Get your free bicycle wheels, and other parts, here

As I’ve come to understand more about bikes over the last few years, I’ve learned a few things, usually the hard way. I found out that vintage bikes are fantastic value for money and really not that much different to ride than modern ones, especially if you get one with a good Reynolds 531 or Columbus SL steel frame. Whilst riding L’Eroica last year I cycled alongside one guy who had rescued his bike from a skip and another who’d bought his for £10 on eBay. It’s always possible to find a very respectable, sometimes vintage, 1970s, 80s or 90s bicycle online for £100 to £200, often less, and these bicycles will never depreciate. Pay that kind of money for a new bike and you have something that will not only be heavy and horrible to ride, but that will depreciate to almost nothing  within a year. As I’ve come to know more about bikes, I’ve moved from maintaining them to building them.

Bike parts
If you do by a bike just to get a pair of wheels, there’s always the temptation to start hoarding parts for future projects.

I like nothing better than to get hold of nice old frame then search out the parts to make up a new-old bike to add to my collection. But here’s an expensive lesson. If you buy individual components, even second hand ones, you end up paying a lot of money for the bike – far more than it’s worth after it’s been lovingly assembled. Fortunately, the solution is pretty simple. When you want a pair of wheels, or other parts for that matter, buy a complete bike. Strip it down for the parts you need then sell the remaining ones individually. That way, you’ll get the wheels free, and perhaps make a profit. Of course, the temptation is then to hang onto the frame and other parts of the second bike, and start going through the process all over again. It’s probably safest to buy a bike that you don’t like.

Classic bike ride in Italy, L’Eroica, changes entry rules – be sure to register in time

The timing of applications and entry rules for one of Europe’s classic and most popular cycling events, L’Eroica, have changed this year. Instead of applications opening during March on a first-come, first-served basis, the applications open on January 21st and initially close on March 3rd when a draw will be held to select participants for this year’s vintage bike extravaganza. It takes place in Tuscany, Italy, over the weekend of 5th and 6th October, the rides being on the 6th. It’s a phenomenal event and I’ll be heading over for the 75km ride this year, having staggered around the 205km one in 2012.

I arrive relieved and exhausted at the end of the L'Eroica 205km ride in 2012. Gary Smith from Yorkshire in the background checking he has all the stamps on his card. Thanks to Gary's brother for the photo - not at my best!
I arrive relieved and exhausted at the end of the L’Eroica 205km ride in 2012. Gary Smith from Yorkshire in the background checking he has all the stamps on his card. Thanks to Gary’s brother for the photo – not at my best!

It’s really not worth taking on the challenges of the long rides unless you want to prove something to yourself (or others) because the shorter rides leave you with a lot more time to soak up the atmosphere and go shopping for bikes and bits. You can download this year’s rules here. The notable exceptions to the entry draw are that anyone over 60 is guaranteed a place, as are “women of any age”. Sounds like a Silvio Berlusconi party!

Check out some of the videos on YouTube to get an idea of the charisma and charm of this event – there really is nothing else like it.

The Urban Biking Handbook by Charles Haine: biking from start to finish

The Urban Biking Handbook
One of the most comprehensive books on bikes and city cycling

This US book, subtitled “The DIY Guide to Building, Rebuilding, Tinkering with, and Repairing Your Bicycle for City Living” (perhaps a record length for a subtitle?) is the most comprehensive I’ve read on the subject. If you’re an experienced cyclist the first few chapters are going to seem very basic and mundane as they carefully describe the different types of bicycle, where they came from and what’s suitable for what. All but the most knowledgable of us will find something new here though in a book that’s as clearly and simply written as it is informative. With chapters that cover choosing your bike, city riding, cycling attire, bicycle customisation and even how to go on a cycling date or holiday, it’s the most comprehensive book I’ve found that’s entirely dedicated to bikes and cycling. It will be particularly useful to those who want to encourage friends or family to take up cycling because it provides a gentle introduction to the subject and explains any cycling jargon as it goes along. Easy to read and a mine of information. Even at a rather pricey £9.78 for the Kindle edition, I recommend it.

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

Having spotted this recent piece on 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”.

“You can’t really mess anything up by building your own wheel” – thebiketube

I’ve wanted to build my own wheels for some time but have been reluctant to take the plunge. It’s not that I don’t have the patience, or the time to do it, it’s just that my DIY track record is, well, variable. But I want to be able to build wheels because of the flexibility it gives me to experiment more with my bikes…. swapping out derailleurs for hub gears, trying my favourite hubs on different rims… you know the kind of thing.  The other factor is that it’s pretty much impossible to buy a 27-inch wheel for an old bike with 120mm dropouts that will have the correct dishing to fit a 5 or 6-speed freewheel. When they do take a screw-on freewheel, modern 700C wheels seem to be designed for the single-speed brigade.

I’ve considered taking a wheel building course but don’t really want to give up a day or more for something that really shouldn’t be that complicated. Some of the YouTube videos are pretty clear, Sheldon Brown’s web site gives quite detailed instructions, and this book looked like good value at £9, so I bought it (even though I was a little nervous about buying from an author who describes himself as “one of the most respected professional wheelbuilders.”) I’ll post a review of the book when I’ve found out if it works.

My first wheel build will use an old Campagnolo small-flange hub and a 700C Mavic G40 rim. I originally bought it as a complete wheel on eBay but I couldn’t get it perfectly true because the spoke nipples kept rounding off as I tried to turn them; they’ve seized to the spokes. I managed to remove a couple of spokes without damaging them (one from the drive side and one from the other side) and simply measured them to determine the lengths needed – there’s about 2mm difference between them.

Bicycle wheel
A leap in the dark – my first wheel build will actually be a rebuild of this Campy hub and Mavic G40 rim

Winstanley Bikes seemed to have a great range of spokes. (The biggest online bike retailers don’t come close.) I registered with them for the first time earlier today and placed my order. One hour and 35 minutes later, I had an email confirming that the spokes and spoke nipples has been sent by Royal Mail First Class. That’s great service…they might even be here tomorrow.

If thebiketube says, “You can’t really mess anything up by building your own wheel”, how tough can it be?  I’ll let you know…..

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.

Biking and breakfast…a great way to start the day

One of my favourite things about cycling to work is how great you feel when you arrive…alive, alert and ready to face the day. My commute is about 7.5 miles from South Wraxall in Wiltshire to my office that overlooks the Royal Crescent in the beautiful city of Bath.

Royal Crescent, Bath
My commuting destination, an office adjacent to Bath’s famous Royal Crescent

It starts with a 2 mile climb, nothing too strenuous, then a steep 2 mile descent into Bathford followed by a fairly level run into Bath, dodging the trucks and other traffic. There’s only a token gesture by Bath City Council towards this being a cycle friendly route. A few white lines on parts of the road through Batheaston and then a couple of minor diversions as the road narrows whereby the cyclist is taken briefly off the road onto the footpath before being thrown back into the path of following traffic about 10 metres further on. Whoever designed these ‘cycling safety lanes’ has obviously never ridden a bike in his life!

Chai tea and porridge..a reward to myself for the winter commute
Chai tea and porridge..a reward to myself for the winter commute

This morning I set off in the dark, the only downside of which is having to dodge the potholes on the descent toward Bath. As I write this now, I’ve just finished breakfast: a pot of porridge with honey and a cup of Vanilli Chai tea (I keep wanting to call it Tai Chi, but that’s just my age..). This indulgent breakfast is my little reward to myself for not taking the easy option and hopping in the car. And in some ways it’s the best part of the day. Off to work……

It’s bonkers diet time again….so I’ll share this weight-shedding idea that really, really works

As predictable as rain on a bank holiday Monday, the January consumer media are full of the latest diet advice. This year, even politicians are capitalising on the season’s hot topic to lambast the clinically obese, something that didn’t happen during John Prescott’s reign as Labour deputy leader – can’t imagine why not.

Nutrition advice is invariably interesting, confusing, irritating and depressing in equal measure. In the 1950s, the government’s advertised public health plea was to consume “plenty of milk, cream, butter and eggs”. As the clogged arteries of a generation took Britain to the top of the heart disease league, the advice changed. We’re now encouraged to take ‘five-a-day’ – portions of vegetables and fruit. Unfortunately, the food industry has negated the intent of this appeal by offering products that may well provide one of our five-a-day but contain a shed load of sugar and other additives too.

Three of my ‘five-a-day’ with no nasty additives
(Image courtesy of Free Images

The cycling media are some of the worst offenders in peddling (no pun intended) nonsense nutritional products. Just take a look at the rubbish written about this bar of concentrated sugar. Few things are more offensive to the palate than sports drinks and energy bars yet BikeRadar give it 4 stars! I have yet to see a single credible piece of scientific research that proves the efficacy of sports bars over bananas, raisins, a bar of chocolate or a sandwich.  And I’ve yet to eat one that isn’t revolting.

I know from experience that reducing carbohydrate intake and cycling more will burn fat and lead to weight loss. My doctor tells me that lowering my fat intake will help control blood cholesterol. And a recent BBC Panorama programme confirmed this Washington Post story from 2006 that high protein diets increase cancer risk.

Therefore, the solution is my ‘3 Zeros Diet’ : no carbs, no fat, no protein. But don’t blame me if you starve to death.

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.