Monthly Archives: May 2012

Bike maintenance comes in three’s!

Feeling a bit hard done to as the three bikes I use most often (My Bullitt Cargobike, my Pearson Touché Fixie and my Trek Pilot) all need urgent maintenance at the moment.

Bullitt Cargobike

  • As has happened before the rear axle has slipped forward. I don’t want to strip the axle nuts again by over tightening them and so I now have a chain tug from on-one. I have had to grind off the square lump on the back and now need to grind notches for the Alfine lock nut. I do not know why chaintugs are not designed for and fitted to all hub gear bikes, they make chain adjustment so much easier.
  • I really need to do some work on my box after nearly a year of use. It needs some cross braces at the bottom to take the weight and to stop the sides rattling at the bottom.

Pearson Touché Fixie

  • I have the new chainring, so I can now fit my Alfine chainset (that I removed from the Bullitt in order to get smaller chainrings). This will replace the worn out Bottom Bracket
  • I need to do some work on the rear wheel bearings. They need cleaning, greasing and tightening as the wheel is wobbling a bit around them

Trek Pilot

  • When replacing the brake pads I finally had to admit defeat, the brake calipers are no longer springing apart strongly enough or equally so it has become impossible to get the brakes to stop binding. I have a new Shimano 105 rear and the front is on the way. So these need fitting before I ride to Oakham today to meet Tim Chesterton, a friend over from Canada.
  • I will also have my new front rack to fit (see my post)
  • I need to grease my Speedplay frog pedals and fit the extra set of cleats to a new pair of shoes so that I have 2 pairs ready for LEJoG.

Running out of time for all these things, so better get on with it now that our youngest is out the door for school.


Outdoor events

As yesterday was Pentecost we (Syston Methodist Church with our Circuit and the Syston Band) held an outdoor service in Syston Central Park.

My Bullitt Cargobike was therefore busy 🙂 Here are a couple of the loads I carried.



My thoughts on the ideal front rack

I have taken the plunge and ordered a small front rack for my Trek to be used for the LEJoG ride in a few weeks. I have ordered a freeload Sport rack [now a Thule product] as if is one of the few racks that can be fitted to a bike with no rack fittings. For that ride all I want is to be able to carry a small bag for food, camera and maybe a extra clothes.

That will go nicely with my Caradice SQR Tour which I have been overloading a bit on some rides. It gets too heavy for example when carrying the following: U Lock, cable lock, trainers, Galaxy Tab, tools, energy bars, water proof and long sleeved top; then it makes the back of the bike wobble around a bit.

The freeload rack also has the potential to be be useful on a number of other bikes in the future, for example on my mountain bike or on my fixie.

However, it does not represent the ideal for me as I have identified 3 ways in which I want to use a front rack. The problem is that I have not been able to find a rack that meets all three needs, so I am looking for recommendations.

Front Rack for Long Rides.

For century rides such as LEJoG I want a small front rack to take a small bag. I prefer this to a handlebar bag as it does not interfere with handlebar mounted lights and is more compatible with drop handlebars. It is more flexible in the style/size of bag I carry.

Having a light weight rack like this means I can avoid overloading the Carradice bag which makes for much easier access to everything while riding. That also means I can avoid using a rucksac for a hydration pack as if it is as hot as the last few days I am going to need more water than the 2 bottles I have cages for. The freeload Sport rack is a good example of this for bikes with no mounting points. Otherwise something like a Nitto Mini Front Rack would be good.

Front Rack for Touring

When I go touring I find the weight of the rear panniers unbalances the bike and puts too much load on the rear wheel. In part that is because often my touring is to get me to meetings/conferences etc that require lots of paper or books or my laptop or all three. In the past I have broken spokes on my back wheel (and yes losing a lot of weight from the rider would also help a lot). Being able to shift weight to the front helps a lot but so far my only options have been a handlebar bag which can’t take much, a trailer which works quite well but slow or my Bullitt cargobike which is fantastic but overkill and also slow compared to even a loaded road bike.

So for touring it seem to me that the best option is a pair of small front panniers with a small platform for a bag for the easy to hand stuff.

If it were just low riders then the Tubus Ergo is one of several nice racks from Tubus.

Otherwise I guess the Surly Front rack although the weight is quite high and it looks pretty fussy. Another option are the Old Man Mountain racks such as the Sherpa which can fit pretty much any bike.

Front Rack for everyday transportation

At the moment, I either use a bike with panniers or I use my Bullitt Cargobike. I don’t generally like panniers for running errands or popping into lots of places and so often use the Bullitt even if the cargo space is massively greater than I need.

For these in between loads a large front platform (porteur style) is really convenient.

Loading is really simple as you can just drop a bag or more on it or strap on a box. There are two main styles, those with side rails and those without. CETMA in the US make nice examples of both such as the 5 bar and the Brack.

The capacity is also very flexible compared to a rear rack as they are squarer and so can support a variety of shapes more easily. Plus of course you can see the load.

Dave’s solution: the combination

As I look to the future and a potential replacement for my Trek Pilot 1.2 I am looking for a bike that I can use all year round for everyday transport, that is fast enough for century rides (bearing in mind I am not planning to race them) and that can be used for touring. That means I want one bike that can have any combination of these front racks. What I don’t want to do is buy 3 racks and swap between them.

So I am looking for a combination rack. It should be fixed to the rack mounts at the bottom of the fork with braces to low rider mountings part way up the fork and in some way fixed at the top (to the brake hole at the top of the fork, or to the spacers above the headset or to the handlebars). It should start as a fairly minimal frame for low riders that can have either a small or a large platform added to the top as required. The frame will be a bit of overkill in structure for the low riders and/or small platform in order to be strong enough for the large platform.

Unfortunately I have not seen any examples of the combination I want. So any suggestions gratefully received 🙂


Leicester to Syston Route 1 problems aplenty


Leicester to Syston Route 1, a set on Flickr.

I have documented some of the problems with the Route between Leicester and Syston with this set of photos with descriptions.The route has a huge number of problems that make it unusable for many people. For example the combination of design failures mean that it is essentially impossible to use if you have young children or if you are not active and agile yourself.Yet Leicester City Council and Leicestershire Council Council both think this is a wonderful example of a cycle route.


New Route 1: Leicester to Cossington

So on Friday “Ride Leicester” announced on Facebook that the new Route 1 from Leicester to Cossington was open. I expressed some negative feelings about the route (the route now appears at Cycle Trails – Cycle Routes in Leicestershire – Leicestershire County Council).

So yesterday I went to test the finished route and took some photos. I had been to Loughborough for a meeting and took a detour from the direct route back to Syston, of course as this is a cycle route and they have the lowest priority in Leicestershire you know that it won’t be direct or convenient. Anyway this is what I found.

It is immediately obvious that the route is not actually finished. Here is the northern end of the new route. The signs are still covered and the crossing lights have not yet been installed. Not finished or open by most definitions.

This Syston Road which runs between Rothley and the A46 is busy and fast. They have put up a new 50mph speed limit but it is not enforced with speed cameras or any traffic calming so is widely ignored.

The route north abandons you here. While still signposted in a few places as route 1 there is no infrastructure through Cossington, Sileby and Mountsorrel. As you leave Cossington going north there are a couple of blind bends, almost every time I ride through there I have vehicles that insist on overtaking me through those blind bends when they have no idea if someone is coming the other way. Quite scary.

The real start of the cycle route is of course obvious because of the barrier that will ensure this new facility is as inconvenient as possible for cyclists. Only a road bike with drop handlebars can fit straight through this gap. My wife’s step through frame with front basket needs the front lifting over the shiny steel sides due to the width of the handlebars. If you try to angle the handlebars to get them through then the basket won’t fit. Ladies with bikes that have baskets on the front are clearly not wanted here.

Of course you also won’t be able to get through if you have a child trailer or have a child in a seat on the back of your bike. But then we don’t want parents with young children to use this new cycle facility either.

Please don’t try most tandems, they tend to have wider handlebars for better control and of course the stoker bars can’t be turned either. But no worries, tandems are only used by couples or maybe for a partially sighted or blind stoker – Leicestershire don’t want them either.

Fortunately, you probably can’t get many mobility scooters through this either. The reason it is fortunate is because you are going to find the route impassible a bit further on anyway. But that is ok, we don’t want people with limited mobility to be able to get around either.

Here you can see how the edge of the route is already overgrown, you can’t see the edge at all and there are branches and brambles overhanging about 1/3 of the width. The experience from other parts of this route suggests it might get cut back once every few years. In 12 months the width will be considerably reduced.

Notice how the pedestrian couple have moved to the side to let me past. The path isn’t wide enough for an ordinary bike to pass two people walking side by side.

Experience in Watermead Park suggests that on a nice weekend cyclists will have to slow to a walking pace about every 30 metres to get past pedestrians, often needing to stop because of loose dogs. But it seems that is ok, Leicestershire know that cyclists never want to get anywhere quickly.

The short new section of path also includes two sharp blind bends. This one is a full 90 degrees and the hedge has not been cut back at all so there is no visibility. In fact as I was stopped taking this picture a runner suddenly appeared just where I would have been riding, as you see in the next photo.

Next time it could be a person with a dog on a long lead that goes right across the path. There will be no warning.

To make a point here is a picture of the other blind corner which is a 90 degree right hander, again with no visibility.


Once you have navigated the barrier and blind corners you get to the River Soar. More bad news here. Not only does the surfaced path disappear but they haven’t provided a smooth transition, just roughly and partially filled with loose bits.

By now you have realised that the only bikes designed for these routes are cross bikes. You need the gearing, agility and big tyres of a mountain bike combined with drop handlebars to get through the barriers.

The next bit uses the spacious towpath.

Of course this bit hasn’t been surfaced, but don’t worry, if it rains a lot it will probably be underwater anyway.

The good news is that they have been repairing the river banks. The bad news is that they have not filled in behind them properly so the surface is very rough and here there are reinforcement bars showing ready to trip you up.


Of course this will probably be changed because we have been promised a new bridge over the Wreake. Sadly despite this route being declared open you still have these steps to navigate.

I have done this with a cargobike because I mistakenly followed earlier signs without realising that this is perfectly ok on a National Cycle Network route in Leicestershire.

Finally, we reach the point where we turn off for Syston. Of course we can’t let you leave this wonderful new cycle route without another cycle proof barrier. Just to make sure that you are slowed down enough we put in a steep slope up to the road to really scare you if you are silly enough to have a child in a seat on your bike.

From here the route to Syston uses Meadow Lane.

That includes this steep and narrow bridge over the A46, the safety audit recognised that it was dangerous for cyclists to be riding slowly up this hill to the blind bridge with the possibility of meeting cars, vans or lorries coming the other way.

So they have fitted ramps onto the pavement so that cyclists can get off the road over the bridge hump. Of course they have not put up any signs to tell you that this is ok. Also they have allowed the ramps to become so overgrown that you can’t use them with a trike or a trailer.

The bridge pavements also feature wheel catchers, sorry I mean expansion joints.


As I reached the end of Meadow Lane my camera battery ran out so I can’t show the delights of the semi derlict industrial area, the huge potholes, the overgrown section to the Fosseway, the loose gravel when crossing the Fosseway or the path between Fosseway and Broad Street that is still closed for re-surfacing (despite them taking down the closed signs at the Broad Street end).

I’ll put those in another post along with the appalling crossing of Syston High Street and the rest of Route 1 (that incidentally ends at the Leicester City Central Ring Road).

No doubt this is going to prove popular, but why couldn’t it be done properly to a good standard as other countries manage?


Recalibrating distance

On Friday I cycled to a day conference at Hothorpe Hall. It was 22 miles and took me 1 hour 36 minutes compared to a Google Maps estimate of about 50 minutes (“fastest” was 47 minutes via the M1 which in a morning is likely to have delays going past Junction 21).

It was a lovely morning to a beautiful place (as shown in this photo)

Despite the fact that I got there in plenty of time and without any distress I did get a number of comments about how far it was and how fit I must be.

However, both these are absolute rubbish and both are artefacts of the way that the car has deceived us. In the UK we get the impression that 22 miles is a distance that only fit racing cyclists can ride. Yet it wasn’t so long ago that it was common for ordinary people to ride these sorts of distances for pleasure or to visit friends (I am conducting a funeral on Monday for an elderly man who used to ride 80 mile round trips to visit his fiancée when he was dating her).

I suggest that with a bit of practice any moderately healthy person can ride 22 miles to a special event in a couple of hours, attend a meeting and then ride back home again. It does not require a fancy bike or weird clothes (I did change into a fresh top for the meeting but that is very easy to do).

We need to recalibrate our brains to regain a better perspective on distance and time. The “convenience” and resulting laziness that comes from the car hides it’s cost (both healthy and wealth and both for us and society) while making alternatives seem impossible.

My route was simple and went pretty much straight through Leicester (something you can’t do in a car anyway which is why the route is much shorter than driving). At just after 7am the centre of Leicester was very quiet and beyond that there were some really nice quiet rural bits that you miss when in a car. After all how often do we choose roads with grass down the middle halfway through our journey? If a car had tried the same route the time difference would have been much smaller (as it was I took 1 hour 34 minutes so less than double estimate car time). You can see the route took a bit of a kink at one point so I could continue to enjoy the quieter roads.

If we are going to see this kind of distance recalibration all that is needed is for people to ride their bikes frequently (by that I mean several times a week) with the intention of reducing car use. As we do that we discover distances shrinking and it becomes practical and normal to cycle longer distances.

However, the problem is that we need to get to the point where people feel safe enough to ride their bikes frequently as alternatives to driving a car (so driving to a place where you ride your bike off road does not help or count). Until we reconfigure our transport policies so that they actively support cycling as a viable means of transport that needs to be encouraged through making it feel safe nothing much is going to change. Until there real change such as we see in other places our cars are still going to mislead us about distance.


LeJOG booking done

Well that was a nice job for a rainy Bank Holiday afternoon 🙂

All the accommodation is now booked (well in some cases just a web enquiry sent off and so not yet confirmed) for my Lands End to John O’Groats ride.

12 nights for 11 days of cycling

  • 2 nights with family
  • 1 night in a Travelodge
  • 4 nights camping
  • 5 nights B&B

None of them are far off route and none of them make more than 5 miles difference to any days ride length 🙂


Yet more Bullitt Cargobike maintenance

I can hardly believe it! After only about 6 weeks since I last did some work on my Bullitt Cargobike (fitting an 11 speed Alfine hub gear) I had to do more maintenance when I went out for a ride late last night.

For what must be the 3rd or 4th time in only 18 months I had to wipe the lens of my front light clean. 🙂

For what it’s worth the 11 speed Alfine has worked perfectly since fitted without any adjustment or maintenance. Despite the tight clearances the Schwalbe Marathon Tour Plus on the back wheel has also been great. No maintenance since fitting it (why do some many people think you need to check you tyre pressures every week – just get better tyres and you don’t need to touch them for months at a time).

I am so pleased that I have discovered the wonders of good quality bikes with components that just work year in and year out. It is just so sad that these are not the norm in the UK.



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