Sunday, 1 December 2013

Ride 7 - Fixed gear bike 30/11/2013

"What's that Mark? That's just a Racer" I hear you cry. Look carefully.

"OK, it's just got one gear - but so has a BMX and it has smaller wheels and you did that last ride" I hear you say. Look more carefully.

"Hang on, that cog at the back doesn't have a freewheel - that means every time the wheel goes round, the chain goes round and so the pedals go round too!" Yes - this ride was on a fixed gear bike - so named because the single gear is "fixed" meaning if you turn the pedals, the wheel turns, if the wheel turns the pedals turn.

This means on the ride to Brighton, I had to pedal every single wheel revolution of the way - there was no freewheeling down hills, no resting my legs and taking it easy, it was continuous hard graft the entire way!!!!

This is the bike I commute to work on. I bought it on the cycle 2 work scheme 4 years ago. It lives outside, it does 8 miles to work and 8 miles back Monday to Friday. It receives very little care and attention. It has been battered, dropped and scraped. The seat is peeling, the paintwork is chipped, the bar ends have been lost, its covered in tape. I had to "true" the wheels (tighten the spokes) once because the wheels had gone out of true a little bit, change the front and rear rings once, the tyres twice and the chain a couple of times. Other than that, I've had to do nothing to this bike - and that is one of the beauties of a fixed gear bike - there's nothing to go wrong on them.

You've probably seen a fixie rider go past you. Probably with an elaborately sculpted hair do, implausibly skinny jeans, thick dark framed glasses, one brake on the front (or even no brakes) and very unlikely to have stopped at a red light. There is another type of fixie rider who believes having the one gear makes you at one with the bike and that it is a spiritual experience. Well, I'm the other sort of fixie rider - I ride fixed because it gives me an extra brake (if you stop pedalling the rear wheel stops) and they are cheap and easy to run.

And this is the bike I rode to Brighton. This morning I pumped up the tyres and got on it and rode. The ride to Brighton is about 50 miles more than I have ever ridden in one go on the bike before, but at least I was pretty sure that I fitted the bike and that I wasn't going to have any issues with it. Those were famous last words!

A crisp, slightly blowy morning saw me take off from Barnes and follow my usual route through Putney, Tooting, Croydon etc with a big difference - as with my second ride, I stopped to pick someone up at Purley. This time it was Elliott who has recently ridden London to Paris for the Foundation. That ride was a bit of a leisurely stroll - so I was interested to see if he'd keep up the pace on a brisk ride to Brighton. The first thing that he did when I arrived was pop to the loo (for what seemed like half an hour), so he was obviously trying to keep as light as possible!

It was really nice riding down with someone, although it was a little bit annoying when we hit a downhill slope. Basically at that point, the bike would want to go fast, but my legs could not spin around fast enough to go any more than about 27mph. Elliott would then cruise past, without pedalling, enjoying using gravity and momentum and slowly disappear into the distance.

Although he regretted doing that when he missed a turn off!

So we picked up my traditional windmill photo - and it is obvious what time of year I took this photos - Christmas tree purchasing time already!!!!

We stopped at the Co-op in Lindfield to fill up with sports drink and crisps and Elliott confessed that he was not feeling quite as chirpy as he was at the start of the ride. I noticed as we rode through Ditchling that he had started to drop back and wondered how he'd manage with the challenge of "the beacon". I managed to get up most of the hill - but then got caught behind a car behind a cyclist going very steadily, but very slowly. The problem was, with the gear that I was running, I just could not keep the pedals turning over at a pace that would keep me upright. Then when I got off the bike - my calf started to cramp. Hence a small push up the hill - gutted. Elliott manfully plugged away, but did confess that he was ecstatic to have got up the hill - the toughest he has ever done apparently!

The downhill into Brighton wasn't as smooth as I hoped it would be - basically the speed was such that my chain hopped off a couple of times, but despite this minor mechanical - it was  resolvable pretty easily and quickly. Christmas tree had just gone up at the pier too! I've got to say, my legs were very very stiff at the end of it - never getting a rest is not the best thing!

Strava details here:

Right, just one ride behind now!!!!


Saturday, 23 November 2013

Ride 6 - 23 November 2013 - BMX Bike

Not just any BMX bike - oh no. Nothing less than a Raleigh Burner... In the classic blue and yellow - look at that bad boy!!!!
I always wanted one of these as a kid. I had a different Raleigh BMX instead and when I saw one of these on ebay - I thought "that'll do perfectly for the 12 in 12". I picked it up in Fulham, from a lovely fella who was, I think it is fair to say, a bit of a hipster. He said his girlfriend was making him sell it and either there was a bit of sadness in his eyes as I rode it away, or he couldn't believe that he'd got rid of it for cash.

It needed a bit of TLC, new chain ring, new freewheel, a new seatpost (as the seatpost that was on it was about 2cm big and had me riding with my knees around my ears), new cables, new brake pads, a new chain.... But look at it - doesn't it look lovely?!

I probably should have leapt out of bed this morning with the idea of riding this bike, but it was cold and I was nervous about the prospect of riding yet another hideously uncomfortable bike all the way to Brighton.

Indeed, my knees started creaking about 2 miles into the ride, but they didn't seem to get any worse. The problem was that I couldn't extend my legs fully at any stage - the saddle just wouldn't go high enough.

 I was also hanging off of the back of the bike in the saddle position, so pedalling was a bit difficult - and to get out of the saddle, I had to drape myself over the top of the bike. As is usual on these rides, I had to get the magic spanner out just after Croydon as I noticed only one of the back brake pads was on the (Mag) wheel rim and one of the front brake pads was seemingly using the tyre rather than the rim for purchase.

What was nice was the reaction of some people I went past - shouts of "nice bike mate!" from the street and a cabby winding down his window to ask me if it was my actual bike and wishing me luck. What wasn't nice was the impact of the hills which were difficult. The gearing wasn't particularly tough, but I couldn't get any leverage to get power into the wheels and on the first major hill, my legs gave up the ghost and the chain started "misfiring" on the freewheel. My fault of course - I hadn't tightened up the wheel bolts enough and the chain had pulled the wheel forward and lobsided.

I will say this for the Raleigh Burner - it does push well. The other thing that it does well is descend. You'd look at the bike and think (especially in comparison to the TT bike and the recumbent) - that is the most un-aerodynamic bike in the world. Look at your body position. Look at the silly, heavy steel piping, look at those massive nobbly blue tyres (oh yes!) But something about it was just amazing fun to descend. With one gear, there was no point turning my legs over 17mph as I couldn't spin them fast enough to make any difference to my speed - so I "tucked in", made myself as small as possible and enjoyed trying to make the speed as fast as possible. Yes, the speed wasn't that high - but it FELT fast, which is the single most important thing.

Ditchling defeated me again. As did Turner's Hill. But all the rest were climbed (albeit slowly). My legs felt very tired at the end, but those moments going downhill, the time in Brighton where a big hell's angel type roared up to me and shouted "a RALEIGH BURNER!!!! THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!!!", even the tree surgeon who leant out of his truck to say "That's a sh*t bike mate!" all made me smile. My average speed wasn't horrendous. Whilst I needed a restorative bath for my aching legs when I got home, I can still walk. It was a beautiful sunny day and I'm so happy that I finally got a chance to have a rag (and a very long rag at that) on the bike of my childhood dreams.

Strava details here - 13.3mph average!!!!! I think the max speed of 47mph MUST be wrong!!!!



Friday, 22 November 2013

Ride 5 19 October 2013 Recumbent Bike

Right - my riding has gone a bit skew whiff I'm afraid. I got knocked off by a taxi in the summer and I'd just got over that when I managed to fall off (all my fault), broke a finger, sprained both wrists and then managed to fall off again and did the same thing again to my wrists.

I wasn't 100% better, but needs must, so I got out there and rode!

This was the machine I was on this time round:

So what is it I hear you cry. Well, it is a Challenge Twister Recumbent. It has one big wheel and one small wheel. You sit in the seat, steer under your legs - and pray!

What's the point I hear you ask. Well, a very good question. Generally as far as I can work out, the main advantage is being aerodynamic - you present a much smaller "wall" to the air so you can go faster.

Also, you get a proper seat so you don't have to worry about saddle sores or any other such injuries.

There are a number of unique challenges to the bike though - so we'd better run through them.

Firstly it is the fact that the thing is a bit longer than a normal bike. This leads to a few "manoeuvrability" issues - especially as you can't steer it as hard as a normal bike. Secondly, when you start off, you don't seem to get the immediate balance that you do on a normal bike (granted this may be practice). Thirdly, as an "ordinary" cyclist - it seems incredibly "weird" to be riding lying down - given my recent prangs, being in the position you are normally in shortly before hitting the floor is a bit odd. There was one further issue that I had - but I'll get to that!

The main concern that I had before riding was that I would not be visible enough. This was NOT a concern in the end - people generally were intrigued by this "unusual" looking machine and I think the uniqueness of its look meant it was more visible than a "normal" bike.

As I had a proper seat, there was no need for the lycra padded shorts - so I wore normal knee length ones - I forgot that of course as soon as I got up any speed, the wind went right through them and up the leg of the shorts, rolling them up and making me cold! The other thing was the fact that you are so low that when most cars come past you - their engines are at your head level which was a bit unnerving - I did REALLY like having a mirror though:
There were lots of gears on the recumbent - but after about 30 miles or so, I started to notice a pain at the top of my thighs. Basically the different position was totally testing muscles that I did not normally use on a bike - I was kind of bracing myself between the seat and pedals and what I understand to be my hip flexors were taking the punishment. Things were ok when I was moving, but when I stopped - I was in a LOT of trouble.

I had to get off and walk Ditchling. I was cold, wet, it was windy and I was really struggling with my legs. This was a little concerning as there is still the last hill into Brighton after that - but that was "fine":

As was the lovely downhill into Brighton, but once I'd got into Brighton - I was in real trouble. I couldn't use my right leg to get going. It had seized up so badly that I was lifting it onto the pedal with my hands and then hoping I could send the crankset whizzing around fast enough to keep the momentum going that I could catch it with my left foot again and not use the right. This was fine downhill and where there was no traffic, but just TOO hazardous at the bottom where there is always loads of traffic. I ended up having to walk the last mile to the pier....

 It was such a relief to get there, I didn't mind the final ignominy of pushing it, I was cramping, shaking with cold (despite the mudguards) and very late for my Grandad's birthday party! Thankfully it was all done and that was another "funny" bike ticked off. The cost was the most painful ride that I have ever done. It was like a combination of the hypothermia of the first ride and the discomfort of the Time Trial ride x 1,000!

Strava details here: I think the slow time is a reflection of how much I was suffering in the last 20 or so miles of the ride. I have just seen that my max speed with 43 mph(!) which is certainly the fastest I have been on these rides so far.

Ride 4 Time Trial Bike 17th August 2013

Right. This should be a breeze right? I mean a time trial bike. That's the bike that Bradley Wiggins rode to Olympic glory and gold. This should mean London to Brighton is a stroll in the park.


This is Bradley Wiggins on his time trial bike:

Pro - an example to all.
This is me on my time trial bike: 

Not a lot of similarities there, I think you'll agree - we're both riding a bike, but Wiggins' Time trial bike is a lot spanglier than mine - he has what is termed a "very good shape" on the bike, I don't and he also looks like someone who has been fitted and spent days of training on his bike, honing his position and style in wind tunnels and roads around the world. I look like a bloke who has bought time trial bike bits on the internet, tried to put it together, failed due to the really tricky internal cabling, got help from a nice Australian man called Bruce (seriously) and ridden it once. To Brighton.

Right - let's explain this machine a little bit.
So this is a time trial bike. It is designed to be "slippery" in the wind, to be as aerodynamic and quick through the air as possible. This effect is totally ruined of course when you put a human on it which destroys all the clean lines of the bike. As you can see - the seat tube (where the saddle goes on top of) is designed to fit around the wheel to reduce "drag". The wheels are made of carbon and are "deeper" section to reduce "drag" and also to reduce "drag", you have to lean on the funny bars with your elbows. These are worth looking at in more detail:

Basically, when you are going along, you have your hands on the bits in the middle with your elbows on the pads. If you need to brake, you put your hands on the bits on the outside and hope you've moved quickly enough. The aim is to spend all of your time with your arms on the middle bits. Which after three hours is pretty painful. But it makes you "quicker" (see blurry photo for proof!).

My usual early morning set-off was undertaken with the family still asleep. I hopped onto the bike and headed off. In an attempt to maximise my speed, I had put a contraption on my seat which would hold my water bottles behind my backside (again reducing "drag"). As per usual, this "genius" idea could have done with some prior trialling as I lost my first bottle out of the holding cage going over a speed bump 40m from my front door. By the time I got out of London, this had happened 6 further times and I had to pull over and attach the cages to the frame where they did a faultless job of retaining the bottles. Oh well. 
Apart from the antics of my flying bottles, things were going smoothly - compared to the Dutch Town bike, being on a fast, skinny tyred bike was like driving a Porsche compared to a Fiat Doble. I was flying along and making decent time. I was even able to take a photo of my flying along and of a windmill I spotted for the first time along the way! But the aggressive position was taking it out of me a little bit - I was getting pretty uncomfortable in my neck and shoulders - unused as they were to me being bent double and taking the weight through my forearms.

But to be fair, I was making very good time despite the discomfort - Ditchling Beacon was a challenge dispatched with aplomb and even the sneaky last hill into Brighton was dealt with ok. A very nice man at the top of Ditchling complimented me on my nice bike and I tried to be gracious as I rolled the knots out of my shoulders and arms.

So my analysis of time trial bike is - yes, it is fast. BUT it is also the sort of bike that you should build up to long rides on so that you can get used to the position and I probably should have started/done a couple of short rides before trying a really long one. I doubt very much too that I was considerably faster than I would have been on a road bike (largely because towards the end I was getting out of my "aero" position a lot to try and get comfortable!
Strava details here: getting closer to the 3 hours than the 4 hours plus on the other bikes and the 6 hours off road!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Ride 4 - July 2013

Unfortunately due to being knocked off my bike by a taxi, I'm going to have to skip July's ride and roll it over and do 2 rides in a month.

I'll spare you the grizzly details - but my friend James had lent me this rather spangly looking machine to do it on:

I may not be doing it on quite so smart a bike next time!!!

Ride 3 - June 2013

Condor Bivio-X Cyclo Cross Bike
So this was this month's bike. "It looks like a road bike" I hear you cry. Well, it is a bit like a road bike with some crucial differences. It has "disc" brakes which are good for stopping quickly and it has bigger, thicker, bobbly tyres on it which are good for rough ground/off road stuff. So I thought: "Hmm, instead of going the usual ROAD route to Brighton, how about going the "off-road route". And that's what I decided to do! It is a longer route - over 80 miles and it wasn't going to be all nice flat smooth road, so it was going to be a lot tougher....

 This is pretty typical of the early part of the ride - I had a nice pootle through Richmond Park on the cycle/walking path there, which is a pretty good surface.

It was then tow path alongside the river for quite a long way. I was quite conscious that I wasn't heading in the right direction for Brighton - instead of heading South, I was heading a lot more "West" - I've done this tow path before and I know that it takes you (eventually) all the way to Bristol, but it was a nice day!
Things did start to get a little bit more "gnarly"once through Weybridge and past the Brooklands museum. The path was "pretty" dry, but there were some really nice "off-road" bits and despite my fatter tyres, I was slipping around a little bit and getting jolted left right and centre.

 Navigating my way was a little tricky - it wasn't always clear exactly where I was going and you'll see from my Strava map that I did a little bit of doubling back a couple of times! I accidentally tried to go through someone's farmyard - he very politely put me back on the right track and stopped his massive Doberman from having a second lunch! He was pretty cool with me being lost - it felt like I was in the wilds of nowhere despite only being in West Clandon!

The path got a bit flatter and better as I headed down and joined the South Downs way which took me all the way into Brighton. To be honest, this was less "fun" and a bit more of a drag as it was quite often shaded flat work, but the cross bike was perfect for it - it was certainly a lot quicker than the wobbly muddy single track path.
The ride over the Downs was pretty lovely - green grass and beautiful views to the sea. However, the climb (off-road) up the Beacon was a real pig! I'd forgotten that a cross bike has much "harder" gearing than a road bike (42 tooth bottom chain ring compared to 34/39) and the off-road route was littered with huge craters and bunkers. I must confess I had to stop and have a quick breather half way up - I'll have to remember that when I come back!

 As you can see from the state of the bike - whilst it looked a beautiful day, it was actually a bit muddy and wet out there - I (and the bike) needed a damned good wash when I got back.

 Really nice ride - blinking hard work though and looking forward to doing it on a Mountain Bike to see how that compares....
Route and times here:
6 hours and 10 minutes this time round! Compared to around 4 hours on the last 2 bikes!!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Ride 2 - May 2013

Erenpreiss City Bike

This month's bike was very kindly lent to me by the kind people at the Baltic Bicycle Cycling Company: - they lent me this very good looking fellow, Gustav:

I've got to say that when I picked up Gustav, my first reaction was "wow" - he is very handsome and then a little bit - "uh-oh" as he had big fat tyres, a 3 speed sturmey archer hub (hub gears), one brake lever and a rear "pedal back" brake! This is like a Pashley or a Dutch Town Bike - built for comfort, built for durability and probably built for shortish journeys. Not necessarily built for 60 mile rides and steep hills!

This looked like an ideal bike for getting around town - and it is. I was slightly cheered up by the ride home from work on the Friday that saw a number of overly competitive racing bike types slightly cross at me regally sailing by them on Gustav - the body position may be unaerodynamic and the bike might be heavy compared to a light racer with comparatively limited gearing, but it was a nice ride, comfy on bumpy rides and it was up to me to make sure it went as fast as it could!

I got my usual send off from the family early on Saturday morning - the plan was for me to cycle up to Purley and to meet Phil and Nick from Baltic Bicycles at Purley train station where we would all cycle to Brighton together. I thought about putting my special bike pedals on Gustav, but then thought this would be cheating somewhat - no need to deface Gustav's good looks!

There is something about the more upright position on a town bike that does feel good - you get a good view over cars and you look around a little more. I was also pleased that this position did not seem to have an undue effect on my overall speed - I was a little slower, but not noticeably so. The fatter tyres made the ride very comfy and actually just having 3 gears made you just sit in one and pedal a bit faster/slower depending on the gradient.

By the time I got to Purley station I was really looking forward to bumping into the other 2 on their bikes and promenading gracefully down to Brighton together. Imagine my surprise (and slight worried horror!) when I discovered that the Baltic Bikes boys had dusted off their smart racing bikes for the trip down, were clad in lycra and wearing bike shoes! They mollified me by telling me that they didn't want to hold me up(!) and we took off. Far from making things easier for me by providing a draft that I could follow, rather cruelly they both tucked in behind me (no doubt to check out on the performance of Gustav) and we headed on down.

 It was really nice riding with some people - even though they were on racers and to chat as we plugged away. The weather was pretty good, a bit of a head wind, but nothing to complain about and we made really good time.

The hills were a bit difficult on Gustav - he is really made for cruising round a city, not keeping up with the lighter racing bikes that also have a slightly better position for "pushing" on the pedals. As you are sat a bit further back you kind of had to grab the bars and use them as a brace to get the power through the pedals. I would like to point out that I didn't have to get off until I got to Ditchling Beacon (which did defeat me). I would also like to point out that operator error meant I couldn't put Gustav into bottom gear on the 3 speed hub which was very difficult! Bit gratifying was that the Baltic boys also had a few issues getting up as well!

Highlights of this journey were that the "closed" road that I had encountered on my last trip was still "closed" - although works had moved on about 50 metres(!). The much welcomed drink and crisps at Turners Hill in a pub that could have been MADE for London to Brighton cyclists (much like the old faithful co-op that I stopped in shortly afterwards to get more meaningful food!)

It was a really good ride all told - thank you very much the Baltic Bike guys and thank you to Gustav - details are here - a bit slower than the Minivelo, but not too shabby!

Top speed of 35mph+!!!!!!