Category Archives: Bike attachments

Bikes ain’t bikes

It used to be that a bike was a bike was a bike. These vehicles of yesteryear had a basic frame (male and female styles), two wheels, a seat, classic shaped handlebars and a bell. Some bikes had brakes, and some were the backpedal brake variety. As a teenager, I had one of these clunkers. Mine had ‘real’ brakes, and a single, very large chainring on the front. It was hard work to ride, so it often also sported a nice collection of spiderwebs which I was generally happy to leave undisturbed.

I was amazed and impressed (and a bit overwhelmed) when I re-entered the cycling world some years ago. I had been assured that these old bikes were long gone. And my mentors were right! But one thing I was not prepared for was the enormous variety and the complexity of the modern treadly.

steel is real

Such a lot of choice (Photo credit: Flowizm)

Nowadays when one speaks of a bicycle, it is difficult to know what the discussion is about! Mountain bikes have become a class of their own – big chunky tyres, bouncy suspension front and rear and (if you mountain bike in Scotland) a good set of mudguards (fenders). At the other extreme, road racers are slick, lightweight machines with such skinny tyres and superfit owners who count every gram of weight as a potential threat to their performance capability. Then there is something called a hybrid……. 🙂 Not to mention touring bikes which are in another class of their own – panniers, granny gears and multitudinous spaces and places to attach touring gear.

Women now ride bikes that look like the mens bikes of yesteryear and in many places, what used to be a ‘womens’ style is now unisex and it is difficult to know the difference (if there is one).

A Dahon Tournado folded into its carry case. A full sized touring/road bike ready to be transported anywhere. Sadly, these bikes are no longer available.

A Dahon Tournado folded into its carry case. A full sized touring/road bike ready to be transported anywhere.

So when you go to purchase a bike, it is important to be very clear in your mind what you intend to do with that bike before you enter the shop.  Otherwise, be prepared to be bamboozled by the (fantastic!) array and complexity of choice that will face you! Even if you know exactly what you want, you may find yourself being tempted by something that is right outside your intended scope!

Dahon Tournado [Ritchey Break-Away frame] w/ S...

A Dahon Tournado fully assembled (Credit: Kaptain Amerika)

Which brings me to the point of this post. It has almost reached the point where a cycling enthusiast has to own more than one bike.

The commuter which can fold down to the size of a large carry bag is a must if one travels to work on a busy train, but it is just not suited to a holiday tour. Likewise, if you enjoy bouncing down the rocky slopes on a mountain bike, the same vehicle is not going to get you anywhere fast on the sealed tarmac.

Giant Anthem - a mountain bike set up for touring.

My Giant Anthem mountain bike poses near Orleans (France). I bought and modified this bike for this tour. Because it had front and rear suspension, I had to get special pannier racks (Old Man Mountain racks). I have since replaced the pannier bags with waterproof ones.

To me it feels rather excessive to own more than one bike, but it is almost becoming a necessity given the degree of customisation and incompatibility between bike styles. What are your thoughts on this matter? Do you agree, or do you feel that your bike is able to comfortably cover all the activities you enjoy?

‘Clip-less’ cycling shoes make pedalling a lot easier

Is it really necessary to wear cycling shoes when riding a bike, or is this just for wanna-be Olympic contenders? Many people are probably unaware that there is such a thing as a cycling shoe! I was certainly in the latter category until I started cycling a few years back, thinking that most people just wore sports shoes with tough soles.

So why not just ride with ordinary shoes?
Well, no reason at all. Any shoes that are properly attached to the foot should work just fine. There are many people out there who refuse to don cycling footwear (or any specialised cycling wear for that matter) and even write blogs about their reasons (see the ‘other people’s experiences’ further down the page).

I am not a fan of slip-on shoes on a bike, as it is too easy for them to slip-off mid ride! But while riding with ordinary shoes is acceptable – it’s also very inefficient and frankly, hard work!

It is only possible to exert pressure on the downstroke and then that foot has a holiday while the other one exerts a downstroke on the other side. If only there was some way of attaching feet to the pedals, then one can push down and pull up as the pedals go around. This way, a lot more power could be generated with the same pedal rotation.

Well, luckily, there is.

Cycling-shoes

My cycling shoes look like sneakers from the top. (The velcro tabs stop the laces from getting caught in the chain).

Actually, there are two ways you can attach your shoes to your pedals.

1. Toe clips
I have always known about metal toe clips on pedals and thought these were quite common. Nowadays, though, modern toe clips are made of plastic (I am told this is because plastic doesn’t crush the foot in an accident – not sure how true this is). KJ tried these plastic toe clips a few years back, but he did not like them and they only lasted one or two rides. I have a friend who has old metal clips which he has used for years and would not exchange them for anything.

But plastic toe clips did not appeal to me at all, so I had to look for something else.

2. Clipless pedals/shoes
I am not sure why these are called Clipless pedals and/or shoes, because to me they clip together, so should be called the opposite (there’s logic there somewhere). However, apparently the name evolved because they were an alternative to toe clips, so were “clip less”.  But, ……I digress…… 🙂

Flat top of the pedal for ordinary shoes

Flat top of the pedal for ordinary shoes

Other side of the pedals, where the shoes clip in neatly

Other side of the pedals, where the shoes clip in neatly

Regardless of what they are called, this shoe-pedal combination is wonderful. I now have pedals which are similar in structure on all my bikes. The top is flat – great for quick rides where ordinary shoes are all that is needed.

The other side has a spring loaded clip-in mechanism which secures the shoe to the pedal. The shoes clip in easily once you are on the bike and are released with a quick sideways ankle twist.

The bottom of the cycling shoe has a cleat screwed to it. This can be moved around to a position which is most comfortable for the rider. I got sore knees for a while when I first started riding with clipless pedals/shoes and found that all I needed was to adjust this cleat to fix the problem. It seemed that my shoes were not facing forward properly once I was clipped in, so that my knees were twisting a bit with each pedal stroke. So, once I knew what the problem was, I fiddled with the settings and the problem disappeared.

The adjustable cleat under the shoe

The adjustable cleat under the shoe. The two round things are screws for adjusting the placement of the cleat.

My worry when I first started using this system was what would happen if I had to stop suddenly and forgot to unclip my feet. The answer is, of course, that I would  fall over! And I did – but only once!

It happened at a most inconvenient time, when everyone just happened to be looking my way :-). They must have wondered why that strange person just ‘fell over’ on that bike, instead of putting their feet out! I felt rather silly, but did not get hurt (I wasn’t moving after all!) so I just had to get over a bit of embarrassment!

But this was a small price to pay, and I am now so used to the shoes that I clip in and out as required without even thinking about it. I would also not dream of going on any substantial ride without these shoes. They really do take a lot of the hard work out of pedalling a bike.

I recently saw some cycling sandals with clip attachments – I am considering getting some of these for summer when it is too hot to wear socks and closed shoes.

Using technology to plan and track cycling routes

This post has been written in response to a request on one of my previous articles where I mentioned using technology when touring on bicycles.

When planning a ride, it is nice to know what to expect in terms of the number of climbs and their steepness, as well as an estimate of the riding distance. A basic technique for distance requires a good map and a piece of fine string. The string is laid out along the proposed route, then the length of the ride can be calculated using the scale of the map.

This very simple method was what I used when planning our French tour in 2009. In this case, we wanted to travel about 60km a day, so I made the piece of string the equivalent of 60km long and used that to see what destinations fell within our desired radius and direction. It was extremely cheap and worked well.

Smart software

[Please note that there are lots of excellent apps available that have similar functions to those I will describe in this post, but I am only going to discuss the ones that I use. However, if you have other recommendations, please feel free to list these in the comments].

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Using RoutePad to plan day 1 of the Scottish Highlands ride from Pitlochry to Killin (see previous posts). The map setting shows roads and terrain.

With the advent of smartphones, it is possible to be a lot more accurate with cycle route planning. I now use an app called RoutePad to examine different options for each day’s ride.

As with many good apps, it can take a little practice to get to know how to use it, but this is time well invested. RoutePad gives useful information before one sets out on each ride: distance, quantity and extent of climbs, their elevation and location.

If a change in the weather is anticipated, or extra sightseeing stops may be an option during a ride; many alternative routes can be worked out beforehand – ready for use.

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RoutePad plots the elevation for the proposed 63km ride to Killin

Tapping along a proposed ride puts icons onto a Google map (which can be viewed as ‘roads’ or ‘satellite imagery’ or a combination of both). The tracking thread snaps to the nearest road/walking path. Once the route is plotted, the distance and the elevation are calculated in metric or imperial measure.

I found it a bit frustrating to edit the icons when I first started, but it really just takes a bit of practice.

Once a route has been decided, it can then be viewed in the app, or saved and the file uploaded to Dropbox or emailed as an attachment. The files are easily opened into software such as Google Earth or another app such as Cyclemeter.

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Cyclemeter tracking results at the end of the Pitlochry – Killin ride (Scottish Highlands tour)

It is quite possible to also use ‘RoutePad’ to track the ride in real time, but I prefer to use a different app to do this. The reason is that I also like to record additional information such as average speed, kilojoule (calorie) consumption etc.

There are numerous excellent apps suitable for this more complex purpose and I have tried quite a few. I think that most are much of a muchness, and I finally settled for one called Cyclemeter. 

I leave my planned reference map in RoutePad and create a new file in Cyclemeter which plots my ride as I go.

Output from Cyclemeter, showing actual speed and elevation for the Pitlochry – Killin ride.

One of the nice things about this app is that it pauses automatically if the bike stops moving. This is great, as it keeps the average speed calculation accurate. It will also sync your ride details to your calendar future reference.

Hardware

There are iPhone mounting cases available which attach to the handlebars of bikes. These are water-resistant and have a transparent, touch sensitive front cover. The phone is secure inside the case and is operated with appropriately located buttons and by touching the screen.

I do have some reservations about the quality of the screw tightening device on my phone mounting case, but otherwise I am very happy with it. The cases are not cheap, though, and given the cost of the phone and the case, I am trying to come up with a better way of securing the unit to my bike.

iPhone case for attaching your phone to the handlebars

Summary

It is wonderful to have a live map at your fingertips which can be zoomed in/out as the ride unfolds. And at the end of the ride, you have a record of where you have been and your performance statistics. Be careful though, tracking your ride can use up quite a lot of your phone battery power and you may need to recharge it a bit more often during the day, depending on how far you intend to ride.

Please be seated (in comfort!)

One of the things I found most difficult about setting up a bike was finding a comfortable saddle. When you think about it, of all the parts on a bike, this really is the most important. If you are not happily seated, you will spend your entire ride fretting, or simply being in pain. There is one certainty about saddles, if you don’t get yours ‘right’ you won’t ride a bike for very long.

Given the importance of finding a good seat, I am amazed at some of the uncomfortable perches that come attached to a new bike. Perhaps cycle manufacturers just assume that the purchaser will immediately remove the supplied seat and replace it, so do not bother giving it much thought. Or maybe I am just too fussy!

The trouble with saddles is that you may need to try quite a few before you will find one that you like. Additionally, your tastes may well change over time 😦 This can get very expensive if your local bike shop expect you to purchase each time you want to try a new style. There is also often a problem in that your local supplier generally won’t stock a very wide range, so you have a rather limited choice. If you are lucky enough to know someone else who rides, they may have some spare saddles that you could borrow and try. (It would be great to have a ‘saddle library’ so that you can borrow, try and return the seats until you find one you like!)

If your local shop get to know you a bit, they may be willing to let you try a saddle for a few days and return it if you are not happy. The expectation is that you will ultimately find one that you like and will then purchase it from them, which is fair enough. I was lucky enough to find a store like this which was great.

Many riders (including myself) start out thinking that the softer the saddle the better. If this works for you, then go for it. There are some great gel saddles out there and I rode with one of these for about a year. But I tried about 3 different types before I found one that was sufficiently comfortable. If you only ever plan to ride shorter routes such as a trip to the local shops, then you may be happy with this type of saddle forever.

However, if you decide to ride further afield, you may start to encounter problems. The issue with soft plushy seats is that they don’t really support your body as well as the harder saddles. And when you ride a lot, support becomes absolutely crucial.

This is when it is time to start looking at the firmer seats. I read as much as I could about the pros and cons of different styles and eventually decided to try a Brooks saddle. The articles I read indicated that once they were ‘ridden in’ they were very comfortable and would take the cyclist a long way with no problems.

There is a lot of information out there on the internet about seats and if you are at this point in your cycling career, I suggest you read as much as you can before making a decision. (Your experienced cycling friend may even reveal a stash of firmer saddles to try if you just ask!)

It did not take as long as I had imagined to ‘ride in’ my new saddle – a B17 S Standard. In fact, I was delighted with it right from day 1. After about 3 months, it became a bit softer and is now a firm (pun intended!) and very comfortable favourite. However, it was also at this stage that I started to use cycling knicks. (Having the padding on my rear instead of permanently attached to the seat made a big different to comfort levels – not sure why, but the cycling buffs out there all seem to agree!)

Over the years, I have progressively purchased Brooks saddles for each of my bikes. The B17 S is great on the mountain/touring bike while I have a Flyer S (has springs on it) on my roadbike. (I have not provided many photos on this post, but you can see a full range of Brooks products here. They have a wonderful range of bike accessories!)

I was absolutely delighted when purchasing my Dahon Tournado – it came with many high quality attachments, including a very smart Brooks B17 Special saddle. Both the bike and its customized case had been put together with considerable attention to detail which was most appreciated. Sadly, Dahon are now no longer trading and Tournados are therefore no longer available.

I would be happy to ride for many hours with any of my Brooks saddles now. Interestingly, I doubt I would get very far with the gel saddle which I liked so much when I first started riding.

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