False economy and the broken spoke – a tale

Last summer I wore through my trusty and dependable set of Deore LX/Mavic T224 wheels, handbuilt by a good friend and former bike shop colleague back in 2001. They never went out of true and I never suffered broken spokes, despite a total lack of tweaking and all manner of abuse and overloading.

However, the rims eventually wore through and I replaced them with a cheap set of factory built 36 hole hybrid/touring wheels. On paper they looked OK – machined sidewalls, wear indicators, a nice width, 36 spokes and decent hubs. Nothing fancy but good enough for commuting duties…

Or so I thought until I heard a twang from the rear wheel the other night on my way home from work. A wobble ensued and upon inspection, a spoke had broken at the bend on the non-drive side.

Now a broken spoke is no biggie – easily replaced if you know what you’re doing. But, if you know what you’re doing, you’ll also know that a broken spoke is a portent of nasty things to come. Normally, the sound of one’s first spoke breakage is the beginning of a sad symphony of pinging and twanging, accompanied on percussion by brake-rub and the sounds of a penny-pincher beating his own chest in anger.

I’ve got a new set of wheels lined up – at least in a virtual sense – Spa Cycles of Harrogate have their own master wheelbuilder who can make up a set of quality touring wheels from Rigida or Exal rims on Shimano Deore hubs for around £140 – handbuilt with double butted spokes with plain gauge on the rear drive side – the preferred setup for touring wheels the world over.

I’m going to replace the broken spoke and see how we go, but I’ve got a funny feeling that an internet order at Spa Cycles is on the horizon…

Resisting the urge to scratch that upgrade itch

For my day job, I’m fortunate enough to work for British Cycling, creating website content, shooting video and reporting on events from track racing to mass participation rides. This gets me to some interesting places and gives me access to some fantastic events.

Where I was at the weekend - the British Cyclo-Cross Championships (image by Joolze Dymond)

At the weekend, I was lucky enough to be on reporting and video-creation duty at the British Cyclo-Cross championships. ‘Cross is a branch of cycle sport that I’ve loved for a while – I’ve even dipped my toes in its murky but intoxicating waters a few times myself. However, my visit to Derby triggered an inevitable ‘I need a new bike’ reflex.

It happens all the time. I hire a mountain bike at a trail centre – I drive home believing that need a mountain bike. I test ride a friend’s new road bike and I simply must have one. Inevitably, after watching the ‘cross all weekend I convinced myself that what I required was a whisper-light cyclo cross bike. A veritable frenzy of Googling, review reading, bike website ingestion and price comparison ensued. It only took me an instant to convince myself that I needed a new bike, but it took days to convince myself that, actually, I don’t.

Sure, a cyclo-cross bike is a versatile beast – suitable for road rides, commutes, light to moderate trail riding etc. However, the more I looked at the huge range of cross bikes out there, the more I realised just how honed-for-purpose my current bike is.

Fit for purpose - Resurrectio, thought a bit weighty - is honed for my kind of riding
Fit for purpose - Resurrectio, thought a bit weighty - is honed for my kind of riding

Most of my cycling would be classed as commuting, with the odd trail ride and the even odder longish road ride thrown in. For these purposes, Resurrectio is ideal. Sure she’s more than a little portly – (around 30 lbs without fenders, lights, kickstand, etc) but that weight is a sign of strength – the sort of strength that you need to survive the standard commuting abuse; top tube dents, potholed roads etc. Resurrectio is also unashamedly low key. She’s dull green, she’s got fenders, she doesn’t look fast – therefore she doesn’t attract unwanted attention.

A race oriented ‘cross bike would certainly be a few mph faster and a lot livelier to ride, but I doubt it would be as durable long term and the thought of leaving a blingy bike at the bike rack or in the bicycle compartment on the train just fills me with anxiety. Speaking of anxiety, the majority of cross bikes come equipped with carbon forks…

Resurrectio also been kitted out in a way that few bicycle manufacturers would consider. High mounted drop bars, V brakes, platform pedals, Brooks saddle and my proprietary ‘wide range double and chainguard – triple chainset’.

The object of my illicit affections - the Surly Cross Check

I considered a more sensible frame upgrade – perhaps to a Surly Cross Check -which would be a full 2 ½ lbs lighter that Resurrectio’s burly plain gauge chromo heart. But what’s 2 ½ lbs in frame weight once you’ve dropped a 190lb rider on top? The weight of a couple of full water bottles? The Surly – while undoubtedly the most versatile, elegant, good-value bicycle frame on the planet – costs £299 for the frame and fork plus the necessary new headset, seatpost, stem, front mech and BB to make my current parts fit – so let’s call it £400. I’m sure I could lose 2 ½ pounds of belly fat for less than £400.

So after a few days of Googling, pondering and review reading, I’ve turned once more to Resurrectio, my home-brew country bike, whose plain-gauge, chromo heart cost me a mere £13 and vowed I wouldn’t look at another again. Well, at least for a while…

Hmm - mithril (well, titanium but you get the point) framed wonder-tourer from Sabbath. The frame is stout as hell, plain gauge titanium but only weighs 3.5 pounds - surely the holy grail of touring bikes. Now, just need to find £1600...

Footnote: then I stumbled across the titanium Sabbath Silk Route touring bike on offer at Spa Cycles – now the upgrade itch is even more difficult to quench!

Miscellany: Back on the road, punctures against the clock, bike decluttering and 1950s ‘cross

This week’s been a good one thus far. Back to work, therefore, back into bike commuting zone. Following a long layup, I had my Wirral Way ride on Monday, then two days of bike commuting.

The first day was a shock to the system – the journey home in particular being fun and games – carrying a laptop, camera bag and tripod on the bike (and up and down the station stairs at rush-hour) was a rude awakening for my Christmas-softened physiology.

Yesterday was interesting too. A fix the puncture against the clock moment at Picadilly station – 10 minutes before the train is due to arrive and I find a cartoon style tack sticking out of my tyre. I managed to get the new tube in, pumped up and the bike reassembled in time to catch the train back to Liverpool. My brake gunk encrusted hands got a few looks of distaste on the journey home.

Looking ahead, I’ve got a great weekend of work ahead – reporting on the 2011 British Cyclo-Cross Championships at Derby – two days of mud-plugging action. Can’t wait.

I’m also considering stripping Resurrectio down to its bare essence. I’m not sure if other riders out there get this urge from time to time, but every now and again, I get the urge to ride a stripped down, unladen bike. Sometimes you can add accessories like bags, kickstands, fenders etc, one after another in order to make the bike more useful and practical, then you get to the point where the weight creeps up and the cycling experience loses a little sparkle.

Does anyone else out there ever experience the urge to declutter the bike?

Finally, and back to the cyclo-cross theme, I stumbled upon this wonderful video of a 1950s cyclo-cross race. Awesome what these chaps do on standard ‘clubman’ bikes. The commentary is, erm, quirky too.

Hoping to squeeze a cheeky ride in tomorrow – I know that watching hundreds of other folk riding at the weekend will give me acute ride-envy.

New Year Ride: Wirral Way

On the trail near Thurstaston

It seems to be a bit of a cyclists’ tradition to have a New Year ride to get rid of that festive fuzziness and start the year as one means to go on. With this in mind, me and my three sons (Tom (18), Sam (also 18) and Harry (11) met up in Liverpool’s languid Leaf tea bar with a plan to ride the Wirral Way – a 12 mile traffic-free former railway path that follows the track-way of the old Hooton to West Kirby branch line, which closed in the 1950s. The trail is a mixture of gravel, compacted earth and shale and is always fun to ride on a road bike.

It was a cold day, only scheduled to reach 2 degrees Celsius at best, so we wrapped up warm (apart from Sam!) and hopped on the train to Hooton, our starting point. The train journey was quick, but not too quick that I didn’t have time to fix Tom’s loose front cone (Tom and Sam always present me with a mechanical puzzle on every bike ride – I think they think that I’m their team mechanic).

The wonderfully evocative old station at Hadlow Road, Willaston

Once on the trail, we rode out to Hadlow Road station, a fully restored time warp station, preserved as it was circa 1952. We took a look around the ticket office, checked out the old fashioned points shed and stood on the railway tracks that had been re-laid in front of the station, safe in the knowledge that no trains would come.

We pressed on along the trail, with a few grumbles from Harry the Younger, who was finding it hard to rediscover his cycling Mojo. The sparingly dressed Sam, who always chooses style over practicality, was beginning to suffer in the cold. We stopped at Thurstaston nature reserve, looked out over the Dee estuary to the Welsh hills, and ate jam sandwiches (which perked up Harry no end).

From Thurstaston, it was only another few miles to the end of the Wirral Way at West Kirkby, where we jumped on the train and headed back to Liverpool and home, where a warm pot of beef stew awaited.

I usually ride alone, but every now and again it’s great to ride with the family and share some of the places and experiences that I usually covet for myself. I plan to return to the Wirral Way soon, with the aim of putting together a video ride guide for the Way and the Wirral Coastal Path. Watch this space…