somebody that I used to know

 

If I had my way, I’d have a huge barn out in the countryside. Inside, I’d have a couple of old leather couches, an antique fridge full of excellent beer and one of those funky old jukeboxes with lots of chrome and big chunky buttons.

The walls would be adorned with old tin advertising plates and maybe even the odd picture of a scantily clad girl or two. In the corner, there would be my Park Tool workstand, a nice long wooden workbench and my beloved old Snap On tool chest with all my tools carefully organised into their respective drawers.

The rest of the barn would be laid out with row after row of bike stands, displaying all the bikes I’ve ever owned and, because I’m uber rich in my fantasy barn, I would’ve owned an awful lot more bikes by now than I actually have.

There’s just one minor snag… I’m not rich.

Harumph.

Oh well. For now, I’ll just have to do without the beer fridge and jukebox and settle for putting the couple of old advertising signs I have up in the Man Cave. On the plus side, I do own a beautiful old Snap On tool chest but I must confess it’s not nearly as carefully organised as it should be.

Now, as much as it pains me to admit that Karen’s always right… well, she is always right. In this particular instance, she’s been at me recently telling me I just can’t keep my entire collection of bikes; and so, the time has come to clear a few out which has got me all nostalgic about some of my favourite rides:

Way back when, I was the proud owner of a Raleigh Pioneer Trial hybrid which was my first ‘proper’ bike. With flat bars and bar ends, 700c wheels, 21 gears and an all steel frameset with plenty of rake on the fork (Tim will no doubt like this one), this remains one of my all time favourite bikes.

As I started doing more and more miles, I started learning about bikes and bike parts and my faithful old Raleigh was more than happy to go along with my experimentation. Here she is with American Classic wheels, Shimano Deore 27 speed drivetrain, the first of many Charge Spoon saddles I’ve owned and my friend’s Bumper Transporter twin wheel trailer in tow. Eventually, I ended selling the Raleigh to a nice Lithuanian guy who is hopefully still commuting around the Midlands on it.

Before long, I’d built up enough knowledge to have a go at building my own bike and, following a rather steep learning curve, I put together my first mountain bike with my first set of Halo Twin Rail tyres, disc brakes and Marzocchi suspension forks. Man, I loved that bike! And man, was I fat in this picture! I still have some of these parts knocking around but the frame ended up getting sold once I realised it was actually a couple of sizes too small for me (more of that learning curve business).

A short while and quite a lot of saving up later and I put together my beloved Graham Weigh cyclocross bike which taught me so much about road riding, touring and the importance of having the right gearing on your bike. Starting out life with Shimano Tiagra STIs (that’s the flappy paddle style brake / gear levers you see on many road bikes with drop bars – it stands for Shimano Total Integration, by the way), this bike went through various incarnations including aero bars, pannier racks and my introduction to bar end shifters. Here you see it in my favourite setup with full wrap mudguards and matching brown saddle and bar tape. Once I’d built the Troll, there just wasn’t any place for it anymore so again, the frameset got sold off but many of the parts are still knocking around in various boxes that Karen thinks are empty…

In preparation for moving to Manchester, I had to part with my mountain bike. This was another of my all time favourites; the keen eyed observers will recognise the Marzocchi forks and handlebars etc. from my previous MTB and the Race Face chainset from the current Troll build.

The most recent eBay casualty of my collection is my faithful of old Merida. Another much experimented upon bike, I’ve used drop, flat and even butterfly bars on this bike and it really broke my heart to sell it. But, taking the money off the guy certainly helped to numb the pain!

Anyway, with only the Troll in current active service, I am officially a one bike man again… *shudder*

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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.

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want you bad

 

Those of you who know me well also know that there are precious few things in life which make me grin like an idiot and giggle like a schoolgirl; chief amongst which is, of course, the prospect of laying my hands on some new cycling related shiny.

You see, for a while now I have been coveting another… I love my Merida dearly, it takes me just about everywhere I need / want to go; often with Kojak attached, filled with god knows what. Before that, I also loved my Graham Weigh cyclocross which is currently broken down in boxes waiting for me to decide what on earth to do with it. They’re both up for sale but I also have a very soft spot for my Coventry Eagle and Falcon Panther.

But, something has always been missing… it’s hard to explain what but there was definitely something. And so, after much research, a lot of saving up and an awful lot of time spent drooling over one in the bike shop, I am ridiculously happy to report that I shall very shortly be ordering myself a Surly Troll!

Do a quick Google Images search and you’ll see several custom builds, some of which are pretty cool and some others which are… not. A fellow blogger has done quite a good job on his Troll but I think I’m going to go in a slightly different direction.

I’m lucky enough to have an awesome bike shop at my fingertips which just happens to have a ready built Troll in stock which just happens to be exactly the right size for me so this weekend (my girlfriend has gone away for a few days) I popped into the shop, bribed them with some shortbread from the excellent Blue Daisy Cafe around the corner and took the Troll out for a spin around Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

The complete bike comes with a rather odd selection of parts including some very wide handlebars, Avid disc brakes, Kenda tyres and a rather cheap and nasty WTB saddle. The Shimano Deore 27 speed mountain bike drivetrain suits the 26″ wheels and the setup of the bike very nicely and the all steel frame and fork are surprisingly light.

The major attraction for me is the incredible versatility of the bike; it’ll take just about any drivetrain you want to fit from single speed to internally geared Rohloff hub and everything inbetween. You can run disc brakes or cantis (even v-brakes if you really must), flat bars, road bars or… any bars you like – some suggestions here. Unlike many other frames, you can also fit disc brakes, full wrap mudguards and pannier racks (front and rear) all at the same time with no interference issues and, if all that wasn’t enough, there are also dedicated mounts for Surly and BOB trailers!

What will I be running? Well, I’m glad you asked! Obviously, the frame is orange. Very orange. I’ll be going for a fairly clean and simple orange and black colour scheme with the ocassional silver / chrome accent here and there:

  • Wheels: Sun Rims 26″ disc specific wheelset
  • Tyres: Halo Twin Rail 26 x 2.2″
  • Drivetrain: 27 speed MTB specific Shimano Shadow derailleurs, Race Face chainset and Dia Compe full friction bar end shifters
  • Brakes: Avid BBDB mechanical disc brakes with Cane Creek Drop V brake levers
  • Bars: On One Midge ‘dirt drop’ bars with matching stem and seatpost

As I want my Troll to be a commuter, tourer and ocassional weekend trail runner, I’ll also be fitting full wrap mudguards (just as soon as I can find some wide enough to cover the tyres!) and front and rear pannier racks too.

Keep your eyes peeled for progress reports – I’ll be ordering the frameset and other parts tomorrow!!!

 

lollipop

 

“Cheap rubber is not necessarily good rubber” was the advice I gave to a friend recently looking to buy new tyres for her hybrid; I suspect the same applies to spotty adolescents nervously buying condoms in the chemist too.

When you think about it, you can spend hours and hours mooching around bike shops, trying to figure out which bike is best for you: mountain bike, road bike, hybrid, BMX, cruiser, cyclocross, tourer, folder, singlespeed, fixie or hack…. And, there are probably some more. Then, you’ll probably spend as much time trying to settle on the colour of said bike and you’ll try on every helmet and pair of gloves in the shop but, and be honest, just how much attention do you pay to the tyres? I’ll wager it’s perhaps not as much as it could / should be.

Now, there is a lot of talk about how you shouldn’t ride a mountain bike on the road and you shouldn’t ride a road bike on the trails and you shouldn’t ride a Brompton at all; whilst I agree that Bromptons (in fact all folding bikes) should be banned for all eternity, I must say I conform more to the idea that you can ride whatever you like, wherever you like.

I ride a Merida Matts mountain bike from the 1990s with a rigid steel fork on the road… In fact, I ride it on road, off road and everything in between. Also, I ride a cyclocross bike with a rigid carbon fork (which is essentially a road bike with clearance for mud) off road so, it’s really not an exact science; very basically, the various types of bike will give you very different riding positions so it’s more about finding one that works for you.

The thing that really matters is the 2 small contact patches connecting you to whatever surface you happen to be rolling over and this is where the science really does make a difference; so, here are some basics to help you out:

  • Tarmac – The smoother and thinner the tyre, the smoother it’ll ride on the smooth surface; the same is true with tyre pressures, the higher the pressure, the smoother it’ll roll. Beware, however, that the narrower and higher pressure the tyre gets, the less it’ll deform over lumps and bumps so the ride will be less comfortable but much more efficient.
  • Mud – If you want to get down and dirty, it’s quite the opposite; you want something wide and knobbly to grab hold of whatever it can in the squishy stuff. Equally, a lower pressure will help the tyre to deform under load and assist with the grabbiong onto stuff, giving you more traction than you thought was even possible.
  • Gravel – Now, I hate to break this to you but nothing, nothing actually grips on gravel surfaces but there are some semi-slick / semi-knobbly type tyres that help move some of the gravel out of the way and grip the hardpack underneath. Choosing something with a smooth central section and knobbly ‘shoulders’ run at a mid range pressure and spending some time working on your riding style will give you the confidence you need to safely navigate the loose stuff. There’s absolutely no shame in slowing down; it’s much more fun than face surfing!
  • Snow – Again, very little will provide much in the way of real grip here but a good quality knobbly tyre suited to deep, wet mud will work great on fresh, soft snow. There are also specialist snow tyres with metal studs that will bite into hard packed ice but these are very expensive and not for the average cyclist, in my humble opinion.
  • Sand – Now, I can’t say I’ve ever actually ridden on sand but, as I understand it, the only way to go is with the widest, lowest pressure tyre you can lay your hands on. Surly and Salsa are now building ‘fat bikes’ specifically for this klind of riding; very cool indeed but again, very specialist kit.

So, what do I ride? Well, on my go-everywhere-do-everything Merida, I run 26 x 2.00″ Schwalbe Kojak slicks at 70 – 80psi which give me an incredibly comfortable, stable, predictable ride.

I love my Kojaks so much, I had a custom wheel built for my BOB Yak and bought a 16 x 1.25″ version which has significantly reduced the rolling resistance over the awful knobbly tyre that came with it as stock.

What I simply can’t explain with science (or anything else) is the awesome grip level these tyres give in all conditions. I’ve ridden them on really hot days when they seem to almost stick to the road, freezing cold, icy days when they seem to… well, they almost stick to the road and, because I live in Manchester, I’ve ridden them in just about every type of rain there is from the annoying fine stuff that makes the roads greasy right through to full on monsoon rain and, you’ve guessed it, they just stick to the road! I suspect it’s the larger than average contact patch but they’re as predictable in cold and wet conditions as they are in hot and dry ones.

With Schwalbe’s excellent Raceguard puncture protection, they’re also bombproof and mine have reflective tyre labels so they give me the much needed side on visibility I need for commuting in the dark without a full on reflective sidewall – very cool indeed.

With a little skill and an awful lot of courage, they’re also great on gravel paths and they’ll even handle hardpack dirt without any problems. They suck like a $2 whore in any kind of mud, though. You have been warned.