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...

*Snigger*

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

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Tyres

It's all been about the tyres these last couple of weeks. 

The story began when I left the Dahon for a couple of hours in the office of a company where I work sometimes.  However, when I came to cycle back to my own office, I noticed that the front tyre was flat as a pancake.  I had a quick look to see if there was anything obvious sticking in it but on discovering nothing untoward, I whipped out the pump and reinflated.  I cycled back to the office without further incident.

I generally use "Slime" in the tyres on my bikes - a self-sealing compound designed to plug small leaks as they happen. 



I have had some very positive experiences of its ability to seal a puncture (especially on a cold, dark night when changing a tube or fitting a patch would have been more of a pain).  However, I am starting to go off the stuff and I'll explain why...

My usual experience of punctures has been that one either notices the offending thorn or piece of glass/wire/roadside detritus sticking out of the tyre or a small quantity of the delightfully green "Slime" goo leaking out before it plugs the hole.  However, in this case, I found neither and have to confess that my first reaction was that someone had played a schoolboy prank and let my tyre down.  I resolved to have a look later on and see what was up but as the tyre inflated well and stayed inflated, I didn't bother and then ultimately, forgot altogether.

Anyway last week, during a bit of routine maintenance, I decided to remove the tyre and take a look.  I found that I did indeed have a puncture, as evidenced by the amount of green stuff wetting the inside of the tyre.  Much more disturbingly, I noticed that the tyre, where it had been in contact with the leaky patch had worn right through one layer of reinforcement.  I didn't get a picture but the damage was a patch anout 5cm by 3cm where the inner layer of fabric had completely worn away.  Clearly this is not a good thing for the structural integrity of the tyre!  I have little idea how it happened, except perhaps by the "Slime" lubricating the surfaces of the tyre and tube allowing them to rub against one another while the tyre rotated. 

As a secondary matter, I also found that I had a smaller hole in the inner tube which I'd never even noticed had happened.  To be honest, it's not the first time that a puncture has gone unnoticed but it is the first time that other, more serious damage has been concealed.

I changed the tyre to an old one I have as a spare (one of the original Dahon Rotolos) and cycled to work the following morning as usual.  However, it did get me thinking about the disadvantages of "Slime":

  1. It's easy to get a puncture and never even notice.  OK this is the point of the stuff but if having a bit of slime sloshing around in the tyre after a leak is going to cause damage, it kind of defeats the object. 
  2. I've also found that when patching the damaged innertube, the "Slime has a tendency to push out of the leak underneath the patch and unstick it from the tyre.  Not a good thing on the move and infuriating when trying to repair a bike late at night before needing it for the commute.
I think that "Slime" has a place and I suppose that if I'd been more organised I'd have removed my tyre the night the puncture occurred and found the problem sooner.  However, on another bike I've found punctures long after the last time I'd ridden the bike because the "Slime" had sealed the small leak before it became noticable.  I don't really want to be removing the tyres every week as part of any routine maintenance either. 

However, every cloud has its silver lining.  As I had to replace the front tyre, I took the opportunity to replace the rear as well with a pair of these:



I've long wanted a pair but have always stopped short of forking out.  However, I have heard and read such good things about their robustness that I spent the extra to find out how good they really are.  My first impression is that they are very sturdily built tyres and the thickness of the tyre crown is impressive indeed.  It would have tobe a long, sharp and tough foreign body in order to make its way through one of them to cause a puncture.

My brother-in-law has done thousands of touring miles on Marathons and trusts them to the point that he no longer carries patches or a tube.  I'm a little less certain and know that the day I don't have a repair option will be the day something makes its way through one of them.  However, I won't be using "Slime" in them.  At the worst I'll get a puncture on the aforementioned cold, wet ride home and have to pull into a garage/shop/mate's house to swap the innertube.  I've carried out this operation so many times now that I'm much more confident of my ability.  The only time in the past when this strategy has failed was when I couldn't actually remove the rear wheel because of the poor quality of spannner I was carrying.  I now carry a good quality adjustable one so that won't be an issue again.

Hopefully I won't have to eat my words but I'll let you know how I get on.






Friday, 23 August 2013

A "microadventure"

The other day, by a happy combination of events and mouse clicks, I came across Alastair Humphreys’ (@Al_Humphreys) blog via Twitter.  Click this link to go and have a look.

If you’ve not read it then you should.  Alistair is an adventurer with an impressive list of achievements under his belt, in his rucksack or wherever adventurers keep achievements.  However, he is also a keen advocate of what he’s termed “microadventures”.  It’s a wonderful encouragement to those of us with a family and a 9-5 that adventures are there for all to experience and needn’t be expensive, long-distance or in a far-flung place for them to be adventures nonetheless. 
There are some fabulous ideas on Alastair’s blog and so on Wednesday, buoyed up by inspiration from the blog and motivated by a) nice weather outside and b) a dull afternoon stuck in the office, I set out for an inaugural microadventure of my own.

I usually cycle to work using a local commuter train to break the journey up.  However on several occasions, where train congestion or cancellation has made it necessary, I’ve cycled all the way home.  Wednesday was the first time I’ve ridden the Dahon door-to-door just for the fun of it.  I also did a small amount of planning, choosing a new route that which I’ve not cycled before.  All I can say is that it was brilliant!  Just doing something you’ve chosen to do is very empowering and refreshing in the fact that it’s beyond the mundane.

My lack of photographic ability (read "laziness") means I didn’t take any pictures but the highlights and things I learned were:
  • Taking new routes to go places you often visit is fun.  Worrying about how you’ll negotiate a busy traffic junction 2 miles ahead is not necessary as things have a way of sorting themselves out.
  • Cycling through places that you know well, albeit by car is very revealing.  You notice so much more from a bike than through the window of a car.
  • Even the fairly mundane can feel adventurous.  As I passed traffic queue after traffic queue on my way across the city, I felt brilliant knowing that my choice was a far better one than being stuck nose to tail in a tin box.  I’ve been there, done that and don’t want to go back.
  • Cycling home is not such a slow choice!  While I try very hard not to get caught up in the numbers and fret about average speed etc. I couldn’t help setting my stopwatch going when I left the office.  Google maps had the journey at 22.5 miles and I cycled it comfortably in 1:27 – an average speed of over 15 mph!  That’s not bad going for anyone so for a bloke on a 3-speed folding bike, I’m happy indeed*.
  • Best of all, when I got home, the kids had filled a large paddling pool in the garden so I stripped down to my shorts and leapt into the cold water.  Bracing indeed but just the tonic after a hot, sweaty commute!

I spend a lot of the time in my head on the Dahon thinking about adventures I could have with it.  They’ve gone from the mild (cycling the length of a local Sustrans route) to the reasonable (coast-to-coast) to the serious (coast to coast – Wales to Norfolk) to the very serious (Land’s End to John O’Groats) to the mega serious (cycling to Istanbul).  While all of those are doable I’m sure, the immediate needs of a family to support and job to do so mean that long periods of time off (for the bigger ones) would need some planning and negotiation.

Thanks to Alastair’s microadventures blog, I’ve shifted my thinking in a whole new direction to adventures that I can have here and now, with the Dahon, in and around the other demands of life.
There will definitely be more to follow…


 

* That is my once in 18 months speed-obsessive moment.  I’ll get back to my usual “pretending I couldn’t care less” attitude, now

 

Friday, 16 August 2013

Ouch!

Well last week, after just over 5,500 miles of communting on my bike, I managed to face-plant the pavement in a bike accident for the first time since childhood.

It was just a normal Monday morning cycling to work and not in much of a rush.  It had rained a hour or two earlier and the raods were wet but I have ridden in much, much worse conditions.  However, I turned left from a main road onto a side street and BANG, the bike shot straight out from under me, dumping me unceremoniously on the road! 

I had no time to catch myself, and my hands, elbows, knees and face all hit the floor with a quite bump.  I got up pretty quickly and made sure that my teeth were still intact (which mercifully they were) but the amount of blood I managed to wipe on my sleeve and spit out told of at least one decent injury.

I pedalled the last couple of miles to work so that I could assess the damage:

  • Deep cut on top lip where face hit the floor
  • Deep cut inside top lip (but thankfully not all the way through as an exploratory blow revealed)
  • Skinned knees
  • Bruised elbows
  • Bruised hands
  • Bruised pride
The deep cut warranted a quick trip to A&E where they stuck me (literally, with Super Glue) back together but I was back on my bike the following morning.  The only damage to the bike was a broken bottle cage which I have still yet to replace.

Ouch!

The damage to my lid


Lessons learned:

As I stood up fromt he road, I noticed a large patch of oil/diesel which is what I presume I crashed on.  Diesel is the bane of the cyclist/motorcyclist but is very hard to spot on the move.  It turns a wet road into little more than an icerink - I can't overstate how quickly the bike went down!  Keep your eyes peeled folk.

As I sat waiting in the hospital, I actually though "fat lot of good wearing a helmet did me" as I had only felt my face hit the floor.  I took the helmet out of my bag for a look and found a deep dent/scratch in the front of it!  If I hadn't had it on, the damage to my face would have been much worse.  That I hadn't felt that particular impact must be (in part) because the polystyrene shell absorbed some of it. 

The crash had nothing to do with the quality driving of the observational powers of car users.  It could have happened on a short ride as much as a long one and no other vehicles were involved.   Yet wearing a helmet saved me from more serious injury, of that I'm in no doubt.   It's up to you of course but I'll always wear a lid from now on.  Having dinged the black one significantly, I have bought another this week (an nice blue and silver Bell, of which more later).

Hopefully it'll be at least another 5,500 miles before another fall from the bike but one in a year and a half of riding isn't bad going I reckon.  Just one of those things.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Seasons change

This evening, for the first time in a long time, I left work under clear skies with the sun on my back. It's so mild that my standard winter combination of skull-cap, buff, micro-fleece and waterproof is far too hot. Again, for the first time in a long time!

At this rate, I'll be home before dark (yet again, for the first time....etc) so I may even revert to my "fair weather" route home through the lanes. I'd better strip off a couple of layers (with apologies to the rest of the passengers on this train) and break out the shades.

When you're out in the elements daily, as we cycle commuters are, you really get to feel the seasons changing. Today, there is a definite sense of having come out on the other side if winter and into longer, lighter and (occasionally) warmer days. It's a good feeling.

Spring is springing and life is good!