Monday, 13 January 2014

There Are Other Rivers

I finished reading a superb little book on the train this morning entitled "There Are Other Rivers" by Alistair Humphreys.

The author is an adventurer and writer who, among other things spent four years cycling around the world after University.  Since then he has been on, and written about, many other adventures - lots of which are described on his website which I mentioned a few months ago. 

This book tells the story of a solo walk across India which Alistair undertook a couple of years ago.  A tough adventure stripped back to the basics and on a very low budget.  It is written in what I found to be a particularly engaging style.  Rather than being a chronological account of "this happened, then this happened and then this happened..." in the way that tales of journeys are often told, "There Are Other Rivers" is a series of snapshots from the trip.  Each describes a day of the adventure, a meeting, an effort, a meal, a campsite, in lovely detail but only in a rough sort of order.  It makes the book very "pick-up-and-put-downable" as there isn't such a thread to lose as such.  Each chapter is a treat to be enjoyed on its own right depending neither on those before it or afterwards.  That said, it kept me hooked to the end.

What I love most about Alistair's writing is that there is never a sense that he's describing something beyond the reach of most mortals.  Sure it is a massive effort to walk across India and the pains are described in infinite detail but the writer is also humble enough to encourage the reader to get out and have adventures of their own.

If you like the outdoor adventure genre of books and want to try something a little different from the norm, give this book a go.  It was very reasonably priced on the Kindle (only a few quid I think) and you really won't regret it.

Inspired by the book, as I left the station and mounted my bike this (uncharacteristically sunny) morning, it was with a head full of half-formed plans for future folding bike adventures.  Some small, some not so and many which may never happen, but some will and that's thanks to encouragement and inspiration from writers like Alistair Humphreys.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Fiddly, fiddly

If there is a fiddlier bike maintenance task than setting cup and cone bearings, I'd like to know!

You get the cone locked on one side nicely but then the other side is too tight, then too loose, then too tight again.  The late Sheldon Brown wasn't wrong likening the task to feeling for the tumblers when cracking a safe! There is an excellent tutorial on his website ( as there is for most aspects of building a bike or keeping one running nicely).

My front wheel bearings started sounding distinctly sorry for themselves on Friday morning.  I managed to shut them up with a squirt of WD40 but that's way too thin to be a decent bearing lube for anything other than an emergency.  I've had to strip and regrease them a couple of times since owning the bike and the last time they still felt a little rough.  I bit the bullet, parted with a few pounds for a new set and fitted them this evening.  Getting the old ones out, cleaning up the hub and spindle and refitting the new ones is easy enough.  It's getting the flipping cups and cones properly adjusted that is the real test.  It took more than a few goes and the usual trial and error, however the job is now done and all seems right with the world.

New bearings fitted and happily adjusted now.

After so many miles on the Dahon, I've got used to the different creaks and squeaks my bike makes when in need of a little TLC. When I first had it I had to spend ages ruling out a creaky hinge! squeaky seat post or dry bearing to get to the root of an issue.  Now, I know what most of them sound like from the first noise.  This is better for the bike as issues get fixed more quickly and better for me as I don't have to get so frustrated any more!  Some of the time at least...

A friend of mine mentioned the phrase "knowing the vibes from your velo" once and it's very apt.  Over time of living with a machine a riding it a lot, you just get to feel when something isn't quite right.  You can feel for instance, through the pedals, a chain that needs oiling long before it is making that dreadful squeak which is the preserve of so many poorly maintained machines.

On that subject, I bought some more chain lube this weekend from my local bike shop.  It seems to be good stuff but has the dodgiest sounding name.  I'll let you make up your own minds but here is is in all it's glory...


Puerile schoolboy humour I know.  Forgive me.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Still here

If I had a pound for every time I'd thought "Must update the bike blog" since the last post, I could probably quit work and cycle commuting altogether.  But then that would be no fun - the office could take a hike but I'd miss the daily bike ride.

So yes, I'm still here and still commuting by bike and train and my trusty Dahon 3- speed is still, well,  trusty.   A recent change of role at work has meant that I tend to spend five days straight at our office now.  Not all the time, but more than I used to have to.  That means that I'm doing the full 115 mile weekly round trip quite often and the miles are really racking up.  I'll do a more detailed tally in the next few days but the Dahon has definitely topped 6,000 miles now.

It is very definitely winter now and while the temperatures have been reasonably mild, the wind hasn't.   Each morning last week I have had the pleasure of a monster headwind to pedal into all the way to work.  The blessing is, of course, that I have had a nice tail wind on the way home each night but the ups don't seem to balance the downs. By Thursday morning this week, my legs were dead and Friday was a real struggle.  I have had a bit of a bad chest this week too, but even so the wind has definitely taken it out of me.

Another winter treat is that I'm commuting both ways in the dark these days.  We have turned the corner this year in that mid-winter has passed and (in theory at least) the days are getting longer.  But it's lights-on morning and night for the moment. That first commute of 2014 in the half-light of dawn can't come quickly enough for me, though it'll be well into February before that happens, I reckon.

Would I swap the relative hardship of cycling for four wheels and a heater?  Absolutely not. Even on the foulest days, there is an unbeatable rush when you finally each the journey's end and sit down with a well-earned mug of tea. Also, although I'm far from an Adonis, I'm in the best physical shape I've been in for many, many years.  The prospect of turning forty in a few weeks and being able to fit comfortably into 32 inch waist jeans is a happy one.  The very, very tight jeans that my wife and kids bought me for Christmas merit a post of their own.  I got them on though and, tight as they were in many places, round my middle wasn't one.

No, I wouldn't go back to regular car commuting now.  The upsides of cycling more than outweigh the downs and if you're wondering whether to try it yourself, don't wait. Just go for it..

More to follow soon (I hope...)

Cheers x