Monday, 26 January 2015

I took the road less travelled by

Over the last year or so I've been on a project at work which required four or five full days in the office.  As a result, despite the routine, I've been banging in the miles on the bike to my great delight.

Just before Christmas, I got assigned to a new project down in Dorset which needs two days a week down on site.  The work that I do sometimes needs a lot of bulky safety gear and I have to be on site by 08:30 on Monday morning.  Yes, as if Mondays couldn't get any grimmer, mine now start at 04:30 with a long drive in the dark.  I love to use public transport but, try as I might, I've not been able to find a more effective alternative to this current problem than hiring a car each week (at work's expense).  However, that means I'm spending longer in the car and getting (or at least feeling) lazier and fatter!

Getting my Dahon back from repair last week was the catalyst to make a few changes.  It's taken a little bit of forethought and planning but now I'm managing a partial cycle-commute, miles from home.  And it goes a little sonething like this (hit it):

  • Monday morning: Drive down to Dorset with folding bike, cycling gear and all of my work paraphernalia in the car boot
  • Monday evening:  Change into cycling gear, leave work clothes in car, park car in secure(ish) car park and cycle to the hotel
  • Tuesday morning: Cycle from the hotel to work, change into work clothes (clean shirt already there from day before).  Do a day's work.
  • Tuesday afternoon:  Drive home

Seems complex but after a couple of weeks, I have it down pretty well.

The distance from the office to the hotel is only about four miles, mostly along an A-road with sort-of-a-cycle-lane along the edge, it's on the cusp of not needing to bother changing into cycling clothes.  However, on Monday afternoons, I've taken to using a longer and much more rural route.  Definitely, in the words of Robert Frost, "The road less traveled by".

It's still going dark pretty early around here (sunset at about 16:50) but tonight, I was determined to get a good ride in.  And I certainly did! 

Down here in Dorset it is a truly beautiful corner of the UK and a real pleasure to visit and cycle around.  Beautiful yes, but dear Lord do they have hills!  None of them are very high per se, but it seems like any lane from A to B has a couple of short but severe climbs in every half mile!  In minutes, you go from eye-watering (literally) downhill speed to honking up what seems like a 1:1 in your lowest gear.  I have waxed lyrical and at length about the gearing on the Dahon being too low.  For the flatlands where I live (and where I'll never again use the word hill) it is, but down these evening I was praying, through gritted teeth for a lower gear! 

As I'm from the Midlands and generally miles from it, I wanted to see the sea and so plotted a short route of just over nine miles starting at the office and ending at my hotel.  It ended up being almost an hour of murderous climbing, hysterical descents one of the best sunsets I've seen for a long time.

The start of what became a fabulous sunset.

I cycled over that - it looks much flatter on a photo but wasn't!

Beautiful Dorset.
I cycled up this one first, then back down a bit for
 a better picture of the hairpin bend!

That's the sea.  Over there, between the land and the sky.
It was down another massive hill (and ume was getting on)
so I settled for the view from a distance.

This sunset was stunning - again the picture doesn't
really do it justice. 

Best of all though, it goes to show that, with a little bit of forward planning, more circumstances than you would think are conducive to cycle-commuting of one sort or another.  Or at the very least it's possible to bring your bike with you when away with work (even a non-folder, I'm sure) and blow out the cobwebs at the end of a day's work.

In its own way, the road less travelled by which really does make all the difference. 

Friday, 23 January 2015


Test email for mobile blogging.

How well does this work?
Sent using BlackBerry®

What a randon post!  Perhaps an explanatory note is required...

I got a new BlackBerry smartphone recently and wanted to test out the "email direct to blog" function on Blogger.  This is largely because the Blogger app for BB is awful and I can't be bothered to transpose a whole blog over to Wordpress!  Seems to have worked pretty well though.  Deep joy!

P.S.  Just have to make sure that it's kept secure and not hacked by purveyors of fake viagra (again).

Winter is very firmly here!

Blimey it was cold this morning! 

Obviously being January, it's been cold for a while now but this morning was special.  I don't have any means to measure it, but a guy on the train was reckoning -5C!  There's somethign really nice about riding in the cold though.  The air is so crisp and, in a strange way, there seems to be more of it when you start huffing a puffing a bit.  Being cold makes it seem somehow thicker.

After a couple of months without it. I'm back on my beloved Dahon this week.  After so many weeks on a (dare I say it) "proper" bike being back on my folder felt a little odd at first.  It's so light and fast steering that it's easy to forget how stable and frankly sluggish my hybrid can feel at times.  A couple of days back in the saddle though and we're like old friends again.

And as ever, the many dark, winter miles are a chance to get lost in one's thoughts and plan adventures for when the days are longer and the weather warmer. 

I'll post more on the whole reason for being without the Dahon in a short while.  Hopefully I can get back into the habit of blogging more regularly again (he says...)  Also, now that it has over 9,000 miles on the clock I out to actually write a review of it. 

When I started this adventure almost three years ago, I had no idea I'd put so many miles on my bike and that I'd manage so easily without a car of my own.

But I have.

And it's been (and continues to be) a blast.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

A night in with the spanners

A couple of weeks ago, my much anticipated shiny new drivetrain parts arrived.  Once the younger kids were in bed, and my wife was happily ensconced with the TV and a brew, I set to work on the upgrade.  I’ll apologise in advance for the poor pictures but in my defence:
  1. They were taken on a Blackberry (not usually the mark of quality photography)
  2. I managed to get a greasy smudge on the lens from the outset of the exercise.  This does give the photos a certain “1970’s Top of the Pops Starburst” feeling though, don’t you think?

Shiny new bike parts
I’m very lucky I suppose in that our house came with a built-in bicycle maintenance room.  Unfortunately, until I build an extension to house a separate kitchen, I have to share it with the sink, oven, dishwasher, washing machine and food preparation surfaces.  You can’t have everything.
Would be better without domestic appliances in it!
In a previous post, I mentioned how much my chain had stretched in use and here’s the proof.  Bicycle chains have a pitch of ½ inch so therefore the distance between twenty pins should be ten inches.  You can see from the photo below that the actual distance is more like ten and a quarter.  It may not seem by much but in terms of metal parts which have to mesh together accurately, it’s far too much! 


Without further ado, I set to removing the old chain.  Usually, this is a simple job with a chain-breaker tool and one I’ve done dozens of times before.  However, by inadvertently picking a particularly stiff pin to remove, I managed to break my (less than trusty) chain breaker.  Don’t buy cheap tools kids; it’s just not worth it.  It is also at points like this that you regret starting a job quite so late in the evening, which must be finished by the following morning…

It was all going so well up until this point...
Having no alternative, I consulted the modern cycle-mechanic’s friend – Google.  There I found a brilliant tip which involved using a small punch (I used the one from the snapped chain breaker), a hammer and something to support the back of the chain to drift the pin out manually.  I have to say that, while it was a little fiddly to line everything up to start with, once the pin starts to move, it’s a very useful emergency technique. 

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
Following this, I whipped out the back wheel and removed the rear sprocket.  This is a pretty straight forward task which only requires the removal of the single split-ring holding the sprocket in place.  I use a small, flat bladed screwdriver for the job, with caution as I’ve managed to gouge my hand on this job before.  Happily though, the operation was completed this time without medical emergency.  
Inevitably, every job involved a seized bolt or two and I had to work to get out a couple of the chainring bolts.  However, with a bit of gentle encouragement and a splash of WD40, they came undone in the end.  Again, this job would have been simple had I owned the right tool to hold the back of the chainring bolts, but I made do with a steel ruler.  A workable alternative, but somewhat fiddly.
Just out of interest, here are a couple of shots which show the state of my worn sprockets compared to the new ones.

Worn sprockets (front)

Worn sprockets (rear).  Or maybe the contents of a ninja's pocket?
I must now beg forgiveness for the lack of any further photos.  
At this point in proceedings, my hands were so filthy that I didn’t dare try to take any more pictures lest I ruin my Blackberry.  The remainder of the job was completed without major incident.  I had to use the “hammer and drift” method to shorten my new chain to the correct length and did wonder how easy it would be to re-join a chain in this way.  I didn’t get to find out though as the new chain had an innovative kind of split link called a “Missing Link”.  It’s designed to be installed with the chain and then function as a normal link, the same as any other.  It’s not possible to split it again in order to remove the chain (I’ll need a new chain-breaker for that) but may also be a bit stronger.  Given that the only chain I’ve snapped in use broke at the split link, this may not be a bad thing.
And so I now have a smooth new drivetrain on my bike with a slightly increased set of gear ratios.  I’ve had a couple of weeks to get used to the changes but will put in a few more miles before writing up my thoughts.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Gears (again)

I hope you find this interesting, especially if you're of a technical mind.  I make no apology for sleep-induced, keyboard-prints-on-the-forehead if you're not.  Caveat emptor and read on...
One of the first things I noticed about riding my 3 speed Dahon Vitesse was that the standard gearing was WAY too low for normal riding.  I’ve blogged about gear inchery a couple of times (technophobes look away now) here and here.

A little over 18 months ago, after much deliberation I pimped my ride a bit, splashing out on a new  front crank, 46t chainring, chain (as the original one was completely shot) and 16t rear sprocket.  This resulted in a pretty useable set of gears and has been the configuration in which I’ve ridden the subsequent 5,000(!) miles.  The crank, being a proper one, rather than the cheap thing fitted by Dahon, also offered the benefit of enabling me change the chainring on its own in future.

Inevitably though:

  1. Drive components wear out
  2. Being an engineer, the urge to fiddle with gear ratios once again becomes too much to bear

The former circumstance probably reached the point where new parts were required quite some time ago.  My chain is now stretched so severely that getting it to a consistent tension is impossible and as a result, both the chainring (to a lesser degree) and rear sprocket (to an almost comedy degree) are now hooked.  I’ll post up some pictures in due course and you’ll see what I mean. 
SheldonBrown’s outstanding website has a far more detailed explanation of why this happens than I’m going to offer here.  Suffice to say that it’s a combination of lengthy metal on metal wear (which is governed by miles ridden and the laws of physics) and half-arsed maintenance (which is governed by my inherent idleness).

And so I’ve had to part with some hard-ebayed cash in order to buy a new chain and sprockets. 

The straight swap choice of a 16t rear was pretty simple but I’ve elected (after an amount of consideration that marks me out as a deeply sad individual) to up the chainring size to 48t.  The main reason for this is that I tend to spend quite a lot of time in second gear and it now has a tendency to feel slightly too low.  The new gearing will raise second from 57.5 to 60 gear inches.

Inevitably, with only 3 gears on tap, gear choice is a bit of a compromise.  However, 60 inches is also the gearing which I had my single speed MTB for a good while and I always found it to be a nice, multi-purpose ratio.  I know there will be times (tired hills and headwinds) when I’ll be fondly remembering the slightly lower gear two, but it’ll be just that bit better as a gear to spin along in most other times.  Furthermore, first gear has always been way too low – used only for severely steep or tired climbing.  Hopefully, rather than a two-speed bike with a bail out gear (which, effectively, is what I have now) I’ll have three usable gear ratios.

I told you I was sad.

Best of all though, I’m having some shiny new bike parts and that means a couple of hours spent in grimy-fingered, cycle maintenance heaven!  The Royal Mail is (I hope) bringing the components with haste to my letterbox and so I’ll post up a load of pictures when they all arrive and I swap everything over. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Tyres - the results are in.

Pretty much a year ago, I posted a summary of my experiences so far with tyres on my Dahon.  The original article is here:

Clickety clickety

At the time I'd taken the opportunity to splash out on a pair of Schwalbe Marathons.  Well last Friday, after 3,250 miles of commuting and leisure riding, I managed to puncture one for the first time!  It was a fairly minor affair too and I managed to cycle the remaining five miles or so to home by stopping and pumping up the tyre a handful of times.  I didn't have to resort to a roadside innertube swap at all.

When I repaired the puncture on the weekend, it turned out to be a very small, but very sharp rusty nail that had managed to get through the tyre.

It would be naive to describe any tyre as "puncture proof" but these must be as puncture resistant as it's possible for a useable tyre to be.  OK so maybe they don't roll as fast as other tyres and maybe they weigh a bit more.  Well, I'm not out to win the TDF on the Dahon and if that extra weight and marginally higher rolling resistance is the price for not having to change an innertube on a freezing, dark winter night then it's no contest in my book.

When I've worn them out (which shows little sign of happening for at least another couple of thousand miles) I'll definitely be replacing them with more of the same.

£50 for several thousand miles of reliable riding?  Value doesn't come much better than that!

Saturday, 28 June 2014


Damn! I knew it had been a while but over six months??

I've been busy but the Dahon is still going strong and I'm putting in between 70 and 120 commuting miles each week.  I did have to replace the front wheel after the rim wore through (!) but after 7,000 miles I don't think it owed me anything...

And a replacement was a princely £25 for the genuine Dahon article.

It also seems that my blog got hacked too - 45 posts advertising cheap, Canadian viagra!

I'll try to keep on top of things a bit more regularly!