why is your raincoat always crying?

As utterly bonkers as Simone White may be, I must confess to owning (and regularly playing) her surprisingly excellent album ‘I am the man’ which is how I came to know of this equally bonkers song. Originally, I bought the CD after falling in love with ‘The beep beep song’ made famous by this brilliant Audi advert so please feel free to listen to that instead whilst I bore you with cycling related trivia.

So why the fascination with the bonkers (albeit cute) Simone White all of a sudden? Well, regular visitors will know I like to post a song which is at least semi-related to the topic I’m boring you with writing about and today is no exception. In fact, dear readers, I have a semi-exciting new feature for you which may or may not become a regular fixture here at life in the cycle lane.

A great many of the hits my humble little blog gets are referred from various search engines around the world and, through the magic of the stats WordPress provides me with, I can even tell what people were searching for when they landed here. So, I thought it might be fun to answer some of the questions I’ve been indirectly asked this week.

First up: “what cane creek headset goes in the ogre”

Err… any one you like really; providing it has external cups of course. I use an S-1 in my Troll which looks and works great… I replaced the plastic top cap with a metal one but other than that it’s cool.

Second (and a bit more interesting): “how my cycle will go wrong on commute”

Any number of ways… Main things to watch out for are:

  • Punctures – Stop being a lettuce and spend some money on a decent set of tyres with puncture protection; they’ll pay for themselves in no time. I ride on Halo Twin Rails which are awesome as are Scwhalbe Kojaks (in fact, almost everything from Schwalbe is good for commuting).
  • Visibility – Get yourself a bright yellow jacket if you absolutely must but any decent cycling gear should have reflective bits on it which go a long way to getting you seen out on the roads. I wear a Gore Phantom II jacket almost all of the time and it has plenty of shiny for me.
  • Lights – Technically, this comes under visibility because commuter lights are really more about being seen rather than seeing (unless you ride home down a completely unlit street). Again, you have to be OK with spending a few quid here and you’ll want something with several modes (including flashing) to suit various light conditions.
  • Luggage – Dependent on how much stuff you want / need to carry, you’re going to need some decent luggage to house it if you’re serious about commuting; to carry said luggage, you’re also going to want a decent rack. I use a pair of Ortlieb Back Roller Classic rear panniers which are rugged, waterproof and downright cavernous; they hang off a Ragley rack ’em up pannier rack which is awesome. Many, many other bag & rack combinations are available and some are more suited to certain bikes than others… head down to your local bike shop and get some advice.

And finally this week: “surly troll frame weight”

It’s heavy; stop being a lettuce.

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how bizarre

 

People give me strange looks from time to time… sometimes, children point and say things. I suppose I should be offended but there’s something I quite like about being quirky, enigmatic and just a little bit unhinged. Maybe when I get old, I’ll live in a ramshackle old house and yell at the neighbourhood kids for playing on my lawn…

Anyway, I’ve always put these odd looks down to my homeless guy beard, my patented so-long-and-messy-it’s-not-actually-messy hairstyle and my rock hard body (OK, I made that last one up) but recently I’ve been getting more looks and pointing children than is normal, even for me.

And the cause of this fascination? Well, I live in (but am not originally from) Manchester so maybe the local wildlife is trying to figure out why I’m not dressed in a tracksuit, don’t look like a member of Oasis and haven’t got a ‘retro’ vinyl Lonsdale sports bag permanently slung over my shoulder. But no, I suspect it’s something much simpler than that.

Powder coated in a shade of bright orange any Manc would be kill to have a tracksuit made in, my Surly Troll and its matching bright orange Ortlieb panniers is the kind of thing that stops people in their tracks and makes them say things like “Maaate, look at them tyres”, “F**k me, he means business” and the suchlike… I don’t know, maybe they’re only used to seeing bikes right before they cut the locks off.

Attach my BOB Yak to the Troll and even the traffic stops to gawp. This has its benefits of course, primary amongst which is the extra room you’re given on the road but it’s certainly not the kind of thing you want to do if you’re self concious.

This week, I realised the bearings in my wheel hubs had reached the end of their usable lives and were slowly but surely eating themselves resulting in the kind of noise that forced me into the bike shop (yeah, right, I need to be forced to go there) and further forced me to determine that buying a brand spangley new wheelset would make more financial sense than having the current hubs rebuilt; my girlfriend was not quite so easily convinced.

A few days later and my new wheels are built! You’ll have to wait for pictures of them fitted to the bike (that’s a job for this weekend) but for now, imagine this:

  • Halo Aerowarrior 26″ rims in white
  • Shimano XT quick release disc hubs in black
  • 28 strong, stainless steel spokes per wheel in shiny silver

Yep, as if it wasn’t already a head turner, those white rims are only going to make it stand out more!

So this morning I attached my BOB Yak single wheel cargo trailer to the Troll using the dedicated BOB Nutz I spent so long fitting to the frame and dragged it into work so I could pick up my new wheels on the way home. It’s a fairly odd experience pulling an empty trailer behind the bike and it certainly provokes more than a few odd looks; it also has a disturbing tendency to spring into the air if you crash it through a big enough pothole – you have been warned.

Loaded up with a bit of weight however, the Yak starts making all kinds of sense; it stays planted thanks to the really low centre of gravity and, because it mounts from both sides of the frame and has a single wheel at the back, it leans with the bike, flows through corners in a perfect curve with the bike and comes with almost no aero drag because it’s no wider than the bike. It really is genius.

The Troll too is weird. The geometry of the frame is all kinds of bizarre, no matter which way you slice it; stick drop bars on like I have and it just gets stranger… But again, start weighing it down with stuff & things and it all makes perfect sense.

The awesome people over at Keep Pedalling in Manchester (yes, it’s a shameless plug – go there and spend money!) have been really good to me, offering to take in a delivery of the afore mentioned stuff & things this week which I picked up today with my wheels – I’d got the Troll & the Yak… what could possibly go wrong?

Well, nothing as it turns out! It has to be said, I wasn’t quite expecting so many stuff & things to be there but I somehow managed to stuff it all into my panniers, strap it onto my front & rear racks and load it into the trailer. With all that bulk and weight, lesser bikes could certainly become unsettled on the road but my On One Midge ‘dirt drop’ bars provide me with a really wide, comfortable riding position which helps to keep the overall centre of gravity low and the whole load nice and stable.

Sure, a lot of people gawped at me on the ride home and several children pointed and said things I’m sure they thought were funny but hey, this is why I spent all that money on the bike and trailer:

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!

patience

 

Do you remember that feeling you used to get as a child when you’d wake up early, scamper down the stairs and ever-so-tentatively open the living room door to see if Santa Claus had been and left you some presents?

Every day this week I’ve had that exact same feeling; arriving home from work, opening the front door and seeing…

…absolutely nothing. Postie has brought me nothing but bills and junk mail this week. Until today, that is.

Easily 4′ tall, about 2′ wide and probably 1′ deep, this has to be the biggest box I’ve had delivered that didn’t contain a complete bike.

Naturally, I barely managed to get my post-ride stretches done and my helmet off before I was reaching for a knife and attacking the sellotape. Inside, there were 2 more boxes and, inside each of those, more boxes. Inside the increasingly little boxes, little plastic bags. And, inside those little plastic bags, 17 hundred million little bolts, washers and other assorted bits of hardware. The exciting things, however, the things I’ve been waiting for all bloody week were the reason for the comedy oversize box.

Yes, dear readers, it’s time for my faithful old Merida to hang up its commuting hat and retire. Or, more likely, get listed for sale on eBay so someone else can put a few more thousand miles on the clock with her.

The long awaited Surly Troll Monster Cross Commutourer is finally ready for daily Manchester based commuting abuse. The last few bits I was waiting for (bottle cages and pannier racks) have finally arrived.

As with all things, I agonised over which racks would be right for me; even going so far as to order a Lezyne Power Rack Elite only to have a regular Lezyne Power Rack arrive so, despite it being a very nice thing, it had to go back to the shop for a refund. Sigh.

In the end, I decided that scrimping and saving really wasn’t the answer, threw caution completely to the wind and asked myself:

“What kind of pannier racks should I fit to a Surly?”
“Err… Surly racks.”
“But. But. But… They’re £100. Each!”
“Yeah. And?”
“And… She’ll kill me. Kill me dead.”
“Nah. It’s only 4 months’ bus fare.”
“Ah, well, when you put it like that…”

And so, the decision was made. Surly racks it would have to be. Front and rear. All 4 months’ bus fare worth. But, wait. What’s this? ‘Ragley’ you say?

It turns out there’s a dude called Brant Richards [Brant, really? Who calls their kid Brant???] who markets front and rear racks bearing a striking resemblance to those made by the good people over at Surly. Sold to me by the evil Chain Reaction Cycles with a considerable discount and an extra £15 off voucher, I bagged front and rear racks for a ‘mere’ £105.

Primarily, I built the Troll for commuting duties so, for now, I’ve only fitted the rear rack and I reckon it looks pretty good. A full review of both racks will follow once I’ve given them a few months’ testing.