Minor upgrades and tweaks

Having ridden the “new” bike for about 1000 kilometres now, I’ve made a few changes, mostly for comfort and convenience, whilst adding weight. I think many cyclists get too obsessed about weight and forget that they don’t have a dedicated team with a van full of spares to replace flimsy components the moment they break.

Spot the differences...

Spot the differences…

Yes, for the same effort, heavier bikes go slower up hills and are slower to accelerate, but being in pain or having mechanical failures is also slow.

Nothing I’ve done is permanent, so if I want to do a sprint up a hill in a foolish attempt to beat some Strava record, I can convert it back to lightweight mode.

Keeping clean

As I’d always planned, the first thing was to add mudguards. I’m not a fair-weather rider and in this country you don’t get much riding done if you are. If you’re just dashing out for an hour, then getting wet isn’t a big deal, but on a longer ride having the bike, luggage and yourself blasted with muddy, gritty water gets a bit tiresome. Secondly, I’m now doing a bit more riding in groups and I think it’s far more friendly to the rider behind if your rear wheel isn’t behaving like an angry skunk. I got SKS Bluemels (almost all mudguards seem to be made by SKS). They’re pretty narrow and will fit a tyre up to 28mm. I think they look fine.

Weight added: ~500g

Head space

Two 10mm spacers under the stem.
Two 10mm spacers under the stem. Reflective tape on the bar.

On the Chiltern 100 I’d suffered a bit from sore and numb hands. I already have well padded gloves and plenty of hand positions. Another cycling blogger has suggested raising the bars to take some of the weight off the hands. Fortunately the guy who built my bike left enough stem for two spacers and had placed the stem diplomatically between them. Moving the bars up was a fairly simple job which I made more difficult by not using the top-cap to clamp down before fixing the stem on. For a day or so I was riding around with a wobbly fork. Many thanks to cycling’s late guru, Sheldon Brown for putting me right.

The new height seems to help my hand comfort while making me slightly less aerodynamic. I’m not sure this effect will be significant however, as I’m now able to get down onto the drops for longer periods, which can only be a good thing.

You can also see from the picture above that I’ve added a small band of reflective tape to the front of the handlebar tops. While I’ll be using a light at night, this may add a little to my visibility and as I don’t have another front reflector, might even be a legal requirement.

Weight added: Negligible

Contact point

Initially I’d put a Charge Spoon saddle on the bike and for £25 this is an extremely popular perch. It has a simple design that is comfortable for all but the longest rides. The Spoon now lives on my commuter hybrid which does about 70km a week.

Tempted by a real leather Brooks saddle (An old British company, now Italian owned), I was torn between the popular B17 and the pricier, more sporty, Swift. I’d read a ton of reviews each with slightly differing opinions. Many long distance riders rave about Brooks saddles, others curse them. Saddles are quite a personal choice, so reviews are of limited value and you don’t really know until you try.

When I got a small bonus for work I splashed out on the Swift. With titanium rails. For £150. Gulp! I hope it’s comfortable.

Aug13_P1030489

Leather saddles apparently need “breaking in”, although I suspect it is rather the owners’ backsides that are broken in. For some this process was long and painful but ultimately worth it, for others they were comfortable from day one. Thankfully I seem to have fallen into the latter category. The saddle is possibly a bit firm at the front when I’m leaning forwards, but otherwise it’s the best saddle I’ve sat on. At first it was a bit strange how smooth and slippery it is, but now I’ve tilted it back a little I’m no longer sliding forwards, which means reduced hand pressure on the bars pushing myself back.

Weigth added: 100g

Storage space

Audax riding traditionally involves a philosophy of self-sufficiency. Being cheaper than Sportives, feed stations and broom wagons aren’t included. If the bike breaks down you have to fix it yourself or rely on the goodwill of other cyclists, if there are any nearby. So most riders take kit to deal with a few punctures and even tyre failure, food for the journey and enough spare clothing to allow for changes in temperature that occur when riding for many hours at a time. This means more storage space than the average under-the-saddle bag allows.

A popular solution, especially amongst British audax riders is a Carradice saddle bag (still not sure how to pronounce Carradice… “carra-diss” as in “cowardice” or “carra-dice” – as in the plural of die)?

Burls with Carradice and Brooks
Carradice Super-C audax, or is that Carradiss?

The one you see to the right is the Super-C audax – one of the smallest options at 9 Litres and 580g. It’s made in Lancashire out of a hard-wearing and waterproof cotton “duck”.

I’ve coupled it with the “bagman2 sport” rack which stops it from swinging around and bashing the back of my legs. This allows quick removal of the bag for nipping into a shop and adds another 380g.

I’ve also added a Deuter tri-bag to the top tube which is easily accessible when riding, so it’s a great place to keep the route sheet or snacks and is the only place the mobile phone can be heard over the wind.

Weight added: ~1kg

Wider tyre

Finally, I’ve experimentally swapped the rear tyre from a Continental GP4000S in 25mm for the GP 4 Seasons in 28mm. This should be more puncture-resistant, hard-wearing and more comfortable. After a short ride I can confirm that it soaks up the bumps without a noticeable speed penalty – I got a personal record up a nearby hill. As winter approaches I’ll consider putting another of these on the front wheel for better grip in cold and wet conditions.

Weight added: 20g

So I’ve added a couple of kilograms (plus the content of my bag), but I think this will increase the practicality and range without feeling like a fully-laden tourer.

It remains to be seen whether my lowest gear (34 front, 29 rear) is still enough to get me up the steepest hills.

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