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

i don’t love you

Did you ever fall in love?

I mean, truly in love.

The kind of love that is all-consuming.

The kind of love that sees you spend countless hours dreaming over the object of your affections.

The kind of love you’d beg, borrow and steal for.

The kind of love you know will only end up hurting you one day but you’re too blind to see it.

The kind of love they all warned you about.

The kind of love that they said should never be…

I’m in love and I have been for some time.

And, do you know what? I know it’s wrong. I know it’ll end up hurting me. I know it shouldn’t be.

And, do you know what else? I. Don’t. Care.

Recently, the internet wet itself when Jeff Jones unveiled his latest, greatest creation in the shape of the enigmatically named Jones Plus. So, when I happened to be in the bike shop a few weeks ago and they just happened to have a pre-production prototype in, I did what I do best.

Jones Plus Truss fork1I put on my very best puppy dog eyes and somehow convinced them to let me take the thing out for a quick spin around the grotty back streets of Manchester.

Now, you may recall I was lucky enough to take a Jones out one time before… That one happened to be the fantastically ridiculous Spaceframe and was set up single speed and half fat. There was a lot to like about that bike. An awful lot. But then, it tried to kill me (or maybe it was user error) after which I kinda went off the whole thing.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fat 2But seriously, what a machine. I do remember it feeling a bit short in the (effective) top tube for my liking though and the whole setup wasn’t my bag (you can read my full ramblings about it here) but the overwhelming decision I came to was that I’d rather have a Krampus.

You can read all about how I first fell in love with the Krampus here. Dang, that was a GOOD day.

And then, of course, I got the chance to ride a Surly Ice Cream Truck. In the UK. Before it was even available in the UK. With the guys from Surly.

Yes, there are perks to having friends who own a bike shop.

Surly Ice Cream Truck 1I have to say the Ice Cream Truck surprised me. I was all ready to hate it, what with its absurd 5″ tyres and brash American ways but it was a surprisingly nimble, predictable machine with a beautiful geometry. If I were ‘into’ fat bikes, I might even be tempted to consider thinking about maybe becoming interesting in buying one. Maybe. Oh, you can read me gushing about the ICT here, if you’re ‘into’ me gushing about things.

If you can handle all that gushing, you’ll learn that once again I came to the somewhat predictable realisation that… I’d rather have a Krampus.

Jones Plus head badgeBut let’s get back to the Jones Plus with its GORGEOUS head badge.

29+? Check.

Ridiculous Truss Fork? Check.

More than 1 gear? Check.

Long wheel base? Check.

Jones bars? Check.

All kinds of fun jumping on and off assorted street furniture in Manchester? Check. (don’t tell the folks in the bike shop!)

Heck. There’s an awful lot to like about this bike. But, do you know what? Yep, you’ve guessed it:

I’d rather have a Krampus.563530_10151458835669863_576432359_n

And now, they only gone and released the Krampus Ops with its stealthy matt black paint job and sensible modular dropout system. Dammit Surly!

I know it’s wrong. I know it’ll end up hurting me. I know it shouldn’t be.

You know I don’t care.

I’m having a Krampus.

The build list is still being finalised but let’s start with this:

  • Surly Krampus Ops frameset in matt black
  • Velocity Dually rims in matt black
  • Hubs, headset, seatclamp all in chrome
  • Seatpost, stem & bars all in black
  • Custom decals and pinstriping
  • Some kind of Brooks saddle (most likely brown) with matching grips

Yes, it’s all been done before and yes, it’s based on classic hot rod styling and yes, I know all of that is absurd on a bike which will spend its life being thrown around t’ Pennines. No, I don’t care.

Merry Krampus, everyone.

Krampus montage

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

mr. jones

 

Last Friday I was promoted at work.

Last Saturday Karen and I had a lovely time with our friends over in Glossop selling cake to the masses.

Last Sunday I went mountain biking in t’ Pennines with the good folk from Keep Pedalling, Manchester.

As weekends go, it wasn’t too bad.

As my bruises from last week’s ride turn that sickly shade of yellowish purple, I’ve reached a few decisions about the Jeff Jones Spaceframe and Truss Fork I was riding crashing:

1. It’s a hardtail, no question.

This may seem an obvious statement but apparently a lot of folks out there are comparing it with full suspension frames. The Jones website may hold some clues to why as it states A Jones is a high-performance non-suspended bicycle. The ride is both efficient and comfortable and the handling is immediate and assured. With the default choice for off-road cycling nowadays seemingly suspension before anything else it might seem odd to ride rigid but that is the last thing my bicycles are – the geometry and construction provide an extremely satisfying and direct connection between the rider, the trail and the bike. It’s pure cycling and a lot of fun.”.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fatI think the confusion comes from all the talk of suspension. What Jeff’s trying to say here is that, despite being fully ‘rigid’, his bikes don’t have a ‘rigid’ feel; equally, he’s not saying his bikes have some kind of ‘suspension effect’.

Really good steel hardtails (in my humble opinion) are the best choice for off road riding because you really do get a direct connection between you, the bike and whatever you’re riding over. With a full suspension bike, the rear end is flopping about, you’re bouncing around and by the very design of the thing, you don’t have that direct connection. For me, this eliminates most of the experience and, of course, a certain amount of the energy you’re putting into the pedals is getting soaked up by the suspension.

It’s kinda like comparing apples & bananas.

2. ‘Half fat’ is fun but it isn’t for me.

The bike I was riding had been built up with a 29er rear wheel and a 26″ fat bike wheel from our good friends over at Surly. I don’t know the exact measurements but because of the extra rubber up front, the rolling diameter of the mismatched wheels ends up being almost exactly the same. Fat tyres run at surprisingly low pressures (they were after all originally designed for riding on soft stuff like snow and sand) which provides plenty of ‘float’ and they’re generally quite squidgy. I guess that qualifies as some kind of ‘suspension effect’. But again, comparing a rigid fork with fat tyre to a suspension fork is kinda like comparing a screwdriver to a hammer… both are perfectly good tools and, used in the appropriate application, will do a fine job. However, if you need to hammer in a nail, a posi #2 isn’t really what you want.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fat 2We were riding on fairly tricky trails with a healthy mixture of deep ruts and flooded bogs. In the ruts (and this is probably my lack of talent showing), I found the front tyre a bit too wide and a bit too eager to grab hold of the sides. Worse than that (and with more lack of talent showing), on the approach to a boggy section, the front end just floated over whatever I pointed it at whilst the rear schlurped into the mud up to the axle.

This is by no means the fault of the bike. I should’ve picked my line more carefully and I certainly should’ve put more effort into trying to drive through the bog… Looking down at that front tyre, I guess I just kept forgetting I couldn’t float the rear wheel through too.

3. Single speed is also fun but also isn’t for me.

215455_10150160090194863_1113944_nI’ve built a couple of single speeds over the years and for a long time, it was my ride of choice; the thing with single speeds is you need to have enough strength in your thighs to get the thing up to speed and then maintain it. These days, my body has become conditioned to maintaining a steady cadence using the full range of the 27 speed setup I run on all my bikes and, as a result, my thigh muscles aren’t actually that strong.

At least this is my feeble excuse for not being able to monster the Jones up the hills as impressively as I would’ve liked. People who ride single speed mountain bikes are the special kind of crazy. And, I salute them for it.

4. Jones Loop Bars are awesome.

Treat yourself to a Surly Troll, a Surly Ogre or (obviously) anything from Jeff Jones and chances are it’ll come with a set of Jones Loop Bars as standard. If you’re not familiar with them, you can read all about the various incarnations of the Loop Bar here.

Surly Troll Jeff Jones loop barOriginally, I built my Surly Troll with a set of On One Midge bars so I’ve only recently been lucky enough to own a set of Jeff’s horribly expensive yet incredibly excellent bars. For several months, I used them for commuting (mostly on road), making good use of the various hand positions and enjoying the stability all that extra width gives.

More recently, I’ve been using them off road and they’re transfomed my Troll into the highly capable mountain bike I always suspected it would be. I’m still getting used to them and on occasion I still find them a little too wide but coupled to the Jones Spaceframe and Truss Fork, they make perfect sense. Just the right width, all the hand positions you could possibly need off road and as cool as hell. What’s not to like?

5. I’d rather have a Krampus.

563530_10151458835669863_576432359_nI’m lucky enough to have had a sneak preview ride of the legendary Surly Krampus before it was freely available in the UK. The one I was riding had a 1×10 drivetrain, 29er wheels, wide handlebars and a rigid fork; making it quite a fair comparator for the Jones. What’s more, I rode the Krampus and the Jones on some of the very same trails in extremely similar conditions at the same time of year with many of the same people.

To the best of my knowledge, I didn’t crash the Krampus. I remember thinking I would’ve liked one more low gear and the bars were a touch too wide for my taste but otherwise I loved everything about that bike.

It’s also considerably cheaper than the Jones which makes the unavoidable justifying-buying-it-to-your-other-half conversation so much easier.

Odd, I thought I was going to love the Jones…

spaceman came travelling

 

There are certain perks in having an addiction to bikes, chief amongst which is also the simplest.

1441436_10152198917554863_2044853909_nOn a crisp, clear Sunday morning you can hop on your bike, head into the hills with good friends and just while away the hours.

This happened. And it was good.

Excused from my usual weekend cake selling duties, I abandoned Karen at the market and with the bike on the roof of the car, I picked up Spanner Monkey and novice fat bike rider Sylwia along with her super-shiny, almost-never-been-ridden Salsa Mukluk and together we headed for Hollingworth Lake where we met up with Rich & Shona before setting off in search of adventure on t’ Pennine Bridleway.

As is often the way with such things, the deceptively flat trail began rising and rising and rising. Soon enough I was in the granny ring, grinding out the relentless climb as Sylwia suffered with her mahoosive tyres and Rich & Shona made an utter mockery of us both by storming up the hill on their single speeds like it was nothing at all.

1472910_10152198917169863_51681481_nThe fleet was certainly turning heads. I was riding my Surly Troll in its usual off-road setup with suspension fork and less than ideal tyres. Sylwia was tearing up the trail with her brand spangley new burnt orange Salsa Mukluk, Shona was rocking a beautiful titanium something-or-other with flat bars, hydraulic disc brakes and well, not a lot else. And Rich? Well, despite striking a rather camp pose, Rich had brought along a steel Jeff Jones Spaceframe & Truss fork.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fatSet up ‘half fat’, the Jones was running a 29″ wheel in the rear wrapped in (I think) a Surly Knard tyre and up front was a true fat bike wheel & tyre. The awesome stopping power was delivered by Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes and minimalist Paul brake levers. The drivetrain couldn’t have been simpler: one ring up front and one at the back with a chain inbetween. And the bars? Jones Loop Bars of course.

And then it happened. As a red faced Sylwia got her breath back and I cursed my lousy tyres, Rich came over and nicked my Troll. Git.

As I watched him pedal away, tyres hopelessly skidding in the deep slimy mud, I threw my leg over the Jones and pointed it towards the horizon.

It took me a while to get used to the relatively tall front end and what I thought was a bizarre saddle angle, but a few hundred metres later and I was settling in. Maybe it wasn’t the right size frame for me but I did find the whole thing a little bit short in the top tube and for my taste, I would’ve liked a couple less spacers under the stem. That said, the Loop Bars have never made more sense; on the Troll they still feel super wide but they fit the Jones perfectly. On a short road section I could even get down into the elusive beard-resting-on-the-bars aero position.

Jeff says: A Jones is a high-performance non-suspended bicycle. The ride is both efficient and comfortable and the handling is immediate and assured. With the default choice for off-road cycling nowadays seemingly suspension before anything else it might seem odd to ride rigid but that is the last thing my bicycles are – the geometry and construction provide an extremely satisfying and direct connection between the rider, the trail and the bike. It’s pure cycling and a lot of fun.”

I tend to agree. The bike felt responsive, sharp and direct but not harsh or jarring, even on the really rough stuff. The full effort my puny thigh muscles put into the pedals was instantly delivered to the rear wheel and, even with that gigantic tyre, the front end felt precise and controllable.

Before long and we turned onto a steep gravel climb. Once again Shona & Rich took off and monstered their way to the top as Sylwia and I took turns losing traction, losing balance, running out of strength and running out of talent.

I couldn’t tell you what the gear ratio was on the Jones but for me in that moment on that climb it was just that little bit too tall. Getting out of the saddle and giving it everything I had, I managed to lumber the bike up to speed and get enough momentum together to keep going until I hit the next patch of gravel or fell into the next rut or was forced to stop for breath. Eventually Sylwia gave up and started pushing but not before singing ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe to me as I nommed half an emergency banana and gave it every little bit I had left to crest the hill.

Despite being so high, that was the low point.

After the climb came the flat. And with the flat came a narrow track on a ridge, mossy drystone wall to my left and jeebus-that’d-hurt-if-I-fell-down-it drop to my right.

“Don’t you have any proper mud tyres???” Rich complained from behind me as the Troll refused to grip anything. “I’ve got some mud tyres. I’ll give you the damn things if you promise never to lend me this bike with these tyres on again!!!”. Then, as some kind of sick punishment, I finished sniggering about the awesome mud-shedding ability of the tyres on the Jones and the front wheel snatched in a rut, throwing me and the bike towards the perilous drop.

Somehow, some way, the thick tufts of grass managed to catch the bike and break the worst of my fall. Clinging on for dear life and listening to Rich laughing at me I realised just how close I came to a really horrible accident.

Salsa Mukluk 2With that unpleasantness out of the way, we stopped for some emergency chocolate, a photo opportunity and some downright childish jumping over a mound of earth.

Seeing just how much fun Sylwia was having, I simply couldn’t resist taking her up on her offer to swap bikes. So, I handed over the Jones, watched Rich skid all over the trail and embarked on my first true fat bike ride ever.

Salsa Mukluk 1Obviously, it was a million sizes too small for me so I had to stay out of the saddle and just pedal like I was riding a kid’s BMX. In fact, that’s exactly what it felt like, the best, most fun BMX in the world. In fact, I yelled “THIS IS LIKE RIDING THE MOST FUN BMX IN THE WOR…”

…and then it happened.

Like finding a worm in your half eaten apple. Like realising there’s a spider creeping up your arm. Like a rodeo bull throwing a cowboy across the arena. For reasons that escape me, Sylwia’s Mukluk suddenly realised some big hairy guy was riding her and she threw me to the ground in spectacular style. Gracefully, the Mukluk executed a perfect landing next to me and just sat there laughing at my misfortune along with my so-called friends and the walkers on the trail.

Oddly enough, Sylwia came and rescued the Mukluk, Rich rescued the Jones and I was reunited with my Troll for the final stretch of the ride.

Bruised and battered, I gingerly made my way down the trail only to find Shona stopped and off her bike (this almost never happens); turns out the Mukluk had struck again and thrown Sylwia into some rocks. Luckily she escaped with only minor cuts and bruises but it was a healthy reminder of just how careful you need to be on unpredictable trails (no matter how big your tyres are).

We all struggled with the last section, even Rich had to put a foot down as the Jones sunk into a bog but we all made it safely back to Hollingworth Lake, heralded down the final super fast descent by Sylwia crowing like a demented cockerel. Bless.

You know when your face hurts from smiling and laughing so much? Yep, it was one of those days.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fat 2

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.

nothing compares 2 u

 

3020_71527479862_5268368_nAs time goes by, new people come into your life; some stay for a while, others only for a fleeting moment. A precious few (for me, at least) stick around forever.

The same (again, for me, at least) is true of bikes. Just like the various people I’ve come across have taught me a lot about life, love and loathing, the bikes I’ve owned have taught me so much about being fat, being fit and going fast.

Interestingly, I don’t remember my first love… she might’ve had brown hair… maybe… was she the one with a VW Beetle? Were we happy together? Did we have plans for the future? I honestly couldn’t tell you… for one reason or another, I’ve blocked out those memories or they simply weren’t important enough for me to retain.

3020_71527364862_6393263_n 3020_71527369862_3687761_nAsk me about my first bike build and I can tell you everything you want to know! She was an orange Specialized Hardrock with Marzocchi MZ Comp suspension forks, a 27 speed Shimano Deore drivetrain and Avid Single Digit v-brakes. Followed quite closely by my second love, ‘the Race Face bike’, also with Marzocchi forks, Shimano XT drivetrain, Avid BBDB disc brakes, Race Face cranks, saddle, seatpost, stem and bars. It had Odyssey Sharkbite pedals, Halo Knobbler tyres and was just an awesome machine.

The Race Face bike eventually got broken down and largely sold off in parts (you’ll recognise the cranks on my current Surly Troll) but I kept the orange Hardrock for many years as a spare bike for my friend to ride around whenever he came to visit.

33932_444266934862_5527787_n I forget exactly why but I ended up getting rid of the original Marzocchi fork at some point and rebuilt the bike with… another Marzocchi fork! But, this time, it was also sporting a whiter than white Charge x Wiggle Spoon saddle and matching handlebar grips which stayed white for at least 10 seconds. In this guise, my fondest memory is watching it pull a spectacular 6 foot long, 2 wheel drift across a frozen wooden bridge on an equally frozen winter’s morning, deep in the woods of Cannock Chase on a deserted trail in the hands of my good friend.

6770_115343424862_5312862_nIn the meantime, I had a foray into the weird world of single speeding and built up the Hardrock with a rigid Onza Lite Guy fork, 26 x 1″ Specialized All Condition slicks and flat bars. That was fun!

Why am I boring you with this orange tinted nostalgia? Well, unlike whatshername, I was decidedly reluctant to part with my beloved Hardrock. She taught me so much and gave me so many miles of happiness… and yet, today I boxed her up, taped the lid down and sent her off for new adventures somewhere unpronounceable in Aberdeenshire.

It broke my heart to see her go and the PayPal boost I received in return only eased the pain a little… at least up there she’ll get to see some great countryside and I’m sure she’ll make some Scotchman very happy indeed.

Sigh… time for a new MTB build, I think.

in my hands

 

A tenuous musical link, I’ll admit; I just couldn’t resist a bit of angst ridden grunge from the 90s.

How does one measure the success of a blog? Is it by the number of hits every day? How many likes each post gets? Maybe the number of comments received? I don’t know and I suspect it’s different for everyone…

When I started this blog, the aim was to share some of my knowledge with the people out there in the blog-o-sphere and, hopefully, save them from making some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way. In the early days, I was lucky to get more than a few hits each day and now, as I approach 5000 all time views, I’m getting anywhere between 40 and 80 views every day; the majority of which come from Google.

So, I thought it was high time I started answering some of the questions I’ve been (indirectly) asked. This week, we’ll explore such mysteries as “Why do people hate bullhorn bars so much” and “Will bullhorns work on my MTB?” and “bullhorn handlebars gear shifter”. Unfortunately, we don’t have time today for “miley cyrus white wicker basket” or “barendi porn tube”… *slow, sad headshake*

If you’ve ever clicked around this site, you’ll know I’m the proud owner of a vintage Falcon Panther 10 speed road bike which I rescued from the scrapheap; regular readers will also know I’m no fair weather cyclist and I don’t shy away from taking my bikes over challenging terrain. However, when it comes to wheeling the Falcon out, all of this goes out the window.

The 40 year old centre pull Dia Compe caliper brakes do work but they’re hardly the most effective thing and, even the mention of moisture in the air turns stopping into a mere aspiration.

The 1 1/8″ wide Continental Ultra Sport slick tyres are fast yet sticky on smooth, warm tarmac but, again, the very mention of any kind of rain / oil spots / wet painted lines / shiny manhole covers and it becomes skittish and grumpy, threatening to throw its younger passenger off at a moment’s notice.

Give it 80psi in those 27″ tyres, point it towards the epic scenery only t’ North can provide on a crisp, clear, breathless Autumn day and the grumpy old bugger turns into a feisty teenager again; champing at the bit, wanting to go faster and faster, urging you to fiddle with the (less than precise) Huret downtube shifters and stick it in the big ring. What was I going to do, say no?

Exhausted as I may be today, I forced myself to throw some baggy shorts and a baggy jersey on (you can’t wear lycra on an old bike), grab my hipster style shoulder bag and, with no idea where I might end up, the front wheel turned left and up the nearest hill I went. The ride was as beautiful as the weather and, heading north from Middleton, I somehow ended up at Hollingworth Lake before looping back again through Royton and Shaw; a fine way to spend a couple of hours, despite the throngs of fat people queuing for fish and chips at t’ lake.

Anyway, back t’ t’ bars. When I restored the bike, I decided to remove the old drop bars and safety [suicide] levers in favour of fitting a pair of Charge’s excellent Slice bullhorn bars. Primarily, this was a bit of an experiment as I’ve often admired the look these bars give but I’d never ridden with them before.

Essentially, the riding position is the same as you get with traditional road (or drop) handlebars in that you can ride on the flats or on the ‘hoods’ by the brake levers and there’s always the relaxed holding-the-curved-bit-in-between-position which I favour. What you don’t get, of course, is the option to ride in the drops or the hooks (favoured by roadies) which helps cut down wind resistance and is arguably more comfortable.

You’ll notice here that my Charge bars clamp quite happily into the original stem thanks to the 25.4mm clamp; this means that yes, they’ll also clamp into standard 25.4mm mountain bike stems. But no, this doesn’t mean that would be a good idea. You see, the brake levers and gear shifters you find on mountain bikes generally have a 22.2mm (I think) clamp size and the diameter of these bars is much larger so they simply won’t slide on. I chose to go with Dia Compe time trial style levers which fit very nicely into the bar ends; now, here’s the other problem with using these bars on MTBs, the cable pull from these levers is designed for road style brakes so, unless you have cantilevers on your bike, they ain’t gonna work.

The final problem, should you overcome the stem & brake issues is gear levers. As I’ve already said, standard MTB style shifters simply won’t work on these bars so you’re down to fitting your shifters elsewhere; this really only leaves you with downtube shifters. And, of course, downtube shifters (unless they’re full friction) are designed to work with road style derailleurs which you wouldn’t have on your mountain bike…

…unless…

…are you thinking of using an old, steel, rigid mountain bike as a commuter with road tyres? And you like the idea of road bars but can’t get on with riding in the drops? Alas, bullhorns are still not for you. What you want is a pair of butterfly bars. But, that’s a topic for another day.

Bullhorns are great for me on my Falcon but they certainly aren’t for everyone; they also work great on single speeds and fixed gear bikes but I have to say, I think fitting them on a mountain bike would be a mistake.

jumper

 

As you know, I like quirky things; the quirkier, the better in fact!

But, quirky isn’t always enough; stuff needs to work well too. I mean, look at Boris Johnson’s hair; it’s quirky as you like but what use is it, really?

Allow me to introduce you to the Surly Tuggnut.

Of course, it’s made by Surly so you know it’s going to be really well engineered, rock solid and will no doubt satisfy even your quirkiest of desires.

Designed primarily for single speed / fixed gear bikes, the whole point of the Tuggnut is to incrementally move the rear wheel back in horizontal ‘dropouts’ to achieve the all important correct chain tension without the need for an ugly derailleur or external chain device or some kind. With 2 separate axle mounting points and uber fine adjustment available from the little thumbscrew, finding the right position for your rear wheel is a snap. And, thanks to a neat little washer type attachment, you can also run quick release wheels just as easily as solid axles.

But wait, the Troll isn’t a single speed! Look, there’s a big old shiny cassette and a rather nice Shimano Deore Shadow rear derailleur there – what on earth do you need a Tuggnut for on a geared bike?

Well, the answer is simple. Because I’m running 2.2″ wide Halo Twin Rail tyres and a triple mountain bike chainset, whenever I’m climbing some horrendous hill in the little chainring and the biggest cog on the cassette, the trailing edge of my front derailleur *just* rubs on the outer edge of the rear tyre. It’s only about a half a millimeter, but it’s more than enough to need fixing. The only real solutions available were:

  1. Replace the bottom bracket for one with a longer axle – Not gonna happen, far too much trouble and far too expensive
  2. Replace the tyres for something skinnier – Not gonna happen, far too attached to my Halos and far too manly to run skinny tyres on the Troll
  3. Buy a Surly Tuggnut – Sold!

Available around the £25 range, the Tuggnut is hardly the most expensive bit of kit out there and the best news is, you only need one for the drive side of your bike! You can see here how much I managed to move the rear wheel back; not much, but just enough to avoid any more interference issues. You can also see in this shot the beauty of those sliding disc brake mounts; nothing more complicated here than loosening the bolts, sliding the caliper back a little and retightening the bolts.

So yes, the Surly Tuggnut works extremely well. And the quirk factor? Well, that’s brought to you by the fact it also doubles as a bottle opener! Yep, at the end of a long, hard day’s trolling about, you can even crack open a cold one at the side of the trail. Sweet.

While we’re on the subject of quirky, yet functional accessories for your Surly (and I believe there are other bike manufacturers out there), you could certainly do a lot worse than get yourself one of these.

Maybe I could get Karen to knit me an orange one…

hand in my pocket

After some discussion with a fellow blogger and, having done plenty of research myself recently, I think it’s probably time to share my musings about handlebars; a topic which generates much debate amongst cyclists.

Apologies to any Alanis haters, by the way. Judge me if you will, but I like this song and it’s my blog so I’ll play it if I want to. So there, nyah.

I recently blogged about the various different types of bike and how the rules don’t necessarily have to be applied quite as rigidly as they first appear; you’ll be pleased to hear that the same is true of handlebars but, whilst you’ve got one hand in your pocket reaching for an energy bar, it is important that whatever your other hand is holding onto is the right thing for you and your bike.

Now, the choices of handlebar available are quite simply staggering these days; some are staggeringly good, some are staggeringly beautiful, some are staggeringly ugly and some are even staggeringly expensive (many of the latter are also staggeringly shite).

OK, so some basics to get us started:

  • Flat bars are very much what they sound like; a straight bar with very little or no up sweep or back sweep. Flat bars are normally found on fixed gear bikes these days but do also make the odd appearance on hybrids and (if you’re a complete lettuce) on road bikes. As a rule, you get one hand position on the grips and maybe a second if you hold the bars themselves closer to the stem which doesn’t make for a very comfortable ride so I recommend them only for short commuting trips and the like.
  • Riser bars (like these fitted to a former mountain bike of mine) are basically flat bars with personality; the name comes from the fact that they rise up from the centre and then flatten out, giving a much more comfortable riding position. Risers come in all shapes and sizes with various different widths and heights (of rise) and generally have an amount of back sweep so your hands end up a bit more ‘square’ to your body. Designed for mountain bikes, they (somewhat unsurprisingly) work really well on mountain bikes and are also very common on hybrids. Again, you really only get one hand position but many mountain bikers choose to fit bar ends which give another hand position, make climbing hills so much easier but do spoil the clean looks of a naked bar, for me.
  • Road bars (also known as drop / dropped bars) are the ones you see lycra clad Tour de France types using and are mostly associated with ‘serious’ cyclists. Available in a bewildering array of widths, heights (amount of ‘drop’), shapes (notice my drops here have an extra ergonomic… err… kink?), these are the bars that can potentially cost hundreds of pounds. No, really. Now, these bars give many, many possible hand positions, most of which help with making one’s self more aerodynamic and / or more comfortable which is why they’re really the bar of choice if you’re doing any real distance. Beware though, they’re really not for everyone and the first time you use them, they’ll feel completely alien and you may very well hate them; given some time and, like me, you’ll fall in love with them and you’ll never go back to flat bars and you may even consider (shock, horror) fitting drop bars to your mountain bike…
  • Bullhorns are an interesting approach… I believe they came about when people started flipping their road bars over and cutting the drops off; these days, there are many options available and they’re primarily designed to be a base bar for time trial bikes where getting as low down and aerodynamic as possible is the ultimate gain. However, in recent years, they have also been adopted by single speed and fixed gear riders as there’s really no way of running gear shifters and they’re great for out-of-the-saddle storming through traffic duties. I happen to love bullhorns as they give plenty of hand positions and are a really good alternative to road bars if you’re not into riding in the drops.
  • Others is probably the quickest and easiest way to describe the myriad of alternative options available; here you can see merely two in the shape of Raleigh’s excellent North Rounder bars fitted to my girlfriend’s custom built Specialized Globe and Soma’s 3 Speed II moustache bars fitted to my Coventry Eagle restoration project. The thing with many of these types of bars (and many others from the likes of Soma, Nitto, On One and others) is that they look awesome but they also each have very quirky riding positions and, sometimes, you’ll be putting your hand into your pocket to reach for lots and lots of money to get yourself a pair.
  • Dirt drops are a relatively recent idea, catering to those who want to go off road but use drop bars; as I am one of those and will shortly be building a new bike with said bars, I’ll cover the pros and cons of dirt drops in a later post.

So, what does all this mean? Well, once you’ve been riding for a few years on a variety of bikes with a variety of bars, you’ll find yourself becoming fond of one particular kind or other and you may even get a bit of brand loyalty once you find some you like.

In the meantime, get yourself down to a proper bike shop (no, not Halfords or Evans or any of those awful faceless, money grabbing, devoid of knowledge pretenders) and ask for some advice. Here are my top tips for fiding the right bar:

  1. Width – You really don’t want your hands to be in a narrower position than the width of your shoulders (we road cyclists do sometimes ride with our hands in the middle of the bars but it’s really a temporary change of hand position thing) so, measure yourself! Wider bars give more stability too (great for cargo bikes; more of that in a later post), but go too wide and you’ll think you’re riding a bus.
  2. Girth – Stop sniggering. Now, this is where the science bit comes in; the diameter of your bars greatly determines which brake and gear levers will fit on them and no, not all brake levers work with all brakes and god no, not all gear levers work with all gear systems! Again, please, please, please get some advice from your local, friendly, independent bike bike shop and they’ll tell you what your various options are. There are also a few different options size-wise for the stem that holds your handlebars (25.4mm, 26.0mm, 31.8mm to name the 3 most common) so you may need to consider whether you want to fork out on a new stem or not… I’ve just realised I could write a whole blog post about the different types of stem… Maybe some other time.
  3. Squidgability – What? That’s a real word. Sort of. Now, as a rule, flat and riser bars are suitable for handlebar grips which slide over the end of the bar (some even have little pinch bolts to grip the bars with) and come in a huge variety of colours, styles and thicknesses; generally quite cheap and easy to fit, the more squidgy, the more comfortable. Road bars and many of the ‘other’ bars above are suitable for wrapping in handlebar tape (again, see le Tour de France riders). Bar tape comes in hundreds of colours, materials and thicknesses… Try ’em all out but don’t spend much more than a tenner for it. Oh, and get somebody to teach you how to wrap it the first time out!

So, there you go – my quick guide to finding the right handlebars for you. Feel free to drop me a line for some more specific advice.