All entries about Cycling
December 03, 2009
I don’t often get approached to review stuff on this blog, but just like buses sometimes requests come in all at once! Just last week I was asked if I wanted to try out the POWERplus Swallow Wind Up Front and Rear Bicycle Light Set.
This is a combination front and rear light set powered by a wind-up mechanism – no batteries required. I confess I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic at first. I’ve used wind-up torches and head-lights before and never been very impressed. OK for emergencies, perhaps, but a bike light is a critical piece of safety equipment and it really needs to work. When I got the device the specifications didn’t make me feel much better about it – 1 minute of winding gives 8 minutes of light in constant mode and 18 in flashing mode. 8 minutes isn’t long enough for my commute at its shortest.
Anyway, I fitted the set to my bike and gave it a go. I have two front lights already, one a 1W LED light which I run in constant mode, and a smaller 3-LED flasher. I don’t have the handlebar space for a third so I used the POWERplus to replace the flasher. I also have two rear lights already, but could mount the new rear as a third. I quite like the design. The rear light mounts to the seat post or, in my case, the seat stay, and is connected by cable (clipped along the top tube in my case) to the bracket for the front light. The front light is removable, while the rear stays attached. A single switch on the front light controls both lights, so both are either constant, flashing or off. I’d quite like to have the rear constant and the front flashing, but that’s just me.
In use I was pleasantly surprised. The rear light isn’t hugely bright but I have two other lights on the back of my bike and one more certainly can’t hurt. The front light surprised me by being brighter than I expected. It also lasted longer than the specifications suggested. I’ve given it a 60 second wind and had 10 minutes or more of constant light plus a similar amount of flashing time from it. This suggests the internal battery isn’t fully charged by the quoted 1 minute wind and there was some residual charge in the battery before I started. Maybe winding for longer will get you more runtime? I haven’t had a chance to try that out yet.
I wouldn’t use this set as my only lights. Neither front nor rear is bright enough by itself, but as supplementary lights they work pretty well. The limited runtime, though, means you are restricted to 10-12 minutes (3 miles?) on constant or 20-ish minutes (5 miles?) flashing before you have to stop and re-charge. If your commute is shorter than that, they work pretty well, and at least you know you’ll never run out of power. If you commute further, then look elsewhere…
I’m a little concerned about the lifetime of the internal battery. Rechargeable batteries are typically rated for 500 or so charging cycles. This needs charging every time, which means at lleast once, and sometimes twice, a day for six months of the year. It won’t be too long before the battery loses capacity and those runtimes start shrinking. And you have to remember to top it up occasionally during the summer too or the battery deteriorates further. I predict in two years time this is not going to be useful any more.
If you’ve followed the link above to the web-site for the product, you’ll see it is sold by MobileFun.co.uk. What’s the mobile phone connection? As well as being a bike light, you can also use this as a mobile phone charger! There’s a Nokia-compatible cable supplied, and adaptors for other types are available as extras. Interesting, but since I don’t have a Nokia phone I was unable to test this out.
Will I stick with this set on my bike? I suspect not. I like the idea, and if I powered my existing lights with regular alkaline cells it would (a) save me money and (b) keep a pile of batteries out of land-fill. But I already use rechargeables in all my lights and haven’t thrown out a battery in a couple of years (although some are getting to that point now). I think I’m more likely to fit it to one of my kid’s bikes. They don’t often cycle in the dark, always cycle with me anyway, and they’ll find winding up the light fun rather than irritating.
October 06, 2009
I normally try to spend as little as possible on my cycling kit. I’m quite an enthusiastic cyclist, but I’m not a fanatic and I’m a bit of a cheapskate. Unless I’m convinced that spending money on “proper” cycling kit is worthwhile I try to make do. I was long ago convinced that proper lycra cycling shorts were worth both the money and the embarrassment, and that proper cycling jerseys were so much more comfortable on longer rides that the cotton T-shirts I use to wear. I still buy bottom of the range stuff, though, as I’m not persuaded that paying silly money for kit buys you enough extra.
So, when my gear cable broke last week I immediately went looking for the cheapest way of fixing it. In the end I was persuaded to go for something a little above bottom of the range, specifically Gore Ride-On Low Friction Cables. A little pricey for a set of gear cables, but boy are they worth it. The difference between these and the original cables has to be felt to be believed. There’s so much less resistance in the shifter, and shifting happens so much more quickly and predictably. It really is a pleasure to change gear. That sounds stupid to me as I type it, but I’ve had the cable on the bike for about 5 days now and I still enjoy every gear shift. Strange but true. And these aren’t the “professional” version of the cable, which I assume is even better. At over £40 for a set of gear cables, though, I don’t think I’ll be going for those next time. I might, however, go for Gore brake cables when I need to change those.
Seriously, Gore cables are wonderful things. Get some. Now…
September 29, 2009
[ I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, immediately after the ride, but obviously forgot to post it. Oops! ]
I wasn’t originally planing to do the Macride this year, but I’m helping a friend build up his cycling distance in preparation for something exciting next year and the Macride was the right sort of challenge for him before winding down a little for the winter. And I had to keep him company, of course. I was also looking forward to doing the ride in the dry, unlike last year.
This year’s route was pretty much the same as last year’s, but without one or two diversions around the flooded bits. And as last year, it included Bakers Hill – the one hill that made me stop and walk for a bit. I was not looking forward to that!
Everything went pretty smoothly, it turns out. We made good time as far as the hill. As last year, I got about half way up Bakers Hill and had to stop and walk for a bit. We then had a 10 minute rest and re-fuel at the top before carrying on. After that I was nursing slightly achy knees and so slowed down a little, and as we were still in the Cotswolds then the roads were quite undulating still, which didn’t help the poor knees either. Finally, for the last 10 miles or so there was an irritatingly strong wind, always a headwind of course, just to make it a bit harder. Still, we made 4 hours 40 minutes for the 66 miles (note Macride organisers, not 63 miles:-) which is just over 14mph.
I don’t think I could have gone much faster. This isn’t a fast route – the Costwolds is a bit too lumpy for that. The roads around here are much flatter and I can average 16mph over that sort of distance, but not down in the Cotswolds. I said this last year and never did anything about it, but I could do with working on my hill climbing a bit. I suspect my knees might just stop me from getting any faster as I just can’t pedal much harder, but maybe I could work on my technique a bit and that would help. Maybe for next year?
Or more precisely it is a 27-speed with only 3 reliable ones. My rear gear cable has started to go just at the shifter end, meaning the inner cable doesn’t move freely inside the outer. I have persuaded it to stay in the fourth gear of nine at the back and I’m leaving it there for now, giving me just the three gears I get from the triple chainring at the front. That makes riding interesting, but it has also been educational.
My commute in in the morning is overall downhill and so quite quick. Not good without lots of gears. This morning I managed to get it up to 28mph, but only by pedalling at 149rpm!! Interestingly, over the course of only a couple of miles I got much better at that. To start with 135rpm was feeling fast, but I ended up feeling not too bad at 149rpm. I’ve got to go for 150 tomorrow morning!
Going home, I thought, would be more of a challenge. Obviously it is overall uphill, and with my knees I usually end up on the smallest chainring and a nice low gear on the steeper bits. Can’t do that at the moment so I thought I might end up killing my knees. Apparently not. I didn’t even use the small chainring last night. I guess having all these gears has made me lazy. Without them I just had to get on with it, and I had no problems at all.
This hasn’t persuaded me to go out and buy a singlespeed, but I can certainly see how it might improve my riding. I will definitely have to stop being so lazy, and avoid the low gears a bit more often.
I am looking forward to getting all my gears back, though. Replacement cables on order…
July 02, 2009
In previous years I’ve done a monthly “cycling summary” post both to document my progress towards cycling further and faster, and to provide some incentive to keep going. Making your targets public stops you changing your mind, and having to blog about not making them is an encouragement to try a bit harder! I’ve not done that this year, and probably partly as a result I’ve not done anywhere near so well.
I did have a “big ride” in mind this year, specifically a London to Paris ride later this month. That’s 300 miles in four days. None of those days on its own was going to be a major challenge for me, but stringing 4 of them together back-to-back was. I was anticipating quite a lot of training which would keep my mileage up, and I didn’t want to set specific targets in case they got in the way of that training. Then, for various reasons, the London to Paris idea fell through, leaving me with no targets to keep me going.
January wasn’t toooooo bad a month, February was quite snowy so I lost a lot of miles, and after that I just haven’t had the motivation. I’ve even stopped recording the details of each individual ride. I’ve still got proper monthly totals, but no longer am I recording individual journeys. Not good. I need to get my motivation back.
So, how badly have I done? This time last year I’d done 1500 miles, and was happily cycling towards my 3000 mile annual target. I’ve now done just over 1000 miles this year, and only in June have I got anywhere close to my monthly target, if I was aiming for 3000 miles again this year. So, it seems like 2500 miles is a plausible target for this year – meaning another 1500 miles in the second half of the year. Doable, but not easy. I’m going to have to get some motivation back to hit that target. Hmmm…
OK, on to some plans for the rest of the year. I have a friend who is seriously interested in doing London to Paris next year, but doesn’t do anywhere near as much cycling as me so we’ve started some training now. Hopefully a few weekend rides with him, building up the distance slowly, will help me get going again. I also need to get back to 2 or 3 lunchtime rides a week, and to take a few afternoons off and try a few 50-mile rides. When it cools down a bit, maybe:-)
Oh, and yes, that does seem to mean I will be doing London to Paris next year, specifically, this ride for Christian Aid. One of the attractions of the event is that it arrives in Paris the day before the Tour de France does, so you get to watch the finish of the final stage before hopping on the train back. Anybody else want to join me? It would be really nice to get a group involved…
April 24, 2009
For the last few years I’ve occasionally seen an old lady cycling along Westwood Heath Road on a bike with a shopping basket on the front, heading off to Tesco. She was a bit wobbly and not very fast, but still she got there and got back – a round trip of 5 miles or so. She looked about 80, and whenever I saw her I thought, “I hope I’m still cycling that well when I’m her age…”
I was told last night that she has just died. And she wasn’t 80 – she was 97! Astonishing, and most definitely inspirational. Westwood Heath Road won’t be the same without her.
February 23, 2009
Over the last month or so, at least when it hasn’t been snowing, the roads have been very dirty and my bike has been getting pretty filthy. Apart from looking bad, the dirt has been affecting the mechanics too. At first, it was just the front derailleur that suffered. It frequently gets stuck on the middle ring and refuses to change properly to either small or large ring. Fortunately that’s not a huge problem. Worse, though, are the brakes. Dirt has got into the pivots, making them stiff and eventually meaning that they don’t release properly. That is more of a problem. I’ve managed for a while by loosening things a little and running 3-in-1 oil through the pivots to both flush out the muck and lubricate. But this weekend I decided to strip them and clean them properly. Something I’ve not done before…
I started on the rear brake, since I hardly ever use it so it didn’t matter too much if it went wrong. It didn’t. It all came off quickly and easily. The mechanism is quite simple with no little springs or other parts to drop and lose. I sprayed all the parts with Muc-Off, scrubbed with a toothbrush, washed & dried, lubricated the pivots and put it all back. It worked beautifully. Good as new. So, after successfully servicing the rear calliper, the front would be easy, right? Wrong…
Actually, it was almost easy. Everything went as smoothly with the front calliper as with the rear, apart from one thing. The adjuster had seized. I could have lived with that by just re-clamping the cable occasionally to take up the slack as the pads wear. But I wanted it working properly. So I attempted to free it up, eventually resorting to a bit of brute force. Too much brute force it seems, as the top part of the adjuster simply sheered off leaving the rest still screwed into the calliper arm. I tried everything to get it out, including a drill, all to no avail. I couldn’t even swap front and rear callipers, leaving the broken one on the back where I’d never use it, because they aren’t interchangeable.
Right now I have the calliper back on the bike, where it works but obviously isn’t ideal. And this morning I’ve ordered a replacement. That’s turned into a bit of an upgrade – couldn’t resist the Shimano 105 at £30-odd, pictured above. Hopefully it will arrive soon (tomorrow if Wiggle are on form) and I’ll get my bike back in proper working order again…
I’ve ordered some cables too and might re-do some of the cable runs. Or might not, just in case something else goes wrong:-)
January 05, 2009
I had 193 miles to fit into December before the 23rd to reach my annual target and managed it by the 18th, which was quite pleasing. Otherwise, December was reasonably uneventful.
I went on to a total of 3034 miles in the year and almost 192 hours of cycling, for an average speed of 15.2mph. That’s a nice improvement on last year’s 14.6mph. Of those 3000-odd miles, 1700 were commuting miles, 1130 were done during my lunchtime excursions, and the remaining almost 170 were just random pottering about. June was my best month this year, with just over 400 miles – my highest monthly total ever.
As well as the mileage target I did aim to fit in a few longer rides this year, specifically at least one 50-mile ride a quarter. I managed that too, with one of those rides being the 68-mile Macride in September. That’s my longest ride so far, and I was quite pleased when I could still walk afterwards! My knees held up pretty well. Makes me think I should aim for something move challenging this year. More on that later. I also raised £500 for Macmillans through that event – thanks to all who sponsored me.
All-in-all my best cycling year yet. Further and faster than previous years. Time to start thinking about what to aim for this year…
December 23, 2008
I’ve written before about how I use mileage targets to motivate me to cycle when I really don’t feel like it. The aim, of course, is not the mileage targets themselves but keeping fit through the constant exercise. After a while, though, you just get into the habit and you need the targets less and less. Take this morning. I hit my annual target last week, I’m a bit tired, it was dark and a bit wet, but when I was ready to leave the house at about 8am I got on my bike and cycled to work via Kenilworth – an 8.5 mile ride instead of the direct 2 mile ride. Madness! But it just felt right.
December 22, 2008
For the last few weeks the roads around here have been horribly dirty and, worse, covered in salt. My chain was turning brown and the muck had got everywhere making gear changes hesitant and best and sometimes non-existent. The front derailleur was stuck on the middle ring and would not move at all. Time for drastic action…
So, at the weekend I gave everything a thorough clean. The chain came off and was subjected to the Sheldon Shake, followed a good overnight soak in oil to make sure the oil got into all the joints. It was then hung up to allow the excess oil to drip off and finally wiped to get all the oil off the outside of the chain. You want lots of oil in the joints but ideally none on the outside. Oil on the outside just attracts all the muck from the road. It was amazing how much dirt came off the chain.
While that was soaking, the deraileurs were properly cleaned and oiled – much easier with the chain off so you can move them backwards and forwards to work the oil in and the muck out.
And the result of all that is that every change this morning happened first time, crisply and predictably. In fact, I had got into the habit of slightly overshifting the rear, to make sure of the change, and now sometimes I’m getting two-shifts for the price of one. The shifters are meant to do that if you push them far enough – I just need to get used to the fact that everything now works properly again! And being able to use the big ring on the way down the hill on Westwood Heath Road meant I could get beyond 30mph without danger of spinning out. And the whole things makes so much less noise!
All-in-all and much more pleasant ride, and well worth the few hours of time spent on it.