Sunday, 22 August 2010

A Day Out With Rantwick

A few weeks ago, I was the fortunate winner of a competition on RANTWICK, beating off heavy competition on the way. The prize was valuable, but the last thing I expected was for the Rantwick himself to deliver the prize in person. Having now had the pleasant experience of getting to know him better, it is conceivable that in a moment of less than sobriety, he settled down on a bus or train with "London" on the front, and missed his stop. But I am getting ahead of myself.

After he had gone to all that trouble and travel (deliberate or accidental) the very least I could do was to invite him to partake of some ale at my local hostelry. The venture started promisingly enough, at the bar he got his money out

but I told him his money was no good here. What he though a 10 Yuan note would do I can't honestly say, but the gesture was appreciated.
So, we settled down with our pints. It became obvious that even before drinking, coordination was not Rantwick's strongest suit, as he spilled his drink a bit very early on.

As you can see, he did offer to buy the next round, so I quickly forgave him. But, after very little ale, he appeared to get a bit shaky.

Maybe it was jet lag? I don't know. The quality of his conversation and company didn't change which, after all, is the mark of good drinking company. He even told me this joke: A duck goes into a pub at lunchtime, walks up to the bar and orders a pint and a butty. the barman thinks it's a bit odd, a talking duck that drinks beer, but serves him anyway. This goes on everyday for 3 weeks, and a travelling circus comes into town. when the duck comes in for his pint and sandwich the barman says to him: "You know there is a travelling circus in town, they might have a job for you". The duck says "What would a travelling circus want with a carpenter?".
I did start to get concerned, though.

By the time we got through the first pint he was certainly worse for wear.

When it was plain there was nothing left in the glasses, we decided to call it a day

amd a good one was had by all.
Cheers, Rantwick!.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Democracy in Action

The strapline of this blog is “Cycling, London & Life” and to date, cycling has predominated so far, but I’d like to do a bit of the “Life” stuff today.

Over on my main blog I posted a picture of the self-styled “Democracy Village” (like this) and said that I was please that our elected officials were taking it away. A frequent habitué of London Daily Photo, Imajoebob, took the time to leave a long comment, the rest of this post is my response, which visitors here may not be interested in so…

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

I'm a packhorse, sometimes. A review of my panniers.

From Panniers and Such
Regrettably I often have to cart my laptop and all manner of other things around on my cycling perambulations. To do that, I use two Altura panniers with which I am pretty happy. But as is the way, I'm always interested to hear what the options are.

Photos with review comments are here

The first is the Altura Urban Dryline. That is about 3 years old, and it has ceased being dry for the last 18 months or so. Sure, it keeps light rain off (what wouldn't?) but in a downpour it will get wet from the bottom up. May not help that I don't use mudguards, but the chief cause is the abrasive London dirt. The only ones that might be more waterproof are the Ortlieb, and at twice the price I can't see that being value , unless they can do more than 3 years. From what I've heard and seen, that would be a lot even for them. So, I carry plastic bags into which things get stuffed if they need to.

The other is the Altura laptop bag. My one doesn't have a "dryline" (huzzah!) instead, it has a plastic cover which makes the whole thing waterproof. The storage facilities (pockets) on it are brilliant, especially the outside pocket. Why do so few bags have them? I suppose its because they would affect the waterproofing.

Given the life they have (the rack can attest to that), I am very impressed with the way they have held out.

In short I would definitely buy both again.

Whoops, I did it again

Last time I said I didn't mind if I didn't repeat my 100k-in-a-day commute, but I did.

As it happens, yesterday was a beautiful day, and even though I was lugging at least 15kg in my panniers and had done 80Km the day before, it put a real smile on my face. What's more, there was even a (light) westerly to ease my way home. That trip by car or public transport would have been a real drag.

It is funny how relative distance is. This time, now I knew where I was going, seemed much quicker than last. Also the half of the journey that I am most familiar with seems to go a lot quicker than the westerly half, even though it contains the cross town ride. The halfway point is out by Shepherds Bush/Hammersmith, when I hit there it feels like I'm almost home. Whereas, plugging along the Uxbridge Road, the A4 or whatever seems to carry on forever.
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Sunday, 6 June 2010

I've Got a Bell and I'm Gonna Use It


But will it make any difference? My bell, as you can see, is industrial strength and can be heard. In fact, I can produce a veritable symphony of sound from it, from a subdued "ting ting" through a police-y siren type of ring to a full blown tram noise. I always try to select the appropriate noise, for example a quiet, alerting sound on a shared use path, but it rarely does any good.

This last week commute has sen the full gamut. The I'm-walking-towards-you-on-a-bike-path-and-I-can-see-and-hear-you-but-I-will-do-nothing (by Uxbridge Road, Hillingdon). Through the we-are-walking-across-the-bike-path-but-we-are-foreigners-and-so-when-we-eventually-realise-one-of-us-will-jump-forward-one-back-one-will-stand-stock-still (Hyde Park) to the I'm-cycling-on-a-bike-path-that-I-know-has-a-blind-bend-and-I-can-hear-your-bell-but-I-won't-ring-mine-becasue-that-would-spoil-the-surprise (Hayes Bypass). There were more, but all just variations on a theme.

I have to say that it just amuses me these days and I take it all in my stride, but with it all why do we bother?
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Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Today I Try to Educate a brace of Numbnuts

The first was going through the City. There’s one point where one side of the road is taken over by long term building works for an office block, forcing two way traffic onto the other side. Not very wide, and traffic had ground to a halt as a site vehicle, a pallet truck made its way along. I was stopped behind a bus and it was moving towards me, signalling to turn right to enter the works area.. The next car had stopped to let the lifter through. Numbnut 1 decides (too strong a word, I don’t think he decided anything) to carry on cycling even though the lifter was already turning in. He did notice when he had a rather close call, and he mouthed off abuse at the driver “you f-ing pr-ck”. So as traffic started to move, I cycled with him and told him, the lifter had been signalling, it was on obvious building site and hazard and in fact, he was the prick. As he had his iPod plugged into his brains, I don’t suppose he heard me as I stopped at a red light and watched him sail through two, blithely oblivious.

Numbnut 2 was later on the ride, by Acton. I’d been riding a lively pace with a messenger on single speed from Notting Hill, and we were stopped at traffic lights and road works. There was a dumper truck, in the middle of the road, angled about 45 degrees to the left and signalling left. I turned to my momentary companion and said “I think we’ll let him go first” and we both laughed. Then, Numbnut 2 sails up, from the outside, close down the side of the truck (ie, in the trucks blind spot) and proceeds to cycle round the nearside corner of the truck on the red light. Had the light changed 2 seconds earlier, he would have been roadkill. So when the truck had gone and I was passing him I just said “You really are a dork” Didn’t have time for any more, as I was still riding lively. I don’t suppose he really knew what I was talking about.

Just how DO some cyclists survive?

Monday, 31 May 2010

Half Baked Spuds


Well, there was some play in the pedals so I thought that I'd have a go at them. So the first one I took to bits and - seeing all those VERY little bearings suddenly wished I hadn't. The second, I flushed, repacked and tightened without disassembling. They are both adjusted without play now, it will be interesting to see (1) if they last any time now or (2) if one lasts longer than the other.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

My 100-K Day

Not often I end up riding 100K for work, this was a first for me. I confess to being not overly worried if it doesn't happen again. (And I forgot to switch the GPS on to track between the two west London sites, it was guiding me at the time)
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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Truvativ Giggle XP


It turns out that the BB bearing and crankset on both my Marin Point Reyes commuter and the LeMond (=Trek) road bike are both Truvativ GXP, which I'm sure means they were having a laugh as they designed it.

Looking around the Internet, I'm not the only one to feel they leave something to be desired in the durability stakes. Plus, becasue one side bearing is smaller than the other, you can't easily swap them out for something else.

The Marin bearings were shot through wear, only about 8,000 miles. My LBS comment was "that's good" - I don't think so, not for a maintained bike. The LeMond (probably only 2,000 miles) are clicking and have been for the last 300 miles, an early symptom of failure IMO. The only bright spot is that in taking the crank off I noticed the bung protecting the frame had risen out, so was able to correct it.
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Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Sweet Smell of .....


I had wanted to say "success" but I'm not quite there yet.

As you may be aware, I have a running battle with bikes and London, London normally wins, wear is right on the far edge of what you have a right to expect. The one before last chain snapped in use, as I neglected it for too long and had to replace the cassette, too. So, the last chain I lavished care on, using expensive "ceramic" lube, cleaning it and generally cosseting it. And if anything, it has lasted less time. So, I have bought some Chain-L No. 5 (could there be a better name?), having heard good things about it. It arrived very quickly and well wrapped, whipping open the package I got that wonderful lubricant whiff that anyone who has worked on pre-war engines will know and love, I'm told it's sulphur.

I replaced the Shimano chain with a SRAM (for the "power link"), followed the instructions for the lube and it has all gone together well, and early indications are positive. Unfortunately, I must have left the old chain on too long (it went from 0.75% to 1% in about 100 miles) and the wear on the cassette means that it's jumping like crazy in 6-8, the gears I use most. So, another cassette.

While I was at it, I discovered that the BB is shot, too. That's a sealed unit - the SRAM Truvativ GXP, I'm not sure that I really like that, it's lasted only two years. However changing it involves changing the cranks, too by the look of it. Oh yes, and anyone is welcome to pass an opinion on the state of my carbon fork (especially Steve ;-) )



Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Cycle Facility of the Month

In homage to the great Cycle Facility of the Month I present my own capture.

Here, the London Borough of Newham has installed an amazing facility for those cyclists wishing to practice for Paris Roubaix without leaving these shores, and are to be applauded.
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Monday, 10 May 2010

Numbnut Award

It's really not hard to find bad cycling in London, Paddedshorts has made a collection of them here, but after today I think I'd like to award my very own Numbnut award.

Going to work this morning I was passing through a busy and complicated city junction in rush hour when, in front of me as I was stopped by the light, sailed a guy, apparently texting on his phone. I say apparently because of what comes later. Anyway, he was looking at his phone and pushing buttons as he was riding. I caught up with him a short way down the road, he was still busy with his phone.

Much as though I rarely say anything, I couldn't help myself: "Don't ever complain about a car driver texting - what you were doing ranks as one of the stupidest things I have ever seen". It was then his girlfriend, riding with him, piped up in a very injured tone "He was looking where to go, we don't know where we are". Saints preserve us, let's hope dumb and dumber don't ever procreate.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee

Some people, I believe, have a problem with the amount of float on a clipless pedal. That is, the amount you can rotate your foot without it uncliping from the fixing. This example above is an alternative approach that provides a substantial amount of float, possibly unsurpassed, for an SPD pedal.

Note to self: Next time I buy some nice carbon soled shoes and spend a long while trying to get the placement and angle of the cleat just right, do remember to tighten the screws down. Otherwise, 15 miles into your commute you may find that the cleat fails to disengage when you expect it to with amusing results. Amusing, that is to anyone watching rather than participating. Just about as funny as a bee sting.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Heel Boy!

This started off a while back, when I discovered that the front dérailleur of my commuting steed had seized solid. Despite copious application of freeing agents no way that it would move at all. No surprise really as I almost never change to a smaller cog in commuting, but I like to be able to if, well, just "if". The only option was to strip it completely, grease and rebuild.

So far, so good. I even made a point of changing front cogs at least once per ride. I even remembered to do that for at least three weeks. Then a period went by when I left it, exacerbated by my commuting on the single speed folder. So when I rode on it last week I wasn't entirely surprised to find it had gone back to its old habits. Not quite as bad because if you kicked the mech, it would go to the middle ring. Not the granny ring, but who uses that anyway. Believing that repeated actions should free it, I kept changing down and kicking to get some movement.

So, last Thursday I was in the last mile of my 25 mile commute, within a mile of home. I then discover that if you misplace a kick, your heel can jam the wheel solid while forcing your foot into the mech. I really didn't want to do that, that was not my intention at all, interesting experiment though it was.

So a good few hours of my Sunday afternoon was spent trying to fix the dérailleur. I could adjust it so that the frame of the shifter was free of the chain on the big cog, and it will shift down to the second, but the frame fouled the chain and that was about it.

I don't like it when mechanical things aren't as they should be.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

It's a wind up

London isn't what you would call a windy place, the prevailing wind is normally from the west. So we are reliably told. This should be good, because it means that I should get the wind in my face riding to work, and in my back going home.

Last night it was easterly all the way, hence the short break to admire the scenery, the longer time with speed dwindling towards the end of the 25 miles.

So this morning it was in my face again. Why is it a universal truth that it is always in your face?

However, you can judge your commute ride by adding up 1 for each of: Night, Wet, Wind, Cold. Last night it was only a "1", so what am I moaning about?

Monday, 29 March 2010

Lana Discipline

So when do you claim a lane? (or, a Lana - I couldn't think of a famous "Elaine") Reading an article posted by SteveA, I was struck by how riding conditions and habits can vary from town to town and, more so country to country. I think the answer is, when you judge that there is no room in the lane for a car and a bike at the same time, and as a result it is safer to position yourself so that a driver does not try to squeeze in. But do you get that right? Who's to say?

I thought I'd illustrate with some examples from my current London commute along the Uxbridge Road, a major arterial urban road. Here's a place I definitely claim my lane, I'm going straight ahead. For those of you thinking "rubbish, that's a wide lane", it is two lanes. The pinch point is under the bridge, you can see it better looking from the Streetview on the other side of the road If you are truly fasinated, step back and forth along the road. Coming up to it, I ignore the cycle lane on the left hand side and ride the white line. The cycle lane sucks, throws you across left turning traffic otherwise forcing wait for up to two changes of the (long) lights if you really want to use it. So, I hit traffic speed and ride along.

Another bridge, another pinch point. But this time there are not two I position myself that bit more away from the kerb, but not blocking the lane. That way the enthusiastic overtakers are kept a bit in check (you can see that manoeuvre shaping up if you step back and forth. In my view, the cyclist in frame is too near the kerb but no big deal.

And finally, pinch point of a junction and lights Here, I would not normally claim the lane, in my view there is plenty of room here.

That's some of the three options. How would you handle them?

And time for a pet hate. Cyclists riding two abreast (mostly not even fast) just for convenience of chatting, without a thought for road conditions. You've got a right to be on the road, but some you can and some you can't.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Three Days, Three Bikes, Three Routes

So today it was the turn of my trusty commuting steed (I needed the panniers to carry cr@p home) and I tried the thrird way - cycle to Paddington and train to Hayes & Harlington. And, I have to confess that is the fastest route - 1Hr25, or 15 minutes less than yesterday all bike.

So, while I love them all, here's my assessment of the three bikes.

The Dahon. It folds, it has a single speed and a coaster rear brake so charmingly simple. You can take it anywhere, jump out of the small car or train and be on the road with the freedom of a bike in seconds. No security problems, you take it with you anywhere. On the flip side, it is slow - the 64" gear is a great general purpose ratio but....slow. Cadence to get to 18mph is high, nothing higher is practical. And, those rear wheel 178mm spokes are rare as hens teeth.

The LeMond. My full carbon roadie, like the Trek Madone. On this bike I feel like I can fly, climb every mountain (oops wrong show). Acceleration, speed, control, has it all. It's like the difference between a family saloon and a Ferarri. Yesterday's ride through the centre of town with a 15mph average was fun. But, that was in the morning. On the way home, roads were more crowded, kamikaze pedestrians in London were particularly tiresome. And the state of London roads did very little for my back which was painful. What that ride home did do was to confirm in my mind that on the roadie my safety is compromised on the commute. I had reason to be grateful that the brakes were Ultegra more than once, but I go that bit faster, and the brakes are that bit less efficient. So, at the boundary of incidents that ultimately can make the difference between life and death, your margin is reduced. Ah yes, carries nothing and I don't have a bell on it, either.

The Marin. Set up for urban riding, an MTB with no suspension, carbon front fork, disk brakes and slik tyres. Not much slower than the LeMond, often has full panniers that drag you back but has everything I would look for in a commuting bike. And those disk brakes really work when you need them - stopping is really more important than going on a London commute. And a socking great bell to grab the attention of dozy pedestrians.

So each has their strength and weaknesses, as I said I love 'em all. And, I've been fortunate to be able to take advantage of the "Bike to Work" scheme that let me buy the Marin & LeMond at half price or less. If I had to reduce to one? Much though I'd hate to do that, the Marin would win.
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Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Commute to Stockley Park

Here's the GPS trace from the ride, you can even see me stopping at the red lights.....

The amazing thing to me is how cycle is the fastest route, even over such a distance, with train lines that run, if anything, even straighter. 1 hour 40 minutes for the 40 Kilometres, door to door.

How long would it take by tube? Here's TfL Journey Planner of the trip:

Now that has no allowance for waiting for trains and buses. I can cut that down by maybe 15 minutes with the cycle assist, but even that clocks in at about 1Hour 45.

Who would have thought it, eh?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Smug has its comeuppance.

I really like my Dahon and I confess to a degree of smugness - single speed, nothing to go wrong.

One word.


Another word.


Saturday, 6 March 2010

Carbon Vs Alloy bikes

I was just about to take over Steve's comment box with the story of how I compared and chose carbon, when I thought, why not start another blog? After all, that's just what I'm short of now. Don't expect regular updates, just occasional ones. But I often want to say things, frequently that' about bikes, and so....

Anyway, Steve is doing a fascinating series of articles about carbon composite structures, ultimately leaving aside the hype there is still an easy way to understand the difference.

It was just over a year ago, I wanted to replace my Bianchi Reparto Corse. That was an interesting bike, with a 124" top gear (!) it was fast, and liked to go fast like an Italian sportscar. But, it was a little too small for me (I'll explain why another time) and after 50 miles or so I would begin to feel it.

In the UK, we have a marvellous scheme that allows you to buy bikes with gross earnings before tax, effectively halving the cost. The year before I had bought my commuting bike, now I thought a road bike upgrade was on the cards.

So, I rode over to Two Wheels Good, an independent bike shop that - apart from being excellent - is also located at the base of a decent hill. We don't have too many of those in London - decent shops or hills. It's about 10 miles away from my home, so I was nicely warmed up. I first tried a top-of-the-range ally Trek, and very nice it was, too. Up and over that hill, great. Then I tried a Madone. Similar geometry, similar componentry. And, it felt like I was turbocharged. All of a sudden, the power at my feet was going straight on the road. That's one way to tell the difference, and I recommend it. However I was sold.

As it happens, and as a matter of some regret I didn't end up buying that bike there. Instead I came across the end of the Trek LeMonde fire sale, and picked up effectively the same bike for half the cost, ending up with the equivalent of the Madone for £600.