Category Archives: Cycling

Lots to Learn

Today, I learnt a lot. All in a good way, thankfully. Where do I start…

OK, I’ll start with the rear-end (aka my arse) issues that I had about 10 days ago. I put a lot of investigation into why my butt was hurting me so much during a long ride, and had come to the conclusion that I wasn’t sitting on my seat correctly. A lot of things have transpired in the past 10 days.

First, as previously mentioned, I discovered about the “sit bones” and why they are important. This was useful mainly so that I knew what I should be aiming to have in contact with my seat, and also I discovered that you can have different bits of your sit bones taking the weight on your seat, hence you move around every so often to prevent getting sore.

Next, I pushed my seat forward about an inch, which was about the amount that I was sitting too far forward, and I figured that professional bike-fit or not, if I wasn’t comfortable sitting in the position that said pro bike-fit set the bike up in, then I should just change it to something more comfortable.

Finally, I then compared the position of the seat to that of my commuter bike which I’ve never had a problem on, and discovered that the seat on my Cervélo was angled incorrectly, i.e. it wasn’t flat, and was instead pointing up into the air. I therefore spent about 20 minutes learning how to adjust the seat (easy when you know how), to get it identical to my commuter (as far as I can see).

I then went out for a ~50 mile ride this morning with a little trepidation, to see how my arse would cope. I concentrated on making sure that I was sitting on the right bit of the seat, but in fairness as the ride went on, I needed to do that less and less, most likely because I was now sitting on the right bit of the seat due to it being in the “right” place (as far as my normal sitting position is with my commuter). Hey presto, I get home and my arse didn’t even realised I’d been sitting on a bike.


What else did I learn? Well, another couple of things.

Chamois crème, and underpants, and bib shorts. Two of these things you need, one of them you want to avoid. I have used bib shorts a few times now, but hadn’t realised that you should not have your underwear on. So, I tried it today and was a little concerned that my, erm, “bits” were going to be… under-restrained. As in, all over the place. However, this wasn’t the case at all. The shorts held my junk just fine (lovely topic, eh?). In addition, I also discovered the wonder of chamois crème and how to use it. I whacked it on this morning, and it did indeed feel nice and cool. Now, do note that I’ve not yet had any friction issues “down there” in the past – but I’d rather not start, and if I’m going to go “au naturale” without the underwear, then the crème is going to be useful for that anyway.

Finally, riding with someone else. The one time I’ve been out with a group ride, I didn’t really feel that it was helping in terms of reducing wind resistance, but I think that was because the group was going quite slowly that day. Today, I happened to come across and thereafter ride with another roadie for about 3 miles, and we took it in turns to lead, and holy crap what a difference it made when I was drafting; I was literally coasting along in a really high gear without having to put any effort in at all. It was fantastic!

Many lessons; a good day.

Injuries: Cav + Froomey = me

I said to friends the other day that I thought Froomey had probably broken his scaphoid which has caused him to pull out of the 2014 Tour de France. And so, when he announced on twitter that he’d broken his left wrist and right hand, it made me realise that he, plus Cav, equals me last year.

What on earth am I talking about? Well, Cav fell off his bike and did some fairly serious mischief to his shoulder. Turned out he’s dislocated it.

Last year, I managed to fall off my bike and sustained a number of injuries, including (but not limited to) a broken right wrist, a broken left thumb, and a dislocated humerus. The last one is up next to the shoulder. Put them all together, and you get roughly what Cav and Froomey managed between them in 4 crashes.

Somehow, Cav is apparently going to be back on his bike in 2 weeks and competing again in 6. I had both arms in casts for 6 weeks.

This makes me think I must’ve been pretty unlucky to sustain such a list of injuries from one tumble when coming off my bike going round a corner. It does make me go round that same corner much slower, though.

One inch can make all the difference

Although I’m talking about the nether regions here, the “inch” in question isn’t to do with the, well… you know. Instead, it’s to do with seating position. As mentioned the other day, I was investigating different seating positions to see whether I was inflicting myself with pain when out on long bike rides.

I’m now fairly sure I’ve been the cause of it.

Ultimately, a quick Google Image search for “sit bones bicycle seat” will show you many different pictures of what you need to be aiming for. I went out for two rides in the past 2 days, each time concentrating on sitting on the correct bit of my seat. My default seating position was literally one inch too far forward. This doesn’t cause me any problems for short rides, it appears, but once over say two and a half hours, it was starting to get sore. Therefore, pushing back one inch, to make sure that the sit bones were on the flat surface on my seat, rather than slipping down each side of the seat, seems so far to be making a difference.

The padding in cycling shorts therefore is intended to sit between your sit bones and your cycling seat, giving you even more padding and thus comfort. I knew this already, but I wasn’t aware of what bit of my bum was supposed to be getting cushioned by the padding. Once you know it’s the sit bones, and once you have figured out where they are in your body, things start to make a lot more sense!

In other news, I’ve also discovered I’m not supposed to wear underwear when I have bib shorts on. Chamois cream ordered…

V Brake Adjustments

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me whether I could help him sort out a problem with his bicycle, as it wasn’t able to go into either the top or bottom gear; in other words, the rear mech (derailleur) would not shift into the smallest cog or the biggest cog.

This reminded me of the first time I tried to sort out my own rear mech when it wouldn’t shift into the biggest cog. I made a total arse up of it because I did not know the hierarchy of things you should run through, in other words you need to go through a set of instructions in a specific order to sort something like this out. I ended up twiddling with pretty much every screw, including the b-screw, because I was reading a book that described what each set of screws did (limit screws, H/L screws, b-screw etc), but didn’t tell me the order that you should do things in.

Today, I was sorting out the V-brake on someone else’s bike, which is something I rarely do as I don’t tend to do MTB stuff, so needed teh interwebs to come to my aid, and came across a page with the correct hierarchy. Job done nice and easily. I could repeat it all here, but hey, that would be both a waste of my time and stealing from someone else, so I shall go no further and merely re-direct you to this page which should have you up and running in no time:

Cycling and a sore bum

I quite often get a sore arse when I’m out on a long ride on my bike. Up until about 30 minutes ago, I’d put this down to merely needing to build up some resistance by doing longer rides, and that seemed to be working, as my last 2 long rides (40+ miles) did not make my butt feel sore. However, I went out for a 57 miler today, and my arse was sore by around mile 33. The last 15 miles coming home became progressively more uncomfortable, to the point where I needed to stop a couple of times to try to alleviate the pain. As soon as I stopped and got off the bike, my arse was totally fine, but as soon as I got back on again, the pain returned.

The types of butt pain you can get from cycling can vary. The type I get is not from chafing, which seems to be a common problem. Instead, I’d describe mine as more a pain near a boney area, but hadn’t figured out what it was.

I did a bit of googling this evening to see what it could be. First, I needed to figure out what part of my skeleton it was that was sore. That was quite easy – it’s the ischial tuberosity, aka the “sit bones”. From there, I discovered an excellent article on the Cervélo site about the four and a half rules of road saddles, where rule #1 hit the nail on the head.

Ultimately, I’m now fairly confident that I have been sitting too far forward on my seat. So, in other words, my sit bones have not been resting correctly on the seat, and have been therefore resting down the sides of the front (narrow) bit of my seat. Even thinking about it makes it feel sore. Instead, I need to sit further back – probably all of an inch further back, and when I tried that on my bike while stationary, it does feel significantly more comfortable.

I’m not sure what the pedalling action is going to feel like, mind you. However, this is on the bike which I’ve had fitted professionally, so therefore I should really give it a go and see what happens. I’ll be out on the bike doing various errands tomorrow anyway, so that’ll be a good time to see if it is indeed the answer!

Cycling in a Group Ride

When I was around 11 years old, I was out cycling in the middle of nowhere outside of the city, when all of a sudden, a large group of adult cyclists went past me. They looked cool, so I sped up to join in, which wasn’t a conscious decision, but instead just something that seemed right. I had no knowledge of group rides, how they can help protect you from the wind and thus go faster with less effort, or indeed the fact that people will actually talk to you. Instead, it just looked cool, and after I realised I could just about keep up, I decided I’d try to keep up for as long as I could.

This clearly took the group by surprise, not least because I was pretty small as a kid and they probably thought I was 8. And here was this tiny kid trying his best to keep up with these regular cyclists – well, they may not have thought much of me at the time, but they did allow me into the group for a short while and made me feel welcome. After a while, I realised I’d gone further than I’d originally intended going, so dropped out and came home. But the one thing I knew from that day on was that I wanted to ride in a group ride with other road cyclists.

That has now finally happened.

I spotted a group ride about a year ago when I was out running. They flew past me while I was training for the New York Marathon, and I noticed that a large number of them were riding Cervélo bikes, so figured they must be fairly useful, or alternatively they all had too much money. But I assumed the former. I figured out who they were and decided I’d try to join in on one of their rides.

This year has been pretty difficult trying to find the time to make that happen. The wife works every 2nd Saturday so that’s 50% of them out of the window already. On the ones she’s not working, there’s always been something to prevent me getting out on a group ride, and most of the time it’s stuff that is suddenly landed on me at short notice. This time, it was getting the fringe cut for one of our daughters. “Not this time”, I said. I was going out on my bike, and she’d have to wait 4 days. I’d waited all year.

Riding in a group was certainly a good experience. I’d checked out the group that I went to join beforehand, by looking at recent runs on Strava. They did three different runs, with the fastest out first, then a slower one. That’s all I could see, but it turned out there was an even slower one behind that. From looking at Strava, the fast one looked good for me, as they average from 16.5mph to 17.5mph. I might struggle to keep up towards the end if they average 17.5, but I thought that was preferable to the run behind it which seems to average less than 15mph.

When I turned up, however, it became clear that the first, fastest run was out of bounds for a first timer. Not to worry, I thought, not the end of the world. “How fast does the second run go at?”, I asked. “Averages about 18mph” I was told by the organiser. Really, I thought? That’s not what Strava told me. Still, I was willing to see what happened, so set off with the 2nd group, sticking to the back to see what happened.

There’s a range of different signals and shouts that people do on group rides. Due to the fact that the group is regularly bunched up, they tend to point out potholes to each other to give you a heads-up rather than clattering into them. This generally meant merely pointing to the ground. Fair enough. Then there was the shouts of “nose!” and “tail!” which meant there was a car coming towards us from either the front or the rear. This was more useful when on back roads which were thin and cars needed to squeeze past. Then there were signs where people put their arms behind their back and pointed left or right. This meant there was an obstruction coming up, such as a parked car or pedestrian on the road. This was very useful.

Once out on the road, I prepared myself for needing to get up to in excess of 20mph for cruising speed since they were going to average 18mph. This never happened. At first, I thought it was just because we were still inside the city, but once outside, it didn’t speed up. It didn’t take long before I was at the head of the group taking on the headwinds for the pack because it was becoming clear that 18mph was actually their average cruising speed, not their average speed. It’s a huge difference. If you average 18mph, then you are cruising well over 20mph because you clearly will have to slow down a lot for various reasons.

Going uphill was another surprise. I’ve generally compared myself to other riders on Strava, and although I have some KOMs, they tend to be flat segments where you’re hitting 30mph for the majority of the time, rather than up hills, and I figured I needed to do a lot of training to get to the point of being able to keep up with group rides. In actual fact, this also was not the case. I cruised up the hills passing the majority of other riders. I even managed to suffer a mechanical, had to stop to fix it, and then still made it to the top of the hill before some of the others.

Therefore, it was a comfortable ride from start to finish. My backside and lower back are getting more used to doing rides of 40+ miles, which wasn’t the case until recently, which is a major bonus as I have a big ride coming up in 6 weeks.

Fixing a rattling stem

For many, many months, I have had a rattling sound coming from my handlebar / stem area while riding, or when bouncing the front of my bike on the ground while stationary. At first, I figured it was a cable banging against something metallic, but after much investigation, I could not find the source. I came to the conclusion that the only thing it could be was a loose stem.

So, after many months, I decided to tighten it up to see if that made a difference. 5 minutes later, and it’s fixed. Why did I leave it that long?

StemThe main thing to know when trying this for yourself is the order that you need to loosen and tighten the bolts. In the picture, you can see one bolt on the top of the stem, and there are two down the side; you can only see one on the side, because the other bolt is facing the other direction, which is fairly normal for a stem.

When you are tightening a stem up, you first tighten the top bolt, and then tighten the side bolts. This ensures that the top cap is compressed as much as it should be before you then tighten the side bolts – doing it the other way would prevent the top cap pushing down, which is what it is meant to be doing. When loosening, you do the reverse. Simples!

Groupset upgrade, piece by piece

The damage done to my bike following Thursday’s snapped rear mech hanger continues to escalate. The rear mech, which looked generally ok and The Bicycle Works also thought might have survived has not, in fact, survived. Although it looked like it had taken a very minor bend on one of the plates, it was enough to mean that the chain was not lining up on the lower jockey wheel correctly, and although I tried to bend it back into place, it looks like the RD-4601 Tiagra rear mech has bitten the dust, despite only being used for about 10 days.

105 Chainset

105 Chainset

So this means that my commuter, which ran the Shimano 2300 groupset (aka “the crap one”) for 4 years until I upgraded the whole lot to Tiagra during April’s Easter break is now already on its way to getting replaced with the next level up, being the Shimano 105. I’ve got the chain and rear mech up to 105 now, and the next thing I suspect I will upgrade is the chainset mainly because the Tiagra one looks a bit crap.

Rear Mech Hanger Snapped

I had a fairly spectacular mechanical failure during the week. It all started towards the start of the week when my commuter started to slip gear on the cassette occasionally. I put it down to the fact that I’ve just upgraded the entire groupset and the cables had probably stretched slightly, meaning that I needed a small tweak on the barrel adjusters. However, over the next couple of days, it got progressively worse.

By the time I was heading home on Thursday, it was so bad I kept on having to get off my bike to tweak the barrel adjuster randomly in the hope it would stop skipping gears. It was all over the place – up and down, and my cranks were slipping constantly, really irritating. So when I was about 2 miles from home, I came to a sudden halt.

The noise, when your rear mech becomes detached and launches into your wheel is not one you can mistake. I knew instantly what had happened, and nearly went over my handlebars, but thankfully managed to recover before going all the way over.

IMG_3955I got off my bike and went to have a look to see what had happened. The rear mech was complete detached and had buried itself into my cassette and wheel, with the jockey wheels lodged nicely in the cassette. My rear wheel had become entirely detached from the dropouts and was now hanging precariously with only the chain keeping it anywhere near where it was meant to be.

At first, I thought my frame and wheel would likely be goners. However, what I’ve learnt is that the rear mech attaches to a detachable part called a hanger, and it’s actually meant to brake, to save your frame from breaking. And this is what happened. Also, because I was going slowly when it happened (I was going up a steep hill), and because I’m fairly light, I think this saved my wheel. I can’t see any damage to the wheel at all, and indeed managed to push the bike for a mile before the wife came to collect me, as I managed to reattach it to the dropouts after removing the cassette.

It took quite some effort to get the broken part of the hanger off the cassette, but I got there eventually. I think the rear mech has survived, which is more than can be said for my chain which has a link that’s been completely mashed. However, only one link, so the rest is looking ok. If I get a replacement chain of the same type, then I figure I can make 2 chains out of one, by shortening the new one to the same length as the old one, and adding a link from the new one to the old one to make them the same length.

So it’s off to the shops to try to find a rear mech hanger. Apparently all frames come with their own version of a hanger, but my commuter is a Specialized, so fairly common and therefore I’m hopeful that somewhere will have something…

Shimano Tiagra Groupset is Installed

Back in January, I did a trial run to install my new Shimano Tiagra groupset on to a frame that I’d bought off Gumtree. The exercise was thoroughly worthwhile because I learnt a lot about how a bike is put together, and there’s no better thing than taking apart a bike that you don’t actually need to use – taking apart the one you use on a daily basis puts a lot of pressure on to get it all working again! It wasn’t perfect, though, mainly due to the frame forks being too wide and the cassette not fitting in the forks well such that I couldn’t put the bike in the smallest cog on the cassette. But still, a good practice.

Well, I’m on holiday this week and it was the time to put the groupset on my commuter – the bike I use on a daily basis. I deliberately did it at the start of this week to give me time to fix things as and when they went wrong. But surprisingly, the main things that went wrong were more to do with taking the old kit off the bike, rather than attaching the new kit on it. It’s all on, and a 23 mile test ride this afternoon suggests that there’s no major issues with it so far. I’ve gone from 8 gears up to 20 – win!

I have learnt a lot from the exercise, so if you’re considering upgrading your bike, here’s some important lessons to consider:

Get the right tools
I don’t think I would ever have believed someone if they told me the amount of different tools you need to maintain a bike. There’s a lot more to it than just some allen keys (which are important!). A socket wrench, torque wrench, rubber mallet, bottom bracket tool (x2), cassette removal tool, cable cutter, adjustable spanner, phillips and flat-head screwdrivers… there’s bound to be more, but those are the key ones. Make sure you have and understand all the tools that you need for all the jobs, because there’s nothing worse than getting half way through the job to discover that one all-important tool is missing.
Cables, inner and outer
Rather than buying cable sets, I just bought a bunch of inner cables and a bunch of outer cables. This makes for a lot less waste, or at the very least a lot tidier box of kit. Buying them individually appears to be much cheaper! And OMG, but replacing cables makes such a difference. Also, the cables are different for gears and brakes – that’s both the inners and outers. So make sure you get some of both. And cable end caps. And ferrules…
Too long an outer can cause a problem
I had a bit of outer just in front of my rear brake caliper which was around 3mm too long and caused my brake to not release properly. I shit you not. 3mm made all the difference; it was basically forcing the inner through too much of a bend, and knocking 3mm off the outer made the bend straight enough to not cause a problem, but still bendy enough to allow the barrel adjuster to work.
Cassettes are a bastard to remove
I could not get the old cassette off the wheel. Spent an hour trying to do it, pulled a muscle in my back trying to force the fucker to budge, but I couldn’t get it to move. Took it to the bike shop, the guy did it instantly. In fairness, his spanner handle was really long, so he was able to get a lot more leverage, so maybe I need to get a bigger one (oo-er). When I put the new cassette on, I didn’t put it on tightly. Indeed, it’s on quite softly, tbh. Hopefully it won’t fall off.
Cables can get jammed in barrel adjusters
I had some serious issues with cables jammed in barrel adjusters. One of the barrel adjusters in my brake calipers is a write-off (no biggie) as I ended up having to cut the cable as it just wouldn’t come out. Therefore, consider that you might have more trouble getting the kit off your bike rather than putting the new kit on it.
Front mechs have braze-on and clip-on
These phrases meant nothing to me initially, but it’s pretty simple; clip-on front mechs quite simply have a round band which goes around your seat tube and is held in place with nothing more than tightening the band. This initially surprised me – I thought it must surely have been held in place with some kind of screw through the seat tube, but no, nothing more than tightening the clip. Measuring the size of your seat tube is potentially the first time in your life that π (pi; 3.14159…) comes in useful. Braze-on, on the other hand, require your bike seat-tube to have a specific thing on to which you attach a braze-on mech. Therefore, the braze-on is the same as a clip-on, just without the round “clip” (round band). If you’re completely unsure, you could always get a braze-on and get a separate band on its own on to which you can attach the braze-on front mech – but if you just have a good look at it, you should be able to tell whether yours has a band round your seat-tube or not.
Triples are pointless
I knew this already – having a triple crankset is a waste of time. I think mine was 52/42/32, and aside from comedy value when I first got the bike, I never used the 32 (aka granny) ring. The smallest gear I ever used was therefore a 42/25 (since my cassette was a 12/25). This never caused me a problem. However, today I went in my new smallest gear of 39/30 and holy crap, it’s small! Only needed for the steepest of hills, and even then, very rarely. If you really do need low gears rather than high gears, get a compact 50/34. I’m running 53/39 on both my commuter and my Cervélo, with 12/30 on the commuter and 11/28 on the é. Loving it.
Bike stands are a must
SSIA. If you don’t have one, you really should, they are a life saver.