Monday, 28 May 2012

Baby Steps - Training for longer rides

Some of you may have read my earlier post about doing the London night ride - 65 to 70 miles overnight around London on June 9th.

It was with a fair amount of trepidation that I signed up for this - after all 24 miles a day commute is not the same as sitting in a saddle for 4 or 5 hours with non stop cycling and I am still horrified by the idea of doing more than two hills in a 24 hour period. But my way of thinking was, unless I set myself a target I would never push myself hard enough and take the time at the weekend to get the distances.

So I have made the commute into work every day - this itself is a step forward given the weather of the past two months. Additionally two weekends ago I did a 25 mile fast ride and then on the Sunday a 40 mile ride (with many hills). Last weekend I did a 54 mile ride (with more hills than I though existed in the UK) - I was determined to get over the 50 mile mark just to see how my body would react - strangely it didn't complain at all and I had no aches the following day.

The most surprising thing of these extra weekend miles is how much it has improved my commute - the miles now glide by with minimum fuss and plenty of extra speed and lack of tiredness. I really think this night ride has forced me to take a leg up in my cycling endurance, I have been shocked at how much improvement it has given me with what is in essence very little effort and the returns have happened so quickly. I have never know such a quick jump in ability of a sport for so little.

So although the jump from 25 miles to 50 might seem great - it really isn't that much of a step up other than in time and willingness to do it. I supposed it helps that my cycling buddy is a complete nutter, he loves hills (both up and down) with a passion that I can only summon for my immediate family. I tend to make it up some of the hills he chooses (like the 2 mile 10% one last weekend) by repeating the mantra that I will kill him when I get to the top, unfortunately by the time I get up the hill I am far too knackered to do anything other than breath - he on the other hand is having a leisurely lay in the grass waiting for me to turn up (on the flat he is cannon fodder to my more expensive bike though).

So my goal for this year of cycling was to make longer distance rides and to have then be comfortable and enjoyable to a reasonable degree - I think now I am making great steps towards achieving this - I am now starting to reap the benefits of training my body muscle type. i have always been a Sprinter - max of 20 seconds flat out effort then a nice breather. By gradually forcing myself to up the cadence (now an nice average of 90) and keep to the lower gears rather than forcing and crunching the higher gears - my knees feel great and miles just melt away behind me, I was also taking out some of the slower club riders on the road at 40 miles. Therefore I am pleased to announce that I am getting better at this cycling lark!

So what about the baby steps in the title? Well I think I have taken the time to build up my general fitness - I have learnt about bike maintenance and build - I have taken the time to learn to pedal better and then to increase the cadence but as far as distance is concerned - I think I need to be more brave and just go for the longer rides earlier, some things require a bit of bravery and less of being a baby.     

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Cars that pull out in front of you from side roads.

This morning I was in the car and on my bike (obviously not at the same time). I drove about 14 miles taking the kids to school and then rode about 12 miles into work.

During the car drive I was very concious of the number of cars that pulled out of side turnings into my path. Maybe because I do most of my miles on the bike nowadays, I was suddenly more concious of the cars pulling out from side roads in front of me. The reality is when I was on my bike the same proportion of cars pulled out in front of me too (maybe even less).

So where is this all leading? Well I think the point is that drivers generally are fairly aggressive on the road and it is not a thing aimed at cyclists in particular - they do it to fellow car drivers to the same degree. Three things are different though;

  • Cyclists tend to stop more slowly - our brakes are not as good as cars (well at least a well maintained car) additionally when we slow down or stop it takes a lot more effort to get back up to speed again.
  • Cyclists are a lot more vulnerable in a crash (thank you captain obvious) and additionally we do not really have the option of swerving out of the way without considerable risk of potentially being hit from behind by a car overtaking us.
  • Cyclists often have a feeling of persecution (contentious I know) this may be because of the above two previous points - but I think we need to realise it is not just a personal thing - generally speaking, car driving on the roads is awful!

I think we need to start looking at how bad driving on the road is done by a significant minority of drivers in general rather than making it a bike Vs. car argument. 

If driving standards generally were improved I am sure not only cyclist would be very happy but also other car drivers. When I drive I see some atrocious acts of driving by some people on the road, it has always made me laugh in comments sections when the drivers lobby complain about poor cyclists and how they break the rules - and then blaming them for the accidents, yet these same drivers, daily on the road, are berating their fellow drivers for poor driving. Yet as soon as it gets to discussion time, it becomes a tribal matter with drivers and cyclists in opposing camps, with the main variation being that most cyclists are car drivers and most in the drivers camp do not cycle.

So why does it become so tribal? It becomes tribal because we allow it to. Often the theme of discussions seems to be driven by a sanctimonious few cyclists, who abhor the car, it's emission and the capitalist scum driving them. From the drivers side it is driven by the total petrol head who has no life, no driving skills (although he thinks he is Jackie Stewart) and no chance of getting laid unless he can trick a woman into his car with his impressive selection of "Max Power" stickers.

The army of us in the middle get drawn into these arguments and with the best will in the world discussions get polarised with digs from the trolls on either side to stoke the fires of argument. Forget reclaim the road - we need "Reclaim the Discussion" - the 99% of drivers I meet on the road are reasonable and considerate - yes they make mistakes and those mistakes put a cyclist life at risk. Yes there is a need for all drivers to exercise a higher level of patience but this is only going to be achieved by reasoned discussion. As for drivers without insurance, who  as a general rule I find to be the worst drivers on the road, they need far stiffer fines, as does what is currently called "Dangerous Driving" (or know to cyclists as "he almost killed me").

I try and do my little bit - at dinners, I talk to my driving only friends about the hassles faced on a bike and hopefully they will take more notice of the cyclist in the future (baby steps get there eventually) and as for cyclists who jump red lights at dangerous intersections (not at empty pedestrian crossing) I generally mutter "twat" loudly under my breath as they go through, maybe peer pressure will eventually make them think twice?

The only certain thing is, the more we allow discussions to be become polarised the less likely we will be friends on the road.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Build you own bike - go on I dare you!

My self build De Rosa R838
I haven’t really posted much recently – there have been two very good reasons for this. Firstly the weather depressed me so much after a month of continual rain – and ongoing until this week, secondly and more importantly I have been building a new road bike and this is what I want to talk about today in the hope it may give a few more of you the conviction to try.

First of all lets deal with why. Why go through all the trouble of building your own bike when you can pop in a shop and buy one ready built? There are two reasons I strongly recommend this approach both tangible and intangible. The intangible is simply the satisfaction that you get from doing it yourself – despite the fear your LBS and posters on forums give people about building your own bike, it really isn’t that hard. Secondly (the tangible) why should you have to have a bike that has components that have been chosen for you?

I think it first best to talk about the tangible in more detail. When a bike is delivered in to a shop the company that built it has been driven by one very important factor – price point. As I trawled around bike shops I very soon noticed that on road bikes from £2,000 upwards the frame very often was of a much higher specification than the components. Why would you have a bike with a frame costing £1,800 plus with components 3 or 4 iterations down the scale (e.g. Sram Apex, Shimano 105 or Compag Athena? The difference between these and a higher level groupset may only be £200 – so you spend £2,000 - £3,000 and yet you immediately feel the need to upgrade – surely it would be better to spend and extra £200 and have a groupset you want?

Companies making the bike may want to put on cheaper components but it might take the bike above the £3,000 price point! Don’t take my word for it any honest salesman at your LBS will agree with me on this point. And then of course soon afterwards you feel the need to have a groupset that justifies your frame and you then go and blast another £800 of hard earned money to get that groupset, good for the shops though as you keep on spending and replacing parts before they wear out. It makes perfect sense to me, to start with everything how you want it (within your skill and price bracket). Even worse is when I have looked at some high end carbon bikes they have cheap heavy alloy seat-posts, and who is to say that the bars they provide as part of the spec are at the correct drop for you, or the bar tape is what you like. The list is endless as to the items that you eventually replace. When i bought my first bike – I got what I thought would be a spec I would never need to change – within 2 months I was fiddling and changing a majority of the parts, eventually it became silly replacing items on a frame that did not warrant them..

Additionally, when you build your own bike it stands to reason it will not be your first bike, I had parts (saddle and wheels) that I had upgraded on my old bike – they where good quality parts and expensive – they would get very little use left on the old bike – so I simply transferred them to the new bike and put the original wheels and saddle back on the old bike (immediate £600 saving).

Another thing you are always warned when you buy a complete bike is that if you were to buy the parts individually they would cost a lot more – yes that is true but it doesn’t take a genius to source parts at well below the list price on the internet. For example the frame I bought cost me £800 – it’s list price was £1,700. The difference was that I bought an ex-display frame, not used on the road but it did previously have the original parts attached. I had serious doubts about buying a heavily used carbon frame second hand and I am nowhere near brave enough to buy direct from China / Taiwan which seemed like a lottery. Additionally I wanted a top quality carbon fibre not something built with cheaper materials – the only way I could guarantee this was to buy a known frame / build.

All in all by careful buying I saved around £1,400 on list price for the items I bought – because I was waiting for the insurance cheque for the personal injuries I received in a crash (this paid for the bike with some cash to spare) it gave me time to investigate the exact parts I wanted and time to find the best price (lots of eBay hunting and waiting).

As for the intangibles – building the bike was incredibly therapeutic, I really enjoyed the experience of building the bike and even found myself taking more time than was necessary just because the experience was so rewarding. All the items I bought came with very complete manuals and fitting instructions. Generally the process I followed was:

  • Choose the best product for me – reading many professional and customer reviews
  • Wait and take my time to get the best price for a new part.
  • Watch a u-tube on how to fit the product
  • Read the manual
  • Install the item
  • Un-install the item
  • Re-install item getting it inch perfect

I also bought some additional tools I needed like a 2 torque wrenches, chain tool and proper wire cutters (mostly on eBay where I saved a lot) – I already have many other general items like spanners, hex keys etc. If you take your time and fit things with care I believe you do a better job then a skilled technician, mostly because the bike is your pride and joy and you will not accept even the slightest error (for example I adjusted my break leavers and bar tape about 5 times before I was happy with the set-up). The only item I didn’t install was the BB30 bearings – the tool to do this was about £90 (cheapest I could find) so it made sense to pay the LBS £10 to fit it. The other advantage of DIY bike build is there is now nothing on the bike that I don’t know about and understand in-depth. I can fix just about any issue now – though I still am not so hot with the front derailleur!

Obviously I would not recommend building you own bike if you have not had a shop bought one first – you need to know what you want and about how you cycle before deciding on the parts that best suit your needs.

Next post will be about the bike itself what it has on it etc. But I can recommend if you have the time / desire and are not in a rush, take the plunge and build your own bike, you will not regret it.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Another I told you so - house price drop!

So I told you in this post four months ago that house prices had reached a tipping point and why (it was all to do with the buy to let mortgage relief).

And here you have it - house prices fall at their fastest rate for 6 months in April. Really these things are sometimes just too easy to predict I think.

Now back to cycling.....

Monday, 7 May 2012

Customer Service and buying online.

As I have hinted here I am building a new bike (a later post on that and what I learnt will be coming) overall I have greatly enjoyed the process and learnt a lot but on one occasion the "buying on-line" experience left me more than a little frustrated. So sit down, grab a brew and let me tell you a story (and a warning) - I am not sure why I am writing this post - anger, a bit of bad publicity for the offending party or just to get the last two miserable weeks of my chest.

I have been building a new road bike myself from scratch - Wednesday two weeks ago, I had everything in place (De Rosa frame, wheels cockpit etc.) I just needed to order in the groupset. I decided on the Sram Force groupset with a Sram Red BB30 chain-set. I dutifully checked out prices and found Shiny Bikes was offering a good deal and fast delivery (next day) - I wanted to build my bike that weekend and was a very excited and happy chappy that all my plans were now coming together. Sadly the delivery didn’t come that weekend – I was mellow about it but disappointed – I figured it was the usual Parcelforce laziness (so much for the next day delivery, I had expected Thursday for the delivery or Friday at a push)!

By Wednesday the following week I was more than a little annoyed that the delivery had not come – so I rang Shiny Bikes – apparently they had packed my original order wrong but had forgotten to repack it. My call helped remind them they don’t only have to take my money, they also have to deliver the goods (Problem 1). So I called them the next day to confirm they had dispatched my order as I no longer trusted them to keep their word. "Yes" they confirmed and it would be with me for Friday – yippee. I took Friday off work so I could take the delivery and build the bike overnight and get the Bottom Bracket fitted at my LBS (the bottom bracket is one area I am not going to pay for the tools for).

By 6pm Friday I was sweating – still no groupset! So I called Parcelforce – apparently they had a 4 hour power-cut in their Coventry office so were unable to deliver that day - go figure? (Problem 2 – it was a Parcelforce error, but hey Shiny Bikes use them – it wasn’t my choice). So there then followed a 2nd weekend with no new bike – and my chance to get it to the LBS to get the bottom bracket fitted.

As I was absolutely guaranteed delivery for Monday – I took Monday off work, again, so I could build the bike and get it to the LBS for the bottom bracket – things were desperate now as I had a bike fitting arranged for Tuesday. Sadly the delivery didn’t arrive till 6:15 pm so the LBS was closed and I was going to miss my fitting (Problem 3). I had to cancel the bike fitting (luckily for me the place doing the fitting were understanding and didn’t charge me a fee (thanks guys).

Anyway I thought – at least the groupset has now arrived so I can build the bike and maybe persuade my wife to take it to the LBS the following day. I stopped eating my dinner when the delivery arrived and flung open the box – showing everyone in my family my new toys – sadly one of the toys was missing! Shiny Bikes warehouse had once again come to the fore and forgotten to deliver the bottom bracket (Problem 4). Well I reasoned at least I can build up the bike to a reasonable degree and then get the bottom bracket fitted a couple of days later when they actually deliver it. But Shiny Bikes hadn’t finished yet with their ruining of my day – whilst checking through the order I also discovered they had sent me the wrong cassette an 11-25 instead of an 11-28. (Problem 5).

So I called them back this morning – “so sorry” they say, we will fix it all. A little later I get another call – "sorry we have run out of Bottom Brackets and it will take a week to 2 weeks to restock" (Problem 6). I have seen how fast their next day delivery is – if they think something is going to take two weeks I will probably be drawing my pension before it arrives! Then just to cap it off they have also run out of the cassettes (Problem 7) – this they say they can get in the next day and will post ASAP – I wait with baited breath - NOT! It is incredible that they can allow themselves to run out of stock in the first place but then to sell what they don’t have in stock to a poor punter like me (who pays immediately) is disgraceful.

Just so you know I went to “HighonBikes” and got a replacement bottom bracket and cassette – I have ordered about 15 things from them and they really do deliver the next day (and it is free). I have a feeling Shiny Bikes needs a new warehouse manager – maybe someone who can read and count?

I have bought hundreds of items on the internet, never before have I know such a catalogue of errors, if it wasn’t so important to me I would have laughed. Anyway so many errors, I figured they would at least make it up to me with a discount – they did offer me a discount – yeay! 1.3% - Booo! Basically I got the cost of shipping back (which I am sure they are getting back themselves anyway) I have had bigger total discounts in a sweet shop.

I am not one of those angry people but in all honestly I feel like I have been treated like dirt, it has really made the whole new bike thing change from an exciting experience to total misery and a lot of additional cost. A cost that is worth it for something like a new bike, but not just to sit at the door waiting for the postman. I have always received excellent service from a myriad of bike sellers. I feel fellow cyclists look out for one and other – Shiny Bikes may be a symptom of the growing popularity of cycling – we now have our first person who acts like a second hand car salesman – all in all very depressing. Maybe you have had a good experience with them – I for one will not bother shopping there again, no company that makes that many errors on one order can be considered a sensible seller! I am going to need to get on my new bike just to dissolve the unhappy memories of what they put me through.

As an example of customer services, I ordered some shoes from Evans Cycle store - when they arrived they were the wrong colour - to cut a long story short it turned out they had the wrong colour information on their website. In order that I was recompensed for their error, they replaced my shoes with the next model up (extra £50 for no extra cost). We all make errors, but only real seller admit their fault and take corrective action. As buyers we should demand that level of service or take out custom elsewhere.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

A must read blog post (by someone else).

This article LINK expresses my feelings exactly about the current Mayoral election in London and the cycling lobbying.

As you may have have guessed, I am into cycling in quite a large way and I commute to work in London most days. I also agree whole-heartedly with the aims of Londoners on bikes and Go Dutch groups. My problems has been with the fact that the group comes over and is to a greater extent left of centre, this has not been in an overt way and they are in a very tricky situation in balancing between the needs of cycling and party politics, and I don't think this has been achieved. This means they are going to alienate themselves if Boris Johnson wins the election. The truth of the matter is that only a very small % of people are going to use their first vote only based on cycling (though I will be using my second vote for this purpose).

I think a better approach would have been to remove themselves from political sponsorship and rather than saying "vote XYZ because they have offered the most for cycling" would have been to say "XYZ has promised ..... we believe that this is positive" - nothing different in the message with respect to cycling but it distances the group from the political agenda. Despite the above criticism, they did do an excellent job in getting all the main candidates to endorse their aims - but now the relationship they have with the eventual winner of the election is important to get that endorsement converted into real actions.   

Cyclist need to remember we are only 2% of the voting public and although proper infrastructure may be important to us to the vast majority it just isn't. We need to be sending out a message about the benefit to others by cycling being safe. For example - more people on bikes means less congestion on the roads and public transport, proper infrastructure would mean more people cycling, imagine the changes to congestion is 10% of drivers went on their bikes? Imagine a safe route to school for your kids on a bike - no more having to take them in yourself every day or paying for public transport. 

There are lots of positive messages we can get into mainstream thinking - things most cyclist take for granted, for example, reduced healthcare bill from a healthier population. These are the messages we need to get into other peoples heads. Most people still think it is Road Tax not VED - most cyclist know this but most drivers don't, so how are they to know of all the other things we as cyclists take for granted.

In terms of lobbying we really need to start thinking about being in the shoes of the 98% and not get carried off in our own little world, this is basic negotiations tactics - sell you idea by focusing on the benefits of it to the other party.

So please read the LINK and let's get our message out to the 98% in a positive way.