Tag Archives: Schwalbe

Why I love my Bike for Life when it is 11pm and I’ve 10 miles to home with strong headwind and heavy rain

It is a long title “Why I love my Bike for Life when it is 11pm and I’ve 10 miles to home with strong headwind and heavy rain” but I feel I need to explain why I had a grin on my face as the rain got a lot heavier as I was riding through Burton on the Wolds last night.

It seemed to me that when you are out riding in bad weather late at night 3 things allow you to grin and enjoy it.

  1. You need to be wearing the right clothes and have the right food and drink at hand.
  2. You need to be confident that your bike can cope and it not going to let you down in any way.
  3. and it really helps if you know that when you get home you don’t need to worry about cleaning the bike or doing any work on it because of the conditions you are riding through.

This is the route last night:

So for me last night I was able to grin because

1. Clothes/Food/Drink

On the top half I was wearing a thermal t-shirt (don’t know the brand, it is old but still effective), a very old short sleeve cycling top and a new Dare 2 Be shell long sleeve top. It was all warm and kept me feeling dry.

On the lower half I was wearing a cheap pair of old cycling shorts and a pair of winter cycling tights from Altura (at least 5 years old). Again very comfortable and warm.

On my feet I was wearing Shimano MW81 Gore-Tex Winter Mountain Bike Boots, these keep my feet dry upto a few hours of riding in heavy rain and usually warm after that. That is helped by the full mudguards and mudflaps which mean I don’t get much water splash onto my feet.

trail42-packflaskTo drink I had just finished some great hot filter coffee (Cameroon Hosnia from tankcoffee) which has been kept warm in a Trail42 Pack Flask. I’ve only had this since Saturday when I used it for the ParkRun support ride. This time I did make sure the coffee was really hot, using the microwave, before putting it in and it was still a good temperature after nearly 2 hours.

Plus also a bottle of water and a couple of energy gels which I ended up not needing.

2. Confidence in the Bike

At that time of night I find it impossible to enjoy the ride, however comfortable I am, if I having any nagging doubts about the Bike. I find it easy to let nagging doubts drag me down and so in the past instead of enjoying the ride I would be worrying:

  • are my lights going to last to the end of the ride
  • am I going to get a puncture
  • am I going to damage a wheel in a pothole hidden by a puddle
  • are my brakes good enough or do I need to slow down on the downhills
  • am I so tired that I will run out of gears uphill against this headwind

I am sure that you are not like me and don’t let these things cross your mind or get you down. But they have spoilt rides for me in the past. If you have to stop to fix the bike or walk home or call home for a lift then you quickly switch from being warm and comfortable to cold and wet.

While I was fortunate and didn’t get a single puncture on my 2012 LEJoG I also knew that Jane was available in the car not far away from me with full tools, parts and even a spare bike. Even so my Trek Pilot didn’t leave me feeling as relaxed about finishing a ride as my Bike for Life does.

The confidence comes from:

  • The Schmidt Hub Dynamo that you know has been so carefully engineered to last and last.
  • LED front and rear lights powered by the dynamo. The only maintenance they have needed since new is to wipe the lens clean.
  • The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres, 35mm front, 40mm rear. Incredibly puncture resistant and big enough volume to not worry about pinch flats on unexpected potholes etc. So far I’ve had no punctures ever on a Marathon Plus.
  • The wheels are handbuilt, they have stayed true for the first 4,000 miles. As I use disk brakes the rim has not been worn at all and it wouldn’t matter if they got a bit buckled on this ride as it won’t affect the brakes.
  • There is nothing better than hydraulic disc brakes for inspiring confidence that they will get you home. You can stop reliably and controllable right to the limit of the tyres grip no matter what the weather. These are Hope Tech E4’s and they have been superb from day 1. I wore out a complete set of new Swissstop brake pads on my Trek in the first half of LEJoG (and I mean fully worn out). I wrote about this in A bike for life: Cascading decisions.
  • As the Trek had got older I used to worry about the Carbon fork a little, you read scare stories about forks breaking. This is one of the many reasons why the frame and forks of my Bike for Life are all steel (although it is a very fancy steel that Shand Cycles use). So the whole frame inspires confidence that it is not going to suddenly fail.
  • One of the beauties of the Rohloff 14 speed hub gear is that I have a mountain bike range of gears (wider than a road bike). It is brilliant because, however tired you are you are, all you do is twist and there is another gear available. It is very rare that I get to use first gear (I certainly didn’t last night) which is great. That feeling when you are in first gear and struggling up a hill against a headwind is a horrible one and one I have never had with the Rohloff.
  • h10_loopbar_alFinally, the Jones Loop H-Bar is also great in these conditions. You can put your hands close together on either side of the loop (depending on how tired you are) getting a much more aerodynamic position than you would expect on a fairly upright bike. I find this makes a huge difference in strong headwinds and is much more comfortable than riding in the drops of my Trek was. This really helps remove the impact of a headwind on my morale.

3. The Bike after the ride.

The combination of Gates Belt drive and the Rohloff means that when you finish a ride in horrible conditions you can simply leave the bike alone. There is no chain to go rusty, there are no derailleurs that are going to have been clogged up. No wheel rims or brake pads to clean or check. Again compare that to the state of my Trek after LEJoG.

It is so nice to ride your bike without having to think about the maintenance you will have to do afterwards. There will be no guilt because you simply put it away and lock it up. Late at night that is a very good feeling which again keeps the grin on your face.


I love my bike and it means I can be 10  miles from home with a strong headwind, heavy rain at 11pm with a great big grin on my face 🙂


A Budget Bike for Life?

Following my last post A Bike that defies categorisation I started to wonder whether a budget bike for life was possible. So I have started to look around and build a specification.

As I looked, at least for the moment I had to rule out a Gates Belt Drive. I couldn’t find a budget steel frame with support for a coupler in the seat stay. That will have to come in the future. So a chain and chainguard is needed instead.

This is what I have so far, it comes out at around £1,500 at retail prices including shipping.


  • Frame: Cotic Roadrat with Fork £300
  • Rear Wheel with Alfine 8 speed hub, Mavic Disc rim £200
  • Front Wheel with Alfine Dynamo hub, Mavic Disc rim £100
  • Alfine Chainset £55
  • KMC 8 Speed chain £10
  • On-One Mary Handlebar + stem £25
  • Headset £60
  • 2 x Avid BB7 cable disc brakes £130
  • 2 x Brake Lever £15
  • 2 x Ergon GP1 Grips £25
  • Quality Brake Cables £10
  • Front and rear LED Dynamo Lights £170
  • Rear Rack £35
  • Flat Pedals £25
  • Carbon Fibre Seat post + clamp £60
  • Saddle £30
  • 2 x Full Length SKS Mudguards £35
  • 2 x Inner Tubes £8
  • 2 x Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres 700c x 35mm £46
  • SKS Chainboard £15

That sounds to me like a pretty nice reliable workhorse bike that will be good for reliable transport in all weathers. It won’t be as quick as a “road bike” but from my experience it will be possible to commute up to about 10 miles each way in ordinary clothes (especially if you are willing to change your shirt when you arrive at work). It will be able to handle shopping, towing kids in trailers or a childseat. It will be able to handle most Sustrans off road routes and won’t disintegrate on poor quality cycle tracks and roads. The only routine maintenance will be to clean the chain.

H’mm, wondering how that sounds to other people? My guess is that a manufacturer would be able to sell these at the Cycle to Work Scheme magic figure of £1,000


A Bike that defies categorisation

David Arditti has written an excellent post Vole O’Speed: A post about bikes. In one part of the post he compares the category of a “Road Bike” and a “Hybrid Bike”. My Bike for Life is a Bike that defies categorisation in these ways and deliberately so.

In my opinion the categories of bikes sold in most British shops do not reflect the needs of reliable, convenient, long lasting, pleasant transport.

  • “Road Bikes” are impractical, their 23/25mm tyres do not cope with cycle tracks, potholes and daily use carrying loads. They are designed for speed, not comfort and so you rarely see anyone riding them in normal clothes. They come without mudguards (and often without the space for mudguards to be fitted), racks, lighting and pedals that can be used with normal shoes.
  • “City Bikes” are poor relations of real Dutch bikes. They frequently don’t have the features that make Dutch bikes reliable, long life, comfortable and practical. Eg chain guards, hub gears, dynamo lights, hub brakes.
  • “Mountain Bikes” are also impractical for transport in many ways. They come with knobbly tyres which while often quite puncture proof are very slow on roads. They come without racks, lights, mudguards and chain guards. They have low gears designed for climbing a mountain off-road but irrelevant for getting to the supermarket or work.
  • “Hybrid” is such a vague term that it can include what is essentially a road bike with flat handlebars (and with nearly all the disadvantages of a “road bike”) or a mountain without knobbly tyres, to a more traditional town/city bike (although typically without hub brakes or lighting).
  • “Dutch Bikes” we are starting to see a number of places selling Dutch Bikes, these are much closer to being what is needed. However, Dutch bikes are not perfect everywhere in the UK. Many designs assume fairly flat terrain (heavy and few gears) and good quality infrastructure (typified by not enough volume of air in the tyres and by a very relaxed riding position which I think works best when in a more cycle friendly environment).

It was partly in response to this that I came up with the phrase “A Bike for Life” when I started looking for a practical bike that defied these categories.

By a “Bike for Life” I mean:

  • A bike that will last a lifetime
  • A bike that is completely practical for everyday life
  • A bike that is reliable for everyday life
  • A bike that enhances life

Lets look at the features of that make a bike for life fit these criteria:

Last a Lifetime

  • A steel frame because unlike Carbon or Aluminium it can be repaired (plus with the added bonus of a lower environmental cost)
  • Components that are chosen for long life that can be serviced and won’t break. So handbuilt wheels with big tyres, hub gears, hub dynamo lighting, disc, hub or roller brakes (that work for ages without adjustment and which don’t wear out rims)
  • Security fastening of wheels etc so that the bike can be quickly locked more securely (I use Infinity3D)

Completely Practical

You need to be able to ride all year round for normal tasks in normal clothes. This implies:

  • Hub Dynamo lighting: always there, automatic, maintenance free. I use a Schmidt hub dynamo and eDelux front light (on two bikes) and a B&M rear light (on my Bike for Life).
  • Racks: Ideally front and rear. I have chosen Stainless Steel racks from Tubus for strength and long life.
  • Either a chain guard (to keep oil off your clothes) or a belt drive (no oil in the first place). I chose the belt drive.
  • Full length mudguards, preferably with mudflaps to keep you dry.
  • A stand for easy parking.


  • Puncture proof tyres on strong wheels. So 35/40mm tyres with loads of puncture protection (I use Schwalbe Marathon Plus).
  • Hub gears which last far longer and require far less maintenance than do derailleur gears. My (expensive) preference is for Rohloff for performance and reliability (amongst other things moving the indexing into the hub reduces gear cable problems)
  • Hub, Roller Brakes or Disc brakes (hub gears are the lowest maintenance, disc brakes the most powerful)

Enhances Life

This will be more subjective, but for me it includes:

  • The bike being great to ride, so not frustratingly slow or heavy.
  • The bike being comfortable despite the poor road conditions and infrastructure (big tyres, seat post suspension, ergo grips, Jones Loop H-Bar handlebar).
  • Supporting local manufacturing which helps with community, with our own economy and the environment. For me that included Shand Cycles, Hope, Middleburn, Brooks, Carradice, Atomic22, BridgeStreet.

Bikes for Life

I would be so happy if a shop would start selling “Bikes for Life”, by using less exotic components than I chose it should be possible to achieve the magical £1,000 Cycle to Work Scheme limit.


Evening test ride

So tonight I nipped out for a quick 10 mile test ride. What was I testing? Well several things:

  • My first real ride since having a wisdom tooth and the tooth next to it out on Christmas Eve.
  • My first real ride with my new mismatched Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres (35mm on front 40mm on the back). See my earlier post.
  • My first ride since moving this blog from wordpress.com to a hosted WordPress site which should allow me to embed Strava ride reports.

The first good news is that the ride was a good distraction from the remaining aches in my jaw 🙂

The second is that the Marathon Plus felt good, hopefully the 35mm on the front will be a bit quicker than the 40mm, however, I don’t want to waste the good 40mm tyres so having one on the back which carry’s more load and where I have been able to create more mudguard clearance seems a good compromise.

Below is a test of the Strava report


Sublime first 50miler on my Bike for Life

Today was gorgeous so fortified by some of Chris’ fantastic Chocolate cake at the Syston Methodist Church coffee morning I went for my first 50 mile ride on my Bike for Life. A nice way to finish the first month of ownership.

It was a nice simple route out towards Belvoir Castle and then down to Stathem and onto Bottesford. Where I stopped at the great coffee/pizza/panini shop (and had a Sausage and Bacon Baguette and a Latte).


Sorry, only had phone camera with me.

On the way there spotted this:


Yep, a 4×4 that had completely failed to go around a clearly marked bend and ended up upside down in the ditch. Nobody around, hope no serious injuries but highlights why cyclists and pedestrians are frightened by these beasts.

Anyway, back to the ride. The bike worked beautifully, lovely tail wind there and a strong headwind coming back. The Jones Loop H-Bar is fantastic in these conditions as the extra handholds can make up to 5mph difference in speed for the same effort. Sadly, I did get a another puncture, this time at 49.82 miles just as I was coming into Syston, as it was getting chilly I walked home. After 2 punctures in less than a week I’ll be changing from the Continental Cityride tyres to Schwalbe real soon now (going to try the Marathon Plus Smartguard City Tyre).

Beyond the tyre issue which fortunately happened so close to the end I loved the comfort and security of the big tyres and the silence from the belt drive (only noise is the Rohloff in gears 1 to 7). The route included the biggest climbs so far on this bike at Ragdale and from Stathem back up to Eastwell. The Rohloff was great and I managed comfortably (my nicest bike for getting up hills, albeit not the fastest).

Total 50.04 miles

Average Speed 12.8 mph

Height Gained 1,377 feet

And what is more only 378 miles left for 2012 🙂


Irritation with my Bike for Life?

Today my lovely Bike for life let me down.

Sort of.

Well not really.

I was riding to the other side of Leicester just after 7:30am to catch a lift to Northampton when I got a flat tyre. In the end I had to ride/push the bike just over 3 miles fortunately I had been early so in the end was only 10 minutes late despite trying to treat the bike as gently as possible.

I was muttering to myself about getting a flat. However, this only makes 2 flats that have affected journeys since moving to Syston, Leicester in August 2010. In that same period we have had 1 flat tyre on the car as well so there is not a whole lot of difference between them. Still I was disappointed to get one so soon on my new bike.

When I got around to looking at it this evening I discovered that the flat was caused by a 7mm long nail. Maybe that would have even gone through that ultimate in puncture resistant Schwalbe Marathon Plus so it does not mean I am rushing to replace the Continental City Plus tyres on the bike at the moment.

So now I am less unhappy with my bike as it is not really fair to expect it to cope with a nail that would have caused a puncture for a car as well. In fact I am pleased that in the end neither the tyre nor the wheel seem to be very much the worse for wear after being abused by riding (very slowly) with a flat.

I don’t have a spare inner tube of the right size so will need to get one in the morning. So didn’t manage to reach my 10 mile daily target today.

PS Just realised how much bigger pain it would have been if I had been in the car instead of on my bike. Easy to forget how stuck a car with a puncture is.



Snow problem for a bullitt cargobike

Today we have snow, Leciester has got off lightly but with some snow in the night and snow all morning we have maybe 5cm of snow.

So it was a good opportunity to try by new Schwalbe winter tyre with studs.


I had decided to only buy a front studded tyre. Maybe this was a mistake as it turns out to be fantastic. I rode a couple of miles to Thurmaston in quite heavy falling snow with 5cm on the ground over mixed terrain of cyclepath, side roads and main roads (surfaces included everything from virgin snow, to packed snow and deep slush) with some gentle hills. The front tyre was amazing, it did not slip at all and was very confidence inspiring. I found myself using the front brake while going downhill on packed snow with no problem at all. My only problem was losing traction with the rear wheel when going uphill, some big sideways slides but no falls.

On the way home I called in at Starbucks (getting practice for January as I was given a set of dated 50p off vouchers, one per day). Sadly the cars were busy queueing to get in and then struggling to find spaces, cargobikes have no problem though 🙂


After Starbucks it was over the road to Asda to get the Turkey and a few other bits. Poor car drivers were again queuing and then having to walk through the wet slush. Cargobikes get special treatment right by the entrance 🙂 The Sleigh disguise seems particularly appropriate in the snow carrying the ingredients for Christmas lunch.

You get plenty of great comments from kids, I heard one Mum explaining to her son that I had borrowed Santa’s sleigh.


Back home the shortcut avoiding the long queue to get out of the Asda car park means I beat all the cars home as well.

After the recent discussion about 4×4’s, I was feeling very sorry for the 4×4 drivers as they were stuck in the same queues as all the other cars. Must be frustrating to spend all that money and then have a bike zoom by, coping with the snow better than anyone else thanks to a £35 tyre.


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