good enough

 

Apologies to regular readers of this blog who’ve been waiting for the latest installment; things have been a bit crazy with pesky real life recently so I haven’t had much time for playing with bikes, let alone blogging about them.

Wait. There are regular readers of my blog, right? RIGHT?

Anyhoo, whether you are a regular reader, first time visitor or figment of my imagination, the important thing is I’m back and have finally found some some time for playing with bikes so here’s what I’ve been up to:

I like vintage wine, mature cheese and the older woman… these things tend to get better with age. And, whilst it’s true that new stuff also floats my boat on occasion, I think it’s fair to say my passion with bikes is also more on the vintage side these days.

The cause of much slow, sad headshaking from she who must be obeyed, my Coventry Eagle 3 speed and Falcon Panther 10 speed are cases in point. Both were originally a bit of a steal when I bagged them on eBay but, because of my bloody perfectionism, the resoration of both was not exactly cheap.

Now, we’ve already established (by which I mean Karen has told me) that I simply can’t keep all of the bikes I’ve ever owned in some kind of magical North American style barn adorned with Mantiques. Pfft. This kind of unrelenting (albeit logical) girlishness has meant that since their restorations, both the Coventry Eagle and Falcon have been up for sale in one way or another.

And yet, methaphorically at least, I do have my barn. Or, a small corner of it anyway. You see, as much as they’re up for sale, I’ve been asking quite unreasonably silly money for them. I suppose the me that’s sitting on his cracked old leather couch, listening to the jukebox and sipping a cold beer knows deep down that nobody was ever going to pay big money for them so they’d never sell.

Don’t tell Karen, OK?

This Coventry Eagle, my first vintage restoration in the shape of a single speed rat rod with carbon fibre brake levers was taken off my hands for £350.

What’s more, the guy who bought it damn near snatched my hand off as he laughing said “Really? You only want £350 for it???”. I wonder just how much it was actually worth…

Of course, it could have just been a fluke or it could have been that the guy worked in a bike shop on the same premises that used to be the Coventry Eagle factory… I guess things like this are really only worth as much as anyone’s willing to pay for them.

And so, an experiment.

Some time ago, I bagged another eBay bargain in the shape of an Elswick Hopper Safeway; another of the late, great steel framed, Sturmey Archer geared town bikes from England’s bike building days.

Here’s the usual ‘before’ shot… not in terrible shape, really. The paintwork’s a little rough in places and the chain is literally caked in oil and grime but mostly the mechanicals are OK.

Originally, as I was metaphorically sat on my metaphorical couch drinking my metaphorical beer, the plan was the usual ground up restoration with new bearings in the bottom bracket & headset, new tyres, new chain, new brakes, new cables, new saddle and most definitely new handlebars and stem.

The experiment however, has (so far) been much, much simpler. So far, All I’ve shelled out on is a pair of new tyres & tubes and a set of handlebars. I have ended up swapping out the rear wheel for another I had lying around which didn’t need truing and I raided my parts boxes for a replacement quill stem and set of pedals but everything else is pretty much exactly as it was.

I’m happy to recover my investment plus a little bit on this one so it’ll be going up for sale at a much more reasonable price with the hope that people will be more inclined to part with their cash.

An unexpected by-product of this approach has been my complete lack of any desire to keep this bike. I guess that makes me a motivated seller and Karen a less disgruntled girlfriend!

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somebody that I used to know

 

If I had my way, I’d have a huge barn out in the countryside. Inside, I’d have a couple of old leather couches, an antique fridge full of excellent beer and one of those funky old jukeboxes with lots of chrome and big chunky buttons.

The walls would be adorned with old tin advertising plates and maybe even the odd picture of a scantily clad girl or two. In the corner, there would be my Park Tool workstand, a nice long wooden workbench and my beloved old Snap On tool chest with all my tools carefully organised into their respective drawers.

The rest of the barn would be laid out with row after row of bike stands, displaying all the bikes I’ve ever owned and, because I’m uber rich in my fantasy barn, I would’ve owned an awful lot more bikes by now than I actually have.

There’s just one minor snag… I’m not rich.

Harumph.

Oh well. For now, I’ll just have to do without the beer fridge and jukebox and settle for putting the couple of old advertising signs I have up in the Man Cave. On the plus side, I do own a beautiful old Snap On tool chest but I must confess it’s not nearly as carefully organised as it should be.

Now, as much as it pains me to admit that Karen’s always right… well, she is always right. In this particular instance, she’s been at me recently telling me I just can’t keep my entire collection of bikes; and so, the time has come to clear a few out which has got me all nostalgic about some of my favourite rides:

Way back when, I was the proud owner of a Raleigh Pioneer Trial hybrid which was my first ‘proper’ bike. With flat bars and bar ends, 700c wheels, 21 gears and an all steel frameset with plenty of rake on the fork (Tim will no doubt like this one), this remains one of my all time favourite bikes.

As I started doing more and more miles, I started learning about bikes and bike parts and my faithful old Raleigh was more than happy to go along with my experimentation. Here she is with American Classic wheels, Shimano Deore 27 speed drivetrain, the first of many Charge Spoon saddles I’ve owned and my friend’s Bumper Transporter twin wheel trailer in tow. Eventually, I ended selling the Raleigh to a nice Lithuanian guy who is hopefully still commuting around the Midlands on it.

Before long, I’d built up enough knowledge to have a go at building my own bike and, following a rather steep learning curve, I put together my first mountain bike with my first set of Halo Twin Rail tyres, disc brakes and Marzocchi suspension forks. Man, I loved that bike! And man, was I fat in this picture! I still have some of these parts knocking around but the frame ended up getting sold once I realised it was actually a couple of sizes too small for me (more of that learning curve business).

A short while and quite a lot of saving up later and I put together my beloved Graham Weigh cyclocross bike which taught me so much about road riding, touring and the importance of having the right gearing on your bike. Starting out life with Shimano Tiagra STIs (that’s the flappy paddle style brake / gear levers you see on many road bikes with drop bars – it stands for Shimano Total Integration, by the way), this bike went through various incarnations including aero bars, pannier racks and my introduction to bar end shifters. Here you see it in my favourite setup with full wrap mudguards and matching brown saddle and bar tape. Once I’d built the Troll, there just wasn’t any place for it anymore so again, the frameset got sold off but many of the parts are still knocking around in various boxes that Karen thinks are empty…

In preparation for moving to Manchester, I had to part with my mountain bike. This was another of my all time favourites; the keen eyed observers will recognise the Marzocchi forks and handlebars etc. from my previous MTB and the Race Face chainset from the current Troll build.

The most recent eBay casualty of my collection is my faithful of old Merida. Another much experimented upon bike, I’ve used drop, flat and even butterfly bars on this bike and it really broke my heart to sell it. But, taking the money off the guy certainly helped to numb the pain!

Anyway, with only the Troll in current active service, I am officially a one bike man again… *shudder*

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!

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.

fire

 

A new feature for you this week; something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while now… Random bike porn!

I was out cycling with my girlfriend a few weeks ago when she remarked: “God, it’s just like girls’ arses!” to which I responded: “Eh?”. She was referring to the two mountain bikers we’d just passed coming in the opposite direction who slowed down just enough to take a good long look at my ride and hers just as I’d slowed down just enough to take a good long look at theirs.

Bike envy, we all have it.

I can’t walk anywhere without checking out whatever rolls past me or is chained to a lamppost or whatever and I’ve long thought about taking photographs of the good, bad, ugly and uber cool stuff I see out there. And so, to get us started, here are a couple of pics of some Electra cruiser types I saw up in Tynemouth this weekend whilst visiting a friend.

What you see here is a collection of bikes available for hire, all ready to be ridden up and down the seafront, looking all cool and sexy. Which, I suppose, is all well and good if you’re into that sort of thing. Incidentally, I am not.

You could be forgiven for being seduced by the swooping lines of the frame, the abundance of chrome plated shiny, the fat white wall tyres and the ridiculous handlebars with leather tassles. However, there is something I find unforgiveable about this bike and no, it isn’t the awful green paintjob.

The problem with these bikes is that, whilst they might look very cool, they are actually a bit rubbish. Made almost exclusively from leftover pig iron, these frames are obscenely heavy and with only 1 speed are actually not all that easy to ride. The enormous saddle and massively wide handlebars might make it feel like you’re sat on the couch but have you ever tried pedalling your couch up and down Tynemouth seafront? It’s not so much fun.

And the problems continue, I’m afraid; those brakes are just about the cheapest and nastiest you can get and, on the bike closest to us, the brake pads are set at a rather peculiar angle; I didn’t think much of it at first but now I look closer at the picture, that bike simply shouldn’t be on the road (or anywhere near it).

Take a look at that fork. Spot anything unusual? No? OK, now compare it to the exact same fork on the other green bike a couple of spaces down the rack… See it now? Yep, that fork is horribly bent which tells me that this bike has been involved in an equally horrible front end impact. Not only will that play all sorts of havoc with the handling of the bike but there’s also a very real chance of something letting go in spectacular fashion whilst some poor unfortunate soul is riding it resulting in some rather unpleasant face surfing which is neither cool or sexy.

Fear ye not though, dear reader; not all of these bikes are potential death traps. I was actually quite taken with these tandems, what with the flames painted on the mudguards and the tyres… Sure, they’re made from rubbish old parts, weigh a metric ton and are harder to ride than… well, something that’s particularly hard to ride, but if you’re looking for a slice of Southern California in Tyneside, you’d be hard pushed to find anything finer.

My plea to you is to get to know what’s dangerous… Check the thing over for any obvious signs of crash damage (compare the bike you’re looking at to the others if you’re not sure), beware of flat, worn or cracked tyres and make sure nothing is loose; the main offenders (and those most likely to cause injury) are handlebars, saddles, pedals and wheels. Ask the people in the shop to fix it and, if they can’t or won’t, WALK AWAY.

Considering actually purchasing a cruiser? Well, I can’t stop you… but they are just not practical. I don’t care if Miley Cyrus rides one; in fact, doesn’t that make them worse?

Check out my girlfriend’s bike here; it started out life just like any other Specialized Globe Sport but with the addition of some cruiser type handlebars (alloy, not steel), some nice comfortable grips, longer brake levers and the all important wicker basket and you’ve got yourself a proper headturner.  What’s more, this little beauty came in at about £350, is nice and light, has 24 gears and a carbon fibre fork!

Check out my tips about choosing the right handlebar, get some advice from your local friendly bike shop and I guarantee you can get something which is not only cool looking but also very capable and surprisingly cheap.

Oh, by the way, Tynemouth seafront happens to form part of the C2C (sea to sea) cycle route; more on that in a later post but (having ridden part of it by accident) it’s certainly on my list.

EDIT:

The owner of the shop that rents the bikes I took pictures of and commented on in this post has since been in touch and he informs me the bike with the damaged fork was simply being stored alongside the others whilst awaiting repairs and would not be rented out to anyone in its damaged state. In addition, he assures me that all of the bikes were fitted with quality brakes, weren’t overly heavy, some had more than one gear and the frames were made of quality materials.

The things I write in this blog are purely my own opinions and experiences are are not meant to cause offence.

lollipop

 

“Cheap rubber is not necessarily good rubber” was the advice I gave to a friend recently looking to buy new tyres for her hybrid; I suspect the same applies to spotty adolescents nervously buying condoms in the chemist too.

When you think about it, you can spend hours and hours mooching around bike shops, trying to figure out which bike is best for you: mountain bike, road bike, hybrid, BMX, cruiser, cyclocross, tourer, folder, singlespeed, fixie or hack…. And, there are probably some more. Then, you’ll probably spend as much time trying to settle on the colour of said bike and you’ll try on every helmet and pair of gloves in the shop but, and be honest, just how much attention do you pay to the tyres? I’ll wager it’s perhaps not as much as it could / should be.

Now, there is a lot of talk about how you shouldn’t ride a mountain bike on the road and you shouldn’t ride a road bike on the trails and you shouldn’t ride a Brompton at all; whilst I agree that Bromptons (in fact all folding bikes) should be banned for all eternity, I must say I conform more to the idea that you can ride whatever you like, wherever you like.

I ride a Merida Matts mountain bike from the 1990s with a rigid steel fork on the road… In fact, I ride it on road, off road and everything in between. Also, I ride a cyclocross bike with a rigid carbon fork (which is essentially a road bike with clearance for mud) off road so, it’s really not an exact science; very basically, the various types of bike will give you very different riding positions so it’s more about finding one that works for you.

The thing that really matters is the 2 small contact patches connecting you to whatever surface you happen to be rolling over and this is where the science really does make a difference; so, here are some basics to help you out:

  • Tarmac – The smoother and thinner the tyre, the smoother it’ll ride on the smooth surface; the same is true with tyre pressures, the higher the pressure, the smoother it’ll roll. Beware, however, that the narrower and higher pressure the tyre gets, the less it’ll deform over lumps and bumps so the ride will be less comfortable but much more efficient.
  • Mud – If you want to get down and dirty, it’s quite the opposite; you want something wide and knobbly to grab hold of whatever it can in the squishy stuff. Equally, a lower pressure will help the tyre to deform under load and assist with the grabbiong onto stuff, giving you more traction than you thought was even possible.
  • Gravel – Now, I hate to break this to you but nothing, nothing actually grips on gravel surfaces but there are some semi-slick / semi-knobbly type tyres that help move some of the gravel out of the way and grip the hardpack underneath. Choosing something with a smooth central section and knobbly ‘shoulders’ run at a mid range pressure and spending some time working on your riding style will give you the confidence you need to safely navigate the loose stuff. There’s absolutely no shame in slowing down; it’s much more fun than face surfing!
  • Snow – Again, very little will provide much in the way of real grip here but a good quality knobbly tyre suited to deep, wet mud will work great on fresh, soft snow. There are also specialist snow tyres with metal studs that will bite into hard packed ice but these are very expensive and not for the average cyclist, in my humble opinion.
  • Sand – Now, I can’t say I’ve ever actually ridden on sand but, as I understand it, the only way to go is with the widest, lowest pressure tyre you can lay your hands on. Surly and Salsa are now building ‘fat bikes’ specifically for this klind of riding; very cool indeed but again, very specialist kit.

So, what do I ride? Well, on my go-everywhere-do-everything Merida, I run 26 x 2.00″ Schwalbe Kojak slicks at 70 – 80psi which give me an incredibly comfortable, stable, predictable ride.

I love my Kojaks so much, I had a custom wheel built for my BOB Yak and bought a 16 x 1.25″ version which has significantly reduced the rolling resistance over the awful knobbly tyre that came with it as stock.

What I simply can’t explain with science (or anything else) is the awesome grip level these tyres give in all conditions. I’ve ridden them on really hot days when they seem to almost stick to the road, freezing cold, icy days when they seem to… well, they almost stick to the road and, because I live in Manchester, I’ve ridden them in just about every type of rain there is from the annoying fine stuff that makes the roads greasy right through to full on monsoon rain and, you’ve guessed it, they just stick to the road! I suspect it’s the larger than average contact patch but they’re as predictable in cold and wet conditions as they are in hot and dry ones.

With Schwalbe’s excellent Raceguard puncture protection, they’re also bombproof and mine have reflective tyre labels so they give me the much needed side on visibility I need for commuting in the dark without a full on reflective sidewall – very cool indeed.

With a little skill and an awful lot of courage, they’re also great on gravel paths and they’ll even handle hardpack dirt without any problems. They suck like a $2 whore in any kind of mud, though. You have been warned.