Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Old bikes - same old punctures!...

If spring is about looking forward and autumn about dying back, summer is surely about the present moment - a long, hot now that marks the sultry climax to the year - roughly bookended by haymaking and harvest, it is a time of fruition and plenty, of promises fulfilled. Spring's generative riotousness slows and ceases and a stillness settles over the land.

Summer seemed to arrived here - in all its warmth and glory - and the opportunity to dress up in retro clothing and ride the classic bikes is something to savour. So it was that Gary, Phil and I met up for a morning 'test'. Phil was riding his fully restored BSA Tour of Britain machine, resplendent in a colour coordinated woollen jersey parading the BSA logo and completing the 'look' with a pair of hand-made leather shoes. I opted for the Bianchi today - giving a chance to don my recent eBay purchases; retro styled Bianchi jersey and shorts - with matching socks and cap! On the way to meet up I stopped roadside to adjust the Garmin on my handlebars (absolutely not a period feature!) - two riders whizzed past as I stood there - I heard one say: "Bloody hell, have we gone back in time?"

We met at the usual cycling rendezvous and quickly set off for Market Bosworth. The sunshine was strong and bright, a slight tailwind helping us along as we reached 23mph. These bikes move fast - I can't really notice any difference compared to my carbon bike - until the road rises - uphill they're harder, but only because the gearing is much higher with a 53 chainring and the largest rear cog only 22. No matter - we managed to climb the hill to the town centre without any heart attacks.

At the cafe
We decided a coffee stop would be appropriate - opting to sit on the bench outside and enjoy the sunshine. There was quite an interest in the bikes, a couple of cyclists leaving the cafe stopped to examine, then a couple (not cycling) came over for a chat, he said he rode a Boardman hybrid, but remembered fondly his old Raleigh with Campagnolo gears. Then a man from the house adjacent to the cafe came out - he was interested in the old bikes, he had an old racer originally made in Leicester - he went to fetch it - it was probably built late 1970s or early 80s, he was interested in getting it restored - we chatted for a while and he gave us his email to pass on to Mike at Vintage Cycle Sports.

`You fix the puncture, I'll pretend to be an aeroplane'

We left for the return journey and split up at Congerstone with me taking the high road to home. At the top of the hill - Pffffshhhhh - puncture! The perennial problem with tyres and, consequentially, punctures on these old machines is two fold - 1) They are fitted with tubular tyres - no inner-tubes, so roadside repair means removing the old tyre and replacing with a new one - which has to be glued onto the steel wheel rim. 2) The tyres don't have the same level of anti-puncture protection afforded by modern clincher tyres - in other words they are more susceptible to punctures!

The immediate problem for me was that I'd forgotten to bring a spare tyre (aargh) - thankfully I wasn't far from home and I managed to slowly ride there on the flat tyre.

I've now ordered a couple of spare tyres and have just completed a repair of the punctured one - a lengthy process involving pealing off the cloth tape glued (welded?) to the underside of the tyre, undoing the stitched tyre casing to reveal the tube, repairing the tube with a patch, re-stitching the casing and supergluing the cloth tape back on - took me over an hour! - hopefully should be okay though?

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Old Bikes....and Beer!

With the Easter festivities behind us, Gary and I found ourselves conveniently free on Tuesday. The ideal situation then to get the 'old bikes' out and give them a blast. Eroica is just around the corner and we know that riding these old machines requires some practise.

To be fair, I've already been out a couple of times on my Colnago - each time making a few vital adjustments: raise the saddle a few millimetres, lower it again etc etc - fine tuning is key here. In the end I changed the saddle completely and now the ride is altogether more comfortable. Likewise changing gear - no easy, simple-click-of-a-button with these babies - oh no - it's a case of reaching down to the levers mounted on the down-tube and then pulling and pushing until something happens, all the time attempting to keep eyes on the road and remain in a straight line. Invariably there's lots of crunching noises and I've ended up on the opposite side of the road.

But the hardest thing (at least for me) is getting my feet into the right position on the pedals - remember, no cleats here - we're working with metal toe clips and leather straps - the whole resembling some sort of poacher's trap. The technique seems to be to get one foot in and secured while still stationary, scoot off and then perform a series of flicking and tapping movements with the (still) free foot on the remaining pedal. The weight of the clip and strap means that it's always hanging down, so much so that it scrapes the road - it requires the dexterity of a tap dancer to accomplish the required action - most times it will take me half a dozen attempts before I'm in. Then there is a further lean down to the pedal to tighten the straps and finally we're off. By the time all this is done you can bet that we've arrived at a junction - and there's a frantic, flailing display to reverse the above procedure and get a foot out before coming to a halt. Failure to do so will result in the embarrassment of simply toppling over, both feet firmly clamped onto the pedals and with just hands and arms to cushion the fall.

We met at our usual rendezvous location - Gary had managed to get there without once changing gear - thus alleviating half of the problems. On the journey from my house, my bike had developed an annoying problem that resulted in the axle holding the pedals moving horizontally about a half inch - this was deemed serious and there was much staring at the offending parts. Gary thought it best to repair to my workshop whereupon a more calculated appraisal could be made - I stared a bit longer before we agreed to cycle a few miles in that direction and 'see what happens'.

At Congerstone we halted next to the bus stop and I turned my bike over on the conveniently situated patch of grass. I was then able to tighten the loose locking nut that holds the axle and pedals in place - just using my fingers - I couldn't get it really tight but I did manage to solve the immediate problem. All good then? - we decided to carry on.

Before setting off on this ride we had planned to avoid any hills - the gearing on these bikes is such that only men with proper thigh muscles could possibly move these machines up any kind of a gradient - so I was surprised that Gary suggested making our way to Market Bosworth - not least because the hill to get there is formidable. Even more surprising was that I agreed to his ludicrous idea. But we managed it - and (the most surprising surprise of all) it wasn't bad! - we got up it relatively easily.

We called in at Velobici - a designery cyclists apparel establishment, very cool, very 'with-it' and very expensive - nice stuff though - and an interesting collection of old bikes used as part of the shop display. By now it was past lunchtime - we decided a pint would be a good idea and after another five minutes of scraping toe-clips and flicking feet we arrived at the Black Horse - essentially a restaurant but with a quite welcoming patio area round the back, ideal for this (mainly) sunny Tuesday afternoon. Gary bought out a couple of 'Doom Bars' - he thought they were cloudy, which they were, but seemed to taste okay. We followed that with a couple of Italian lagers and a bag of Kettle crisps each and then it was time to ride back. We headed back to Congerstone and I pealed off for the 3 mile climb back to home, All in all a good few miles - Gary has now used all his gears, I know I need to tighten that lock nut and we've both enrolled for tap dancing lessons.

Old man on old bike cries 'rape'

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Cycling with angry motorists.....

I've been pretty lucky with regard to experiencing any sort of run-in with motorists while out on the bike. Nothing really ugly - maybe a couple of verbals - like today.

I'm out enjoying a 20 miler, just ambling along quiet lanes enjoying the fair-weather as spring gradually unfurls.  As I make my way down a single-track road I become aware of a vehicle behind me - it seems close... there's repeated revving from the engine. I wonder why he doesn't come past me (assuming it was a 'he') - I think there's room? - In any event it's a downhill stretch, I'm moving at about 20mph, there's nowhere to pull over and in any case there's a junction up ahead, I figure he can get round me there.

As I approach the T-junction I move to the middle of the road and turn right, it's a short, steep climb now - as I step up onto the pedals I'm startled by a long, hard horn blast from whoever it was behind - It's loud! - I glance round and see a Range Rover turning in the other direction at the junction - the window is wound half down and there's a colourful outpouring of invective - I can tell now that it is indeed a man.... or a woman with a very deep voice. In the heat of the moment I could think of no worthwhile reply without resorting to similar obscenities, all I managed to shout back was: 'nice language' - which resulted in a further volley of abuse as the car sped off in the opposite direction.

It's a shame how incidents like this can colour your day after a delightful start and some pleasant miles. What is it with motorists who react like that? I don't think I was doing anything wrong - i was in front, he couldn't get round in that big motor so he had to wait - maybe thirty seconds, probably less - until the junction. If I'd been able to pull over in a suitable spot I would - but as I say, it was a short distance to the junction anyway.

I don't ride round looking for a fight and I can't remember anything like this happening before? - I generally believe that it can be best to let inconsequential instances of other road users' stupidity or carelessness slide - rather than getting revved up into confrontation mode - this pacifism has stood me in good stead over the years I think. After I got home and thought about it, why did he react like that? - why so impatient? - why so angry? - and what had been achieved? Was this driver now going to turn into a homicidal maniac towards cyclists? (maybe he already was?).

Unfortunately motoring these days does not create an environment that rewards courtesy or consideration - drive like a complete idiot and you will get there quicker. Add to that the common pattern of aggressive, mean-spiritedness and over-estimation of driving skills, all combined with a general disregard for just how dangerous a fast-moving tonne of metal really is and the fact that there's a bit of Mr Toad in all of us and you can understand the problem.

Of course, this is not to say that cyclists are any different. There are plenty of people who ride bikes with much the same mentality; it's just that it doesn't usually affect anyone else - and they just get sweaty. Except when they get into slanging matches with motorists. If you go out with the right (i.e. wrong) attitude you could have a fight with someone every time. But I'm happy to continue in my own way - if a motorist cuts me up i'll count to ten and ride on by - it's my traffic karma measure - I'll let you know how I get on.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Proper cycle touring - our next challenge....

I've posted plenty about Eroica, which will be our first 'challenge' later in the year - but after that we have designs on a real adventure! Since riding Lands End to John O Groats we've been struggling to find a ride that offers the same sense of trepidation, impossibility and perceived satisfaction. But we have a plan for this year that will, hopefully, tick all the boxes.

We intend to cycle across France - end-to-end, top to bottom, Calais to the Mediterranean - however you care to describe it - it will be a decent test - and comparable to LeJog. We're thinking late August or early September will be the departure date - giving us plenty of time for planning routes and gathering equipment. Unlike LeJog, this time our endeavours will be totally unsupported - no support vehicle, no-one to help us if we get into difficulties - we will carry everything we need: camping gear, cooking equipment, clothes, spare parts, tools etc. In other words - proper cycle touring!

I've got a touring bike already and I'm upgrading the wheels to ensure I'm confident with their load carrying capabilities, I have panniers as well - just need to get the stuff that goes in them! The coming months will see us bickering over which tent will serve us best and who's carrying the cooker! We'll keep you posted on progress and decisions we make as well as updates on the route.

Meantime - here's the bike that will be carrying me!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Spring has arrived!

Wow - spring is here. The moment of quickening, of life surging back. However spring finds you - birdsong, blossom or spawn - it's a signal: the old earth is turning its ancient face back to the sun. Last night and early this morning there was a blackbird flipping and flapping around the house announcing that spring's arrived - the signs have been around for a while, each year I seek them out anxiously and ardently - and each year brings the same joy as the green world starts to grow. Spring is the greatest of seasons.

I've been yearning for brighter, warmer days and at last I'm rewarded - today I cycle in shorts for the first time this year. The winds have paused and I pass ever quicker through lanes veiled in pale-lemon sunlight - the sense of expectation grows with each turn and each subtle extension of the days. Winter is ending.

It's a late afternoon ride; the builders working on converting a row of farm outbuildings and a barn are dusting themselves down and packing up their tools. The two men who walk the lane to Congerstone and back every day are close to home as I pass - but the sun is still shining and the sky is clear save for a few white cobweb like whisps. The ground beyond the hedgerows has a pinky-purple tinge flanked by a hazy luminosity where land, trees and sky merge. Making the most of this tranquil interlude, birds are calling out, chattering and gossiping - organising each other and arranging feathers in accordance with the latest fashions.

The golden glow seems to grow in strength as I pass the halfway mark - seeking out the nooks and crannies of the fields, sneaking in between tree trunks and delving into shadowy recesses. It filters deep through retinas into minds, so bodies shift, heads lift, hearts beat more swiftly, lungs fill and change is sensed. I'm on the homeward stretch now and my ride seems to be nearing its end too soon. This route that I've travelled countless times, that felt so burdensome in the depths of winter now seems trivial. I could go further but I've work that needs to be finished today. But still time to enjoy the lofty blue brightness of the afternoon sky there's a patch of thin white cloud now, like distant sparkling waves. There're skylarks along Derby Lane, joyous voices, euphoric and unrestrained. This stretch of road has open fields to both sides, the tufted grasses are bleached blonde and there are heathers gnarled and frizzled with remnants of bronze bracken fronds scattered here and there. There are bright green shards appearing too - like swords piercing the mesh and tangle. Not yet the vibrant vernal greens of full spring but as though the sudden warmth of the sun has tickled them awake.

The final stretch now - back up to home - 3 miles uphill a chore most of the time but not today. The wooded edge that lines the road displays the royal purple finery of birch branches slowly being replaced by vivid lime brightness. Winter larches are being outfitted in bushy costumes as needled tresses sprout in jade and green - then there's the solemn oaks - their buds opening to reveal light copper tips.

And then I'm home - feeling uplifted and content - the best day out on the bike this year. There's more to come. Bring it on.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Old bikes need old clothes....

Ok - so we have the 'old bikes' all ready for Eroica - and, assuming we accustom ourselves to their idiosyncracies, that part of the adventure is all sorted. The next step is what to wear? There are a whole heap of 'commandments' for this ride that need to be adhered to, number nine of which is clothing for the event.
“Participants must be dressed in vintage or era specific clothing”
That means leave the skin suit at home, So that’s vintage era in, fluro out. Plaid welcome, ziggy zags a no-no. Tweed an honoured guest, aero-tech given the heave-ho.
So the search begins: in the more dubious corners of the web for ‘genuine pre-’87 wool shirts and shorts - with added itch!’ - then there's the shoes, gloves, socks, goggles and what about hats? - helmets, although appeasing the health and safety brigade, look somewhat incongruous for this event? But it’s worth noting that, unlike the bikes themselves, the rules don’t actually stipulate that Eroica apparel be old, or of a certain year, just vintage looking and in-keeping with the historic feeling of the event.

From what I can see (looking at photos and videos of previous gatherings) the majority of participants wear vintage style jerseys - the few that don't stick out like sore thumbs and really needed to try harder - so 'entering into the spirit' is important - it will be worth the effort - and hopefully the expense!

My old shoes!
I've started gathering my bits and pieces - I've got a few vintage style jerseys already - although not made from wool they do at least reflect the vintage period and style. I knew that I had a pair of cycling shoes from my youth - but they remained elusively hidden until recently when I found them tucked away in the loft, sharing space in a box of Lake District books. These shoes are from the late 1970s, made by French company 'Patrick' and carry the monicker of Raymond Poulidor. They are soft kid leather uppers with a leather sole reinforced with steel - and they still have the nailed-on cleats that I used back then - the idea of these shoes anchored onto the pedals and then firmly strapped in place is somewhat scary now - getting feet in and out quickly with this equipment is tricky and will require practise.

I've got a cheap pair of repro aviator sunglasses that look the part - and a collection of peaked cycling hats emblazoned with suitable logos and team names. I've got a nice pair of track mitts - leather palms with crocheted backs and a few pairs of crisp white socks.

I think I'm almost there - but the main thing, the jersey, I'm still undecided on - to some extent it will depend on which bike I ride - I'm thinking the Colnago will be the better option - it's the better bike of the two I have - importantly it has slightly better (easier) gearing. However the Bianchi has better options in terms of apparel - I have some really nice repro Bianchi clothing that would look the part - If I ride the Colnago I could opt for Molteni clothing - as worn by the famous Merckx team from late 60s/70s - this is iconic stuff too - but I think it will be commonplace on the ride. I'll keep searching, perhaps I'll find something irresistible?

Friday, 10 March 2017

My favourite winter garment.... from Aldi!

There's no such thing as bad weather - just the wrong clothing. We've all heard that adage when the winter weather bites - but there have been incredible developments in textiles over the past few years meaning there's a large selection of winter jackets that will keep you warm, dry and comfortable.

A good jacket needs to offer protection from the elements but also deal with body heat and perspiration. Producing products that are not only protective but also breathable has been the key challenge facing garment manufacturers.

Having done some research I opted for a winter soft-shell jacket for this winter - Not the best protection when it comes to out-and-out downpours, but okay in a bit of drizzle, good against wind, warm and also breathable. For most of us the cost of this type of garments is prohibitive - take a look on any of the websites or browse in your local bike shop - it's easy to fork out £150 - £200 or more - especially for name 'brands' with big marketing and advertising budgets. But if you're prepared to forego the cycle snobbery and consider the supermarket discounters I think you could be pleasantly surprised.

I purchased a 'Men's Performance Cycling Jacket' from Aldi last September. It features Storm Guard wind and rain protection, thermal fleece panels for moisture transfer and warmth, 3 back pockets, one with a zip, it has a 'PerEffect' insert for quick drying and moisture transport, 'glow in the dark' reflective panels for safety and it all folds away neatly into its own pocket for storage. It looks and feels pretty good too. Having ridden with it every day for the past few months I am mightily impressed. The only downside has been some of the stitching on leading edges of the rear pockets has come away - easily fixed though. Best part - it was less than £30!!! - I can safely say this has been one of my 'best-buys' in terms of cycling wear.

We're moving swiftly towards spring now so this jacket will soon be packed away until Autumn - but I'll definitely get another one if the chance arises.

Aldi - Men's performance Cycling Jacket - does the job - great price!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Taking the dog for a ride....

The weather has been somewhat kinder for the last couple of days and my ride yesterday was an early start. The warmer temperatures combined with the moisture from recent precipitation has seen some unusually heavy mists around here, mingling with them as I ride my usual 15 mile route, has been a number of farm bonfires. These seem to smoulder on, all day and every day, the light fragrant smoke drifts horizontally over the fields and threads its way through the hedges. The countryside seem to disappear in a dream of pearl coloured vapour from which trees and hedges emerge like islands from a sleeping sea. Only immediately overhead is the sky visible, and the edge of the haze surrounding the blue above catches the beams of reflected sunlight in a charmed ring. All around the the earth seems to ripple with its melting folds of mists. The mystery and quiet beauty of it all seems beyond analysis.

After the thrashing from Storm Doris I'm surprised that there are still hazel catkins hanging limp, waiting. There are daisies too amongst Doris's debris, flowering among storm-strewn branches along the verges. My botanical knowledge is sadly lacking but i do recognise a patch of celandine, like fallen stars, unfolding on the banks next to the canal. Wordsworth was a lover of celandine - seeing them as symbols of the returning sun He used their petals cooked in lard as a treatment for piles and his enthusiasm for them was such that they can be found carved on his gravestone.

As I meander gently along my circular route the early morning sun elicits a kaleidoscopic dazzle of olive, emerald and violet - but on this stretch there's a perishing wind which seems to have persisted for weeks - it pushes through my garments and chills me to the bone. Up ahead I see two cyclists battling the headwind - and although I'm not moving quickly I can see I'm gaining on them. I hang back slightly, not wishing to overtake but soon I'm up behind them. They are a couple, man and wife, he with a large box somehow fixed, precariously, with bungee cords to his bike. He glances round to spot me as I settle in behind and moves into the side to allow me to pass - "It's okay I shout, "just admiring your saddlebag" - he laughs and says something but it's lost in the wind. Then I notice that inside the box is a dog - a Pug to be precise. There is a polythene window at the back of the box and two ventilation slits cut into the sides. The dog looks happy enough though. "He'll go to sleep in a minute" the man informs me.

We chat as we cycle along. The couple have sold up their house and jettisoned their belongings in favour of moving onto a narrowboat moored at Market Bosworth. He tells me how they've spent their first winter cuddled up next to the wood burner that he had installed - "Beautiful warm" he says "Good insulation as well" I'm interested enough to start questioning him about this but unfortunately they turn off at the next junction. As they swing off I can see that the dog has indeed settled and looks to be sleeping.

The barge man - and his dog-box!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

We're going to be heroes...

Now that we have our beautiful, classic steel bicycles we need to take to the road and get aquainted with riding them. It has to be said they are somewhat alien to modern machines - and whilst, back in the day, bikes like these were everyday and commonplace - that was 40 years ago - times have changed - the differences are numerous.

For a start there's the handlebars and brakes - the bars are a lot narrower and skinnier than modern counterparts - and the brake hoods a lot smaller. The frame tubings are skinny too so that all-in-all the bike feels smaller and less substantial and the riding position more confined and aggressive than found on current bikes. Then there's the gears - no one-click shifting on these old darlings - changing gear on an old machine is an art in itself and will require some practise - the levers are simply friction controlled - pull down (or push up) and feel for the gear change, trimming accordingly just by feel. Add don't forget the issue with pedals and toe-clips. Instead of modern cleats which are relatively easy to clip in (and out) of the pedal housing, these old bikes utilise a system whereby feet are anchored to the pedals and held in place by leather straps and buckles - demanding considerable forethought to disengage when coming to a stop (I can remember times when I toppled over at junctions and traffic lights because I'd forgotten to undo the straps before coming to a halt).

On top of that the gearing of these old classics is much higher - i.e. harder! - Chainrings at the front are bigger - 53/48 teeth, compared to 50/34 on new bikes and the cogs on the rear wheel much smaller, typically 5 cogs ranging from 14 to 22 teeth - whereas my carbon bike has 10 rear cogs 11-30. This means the bikes will be much harder to move - especially (dread!) going uphill.

So what's the point you may wonder? - Well, high on our bucket list of cycling challenges is to ride 'Eroica Britannia' held each June in the Derbyshire Peaks. We went along to the inaugural
event (as spectators) a few years ago and decided then that it would be a great weekend to take part in. What is 'Eroica' you ask? - It's a cycling event that originated in Italy (Eroica translates as heroic) in 1997 to celebrate the cycling 'heroes' and machines of yesteryear - the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of conquest! - and also to highlight a campaign to preserve the famous Tuscan white gravel roads - the strade bianchi. It's now a globally franchised event with Eroicas in Japan, California, Spain and Holland. Although the centrepiece of the festival is, of course, the bicycle there's plenty to do and see for everyone.  Check out the itinerary and the many photos and video clips here

Get an old bike and we'll see you there!