learning to fly

Wait. What? How can the 2015 Chasing Mailboxes Errandonnee Challenge be over already??? And I was having such a good time, too!

Well, we started out with an entry in my favourite new category (You carried WHAT on your bike?!) so it seems only apt to end there too.

Errand #11: Cake delivery | Date: 15 March 2015 | Category: You carried WHAT on your bike?! | Miles: lots | Thing I noticed: People will eat cake, regardless of how smushed it is, providing it’s free. | Bonus: Carrying a baked good.

Yes, I said cake delivery. I ever-so-carefully placed the cakes in the box and secured them in my Carradice saddle bag… on my Surly Ogre MTB. And then I went mountain biking in the Pennines. You see, the cake delivery was to the people I was riding with and it just so happened the location of the delivery turned out to be several hours and many, many extremely rough miles up the Pennine Bridleway.

Before:errandonnee11 cakes beforeAfter:errandonnee11 cakes afterWhoa. Those cakes did NOT survive well. But that certainly didn’t stop my friends from digging in and eating the whole lot!

errandonnee12 emusErrand #12: Surlyfest with friends (other Surlys and friends not pictured) | Date: 15 March 2015 | Category: take your pick from social call / personal care / wild card | Miles: lots and lots | Thing I noticed: Epic scenery (and some random emus).

Originally, this ride was supposed to be the much anticipated and long overdue Trollfest #4 (and then there were four) but, in the end not a single one of us actually turned up on a Surly Troll!

I neglected to take any pictures of the collection but there were 2 Surly Karate Monkeys (both single speed), a single speed Surly Krampus, a Rohloff equipped Surly ECR and, of course, my Surly Ogre now in all its knobbly tyred off-road glory.

The wind was relentless and chilled us all to our cores as we rode through some of the best scenery the Pennines has to offer, finding new trails, rediscovering ancient packhorse trails and even inventing new trails through tussocks of grass and boggy marshes.

We took turns failing to crest impossible climbs and I had more than my fair share of close shaves as my rusty mountain biking skills were exposed on the technical descents.

My friend Matt and I unknowingly entered into a bizarre competition to see who could catch the most air off whatever piece of rock or whatever we could find as we hurtled downhill. I’d like to think I scored OK and by the end of the ride was even getting quite good at it but when I tell you Matt was carrying luggage on his ECR and was still catching bigger air than me, I think you’ll agree he deserves the prize!

What a way to round out a great challenge – can’t wait for the next one!errandonnee12 Surly Ogre

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life is a lemon (and i want my money back)

Well, for a moment there I was getting a bit worried that the 12 days of the 2015 Chasing Mailboxes Errandonnee Challenge was slipping away and I was running dangerously low on completed errands. And then one simple errand led to a massive five in one day and one more the following day. AND I’m one step closer to getting over not being allowed to have a Krampus (yet) (again).

errandonnee4 bike partsErrand #4: Picking up new shiny from the bike shop | Date: 10 March 2015 | Category: personal business (getting over the whole Krampus thing) | Miles: 12 | Thing I noticed: that doesn’t look like £80 worth of gear, but it is.

The new shiny in question was: 4 new tubes, a gear cable, some jockey wheels, a chain and 2 disc brake rotors. The plan being to convert my Surly Ogre from its current setup as foul weather commuter and dedicated coffeeneuring rig to a fully rigid, knobbly tyred, lightweight (as lightweight as Surlys get, anyway) 29er mountain bike.

Basically, convert it into the closest thing I can get to a Krampus with the meager budget I’m allowing myself to splurge on bikes at the moment.

errandonnee5 Surly Ogre MTBErrand #5: Surly Ogre MTB shakedown ride, part one | Date: 11 March 2015 | Category: wild card | Miles: 15 (combined for errands # 5 – 9) | Thing I noticed: I’m too fat to ride a 1×9 setup where 39:36 is the lowest gear ratio available to me.

Errand #6: Showing off the Ogre to my bike shop friends | Date: 11 March 2015 | Category: social call | Miles: 0 | Thing I noticed: The Ogre now weighs (only) ~17kg. There’s no picture because I’m sure you’re sick of seeing my bike at the shop!

Errand #7: Getting money out of the cashpoint so I could pay back the tenner I owed Karen | Date: 11 March 2015 | Category: non-store errand | Miles: 0 | Thing I noticed: I still can’t work a cashpoint with gloves on (I seem to remember noticing this last year too). There’s no picture because there was a queue of people behind me waiting to use the one working machine and I suspect they’d have beaten me if I stopped to take a photo.

errandonnee6 white spiritErrand #8: Buying some white spirit so I can clean paintbrushes and thin down the yacht varnish I’m using for the new garage door frame (how rock & roll is my life?) | Date: 11 March 2015 | Category: store | Miles: 0 | Thing I noticed: One does not simply walk into the store and just buy some white spirit – there must’ve been 20 different options! I went with the one that I felt struck the best balance between value for money and ability to fit in my Carradice saddle bag.

errandonnee7 lemonsErrand #9: Picking up some lemons for Karen to make Lemon Drizzle cake with | Date: 11 March 2015 | Category: store | Miles: 0 | Thing I noticed: People look at me like I’m crazy when I take pictures of lemons and, to quote my friend Tess, the white spirit and the lemons “is gonna make a helluva martini”.

Overall, the shakedown went well and all I really needed to do was adjust the angle of the handlebars slightly and think seriously about the gearing. I’d originally planned to put a standard MTB triple on the front but then I got to thinking about whether I really need a big ring and settled on a double with bash ring.

Then I thought: hang on a minute, I’ve already got a single ring with bash fitted to the Ogre… maybe I can just run that as a 1×9 with a 12:36 cassette. As it turns out though, the 39 tooth chainring I had on there (which I’d wrongly thought was 36 tooth) was just way too tall for the kind of riding I want to do and even on the flat I wasn’t using the high gears so a smaller chainring was in order.

After rummaging in the parts box, I found a 32 tooth middle ring on an old Shimano chainset so I threw that on and headed out for a quick spin to the shops. It’s a shame I’ve already used up my 2 store errands, but there you go.

Errand #10: Surly Ogre MTB shakedown ride, part deux | Date: 12 March 2015 | Category: personal care (because leaving the old gearing on there would’ve killed me). Miles: 1.5. Thing I noticed: the gearing was so high before because what I thought was a 36t chainring was *actually* a 39t chainring! This 32t ring is *much* more sensible.

errandonnee10 Surly Ogre Sturmey Archer Blackspire4 full days to go and only 2 more errands to complete! How are you getting on?

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

people just love to play with words

 

You may recall, back in March, I had an absolute blast taking part in the Chasing Mailboxes Errandonnee Challenge. I even managed to complete the challenge with the help of a snow day (even though it didn’t snow) and some rather creative bending of the rules.

Now, I’m a bit of a sucker for a challenge and if it involves even more questionable word-play on “Randonneur”, all the better.

Happily, our friends over at Chasing Mailboxes are putting on the fourth annual incarnation of the now world famous Coffeeneuring Challenge! Don’t ask me how to pronounce it.

The rules are delightfully simple: all I have to do is drink 7 cups of coffee in 7 different places over 7 weekends, riding a minimum of 2 miles for each trip. There are a few more details but essentially that’s it!

So, without further ado, here are the details of my first Coffeeneuring outing of 2014:

  1. Where I went: Deli-Lama Cafe-Bar, 22 Chapel Street, Salford, M3 5LE
  2. Date I went there: Saturday, 4th October 2014
  3. coffeeneuring1 - coffeeWhat I drank: A simple (but very delicious) white coffee with brown sugar (it’s SO nice to find a place with brown sugar)
  4. A detail or two about my coffeeneuring ride: I sat outside and was quickly joined by a rather eccentric Scot who instantly starting swearing at me in that charming way only Billy Connolly can get away with.Wait. Now I come to think of it, this guy looked and sounded almost exactly like the Big Yin… nah, can’t have been.Anyhoo, in the 20 minutes or so we spent together, we discussed all sorts of important things like “Where the f*&k is Islington?”, “What f*&king noise are they compaining about?”, how good his bacon & egg sandwich was, whether it’s illegal to cycle through red lights and why it’s harder to play golf when it’s below freezing outside.

    Normally I hate it when random strangers come and talk to me but I liked this guy instantly. I think this might be the magic of Coffeeneuring… on any other ride, I would never have stopped for a coffee and, therefore, wouldn’t have met my foul-mouthed new friend and experienced his unique (and highly cynical) outlook on life.

  5. coffeeneuring1 - bike racksBike friendliness of the locale: Unfortunately, Deli-Lama suffers from an acute lack of bicycle racks, or anything else you can chain your bike to… I blame Salford Council, not the cafe. You can just make out the Ogre chained to some railings across the street… not somewhere I’d like to leave it unattended for very long, I’m sorry to say.
  6. Mileage: I dunno… I went for a bit of a ride around North Manchester on the way… Maybe 20 miles? Whatever, it was more than the requisite 2.
  7. Must visit?: Despite living only 5 or 6 miles away, I almost never go to Deli-Lama despite it very much being my kind of place – the food is excellent and the menu varied, the welcome is warm and the surroundings comforting. So, is it a ‘must visit’? I think so.

Surly Ogre River IrwellI rode home via the banks of the River Irwell which was looking rather pretty bathed in surprisingly warm sunlight on this beautiful autumn day.

Oh, if anyone’s still keeping count, I think the Ogre is now sporting its fourth or fifth set of handlebars… In the Coffeeneuring spirit, it’s now gone all cafe racer style for… you know, racing to and from cafes.

Surly Ogre cafe racer bars

hallelujah

river irwell 1

 

The final rays of the evening sun shone through the treetops.

The snow white tail of a wild rabbit disappeared into the undergrowth.

Overhead, a Heron flapped his awkward way down the river.

I reached down, grabbed another gear and tore through the woods without a care in the world.

Sweat dripping down my face, beard resting on the loop of my Jeff Jones bars and my 8 speed Shimano Alfine hub making that odd clickclickclickclickclick sound, I found myself wondering how something so apparently insignificant can make such a dramatic difference.

Surly Ogre Alfine 8 Jtek bar end shifterYou see, as fond as I was of my Surly Ogre with drop bars and a Jtek bar end shifter, I’ve been having shifting issues ever since I fitted it. For reasons that escape me and two bike shop mechanics, the gear cable tension would inexplicably go out of alignment every now and again even though I know for a fact the wheel wasn’t moving in the dropouts (thanks to a Surly Tuggnut) and there was no issue with the cable or shifter. Meh, blame it on Gremlins.

Unfortunately, Shimano only make one shifter for their Alfine hubs and it’s the trigger shifter type you find on most flat bar bikes (thank the lord it’s not a hideous twist-grip).

Surly Ogre Jones Loop bars Shimano Alfine 8 shifterSo, my only alternative to the Jtek was to take the drop bars off the Ogre and replace them with something a little more conventional… I peered around the garage and spotted the Jones bars on my Troll. A new set of brake levers, a fresh set of cables and a half an hour later and the Ogre was transformed.

All of a sudden, the gear alignment was perfect and the hub was running smoother and quieter than ever before.

There’s just nothing like riding down a perfect trail in perfect weather with the bike underneath you running, well, perfectly.

Surly Ogre cobbles disused canalAnd what of the Troll? Well, I happened to pop into the bike shop and they just happened to have a set of original Surly Open bars lying around… what was I going to do, not buy them???

Surly Troll Open bars

why don’t you get a job?

 

Grump.Grump. Grump.

I’ve had the last week off work, today was my first day back in.

Well, I say I’ve had the last week off but it was actually only 4 working days because I ended up going in on what was supposed to be the first day of my holiday because there was too much ‘urgent’ and / or ‘important’ stuff on my to-do list.

Grump.

On top of that, stupid real life syndrome kept me from spending what remained on my precious week off exclusively on the bike.

More grump.

When I did manage to get out, the trails were blissfully bereft of fair weather cyclists.

Happy dance.

Unfortunately, like any other vacuum, the space left vacant was filled by the only other people able to spend their days somewhere other than at work: The Great British [sic] Unemployed.

Now, I’m not about to embark on some kind of tirade and unfairly pigeon hole those who are genuinely out of work for reasons beyond their control… I know not all unemployed people are the same. I just seem to encounter the worst of ’em. I probably deserve it.

Most of the trial dwellers I seemed to come across were litter-dropping, cannabis-smoking yoof who would much rather deliberately block the way and intimidate me than politely smile and return my friendly “hello”… come back fair weather cyclists, all is forgiven.

Grump.

As I chained my bike up outside the office this morning, I had that familiar feeling of wanting to be out on the trails instead… but then I thought, without this job, I wouldn’t be able to afford the bike(s) I regularly take out on the trails. And, if I had every day to be out there, would I appreciate them as much as I do now? Who knows.

What I do know for sure is that, as much as I could’ve easily just kept cycling this morning rather than going to work, if I had’ve headed for the trails, I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze in my final errand for the 2014 Chasing Mailboxes Errandonnee Challenge!

Happy dance.

Yep, just when I thought I wasn’t going to make it, today I managed to squeeze in one last errand.

Errand #12: commuting home from work | category: work | miles: 10 | thing I learned / observed: I might not always like it, but I’m grateful to have a good job | bonus: completed after dark (lighting method: hub dynamo powering front & rear lamps)

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