If it involves pedalling then I'm probably into it…
The term ‘financial crisis’ gets over used these days, but anyone putting in a serious amount of riding will be familiar with that sinking feeling you get when you spot yet another impending repair bill. Threadbare tyres? Worn out drivetrain? Seized up bearings? It all makes you realise that the bicycle has more consumable parts than we’d like, and too many of them wearing out at the same time can feel like a mini crisis.
These were my thoughts when a close inspection of my winter road bike revealed that the braking surface on the rear rim was becoming perilously thin, after less than 2000 miles. Having survived an exploding Mavic Open Pro rim before, I know that the need to buy a new rim and rebuild the wheel next month is inevitable. Still, it’s money I wasn’t planning on spending and means that the elusive ‘month without spending any money on bike stuff’ will have to be postponed again.
Some people keep fit by spending a portion of their wages on gym membership, I just keep a bunch of hard-working bikes running.
I’ve learnt some strategies to minimise these costs over the years though. So for the benefit of those just realising the horrors of bicycle repair bills (and to reassure my long-suffering fiancé that I’m not purposely spending all my money on bike parts), here’s what I’ve learnt:
My first error when I started mountain biking many years ago was not knowing how to carry out even basic repairs. Every time a spoke snapped or my gears didn’t work I took it down to the local shop. Within 2000 miles of riding my £2000 bike, I’d handed over another £2000 to the shop. It’s embarrassing to think about it now, but shortly after that I invested in a tool set and a couple of good books. There’s now very few jobs that require any outside intervention and the cash savings are only matched by my sense of satisfaction. If you were to make a mess of a job yourself then you could always take it to your local shop to put right, though the inept and often dangerously bad work done by some shops I’ve used makes me even more determined to finish the job myself.
Without wanting to totally condemn your local bike shop to bankruptcy, the other way to keep your costs down is through careful online shopping. Once you get to know your favourite brand/model of chain, tyres cassettes etc you can keep your eyes open for bargains. If you see them on offer, get them before you need them – you’ll be thankful when you do. Some things are worth buying in bulk, so there’s no point buying the smallest size bottle of oil or tyre sealant. I’ll never buy a single inner tube either – buy a pack of ten and halve the price as you know you’re going to need them eventually. You’ll also get to learn which items can be economised on. For example, Superstar disc brake pads are just as good as original Shimano’s but a quarter of the price.
Prevention better than cure
The best way to stop parts wearing out is to keep your bikes clean. If you leave your bike covered in mud and grime between rides then you shouldn’t be too upset when you find your derailleurs and chain seized solid next time you want to ride it. Ideally you’d do the full wash/dry/lube routine after every dirty ride, but even a quick wipe and lube of the chain at the end of a wet ride will ensure that you’ll be able to ride again when you need to. Suspension always deserves some particular attention to avoid a costly repair bill, even if it’s a quick wipe and spray with some lube, though it’s well worth learning to do a lower leg service yourself.
I also employ the sneaky old road cycling trick of replacing the chain as soon as it stretches. As a chain stretches it wears down the teeth of all your sprockets, and if you leave it too long you’ll find that a new chain won’t be compatible and you have to replace the whole lot. Depending on the spec of your bike, that could be an expensive job. I like my lightweight, good quality and expensive cassettes and chain rings so I use a mid price chain and use a chain checking gauge and change it before it costs me money.
If I’d cleaned the brake pads on my winter road bike between every ride then the rims might not be so worn down (though the brief trial with the cantilever brakes of death probably took their toll on them…)
Maybe it’s just this wet British winter taking its toll, but I still seem to be spending money on worn out parts every month despite these strategies. It could be worse though, I could be paying for a gym membership and exercising indoors.
There’s always been mixed opinion about how much cyclists benefit from doing other disciplines, or cross training as it’s become known. When the great Eddy Merckx* was once asked for some training advice, his three suggestions were: “Ride the bike, ride the bike, ride the bike”. Not all cyclists are such purists though. The winter sport of cyclocross, with all it’s muddy running about with a bike on your shoulder, was originally devised as winter training for the pro’s. Nowadays there’s even more riding options being explored in the ‘off season’ and personally I reckon it’s hard to beat mountain biking as an all round workout. I’ve heard that Norwegian cyclists such as Edvald Boasson Hagen get stuck into some cross-country skiing every winter, but ski’s would be a poor investment for where I live.
But what about running? Triathletes obviously do their share of pavement pounding, but what about those of us who who prefer to class ourselves as cyclists? I did a lot of running in 2010 as part of a conscious effort to train for the Etape du Tour and I still suspect that it was my fittest year as a rider. I’ve done the occasional run since, but I’d let the trainers get dusty for two years until deciding to pull them on again yesterday.
There’s a school of thought that claims that running damages the body and I admit that if I’ve not ran for a while, my legs ache for days afterwards whilst they adapt to the different stresses. Yesterdays run got off to a particularly bad start as I hurt my back bending down to pull my running pants on – maybe it’s true?
I was surprised at how fit I felt though. I wasn’t running hard, but my heart rate was nowhere near as high as even a moderate ride, though I still remember hitting my highest ever heart rate as I wobbled across the line of the Manchester 10k run a few years ago. I’ll be entering it again this year so there’s plenty more running ahead of me.
Right now I’m so sore that I had to cut todays ride short and can barely get up and down the stairs. But will all this running actually make me any fitter? Who knows, I suppose I’ll have to wait and see…
* so dominating was Eddy Merckx during his time as a professional cyclist, that it’s pretty much obligatory to precede his name with the word ‘great’ or at least refer to him by his nickname, ‘The Canibal’
Having prematurely posted the introduction before even starting the ride, here’s the full post now I’m safely back home!
As soon as I spotted the opportunity to be dropped off in Keswick with my bike on a Monday morning, my head went into overdrive to plot a route across some untried bridleways towards a train station that could return me back to civilisation. Despite it being the depths of winter, I had a craving for some old fashioned hike-a-bike adventure. Maps were spread across tables, the internet was scrutinised and train timetables were studied. By car, the route route between these popular Lakeland towns is a mere 20 miles by the A591, however my plan involved the Stake Pass bridleway, which promised to offer a pretty gruelling day out.
I’m a big fan of using trains with the bike. There’s nothing wrong with doing a loop, but there’s something about a point-to-point ride that makes it a proper journey. I’d booked a train from Windermere at 5pm, with the aim of arriving at dusk and having time to grab a chippy tea to eat at the station. To make the 3 hour return journey (and probable sleep from exhaustion) more comfortable, I’d packed lightweight clothes in a dry bag. There’s a time and place for worrying about carrying too much weight, but these kind of rides are not such occasions. On a winter mid-week day, miles from the nearest road or house I might not see another person should I run into difficulties so maps, compass, food, water, tools, extra layers and survival blanket all took the backpack up to 6KG. It’s all good for the legs though. I’d also cunningly put Stake Pass near the start of the ride, so that if it took more time/energy than planned I could tarmac it back to Windermere and skip the rest of the off-road sections I had lined up. It might all sound a bit dramatic, but I didn’t want to be another mocking incident on the local Mountain Rescue web site.
For any readers not familiar with the Lake District, it’s one of England’s most famous and popular national parks. The lakes and hills (or fells as they’re known) make it a favourite playground for cyclists, mountain bikers, hikers, fell runners and rock climbers. Fortunately it’s not all overly congested, partly because most of the tourists prefer not to leave the cafe’s and outdoor clothing shops.
Routes like Stake Pass are ancient traveller and trade routes between towns, and I had a feeling that today would make me realise exactly how soft modern conveniences like the A591 had made us. They’re also not the kind of routes that you’ll find in a mountain bike guide book. Oh no, the only way to assess the feasibility of such rides is to scour the internet for forum discussions and ride reports on blogs like these. So, for the benefit of future riders, here’s how it went: (Strava users can check it out and pinch the route file here)
Keswick to Rosthwaite
I could have taken the obvious road directly there, but I used the first half of the well documented ‘Borrowdale Bash’ route. I’d forgotten how technical some of it was though and getting off to push a couple of sections didn’t give me much confidence for the horrors ahead…
Up Langstrath to the top of Stake Pass:
I’d read that the bridleway on the East side of Langstrath Beck could be boggy, but that there was a rocky farm track that gave way to a footpath on the West side that would be drier. I’m usually a stickler for Rights Of Way, but given that the UK had only just stepped down from flood alerts, another pair of wheels/boots would be the last thing a grassy bridleway needed. Ecological justification.
The farm track was great, a few techy bits but very rideable. I could see the bridleway across the big wide valley and it looked grassy, so I imagine it would have been boggy. All goes well till you go through a gate and wonder where the track went. You’re now on the footpath and the next couple of miles will have you in a sequence of ride/push/carry, but if you’re taking this route on then you’re unlikely to get too upset about this. As you progress up the valley, look for a waterfall high up ahead on the left side of the valley – Stake Pass zig zags up the right hand side of this. It’s a strange moment when you realise this, as a) you expect to be continuing down the valley and b) it looks vertical.
Once you cross the river on the narrow wooden bridge the real climbing begins. The path’s been tastefully manicured within the last few years and is mostly fine gravel and very sharp hairpin bends. With good legs and small gears you can ride quite a lot of it though. Once you get half way up and look down you’ll see that it’s like a mini Alpine road pass, but instead of wide tarmac roads, its a gravel track half a meter wide. Annoyingly, the hairpins are too tight to ride round, which breaks your flow on the way up and would really spoil it as a descent. Eventually you hit the top and you just follow the obvious and mostly rideable track until you catch sight of the Great Langdale valley, your next destination.
Down Stake Pass to the Old Dungeon Ghyll pub:
If you thought the ascent was mad, wait till you see the descent. It plummets down quite abruptly, with rocky step-like zig zags. This was just how I remembered it from a hiking trip last year, though my claims of “Yeah, I reckon I could ride most of this” didn’t come to fruition now I had a bike with me. I know there’s riders out there that are brilliant at this kind of riding, but a healthy fear of injury meant that I pushed the first section but rode increasingly towards the bottom. As you cross the bridge, look back up and you can barely even make out the path against the imposing hills that now surround you. The track through the valley floor is brilliant – not massively technical, but certainly grand, and if you’ve not hurt yourself on Stake Pass you’ll be feeling pretty pleased with yourself, so soak it up. As a guide, it took me just over two hours from Rothsthwaite to the Old Dungeon Ghyll including a few photo stops and a quick sandwhich.
Old Dungeon Ghyll to Windermere:
From here to Windermere are a multitude of bridleway options so I’d planned as many that I hadn’t ridden before. I had to miss out the last one as the light was fading, but the last few miles of tarmac delivered me nicely to the fish and chip shop, just as planned.
I’m not sure it’s the kind of ride I’d want to do every weekend, and I appreciate that it’s hard to convey the appeal of such a ride even to most regular cyclists, but there’s just something special about taking on a remote pass that you’ve never done before. Fortunately there’s loads more in the Lakes for me to start planning!
There’s numerous stories of pro cyclists going out for a training ride on Christmas day in the belief that many of their rivals wouldn’t, thereby gaining an advantage on them for the coming season. I can’t claim to have quite the same motivation, but I had been looking forward to sneaking in a Christmas morning ride, something I’ve never previously had chance to do.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas, but there’s rather a lot of faff and stress that can leave you pining for some quality cycle-therapy, so as the rest of my family headed off to church on Christmas morning, I headed out for some worship of my own out on the hills. Thinking about it, there’s a lot of similarities between cycling and religion, especially the Catholics. They both involve some peculiar rituals and some very distinctive costumes and they’ll both leave you you with feelings of guilt if your devotion lapses. Professional cycling may have a history of drug use, but I’ll take that over pedophilia any day.
I’d imagined that the roads would be empty of both cars and cyclists, but there was still plenty of both. Of course there were no concessions given to the festive spirit by the cyclists, with the usual subtle nod of acknowledgement being the cheeriest greeting I received off any of the solitary riders seeking some peace. I’d considered putting some tinsel on my bike or helmet but managed to refrain from such frivolity in the end. There’s no point getting carried away just because it’s Christmas. By the time I’d climbed up to the Cat and Fiddle inn there was snow on the ground and it was getting cold, so I took a quick photo to mark the occasion and then started the cold descent back down to begin the family fun.
It’s just as well that I wasn’t out to gain an advantage on my peers, as Strava later showed that most of them had been out for nearly 50 miles, making my 17.5 miles look like a mere starter compared to their full turkey dinners. I’ll see if I can get away with a longer ride next year.
On a recent mountain bike ride, I started to feel the benefit of the wider bars and shorter stem I’d installed on the Cotic Soul. I felt more in control and with my weight a little further back it was easier to pull the front end up. This should have been a joyous revelation, but I had a slight resentment that the cycling media had pushed me into this upgrade that I had resisted for so long. One of the reasons I stopped reading MBR was that I was becoming increasingly irritated by their insistence that I upgrade to this wide/short set up. That and their illegible use of tiny white fonts on a bright orange background….
Those that know me well have realised that I don’t like being pressured into decisions*. I’ll often resist all (good) advice in order to stubbornly cling on to the belief that I’ve made my own decisions for my own reasons. I recently decided to go short and wide as I wanted more confidence on the descents – but was it due to years of nagging from the cycling industry and press? The internet has made it almost impossible to ignore peoples opinions on what we should be riding. There’s not just the magazines and their online environments, but internet forums full of people telling you how to kit your bikes out. Blogs are no better, even I’m putting my opinions into your head!
There’s a few examples of this going on in the bike world at the moment, but the one that irritates me the most is mountain bike drive trains. I’m almost universally derided for running a triple ring chainset, but why? I like having a range of gears from 22:34 to 44:11 and apart from the obvious cross-chaining omissions, I use them all regularly. I’ve had friends, colleagues, magazines and websites all telling me that I should be running a double chainset and how it’s so much ‘better’ for years now. I even had a mechanic at Evans imply that I’d specced my bike incorrectly by fitting a triple. Did he not consider that I’d spent hours poring over gear tables to ensure that my dream bike was exactly what I wanted?
Other corners of the industry become even more militant when shouting about having a singe chainring set up. Nowadays that ingenious piece of design technology that is the front derailleur has become as popular as asbestos in the MTB media. An essential piece of kit on a road bike, it is apparently an unnecessary liability on a bike designed to go up and down steep trails. What entertains me most about this development is that companies are now having to get very innovative to overcome the problem that they have created. Companies like SRAM, who have found a way to create a cassette that squeezes in a specially small 11th sprocket, with a sprocket the size of a dinner plate at the other end. Then there’s the obligatory rear derailleur redesign to handle the new freakishly large capacity…. Does this system actually offer any benefits to my ‘retro’ 3×10? I wouldn’t have thought so, but the cycling industry and media need to keep moving forwards to keep healthy, partly driven by professional sport and partly funded by people who feel the need to buy the latest innovation.
Ranting aside, I accept that bicycle design should be improving year on year. Even a look back ten years shows a drastic change in handlebar/stem, suspension, brakes and geometry. I must admit that I thought tubeless tyres were a bonkers idea but now I couldn’t imagine riding off road without them. Maybe there’s people still riding trails on aging rigid bikes with 120 mm stems and v-brakes, but all I see are people buying into the latest technology that the industry wants us to buy. Should I be buying a seat post that I can remotely raise and lower? I’m sometimes tempted to get one even though I never actually manually drop my post. The marketing must be working.
I’d also appreciate it if people would stop telling me that my wheels are too small. 26″ wheels work well for me off road and I’m not about to abandon that format to make them 3″ bigger (and no, not even 1.5″ bigger either). Let me enjoy having fun on my little wheels in peace. Maybe I’m too traditional. I can’t even get my head round the idea of a carbon MTB, having recently regressed to steel (though even that was a decision probably influenced by the cycling press).So what about the ultimate solution to a non-existant problem: electronic gears? Maybe cable operated gears will be as obsolete as rod brakes in 10 years, but for the moment I’ll stick with the cables that flawlessly change my gears every time I need them to. Maybe the pro road cyclists will benefit from them? See what Sir Wiggo thinks of them in the video below: .
So what conclusions can I take from all this waffle? Well, I accept that the bike industry needs to keep reinventing the wheel to keep healthy, if you’ll excuse the pun, but I’d rather be left to come round to these ‘innovations’ when I need to. I’d say just buy what works for your own riding and budget and enjoy riding your bike.
And don’t spend as long thinking about it all as I’ve done today.
* There’s an irony relevant to this blog to be told here. My own reintroduction to cycling as an adult 10 years ago wouldn’t have been delayed if it wasn’t for my aversion to peer pressure. My good friend and flat mate of the time nearly put me off trying mountain biking by repeatedly insisting that I come out on a ride with him and even buy his GT Avalanch. Once he backed off, I did ride, I did buy the bike and the rest is history.
After the recent near death experiences with cantilever brakes on the Uncle John, I had a re-think and decided to somehow make the mini-v’s work with the mudguards. Given the amount of people who arrive at this blog through searching for info on this humble English cyclocross bike, I thought I’d better share my solution.
When I first fitted my SKS Chromoplastic P45 mudguards, it looked like the Tektro 926 mini-v’s wouldn’t clear the top of them (which led to the unsuccessful experiment with the cantilever brakes…) On closer inspection, they can just about clear the top of the guards, especially if you file down the underside of the bit where the noodle goes through. I was always happy with the power of these brakes, but was annoyed at the lack of pad clearance, which was only just feasible with straight road wheels but a rim wearing nightmare off road. With their reinstallation, I decided to try the ‘Travel Agents’ by Problem Solvers to gain more clearance. These little gadgets are as clever as their name, essentially converting the short amount of cable pulled by the lever into an increased amount of travel at the calliper. It does this via a wheel, which replaces the noodle. It may look a little unsightly, and weight weenies will moan about the extra grams, but it works well and has less friction than a noodle.
The Travel Agent seems to do it’s job well and though it didn’t change the pull ratio as much as I thought it would, it was enough to allow a little pad clearance and still have effective braking without the levers hitting the bars. I’ve just test ridden them and the brakes felt as strong as the SRAM Force callipers I’ve got on the Boardman. So I’ve finally achieved my original objective of having mudguards big enough to accommodate my Schwalbe 30mm CX-Pro’s and still get decent braking with my SRAM Rival levers.
To be honest, I should maybe have just gone with disc brakes when I built the bike, but it’s a bit late late now as I’d have to buy a new fork and build new wheels, as well as the new callipers. Maybe on my next ‘cross bike…
It’s an interesting thought that the oldest and most simplistic form of the modern bicycle also attracts the most diverse cultural groups and usage. For those unfamiliar with fixed gear bikes, they have no gears or even a freewheel – if the wheels are moving then so are your legs!
Historically, fixed gear bikes were the norm until some clever sod invented the freewheel, which then allowed you to ‘coast’ once you were up to speed (very useful when going downhill). Early professional road cyclists used them and track cyclists at velodromes still do. Track bikes also have the distinction of not having brakes, which is also how some people like to ride them on the road. This style of riding, which requires the rider to lock their legs to skid to a halt, became popular with New York couriers before spreading to the rest of the world. The current ‘fixie’ scene combines this often precarious form of riding with fashion, both for the rider and bike and has even spawned the sport of bicycle polo.
So what’s my involvement with fixed gear? Well for me, it’s nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with riding. What started as a cost-effective commuter bike (the obligatory Specialized Langster) developed into a whole new appreciation of pedalling. People often talk about the zen like quality of riding fixed and how you’re connected to the road in a more positive way and whilst I don’t disagree with such thoughts, here’s eight quantifiable reasons for riding fixed.
If you consider how much riding time you’d usually spend coasting, you begin to realise how beneficial this style of riding is for your legs. In 2010 whilst starting training for the Etape du Tour I spent long, cold, dark winter evenings hurtling round the flat lanes of Cheshire on the Langster, often up to 50 miles and was amazed at the fitness I gained. Coaches refer to a ‘base’ of fitness that you can develop and riding fixed is the old school base building method that’s been around for years.
2. Pedalling technique
Non-obsessive cyclists might assume that there is no real technique to pedalling – your legs simply turn the pedals round. Those of us in the know appreciate that it’s not quite that simple. You should be producing even power throughout the whole circle and riding fixed can help achieve that even pedalling style, even when going downhill with a ridiculously high cadence. For maximum fun, try riding a fixed gear bike indoors on the rollers – it’s nowhere near as easy as the pro’s make it look at the velodrome…
3. Ultimate control in traffic
I admit that I was initially apprehensive about riding fixed gear through city centre traffic. It’s only since doing it on a non-fixed bike that I’ve realised the benefits. Weaving through traffic at slow speeds is so much easier to control when you’re controlling your acceleration and deceleration with your legs.
4. Track stands
It was through riding fixed that I mastered the art of standing still on the bicycle. Not massively exciting, but useful at traffic lights as it saves you having to unclip your feet. This is due to being able to put your bars at 45˚ and control your forward and backwards motion. It’s not just a cool trick though, as the control and technique helps with the mountain biking.
5. Hill climbing
Hills with no gears? Oh yes! I’m not talking long alpine climbs, but any short ramp of up to 15% can be ‘attacked’ on a fixed gear bike in a way that you just wouldn’t on your normal road bike. Maybe it’s the lack of gears to wimp out with, or that if you don’t commit your whole body to it 100% then you’ll grind to a halt and fall over. Strava’s proved to me that my best efforts on short hills are when riding a fixed gear bike and the Monsal Hill climb course record set by Malcom Elliot in 1981 whilst riding a fixed wheel bike still stands to this day.
6. No gears, no hassles
Keeping your gears working well isn’t exactly rocket science, but if you’re going to be riding a bike through city centre grime and winter country lanes then it’s nice not to have to have any to collect muck in. All you need to do is give the chain a wipe and lube from time to time and occasionally re-tension the rear wheel as the chain inevitably stretches.
7. A cheaper bike
Whether you’re building or buying, a fixed gear bike is way cheaper than a geared road bike. If you’ve ever specced up your own road bike then you’ll have realised how much goes on the gear levers and derailleurs. Not a problem on the fixie so you either get a much cheaper bike, or if you spend the same money you’ll get a better quality of important components, such as wheels.
8. The fitness gauge
One thing about having to turn the one same gear is that you know how your legs are feeling, there’s no hiding behind easier gears. I used to commute in and out of town on a 48×17 fixed wheel every day and it was the best measurement of fitness I’ve ever had. If I ever started considering changing to a 16t sprocket then I knew I was on form. If I was struggling to turn the pedals it was time for an easy week…
Having already cycled up the height of Mount Everest 12 times this year, it’s nice to just enjoy the rhythm of some flat or gently rolling roads on a fixed gear bike. Too much of anything can wear you down and we all need variety, so the hills can wait whilst I recondition my legs and perfect my pedalling ready for 2014. It’s going to be a good year!
As Greg Lemond, the American Tour De France winner once said: “It doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster”. Returning to Tenerife for another training camp (or ‘holiday’ as I tactfully refer to them at home) was a painful reminder of the first half of Greg’s famous quote. Somewhere in my cycling obsessed brain, I’d decided that having pedalled up Mount Teidi several times earlier in the year that it would somehow be easier this time.
Obviously this was not the case. I might have moved to the edge of the Peak District, but any UK climb starts to look like a pathetic pimple once you leave your Tenerife hotel by the sea and embark on a continual climb to the lip of the crater at 7200ft/2200m. For an average amateur like me, that’s three hours of non-stop climbing, depending on route, fitness and form. For more specific route advice check out the blog from the last ‘holiday’.
Coping with the climb
If you’re not a veteran of long climbs you’ll be needing some coping strategies to get you through. 25 miles of uphill is obviously a lot to come to terms with, so break it into the three sections, but ride straight through onto the next one though or you might be tempted to stop. There’s plenty of time to think, although if you’re really serious you’ll only be concentrating on your pedalling and breathing. I can’t claim to be that disciplined yet though, so for me, life gets evaluated, perspective is gained and often these blogs get written.
I don’t think I could cope with any kind of long ride without a decent amount of data to look at, which is where the Garmin 705 comes in. Average speed, heart rate, cadence, gradient – they’re aIl decent distractions, but you can’t beat watching the altitude readout on a long climb. On a climb like Mount Teidi you see altitude figures on your Garmin that would normally have you planning a system reset and thoughts like ‘only another 2000 feet of climbing’ become almost normal.
I’ve gone off the route into the actual crater, with it’s howling winds, broken Tarmac and coaches, in favour of pausing to eat my squashed sandwich before the frantic hour of descent back to the hotel. It’s worth doing once though, just for the spectacle of it. In the UK I go out of my way to create rides that form perfect loops, or at least interesting shapes (that’ll be the OCD…) Out here though, I’m perfectly happy to retrace my route in order to relive and celebrate every hard earned slope and hairpin whilst (almost) graciously swooping downwards with gravity now very much on my side.
What wasn’t on my side this visit though, was the wind. Having quickly realised that none of the weather forecasts could be relied on, I just set off each time regardless. Whilst it was never an issue on the way up, and once past Vilaflor it was ghostly still, the descents lower down became somewhat terrifying for a man trying to cling on to a lightweight carbon bike.
So was Greg right?
I’d certainly not found it any easier this time, but was I any quicker? Via the magic of Strava, it turned out that I was! Without the ability to upload my rides until returning to the UK, I’d been attacking the routes based on fairly imprecise targets and maximum efforts. It seemed to have worked though, as I’d shaved minutes off every category 1 segment and even PR’d on every descent as well. Although I did the same amount of rides as last time, I didn’t actually do as many miles and climbing, but what I did do was ride harder. And maybe it’s that intensity that’s been lacking from my riding this year. So whilst I’ve not achieved any of the sportive results I wanted this year, I’m treating my performance on Teidi as an achievement.
Here’s the evidence on Strava: ride 1, ride 2, ride 3, ride 4. I feel like I’ve ‘done’ Teidi properly now and having been there twice, it’s probably time to find another training camp destination. Oops, I mean holiday…
There’s a saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. If you apply the same logic to bikes then you’ll probably end up fitting mudguards. It was this idea of making my Planet X Uncle John an all weather winter road bike that led me to finally confront my aversion to mudguards. I can’t really explain why I’ve resisted them for so long, but there’s just something uncool about them. They’ll turn a sleek and racy looking bike into an old man’s steed and I wasn’t quite that sure I was ready for that kind of bike in my life.
The obvious choice of mudguard
The SKS Chromoplastic’s are universally regarded as the best ‘proper’ mudguards around and I opted for the P45 set so that I could still run my cross wheels with 30mm Schwalbe CX-Pro’s on as well as my winter road wheels fitted with the excellent Durano Plus 23mm tyres. Having fitted the ‘guards this week and tested them in appropriately wet weather on their first ride, I can confirm that they are indeed brilliant. The instructions however, are not worth the very small piece of paper they’re written on and I had to have a look at a colleagues bike to understand how the little plastic hoods work. I also had to get a bit creative with the drill to fashion a fixing to the seat stay bridge on the Uncle John, which seems to be 90 degrees off compared to the fixings provided. Be prepared to spend a while getting all this right, as you’ll probably have to fit the guards without the plastic hoods, then mark up where you’ll need to cut them, then take each side off to cut and fit the hoods. It’s not rocket science, but it’s all a bit fiddly.
The Tektro brakes of death
The installation of mudguards required a change of strategy with the brakes, as my Tektro 926AL mini-v’s didn’t provide enough clearance. The Tektro CR520/720′s cantilever brakes have a lot of fans online, despite the admittedly poor pads. It didn’t bother me though, as I planned to reuse my Koolstop dual compounds I’d been using. They brakes were reasonably fiddly to fit and for some reason, you have to ignore the conveniently placed 5mm allen bolt and struggle with the nut round the back of the yoke. Having spent a week reading reviews and swotting up on mechanical advantage ratios and straddle wire heights, I was confident that they would work well.
That first ride in the wet proved that all my research had been in vain. The front brake had some ability to slow me down on descents, but not enough power to avoid a long guessing game of whether I would stop in time before each junction. The rear brake was even more interesting… Before the rain came down it felt weak and underpowered, but the situation got much worse in the wet. After some scientific testing involving a long descent and the speed readout on my Garmin, I concluded that pulling the brake as hard as I could made absolutely no difference to my speed. I carried on using it, but it was only really working as a placebo brake. After a few terrifying near misses I decided to change my route as there were some steep descents coming up that I don’t think I would have survived.
It was an interesting comparison though, as it was the same wheels, levers and pads – just a change of calliper from the min-v’s to cantilever. I wasn’t totally convinced by the Surly rear hanger I’d bought, which resembled a big paper clip and probably only as strong, but I can’t imagine it being entirely responsible for the lack of power.
But what about the mudguards?
Despite the terrors of going downhill, the addition of mudguards transformed the wet ride. Obviously I was still getting rained on from above, but the lack of spray coming up from the road was very noticeable, with no more soggy backside to soak you through and make you cold. An unexpected bonus was not having to wear any eyewear in the rain, as there was nothing coming up from the road. I also avoided getting splattered in mud when going down some more rural lanes and before long I’d started to lose my ingrained habit of avoiding puddles.
By the end of the ride, I’d come to terms with having ‘guards on my bike. I was now a proper road cyclist; I’d come of age and I was ok with that. If having mudguards encourages me to get out and get more miles in over winter then it’s a positive move. They might have swelled the weight of the bike close to 10kg but it will just make the Boardman feel even more amazing when I get back on it.
All I need to do now is find some cantilever brakes that work and I’ll be a happy winter rider. Suggestions welcome.
Whilst I didn’t actually need another set of road wheels, I’ve always fancied some that were at least a little bit aero. Obviously I’d love some deep section carbon rimmed models, but I can’t really justify the cost. And so my quest to balance weight, performance and cost began. If you’re new to wheel building then you might want to read the previous post encouraging you to give it a go.
Warning: if you’re not in the least bit interested in bicycle wheels, then you may find this post a little bit dull.
I wanted some wheels that were under 1500g without skewers, a rim depth great enough to hopefully provide some aero advantage and a total cost of under £300. I knew that deeper aluminium rims would weigh more, but that could be offset by running fewer spokes due to the increased rim strength. I’m struggling to stay at 80kg so was reluctant to go for the popular 20/24 spoke count. Having been forced to carry my bike home after snapping spokes on my 16/20 Shimano RS80′s before I wanted a wheel that would still function with a spoke out. I settled on 24/28 as a safe compromise and started buying components. One benefit to building your own wheels is that you can spread the cost by buying components whenever you have the money.
Having previously discovered and road tested the 288g BT12 hubs from an Ebay seller for £75 for a previous build, I was more than willing to go with them again. I did have a panic with my first pair after 1100 miles when the rear hub developed an alarming cracking sound that sounded like my carbon frame was about to snap. Having finally worked out how to get into them (take the skewer out and stick an allen key in each end – so obvious I didn’t notice!) I gave them a quick clean and a regrease and they’re like new again.
The rim of choice?
After much research, I stumbled across the TSR 27 from a company called Tune, featuring a rim depth of 27mm, (only) available in 24/28 holes and £33 pounds online from Germany. The site claimed they were “about 430g” which sounded amazing, so I was slightly gutted when they weighed out at 455g each. Still, they’re deeper, lighter and cheaper than Mavic’s popular CXP33 and I liked the understated lack of logo’s. Tune themselves sell a wheelset with these rims on for over £500 and it gets specced on bikes costing £4500, so I was surprised to pick them up so cheap. Also under consideration was the IRD cadence Aero, but the only UK distributer I could find ran out of stock when I had the money…
Bit of a no-brainer, but for lightweight and aero I don’t know of anything better than the Sapim CX-Ray. I also really like building with them, as despite being a two handed job, it’s impossible to get in a mess with spoke wind-up. These spokes are brilliant but unfortunately the most expensive components of the wheel build, especially in black. The best place I’ve found is here. I opted for matching black aluminium nipples for an all black sleek looking wheelset (it seems that looks matter to me and my wheels…)
I’d only ever built with the double eye-letted Mavic Open Pro’s before, so I initially fell for the trap of half lacing the wheel then dropping a nipple in the rim and having to unlace it all to get it out. I ended up using an old spoke to poke the nipple through the rim without losing it (are any non-wheelbuilders still reading at this point?) I thought that less spokes might make the build harder, but I had them trued, tensioned and stressed fairly easily. I’d also decided to try VeloPlugs instead of my usual Velox tape (saving a few more grams…) though I also ran a layer of standard insulation tape over them to prevent the chance of losing any plugs in a roadside repair. I like to easily see some coloured rim tape before pumping a tyre up to 110psi so I know I haven’t pinched the tube.
I like these wheels – they look great and weigh 1471g without skewers (+44g with my Planet X favourites) and came in under my £300 budget. By comparision, Shimano Dura Ace wheels cost over twice as much, aren’t as aero/deep but do weigh 90g less. Obviously the Dura Ace wheelset has more kudos and is ridden by pro riders, but for the money and extra 90g I’ll go with my self built efforts. If a spoke snaps I can still ride home (no following team car for me) and a new spoke costs £2 instead of £10 with a lengthy wait from Madison. I wisely ordered an extra spoke for each length just in case. Also, when I wear the rim down I can buy a new one for £33, whereas it is not even financially viable to re-rim a high end Shimano wheel, you’d have bought a very expensive wheel with a limited life span.
So how do they ride? Great! I’m not sure how much faster they feel over my Open Pro wheels, but (in my head) they feel quick. They feel nice and stiff with no noticeable brake rub when going hard out of the saddle and I’d recommend them to anyone looking to build some good wheels on a budget.
The only problem I now have is finding a decent reason to build my next set of wheels…