Category Archives: Cycling

Swimming just got easier

This week has seen a significant breakthrough in terms of swimming. Before Wednesday, the most I had ever swum without stopping was 300 metres, and when I finished that I was absolutely exhausted. Then, on Wednesday, I decided that my aim was to try to swim while breathing left. This I managed with relative ease, so had a bit of a practice of that for a few lengths, and then just kept on swimming. I realised I hadn’t been counting the lengths I had swum, which I usually do, because I had been concentrating on the different breathing technique, but I also realised that I didn’t feel tired or out of breath, which is very strange, because I usually start running out of breath after about 8 lengths. I eventually decided to stop so I could see how many lengths I had gone – 16. So, 400 metres. A new PB. It was amazing.

Today, I thought I’d try the same thing again, although this time to actually count the lengths I was doing. Now, normally I’d have done something different, such as sets of 4 lengths to improve my speed, but I wanted to see whether what happened on Wednesday was a fluke, or whether I could repeat it… because swimming actually felt easy for the first time in my life.

What do I mean by easy? Well, I can describe it fairly simply. “Not dying” has been my only tactic up to this point. I have never been able to swim with any level of confidence (or skill), and merely breathing has always been the major issue, in terms of not managing to get enough oxygen into my lungs. But on Wednesday, I seemed to be able to do it without any problem.

Therefore, today I got in the pool to see if I could hit 16 lengths, and I managed it again with ease, so kept going. By the time I was on length 22, I knew I was able to get to my ultimate goal of 30 lengths, which is what I need to do so that I can enter a sprint triathlon, leaving me merely to then get fast enough to do it inside 20 minutes. And guess what – I managed it in 19:33. Winner.

Needless to say, I’ve entered the next available triathlon, which is in April. Looks like I’ll need to get my running shoes out again :)

This week also saw a good number of miles, mainly on the bike, with a solid 117 added on to the year’s total:

miles-comparison

DHgate: worst purchasing decision, ever

I ordered a cycling shirt through DHgate. I’d not heard of this site before, but this is most likely because it’s not a UK site, although I can’t reliably tell where the site is based. The shirt, ordered on 26-Jan, was to be posted out within 3 days and arrive within 19 days, as it seems to be coming from Hong Kong.

On 12-Feb, I got an email to tell me my item had been shipped. What? Over 2 weeks later, and it’s only just been shipped? WTF? Still, at least it was on its way.

Or so I thought.

Today, 22-Feb, 10 full days later, and I get another mail telling me that “the tracking order has been deleted by the seller”. So they have not posted it out at all. It’s now almost 4 weeks later, and the item, which is still showing as in stock on the DHgate web site, has not been sent out.

It’s fair to say I won’t be using that site again.

Blaze Bicycle Light

The only project I have so far put money towards at Kickstarter is the Blaze Bike Light. Funded at the end of 2012, the light finally arrived in February 2014. Yep, over a year later. It was originally supposed to arrive after 4 months, but 14 months later, and after excited emails repeatedly being sent by the creator promising it would be delivered “next month”, I gave up hope of ever seeing it. But it did finally arrive. Was it worth the wait? Is it going to be worth shelling out £125 for one? Summary: no.

Why? Well… I had some problems, as follows.

Initial Impressions

I brought the light home after it arrived at my work, and tested it out in the darkness by attaching it to my bike and seeing what it looked like while the bike was stationary.

However…

The clip that goes around the handlebars was squint, and needed some fairly serious bending to allow the light to be attached. Took me about 10 minutes of faffing to get the thing on the bars. To get it attached, I also had to unwrap my bar tape, as the mounting clip is not that big.

It didn’t feel that secure on the bars, either. I had the screws tightened but the light was still bouncing a bit, not steady like my Cateye.

The lit up green bike was as advertised, nice and bright, though. Or at least, it appeared that way when I had it out the back of my house and I was shining it on the ground.

The white light, on the other hand, is extremely bright. That’s surely a good thing, you’d think? But it is so bright, in fact, that I was not convinced I was going to be able to use it, because I had it pointed down as far as I can so that the green bike is at least some distance ahead of me, but when standing facing the bike with one my my various daughters holding the bike, I was still generally blinded. And that’s on the low setting; turn it up to the high setting and I couldn’t see anything any more.

Initially, I planned on having only the green bike on when I’m on cycle paths, and keeping my Cateye on. When on roads, I would turn on the white light on the Blaze.

Pictures of the light, while the bike is stationary, are below. First, without the white light on:

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Then, with the white light on full blast:

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The white light on the less mental brightness:

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Facing the white light on full blast mode. Note here that the light is still facing down, but you are still unable to see past the bike because it’s so bright:

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Facing the light when on less mental brightness:

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After a Ride

I had hoped that my initial fears would be replaced by the joy of seeing this light in action on the roads. Alas, the opposite is true. I am quite disappointed with the light, and if I’d bought it in a shop, I’d be returning it. Since it’s a Kickstarter project, I won’t be doing that, because I accepted it was a risk, but for the sake of the team who made it, I hope they make a number of significant improvements to the light.

1. The green bike is not bright enough. You might be able to see if on a dead flat surface in pitch black, potentially when it is dry, but in most cases today (both this morning and this evening) I could not see the light in front of me while moving – and if I can’t see it, there’s no chance a driver can see it.

2. You can’t direct the green bike light independently of the white light. This is a major flaw. It basically means you can use one or the other, because to have the green light pointed in the distance means you blind oncoming people.

3. The green light is impossible to see even in pitch black because the light is not held firmly in its mount. Our roads in Edinburgh are not silky smooth, they are rough, which makes the light hard enough to see on the surface of the road as it is, but because the mount does not hold the light firmly, it bounces around like crazy, and the laser image becomes distorted so it becomes invisible.

4. The light got completely soaked on the commute in this morning, and the lens still had mist on the inside of the lens 8 hours later for my ride home. I therefore doubt it is as waterproof as they believe.

5. The way you charge it seems pretty ropey. The charging cable attaches to the light using magnets, rather than slotting into the light. This might be seen as a good thing, but it’s really dodgy and falls out without much provocation.

I didn’t have a single person react to the image in front of me during my commute today, because no-one could see it. They won’t see it in the future either, because I won’t be using it. It’s a shame, because the idea sounded good, but alas all the high spirited marketing from the light’s creator has not been matched by a quality product. A better mount, being able to direct the lights independently, actually waterproof and a significantly higher powered laser and/or larger bike image are needed, I reckon.

Miles Comparison, Week 7

It’s at this point I’m going to struggle to stay ahead of last year.

miles_comparison

This week last year I did 90 miles, then the next two weeks I did 95 and 102. This week this year I did 22 miles. There’s a good reason for that, though – I’ve been in St Louis, MO, from Sunday until Friday, and my ability to get out and do any kind of activity was severely limited by two things. Firstly, working 14 hours a day leaves little time to do anything else, while being -17°C (1°F) also made things a bit tricky. Hitting 22 miles was therefore a bit of a miracle, only made possible by cycling to a couple of shops today.

That said, I did go out for a run in St Louis, just a short 4 miler when it had warmed up to a toasty -6°C. I wore my NYC marathon running coat, and bloody hell am I glad I did. However, it appears no-one really walks anywhere, and the pavements (sidewalks…) were not cleared at all, so I had to run round a dual carriageway ring road on the inside lane of the road. One car blasted their horn at me, but quite frankly I’m not sure what they expected me to do.

It’s at this point where I start wondering whether I’ll be able to compete with the miles I did last year. I look at the numbers later on from around week 19 and I’m thinking there’s no chance I’ll be able to hit over 100 miles. However, I am forgetting the fact that it is bloody freezing in Scotland right now, and by week 19, we’ll be in May and it will be both much warmer, and a hell of a lot lighter, giving ample opportunity to get out on the bike.

Also, we’re not far away from the 6 week stretch where I basically didn’t do anything at all, when I totally broke myself. That 6 weeks, I only rode 42 miles in total, including 4 weeks of zero miles, so I should be able to get well ahead. I’m currently only 68 miles ahead, and unless the weather starts to improve, I might not be ahead at all in a couple of weeks time.

Miles Comparison, Week 5

Another jump ahead this week, but this is probably where it’s going to either stop jumping ahead, or even go down over the next 4 weeks, as I clearly stepped things up a bit at this point last year. This week should be easy to match with just 67 miles. The next week, 90 miles, I won’t get anywhere near as I won’t be able to cycle to work that week (more on that later). So, I’m currently 112 miles ahead after 5 weeks, but if I’m still 100 miles ahead at 9 weeks, I’ll be lucky.

miles_comparison

Steps to Replace a Groupset

The plans to replace the groupset on my commuter are going well. I took apart the “test bike” I bought on Gumtree a few weeks ago and attached the entire Shimano Tiagra groupset to the bike. The only bit that was a problem was the front mech which was restricted because the screws for the water bottle on the down tube were in the place that clip for the front mech needed to go. Not entirely sure who designed that frame, but they clearly were not thinking about making it possible to fit a standard front mech to it.

Anyway, next I took the entire groupset off the bike so that I can attach it to my commuter. I plan to do this in two sittings, and although I may end up doing both sittings in one day, I am leaving myself the option of doing one sitting one weekend and the next sitting a week later, if time runs away from me. However, to attempt to prevent that happening, I am now listing what I reckon I need to do, and therefore what I need, to do the job.

Brakes are missing from this installation because I already have Tiagra brake calipers on the bike, as the original 2300 ones pretty much died, most likely from lack of care by myself. I should apply GT85 to such things more often than “never”.

Sitting 1: Front

Encompasses:

  • Left STI
  • Bottom Bracket
  • Crankset
  • Front Mech

Kit needed: inner and outer brake and gear cables.

Steps to assemble:

  1. Remove left hand bar tape
  2. Remove front gear cable
  3. Remove brake cable
  4. Throw away inner cables, retain outers if in good nick
  5. Remove chain
  6. Remove front mech
  7. Remove pedals
  8. Remove cranks
  9. Remove bottom bracket
  10. Clean out threads that BB screws into
  11. Remove left STI
  12. Attach new left STI
  13. Attach new bottom bracket
  14. Attach new crankset
  15. Attach new front mech
  16. Attach old chain
  17. Attach pedals
  18. Attach gear cable, and test
  19. Attach brake cable, and test
  20. Wrap new bar tape

Sitting 2: Back

Encompasses:

  • Right STI
  • Rear mech
  • Chain
  • Cassette

Kit needed: inner and outer brake and gear cables.

Steps to assemble:

  1. Remove right hand bar tape
  2. Remove rear gear cable
  3. Remove brake cable
  4. Throw away inner cables, retain outers if in good nick
  5. Remove chain
  6. Remove rear mech
  7. Remove rear wheel
  8. Remove cassette from wheel
  9. Remove right STI
  10. Attach new right STI
  11. Attach new cassette to wheel
  12. Attach rear mech
  13. Put wheel back in
  14. Attach new chain
  15. Attach gear cable, and test
  16. Attach brake cable, and test
  17. Wrap new bar tape

Miles Comparison

Last year, I came pretty close to doing 4000 miles in terms of running, cycling, walking and swimming, in that I made it to 3935 miles. This year, I’m going to try to beat that, which shouldn’t be too difficult so long as I don’t injure myself like I did last year. That said, this year I am concentrating more on learning to swim for the first few weeks or months, which clearly doesn’t put a lot of miles in the tank, but I am also going to be doing more cycling this year since I don’t have a marathon to train for.

This year, I’m 3 weeks in and I’ve edged ahead of last year’s weekly totals:

miles_comparison

After week 2, I was about 12 miles down, but after week 3 I am 24 miles up, mainly because last year I must’ve not cycled as much during that week. It should be pretty close until week 10, when I stopped doing any exercise due to the crash, at which point I should shoot well ahead in the miles count.

Sticky Rear Derailleur

I’d been having problems with my rear derailleur recently. Ultimately, it was sticking on, generally on one side, and it seemed that the entire brake calliper was moving too, essentially moving to the side so that it was stuck on the side of my wheel. It was worse when it was wet, which at the moment is pretty much every day, considering we’ve apparently just had the wettest December in history.

So I figured, after repeatedly trying to tighten the bolt to keep it from moving to the side, and giving it a good clean to make sure it wasn’t gunked up with crap, that the cable was the problem. I put this down to the fact that when I disconnected the cable, the calliper moved back to the fully open position with no problems; so in other words, I’d close it with my hand, and it would spring open. But when I had the cable attached to it, it wouldn’t open fully, and instead it would stay slightly closed, such that it would not free itself from the rim of my wheel.

Therefore, the cable, outer and inner, got changed on Tuesday, after yet another cycle to and from work with a brake effectively on all the time, or alternatively only using my front brake so that the rear brake stayed fully open merely by me not using it. Neither option is good. I changed the cable, and you know what? It made no difference.

This confused me. Why would it open with no problem when the cable was not attached to it, but when I attach a brand new cable to the thing it doesn’t improve? I was pretty much running out of ideas, so I decided to give the spring inside the calliper a spray with the trusty GT85, giving it a good pounding to work the spring and get as much of the GT85 into it as possible, and gave it a good rinse off. That did the job.

This surprised me mainly because the calliper is only about 3 months old, and it’s a Tiagra brake, so it’s not like it is low quality crap. However, there was already some rust starting to appear on the calliper spring, and I suppose it doesn’t take a lot of rain before the rust will start to set in, so some GT85 loosened it up.

The brakes, front and back, are now nicely tightened for tomorrow’s commute.

Rebuilding the Red Viking Clubmaster

About 6 months ago, I bought a Red Viking Clubmaster. The idea was to use it as a practice frame for when I was wanting to upgrade bits on my commuter bike, but that never ended up happening, mainly because I was too busy with other stuff. However, with the marathon and Christmas over, even though I have other plans for 2014, such as learning to swim properly and then doing some triathlons, I also want to upgrade my commuter so that it runs the Shimano Tiagra groupset.

The main reason for the upgrade is to move to a double chainset, rather than the current triple. The triple is just a massive ballache to maintain, and I rarely bother to change the chainring when I am riding, because it doesn’t shift well unless it is in the middle chainring. Upgrading away from the bottom of the range 2300 groupset, and going for a double, will hopefully resolve that.

It’s not going to be cheap, though. I have an entire bike to practice on, although it’s not perfect. The wheels, for example, will be thrown away as they have a freewheel rather than a freehub. And the seat looks too comfy. But the frame, fork and bars should be ok to go with.

Therefore, the full kit list I think that I need to build this bike up to being useable is:

Item £ Shop Priority
4600 10 Speed Chainset 46.99 Ribble A
10 Speed 4601 Tiagra Chain 14.80 Ribble A
10 Speed Tiagra 4600 Cassette 15.99 Ribble A
STI Levers Tiagra 4600/4603 10 Speed with cables 109.99 Ribble A
4600 10 Speed Double Front Derailleur Clip-on 28.6/31.8mm 19.32 Ribble A
4600 10 Speed Rear Derailleur Short 23.99 Ribble A
4600 BB Cups (34/35/4500 double/triple) British 8.79 Ribble A
Shimano R501 Bladed Spoke Clincher Wheels Pair 73.95 Ribble B
Continental Gatorskin 25 Twin Pack inc Tubes 54.36 Ribble B
Fizik Arione Wingflex Manganese 49.99 Merlin C
TOTAL 418.17

Priority A items are the groupset, B is the wheels and C I totally don’t need, but it would be nice to have a decent seat on the bike.

The plan is to rebuild this bike with the kit above, then once I’m comfortable with how to attach it and get it working smoothly, spend a day taking the groupset off and putting it on the commuter. Alternatively, another approach would be to purchase another Tiagra groupset and leave the Red Viking alone. That would have the advantage of having a useable road bike in case I run into trouble setting up the commuter with the groupset, but the obvious disadvantage of costing another £280, because I’d have to get the above groupset plus brake calipers, which I don’t need on my commuter since I already have Tiagra brake calipers on it.