Unforced rest

With the prolonged Winter seemingly over I have been properly getting back into the rhythm of regular cycling. Between commuting to work, riding a sportive with friends over the weekend, racing an evening time-trial, and going for a few easy rides I realised that I’d cycled 8 consecutive days, covering 220 miles. Although today was a good day for cycling to work, I woke up feeling completely jaded and so decided to leave the bike at home and drive. However, I almost changed my mind twice during breakfast and just about managed to force myself to rest.

After driving home after work I felt full of energy, so embarked on a frivolous mission to cut the excess tube off the top of my front fork. For some time I have been cycling with the stem and bars in this position so felt safe to do this.

Cutting

Cutting through carbon fibre was scarily easy – like a hot knife through butter

Tomorrow I ride – let’s hope the rest has done me good. And my cack-handed re-engineering has worked ok …

The ‘P’ Word

It had to happen sooner or later, that inevitable part of cycling that strikes when you least expect it.

The puncture.

Sorting it out is never really that bad. But it did delay me putting the last of my commute into complete darkness. In my haste to get going again I didn’t really take enough time on the roadside to inflate the new tube which made me slower afterwards. Or maybe I was just paranoid about getting another flat.

Commuting by bike in the winter, in the dark and getting a puncture. Proper character-building stuff!

Emergency pit stop at dusk

Emergency pit stop at dusk

Carrera Virtuoso – decent starter bike

After covering about 8,000 miles on my first road bike, I thought I would try and cobble together a few thoughts on its performance. The deciding factor in choosing this bike was the price – it was less expensive than most other road bikes, and as a newcomer I was unsure how committed to cycling I would end up being. At £320 the bike wasn’t cheap, but it certainly caused less damage financially than most other road bikes on the market.

It made it up a few Alps with no complaints

It made it up the famous Alpe d’Huez with no technical problems (some respiratory issues with the rider were revealed)

My experience has been of a sturdy, reliable aluminium frame and steel forks with mostly low-quality components. Over the last two years I have replaced almost every component on the bike except for the brakes, seat post and cranks. The original tyres didn’t last long, the bar tape was paper-thin, the wheels suffered from snapping spokes and grinding bearings, the saddle tore, the cables wore out, the chain stretched, the derailleurs gave up and the rear cassette lost a few too many teeth. That said, the old girl did cover a fair mileage before some of those changes.

Replacing the rear cassette

Replacing the rear cassette

Not being too precious about a bike has allowed me to do most modifications, repairs and replacements myself

Not being too precious about the bike has allowed me to do most modifications, repairs and replacements myself

For personal sizing reasons I have also replaced the original handlebars & stem – I chose a large frame but at 5’9″ I felt a bit stretched out so changed for a closer and narrower setup.

The following are items I have bought in addition to the bike but would have had to buy with any first bike to be used for year-round commuting:

  1. Pedals (road type)
  2. Bottle cages
  3. Rack and panniers
  4. Mudguards
  5. Saddle bag
  6. Mini pump
  7. Lights

I’m not sure whether better original components would have lasted significantly longer, however the replacement components I installed all seem to have worn much better (and I did not install any high-end stuff). I have spent more than the cost of the original complete bike in replacing the parts on it, so I now have a reliable bike with decent components but still splashed with the seemingly unfashionable Carerra brand name. Other than those annoying Carerra adverts during last year’s Tour and the questionable colour scheme design on this particular bike I can’t find too much else to complain about.

Last year, having properly fallen victim to the contagious cycling bug I bought a high-end road bike and relegated the Carerra to my commuter / winter bike. The fact that it has lugs for attaching a rack and mudguards is a useful benefit for commuting or touring.

The bike in its present state - fully equipped for the daily commute

The bike in its present state – fully equipped for the daily commute

If you want a road bike but aren’t sure how much you will end up using it then the Carrera should be fine. Looking on eBay it has a decent resale value if you do change your mind. And it is often reduced from £500 to £300 by Halfords at different times of the year.

However, if you know you will be doing lots of miles then it could be more cost-effective to buy a slightly more expensive bike with better quality components. Replacing all those components wasn’t cheap.

Low-maintenance mentality

When I first started cycling I would spend lots of time futsing-around doing all sorts of sensible things, like washing my bike after muddy rides, checking the tyre pressure regularly and replacing parts before they had completely worn out. But over time I’ve started to develop a more blasé attitude towards bicycle maintenance which can be evidenced by the current appearance of my faithful commuter bike.

The clean patch on the chain stay is probably due to heel-rub 

This low-maintenance mentality has allowed me to use (and abuse) the bike as a useful form of transport without too much worrying. I’ve started to realise that a bike is a hardy piece of equipment that doesn’t really need to be pampered.Today I needed to travel 50 miles (25 each way) to do a job so I just loaded up the panniers with tools and clothes and headed off. Admittedly it would have been slightly quicker to have driven, but I enjoyed the ride and still made it in good time.

However on the way home one of my feet popped out of the clipless pedal a couple of times. On getting home I took a look at the cleat and noticed that the front part had almost worn away to nothing. One side effect of a low maintenance mentality would seem to be component failure! Fortunately, in a former and more sensible life I had replaced a pair of cleats before they had worn out. So I dug around in the man-cave and found them. They looked good as new – what was I thinking?!

Evidently 1mm is the minimum cleat thickness

Brand new old cleat

This replaced cleat probably has a good six months life left in it

In hindsight I probably should have bought mountain bike shoes rather than shoes with racing cleats as most of my cycling is commuting. But replacing cleats every year is now cheaper than buying a completely new set of shoes and pedals so I’ll stick with what I’ve got. Maybe one day soon I’ll even give the bike a wash – just to make sure it’s actually my bike underneath all that mud!

On a slippery slope to comfort

If the natural evolution of a cycle-person is to recognise the greater value of comfort and usefulness over speed and appearance, then I may finally be reaching an age of maturity. However, it is entirely conceivable that I’ve unfortunately become just a nerd on a creaky old bike. This week was my first experience of riding with mud-guards and panniers and allowed me to carry and keep dry my laptop, clothes and shoes along wet and muddy roads. However, judging from my colleagues’ reactions at seeing my road bike adorned with its new accessories, I may have committed a crime against style equal to wearing socks and sandals in public (I regularly wear socks and sandals around the house but this is actually a form of domestic haute couture).

From my experience of cycling there appear to be two main kinds of riders – those who shave their legs, wear skin-tight aero suits and spend a fortune on reducing weight to increase speed, and those who have hairy legs, beards and creaky, heavy bikes and spend a fortune on ‘useful things’ like powerful lights, racks, bags, mud-guards and reflective clothing, thus increasing weight to increase comfort. I had hoped that my latent cycling prowess would allow me to justifiably become the former, but unfortunately I may just be on the slippery slope to the latter.

With all of this in mind, I’ve decided to embrace it and will now present the mundane effectiveness of my latest cycling purchases, illustrated in the following uninteresting photos of inanimate and stationary objects:

1. Bike with new nerdly equipment following a wet and muddy ride

2. close-up photo of mud spray to emphasise muddiness of roads

3. socks turned down slightly to emphasise presence of mud spray across hairy legs and shoes

4. photo of seat of cycling shorts. Clean as a whistle and not a speck of mud in sight

In addition to this increased cycling comfort I also had the opportunity to wrinkle my nose and waggle my bearded chin at a couple of mud-soaked cyclists riding without mud-guards. It’s possible that they may have called out “did you forget your basket, old man?” but it was quite difficult to hear over all the rattling and creaking coming from my bike.

The end of mud

As it turns out, cycling for miles along muddy, wet roads carrying a heavy backpack isn’t the best fun. The clothing on your back ends up soaked through with sweat and your arse-crack looks like it has a giant streak of crap up it. Which is because it does. The only ‘fun’ is trying to decipher the ‘Rorschach’ inkblot stains left up the back of my jerseys when I arrive home to see whether this was the commute that finally broke me psychologically.

This inkblot (like every other) just seems to represent dark clouds dumping huge volumes of water onto a road

However, that’s not to say that good honest fun can’t be found in trying to guess which part of my bike is hiding beneath the thick layer of dried mud in the photos below.

This is either a pedal or a handlebar

Saddle?

Oh, it was a brake and a light

Anyway, despite all this recent fun and the subsequent constant washing of clothing, bicycle and cyclist, I finally succumbed to the need to buy mudguards and panniers. I had initially felt that these items lessened the aesthetic appearance of a bike and were a bit too sensible for my liking. But riding a bike caked in horse shit and arriving to work looking like you’d been dragged there was also beginning to lose it’s questionable appeal.

It took me about 2 hours to do the installation this evening (although a fair portion of this time was spent cleaning the bike first). The mud-guards were fiddly and took a lot of adjustment, but there wasn’t any particularly difficult or frustrating element to it.

Pull up a chair – this might take a while 

The pannier was easy to fit and was simply a case of bolting it directly to the frame and hooking on the bag. The end result looks less ‘sensible’ than I had feared and will certainly improve the enjoyment of my commutes.

Keeping the old girl going

After last weekend’s failed attempts to fix my skipping chain I almost managed to convince myself that the remedy to the problem was a new bike. “Why keep pouring good money into a crappy bike?” I thought.

After a short period of time building a hypothetical bike on a certain bicycle website, I realised that this remedy would involved spending a lot of my good money. A very lot. So in the end I decided to just buy a new rear cassette for the commuter bike (and a couple more tools) and have another go at fixing the problem myself.

I had intended to wait until the weekend to replace the chain and cassette, but having broken and then remade the links of old chain in three different places last weekend I was beginning to doubt its reliability on my daily commutes. Plus the skipping was getting pretty bloody annoying, so this evening I decided to carry out the changeover.

These are the things I needed – one rear cassette, one cassette nut and a chain whip to discipline the bike if it misbehaved

It was a surprisingly straightforward job and probably only took about 15 minutes to whip off the old cassette, fit the new one, fit the new chain and make a few small adjustments to the derailleur.

Old cassette having been whipped like a walnut 

New shiny cassette

Back in good working order

Here’s to hopefully another few thousand miles of riding. If I can keep the old girl going through the winter months then I may contemplate an upgrade next year …

Weekly do-stuffering

This week was a straight flush for the bike with five consecutive days of cycle commuting and no driving. The morning temperature is now getting noticeably colder and the sun is only beginning to rise as I leave for work. This has resulted in the need for pansy clothing like full gloves, long sleeves and overshoes but has also provided some beautiful sunrises out on the quiet country lanes.

The sun rising over a misty Chew Valley this week

On Friday evening we went to the Chew Valley Beer Festival with a few friends. We enjoyed a variety of decent local ales, although there was one memorable thick, black stout which would probably have been more suitable as a lubricant for my lawnmower engine.

Rock & Roll & Beer. Fest.

Following some hungedover festering on Saturday morning I rode to the local bike shop to see if someone could take a look at my skipping chain and also cut down my ugly steering tube. Unfortunately the mechanics were too busy (or they took one look at my mud-encrusted machine and just pretended to be busy) so I bought a new chain and headed home to try and do it myself. The chain was a pain (although at least there was no rain on a plane in Spain to add to my woes). I got the old one off and fitted the new one but this made the problem infinitely worse than before. It would seem that the stretched chain has worn the rear cassette cogs (or something like that according to some quick searching on the internet) so I was forced to take it off and refit the old chain, which I firstly managed to do back-to-front from it’s previous setup resulting in me quickly transforming from Mr BikeVCar to a greasy-handed Grumpelstiltskin. After some effing and jeffing I eventually managed to restore my bike to it’s original shonky condition.

Next on the agenda for my incompetent bike mechanical skills was cutting down the steering tube. This is a completely vain requirement and serves no purpose other than making my crappy bike look slightly less crappy. During my five minutes of internet research I found out that lots of other cycling idiots had cut their steering tubes too short resulting in useless bikes with redundant front forks. Determined not to make this mistake I decided to cut the tube just 10mm initially, this being the length of one large spacer. I also used the spacer as my guide for cutting, rather than trying to achieve a specific measurement from the underside of the stem cap (this seemed a likely cause of other people’s mis-cutting).

Step 1 – remove heavily rusted steel forks / steering bar thingy and mark the cut line with some tape

Cut tube with a little girl’s little hacksaw (men’s hacksaws are available but you have to prove your manliness to the bloke in the local hardware shop to be allowed to buy one)

Stand back and admire the handiwork – all those nasty, burred edges of metal look great. Go and hunt around in your handbag for your nail file to clean it up 

Voila! Finished job (p.s. before ‘Step 1’ don’t forget to knock down the little star-shaped nut inside the tube before you start cutting. I hope nobody is ever stupid enough to try and follow these terrible instructions

I didn’t take any photos of the finished job because it was dark by the time I’d eventually lashed it all back together. But it all worked fine with no injuries, swearing or questionable workmanship which is very unusual for my normal bike butchering.

r&r

On Tuesday my commuter bike broke, putting itself out of action; on Wednesday I rode my good bike as fast as I could and broke myself. The rest of the week was a struggle where I probably would’ve driven a car if I had one. 10 hours of weekly cycle commuting probably needs a slightly more pragmatic approach.

Commuter bike out of action – an painful but possible approach to bike weight reduction?

On Saturday morning Ms BikeVCar and I headed to the beautiful city of Bath to enjoy some rest and recuperation at the thermal baths. Jacuzzis, heated pools, steam rooms and an opportunity to expose my embarrassing cycling tan lines in public. We also stopped at the local bike shop to check my bike in for its own spa treatment. The commuter bike is being treated to new wheels, gear cables and brake cables. These components have all covered over 6000km with only my heavy-handed approach to bike maintenance to keep them going, so some professional repair & replacement is probably overdue.

6000km is probably the maximum distance for factory-standard Carerra components 

Wet feet – a bodged solution

If you live anywhere in the Northern hemisphere you will be aware that the months of May, June and July are commonly known as ‘Summer’ due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis providing an increased exposure to direct sunlight; that is unless you live in England where it’s been raining cats and dogs for the last three months. Sick of cycling to work with squelchy, sodden feet and in fear of getting trench foot, today I decided that extreme weather requires extreme solutions. Seeing a plumber applying some silicone sealant I had an idea and asked him to squeeze a bit of ‘spadge’ into the air vents in the soles of my cycling shoes.

Soles of cycling shoes in the pre-silicone era (note the gaping air vents)

Freshly-spadged cycling shoes

It worked a treat and kept my feet slightly-dryer-than-sodden on my cycle home. I had been flirting with the idea of buying a new pair of shoes, but it seemed a crime on my feet to buy a crap pair just for commuting and seemed frivolous to buy an expensive pair before the current ones wore out. It’s always nice to come up with a bodge rather than having to spend hard-earned cash to solve problems. No doubt we will now get a heat wave and I’ll be picking out the silicone to allow my sweaty feet to breathe.