The over-enthusiastic cyclist

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

Category Archives: Bike builds

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.

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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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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