7 seconds

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, trying to read this blog with your eyes closed or you have the long term memory of a particularly stupid goldfish (or if this is your first visit here), you’ll know I am the proud owner of a Surly Troll.

Now, I happen to love my Troll (I also hate it in equal proportions but that’s a story for another day) – it’s so… so orange, so heavy, so weird and so, so very Surly. Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about it from other cyclists and even random people walking down the street. They ask me such things as:

  • Do you use that for touring?
    I always want to answer this with: “Oh no, I just like the way the pannier racks look on it…” but generally respond with something like: “Yeah; on road, off road & everywhere between” which is normally followed by a look of pure wonderment and “Off… road… touring…?”
  • Aren’t those tyres too big for riding on the road?
    This is normally answered with a wry smile and “Nah, they’re great. Plus, I do a fair bit of off roading with it too.” which is normally followed by a look of pure wonderment and, you know the rest.
  • Seriously? You’re going to ride that on the mountain bike trails? With racks? And luggage? (and then a little later) And you’re faster and more capable than me on my proper MTB?
    This I answered with: “Sure, the trails looked fairly tame on the pictures… besides, I’ve ridden on far worse.” (and then a little later) “Wow, those trails were nothing like as tame as I thought they’d be and the luggage sure made it interesting!” which was followed by a look of pure wonderment yadda yadda yadda.
  • What is that thing?
    Normally answered with: “Well, it’s not really a road bike, it’s not really a mountain bike, it’s not really a touring bike…” which is normally followed by… yep, that stuff.

You see, it’s a bit of a weird thing, the Surly Troll. It’s very, very good at a lot of things (hence my love for it) but it’s also not very, very good at some other things (hence my hate for it)… Fond as I am of the large tyres and heavy, rugged frame, it’s a bit of a event every time I wheel it out of the garage. And, quite simply, it just doesn’t work as a jump-on-me-and-ride-all-weekender.

So, for a while I’ve been coveting a nice, lightweight road(ish) bike. Potential candidates have been the Surly Pacer, Surly Crosscheck, Soma Smoothie, Soma Stanyan & Soma Double Cross to name but a few.

Kinesis Crosslight 4t NCN route 55In the end, common sense (and Karen tugging relentlessly on the purse strings) prevailed and I had to settle for a second hand Kinesis Crosslight 4t frame I found on eBay and the selection of spare parts I had lying around the garage.

And so, here it is; complete with white handlebar tape which stayed white for… a good 7 seconds. A full report on the build and an inital ride report will follow soon.

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nothing else matters

 

I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about this before (although it will probably come as little surprise to regular readers) but I don’t place a lot of importance on acceptance; in fact, I have been known to shun it, favouring a simple, quiet life instead.

Having said that, and I think this is true for all cyclists, there is something quite special about the feeling you get when a fellow cyclist compliments you on your bike. When said fellow cyclist happens to work in (or even owns) a bike shop, the kudos steps up another level.

Many bike shops actually host organised rides every weekend (normally just for roadies) and, if you’re a member of the club and you ride the right bike and you can keep up, you can turn up and head out for a group ride.

I suppose being part of such a group ride means you have been accepted. You are part of the clan. You have been deemed worthy of wearing the colours. You are fast enough not to get dropped off the ‘peloton’. I suppose this also means you can no longer acknowledge other cyclists on the road because they are members of some rival clan or, shock horror, don’t belong to any clan.

I should say at this point I’ve never been part of one of these groups and I know some of you reading this either have been or currently are. It’s really not my intention to cause insult but the ones I’ve seen out on the road have always been arrogant, superior and often dangerous. I’m sure not all groups and certainly not all members are like this but that’s just my experience.

I’m reminded here of a fellow blogger who was recently told “We don’t crash” when he slipped on the ice…

Anyway, it will also come as no surprise to regular readers that I don’t frequent the kinds of shops that host group rides because, again, my experiences of the guys who work in them aren’t good.

I remember mooching all around Manchester when I first moved here, looking for a decent bike shop. I went to the likes of Evans Cycles, Harry Hall Cycles, Bicycle Boutique, Ridelow and the now sadly closed GBH Custom Hacks to mention but a few. Each of these caters to very different needs and I still pop into Ridelow and Bicycle Boutique from time to time but the others just don’t provide what I’m looking for in a bike shop.

And then, one day as I was mooching around on my lunch break, I saw a simple sign above a window saying “bike shop”. Posing unabashedly in another window was a Surly Moonlander. I climbed the stairs and was greeted with a line of bikes from the likes of Surly, Salsa, Soma, Civia (amongst others) and a cheerful “Hello!” from what turned out to be the owner.

From that moment on, whenever I’ve needed anything for any of my bikes, be it an emergency repair, a replacement brake cable, a complete frameset or just some advice, my first port of call has been the independently owned and rather excellent Keep Pedalling, Manchester.

Owned and run by Rich & Shona (two of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure to meet in my lifetime) and home to Shop Mutt Olive (one of the cutest dogs I’ve had the pleasure to cuddle in my lifetime), you’re always guaranteed a friendly greeting, heaps of knowledgeable advice and only the finest bike porn. I also happen to know nothing comes out of the workshop without being checked over by at least 2 people; you can’t say fairer than that.

644084_10151452375969863_1347449314_nIf you tuned in for this week’s instalment of ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’, you’ll know I was forced (very much against my will) into the bike shop for a chat, a cuddle with the dog and a sneak preview of the Surly Krampus a few days ago. So, I popped in, I had a chat, I had a cuddle and then the Krampus appeared and basically stopped me completely in my tracks.

I’ve been following the progress of this bike for a while now and I’ve seen heaps of pictures and even a few videos online; the slightly unhinged guys over at Surly have been riding various early prototypes around in the US and generally making me green with envy. I think this is probably why I put on my very best puppy dog eyes (rivalling even Olive’s) and asked blatantly loaded questions like “What size is that frame?”, “You say you’re out riding with it on Sunday?”, “Where are you going riding?” and “What kind of cake do you guys like best?” (my girlfriend makes cakes, incidentally).

Being the lovely people they are and having a weakness for my girfriend’s apple & cinnamon cake as they do, Rich & Shona invited me along for a ride in t’ Pennines on t’ Sunday.

That. That, dear readers, is what I call acceptance.

I’m supposed to be moving house in a couple of weeks; I was supposed to be packing. I’m exhausted this week, I was supposed to be relaxing. I’m [allegedly] getting older and wiser, I’m not supposed to be hurtling around t’ hills on t’ mountain bikes.

Bah. I’ve never been one to conform and I’m not about to start now!

45866_10151454569499863_85699737_nSo, I stripped as much superflous weight as possible (racks, lights, mudguards etc.) from the Troll, fitted my Fox F100 suspension fork and jumped on the Rochdale canal towpath heading north which just happens to be part of NCN Route 66. A little over 10 miles later and I was rolling into Littleborough, heading for Hollingworth Lake and the Pennine Bridleway.

On an unseasonably warm February day, I sat in the sun eating a banana, watched a buzzard hunt and just enjoyed the peace and quiet. The peace and quiet which was shortly to be shattered by the unmistakable sound of tyres on gravel. Large tyres. Larger than normal tyres. 29 x 3″ tyres.

“Get yourself sized up then!” Rich said as he yoinked my Troll away.

Within seconds I was tearing up the trail on the Krampus, trying to make sense of the hugely wide bars and the surprisingly nimble ride. Sure, I nearly dropped it when I leaned into a corner too quickly but I was soon throwing it around like I’d been riding it for years.

574703_10151459004474863_662423197_nWe headed for the hills. I pointed the Krampus at gravel, wet rocks, hardpack dirt, deep wet mud, up-to-the-axles flooded sections and everything in between; with a mere 10psi in the Knards, it just rolled over and through absolutely everything, smoothing out every mistake my rusty mountain biking skills caused. Eventually, reluctantly, I gave it back and hopped back on my Troll.

Whilst the Krampus had been epic, making impossible climbs seem simple and fast descents an incredible experience, my Troll felt small, sketchy and my On One Midge bars seemed narrower than ever. What’s more, my already heavily worn brake pads were fast running out of what little friction material was left. On the penultimate descent, I pulled both brake levers and… nothing happened. Sensing my impending death, I had to throw the Troll head first into the wall just to stop it from running away with me. Somehow, I managed to mince my way safely up and down the one remaining climb and rode the remaining 15 miles, feathering what was left of my front brake until finally I reached the safety of home.

It was one of those rare days… Awesome bikes to ride, awesome weather bathing awesome scenery and awesome company to enjoy it with.

Perfect.

563530_10151458835669863_576432359_n

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.