The over-enthusiastic cyclist

If it involves pedalling then I'm probably into it…

Category Archives: Equipment

Keeping your costs down

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:

DIY
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.

Careful shopping
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.

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Industry influence

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.

Mudguards AND brakes that work

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…

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Coming to terms with mudguards

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.

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The new mature looking Uncle John

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This photo will tell you more than the instructions will

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Drill a hole in the rear ‘guard and bolt through to the seat-stay bridge

Pro spec road wheels for half the price

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. 

The brief
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.

Hub choice
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…

Spokes
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…)

The build
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.

The result?
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…

The finished wheels

The finished wheels

The end result (excuse the flowers)

The end result (excuse the flowers)

The ideal bike for most people

When a family member suggested that she’d like a bike to get around on and do some family cycle trails, I offered my help. Obviously I don’t need an excuse to spend hours scouring the online stores and second hand markets, but I also had another motivation. Adults returning to cycling will all too often end up buying/being sold an inappropriate bike: either a crap mountain bike or ‘hybrid’ that weighs a ton – neither of which will make the reintroduction to pedalling particularly enjoyable. This annoys me and I suspect that the majority of the bikes that Halfords have ever sold are abandoned in their owners sheds due to the bikes being disappointingly unenjoyable to ride.

Since becoming a cross bike convert, I’ve appreciated how a lightweight rigid bike with knobbly tyres pedals effortlessly on the road and is surprisingly able on the canal towpaths and such like. Unfortunately though, the idea of dropped handlebars would be completely alien to her so that wouldn’t work. I’d have suggested a single speed but she’s about to move somewhere close to hills. But what about a cross bike with nice thin knobbly tyres and a wide flat bar set up? That would be ideal, however I couldn’t find anyone that actually makes them. It’s a shame as I reckon this would be ‘the ideal bike for most people’

So a couple of visits to GumTree turned up a second hand Kinesis Crosslight for £100, complete with cantilever brakes, compact chainset, seatpost, stem and some  tasty Deda drop bars (I’ll have them thank you very much). I had a saddle, stem and MTB handlebars already, so just wheels and gears needed. I sourced brand new wheels, tyres and a cheap and cheerful 8-speed drivetrain and still finished the bike for £275 and the end result weighs about 22lbs/10kg.

It was only once I’d built the bike that I recognised what it was: it was the style of bike that the older kids used to ride around on when I was young. A bit like the old Raleigh Bomber* but with more conservative handlebars. To confirm this, the documentary on TV I was half watching showed some footage of 70’s youth’s ragging such bikes around some urban wasteland. So if these bikes are so versatile and good to ride, why can’t we buy them anymore? There are some decent hybrids around, such as those from Boardman, but you don’t always get the necessary tyre clearance for decent knobblies or the confidence inspiring wide handle bars. They’re very much flat handle barred versions of road bikes rather than a more relaxed geometry suitable for casual riding.

Much as I love mountain bikes, it seems that cheap (and crap) versions have somehow become the entry level standard – complete with energy sapping rear suspension and front suspension so harsh that if it does actually compress then the rebound will be more hazardous than the original obstacle. I’m convinced that if companies started selling bikes like my latest creation that they’d not only sell lots of bikes, but they’d actually get taken out of the shed and serve their owners well.

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*As a side note, I vividly remember an older lad on my estate who had a Raleigh Bomber who was able to wheelie it all the way down the main road. I can’t remember how many white lines that amounted to (standard youth measurement for wheelie distance) but he was named ‘Bomber’ after his bike. Another lad who was nearer my age rode a BMX called a ‘Predator’ and was known in some circles as ‘Pred’ until well into his teens. I had a Diamond Back ‘Viper’, but thankfully managed to avoid any reptilian references.

Cyclocross bikes – thoughts after a couple of months

It’s a couple of months since I built the Planet X Uncle John and I’ve ridden it all over the place – on and off road, flat stuff, hills, all over the place really. South Manchester turns out to be a great place for such a bike, as there’s an abundance of tracks and trails that are great for a cross bike. Trails that are a bit too tame to justify taking a MTB and sometimes needing some milage on the tarmac to link them up – ideal for a cross bike!

There’s the River Mersey, Bridgewater canal, Trans Pennine Trail, Middlewood Way, Sett Valley Trail and once you head south you’ve got the Tissington Trail, High Peak Trail, Monsal Trail – and that’s just the obvious long routes. What I’m starting to do is plan decent length routes that link some of these up with those little bridleways and byways that aren’t exactly mega rocky but you’d never want to take your posh road bike down.

Here’s my conclusions:

  1. You get a flavour of road cycling and MTB’ing all in the same ride
  2. You can cover more distance than on a MTB but have more fun than road cycling
  3. A slightly technical trail becomes rather good fun when tackled at speed on what is essentially a beefed up racer
  4. It’s a right good work out – you know about it when you come home from a long cross ride
  5. You’ll try out all the little tracks that you’d never plan a MTB ride around
  6. If (for some tragic reason) I could ever own only one bike, it would be a crosser

It’s also created a new genre of riding for me that’s been christened ‘dicking about on the cross bike’ which involves leaving the house with no particular route in mind and just bombing about around riding anywhere that I fancy. (Is it just me or do we all relax our moral sense of rights of way when it’s within a certain radius of where we live?).The Uncle John seems to have a built in cheeky satnav installed that says “Turn left down that little path you’ve never been down”. I get home after an hour having been down new trails and with a big grin on my face.

Highly recommended!

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Build your own wheels!

I like wheels. Obviously we all need them and we all know that it’s the one upgrade that you can really feel, but it was only within the last few months that I realised the satisfaction of speccing and building your own. The idea started to take shape after my Shimano RS80 road wheels wore dangerously thin and then discovering that to buy new rims from Shimano would cost more than the wheels did. Shit economy. I also had a well respected shop build my MTB wheels last year – they’re the best spec wheels I’ve ever had but I was forever getting them re-trued…

So why build your own?

  • When a rim wears down you’re just looking at replacing a standard off the shelf part (£40 for my rim of choice)
  • No more company specific spokes that cost a fortune and take ages to order through a shop (Shimano, grrrr)
  • Design them specific to your needs (weight, strength, cost, use, colour etc)
  • Massive potential for annoying your other half by spending hours reading reviews of spokes etc. (“Do you not know everything there is to know about wheels yet?”)
  • You’ll never need to pay a bike shop to spend ages replacing a snapped spoke again.

I always assumed, like most do, that building wheels was a craft that needed years of training to learn. I even considered going on a wheel building course. This is bollocks – just buy ‘The Professional Guide to Wheel Building’ by Roger Musson. This will be the finest £9 pdf you will ever download and he will take you through everything you need to make your own wheels.

I spent a long time speccing the parts for my wheels (I’ve now built three pairs and looking for an excuse to build another) and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. Obviously these are my own views – much like the rest of the internet – but if you’re of a trusting or lazy disposition then you can benefit from my weeks of research distilled into a few paragraphs.

Rims
I spent ages looking at DT Swiss, Ambrosio, Mavic and ZTR, but eventually went with Mavic. They were the most readily available and consequently competitively priced and compare well against the others. I’ve used Open Pro’s for all my builds so far (about £40 and 435g). I was also quite drawn to the CXP33, though I’m not sure how much aero advantage you’d get for the weight penalty. I nearly got the Ambrosio Excelight (few grams lighter for about £10 more) but they seem harder to get hold of.

Hubs
For my first set I went  ‘tried and tested’ with Shimano, picking up some Ultegra hubs at a good price. Since researching further though, I’ve realised that they weigh an absolute ton (relatively speaking of course) so they have been designated as my cross wheels. My second set featured Miche RC2’s which were cheaper and lighter, making a cracking training set for the road. My third set were built around some unbranded hubs from a Taiwan ebay seller. This isn’t my usual style but they were £75 posted and only weigh 295 grams – I challenge anyone to beat that! I’ve done 350 miles on them and so far so good. I also looked at DT Swiss (a small fortune) and Hope (love’em off road but couldn’t imagine the freehub noise on the road). Ambrosio hubs also looked good quality and value.

Be aware that not all hubs come with skewers. If you want to save weight, the rather wonderful Planet X do some Ti/Carbon models at 44g a pair for the bargain price of £17.50 (at the time of writing)

Spokes
Call me naive, but I didn’t realise there was so much variation in spoke design… Your two main players are DT Swiss and Sapim. I’ve used DT Swiss Competition double butted spokes for two the first two sets. Roger will explain more about double butted spokes in the book, but be aware that the black ones are dearer (but look ace!) and the best place I found was Rose Bikes in Germany. They deliver quicker than some UK shops, but as there’s a delivery charge, see if you can get as much gear as possible in your order to make it worthwhile. For my ‘posh’ set of road wheels, I went for Sapim CX-Ray spokes. They’re aero, light but still strong. DT Swiss Aerolight seem to be the exact same weight/strength/quality so it just depends on whatever you can get hold of. I got the CX-Rays from Bike24.com, another German site. These were the dearest part of the build… I also invested in some posh nipples (oo-er) – black aluminium rather than the usual silver brass. Dearer, but lighter (there’s a theme developing here…)

Design
Again, the book will go into detail, but I went for 32 spoke 3x on my first two sets. I’m a bit of a fat bastard at 13 stone and for the cross and winter training intentions these wheels were built for, it seemed sensible. For my ‘posh’ road wheels I went 32 spoke 3x on the back and 28 2x on the front. These wheels weigh in at just over 1500g including quick release skewers and cost under £300. I know some people would use 20/24 spoke lacing, but every time I snapped a spoke on my RS80’s the wheel went so far out of true I had to carry the bike to the nearest station. Bollocks to that, for what a decent spoke weighs, I reckon it’s worth using enough so you’ll still get home if one breaks.

I’m right chuffed with my posh wheels, they feel fast and strong, look as good as any factory wheel. All my wheels have stayed in true so far and every part can be replaced cheaply. By me.

My first cyclocross bike – Planet X Uncle John

Here’s the brief: a road bike I can use for winter training, crap weather commuting, touring work and light off-road. The Planet X Uncle John fitted the bill and gave me a fresh excuse to spend hours looking at parts on the internet.

Top tip: if you’re going to buy one (frame or bike) get down to their showroom and try one out. I’ve never bought a ‘medium’ in my life, but a large Uncle John would barely have needed a seat post at all.

I built the frame up with a mix of SRAM Rival/Apex, two different wheelset’s I’ve built and some other bits I had lying around. Since SRAM front mech’s only operate on a down pull, Planet X include a little pulley to put on the bottom of the down tube to feed the cable through. After 15 minutes of arsing about, I sacked it off and put on an old Shimano XT triple front mech on. It’s not right, but it works till I get around to finding a Shimano double front mech.
EDIT: it’s a Shimano FD-CX70 top pull double mech you need, works a treat, about £30.

Instead of the usual cyclocross cantilever brakes, I took a punt on the Tektro 926AL Mini-V brakes…

These are great once you do a few modifications: because there’s not much clearance on the pads, to release the noodle to get your wheel out is problematic. The solution is to hacksaw the part of the noodle that pokes through the clasp down to about 1 mm – just enough to do it’s job but short enough to disengage for wheel release. Oh, and the brake pads are rubbish – I replaced with Koolstop Dual Compound within 100 miles. I also put some of those cheap inline barrel adjusters in – they’re meant for gears but work fine for brakes.
EDIT: I later used the Travel Agents to give more pad clearance. Read about it here

So what’s it like? Flipping brilliant! It weighs about 21lbs and rides well on and off road. More to follow. Image