Category Archives: Cycling

Volunteering at Thirsk for LEL

I recently volunteered for a few days at the Thirsk Control for London Edinburgh London. I put up banners, sorted out chargers for riders GPSs and phones, found beds for people, served food, fixed bikes and marshalled people into the control. It was tiring, but with a great bunch of people to work with it was also good fun.

Here are a few of my photos.

Lego ginger cat

Siobhan’s cat

Light green bags with LONDON EDINBURGH LONDON 2017 written on them

The bag drop has landed

Pens, space blankets, banners, signs, torches, etc laid out on a desk

A wide variety of kit is needed to run the control

LEL 2017 banner on school gate

Banners to guide the riders in

James standing in front of two LEL banners

Proud of my handiwork!

USB chargers on table.

Lots of charging for GPS and phones

Metal barriers in the car park

Parking for hundreds of bikes

School gym with mattresses laid out

A few beds in the overflow hall

Large school sports hall with many mattresses ready

160 more beds in the main hall

Three audax riders arriving at Thirsk school

An early group arrive before dark on Sunday

Boy on mountain bike

Not an audaxer

Woman on shopping bike with basket.

Also not an audaxer, but it’s hard to tell from a distance, OK?

Volunteers in school corridor

Edwin and Kate doing sleep running

Bikes parked at night

Plenty of bikes making use of the parking facilities

Volunteers in canteen

James and James learning how to serve food – it’s harder than it looks.

Pasta, Rice, Curry, Meatballs in canteen

Ja, I vill have ze pasta wiz ze curry. OK…

Bikes parked in daylight

A fairly busy time.

Red velomobile

Wow

Bike on stand being serviced

James looks into another gearing problem.

Light blue frame and front derailleur

Stiff shifting to the big ring, gunk in the cable duct. Lubed up and it was good enough.

Knock Ventoux 2017

Few bike routes truly deserved the overused term “epic”, but I think Andy Corless’s Knock Ventoux 300km audax is a contender.

I rode this in June 2017 and here are my photos.

 

Tweaking the bike for Everesting

I’m planning my second Everesting, so thought that as well as climbing lots of hills to prepare my legs, I should do something to prepare my bike. I have one proper road bike which I use for club runs and audaxing. Audax is bikes are partly about comfort as over that kind of distance discomfort eventually becomes pain, which slows you down a lot. Anyway, it is supposed to be enjoyable, mostly. Maybe some type-2 fun, but hopefully not type-3.

I’ve pretty much decided on The Burway for my next Everesting, even though I won’t be the first.

Mods for Everesting

I’m conscious that with Everesting there’s a lot more climbing than even the hilliest audax. The Cambrian 200 is one of the hilliest and even that has under 4000m of climbing. Everesting means 8848m in as little as 180km. When climbing, weight makes a huge difference, so some of my modifications are to reduce weight. I’ve removed the mudguards, the bell and the pedal reflectors and swapped my dynamo hub wheel for a standard one. The weather looks good and I hope not to be riding too much into the dark, so hopefully this will be OK. I’ve also swapped out my Brooks leather saddle for a simpler and lighter Charge Spoon. If this isn’t quite as comfortable I’m hoping it won’t matter as I tend to stand up for the descents and maybe parts of the climbs.

I’ve switched to some 25mm Continental GP4000 tires I have but rarely use. These are fractionally lighter and also roll a bit faster, which is a bigger proportion of energy usage uphill when aerodynamics are negligible.

Scale showing 8.61kgI haven’t spent a huge amount of money to do this, just bought a couple of cheaper bits. No doubt you could save a bit more weight by spending more. The titanium frame is light, but not as light as some carbon ones. Still, I’ve got the weight down to 8.6kg.

The other significant change I made was in gear ratios. The Burway has a 20-25% section which I can easily get up with 34×29 when I’m fresh. However recent training rides on a 18% climb make me think that will become very hard after a few repetitions. I’d like to have the option of standing or sitting to climb, even when my legs are tired. So I had a look at Spa Cycles and found a cheap triple chainring that would do the job. the smallest ring is 22 teeth, which gives a lowest gain ratio of 1.4 (or 18.1 inches), compared to the 2.1 (or 28 inches) I had previously. At 90 RPM that’s 7.8kph, probably a realistic speed for the steepest part of the climb, though I expect my cadence will drop further when tired.

Small 22-tooth chainring mounted on titanium frame, missing larger rings

Very low gears with a 22-tooth chainring

I only have a shifter for a double chainring and didn’t want the hassle/expense of buying and setting up a full triple at the moment. So I thought I might as well remove the two larger rings and for that matter the front dérailleur. A little extra weight saved.

I can still shift between 32 and 11 tooth cogs on the back, but this means I can’t pedal fast enough much beyond 25kph, so I may be a bit slower on the flatter bits of the descent. I’m not too worried about this as I think the climbs are more important to the overall time. Ideally my front ring would be about 28 teeth, but I don’t have one of those without spending more money or pulling apart my hybrid.

Maintenance

I’ve also replaced the chain as it was getting worn and set the length of the new one for the small chainring. I guess when I switch back to my double I’ll need a new, longer one.

Broken aluminium nipple

Broken aluminium nipple

Horrible aluminium nipple with damaged head.

Horrible aluminium nipple with damaged head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also noticed recently that the fairly cheap wheels I bought about a year ago have had several nipple breakages, two when the wheel was just sitting in the garage. It looks like the nipples are made of aluminium rather than brass. Brass ones are a bit heavier (1g vs 0.4g by my measuring), but also more reliable. I don’t enjoy the prospect of nipples breaking while out on even a short ride, so I’ve laboriously replaced them all.

Hopefully all this will help me complete the Burway Everesting tomorrow!

 

 

Preparation for Everesting

A couple of years ago I everested Bowden hill in Wiltshire and found it a good challenge. I was the first person daft enough to do it. Since then I’ve been thinking about another hill to Everest.

For a long time I had my eye on Bwlch-y-groes aka Hellfire pass in North Wales, but last year Ian Barrington did it before me. More recently I’ve been thinking seriously about The Burway in Shropshire, but a couple of weeks ago Chris Winn did that one. Huge kudos to both these guys for amazing efforts on these famous climbs. However, I was a bit annoyed that I couldn’t be the first up either of these, which is what the Everesting.cc hall of fame focuses on.

Why?

I started wondering about whether I really needed to be the first to Everest a particular hill and for that matter why I do it at all – something which I feel I often have to explain to puzzled friends and family. Last time I was doing it for charity, but this time I’d rather do it for me. Partly because I don’t like asking people for money.

One reason I do these kind of challenging rides is that it adds a definite goal to aim for. Whether I’m training or modifying my bike or working out the route and logistics, it’s all more enjoyable with an aim in mind. If you don’t have a goal you can’t fail, but success is also rather meaningless. There’s no sense of anticipation or achievement. Some cyclists use racing or aiming for KOMs on Strava segments as goals, but I’ve never been much of a racer. I’ve assumed that, having only started cycling seriously in my thirties I was a bit old to be really fast over a short distance. But I feel I might be better suited to these longer and quite frankly, weirder challenges. If I really feel the need to get the “first ascent” on the hall of fame, am I doing it for bragging rights? A lot of people I know find my challenges more eccentric than impressive, so perhaps I am doing it for my own satisfaction. I’ve said before that everyone’s challenges are individual and in some ways hard to compare. I’ve judged that Everesting will be a challenge for me. Despite having done something similar before, I’m not sure I’ll be able to complete it with my current level of fitness, a different hill, different conditions, etc. That’s part of what makes it interesting.

So I’m still undecided about redoing a famous climb or trying to be first on a new one. Either way, I’ll need to prepare my bike.

Let me help you commute by bicycle

I regularly use my bike to get to work. Usually only for the short journey across town where I leave it at the station and take the train the rest of the way. Once every week or two I ride the full 25 miles to Bristol. It’s a nice way to start the day, saves the train fare and on at least one occasion has been quicker than waiting for severely delayed trains.

Hybrid bike with rack bag by canal

Hybrid bike set up for winter riding

However, I can remember a time when this kind of distance and the logistics of riding in to work seemed intimidating. How long would it take? Where could I secure my bike? Will I need lights? How do I carry my laptop and work clothes? Can I shower at work? What if I get a puncture?

I’ve now resolved these questions and my 18-year old hybrid is now my go-to form of transport for short journeys and sometimes longer ones.

Have you thought about making some or all of your journey to work by bike and never quite got around to it?

Cycling UK‘s Bike Week event is coming up (10th to 18th June) and in the spirit of encouraging more people to cycle, I’d like to offer to help those friends and colleagues who’ve never commuted by bike to give it a go.

I can give some advice on the practicalities, safety, route planning and, if you need a bit of extra motivation and you live or work nearby, I may even get up early to escort you to and from work the first time. Just ask and I’ll see if I can help. My guess is that when you give it a go, it won’t be as difficult as you think.

James in a white jersey with tandem in a country lane, rear seat is unoccupied.

Don’t have a suitable bike? How about joining me in the tandem sometime?

If you’re​ already comfortable commuting by bike, then have a think about how you could encourage others to do so.

A different kind of challenging

An audax has been described as a journey with an uncertain outcome. If everything goes well, the time limits are usually generous enough for people of a widely varying speeds to finish. However, they take place in the real world where expected things can and do go wrong and it pays to be well prepared. To my mind, this uncertainty adds to the sense of adventure and challenge, even if it is sometimes frustrating.

Having been ill with a persistent fever and cough for most of January, I was recovering physically and desperate to get out in the fresh air. So I booked 31st Jan off work and planned my first ride of the year – a 50km DIY audax with plenty of hills, plus a little bit to and from the start. If I took it slowly it should be a gentle start to the year which my unfit body and still-sensitive lungs could manage.

It was a damp and misty day, with the threat of rain. I don’t have the luxury of much flexibility in my spare time, so I wasn’t going to let that put me off. I’ve got some good waterproofs – trousers, jacket and socks, so I put it all on and set off. I got to the start at Upper Castle Combe in about half an hour, already warming up, so I stopped to take off the waterproofs as the rain had stopped. When I did so I realised that the batteries in my front light had dropped below the level where it will actually turn on, as had one of my two rear lights. Arguably these aren’t essential in the daylight, but I prefer to use them anyway, especially as it was so misty. After a bit of switching around I worked out that one of the batteries from my front light still had enough life in it to drive the extra rear light, so at least I’d be really visible from behind. I’m glad I used all AAs, but really I should’ve checked more carefully before leaving that they were all fully charged.

I set off and whizzed downhill through “the prettiest village in England“, dodging a few tourists who were out early. After several small ups and downs, I reached the highest point of the ride near Colerne where the mist and drizzle made visibility very poor. A bit of a shame as there are often good views from up here. Nevertheless I was happy to be out in the great outdoors feeling freedom and adventure. I felt like a caged bird set free. Albeit a slightly wheezy bird. But my lungs were 95% normal and my legs still seemed to know what to do. I was happy to amble along without expecting to break any personal records.

By now I was a bit chilly again and, knowing I had a long descent ahead of me, re-donned waterproofs. Thankfully the journey through Bath was easy and unhindered by traffic. Once out in the countryside again I enjoyed some unfamiliar scenery. The last time I rode down there was two years ago, so it made a nice change. Things got seriously steep riding in and out of Wellow, but at times the mist cleared and there were glimpses of the views I’d hoped for. I returned to Bath via the two tunnels cycle path which I always enjoy. It’s a gentle gradient and a good surface, so progress is easy in either direction. Mid-morning on a weekday, there were few pedestrians about, but I was surprised by one in dark clothing – shame my front light wasn’t working.

Once out of Bath I had a choice of two climbs, the narrow, quiet, meandering Steway lane, or the busier Bannerdown hill. The latter is the obvious choice downhill as it’s possible to safely pick up speed, but on the return journey Steway lane usually makes for a more relaxing route, especially at busy times. However, the surface often gets a bit “agricultural”. In the light of the recent damp weather, I chose the simpler and cleaner Bannderdown hill, taking the long climb into the mist steadily.

As I approached the top I noticed a lot of noise from the rear tyre. A puncture. Disappointing as this one had gone on my last ride too. Never mind, I found a gap by a farm gate and looked for the hole. Normally I take the tyre and tube off and inflate then listen for the escaping air, but in this case the tube wouldn’t stay up long enough to do this. I thought this meant it was a pretty big hole, but I couldn’t see anything. Maybe the valve had failed. A light misty rain was falling and I was getting impatient. I checked around the inside of the tyre for anything sharp, but found nothing. Yes, must be the valve gone. I put my spare inner tube into the tyre and set off to finish the climb. I’d barely got twenty metres when the back went down again. I yelled some bad words into the mist and walked it up to the large lay by at the top of the hill.

In as few mins I had a glue patch applied and was putting air back into the tyre. The problem was that it wasn’t staying in the tyre. Sighing, I got the levers back out and removed the tyre again. I only had one spare tube, so I had to fix this somehow. Part of the patch had stuck, but air was escaping from the other side. More glue on that side and try again. Nope, it still won’t hold air. Maybe a whole new patch? How about the Park Tools self-adhesive patches? A bit better, but still not good enough. Maybe the ubiquitous grime and moisture was the problem? I tried wiping the tyre down with some spare clothing from my bag, one of the few really dry things I had. This seemed to help a bit, but still didn’t quite do the job. Each time it failed I had a small outburst of frustration, before regaining my calm and trying again. I’ve fixed loads of punctures, why can’t I do this one? After an hour and a half I was considering whether to walk home. It would take three hours and I wouldn’t be able to validate my DIY audax, but at least I’d be back for dinner.

Just then another cyclist arrived. Chelsea was on her first tour from Bath to Oxford and she was having issues with her gears shifting into the spokes. This can be seriously bad news and even wreak a wheel. I did my best to help her by adjusting the limit screws, but I’m not sure it was totally fixed. It had been a lonely ride up to this point, so a bit of chat was welcome. She also kindly gave me an inner tube – I got the impression it was her only one. I felt a bit bad taking it. Fingers crossed her Gatorskin tyres are tough enough for her journey.

We said goodbye and, unsure of how much time I had to complete my ride, I sped off at a faster-than-usual pace. Thankfully the worst of the hills were behind me and there was a slight tailwind, so I made good progress. Later I found I’d finished with about five minutes to spare!

The ride was certainly difficult, but not to for the fitness-related reasons I had expected. Often long-distance riding provides more mental than physical challenges, but I’d rather not repeat this experience. Inspecting my rear tyre on my return, I found it full of tiny cuts and with little tread left. My Strava history suggests it might’ve done around 9000km – far more than I’d usually expect, so I’ll replace it before the next ride. I also plan to carry two spare tubes with me in future, partly for those times when I mess up but also so I can donate one to someone else without leaving myself at risk of getting stuck.

Hopefully Chelsea reached her destination safely and without needing her spare inner tube.

The Rough Diamond Rough Statistics

Mark Rigby’s Rough Diamond is described as a “fast 300” on good roads and, being in July, the weather is usually better than 300s in the Spring. Ideal for those attempting this distance for the first time, like my wife Erica, so we did the ride together on the tandem. It’s a great ride and I’d recommend it to anyone doing this distance for the first time.

Many cyclists, myself included, track their rides on GPS analysis sites such as Strava. After the ride you can pore over the statistics to find out how your speed varied and, with additional sensors, where your power output dipped, your heart rate shot up or your cadence was sub-optimal. Besides a thorough approach to training, I think there’s a lot to be said for using these sites for nostalgic reliving or sharing rides, adding photos or planning future routes. It can be motivational too. Trying to beat my personal records on Strava was what got me back into cycling properly some five years ago. But, liking gadgets as I do, I know I’m at risk of being sucked into obsessing over performance data. Erica teases me about uploading my rides before I’ve even had a shower. So whenever I’m on an audax I defiantly tell myself I’m “out for a good time, not a fast time”, taking in the scenery, chatting to people I meet on the way and enjoying the adventure.

Those at the very front or back of the field may have more reason to scrutinise their average speeds. Indeed, it’s prudent even for those of us normally in the bulgy bit of the bell curve to keep one eye on the clock as I know from my failure to complete PBP last year. But, for many audaxers, the additional data is not of much interest and might even be considered a distraction from the enjoyment of the ride.

I enjoy looking at visual data, like that presented in the book Information Is Beautiful. So I produced a graph tracking what I thought was interesting on the ride. The result may not be exactly beautiful, but I thought it was interesting. Everyone will have their own opinions about what makes a great ride; the variables I’ve described with the graph are the ones which Erica and I thought were important. They’re also not very precise because we tried to reconstruct them later. I guess we could’ve carefully noted each one every fifteen minutes to get accurate results, but we didn’t want any distractions from navigation, chatting and looking at the view. Besides, that would probably be more annoying than constantly checking our cadence. Maybe one day someone will make sensors to measure some of this directly!

Thin green: Elevation profile. The only variable I’ve taken from the GPS track. It helps to work out where we are on the route and you can see how the climbs and descents affected the other lines. It includes the short ride to and from our accommodation.

Light blue: Social interaction. You’re never alone on a tandem, but we still enjoyed chatting with other riders, or just cruising along with them on the flatter sections.

Dark blue: Clothing dampness. This was affected not only by the morning’s rain but by riding up hill a bit too quickly without shedding layers.

Purple: Hunger. A rough average between myself and Erica as we seemed to get hungry at about the same time on this ride.

Brown: Scenery. Plenty of interest along the route, but some definite highlights including lakes, rivers and architecture.

Red: Morale/confidence. Again an average between the two of us. This was greatly affected by everything else we tracked and some particular events which I’ve marked on the graph.

rough_diamond_in_graphs

Side view of B&M Linetec light bodge-mounted on Carrdice rack

Rear bike lights round-up comparison review thing

As LEDs have become cheaper and brighter in recent years, there’s been a proliferation of bike lights, which makes choosing one difficult. Many of them can be had for under ten pounds but there are also plenty of premium super-bright rear lights available. For those with a particular obsession with gadgets, Garmin have created a light which uses radar to detect approaching cars, adjusting the light and warning you via your GPS display. Sounds fun, but I find it hard to believe it would make me any safer than listening for approaching cars. For deaf cyclists, I imagine it would be very helpful.

My search for the perfect rear light

I try to keep it simple. I need a reliable light that will keep me safe on long rides including audaxes in all kinds of conditions. There are other, more comprehensive bike light comparisons out there. This article is limited to the few (OK, quite a few now I list them) that I’ve tried. So far I’ve not quite found the perfect light for every situation, but I’ve tried some really good ones, each with different drawbacks.

Criteria

My preferences may differ from others, but here’s an explanation of what I’m looking for and my thinking behind it. I tend to carry a rear light on every ride in case I’m delayed by a mechanical problem or just want extra daylight visibility. I do use a dynamo front light for longer rides, but I’ve not got around to rigging a rear light up to this as well. Even if I did, I’m sure if want a spare in case it failed for any reason.

AA/AAA batteries: I always use lights with rechargeable AA or AAA batteries. The main reason is that, in an emergency, spares can be bought anywhere. Pretty much any corner shop or late-night service station will stock AA and AAA, albeit the non-rechargeable kind. I prefer rechargeable batteries (usually Eneloops) as I feel like less of an environmental criminal. Obviously, if I get caught out, I’m not going to put myself at risk and ride illegally, I’ll hold my nose and buy some Duracell. Plenty of USB-rechargeable lithium-ion lights claim to last 20+ hours, which should be enough, but lithium ion batteries tend to wear out after a few years and usually can’t be replaced. If I forget to charge it or find the cell is losing its mojo, I don’t want to discover that on a Welsh mountain pass at 11pm. Sure, I could take a USB charger with me, but it’s quicker and easier to simply swap the batteries. Most of the electronics I have on the bike, including my GPS, takes AA batteries and they’ll typically last well, though this depends on the light. As they’re all the same type, I can carry fewer spares.

Night time visibility: In the UK it’s a legal requirement to have lights and reflectors after dark. A rear light for riding in the dark doesn’t need to be especially bright, but the illuminated area (the height and width of the light itself) should be large or there should be several lights separated by some distance. This can help drivers to judge your position and speed. This is harder with flashing lights, but they are more easily noticed, especially in busy urban environments. So a combination of different lights seems the best approach to me. Also, bright flashing lights can be dazzling to other road users, especially when riding in groups, so any way to reduce this is a good thing.

Daylight visibility: Being seen by road traffic during the day is just as important and there’s some research which shows a reduction in accident rates for bicycles with daytime running lights. These lights are about getting you noticed. Once you’ve been noticed, it should be easy for driver with the benefit of daylight to judge your location and speed. With all that daylight to compete with, a daytime running light should be small and bright, possibly flashing. Many lights include a lens which focuses the light into a narrower cone within which it can be seen over a long distance. However, if used at night, unless these are adjusted carefully, which isn’t always possible, they can be unpleasant for following cyclists and even drivers. Drivers who are part-blinded or infuriated are not much better than those who haven’t seen you.

Smart light with broken clip

Above: broken clip – it looks like the newer models are more robust in this area.

Robustness: Aside from the obvious frustration of having a light fail, longer rides mean a potentially long stretch in the dark without a light if one should fail. The vast majority of rear lights with replaceable batteries have a battery compartment which is kept shut with stiff plastic clips. These are often opened by wedging a coin into a slot and twisting. This bends the clips a little, popping the case open. There are several problems with this. First is that the clips often break, especially in cold weather which can make the plastic brittle.

Secondly, sometimes they’re too loose and the light falls apart when you ride over a bump, dropping half of it in the road, often unnoticed.  CatEye Omni mounted on saddle bag with lens and batteries missingThere are various bodges to work around this, including elastic bands and tape, but they make changing the batteries more of a faff. The better solution is a battery compartment that is closed with a screw.

The other aspect of robustness is waterproofing. When it’s raining you need the light more than ever and I’ve heard plenty of reports of leaky lights. Luckily, all the ones I’ve tried have kept the water out so far but there are numerous reports of otherwise good lights malfunctioning in rain.

Lights I’ve tried

Smart Superflash mounted on seatstay showing tape holding it together.Smart Superflash 0.5W, 2xAAA

http://www.chainreactioncycles.com/smart-superflash-1-2-watt-rear-light/rp-prod56546

A basic and popular light. Two modes, flashing and constant. Above average battery life. Bright enough main LED for daylight use. Can be dazzling. Plastic clips can come undone when bumped. Others have reported water ingress issues. Overal: 6/10

Smart rl321r held in fingers, showing broken clipSmart Rl321r – 2 Red 0.5w Superflash, 2xAAA

http://www.halfords.com/cycling/bike-lights/bike-lights/smart-rl321r-0-5w-0-5w-2-red-0-5w-superflash-leds

Features two very bright LEDs, lots of modes, including a slowly pulsing one which I guess may be less annoying to other riders. Plastic clips broke when opened at about 2 deg C. In the photos of recent models the clips look a bit sturdier, so maybe that has been improved.

Gives a good daylight flash for about ten hours on rechargeables. Overall: 7/10

Mars 1.1 with rubber strapBlackburn Mars 1.1, 2xAAA

http://www.blackburndesign.com/en_eu/mars-1-1-rear.html

Not especially bright, so perhaps not the best daytime choice, but the 3 LEDs offer good all round visibility for longer than average. Haven’t had any trouble with the plastic clips and basic rubber washer, but not really tested this in extreme conditions. Cost well under ten pounds. Overall: 6/10

Two LED light with button between the LEDsMetro flash Dangerzone, 2xAAA

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/NEW-MetroFlash-Danger-Zone-Tail-Light-/171708741341

Probably the brightest light that runs on 2 AAAs at the time of writing. Really unpleasant to be behind. Despite the claims on the box (usually for alkaline batteries), I found it barely lasted two hours with rechargeables on constant mode.

Could be good for a busy commute or in rain or fog.

The plastic clips holding the battery compartment shut broke so I used an elastic band to hold it together. Once I forgot to do this and it split apart when I went over a bump losing the light and batteries. The button is easy to press when riding, but can also be accidentally turned on when in a bag or pocket. Overall: 4/10

 

Glowing red stick with two black rubber ends on a dark backgroundFibre flare shorty, 2xAAA

http://fibreflare.com/products/fibre-flare-shorty-red

A rather different design featuring a bar of light with a battery compartment at each end. Can be bent slightly and mounted in all sorts of creative ways and helmets, bags, seat stays, etc. Comes in a few different colours. Not especially bright, but covers more area than most, so may make it easier to locate you at night. However it’s almost useless in daylight. Rechargeable batteries last at least ten hours, more when flashing. Had slight water ingress problems until I smeared some silicon grease under the rubber caps. UPDATE: Bending by an enthusiastic child has stopped the light working. I might be able to fix it. Overall: 7/10

CatEye Omni5 with plastic bracketCateye Omni 5, 2xAAA

http://www.cateye.com/intl/products/detail/TL-LD155-R/

A good all-rounder for about ten pounds. Five moderately bright LEDs and a clear/red plastic body mean it can be seen from every angle. 3 modes, one of which is a bit headache-inducing. Daylight visibility is ok and it runs bright enough on rechargeables when set to flash. The body is rather brittle and can easily fall apart going over a bump, ditching the batteries and half the light on the ground. Overall: 6/10

Side view of B&M Linetec light bodge-mounted on Carrdice rackB&M Linetec senso, 1xAA

http://en.bumm.de/produkte/akku-ruecklicht/toplight-line.html

Probably my favourite rear light. It’s the battery version of a popular dynamo light and can be set to always on or “senso” mode which turns on in the dark if the bike is moving. There’s no flashing mode. When you stop it waits a few minutes before turning off. This prompts helpful people to tell you that you’ve left your light on whenever you park at night, but otherwise it’s a nice feature that means less faff. It’s a large “spatial” light with a wide reflector which glows at night, all of which should make it easy for drivers to work out how far away you are. The light shines evenly across a wide area so is visible from nearly 180 degrees without being dazzling. Daylight visibility is below average, but probably still worth using if you don’t have another light. Amazingly a single rechargeable AA battery will keep it going for over 30 hours; I tested it at home. The main downside is mounting. It has two bolts spaced 80mm or 50mm apart and will fit nicely on most rear racks. If you don’t have a rack there are are various ways to bodge it but, depending on your bike and luggage this may be a showstopper for some. It’s a sensible, grown up light for tourers, commuters or anyone who knows they’ll be riding a fair distance in the dark. Coupled with a small flashing light it is probably the best option. Overall: 9/10

Rear light with silver body, red bezel and clear front with rubber strap behindBlackburn Local 20, 2xAA

http://www.blackburndesign.com/en_eu/local-20-rear-light.html

This is a recent purchase that I’ve only used on a couple of rides so far. However it seems sturdy in spite of the common plastic clips closure. It’s a bit bigger and heavier than most rear lights, but can still be mounted on a seatpost or bag. In a home test I got more than 24 hours of constant light out of it before it started to look a bit dim. There are also two flashing modes. Daylight visibility is poor due to the lack of a focusing lens leaving two tiny pin pricks of light that seem to get lost. At night however, the whole thing glows beautifully and is visible from a wide range of angles without being too dazzling. It fills a similar role to the B&M Linetec above, but is more compact. I may keep it handy as a backup light or place to store spare AA batteries in my bag. The RRP is about twenty pounds, but it can be found for less. UPDATE: This light fell apart, presumably when going over a bump, resulting in the light and batteries being lost. I think this was partly due to the angle it was at on a loose bag which might have created a “whiplash” effect adding to the downwards force. On my Carradice saddlebag it has been fine for a year or so. As they’re only ten pounds I’ve bought another. Even so I’m dropping the score by a point. Overall: 8/10 Overall: 7/10

Conclusion

As you can see there are many decent lights out there so it’s all a bit different horses for stroking different blokes’ cats. Or something.

For any long ride I will have my B&M Linetec with me and I’m considering getting another for my commuting hybrid. I would also usually take the Smart Rl321r hooked onto my Carradice bag for daylight visibility or rain or fog. I also often pack the Mars 1.1 as a spare inside the bag, if only as a place to store spare AAA batteries for the Smart Rl321r. If I was travelling light after dark and only had space for one small light, I’d take the Local 20.

Tandem handlebars from flat to drop

Tandem with straight bars

The original handlebar set up.

In the last couple of years we’ve started using our tandem for longer rides and are looking at ways to make the bike more comfortable. We did some touring on it years ago, but now we’re riding 200k+ audaxes, where comfort is arguably even more important than when touring due to the time limit and limited time off the bike. As the stoker Erica tells me she’s very comfortable since we had a bike fit and she switched to a wide bullhorn bar with thick tape. With no need to steer she can easily change position on the bars or even let go or hold the saddle for a change when we’re going slowly. The tandem typically gives a very nice ride due to the long wheelbase, steel frame and 35mm tyres.

Flat bar issues

However, on my flat bars I’ve been stuck with a single hand position for an all day ride, which has caused some aches, particularly at the back of my neck and shoulders. I’ve never been able to ride no-handed and I don’t think it would be at all safe to do so on a tandem, as the stoker can shift their weight unexpectedly.

I don’t get this pain on my drop bar road bike even on much longer rides, so I wondered what the difference was. My current theory is the space between my hands. On the road bike this is at most 40cm, but on the tandem it’s always 50cm. I think this means my upper back has to work harder to bridge the gap and support my weight when leaning forward on the tandem. The usual advice for this is:-

Handlebars should be shoulder width apart (measured from acromion to acromion across the anterior chest) and comfortable.  Handlebars that are too wide may cause excessive trapezius and rhomboid strain leading to muscle spasm and pain.
roadcycling.com on Neck and Back pain

The other possibility is that the tandem simply takes more arm and shoulder strength to manoeuvre, but I think narrower bars with more hand positions are worth a try.

Drop bar conversion

With that in mind I’ve picked a drop bar that is 42cm wide. This should give me enough leverage for the heavier bike and plenty of narrower hand positions. It has a very shallow drop and short reach as I figured it wouldn’t make a huge difference to aerodynamics on a tandem. If I tuck down lower at the front it means I won’t be shielding the stoker from the wind quite so well. I imagine there are still gains there, but I assume a 20mm lower front position won’t be noticeably faster.

Hubbub adapter partly pushed into the Rohloff

Hubbub adapter partly pushed into the Rohloff

But there’s an additional complication to this set up. The tandem has a rohloff speedhub which normally needs a twist shifter. This is tricky to get onto drop bars. There have been quite a few ideas to make the rohloff work with drop bars, some of them rather expensive and fiddly to set up. I’ve gone for one of the simplest and cheapest options by putting it on an extension to the left-hand end of the drop. The extension is called a hubbub and has an expanding end so you can tighten it up inside the handlebar with an allen key. The shifter then clamps onto this as it would the bar. Having to reach down for this is another reason I wanted a small drop on the bars. I want to make it as easy as possible to change hand positions. I tried out Thorn’s Mercury a few years ago which, if I remember correctly, had a split bar with a twist shifter on the tops, near the stem clamp. The problem for me was that I don’t spend much time in the tops, preferring the hoods or drops. So reaching up for the shifter took some effort and I was putting a lot of weight on one arm to do it. Even on a short test ride this got annoying; on a longer one I guess it could actually become painful.

Putting it all together

Cutting a bit off the end of the bars so it's not so far back.

Cutting a bit off the end of the bars so it’s not so far back.

I spent a little under a hundred pounds on new kit, including Cinelli drop bars, Tektro RL520 Aero V Brake Levers, the hubbub adapter and SRAM bar tape. Luckily I already had a suitable stem leftover from a previous bike fit tweak to my wife’s hybrid. I held these up to the bike before fitting and did some rough calculations which confirmed that the hoods would be no further away from the saddle than on my audax bike. The bars were a little higher with respect to the saddle, but the only downside to this would be a slight aerodynamic loss and I could easily move them down later as there were still two 10mm headset spacers under the stem.

Rusty brake/shifter cables

Rusty brake/shifter cables

While I was doing the work I realised that the brake cables were getting a bit rusty, which is not surprising after at least twelve years use in all weathers. So I replaced the cables and outers, which was a bit fiddly but, even with the longer frame of the tandem, it cost less than five pounds. After I’d done this the rear brake seemed to have a lot of resistance in it compared to the front one. I can’t quite remember whether this was always the case, so I checked to see if anything was sticking.

Each part seemed fairly free and I could still get plenty of force through to the rear brake, so I decided it was good enough to try out there road.

I also added a small mirror to the opposite end of the bars though, being further inboard than the previous one, I’m not sure it will be worth it.

Test run

We took the bike out for a twenty km spin with a couple of steep hills. At slow speeds, especially starting off, I didn’t have as much leverage and fine control of the steering with the narrower bars, but once above walking pace they felt natural and I could even climb out of the saddle if I was careful. It was possible to hit my knee on the shifter, but didn’t happen often. What was not so good was that the shifter came loose and started rotating in the bar. The rohloff is quite easy to use, but each change does required a bit of force to get it to click. This soon became impossible without putting two hands on the shifter which was totally impractical and unsafe. So we stopped and found a suitable compromise gear to take us home.

Back in the garage I realised that the hubbub adapter wasn’t gripping the inside of the handlebar properly. I thought I’d got it as tight as possible with the shorter end of the allen key, the long end being required to reach down inside the adapter to the nut. If I had to epoxy the thing in it rather defeats the point of the hubbub adapter over a lump of wood or pipe. Online advice suggested that it just needed more torque, so I hunted around the garage for something to extend the small allen key lever. A bit of metal pipe would’ve done, but I was lucky to find an old suspension seat post. Miraculously, this is adjusted with an allen key in the bottom of the same size as the hubbub – 6mm. With a foot-long lever I could apply much more torque and it now shows no signs of moving. We’ve done a three-hour ride since and I’m confident enough to give it a go on a 220km audax at the weekend, which will be a real test of comfort.

New_bars

Finished and cleaned.

EDIT: After riding a 200 and 300km events (including one 1 in 4 climb) with this set up, I’m mostly pleased with it, but getting out of the saddle on a climb can result in  bashing my knee on the shifter unless I’m really careful. A sharp corner of it actually cut my knee on two occasions, so I may think about putting some tape over it or just stay seated.

Script for Garmin eTrex 30 barometer

If you use Strava and a Garmin eTrex 30 and care about that the climbing figures you get are accurate, then you may be disappointed that Strava is ignoring the barometric data the eTrex 30 gives you and working it out roughly by itself, presumably through the average elevation of large map tiles or similar.

There is a simple fix for this, as pointed out by tubbycyclist of yacf:-

A generic “with barometer” device is provided to force the system to use the elevation data from TCX and GPX file types. One only needs to add “with barometer” to the end of the creator name.

Easy enough with a text editor, but a bit of a faff to do every time you upload.

So I’ve created some scripts to make it easier. My idea is that these scripts will be kept in the root directory of the GPS so that they’re always accessible at the same relative path to the file(s) they are editing. There are different scripts for different operating systems, so they should work even on unfamiliar computers. So when travelling and using other people’s computers, they should still work.

Windows

This Windows Script uses PowerShell 1.0, so should work on  Windows XP SP2 or later. I’ve tested it on Windows 8 and 10. It’s the first bit of PowerShell I’ve written, so any comments are welcome.

Opening up a powershell window and running this script isn’t a lot quicker than editing the file manually, so I’ve also created a clickable shortcut to the script as described here. This avoids having to change the script execution policy on the machine, making an exception for this script only.

  • In Windows Explorer, create a new shortcut in the root folder of the GPS device (this might be E:\ or F:\).
  • Right-click on the new shortcut, and choose “Properties”.
  • Change the shortcut’s Target to the following:
    %SystemRoot%\system32\WindowsPowerShell\v1.0\powershell.exe -ExecutionPolicy Bypass -File "add_barometer.ps1" 
    
  • You may also want to name the shortcut something like “windows_add_barometer.ps1.link”.
  • Click “OK”.

Linux

This Linux script uses generic linux shell commands and has been tested on Ubuntu 14.04 and 16.04. It can be run from the command line with: sh linux_add_barometer.sh or possibly by double-clicking the file if you use one of the methods described here. I’m certainly not a bash expert, so again, your comments are welcome.

Mac

I’m told that it’s possible to run *nix shell scripts under Mac OS, so the Linux solution may work with some tweaking. I’ll update this post when I’ve tried it.