alive and kicking

 

Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

That said, I would like to apologise to the loyal followers of lifeinthecyclelane for the unprecedented break in service. I’d like to say this has been due to the fact I’ve been spending every free moment out on my bike… I’d like to say a lot of things. Truth be told, pesky real life has been rather getting in the way of things recently.

But, it’s not been all housework, chores, family visits, driving lessons and farmers’ markets (don’t ask)… There have been quite a few exciting cycling related developments over here at lifeinthecyclelane HQ of late and, real life permitting, whatever passes for normal service around here will soon resume.

If you think you can control yourselves, just consider these uber exciting upcoming posts / features:

  • The dubiously welcome return of ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’ with, seeing as I’ve been AWOL for about a month, a special one-off month long special. I know, right?
  • A few gems from the ‘What I’ve been reading Wednesdays (or whatever day it happens to be when I’m writing this)’ archives. I’m somewhat behind in keeping up with the blogs I read, let alone the one I write!
  • pink – I’m particularly looking forward to this one; not only do we get to listen to Aerosmith but you get to read all about one of my latest custom bike builds. Readers of a nervous disposition should consult a medical expert before tuning in.
  • paint it black – I think officially the first appearance by the mighty (and wrinkly) Rolling Stones; this’ll be one for all the Surly Troll owners, anyone looking for a 60mm wide full wrap mudguard, anyone who’s ever rattled their SKS Commuters to bits at 30mph on an old railway bed and just about anyone else who reads the post by accident.
  • basket case – A nice bit of Green Day, of course and the story of one girl’s bike that has spent more of its life in the workstand than on the trails.
  • broken down – The obligatory lifeinthecyclelane grunge accompaniment to my disturbingly literal blow by blow account of how [not] to fit Froggleg cantilever brakes, brought to you by the rather angry and rather brilliant JJ72.
  • simple man – Now, as a rule, I don’t think cover versions of songs are a good thing but in this case, I’m afraid the Shinedown version is just SO much better than the Lynyrd Skynyrd one. Anyway, we shall be asking some of life’s most important questions:
    • What happens when your favourite bike shop has a 2nd birthday celebration?
    • What would a Krampus cake look / taste like?
    • Vegan pizza, really?
    • Is Corona better with or without lime?
    • What’s it like to have the guys from Surly tell you they were checking out your Troll? Yes, you did read that part right.

21195_10151608679519863_755683448_nStick around kids, it’s gonna be good.

Right now, this is where I’m headed:

(Karen’s out for the night and so am I!)

crazy

538264_10150964770779863_1147176664_nIf you’re a regular in these parts, you’ll be familiar with my… shall we say… less than conventional ways. And, as this week’s episode of ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’ suggests, my readers are also just a little bit craa-aazy.

This week, people have been asking some of life’s most important and intriguing questions:

  • How should bullhorn handlebars be fitted? – Properly. By someone who knows what they are doing.
  • What is the expected lifetime of SKS Commuter mudguards? – Depends on how badly you abuse them, I suppose.
  • Schwalbe Kojak or Brompton Kojak? – Pssst… it’s the same tyre! The regular one has reflective tyre labels; do you really think the reflective strip on the Brompton version is worth the extra money??? Me neither.
  • Is Carrbrook a council estate? – Used to be, yeah.
  • What year is my Coventry Eagle? – I have NO idea, 1960s or 1970s probably.
  • Who makes Transporter Bumper trailer? – Raleigh, I think. Or, whichever Far East company builds stuff for Raleigh these days.

Right, with the mysteries of the universe finally solved, it’s on to some cycling related trivia. A couple of people this week have been asking about On One Midge handlebars and, having had a set for a little over a year, it’s probably high time I did a little report on them.

205302_10151055926794863_1096110797_nSo what’s the deal? Aren’t they just weird shaped road bars? Well, yes and no.

Essentially they are based on a road style bar in that they have flat tops and then drop down in the usual hooked shape. Naturally, they only suit road style brake levers (no, you can’t run flat bar type levers on them) and the internal diameter is big enough to accommodate bar end shifters.

But here’s the weird thing… or at least the first weird thing… they come with either a 25.4mm or 31.8mm clamp size; the likes of which you normally find on mountain bike stems [although many road bike stems now come with a 31.8mm clamp].

395814_10151077628534863_270717771_nThe other weird thing… or at least another of the weird things… is that angle which the drops are splayed out at. Why, WHY would they do this? Well, what you get with wider bars is more stability and (so those better and braver off road than I am tell me) the splay makes the brake levers more accessible when riding in the drops which apparently gives you the confidence to hammer downhill offroad at eye watering speeds.

You’ll notice however, the splay also places your brake levers at a rather strange angle. For me and my Cane Creek SCR-5 levers, this results in an unusually comfortable riding position, almost akin to that you get from aero bars. I do find myself riding on the tops most of the time but more recently, I’ve been making an effort to get down in the drops; it’s a little strange with all that extra width but it does make a nice change from the somewhat upright riding position I have on the Troll.

So, would I recommend them? Well, yes and also no.

  • For your regular common or garden road bike, they are all kinds of wrong.
  • Most mountain bikes will be set up with mountain bike brakes and derailleurs so consideration needs to be given to the types of levers and shifters you’ll need to buy to make it all work.
  • Cyclocross bikes tend to come with road style bars and integrated shifters & brake levers and are designed to hit the trails anyway so it should be a simple case of switching them over (you may need a different stem, remember).
  • Touring bikes like my Surly Troll are most suited, I think. All that extra width helps to give you more stability which is helpful when you’ve got stuff hanging off the bike in bags and / or on a trailer. There’s also plenty of room for fitting cross levers, lights and handlebar bags.

557294_10151077625149863_721584113_nMy personal opinion? I love the way they look on the bike, I love the way the bar end shifters are kept well away from my knees and I LOVE the way I can change gear with my little fingers when I’m riding in the drops. For me and my Troll, they work great even if they are so wide I have to lift the whole bike over narrow gates etc. but I suspect they are not for everyone.

553743_10150987700279863_347507007_nOh, and whilst we’re on the topic of craa-aazy things, we have a new contender for ‘Best search term EVER!’ with:

“weird things on woodhead pass”

Although that has to be closely followed by:

“public toilets woodhead pass”

That would be weird in such a rugged place!

ice ice baby

 

It was always going to happen, I suppose.

Sooner or later you have to crash every bike you own. I remember my dad once swearing me off motorbikes by telling me “It’s not a question of if you come off, it’s when and how badly”; I suppose the same could be said for bicycles.

Since you’re reading this, it means I’ve finally managed to crash the Troll. And, since I’m able to type this, it means the crash wasn’t too bad at all; it certainly could’ve been an awful lot worse.

You see, it’s been rather chilly up here in t’ North for… well, forever, but particularly so the last couple of weeks. Has this stopped me cycling? Am I some kind of lettuce? Do I only get my bike out when it’s warm, dry and breathless out there? Hell no! I ride all year round in whatever weather happens to be out there.

I will admit to slowing down a little and not hammering through corners quite as much as I normally would in this colder weather with the roads as greasy and unpredictable as they are. Even still, I just about survived a two wheel drift scary enough to stop the traffic a few days ago; that was a close one.

And so, after mincing all the way to work this morning, dodging white lines, shiny manhole covers, tram tracks and hundreds of Mancs, I made it to within 100m of my office door. I was in the bloody car park leaning into a right hand turn I must’ve taken a thousand times when I suddenly realised the bike was still going forward…

I slid with balletic grace for a good 2 feet before the rear wheel also lost traction on the ice and I hit the concrete; stupidly, I put my hand out to break my fall which sent daggers of pain right up my arm all the way to my shoulder blade. As I lay on the ground, guessing how many bones I’d broken, the kindly cyclist following me in picked up the Troll and checked I was OK before heading off to complain to the building managers about the lack of grit.

After I’d hobbled down to the nearest NHS walk in centre, I was assured the only damage done was a bruised elbow and matching ego. Having broken a collarbone before, I know all too well just how lucky I was today…

It won’t stop me cycling and neither should it stop you but it just goes to show you can’t let your concentration slip for a second in icy conditions.

 

Anyway, it’s Thursday again so it’s time for my new feature: ‘Stuff people have been searching for when they landed here’. Catchy title, eh?

  • First up this week: “fitting SKS mudguards to Merida bike disc brakes”
    • Well, it very much depends on whether your bike has mudguard eyes; if it does, full wrap mudguards like SKS Commuter may work but your disc calipers are likely to cause interference issues. I’d recommend having a look at SKS Beavertail; I’ve used the regular ones (good for narrower tyres) and the XL ones like I had fitted to my Merida (good for wider tyres). As they mount just from the brake bridge, you shouldn’t have any problems with your discs and you’ll still get plenty of coverage.
  • Who’s next? Ah yes: “Marzocchi fork makes a dinging noise”
    • Dude, that’s not good. Get it to a bike shop right away and no, don’t ride it there. Having said that, it could just be a stray brake cable knocking against the fork legs or, if you’re running disc brakes, they may be adjusted too close which could also be causing a sound like that. Hopefully, it’s not a small crack about to turn into a face plant inducing failure. Best of luck!
  • Time for one more? Well, how could I resist this one: “my tracksuit is made”
    • Err… good. Yeah. Mad fer it. etc. etc.

So there you go; I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s insight into just some of the visitors to life in the cycle lane – tune in next week for more!

Oh, and stay off the ice!

changes

 

I’ve lived in Manchester now for nearly 11 months and, with the exception of a few hangover and / or exhaustion induced days, I’ve cycled into work every single weekday in just about all weathers.

For the first couple of months, I was taking the most direct route I could find which was a solid 6 miles along the rollercoaster that is the A664 Rochdale Road. Now, as much as it’s (largely) a nice wide road with cycle lanes and / or bus lanes and I very much enjoyed the variety of the short but sharp hill climbs & descents, in hindsight I’ve come to realise just how dangerous a route it actually is and just how lucky I was to never have an accident.

Of course, the problem with bus lanes is that they are frequented by buses. Sure, they’re useful for avoiding most of the traffic but leapfrogging loud, dirty monsters largely driven by idiots with no spatial awareness and no idea what their mirrors are for is just not fun.

A few close shaves later and and I started looking for a quieter, safer route. This came in the shape of the B6393 which runs largely parallel to the Rochdale Road, past JW Lees brewery, through an industrial estate, over the M60, past the Greater Manchester Police HQ and finally into Manchester through the usual inner-city suburbs.

Whilst this route is almost completely devoid of cycle lanes and carries only slightly less traffic, it is considerably safer. I think this is partly thanks to the much more controlled crossing of the motorway and the fact that drivers are forced to give you more space on the road when you’re sharing the same piece of tarmac.

I do have a theory about cycle lanes… I think some drivers see that white line as some kind of magical barrier which protects them and the cyclists from each other; of course, the truth is, you should give cyclists the same amount of room as you would any other road user but I find cars, buses and trucks buzzing right by me all too often whenever I’m ‘protected’ over there with the drain covers and broken glass.

But, I digress. Along with the not being killed bonus, my new road route takes my daily mileage up to 15 miles so I’m able to get a little more of a workout in every morning and afternoon too.

Of course, the Troll was built to be rugged and has already proved itself more than capable both on road and off road. With that in mind and my new road route bringing its own fair share of close shaves, I’ve been looking for some kind of off road route which has materialised in the shape of a stretch of NCN Route 66 and the Rochdale Canal towpath.

Keep your eyes peeled for a post about riding on route 66 and, while we’re at it, riding on canal towpaths in general; for today, a brief report on how the Troll has been handling this new route.

I don’t currently have a computer fitted to the bike so I’m not quite sure what the mileage is of my new route but, considering it takes me significantly away from the 2 road routes, I reckon it’s approaching 10 miles each way. Of course, it’s mostly flat but there is a gradual incline all the way home with several locks and flights of steps along the way.

The surface varies wildly from freshly laid tarmac to thickly spread granite chippings to deep mud to herringbone brickwork, most of which is in a fairly poor state of repair with several areas actually fenced off where the towpath is falling away into the canal.

The oldest sections of the canal are somehow the most solid, most likely thanks to the brilliance of Victorian engineering. Whilst this is all very nice and interesting and historical, the problem is those pesky Victorians were rather fond of using cobbles; cobbles, which you’ll know if you’ve ever ridden on them, are very rough and get VERY slippery when wet.

For the the last couple of months, I’ve been taking the safer road route into work and the canal route back home again. With the rigid fork, the journey in is effortless and generally takes about 30 minutes but the return trip can take up to 1 hour and, thanks to those cobbled sections, is a bit of a boneshaker.

And so, a new experiment! I managed to bag a set of Fox F100 air suspension forks which are actually lighter than the standard rigid steel fork that comes with the Troll. With preload and rebound adjustment and lockout within reach of the bars, they’re also suitable for every kind of terrain at only a moment’s notice. Sure, they’re silver and blue so they don’t match the original colour scheme but I’m not too worried about that.

What I am slightly worried about is the coverage provided by my new SKS Shockblade front mudguard… I went for the 28 – 29″ wheel version as it’s slightly longer than the 26″ wheel version and, despite being slightly narrower, still covers my 2.2″ Halo Twin Rails quite well.

Ugly as sin as it may be, it’s really the best option for keeping as much crap off the bike as possible when running a suspension fork; we’ll see what the coverage is like on next week’s commute. No doubt we’ll be back to rain by then; it is Manchester, after all.

I really didn’t like how the new front mudguard looked with the old full wrap one so I also invested in an SKS X-Blade rear guard. I’m still not happy with the overall look so it’ll need some tweaking but I’m willing to live with it for the comfort of a suspension fork over the dreaded cobbles.

I took it out yesterday for a quick shakedown along the canal and first impressions are very promising indeed; with the fine preload and rebound adjustment right there at my fingertips, I was able to apply just the right amount of cushion for each section of the trail and lock it all out again as soon as the path smoothed out.

Only time will tell if the fork stays on and the towpath becomes my commuter route of choice…

watched you fall

 

Well, it’s been a mixed few days. I’m still suffering from deep post-holiday blues, I didn’t get the promotion I wanted so badly and I haven’t done any cycling for about 10 days; all of this makes me somewhat grumpy.

On the plus side, the guinea pigs came back to us today from their little holiday at a friend’s house, I picked up my Surly Troll frameset yesterday and had planned in today to get most (if not all) of the building of said Troll completed.

It seems the universe had other ideas.

First up: fitting the rear mudguard. Now, this may seem like a strange thing to do what with mudguards technically being one of those ‘finishing touch’ type things but (and here’s a free tip for you) getting your mudguards loosely fitted before even thinking about putting your wheels anywhere near the frame will save you plenty of time in the long run. Fancy another free tip? Make sure you clean out the threads of any mounting points you’ll be using later. Mine happened to be filled with overspray from the powdercoating and whilst I could have just forced the bolt in there, that runs the risk of cross threading the hole, damaging the bolt, damaging the frame and causing whatever it is you’re bolting on to fall off at some inopportune moment; again, taking care of this whilst the frame is all stripped down and you’ve got ready access to everthing will make your life considerably less stressful.

If you don’t own a tap and die set, you should go out and buy one first thing tomorrow. Buy a good one made from tungsten carbide or similar; it’ll be worth every single penny. Oh, and when you’re out there putting threads on everything in sight, please remember to clean any excess metal shards / paint from the tap / die after each use and applying a little grease before starting will make the cutting easier and help prevent corrosion later on.

With the threads all cleaned out, I fixed the mudguard in place with the lower mounting point at the chainstay bridge (the one I won’t be able to reach once the wheel’s in place) and loosely tightened the others; throwing the rear wheel in for a test fit, I could then adjust the gap between the fully inflated tyre and mudguard with the greatest of ease. And, now it’s fitted, it’s fitted and there it shall stay evermore; I can get on with all the other stuff and not have to worry about any access issues.

Wanting to get the frame into rolling chassis, the next step was fitting the fork which can be a job all its own. My advice here is that if you don’t know what you’re doing and / or you don’t have the right tools, just don’t attempt it. A poorly fitted fork / crown race / headset will cause a nasty accident; it’s not a question of if, it’s more when and how badly you’ll be hurt. My fork here is suffering from some really poorly finished excess paint which (if I’d left it alone) would’ve ended up causing the aforementioned poorly fitted crown race and associated unpleasantness. A little attention to detail with a carefully handled flat-blade screwdriver and some sandpaper took care of it and the Cane Creek headset all went together beautifully.

With the fork fitted, my attention turned to fitting the front wheel which again seems like a good idea but don’t forget to clean out all the threads for any pannier / mudguard mounting points and get the disc fitted to the wheel and the brake caliper fitted to the fork first. While I was at it, I stuck the rear brake caliper on too along with the rear derailleur, bottom bracket and chainset. Now, there’s quite a lot involved in fitting a bottom bracket and chainset (and disc brakes too) so I might do a feature on those in a later post.

Anyway, with all that fitted, I was getting towards the end of the box of available parts so spent quite a lot of time fabricating custom brackets to fit the front mudguard on the strange fork around the disc brake caliper and threw a temporary stem on to give a good idea of what the completed bike might look like. It’s coming along quite nicely and hopefully, the remaining parts will arrive tomorrow so it’ll be ready for a weekend shakedown.

Very shortly after I took this picture, a gust of wind blew the bike over which means the right hand side of the fork is already sporting considerable damage to the paintwork… Needless to say, damaging a brand new bike before I’d even finished building it didn’t do much good for my mental state so (after taking out my frustrations on some inanimate objects) I gave up for the day.

Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

living in a box

 

Are you sitting comfortably? You are??? Well, you’d better scoot forward and get yourself right on the edge of your seat, hold your breath and, if there happen to be any chickens nearby, kindly refrain from counting them and / or putting all their eggs in one basket.

Yes, dear readers, I’m back. After a much needed week away in the sun (Menorca incidentally – more on that in a later post), I have returned against my will, kicking and screaming to wet and wild Manchester… Today, I am experiencing post holiday blues.

But don’t worry, all is not lost! Whilst I’ve been living in a little casita, something has been waiting for me in a box down in the workshop at Keep Pedalling, Manchester. No sooner had I arrived and was being complimented on my tan by Shona, I heard the unmistakable sound of a Surly Troll making its way up the stairs.

Oh, and Rich was coming up too.

Orange as an orange thing and with the Cane Creek lizards on the headset expertly lined up by Rich, the frame I’ve been lusting over for a long time now is finally mine! Also in the box here are some 60mm wide SKS Commuter mudguards which will wrap the 26 x 2.2″ Halo Twin Rail tyres. Oh, there was also a little something extra in the box I wasn’t expecting which will either end up looking awesome or terrible on the completed build… Watch this space!

With the remainder of the week off work, I’ll mostly be sat cross-legged by the letterbox waiting for the final crucial parts to arrive (or cannibalising them from the Merida), tapping the excess powdercoat out of the various threads and trying to get it all put together ready for a shakedown ride on Saturday.

Oh, and thanks once again to Geordie Clarke for stepping in and keeping everyone entertained in my absence.

Quick poll: Do we like the new banner?