you can leave your hat on

11051210_10153755754774863_7064167489370996479_n

 

Dried fruit, mixed nuts, M&M’s and a whole lot of determination.

This is what was required to get me and my good friend Matt through the hellish and seemingly never-ending climbs offered up by the route we picked from Manchester city centre out to our campsite at Monsal Head.

It was an early spring day, the sun was shining and we pedalled off without a care in the world. That wonderful realisation that I was only getting further away with every pedal stroke washed over me and I revelled in the knowledge I’d be under canvas that evening.

As is the way of things, we took a rather indirect route that promised the least traffic and the best scenery. And we took our time about it. We rolled along, chatting about everything and nothing. We stopped for coffee. We went the wrong way. We didn’t have a care in the world.

11023_10153755754624863_6693537081560443662_n“HILLS ARE OUR FRIENDS!!!” cried an over-enthusiastic roadie (with a mountain cassette & rear mech, I might add) as he crested the climb we’d just ground up on our loaded Surly Trolls. We quietly returned our gazes to the view and had another handful of Matt’s Special Trailmix.

Soon we found ourselves crunching down the Monsal Trail, marvelling at the scenery and scaring the bejesus out of wildlife inhabiting the trailside hedges. “You’re not exactly sure where the campsite is…?” I asked Matt as we examined several questionable looking side trails.

Naturally, we turned down the wrong one and soon found ourselves faced with a decision: ford the obviously-deeper-and-faster-flowing-than-it-looked river or somehow portage the bikes & luggage over an extremely narrow concrete bridge. Forming the least efficient two-man chain in history, we took option B and passed bag after bag to each other before we took turns hoisting our heavy steeds over our heads in some kind of obscure strong man competition.

Safely on the other side of the river, I turned right up a slightly sketchy looking bit of single track which very quickly ramped up to at least a 10% off-camber incline through the bracken as the trailside drop to the river grew ever deeper.

Defeated by all that nature and gravity threw at us, we pushed the bikes the final few yards to the top of a much better manicured trail that would’ve brought us to exactly the same spot without the ridiculous river crossing. Dammit.

10 minutes later, we were parting with altogether too little cash for a pitch in a beautiful secluded campsite we had almost completely to ourselves.

In the local pub, we demolished an excellent plate of belly pork, mash & gravy and sampled a couple of pints of local ale. In the interests of science, you understand.

Wandering back to our campsite, our bellies full and the inevitable cold snap settling in, we spotted another pub. Well, it’d be rude not to…

Continuing my scientific experimentation, we sampled several more pints of local ale and (here’s the ‘genius’ part) shunned the siren call of the open fire, preferring instead to drink our beers outside. In early spring. In North Derbyshire. Atop a hill. “To acclimatise ourselves”, I said. Matt shivered, unconvinced, but stuck it out all the same as we put the world to rights like only 2 drunk men can.

Dressed in every scrap of clothing I’d carried with me (including wooly hat and gloves), I crawled into my sleeping bag and spent the night desperately (and unsuccessfully) willing my body to sleep. Dang, that was COLD.

11023_10153755754069863_33251468225833244_nThe next morning, we shared an odd breakfast comprised mainly of questionable malt loaf, squeezy cheese and the most incredible cup of tea I think I’ve ever had.

We packed up and made our way into Buxton where we descended upon an unsuspecting cafe for a very leisurely second breakfast. Man, that was good.

The cruelly named ‘Long Hill’ out of Buxton mocked us and, by the time we reached the Pennine Bridleway, Matt was starting to regret that extra piece of fried bread.

In my defence, I did try to warn him, in between mouthfuls of extra black pudding.

Sufficiently warmed up again, our usual childish ways came to the fore as we tore up the trails, jumping the bikes over everything we could find on the way home.

11173365_10153755754224863_3323704571003065546_nIt was a fine weekend. A fine weekend indeed.

no pressure over cappuccino

Week #6 of the 2014 Chasing Mailboxes Coffeeneuring Challenge is upon us and I’m right on schedule, having bagged a very wet ride #6 this Saturday.

I was once again joined by our friend of Northern Walker fame and, given the unmitigated disaster that was his choice of coffee shop on our last ride together, he insisted I choose the location this time.

“No pressure, then…?” I joked.

We met at our favourite bike shop, Keep Pedalling in Manchester (other inferior bike shops are available) where we spent some time nattering about bikes and drooling over a brand new Tangerine Dream Surly Crosscheck being picked up. Whilst I was there, they recommended a new coffee place that has recently opened up on the other side of the city; we set out riding in no particular direction as the first few spots of rain landed on the lenses of my glasses.

coffeeneuring6 surly troll ecr grindsmith manchesterWe rode north on NCN route 66 along the Rochdale canal until we reached Middleton then looped through Heaton Park into Prestwich and down towards Pendelbury before heading back into the city along the banks of the River Irwell – if you know the area, this can be a pleasant route but it was pouring rain for the entire ride and, by the time we reached Greengate Square in Salford, every single item of clothing we had on was soaked through.

  1. Where I went: Grindsmith Espresso & Brewbar, Greengate Square, Victoria Bridge Street, Manchester, UK, M3 5AS.
  2. Date I went there: Saturday 8th November 2014.
  3. coffeeneuring6 grindsmith manchester bakewell cappuccinoWhat I drank: Standing there, dripping on the floor with my glasses steaming up, I asked what they might recommend for a freezing cold, soaking wet cyclist, especially as I couldn’t read the menu. “Cappuccino” was the response and, despite me not really liking any cappuccino I’ve had in the past, I went with it anyway.
    The friendly staff invited us to take a seat in the nice warm interior which, whilst incredibly tempting, would’ve resulted in us getting mud all over everything so we declined, deciding to sit outside as the rain had finally eased off.
  4. A detail or two about my coffeeneuring ride: Along with my cappuccino I ordered a bakewell slice which was lovingly presented to me on a custom made wooden plank – fancy, eh?
    Despite my previous forays into the world of cappuccino drinking, I’m pleased to say what I had was really quite pleasant; it’ll never be my favourite coffee but it was nice all the same. The bakewell slice was ooey-gooey and easily lived up to its billing as being “spectacular”.
  5. coffeeneuring6 grindsmith manchester bike racksBike friendliness of the locale: Finally, FINALLY! A place with bike racks! As per bleeding usual, there wasn’t a single public bike rack anywhere in sight but the good folks at Grindsmith had solved this problem by simply bolting one to the side of the place! There’s even a vintage chopper there to reinforce the hipster vibe (happily, there’s no requirement to wear tight trousers and a checked shirt or have a carefully trimmed beard).
  6. Mileage: As usual, we didn’t keep track but it was probably somewhere between 30 and 40. In. The. Pouring. Rain.
  7. Must visit: As I say, there’s a definite hipster vibe here, what with the old cable reels and wooden crates to sit on, the trendy people coming and going, extravagantly swiping their iPhones (other, non-knobbish mobile phones ARE available) and, with 2 coffees and 2 small pieces of cake costing over a tenner, it’s hardly cheap but the surroundings are lovely, the staff are friendly and welcoming and the quality of the product commands the price tag. Oh, and we didn’t feel out of place at all, despite my dishevelled appearance of which I am so proud.

We enjoyed our coffees as we sat watching the strangely relaxing fountains dance.

Later on, we childishly zig-zagged our way through the fountains on our bikes, much to our own soggy amusement.

coffeeneuring6 grindsmith manchester bakewell cappuccino fountains

state of the art

 

Luckily enough, there wasn’t much traffic on the streets when I set out for a ride this morning in thick fog. Through a slightly dangerous combination of peering over my glasses and through the layer of condensation that built up immediately, I did manage to spot quite a large number of cyclists out there… I’m fairly sure I even saw a tandem at one point.

By the time I arrived in the city centre, I’d managed to clear my lenses enough to make out the shivering figure of my friend who’d decided that short finger gloves and a lightweight jacket would be sufficient to keep him warm on this chilly October morning.

Wardrobe choice was not the only mistake he made… but we’ll come back to that a little later.

If you’re a follower of the Northern Walker, you’ll know he’s recently finished building up a rather beautiful new road bike so we spent some time drooling over the details, discussing tube size and other such important matters before he had a quick spin to test out my cafe racer bars on the Ogre and eventually we set off in search of Coffeeneuring based adventure.

Pootling out of Manchester City Centre, we set off down Oxford Road in the general direction of Didsbury and The Art of Tea which Matt had recommended after reading good things about on t’ interweb. I was excited.

The ride down there was great, we continued chatting about nonsense and Matt got all nostalgic about how the place had changed since he’d lived there some years ago… something about “Ey, when I were a lad, it were all fields ’round ‘ere!” and “Ah, good to see Akbar’s is still there…” as we rolled through Kebab Alley.

  1. coffeneuring3 the art of tea coffeeWhere I went: The Art of Tea, 47 Barlow Moor Road, Didsbury, Manchester, M20 6TW.
  2. Date I went there: Sunday 12th October 2014.
  3. What I drank: We both had white coffee which I ordered alongside a couple of simple toasted teacakes.
  4. A detail or two about my coffeeneuring ride: The coffee arrived after a short delay but there was no sign of teacakes. As time went by and we drank the coffee cups dry, still no teacakes. By which point we accepted the fact we’d been largely forgotten about, despite there being a sum total of 4 (count ’em, 4) other customers in the entire place.
    When I went in to pay, I was told by one of the 2 waiting staff (that’s 3 customers or 1.5 tables per member of staff) that the chef was “having a crisis” and asked whether I still wanted my teacakes. I did not.
    I spent a penny before leaving and cut my finger on the broken hot water tap… what a shambles. There are some simple basics I expect: if your so-called-chef is having a meltdown because he either can’t find the teackes, can’t get them out of the packet or can’t work the toaster, TELL ME. If something is damaged (and clearly has been for a long time) and is likely to cause injury to your customers, FIX IT. I’m sorry to say that you got the basics all kinds of wrong today, Art of Tea. And, because of that, I’ll NEVER be coming back again.
  5. Bike friendliness of the locale: Again, The Art of Tea scores extremely poorly here. Not a single bike rack in sight and outside tables crammed in so much that there’s nowhere there to leave your bike. Being a Sunday, the shop next door was closed so we leaned our bikes there and kept a close eye out.
  6. Mileage: Up to this point, around 12ish probably.
  7. Must visit?: For all the reasons above, and despite the clear potential of the place, I have no option but to recommend you don’t even bother going there in the first place, let alone going back time and again.

Well, with that unpleasantness out of the way, we set off in search of more adventure and somehow ended up heading back the way we came and then going on a bit of a tour around Eccles, Monton, Worsley, Swinton and a few other places.

At Worsley, we spotted a small shopfront and an intriguing alleyway running alongside it. We tentatively pushed the bikes down there and found ourselves in The Secret Garden – my official entry as Coffeeneuring ride #3:

 

  1. coffeneuring3 secret garden worsleyWhere I went: The Secret Garden Tea Room, 11, Barton Road
    Worsley, Manchester, M28 2PD.
  2. Date I went there: Sunday 12th October 2014.
  3. coffeneuring3 asparagus soup and teaWhat I drank: This time we ordered tea for 2 which arrived in rather dainty little bone china cups and a bowl of asparagus soup each.
  4. A detail or two about my coffeeneuring ride: Asparagus soup is DELICIOUS! Service was quick, friendly and efficient. Surroundings were very pleasant and I could’ve quite easily sat there all day.
  5. coffeneuring3 matt eating soupBike friendliness of the locale: We just piled into the place with our bikes and leant them against the gazebo in the corner – nobody batted an eyelid. Oh, and they didn’t seem to mind us nomming our soup like we hadn’t eaten in 2 days either.
  6. Mileage: By this point (we continued riding for a while after this), probably about 20.
  7. Must visit?: Oh hell yes. Get yourself down there RIGHT NOW.

 

bicycle race

Heaton Park Surly Big DummyA few days ago, I read somewhere that a cyclocross race was going on in a big park not far from where I live so I made plans to head down there with a flask of something hot and watch a bit of the action.

By pure coincidence, my friends from the bike shop were also planning to go down and heckle support some of their customers who were taking part. When they mentioned they’d be bringing hot chocolate and beer, I was completely sold.

Heaton Park Surly Ogre BOB YakFor no particular reason, I hitched my BOB Yak up to the Ogre and loaded it up with little folding stools, a box of cake and a flask of tea.

“Did you really need to bring the trailer?” Rich asked me. “Of course not!”, I responded. But hey, I’ve never let common sense get in the way of having fun before and I’m certainly not going to start now!

What with it being Sunday, I thought I’d take the opportunity to squeeze in Coffeeneuring trip 2:

  1. Where I went: My first ‘coffee shop without walls’ of the challenge – Heaton Park, Manchester.
  2. Date I went there: Sunday 5th October 2014.
  3. What I drank: Well, therein lies a tale.
    Coffeeneuring2 hot chocolate and cakeFirst, I had an instant hot chocolate made by Rich on his jet boil stove with a blueberry & lemon cake made by Karen – it was a surprisingly good combo and I’m glad I resisted the repeated offers of a shot of Whisky in my hot chocolate. Some of the others were not so strong and ended up with more whiskey than hot chocolate…
    Coffeeneuring2 Duvel beerSoon enough, however, I caved and had a bottle of Duvel. IT. WAS. DELCIOUS. A little later, I caved a little more and had a bottle of Sol. IT. WAS. ALSO. DELICIOUS. All around me, people were supping assorted beers and taking swigs from the ever-present flask of whiskey. Still, I resisted.
    Coffeeneuring2 teaIn between beers, I had some of the tea I’d brought with me. It was tea. It was not especially delicious. I continued to resist the whiskey, largely because I can’t abide the taste of the stuff but mostly because I wanted to make it home in one piece.
  4. Heaton Park Surly Big DummyA detail or two about my coffeeneuring ride: My left knee started hurting during yesterday’s ride and is really quite painful today. I stopped at the supermarket on the way to buy marshmallows but they didn’t have any. The road to the park was randomly closed for resurfacing so I had to take a huge diversion. My trailer has developed an odd noise. There was a lot to be grumpy about but, do you know what? I think I’m starting to understand this whole Coffeeneuring business… When you force yourself to ride slowly and then you just spend some time hanging out with good friends, sharing the contents of your assorted panniers / trailers / frame bags in nice surroundings, soaking up what remains of the day’s warmth as you heckle those crazy enough to actually partake in the racing, there’s all of a sudden nothing at all to feel grumpy about.
  5. Bike friendliness of the locale: Well, it’s a public park with plenty of nice wide paths and some really nice scenery so it scores very well on bike friendliness initally. But, if you want to leave your bike somewhere and go for a walk in the woods or pop into the coffee shop or even just take a leak, there is absolutely NOWHERE to lock your bike up. That’s fine if you have someone to watch it or you’re a risk taker but I think it again shows how little thought goes into the needs of your average bike rider when public places in England are being put together. Is this a problem in other countries, I wonder?
  6. Mileage: Probably 10 – 15, especially with the unplanned diversion.
  7. Must visit?: Meh.

So, there you have it. 2 of my 7 coffeeneuring rides completed on the first weekend of the challenge – tune in next week for more of the same!

Oh, and because I know you love ’em and we didn’t see anyone riding one in the race, here’s a few pictures of our collection of Surly bikes.

Surly Big Dummy Surly Crosscheck Surly Steamroller single speed CrosscheckSurly just because sticker

little lies

 

10363963_10152688171339863_19144140860253414_nRolling through the delightfully named village of Upperthong, I couldn’t resist stopping to document the warning of headless children and their headless parents.

I’m reliably informed there is also a Lowerthong and even a Neverthong although I suspect the latter is more life advice than a place name…

Moments later (still childishly sniggering at ‘Upperthong’), I was hurtling downhill, pushing 40mph and leaning into a corner as I saw the bonnet of a car pulling out of a side road.

Instinctively, I pulled on the brakes and attempted to steer to safety. The rear tyre squealed for mercy as it let go of the tarmac, taking the bike into a superbike-esque sideways skid leaving the front brake to do all the work while I did everything in my power to stop it locking up.

Some time later, at the bottom of the hill my riding companion gave me that familiar ashen-faced look, revealing just how close that shave must’ve been.

Scout Tunnel Huddersfield Narrow Canal Surly TrollThis was just one of many crazy moments, the likes of which I seem to come across quite often… earlier in the ride I was fumbling around in the dark, slipping on slimy cobbles as water dripped down my neck (courtesy of the very long, very damp and VERY DARK Scout Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, near Stalybridge).

Later, I found myself being chased along the Woodhead Pass section of the Trans Pennine Trail by an extremely frisky and very vocal Spring lamb. We couldn’t decide whether he was excited to see us, annoyed we were disturbing his otherwise peaceful afternoon napping in the sunshine or just plain crazy but what must’ve been the lamb’s mother eventually came wearily trotting over and called him back after he nearly went under our wheels for the 3rd time. She had that “…he does this EVERY time a cyclist comes by…” look on her face.

Huh. Sheep do have expressions on their faces. Who knew?

Salter's Brook 2x Surly Troll Salter's Brook BridgeJust before our run in with the sheep, we’d stopped for a photo opportunity at Salter’s Brook Bridge. It’s all historical and interesting here, there’s a (now ruined) shelter which used to be a haven from the elements back when people transported salt across t’ Pennines by way of long-suffering packhorse. The keen-eyed observers amongst you may have spotted some similarities between our two long-suffering packhorses… Yep, what we have here is the rare sight of 2 original orange Surly Trolls basking in the sunshine in their natural habitat.

Surly Troll Greenfield 1This one is, of course, mine and I suppose these days it’s technically a Surl Troll since the ‘Y’ fell off. These days it’s back in what has become know as “heavy ass utility mode” with rigid fork, Jeff Jones Loop Bars, front & rear racks and Halo Twin Rail tyres.

Surly Troll Greenfield 2T’other Troll (the gigantic one) is owned by our freakishly tall friend of Northern Walker fame. Ever since we rode together with Shona & Rich from Keep Pedalling, Tyler & Trevor from Surly Bikes and a bunch of other like minded crazy folks, the Northern Walker Cyclist and I have been negotiating with our respective other halves for a free pass so we can go out and play on our bikes. And, one beautiful day in mid-May, that’s exactly what we did.

Behold: Trollfest #1.

2x Surly Troll GreenfieldOK, OK… I know all of 2 bikes hardly qualifies as a ‘fest’ but the next one promises to be much better attended. In fact, we’re hoping to double the number of attendees to a semi-impressive… um, 4.

These Surly Troll things are a bit rare, you know.

Now, he’s a lovely bloke that Northern Walker but he does have a dark side…

He lies.

And he likes to torment fat blokes (or, at least this fat bloke).

Our route started in Manchester City Centre at the bike shop, picked up the Ashton Canal which took us out to Stalybridge where we marvelled at all the people clammering to get into Tesco’s while the trails were blissfully quiet. We continued on to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal which included the slippery walk through Scout Tunnel, an emergency banana stop and a number of missed photo opportunities.

Surly Troll Greenfield 3We pushed on through Mossley and started the serious climbing as we hit Greenfield. With the promise of imminent cake, I dug deep and did everything I could to keep up as we climbed yet further into Diggle.

More photo opportunities passed us by as I rode down some surprisingly familiar trails which form part of the challenging Diggle Jiggle I rode sometime last year.

Dying a thousand deaths, I was again promised cake. We pushed on with stomachs rumbling and the sun climbing higher in the sky.

“Just a little further”, he said.

The Northern Walker’s bike computer topped out at just over 61kph but I was still accelerating as I got down into the elusive beard-resting-on-the-bars aero position, moved out into the centre of the road and just let the bike go as fast as it wanted to.

As it turned out, “as fast as the bike wanted to go” was “faster than I felt safe going” so I pulled the brakes on and started the gradual process of slowing to a stop. The combination of the momentum I’d built up, the weight of the bike and the fat bloke tearing it down a long ass hill was enough to leave the brake discs scorched and the pads fading… it stopped me, but if I’d needed to slow down in an emergency, I would’ve been out of luck. It was spectacular fun.

Eventually, we rolled into Marsden and I missed yet another photo opportunity as we leaned the bikes against the window at the rather excellent Crumbals on the Corner.

FINALLY. Cake.

We gorged ourselves on tea, sandwiches and a huge slice of cake, basked in the sun, swapped cycling stories and lingered longer than we probably should have.

Dragging ourselves away from the deliciousness, we hopped back on the bikes and headed for the aforementioned Upperthong via Meltham, regretting ordering (and nomming) such a large slice of cake on top of a large sandwich.

As we dug into our food at Crumbals, I was warned about “the climb out of Holmfirth” but was reassured that, while it’s “sharp”, it’s also “short”. Uh huh. Yeah. Like, “yeah, we’ll have cake soon”…

The warnings about the upcoming climb continued as we again hared downhill on the way out of Upperthong (this is where the near-death experience occured, as I recall).

We stopped at Holmfirth and, as the roadies whizzed by in every direction, we saw the NCN route 68 sign gleefully pointing up a very sharp climb which curved to the left past some houses.

“Like I said, it’s sharp but it ends just around that corner”

With those words of encouragement ringing in my ears, I approached the climb, dropped it into the granny ring and said “Right, let’s go and get laughed at by the roadies…”

If I was going up that hill, I was going up it hard. Instantly, as the ridiculous incline started, I lost all momentum and instinctively stood on the pedals. As the Trollhoff clicked down next to me, I arrogantly clicked up a few gears and rode by my friend with the blind determination of a bloody fool.

I rounded the corner and the “short, sharp climb” only got longer and sharper. I made some kind of guttural noise and pushed on even harder thinking that maybe it starts to even out after the second curve… Mockingly, the incline increased and I was forced to sit down and drop into the lowest of the low gears. Before long, I had to admit defeat and get off and walk.

To add insult to injury, I was soon passed by the Rohloff-turning long-legged liar who, whilst once a friend of mine, was now some git I’d once met.

By now, the sun was high in the crystal clear sky and, as they say, only Mad Dogs and Englishmen venture out in the mid-day sun. I’d refilled my bidons back at Crumbals but as we took a wrong turn on the approach to Winscar reservoir, we were both running dangerously low on fluids and the salt we’d lost through sweat was all too apparent in the crystalline white patches on our jerseys and shorts.

“Welcome to Barnsley” the sign said.

“Barnsley?”

“BARNSLEY???”

“WHAT THE <bleep> ARE WE DOING IN BARNSLEY???” I said.

“I must’ve missed a turn somewhere…” the git said.

10390431_10152688171039863_2646682817147008200_nChecking the GPS, we found this ‘road’ heading in roughly the right direction. As we hit the surface (a mixture of deep sand, large sandstone boulders, loose hardcore and patches of lingering wet mud, we revelled in the unstoppable capablity of our rides. In their own way, they were very different machines – 1 with derailleurs, the other with (probably) the most expensive (and reportedly the best) internal gear hub in the world; 1 extra large, the other regular sized; 1 with uber-expensive Jones bars, the other with el-cheapo riser bars; 1 with now-super-hard-to-find Schwalbe Marathon Extreme tyres and the other with get-’em-anywhere Halo Twin Rails; but despite all the subtleties, these two machines had transported us across smooth tarmac at high speed, climbed obscene hills off road, descended obscene hills on and off road and handled just about every type of terrain you could fit into one day and, what’s more, they’d done it without missing a beat.

Surly Troll Clif Shot BlocksWe were almost completely out of fluids by this point and we were both drawing on what little remained of our emergency energy reserves.

This packet of Clif Shot Blocks and the remaining contents of our bidons was the only thing that dragged us up the climb from Winscar reservior to Dunford Bridge.

It was my turn to lie as I said “this isn’t a long climb”; which it probably isn’t but by that point, it sure as hell felt like it.

When I eventually caught up at the highest point on the Trans Pennine Trail, the Northern Walker revealed the secret to his dehydrated-hill-climbing success: “Yeah, I just had to have a word with myself…”

Soon after, we legged it across the Woodhead Pass, missed more photo opportunities, hung out at Salter’s Brook and survived ‘the lamb incident’.

Woodhead pass to Longdendale TrailFrom here, I knew it was all downhill (or at least flat) all the way back to Manchester so we paused briefly atop the Woodhead Pass before belting downhill to the Longdendale Trail which we despatched in record time, dropping the hammer and not relenting until we rolled into Hadfield.

The phone rang. We had already been out for over 7 hours. We were a good 2 hours beyond our curfew. There must’ve been something in the gravelly voice that meant the boss let us stay out just that little bit longer.

Instinctively, we fell into the pub and ordered 2 pints of the coldest, most delicious beer in the world. I also ordered a glass of iced soda water and asked for it to be poured right away. The barmaid, bless her, stopped everything she was doing and instantly poured us 2 ice-cold glasses of bubbling nectar which lasted a good… 10 seconds.

The beer lasted about 10 minutes.

We parted ways and I hopped on the train back to Manchester, the Northern Walker (now my friend again thanks to the miracle of beer) headed for home over t’ hills. The 6ish miles from the station back to home were a blissful blur, my dusty bike steering its own way, my legs somehow keeping the cranks turning as my frazzled brain recounted the day’s highs and lows.

Best. Day. Ever. (since the last one and until the next one)

Surly Troll bridleway

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.

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!!!