33.3 recurring: Rivendell Jack Brown and the mathematics of plush

Two immutable laws were at play today. 1. Buying your own Christmas presents is always best. 2. Spending money on tyres is the most efficient way of transforming your bike.

I squared the power of these two laws recently with the acquisition of a pair of Rivendell Jack Brown Green tyres. Now the thought of opening a pair of tyres wrapped in Christmas paper might not appeal to many. Opening a pair of tyres that you bought yourself is surely more tragic? Nonetheless the childlike joy of anticipation has kept me going since I clicked ‘Buy Now’ on Planet X’s website during their Black Friday Fibonacci sale a month or more ago.

“Math is a wonderful thing”, to quote Jack Black, and Jack Brown also knows a thing or two about the magic of numbers. What we have here is a 700c tyre in a Goldilocks 33.3mm width. Why is 33.3 just right? Because it will fit a huge range of bikes, from 1970s and 80s ‘road bikes’ through hybrids, tourers and cross bikes.

It is also a width that won’t intimidate died in the wool 23mm riders, in spite of high performances tyres being available in motorcycle-like widths for many a moon.

But it’s when fat is combined with thin that the magic really happens. A fat, slick tyre with a thin supple carcass is the apogee of road/cycle interface. Jack Brown ‘Green’ is a fat skin wall with a thin tread, high thread count, Kevlar bead and no puncture resistant belt and as a result, weigh a paltry 350g apiece. Rivendell also produce a ‘Blue’ version with a Kevlar belt for the puncture-anxious.

But enough of the numbers and specs. How does the maths work out on the road?

In short. Oh. My. Levels of plush that one only dreams of. Quick acceleration. Floating over irregularities like a pneumatically-suspended god. A rounded profile that begs for Jan Heine-like angles of lean. Tenacious grip on many surfaces. I rode this very day through water, ice, autumn leaves, puddles, gravel and more and not once did Jack’s chequerboard tread complain.

Then there’s the looks. Simultaneously channeling 70s road bike and Dugast tub, the Panaracer-made Jack Brown is a quality handmade in Japan thing, looking like a snake that’s shed its skin in the packet but on the bike like the bulbous, canvas-sided loveliness that graced Eugene Christophe et al’s Tour de France whips.

But inevitably we must come back to the numbers. What price for this best of all worlds performance? Currently £29.99 from Planet X , Fibonacci sales excepted.

My advice? If you’re fat tyre curious, call Jack. You won’t be disappointed.

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The miracle of electricity 


The last few months of dark morning and evening commutes have pushed me to invest in something I’ve wanted for a long time. 


Relying on battery-powered accessory lights has always seemed odd to me, akin to buying a car and having to charge up and strap on lights. I suppose it’s just a symptom of how much bike and ‘accessory’ manufacturers are still in the thrall of racing. 


I’ve long hankered after a dynamo setup and have ridden bikes with bottle dynamos before. But the hub generator has always seemed to me the holy grail of dynamo setups, perfect yet tantalisingly out of reach. 


One can spend a small fortune on top end Schmidt hubs and lights but, ever the cheapskate, I found a way in on the ground floor. 


Some furtive eBay searching found a German seller offering pre-built wheels with a range of Shimano hubs on Exal ZX19 eyeletted rims and DT spokes. 


I opted for the utilitarian DH-3N30 quick release hub, a Union 35lux headlamp with standlight and a mudguard mounted standlight rear light, plus wiring to suit. The whole lot cost an astonishing £60 plus £17 shipping from Germany. 

The wheel arrived well-packaged, nicely tensioned and fitting was a doddle. The light, a UN-4268, has a built in wire and piggyback connectors for the rear light, and incorporates a switch for hub useage. 

At this time of year my commute features a seven-mile completely unlit section which demands a strong, well-focussed beam that doesn’t dazzle oncoming riders. The cheap and cheerful hub and light setup delivers this in spades. It’s already been subjected to horrible conditions and has worked without complaint. 

Sure there are lighter and more efficient systems out there, in Shimano’s range and also from manufacturers like Shutter Precision and Schmidt but for less than the price of a standard front wheel, this is a great way to start. 

The socialising effect of the cycle path

We live an a world of anonymity. We cultivate, curate and nurture our singularity and detachment. We build walls, physical, metaphorical and technological to avoid each other. 

The way we move from place to place is impersonal and alienating. Even when we sit next to one another on the bus, train or tram, we politely ignore each other. We pass in the street like ghosts. Even our social media is fundamentally asocial. 

But I’ve rediscovered a wonderful phenomenon that I observed a few years ago; the socialising effect of the traffic-free path. 

My commute takes me along the Liverpool Loopline for much of the journey, a converted railway path, tree-lined and idyllic, cutting an arc through Liverpool’s suburbs. 

And moving along the path amid the morning birdsong, I make a point to say good morning, smile or otherwise acknowledge every person I pass. I nod to fellow cyclers, thank dog walkers who control their dogs when I pass. I even say hello to those who don’t. Most nod, smile or say morning back. 

I’ve made it my personal challenge to extract a ‘morning’ from the most morose of my regular fellow commuters- an earnest looking young man with glasses who really should be enjoying life’s bounty more than he appears. He rides too fast, too seriously. He hasn’t smiled, nodded or spoke yet but I have faith and pig-headedness on my side. 

I’ve pondered many times why the Loopline and places like it have this fascinating socialising effect. Maybe it’s the semi rural environment that brings out the human in humans, takes us back to a time when we acknowledged one another. Maybe it’s the isolation of this ‘urban lane’ that makes people feel reliant on their temporary linear community. Maybe the human scale, human speed mode reconnects us with each other? 

I thought it was a ‘cyclist thing’ but pedestrians, dog people and cyclists all exhibit the same elevated sense of social connection. Apart from Mr Surly with the glasses and the Strava obsession.  You know who you are. 

Has anyone else noticed this effect on their local cycle trail? 

Saddlebags for commuting: the old-school solution

 
Getting to work by bike, under my own steam, has an enduring appeal for me. Getting to work with steam coming out of my ears, lathered with perspiration however is lower on my favourites list. 

And it’s for this reason that I’m a big fan of carrying my day-to-day goods on the bike, rather than on my back. I’m a firm believer these days that the bike should carry the load, like the faithful iron horse it is. 

Now, long-term followers of this blog will know I’ve wavered on this issue, flirted with messenger bags and rucksacks and whatnot. But I’ve come right back around to letting the beast take the burden. 

And I’ve found that the best type of bag I’ve used for commute-size loads is the classic saddlebag. 

I’ve owned a number over the years, all made by Carradice of Nelson. First a Pendle in olive green, followed by a giant 20-something litre Camper Longflap in black and now, a ‘just about right’ 13-litre Cadet

Why just about right? The mid-sized Cadet is perfect for my needs, big enough to carry everything I need for the day. This is generally:

  • Tools
  • Spare tube
  • Waterproofs
  • Lock 
  • Work satchel containing work shirt and sweater, iPad, phone, chargers. 

The Cadet is a simple, unfussy single compartment with no side pockets and is small enough to leave on the bike when lightly loaded. 

I keep the saddlebag permanently attached to the bike and take the satchel in and out when I get to my destination, essentially using the saddlebag as a fabric basket. I’ve used an SQR quick release system before to great success but the aesthete in me prefers the look of the bag simply attached to the saddle loops on my Spa Cycles Nidd saddle. I use an old Pletscher Model C rack as a bag support, lifting the bag away from the saddle and holding it at a more pleasing angle. 

Russian bags?

The bag-within-bag (Russian bags?) setup works well for me, allowing me to switch between cycling, driving and public transport commutes without having to decant my daily goods from one bag to t’other. 

I’ve toyed with the idea of a basket but rattles bug me and the Carradice saddlebag gives weather protection to its precious cargo, being made from deluge-proof cotton duck and being tucked behind the rider and out of harm’s way. 

It scores over a single pannier in being a central weight over the wheel, away from road spray, drivetrain dirt and snagging in control gates and undergrowth on the cycle path. 

And of course all forms of bike-borne portage score heavily over rucksacks in the sweat stakes, allowing air to circulate over the rider and through breathable jackets, minimising the dreaded sweaty back in the office syndrome, so beloved of work colleagues. 

What’s your preferred mode of bike portage? Rucksack, pannier, messenger bag, saddlebag or something else? 

*I have no affiliation to Carradice, beyond loving their work. 

My commuter dog days are over

For years I’ve worked in a job where a simple door-to-door bike commute has been nigh-on impossible. 

Since 2004, a 70-mile round-trip from Liverpool to Manchester has been my daily bane; a journey that may have appeal for the cycling uber-milers out there but for an ambler like me was never a regular reality. 

So it was bike/train/bike for a long while, until financial reality curtailed it. There followed by a long stint of motorway driving, breaking my spirit. The commute from hell was a big factor in eventually  changing jobs, moving closer to home, opening up the tantalising vista of a daily bike commute. 

My new job is around eight miles away as the crow/cycle flies and lies at the end of Liverpool’s Loopline, a Sustrans marvel that is part of the Trans Pennine Trail, which stretches the breadth of England, from Southport to Hull. 

My commute now is a world away from the stress of the M62, eight miles of largely traffic-free bliss on ‘roads’ that look much like ancient rural lanes, cutting right through Liverpool’s suburbs. 

 
A short, less-than-one-mile road section leads me onto the trail and into a leafy, man-made sandstone gully. There follows around 30 minutes of trundling along the old Cheshire Lines railway bed until I reach Halewood. The trail continues through Halewood Doorstep Common, around the back of the sprawling Jaguar-Land Rover factory and into work. 

This change of daily rhythm has been profound, made all the more special by the bike itself, which seems more than at home in commuter mode. 

 The Clubman is the most adaptable of bikes, happy on a long road ride, great on gravel and also a delight on the daily grind.

To allow normal shoes I switched to MKS Sylvan Tour flat pedals and I added a Carradice Cadet saddlebag, with a vintage Pletscher Model C rack to support it. My work satchel, lock, tools and waterproofs fit in nice and snug, the saddlebag keeping the load off my back and keeping me comfortable and cool. 

Full-length SKS Longboard fenders keep the trail dirt off my work clothes; I don’t change for the ride, apart from switching from wool t shirt to office shirt when I arrive. 

I ride at a sedate pace, enjoy the sounds of the morning and arrive fresh, awake and ready for a day’s work. Simple. 

Has anyone else recently rediscovered the joy of bike commuting? Or are you ready to give up on motorway Groundhog Day?  

 

New tan hoods for my old Weinmann levers

  
I bought my Raleigh Clubman from a guy with a canal boat in Shropshire almost two years ago and it’s still evolving. 

It’s a 1983 model yet the only surviving parts are the frame, fork, headset, seatpost, front mech and brake levers. Every other part has changed. At least once. 

The latest change has been a new set of tan rubber Cane Creek lever hoods for the original drilled Weinmann brake levers. 

I had considered getting new levers altogether to match the new Tektro R559 brakes.

  
(Pic: http://www.rivbike.com)

I eyed TRP’s lovely RRL-SR levers in tan but couldn’t stump for the cost. And anyway, I like non-aero, cables-sprouting-from-the-top levers for a few reasons:

  • They are an important part of the bike’s instantly recognisable old-school look
  • They are a piece of cake to re-cable, without disturbing the bar tape
  • Their smooth loops give much lower cable friction meaning you don’t have to buy silly-expensive cable inner and outer

So I thought the best course of action was to give the existing levers a new lease of life. 

The old black hoods are in good condition but are a little slippy and unforgiving and I like a contrast between bar tape and hoods. 

I’m a fan of no nonsense black cloth tape so tan it was. There are a few types around: Rustines gum hoods are nice but expensive, Dia-Compe make a nice tan hood for their brakes, which will fit many non-aero levers but the Cane Creeks are perfect for the Mafac and Weinmann shape of lever fitted to so many bikes throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Fitting them was a doddle. 

  1. Undo the old cable and slide out
  2. From beneath push out the nylon cable end stop – this makes hood removal much easier. 
  3. Wriggle the old hood forward and down over the brake lever.  
  4. Fit the new hood reversing the last step – the new hoods had enough stretch to slip the cable end stop underneath the rubber and back in place. 
  5. Re-thread the cables and that’s it. 

  
I’m pleased with the new look and they’re a lot more cushioned and grippy than the originals.

I bought mine from SJS Cycles for £9.99 plus P&P. 

Cycle-friendly cafes

Ian the ginger god and Kev getting the orders in at the fabulous eureka cafe.

As cyclists we are all aware of that horrified look when you arrive at the door of a coffee shop in full cycling regalia, either steaming hot (summer) or with rain/ice dripping from your nose (winter).

But as the popularity of cycling grows, cafes are tuning in to the fact that bike riders are a uniquely voracious and thirsty breed, many with deepish pockets and a penchant for good coffee.

The old Raleigh gets a 50 mile outing to eureka cafe. A great way to start the Easter weekend.

I’m pretty spoilt in my part of the world – Liverpool – as ‘over the water’ in Wirral is a mini-Flanders of cycle routes and cycling cafes. Foremost among them is Eureka café at Two Mills – known to many as simply ‘the Mills’.

Since 1929 Eureka has been a cyclists’ café first and foremost, a destination in its own right for the many and a staging post to Wales, deepest Cheshire or Shropshire for the more audacious.

However long-time cycling friend and basset hound owner Ian introduced me to another great café recently, right on the Cheshire Cycleway.

Meadow Lea Farm serves great cake, all day breakfast, great coffee and pots of tea, amongst other delights and is but a stone’s throw from the Chester Millennium Greenway near Mickle Trafford.

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We visited there after being pummelled with rain, hail and wind in early January and its warm, non-judgemental welcome, friendly service, sumptuous food and epic wood-burning stove were much appreciated.

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If you’re in the area, check it out and tell us about your favourite cyclist-friendly or cyclist-specific watering hole.