The amazing unimportance of chainline and chain lubrication

There are a lot of myths circulating in various forums about the importance of chainline. Chainline refers to how straight the chain runs between front and rear sprockets. In single speed set-ups and where an internal hub gear is used, it’s often possible to get a near perfect chainline. Sheldon Brown explains chainline in three articles, the lead one of which is here. With derailleur gears, the general guidance is to set up a straight chainline based on the position of the middle sprocket on both back and front, where there are 3 on the front, or in the middle on the back and between the 2 front chainrings in the case of a double, or aligned with a single front chainring. The problems with running the chain at an angle include lower efficiency, greater chain wear and noise. But just how big an issue is it?

Chainline
This 2001 paper shows just how little difference chainline and lubrication make to pedalling efficiency

This paper, written in 1999 by members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) throws up some interesting conclusions. The reason that a ‘poor’ chainline is cited as reducing pedalling efficiency is that there is increased friction causing energy to be wasted as heat. The paper doesn’t argue with this point but the conclusion is that these losses are negligible compared with non-thermal losses. The paper describes how an experiment was set up to measure efficiency relating to 3 characteristics of a chain drive: the ratio of sprockets and their relative alignment (chainline), variations in input power and rotation rate (cadence) and lubrication, or lack of it. The detailed results make very interesting reading. The authors concluded that chainline offset and lubrication have a negligible affect on efficiency, at least under laboratory conditions and no significant efficiency differences could be detected between a lubricated and dry chain. (I wonder if a dry chain might actually last longer because grit and grime would not adhere to it and cause greater wear?) The major factors affecting efficiency are spocket size, larger sprockets providing better power transfer, and chain tension. Most importantly, there is a reciprocal linear relationship between chain tension and efficiency, the higher the tension the higher the efficiency. The latter makes a huge difference. With a chain tension of 305N the experiment revealed a drive efficiency of 98.6%. When the tension was reduced to 76.2N, efficiency fell by nearly 18% to 80.9%. Don’t worry about getting your chainline accurate to within mm, don’t worry about lubrication, but do keep the chain well tensioned. I don’t know how the  figures above relate exactly to chain slack but 305N is pretty taught!

Cold mornings, warm days….a neat solution to the ‘what to wear’ question

You know the problem. You’re setting off for a long day ride at 6am, when it’s going to be cold, but later in the day, it’s going to warm up. What to wear? Is it worth suffering the chilly morning for a couple of hours to be more more comfortable later, or do you end up doing most of the ride carrying a spare jacket, maybe a bulky one, that you don’t need. The solution is a device that works in conjunction with your normal cycling clothes but gives you a continuously variable way to control your levels of insulation. This great innovation was first demonstrated to me by my father when he used it during his winter commutes by motorcycle…it’s called a newspaper…stuffed up the front of your jersey or jacket.

Tabloid is about the right size for most people. Just wear one under your top layer and peel off a few pages at a time as it gets warmer, disposing of them in an environmentally responsible fashion along the way. If you’re really hard up, you could even fold up the pages and keep them for the next trip. Push them up the back of your jersey, rather than the front, and you won’t notice the insulating affect.

City traders favour the FT, school teachers The Guardian, Tories The Telegraph and Liberal Democrats The Independent. Your own choice is  an opportunity to make a little statement about yourself.

Of course if you’ve money to spare, I can provide you with an old newspaper of your choice,  trimmed to your size (S, M, L, XL) and complete with Pedalitis logo sticker on the front page for just £20……plus P&P.

 

The bike lane reclaimed….

Just a quick update to yesterday’s post. I didn’t get a reply to my e-mail to M. J. Church when I wrote to the company about one of its vehicles blocking a cycleway near Bath. However, driving past this evening (I couldn’t cycle with two 10-year olds on the crossbar) I noticed that the vehicle was parked a good 20m further up the hill, no longer blocking the cycleway. I hope it’s not coincidental or worse, a temporary change, but I’m happy to give the company the benefit of the doubt.

FOOTNOTE: 2 days later an email arrives from the Chairman’s assistant apologising for the inconvenience caused by their truck. Thanks M. J. Church!

Another cycle lane defeated by thoughtless parking

I think this is the first time I’ve posted an outright grumble. Forgive me, but I can’t see the point of cycle lanes that are a free for all. Cars can rarely park on pavements, pedestrians can’t sit in roads, but it appears that cycle lanes are fair game for everyone. They have no legal status.

A couple of years ago I was on holiday in Weybridge, Cornwall. Gonvenna Hill descends into the town from the B3314 and has cycle lanes on both sides. These cycle lanes are primarily used by pupils of Wadebridge School, a secondary school towards the top of the hill. During my visit, builders’ trucks and vans were parked all along the cycle lane on the descent side of the road. I took some photographs, attracting abuse and derision from the charming workmen, who took great delight in pointing out that they were legally parked. The fact that every pupil from the school who cycled home along that route was now forced to ride in the main traffic flow didn’t concern them in the least. I checked out the situation online and the builders were right. The vehicles were legally parked. Of course, that didn’t mean that their drivers weren’t being inconsiderate, selfish and ignorant of the risks to children that they were creating.

A dysfunctional cycle lane caused by an inconsiderate driver on Bathford Hill, near Bath, UK
A dysfunctional cycle lane caused by an inconsiderate driver on Bathford Hill, near Bath, UK

It’s two years on and my commute to work takes me up a 2-mile climb just outside of Bath. In a couple of places, it has traffic calming measures where the road narrows and signs give priority to traffic travelling in one direction or the other. A very inconsiderate driver now uses the end of the cycle lane alongside one of the traffic calming sections to park his large van. This is not a one-off incident. This is his regular parking spot.

I’ve written a very polite note to M.J. Church, asking the company if it might speak to the van driver to ask him if he’d mind parking a few metres up the hill. I’ll post the response, if I get one.

It seems that cycle lines are a free-for-all, with no penalties for those that block or constrict them. They rely on drivers being considerate and, in my experience, that’s the exception, rather than the rule.

What to do with a ‘perfect’ vintage bike?

Last year I bought a 1982 Merican custom racing bike from its original owner. The man was a perfectionist, having even sent the metal bottle cage over to Mercian to get it sprayed to match the frame. The original (bum cleaving) saddle, which is not the one in the photograph, even came boxed with the bike. The appearance of the bike, which boasts a first generation Dura-Ace EX drive chain, is as near to perfection as you’re likely the find in a 30 year-old, unrestored machine. Why so? Well, the owner rode it two or three times, covering “less than 100 miles” and then decided it was too nice a bicycle to get chipped or worn out, so he kept it indoors for 30 years. I was the lucky beneficiary of his caution.

Mercian custom road bike
This 30-year old Mercian is almost like new. Now I don’t know whether to ride it or keep it that way.

I can’t decide whether to ride it regularly or keep it in its present superb condition – it would be a real challenge to do both, even if I restrict its use to summer riding. Of course, it would make a great bike for L’Eroica in October. (I registered for this year’s ride earlier today.) But should I risk such a lovely bike to baggage handlers at Bristol and Pisa airports?

My instinct is to ride it, and maybe use it for the classic ride in Italy. I don’t want to damage it – and if anything will make parts fall off, the strada bianche of L’Eroica will do the job nicely – but I can’t help thinking about the craftsman that made the frame, and perhaps assembled the bike too. Would he have wanted it to languish in a garage or shed, or would he have wanted the results of his labours to be tested, exploited and enjoyed? I think the latter, don’t you?

Cycling Home from Siberia, a book by Rob Lilwall

The fact that chapter 2 is entitled “How will I die?” gives you some clue as to the nature of the 3-year journey described by Rob Lilwall. It’s the story of a ride undertaken in the most extreme conditions, starting out in Siberia and riding in temperatures down to -40 degrees Centigrade.

Cycling Home From Siberia
Travel, tragedy, religion and romance…a good read

At times Lilwall really does seem to be an adventurer with a death wish. He not only cycles through the toughest of terrain in the most appalling weather imaginable but also rides through extremely dangerous regions of Afghanistan and sneaks past border guards in the dead of night because he doesn’t have the necessary documentation to cross the border in daylight. The author was only 27 years old when he set out in 2004 so perhaps held the common belief of youth that he would live forever, but he comes across as a rather anxious man that needs to prove something to himself, without knowing exactly what. I found the book to be compelling and read it every day until I reached the end. It is more than just a travel book, although it is fascinating as such. It has a smattering of human tragedy and romance too. Lilwall also writes at some length about his Christian faith. At the end of the trip he surmises, “I did not feel any sense of achievement, but rather a strange emptiness.” A strange comment perhaps, as he met his future wife during the journey. This is not a book about the joy of travel or the joy of cycling. It’s tone is very serious. “Cycling Home from Siberia” is nevertheless a very good read.

Should one-way streets be two-way for cyclists?

Having spotted this recent piece on road.cc about a Brighton cyclist fined for cycling against the traffic in a one way street, my memory was triggered about a Department for Transport trial scheme in London to permit cyclists to do exactly that. I dug around a little.

The first story I found was a 2009 one in the Daily Mail announcing the trial scheme, and pointing out that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, had recently been caught cycling the wrong way along a one-way street. The goal of the trial was to encourage more cycling by enabling cyclists to use the most direct routes to their destinations. The Daily Mail has a poll on the online story, the results of which can be interpreted as disappointing, with 84% of respondents stating the cyclists should not be allowed to cycle against the traffic. Of course, at least 84% of respondents are likely to be motorists who don’t cycle, so I think we can safely dismiss that bit of nonsense as not being relevant to the issue.

I couldn’t navigate my way through the DfT website to get an update on the trial but this blog story from BikeMinded last September warmed my heart because it’s clear that London is opening more and more of its streets to cyclists.

More London one-way streets are allowing cyclists to ride against the flow of traffic. When done responsibly, perhaps this is safer than having cars and trucks come up behind you?
More London one-way streets are allowing cyclists to ride against the flow of traffic. When done responsibly, perhaps this is safer than having cars and trucks come up behind you?

Brighton on the other hand remains in the cycling Dark Ages. Reportedly, Brighton police officer Elaine Welsh, said: “Cyclists travelling the wrong way in St James’s Street is the biggest complaint from local residents and business owners and can end in serious injury for both pedestrians and cyclists. We will be actively looking for those caught ignoring the one-way signs and issuing them with on the spot fines. I am pleased that Blaison’s (the offender) appeals were dismissed as he refused point blank to accept responsibility for his actions or almost hitting the pedestrian.”

Two things struck me about PC Welsh’s comments. First, her claim that cycling the wrong way along St James’s Street can end in serious injury for both pedestrians and cyclists is a statement of the blindingly obvious. Cycling anywhere there are pedestrians can do that. It doesn’t necessarily follow that cycling against the traffic along a one-way street is more dangerous than cycling along any other city street. Second, she felt that the cyclist should have accepted more responsibility for “almost hitting a pedestrian.” On that basis, shouldn’t we be able to prosecute all of the motorist that almost hit cyclists, or all the pedestrians who, on my commute into Bath, almost topple me from my bike by walking into the road without looking? If almost causing an accident is an offence, I’m sure Brighton’s streets could keep PC Welsh very busy indeed. She could probably notch up enough prosecutions to get promoted…so this could be just the thin end of the wedge.

The London experiment has shown conclusively that it is possible for cyclists to use one-way streets in both directions without increased risk to themselves or other road users, or pedestrians. It’s standard practice throughout most of Europe and expansion of such schemes in the UK has been encouraged by the CTC for many years. The most important thing is to ensure that we cycle responsibly and safely. At least when we’re riding against the traffic, we get the opportunity to look motorists in the eye, and to see where they’re looking as the come towards us. I think it’s time for a call to Bath City Council to see what they have to say on the matter…

Now you don’t need to wear lycra to be a real cyclist

Lycra has its upsides – it dries fast after a shower, it reduces your wind resistance and it shows off your figure. But having seen a few thousand cyclists at various events this year, its clear to me that not all figures are ideally suited to lycra. In fact, I’m on a bit of a mission to get everyone over 40 out of lycra, so to speak. The problem for the mature road cyclist is that there isn’t that much choice, at least in terms of dedicated cycling trousers, if you don’t want to wear lycra or the ridiculous baggies worn (inexplicably) by mountain bikers. But I have found one supplier of cycling clothes, some of which I’ve come to really like.

Let’s put this into perspective. First, my idea of a designer brand has always been M&S. In fact, I’d struggle to name more than a couple of designer clothes brands, assuming that there are more than two. Second, I have no commercial connection with the company and it’s apparent that its clothes are designed for a younger generation, but some Rapha stuff is terrific. My favourites are the 3/4 trousers, reminiscent of plus-fours but tailored for cycling with a lower front and higher back, and Rapha denim jeans, which seem to be a perfect fit for me. Also, I recently bought one of the company’s inappropriately named ‘hardshell’ winter jackets – great fit, warm and waterproof – and nothing ‘hard’ about it at all.

Me modelling a lycra alternative - Rapha tailored plus fours and waterproof jacket. A new career beckons....
Me modelling a lycra alternative – Rapha tailored plus fours and waterproof jacket. A new career beckons….

Rapha gear is not all good. I tried the padded undershorts and they gave me serious thigh chaffing due to the poor placement of the pad stitching, so I returned them. But when riding a Brooks B17 saddle, which I do most of the time, I find I don’t need undershorts if I wear decent cycling trousers. (I’ve never understood why a saddle, or a Hercules aircraft, would be called a B17?) The other product that I’ve found to be completely useless is the Rapha’s fingerless leather gloves. In the winter it’s too cold to wear them and when you get sweaty hands in the summer, they just stick to you in a very uncomfortable way. And beware, the sizing is a bit on the Italian side – I’m about 77kg and 5 ft 11″ but need a large size. No wonder all their SALE items are small.

Like a lot of people involved in marketing, I am of course totally immune to the wiles of advertising and brand promotion in general. But for the most part Rapha has won me over, despite one cycling friend of mine dismissing it as “over-priced crap”.

Free Country by George Mahood: irreverent, amusing and revealing

This self-published book by George Mahood is great fun. In Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain, George and a fellow adventurer set off to prove that the people of Britain are generous, considerate and generally good eggs. The experiment to examine this thesis involves setting off from Land’s End towards John O’Groats to complete the journey by bicycle. The couple’s only possessions at the start are a pair of union jack boxer shorts each plus a camera, notebook and pencil to record the journey. No bikes or alternative means of transport, no other clothes, no money. For 18.5 days they then blag their way to John O’Groats and cover the 1000 miles on the most unlikely bicycles, which were acquired along the way.

Free country
A heart-warming tale of British generosity, and cycling lunacy

There are interesting descriptions of the places visited but this is a travel book that’s much more about people than geography, revealing the stark contrasts in attitude that travellers might encounter on a bizarre journey such as this. And, before you ask, the Scots come out of if at least as well as the English for their generosity and good humour.

Towards the end of the book George comments, “It doesn’t cost anything to cycle or walk through the beautiful British countryside… It doesn’t cost anything to make new friends, and it doesn’t cost anything to smile and have fun.” Amen to that.

At £1.99 for the Kindle edition (£10.99 in paperback), this book is a steal.

This Sunday’s family cycling trip…the Forest of Dean

I am not by any stretch of the imagination a mountain biker. I do own a mountain bike, a hardtail built up from a second-hand Genesis Ti frame and some mid-range Shimano bits, but it’s normally shod with tyres more suited to tarmac than to mud. Riding a mountain bike from can sometimes be pleasant change from riding a road bike. A bit like getting out of a Ferrari and onto a tractor I imagine, although I’ve never owned either. There’s a soft and comfortable feeling to it, a sofa on wheels. Today, we made our second visit to the cycling centre in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. It is a superb place to cycle with all the family (in my case my wife and 9 year-old twins, Harry and Matilda) and there are routes catering for riders of every standard, from casual to verging on lunatic.

Cycling Forest of Dean
Cycling in the Forest of Dean can be as relaxed or demanding as you like. This is not us…we all wear helmets!

We took the 20km family route of largely dry and undemanding trails with the occasional small diversion over humps and dips so that the kids can let off steam. Back at the start there’s a smart cafe, bike shop and workshop, and even somewhere to hose off your bike.