authority, my friendly greeting is always more easily heard and better received than that awful ding ding ding noise some people insist upon.

All that said, I did get the occasional scowl from some people as I rode past… Why, I don’t know. I wasn’t going fast, I wasn’t too close, I didn’t run over the dog or splash through a muddy puddle. Maybe it was wind.

Anyway, back to the trail… 8 miles of nice easy riding down and I’m approaching the Woodhead Pass. By now, the trail is starting to get a little rougher and, thanks to the recent heavy rain, there are some sections suffering from localised flooding and, somehow, this small tree has been felled and lies across almost all of the trail.

That said, this still remains a really nice section as it runs past Bottoms, Valehouse, Rhodeswood, Torside and eventually Woodhead reservoirs.  With plenty of car parks along the route (most with public toilets) and not a hill in sight, this is a perfect location for anyone wanting to get into cycling or just rack up a few more miles without the need to ride anywhere near the traffic.

At the end of the Longdendale Trail, things start to change quite dramatically. The former Woodhead Railway would’ve entered a large tunnel which is now closed so the TPT ramps up and heads directly east over the Woodhead Pass. The surface changes too; whilst this might be a short climb, it’s all of 20% (possibly more in places) and the surface is rutted, loose, sandy, rocky and downright difficult to ride up. Putting it in the little ring and staying in the saddle, I somehow managed to keep my Halo Twin Rail tyres gripping onto something and I made it to the first switchback with one eye on the awesome scenery and the other eye on the sheep defiantly lying across the path.

Perhaps I was distracted by the sheep. Perhaps I was in too high a gear. Perhaps I’d got my balance wrong or perhaps Halo Twin Rails at 80psi just aren’t designed to grip on loose gravel, slippery mud or wet grass on an absurd incline. Whatever it was, I managed to fall off twice on this little section of the trail which is the final push to the summit.

Around the corner, the path widens out somewhat and, whilst it’s badly rutted with lots of deep puddles and exposed rocks, at least it’s mostly flat again. Wreaking my revenge on the unruly sheep, I chased them and their bovine comrades off the path all the way to Salter’s Brook.

Pretty and historical as it may be here at Salter’s Brook Bridge, the trail is a cycle lane only insofar as it’s signposted as part of NCN Route 62. The surface is the worst I experienced on the trip; sandy, deeply rutted, frequently interrupted by gates and blighted by 2 crossings of the uber dangerous Woodhead Pass road. In direct contrast to the Longdendale Trail a mere mile or so away, this stretch is suitable for only the most experienced and / or brave (stupid) riders. What little luggage I was carrying became quite the hinderance too, I can only image what it’d be like trying to get through here with a fully laden bike and the idea of dragging the Yak over the Woodhead Pass is an idea that fills me with dread.

In all I had to cross the Woodhead Pass road 3 times. Being the main route across the Pennines, it is unsurprisingly a rat run for HGVs and just about every other piece of traffic wanting to get from one side t’ t’other. Frightening, truly frightening.

Anyway, providing you survive the crossing, all of the recent unpleasantness is forgiven and you’re rewarded with an awesome downhill section after the highest point on the Trans Pennine Trail at Dunford Bridge.

Providing your brakes can stop you in time, there’s an opportunity here to turn off onto NCN Route 68 and the Pennine Cycleway which heads north past Winscar Reservoir (I’ll save that route for another day).

Brake discs (203mm front and 160mm rear) scorching, I slowed from what was probably close to 40mph to a stop in an astonishingly short distance as I spotted the sign for the Upper Don Trail looming to my right. Crunching through the gravel car park, I was pleased to see a sign telling me I’d rejoined the old railway bed and even more pleased to see a really wide, flat trail stretching off into the distance.

From here all the way to Oxspring, the trail is mostly a simple muddy track through the countryside. Again, it’s mostly flat but thanks to the bad weather, it was quite slippery almost all the way. I put the hammer down and enjoyed drifting the bike through the curves, catching more than a few 2 wheel drifts.

At Oxspring, the trail splits and there is a road route and and off road route… Naturally, I opted for the latter and soon found myself picking my way along an ancient packhorse trail (according to the signs).

Once more, this is not a place for the inexperienced cyclist or anyone of a nervous disposition; the ridiculous climbs on slippery mud and narrow trails make an unwelcome return but those willing to stick it out are rewarded by many more easy miles along the Dove Valley Trail. Once more I dropped the hammer and, before I knew it, I was rolling into the Dearne Valley where I turned off the trail at Barnburgh and headed off to my hotel in High Melton.

Day 2 and I’d half planned to push on further into Yorkshire before getting the train home from Selby. With bad weather planned, however, I decided over my rather delicious steak & ale pie at the Cadeby Inn to head back the way I came and explore the alternative route of NCN Route 67 via the Elsecar Greenway and Timberland Trail. The Troll, however, had other ideas.

On day 1, I’d twisted my knee on the climb over the Woodhead Pass; something which became much more apparent on day 2 as it gave way when I got out of the saddle on the mildest of inclines.

Almost at the exact same moment, I felt a clunk somewhere on the front end of the bike; to my horror, my front wheel had somehow come loose. With that sorted, my front brake started making the kind of noise only metal rubbing on metal makes.

More horror as I find my brake caliper had also shaken itself loose and the bolts are rubbing against the brake disc… That fixed and another mile down the trail, my front mudguard was pointing at a very strange angle… Yes, you’ve guessed it, the securing bolts had rattled themselves loose.

With the front of the bike rebuilt, my knee gave way once again only minutes before a large shard of glass went straight through my front tyre, making a complete mockery of the normally legendary puncture protection.

Something was trying to tell me riding back over the Woodhead Pass was a bad idea… Reluctantly, I broke out the maps and came away from the main trail, heading for Barnsley and the train home.

So, with my trip cut short, what are my conclusions?

  • The trail is great! It’s certainly diverse with its mixture of on and off road sections. Well mapped and signposted, there’s a little bit of something for everyone from the crazy ass mountain biker to the virgin cyclist.
  • Ortlieb panniers easily live up to their reputation and are easily worth every single penny. Waterproof and rugged, they’ll save your bike from any serious damage when you drop it atop the Woodhead Pass and, should you (repeatedly) catch them on metal gates, they won’t tear easily.
  • The Surly Troll comes alive when loaded up with luggage and my *ahem* Ragley rear rack (exact copy of the Surly rack) holds everything firmly in place no matter how rough the going gets.
  • Halo Twin Rail tyres are simply awesome! Yes, we knew this already but it’s always worth reminding ourselves! I’ll admit that 80psi is far too much for off road use (Halo recommend a maximum of 65psi) but they still handled everything other than the wet grass and loose gravel on that climb really well.
  • Riding a rigid fork off road means you are badass. Period.
  • Riding drop bars off road means you are badass. Period.
  • Riding with bar end shifters off road means you are badass. Period.
  • I might be badass but… it hurts! That rigid steel fork and the steel frame do take a lot of the harshness out of the ride but with such high tyre pressures and such rough terrain, I’m still aching days after the ride… Now, I am shopping for a suspension fork with lockout.

Get out there and enjoy!

next to me

 

With plenty of time to get all arty atop the hill of death, it’s fair to say that Geordie Clarke is considerably stronger and faster than I am. I keep trying to blame it on me riding a heavier bike or being tired from doing something or other the day before or whatever but, if I’m honest, I’m just fat and he’s just not.

Now, despite my considerable weight (dis)advantage and GC’s penchant for torturing me on the longest, steepest climbs we can find, he always has been and shall probably always remain my cycling buddy of choice.

With Geordie visiting for the extra long jubilee bank holiday weekend, there was nothing for it but to organise a weekend of cycling. Starting out with a little pootling around Manchester on the Saturday (with the obligatory visit to the bike shop, of course) we signed up for a Sky Ride Local event on the Sunday. Completely outnumbered by the ride leaders, we were in for some more pootling, lots and lots of rain, drivetrains full of sand and a nice cup of coffee at Manchester’s Velodrome.

Whilst it wasn’t really a challenge for us, I really quite enjoyed our little ride out in the countryside. If you’re new to cycling, want to build up to bigger mileage, explore your local area or just meet new people, I reckon you could do a lot worse than sign up and have a go! It’s free, the ride leaders take care of your safety during the ride, they’re just about everywhere these days and there are routes to suit just about every ability level. Oh, and you’ll even get a free hi-viz Sky Ride top just for turning up! We declined, incidentally, which nobody minded.

The main event for the weekend was really the Great Manchester Cycle on the bank holiday Monday which I’d signed us up for ages ago. Despite Geordie’s protestations, I signed us up for the middle distance of a mere 26 miles; with the journey to the start and back, it came out at roughly 40 miles for the day which I thought would be plenty.

Of course, these things never really go according to plan… A mile or so from home and I noticed my crank arm was loose; probably because I hadn’t tightened it down properly! Happily, there was a man with a rather impressive 8mm allen wrench and a builder’s bum on hand at the start of the ride who leaned on my cranks and got me going again.

The ride itself was lots of fun! The organisers had done a great job of getting so many people safely onto and around the course of closed public roads which included a section of Mancunian Way – how often do you get to cycle on a closed motorway?

Once all the queuing was done (and there was plenty of it to do), we set about storming around the course, scalping as many serious looking roadies as possible. There’s something really special about the incredulous look you only get from beating everything in sight with a big old ridiculous Troll!

The first 5 miles flew by along with several team replica jerseys struggling on the most minor of inclines. Getting down in the drops and chasing onto Geordie’s wheel, I starting getting really comfortable with the odd looking riding position I have and before I knew it, we were rolling across the bridge at Salford Quays.

A short stretch later and I was being refused entry to the feed station with a reluctant promise that we could go in on the next lap. Heading back to the start / finish line at the Manchester City ground, we passed by the Manchester Utd ground, scalped more roadies on Mancunian Way and dropped back down into the city for lap 2.

Enjoying the random applause from people lining the streets, I almost wiped out by running into the back of a slow moving group taking up the entire width of the road; Geordie, being all small and slinky, had somehow managed to find a gap and was fast getting away from me… git.

Getting ‘stuck’ once more behind a group of lycra clad girls, I eventually found a way through and, once again, we passed through Salford and the feed station was looming. Having paid my entrance fee, I was as sure as hell going to bag my free munchies even though I really didn’t need anything.

Carefully ignoring the box of jelly babies and haribo, we both made a bee-line for the girl with long, flowing red hair and a tray of jaffa cakes. Flirting out of the way, we each pocketed a couple of bananas and I nommed a chocolaty – fudgy muesli bar and we set off again.

Relaxing the pace a little, we kept leapfrogging 2 separate pairs of guys but we beat them in the end. In the final stages, I got stuck once again and there was nothing to do but take a free tow from a rather nice lady in grey shorts… and, all too soon it was all over.

We picked up our goody bags at the end and rode home. Geordie wanted to ride up the hill of death to get some more miles in but the higher than normal pace and the beer from the night before was starting to tell on my thighs so 40ish miles for the day it was.

As some kind of consolation prize, I caved in and let Geordie punish me up the hill of death before I dropped him off at the train station. Being on the Troll, I decided to ride home via a stretch of NCN route 66 along the Rochdale canal; the surface is quite good overall but appalling in places – a good test for the Troll and probably my new commuting route. I feel a future post coming on about cycling on the canal network…

Anyway, all in all, I reckon I racked up about 120 miles over the weekend which is probably much less than Geordie wanted to ride but I had a blast all the same.

Oh, head over to http://www.greatcycle.org/Photos/Default.aspx and search for my rider number 4592 and you can see a few action shots and even a short video of me on the ride. Keep an eye out for me pulling my Salford face on the bridge!

monster

 

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, me.

Regular readers of this blog will know that several weeks ago, I collected my Surly Troll frameset from the shop with grand ideas of getting it built within a mere couple of days. I mean, given you have the parts and everything goes according to plan, there’s no reason at all why you can’t put a bike together in a mere couple of hours.

I thought I had all the parts.

I thought everything would go according to plan.

I thought wrong.

You see, I actually did have all the parts I needed to make a perfectly usable bike; the problem is my bloody perfectionism! I already have a perfectly usable bike… in fact, if you ask my girlfriend, she’ll tell you I have several perfectly usable bikes. And, I suppose she’s right.

But, the Troll was never going to just be usable.

Over the years, I’ve tried and tested all manner of different parts, ridden all manner of different frame types & materials and, along the way, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, learnt a lot of lessons and developed a fondness and brand loyalty for some of the better stuff I’ve come across.

My good friend Geordie was right when he said he’d planted the Surly seed back when we built his Long Haul Trucker in my driveway. Sure, it wasn’t cheap and no, it still isn’t fully finished off so I’ll be parting with more hard earned cash before too long but (coming in on the right side of £1000) I fully expect to be keeping this bike for an extremely long time.

So, here’s a quick rundown of some of the good stuff I’ve discovered over the years making an appearance on the Troll:

  • Frame and fork – Courtesy of Surly, of course, and made from 4130 chromoly steel providing stiffness, flexibility, comfort and surprisingly low weight. Being a company that builds weird, quirky and sometimes utterly ridiculous stuff, they occupy that special place in my heart. I must put my hands up and admit I was convinced Surly was an English brand but I’m reliably informed that they are, in fact, as American as… well, Minnesota. Not to worry, we like Americans.
  • HeadsetCane Creek. Another American brand here; they make great stuff that works well and won’t cost the earth. Oh, and they put lizards on almost everything they make. We also like lizards.
  • Bars, stem & seatpost – All brought to you by the good people over at On One Bikes in Rotherham. These guys actually are English and, like Surly, are also the good kind of mad. They make quirky, but well thought out stuff from good materials and it’s all available at really good prices.
  • Saddle & bar tape – Another excellent English company going by the name of Charge. Primarily, they’re known these days for catering to the single speed and fixed gear market with some really cool parts, just the right amount of quirk and really good prices. I run Charge saddles on all of my bikes and have used many of their other products on several bike builds.
  • TyresHalo Twin Rail. Quite simply the most versatile tyre I’ve ever come across. They do it all: road, trail, gravel and even a certain amount of mud. Originally designed for jumping around the skate park and random bits of city centre street furniture, you can now get Twin Rails in all kinds of sizes and colours. Love ’em. Oh, and Halo just happens to be another English company… sweet.
  • Gears – Dia Compe full friction bar end levers coupled with Shimano Deore Shadow derailleurs give me all the gear combinations I’m ever going to need on this bike and all the fine adjustment that only non-indexed gear levers can give.
  • Brakes – One more American brand creeps in here in the shape of Avid (or SRAM, or whatever they’re called at the moment) and their phenomenally good BB5 disc calipers. These are the road version and I have 160mm on the rear (the maximum possible with the Troll frame) and a massive 203mm on the front which have simply incredible stopping power – so much so I nearly threw myself over the bars on a tricky descent earlier on. The levers are Cane Creek again, SCR-5 is the model and they’re all black and they’ve got the all important lizards on them!
  • Chainset & bottom bracket – Surprisingly enough, what with my best friend being Canadian and all the best mountian bike stuff coming out of Canada, this is the only bit of Canadiana on the bike, brought to you by Race Face. Look ’em up, they just make good stuff.

As I said, there’s still more work to do here; not least switching out the rear Shimano disc for an Avid one (there’s that pesky perfectionism again), sourcing and fitting luggage racks and bags and deciding on a chainstay protector… Oh, will it never end???

So, once all of that is sorted, I’ll take some arty detail shots of the completed build but, for now, you’ll just have to make do with this one of the Troll taking a much needed rest after climbing the affectionately named ‘Hill of death’ (also known as Ashworth Road, Rochdale). The descent of which is quite simply awesome, by the way.

living in a box

 

Are you sitting comfortably? You are??? Well, you’d better scoot forward and get yourself right on the edge of your seat, hold your breath and, if there happen to be any chickens nearby, kindly refrain from counting them and / or putting all their eggs in one basket.

Yes, dear readers, I’m back. After a much needed week away in the sun (Menorca incidentally – more on that in a later post), I have returned against my will, kicking and screaming to wet and wild Manchester… Today, I am experiencing post holiday blues.

But don’t worry, all is not lost! Whilst I’ve been living in a little casita, something has been waiting for me in a box down in the workshop at Keep Pedalling, Manchester. No sooner had I arrived and was being complimented on my tan by Shona, I heard the unmistakable sound of a Surly Troll making its way up the stairs.

Oh, and Rich was coming up too.

Orange as an orange thing and with the Cane Creek lizards on the headset expertly lined up by Rich, the frame I’ve been lusting over for a long time now is finally mine! Also in the box here are some 60mm wide SKS Commuter mudguards which will wrap the 26 x 2.2″ Halo Twin Rail tyres. Oh, there was also a little something extra in the box I wasn’t expecting which will either end up looking awesome or terrible on the completed build… Watch this space!

With the remainder of the week off work, I’ll mostly be sat cross-legged by the letterbox waiting for the final crucial parts to arrive (or cannibalising them from the Merida), tapping the excess powdercoat out of the various threads and trying to get it all put together ready for a shakedown ride on Saturday.

Oh, and thanks once again to Geordie Clarke for stepping in and keeping everyone entertained in my absence.

Quick poll: Do we like the new banner?

mr. writer

Bald, bearded and (in this picture) berating me for not getting his wheels fixed as I’d allegedly promised to, my very good friend and preferred cycling buddy Geordie Clarke is Deputy editor at Money Management magazine (part of the Financial Times Group). He also happens to be a wine aficionado and is mainly to blame for my interest in all things cycling related; you can read his wine blog here.

Anyway, I happen to be going away for a much needed holiday in the sun for a week so in the meantime, I am entrusting my blog to Geordie in the vain hope that he’ll post a guest entry or two about his collection of bikes which includes a full carbon Condor, a titanium Planet X, a steel Surly Long Haul Trucker and a couple of other bikes in various stages of being built / taken apart.

Also on our list of shared interests (along with bikes, food and redheads) is a penchant for really good beer. Incidentally, sweet talking your way into the Ironbridge Brewery doesn’t make their beer any cheaper or better… It’s OK, but I’m not sure it’s good enough to warrant the hideous climb back out of Ironbridge Gorge. So, maybe GC here will regale us with tales of his beer drinking adventures instead?

Well, whatever he ends up writing about, I’m sure it’ll keep you entertained whilst I’m sitting in the sun, sipping a Sangria… unless he starts writing about pension plans and the such… zzzzzzzz