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Ride Stories

Cyclists, ‘people who ride bikes’, whatever you like to call yourselves, I’ve launched a little low-key side-project-blog-thing called Ride Stories.

Rides create lasting memories, whether it’s an around the world challenge or your favourite quick local spin, but often all we have to share is the Strava data. The sights, smells and emotions can’t be recorded as easily as miles, cadence and heart rate, but writing the story can enthuse and entertain others.

Maybe you have a ride story to share ?

Equilibrium

I change my bikes more often than I change my trousers, and I’m embarrassed about both those facts. The trouble is, you need more than a single test ride to know if a bike is right for you or not, and I’ve given the Boardman CX over four months now, and decided I needed to change it.

Backpedalling at bit to last September: With winter approaching, I’d been thinking about assembling my ideal commuting/winter/all round bike. Something practical and versatile, that would not only be suitable on roads, but capable of a bit of off-road too. My direct commute is only a mile, and while I normally add a bit more, there are some longer routes that I can do that involve potholey/rocky towpaths. They can be done on a road bike, but can be a little nerve-wracking.

So, I wrote a list of what I wanted for a go-anywhere, do-anything bike, but still with drop bars:

  • Clearance for large tyres, for more comfort and grip.
  • Ability to fit proper mudguards, not matter how much I hate the sight of them. On the commute they make all the difference, and anyone riding behind me (unlikely, but might happen) can get the benefit of no spray in their face. The previous winter I used my Canyon AL with Crud Road Racer clip on mudguards, but they drove me insane. I couldn’t use a tyre larger than 23mm, and they constantly rubbed and bent. I burnt them in a ritual sacrifice as soon as Spring looked likely, along with all the other clip-on style mudguards I’d tried. I’ve bought SKS Bluemels in Matt Black which at least makes them a little less distracting.
  • Disc Brakes. Even with decent quality rim brakes they took a while to stop in the wet, so I wanted to give mechanical disk brakes a go.
  • Didn’t have to be steel, and as I would be carrying my bike upstairs at the office, aluminium would mean a lighter bike.
  • It also had to be something I’d want to ride. If it was overly heavy and ugly, I would just ride something else.

That list meant a Cyclocross (CX) bike, and after a lot of research, there was one that really fitted the bill, the Boardman CX. Unlike ‘pure’ cyclocross bikes it still had things like bottle cage mounts. To top it off, the colour scheme (subtle dark metallic grey and yellow) and graphics looks fantastic. So, I kept an eye on ebay, and before long a brand new frameset turned up! This gave me the opportunity to build it up with own components.

It worked OK for a while, but the more I used it, I realised it wasn’t the best decision…

  • Mechanical Disc brakes were a pain in the bum from day one. Mainly the loud ‘honk’ like screech it made, especially in the wet. I tried everything to stop the noise, but I only succeeded in making it slightly quieter for a while. Changing to hydraulics would’ve been an answer but by this point I’d had enough! I’m sure disc brakes will be the future, but I’m not a fan at this point.
  • I didn’t enjoy off-road as much as on-road. It was slower and required more bike handling skills, and I felt a big difference going back to road – it was such a big relief to be able to speed up again. I’m not disregarding off-road completely, as the lack of traffic is very appealing, I just think next time I’ll do it on a Mountain Bike instead.
  • I wasn’t aware of the differences of a CX frame, like the higher bottom bracket for mud clearance. In general, the geometry/fit just wasn’t as comfortable as my Colnago.
  • It was still fairly heavy. Now winter bikes are supposed to be heavy, but I need all the help I can get up hills, and couldn’t help thinking of the penalty I was paying for a CX bike with disc brakes.

Back to now…That’s all a very long-winded way of explaining that I’ve changed the frame and wheels for a Genesis Equilibrium. I’ve been eyeing these up ever since I started cycling, and love their mix of modern and classic/retro steel looks. Plus they fit the bill with geometry and mudguard clearance, and are available to buy as just a frameset. So I’ve taken the plunge and had one built up (by PushPedal again) using components from the Boardman build and my singlespeed project. While I would’ve preferred black (and almost went with a Kinesis T2 for that reason) but I liked the cream (with black groupset and brown saddle/tape) for a change. It will show up mud more, but unlike my water-collecting internal-cabled Colnago, I can at least hose it down easily.

So far the ride has the lovely ‘springiness’ that the steel frame is famed for, and the geometry feels spot on. Will report back!

Now it fits me

I’m approaching three years of being on a road bike, and I’ve finally had a proper bike fit. I’ve always known I needed one, but have ‘got by’, doing my own fettling. Two things motivated me to get it sorted:

Firstly, there hasn’t been anywhere locally to get one done, but as of four months ago, Witney finally has a decent bike shop in the shape of Mickey Cranks (not, as it sounds, a cockney gangster) offering Retul Bike Fits.

Secondly, while the position on the Colnago wasn’t perfect, riding the Boardman CX has actually felt painful – in the feet, knees and calves. The last time I was out I muttered “I’m. Going. To. Get. A. Bloody. Bike. Fit!” all the way.

So… how far out was I?



My Colnago setup ready for the Bike Fit

The main difference was in my cleat position which was way out, the cause of the knee/foot pains I was having. They also compensated for the higher Q factor of the Boardman so that I could use the same shoes/cleat setup on both bikes. Then both saddles went up a few mm, and forward a fair bit (10-16mm). Combined with the new cleat position, this placed me correctly over the pedals.

The final change was to the handlebars, which went lower, especially on the Colnago. I’d been getting problems with very hands and had thought this has meant that the bars weren’t high enough, but the opposite was true. Which is fine by me, as lower bars/stem are more aesthetically pleasing ;)

It also confirmed that the Fizik Aliante was the right saddle choice for me – someone with low back flexibility who rotates their pelvis forward more to compensate. While it’s not quite as sleek-looking as the Arione or Antares, the Aliante is a jolly comfy fit, and I love the ICS (Integrated Clip System) saddlebags that clip into the back of Fizik saddles. It makes it very easy to swap it between bikes, and there’s no velcro, which I find never lasts very long.



(I can hear people quoting Rule #29 at me already, but I care not).

I now have a proper cleat and bike setup, as well as a definitive set of measurements for setting up other bikes. While I’m still not 100% sure the Boardman Cyclocross Frame and disc brakes were the right choice for my winter/commuter bike, it’s not painful to ride anymore. I wish I’d done this from the start!

New addition to the stable

There’s a popular equation with cyclists, that the ideal number of bikes to own is n+1. However many you have, you always want another one. Given unlimited funds and garage space it would be great to have a bike every occasion, such as a Surly Moonlander for when it snows, a cargo bike for doing the shopping and so on. It’s not to be, and I do try and keep my number bikes down, and enforce my own ‘one in, one out’ policy.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try a lot of bikes though, and I’m always fettling or trying something else. In my current stable are:

Colnago CLX 3.0

A lovely carbon road bike that is a joy to ride. Comfortable, ‘chuckable’ and as fast as I can make it. It doesn’t hold me back, I hold it back. It is perhaps too nice to ride through winter/commuting and all its gritty muck however, especially with its lack of mudguard clearance. Which is why I put together…

Boardman CX Custom build

I wanted a versatile, ‘do anything, go anywhere’ bike for winter rides/commuting with the ability to run larger tyres and mudguards at the same time, with possibly disk brakes for better stopping power in the winter. This criteria usually means a cyclocross bike, and I found a Boardman CX aluminium frame + carbon fork on ebay that fitted the bill perfectly, and was built up by local bike guru Darren Kiley at PushPedal. To top it off, the subtle dark metallic grey and bright yellow colour scheme really appeals to me. I currently run it with 28mm tyres, but can go up to about 38mm (Photo shows it with 35mm Sammy Slicks). Tempted to try snow and ice tyres on it when the time comes!

And then up until a week ago, I had these two as well:

Singlespeed, Guvnor Style

Its been two guises before this, as my first road bike, a Charge Plug inspired singlespeed, and now as a ‘Pashley Guvnor’ style ride. It kind of worked, but not well enough. The racing frame didn’t really sit well with the inverted North Road Handlebars, as it doesn’t have the correct ‘slack’ geometry of the Guvnor.

Canyon Ultimate AL

Before my Colnago was the Canyon, a brand new frameset that I had built up with parts from my then-current bike, a Specialized Allez. It was fantastic bike, lightweight and stiff but with some comfort too. I had intended to sell it when a got the Colnago, but couldn’t get a decent price for it, and decided it was worth more to me to keep.

These two are no more however, as I finally found a buyer the Canyon, and I’ve disassembled the singlespeed to sell for parts, all to make room for the latest addition…

Pashley Guvnor!

Handmade in Stratford-Upon-Avon as a homage to the ‘Path Racers’ of the 1930’s. Bought second-hand via a well timed advert in Gumtree, but in fantastic condition. As I may have mentioned a few times, I’ve been hankering after one of these for ages, and selling the Canyon made it possible.

The ride is an absolute joy, and yes, hills are a bit more work than usual. Its not as heavy as I’d remembered it though, and I can lift it up the stairs at the office easily without inducing a hernia. I’m looking forward to riding it further afield than the commute to my office, and hopefully joining the Guvnors Assembly on one of their jollies! The problem with a bike like this is that none of my existing gear and accessories (Helmet, Clothes, Water Bottles, Lights etc) suits such a gorgeous machine!

So I’m now back down to a more manageable three, at least until I the next one…

Bike Dabs

As I use my road bikes for commuting/shopping trips/going to the pub as well as ‘proper’ riding, I’ve been looking out for a way of converting my SPD-SL clipless pedals into a flat platform pedal for when I’m wearing normal shoes. Speedplay pedal users can get a platform converter (below) that clips around the lollipop shaped pedals and makes an ordinary flat pedal.

Platform convertor for Speedplay Pedals

Surely there was something for SPD-SL? So far there have been three options:

  1. Change the pedals for ordinary flat ones as needed. This is the advice that’s often pedalled (o-ho!) around forums to people with this query. Its a bit of a hassle though, especially if you commute during the day and go out for a ride in the evening with cleated shoes. No thanks.
  2. Use the flat-ish side of the SPD-SL pedal anyway. This actually kind of works – its just enough of a platform to push on, especially if you’re wearing stiff-soled shoes. However, the pedal doesn’t ‘self-right’ (at rest, the flat side isn’t up and ready to use) and its very slippery in the wet.
  3. Change to SPD pedals, and a dual cleat/platform pedal (like Shimano A530). I used this method originally, but again, the pedal doesn’t self-right and I’ve found I prefer the larger SPD-SL for road use.

I’ve been using the second solution for almost 18 months, and its been alright, but I’ve always looked out for something better, which turns out to be Pedal Dabs from Bike Dabs

A block of plastic that clips into the underside of the pedal, providing a good grippy platform with a built in reflector. The extra bonus is that it self-rights, so the flat side is always there ready to use. Solid, durable, easy to click in and out. It just works!

Ahem, please excuse my rather chipped pedals

As well as Shimano SPD-SL, they also have Pedal Dab Solutions for Crankbothers, Look Keo, SPD and Speedplay.

Guvnor

When I first got into cycling back in 2010, I blogged about how the Pashley Guvnor ‘epitomised everything I wanted aesthetically in a bicycle’. At the time, I wasn’t interested in modern bikes and wanted something with vintage feel. The Guvnor stood out amongst a sea of gaudy and overdone colour schemes on one side, and twee retro on the other.

I didn’t want to spend too much on a bike though, in case it became another one of my ‘temporary hobbies’. The Guvnor felt too expensive at the time, so I went for the Globe Daily at half the price. However, over the last two years I’ve gone from Globe Daily, Steel Peugeot (off ebay, which became my singlespeed), Specialized Allez, Canyon Ultimate AL and Colnago CLX 3 (the last two are my current steeds). My eyes were quickly to the beauty of modern bikes with companies like Canyon that make bikes with restraint in the graphics, and a high quality of finishing to boot. I really appreciate my carbon Colnago when it comes to hills.

Even so, I can’t get the Guvnor out of my head almost three years later. This probably isn’t helped by the fact I’ve been following the weekend jollies held by The Guvnors Assembly. I’ve always had a niggling thought in the back of my head (particularly in autumn strangely) – “Yes it’s heavy, but what is it actually like to ride?”.

Finally

So, when the family went to Stratford-upon-Avon last weekend, I couldn’t help but pop along to the Traditional Cycle Shop for a wee test ride! Yes, it was as heavy as a battleship (but probably not as heavy as other Pashley models like the Roadster), but my first feeling on mounting it was one of comfort. The Brooks B17 saddle was a revelation – I could really feel the ‘hammock’ effect. The swept-back hand position was odd for the first second or so (maybe as I was expecting the bars to be flatter), but this went quickly, and I realised it was a similar to my normal hand position on my road bikes.

When I rode it, it was like being on an elegant steamroller. It took very slightly longer than my road bike to get it up to speed, but once it was going, it just seemed to cruise over rough ground with ease. Very comfortable and an utter joy to ride. The only time the weight will be an issue is when I carry my bike up and down the stairs to my office (only twice a day every week – hey ho!).

Despite that practical consideration I just want one more now that I’ve tried it. I want to put on my tweed flat cap and take an autumnal ride through the streets of Oxford where the low sun makes the old colleges look golden. Ahhhh, bliss.

In the meantime, I’m going to go back and alter my singlespeed project to adopt some the Guvnor aesthetic. It won’t have the correct slack Path Racer geometry, but it will tide me over until I can get one. Which is going to be difficult, because I’m also hankering after a cyclocross bike, but that’s another story…

Broken Spoke Bike Co-op

Ever since I got into cycling, I’ve been aware that I’ve enjoyed tinkering and fettling bikes as much as riding them. I’m never satisfied with stock bikes, and love to customise and try out different parts where I can. Like Arthur Weasley, I’m happiest in the shed.

So far, I’ve picked up what I can from manuals, guides on the internet and just trying things, but there are an awful lot of holes in my education. I also want to be able to setup and service my bikes as much as I can, which is where a new co-operative in Oxford called The Broken Spoke comes in.

The Co-op door

Setup in 2012 by Cassiope Sydoriak, Elle Smith and Will McCallum, and based in workshops that are part of the Oxford Story Museum , they have laudable aims:

  1. Teach bicycle maintenance classes that are fairly-priced, convenient, and accessible to everyone
  2. Bring people together to ride and repair bicycles
  3. Provide specific activities and training for vulnerable members of our community and those under-represented in cycling
  4. Create training, volunteer, and employment opportunities for a new generation of bicycle mechanics
  5. Support the growth of a “fix it, don’t throw it away” mentality within the cycling community
  6. Do business in a sustainable way that strengthens our community

I’ve now completed two bike workshops there and can highly recommend them! The first course was Wheel Building back in February (Flickr Set here), where we learned how to lace and true a wheel. Topics like dishing and spoke length were also covered, and after spending 2 hours trying to true a wheel, I appreciate the skill involved even more.

Hubs, spokes and nipples

It was hard work, but I’ve now been able to true the rear wheel ‘enough’. I went with Cyclox Chairman, James Styring who wrote about the experience for The Oxford Times. Tech geek? I’ll have words…

I then went back for a second course, the two-part External Mechanics Intensive (Wheels, Brakes, Chains and Gears) with chum Matt Hamm. In both courses, the workshop leaders were fantastic, and numbers are kept low so that there is enough one-on-one time. This means you can get specific instructions on your particular bike and its components, rather than just generic instructions. I’ve learnt a lot and keen to go back for more.

Matt and I removing sprockets

As well as the specific bike courses, they run an open workshop every Saturday from 12–6pm. You can come and use their extensive tool collection, and get advice and help from volunteer experts hanging around.

The co-op is a triumph!

Sorry, couldn’t resist a photo of my singlespeed outside the Pembroke Street entrance…

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The Hickensian is the journal of Jon Hicks, one half of the creative partnership Hicksdesign. Take a look at the work we do.

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I sometimes pop up at conferences and waffle about design, icon creation in particular. Here's where I'll be next:

An Event Apart Chicago- "Icon Design Process" - 25-26th August 2014

Web Expo Guildford- "Icon Design Process" - 26th September 2014

Beyond Tellerrand Berlin – 3rd-5th November 2014

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