Wind, water and steel

UntitledYesterday’s ride was tough.

I hadn’t intended to go out but botched arrangements left me with an afternoon to kill and so I did.

I chose my ‘urban odyssey’, a 37-mile largely traffic-free loop around Liverpool that never takes me more than half a dozen crow-flies miles away from home.

I began by taking the Liverpool Loopline south to Halewood then on to Speke before joining Liverpool Promenade at Cressington.

Right along the ‘prom’ with a howling westerly giving me a proper workout before cutting through the north docks and onto the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Stanley Dock.

From here I followed the towpath to Aintree Racecourse before joining the Loopline at the northern end near Canal Turn and heading back home.

It was a tough ride with gusting winds making steering and pedalling a challenge. And the picture highlight? Undoubtedly the massive Vidar offshore jack-up ship berthed at the Pier Head. An awesome sight.

Lon Las Ogwen – an antidote to ‘going long’

Nant Francon

‘Going long’ has an enduring romance in cycling circles.

Pushing yourself, getting the miles in, emptying the tank. Cycling has a clutch of phrases for the act of going out for four, five, six hours; 70, 100, 120 miles.

But for me, and I imagine many others, the shorter and more interesting rides can often hold comparable joy and stay in the mind longer.

Around Christmas, my son Sam told me about Jack Thurston’s lovely ‘Lost Lanes Wales’, a book detailing 36 short or shortish day rides exploiting some of the best roads in Wales that you’ve probably never heard of.

One of the book’s many wonderful illustrations caught my eye – unmistakably the mighty glacial valley of Nant Francon in North Wales. Running from Llyn Ogwen north to Bangor, it is possibly the finest textbook example of a U-shaped glacial valley that you’ll find in the UK, flanked by the mighty Glyderau and Carneddau.

My brother and I have walked much in the area of late but I’ve never cycled there. However I was always curious when driving up the valley on the A5 – looking across the valley to the right, spying a narrow, sinuous lane followed the foot of the Glyderau from the Penhryn slate mine to Ogwen Cottage in the shadow of Pen Yr Ole Wen and Tryfan.

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Turns out that this glorious lost lane is part of Lon Las Ogwen, an 11-mile, waymarked trail that begins at the pier of Porth Penrhyn on the Menai Strait and plies the old slate mine railway before meeting the lost lane on Nant Francon’s western flank.

Nant Francon valley and the Carneddau in low cloud.

I had to ride it. 11-miles there, 11-miles back. Many ‘proper’ cyclists would sniff at such a pittance of distance but for me, the experience of riding in such majestic country, steeped in interest, was more than enough to justify the 1hr 45min drive from Liverpool.

Sam accompanied me in the car, with his De Rosa carbon road bike on the roof next to my old Reynolds 531 Raleigh Clubman. At Porth Penrhyn we met Ian, with his eponymous steel Tierney and Sam’s twin brother Tom, on his carbon Ribble road bike.

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I have to admit to being a little uneasy about the terrain ahead and my companions’ bike choices. The opening section of the route was on tarmac and gravel mixed-use path, before a slate road section through Penrhyn Slate Mine. Following this was a gravel road section before a final tarmac sector to Ogwen Cottage.

I needn’t have worried. The bikes handled the route with aplomb, with only one snakebite puncture for Tom on the slate road section.

The opening salvo of the ride was idyllic, following Afon Cegin, which after a month of rain was in spate, taking its own path around trees and over rocks in the lush, deep valley. With luck the trail was never inundated but at one point our path was blocked by a fallen tree, which most of us managed to negotiate with our dignity intact.

The graceful Ian Tierney. The path began to rise on the bed of the old narrow-gauge railway that once took slate from the mine down to the purpose built port of Porth Penrhyn. The steady gradient soon revealed the dramatic peaks of the Carneddau and Glyderau, with their highest tops shrouded in cloud. Soon though the terrain closed in once more. We passed through Tregarth and into the slate mine and were suddenly surrounded by millions of tons of glistening rock; the spoil heaps of a 1200ft deep mine than once ‘roofed the world’. 

Now the eerie sounds of zip wires from the old quarry’s Zip World pierced the air as we helped (or hindered) Tom, fixing his rear wheel flat. The road around the flank of the mine was rough and sinuous, bucking and weaving with short, savage climbs and descents that demanded full respect on tyres no wider than 28mm. 

Gravelicious

After a final climb and drop, the ominous slate heaps were behind us and the full majesty of Nant Francon was unveiled. And to cap it all we had a virtually traffic-free lane to take us to the breached watershed at Ogwen Cottage.

We hammered along the gravel section, stones pinging from our tyres until we reached the tarmac. To our right Foel Goch, Mynydd Perfedd and Y Garn loomed. To our left across the valley, Carnedd Llewellyn and his brother brooded beyond the brash western crags of Pen Yr Ole Wen.

Our destination was the cleft between Pen Yr Ole Wen and the lower slopes of Y Garn, where the outdoor centre and YHA sits. However, to get there required surmounting a series of brutal rises, which more than made up for the ride’s lack of distance.

We heaved ourselves over the climbs and passed through the small wooded area at the head of the valley to arrive at Ogwen Cottage. So often have I been there as a walker at the start of my journey that to arrive as a cyclist, mid-journey was a funny thing.

We sat and chatted, drank coffee and ate Ian’s left-over Christmas cake before enjoying the mostly downhill freewheel back to Bangor, in time to catch the sunset over a placid Menai Strait.

Coffee at Ogwen Cottage. We could have extended the ride further and kept the ‘Lost Lanes’ theme alive. After a short road section passing Llyn Ogwen and the foot of mighty Tryfan, we could have turned onto the old coach road bridleway and followed it to Capel Curig, enjoyed a sit-down lunch at Pinnacle Café or Moel Siabod café a little further up the road. But daylight was in short supply and the 22 challenging and varied miles were enough. More than enough. Porth Penrhyn. Can't think of a better start and finish point for a bike ride.

Lon Las Ogwen

 

New adventures in indexing

A 1984 Suntour ARX pre-index shifting rear mech. A 7 speed Shimano SIS freewheel. An 8 speed Shimano Ultegra bar end shifter. These things are not fated for a happy menage a trois when drivetrains are concerned. And yet I have today discovered that they work. And pretty darned well.

Back in 1984 – apart from Shimano’s ill-fated Positron indexing system, SIS gears were the stuff of whimsy and friction shifting ruled.

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Suntour’s patented slant parallelogram derailleurs were still the sweetest shifting mechs on the block but Shimano was making rapid progress.

The ARX was at the tipping point, designed as a response to Shimano’s 600AX futurism – and to replace the ageing yet brilliant VX range. However it was still a fine piece of kit, especially for a mid range derailleur.

I’ve wanted to have the option of indexing for a while, having ridden for a few years on a positively ascetic friction-only setup.

Furtive searching of Sheldon Brown’s site confirmed that 8 speed shifters will work across a 7 speed block because the difference in cog spacing is minimal (4.8mm for 8 speed and 5mm for 7 speed according to the mighty SB).

The question was, would my achingly lovely Suntour ARX generate the correct amount of mech movement for a given amount of shifter cable movement? This was a question that Sheldon and a host of bike forum-o-nauts couldn’t readily answer.

There was only one thing for it – to get the bike in the stand and see if it worked.

It was with much trepidation that I snugged up the 4mm Allen bolt holding the cable and tentatively spun the pedals and worked the bar end shifter. Especially as the setup currently has no barrel adjuster to finesse the cable tension.

So one can imagine my surprise and delight when the chain sprang willingly from one cog to another and back again with very little complaint.

For me this experience is potential proof of a number of things:

  1. There may indeed be a benevolent and omnipotent God
  2. I may be a mechanical genius
  3. The strict laws of product compatibility may not be all that

Here endeth the lesson. Happy shifting and amen.

Four days of cycling heaven. Where? The Netherlands of course

I had my own lane. I had my own traffic lights. Motorists gave way to me when I crossed a t junction. 

Everyone around me on the bike lane was wearing normal clothes. I didn’t see a helmeted cyclist until I got to the Omnisport Arena, Apeldoorn where I was live blogging for British Cycling and the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships. 

The event was great. Great for me and great for the team who came away with seven world titles. 

But for me it was my humble ride to and from the team hotel that will stick in the mind. 

I found myself quite emotional when I handed back my Gazelle hire bike yesterday evening. 

She had become a faithful friend over the previous few days. 7 easy gears. Brakes that worked no matter what the conditions. No danger of an oily trouser cuff. Or a stiff neck or sore wrists.  Kind of like I would expect if I was driving a car. 



But driving didn’t seem so appealing. Even in the wind and rain that lashed the Low Countries over the weekend and blew Geriant Thomas off the road at Gent Wevelgem. 

A kilometre long queue crawled impatiently out of town as I rode home one night. But there was no gridlock on the bike paths. Just steady, stately progress. 

Nobody was in a rush because nobody needed to be. Why? Because journey times on a bike are utterly predictable especially when the beefy tyres on your Dutch bike seem as impregnable to punctures as car tyres. 



My last view of Apeldoorn was the railway station with its double decker trains and double decker bike park, housing hundreds of commuters’ bikes. 

Coming back to the UK I’m going to have to readjust, recalibrate my radar and remind myself not to ride on the pavement. 

As a colleague said to me over breakfast one morning, “Cyclists here are like sacred cows in India. They are allowed to wander where they please”.



Wide, flared and handsome – I’m a little smitten with the Velo Orange Grand Cru Randonneur Handlebar

The big problem, for me, with standard drop handlebars, is setting a handlebar angle that is at the same time comfortable on the drops and behind the brake levers.

This is because in my opinion, somewhere along the way, the DNA of drop handlebar design was fundamentally altered, and because its development was driven by going fast/looking fast rather than going comfy, nobody noticed.

Racing and touring bikes back in the day had comfortable drop bars with an elegant, constant radius curve and parallel drops and tops. Then someone came along and broke it all.

But happily, of late, there’s been a resurgence in handlebars that don’t torture the wrist and demand a vice-like grip. The Nitto Noodle, championed by Rivendell is one and the Velo Orange Grand Cru Randonneur is another.

The latter I chose to buy for my sympathetically restored Raleigh Clubman, which, one day I will itemise fully on this blog.

The Grand Cru Randonneur is a handlebar in the classic constructeur style. Wide, flared and with the critically important parallel drop and top. Why is this so darned important?

Well, it allows the drop bar to be so angled that the tops are level with the ground, along with the drops and the brakes within easy reach from either position. This all results in a relaxed wrist and hand, opening up a whole new world of drop bar comfort.

It is rare that ergonomics and aesthetics go hand in hand to such a degree, but I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s a certain Georgian rightness about these bars that’s hard to dislike.

Velo Orange Grand Cru Randonneur handlebar
Velo Orange Grand Cru Randonneur handlebar in the 46 cm width, mounted on a Zenith 80mm quill stem.

Sunshine and showers

Sometimes you can hum and hah the day away, thinking “should I have a ride or shouldn’t I?”.

Today was just such a day. Blustery, dark and cloudy then bright and sunny by turns.

But I’m glad I did. 13 miles on the loop line in dappled sunshine. Bike ride scratch itched. Squirrel count: one (grey).

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The longboard and short of it – SKS P45 Longboard Beige. A review.

When I acquired my Raleigh Clubman it came with an affliction common to many sports tourers of its era, namely fenders that are too narrow for the tyre.

The delightful ESGE 35mm gold fenders that came stock with the bike in 1983 wore their 31 years well but with 27 x 1 1/4 tyres beneath (i.e. 32-630) they weren’t exactly roomy.

The problem was exacerbated when I swapped the stock Raleigh tyres for a set of Panaracer Paselas, which, aside from being wonderful, are the fattest 27 x 1 1/4 hoops in all of Christendom. So portly are they that they forced a period of fender abstinence.

Now this was fine during the hot, dry spell that has shocked and stunned the UK for the past week but, as any proud Stark would say, ‘winter is coming’ so a fender solution was sought.

So to cut to be chase I ordered a set of SKS Longboard fenders in the 45mm width in ‘beige’. Now don’t be put off by that word. Antique cream would be more accurate. They look fine against the metallic claret of the Clubman’s frame and pick out the decals nicely.

But the coverage… My oh my, I went out and wilfully sought out puddles in the country park and lo, my be-sandalled feet are clean and dry.

In short this is a hearty recommendation for the longboard. And a review of sorts.

As with all proper fenders, monkish levels of patience are required in order to fit them. There’s a knack too, which I’ve developed over a decade plus of fendering bicycles.

Rivendell have a great video on how to do it on YouTube. Seek it out. Me? I’m waiting for it to start raining so I can test them out some more.

I bought mine for £23 minus 10% plus £3.95 express delivery from ProBikeKit. They came well packed, on time and with a free bottle of Lipton ice tea, which my son quickly swigged. Very civilised.

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