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!

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

Sunday, 8 September 2013


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.