Category Archives: Cycling

2013: The Year of Injuries and Broken Bones

The main recurring topic of this year has been injuries, including a few broken bones. The reality is that this probably isn’t being unlucky, but more a lack of care and an increase in activities which have accounted for them all. So, what has been happening this year?

  1. 15-Jan – bike tumble, broken finger
  2. 06-Mar – bike crash, broken wrist, broken thumb, dislocated humerus etc
  3. 27-Jul – right foot injury, out of action for 5 weeks
  4. 25-Aug – toenail falls off, lolz
  5. 25-Aug – left foot injury, out of action for 10 days
  6. 15-Sep – broken right forefinger, swimming, lolz
  7. 13-Oct – left foot injury, out of action for 3 weeks
  8. Mid November – broken rib, caused by eldest daughter putting her full weight on my ribcage via her knee

Yeah, I’m hoping this doesn’t become a regular scenario. Lessons to be learnt?

  1. Don’t go round corners on my bike too aggressively when it is wet
  2. Learn to swim properly so I don’t punch the hand rail because my technique is so poor
  3. Run less, or at least shorter distances
  4. Don’t wrestle with eldest daughter

No doubt I will find other ways to injure myself, but what’s the alternative – staying in and doing nothing?

The front dérailleur shall scare me no longer

One of the main parts of the bike which I’ve still to get to grips with is the front mech, aka front derailleur, or if you’re wanting to use the real French spelling, dérailleur. In other words, the thing that changes the gears on your chainrings. I have to be honest, the thing has constantly had me worried and it rarely works very well on my commuter. When I got it, back when I hadn’t a clue about bikes in the slightest, I got a bike with a triple chainring merely because that’s what the bike came with. If I was to now choose what I have on it, it would have a double. Indeed, as and when I change the groupset on my bike, I’ll go for a Tiagra groupset with a compact double, since I’m not expecting to whizz along above 30mph, and a cassette of 11-28 should allow for pretty much all conditions.

But I’ve already gone off subject, so let’s get back to the front mech.

My front mech currently does not like to go in to the big chainring. It’ll happily go into the granny ring which I don’t believe I have ever used, except by accident. But trying to get the bastard into the big chainring is either hit and miss, or 100% miss.

As with all things bike, I’ve tended to be a bit scared when it comes to areas that I’ve not touched before. But then, what typically happens is that I then discover how to maintain or replace a part, and realise that, so long as you have the right tool, it’s actually pretty basic. The front mech is no exception.

This video pretty much sums up how simple it is; but I do warn you, there’s more to it than this:

That video does mention that the front mech is a braze-on. This has baffled me for months, if not years, because I knew you also got clip on (aka clasp on) mechs, and also you can get braze-on mechs, and I wasn’t sure how on earth you told the difference. Also, I wasn’t sure at all how on earth these things attached to a bike.

So, that video has a braze-on. I have the impression from many bike-related web sites that this is considered the standard, but if that is the case, then why are two of my three road bikes not equipped with them? Maybe I’m unlucky, but I’d guess that braze-on is either new, or for higher-spec bikes. Probably both. The alternative is that you get front mechs which quite simply have a ring attached to them, which wraps around the seat tube, down the bottom. Or, as I have now discovered, you can get “adapters” which allow you to attach a braze-on mech to your bike if your bike frame does not come with the braze-on thingy. And when they say “adapter”, they really just mean a ring which wraps around your seat tube, and you attach your front mech to said adapter.

The only additional thing which might confuse you, when looking at clip-on mechs, is that they come in different sizes – 28.6, 31.8 and 34.9. What on earth are these? They are simply the diameter of your seat tube, which is why the braze-on ones don’t come in sizes, since they don’t have a ring to go around your seat tube. But how do you know the diameter of your seat tube? Well, remember when you did mathematics at school, and they told you about pi, and when to use it? That’s right, you’re quite possibly going to find a use for that for the first time in your life. Measure the circumference of your seat tube, and divide by pi (3.14159). Bingo. If your seat tube is 100mm, you need a 31.8. If it’s 110mm, you need a 34.9. And if you have a slim 90mm seat tube, you guessed it, 28.6 is for you.

I’m now going to go buy a new front mech plus gear cables, and have a go at replacing all of that lot. This could render my commuter out of action.

Cassette Removal Tool, and Missing the Obvious

I’ve changed my chain and cassette on my commuter a couple of times before, so when I went to do it today, I wasn’t unduly worried. However, the cassette was well and truly stuck, and I always have a problem keeping the cassette removal tool from falling out, especially when I need to have the wheel upright so that I can get as much weight behind the spanner as I possibly can. The cassette removal tool tends to just fall out, mainly because it doesn’t really go very far into the splines:

photo 1

While struggling with the thing today, I wondered whether there was a simple way to keep it in. I considered zip ties before realising the obvious:

photo 2 (1)

Yep, you use your quick release skewer to lock the bastard in. How ridiculously obvious. D’oh!

New Chain Required

Park Tools Chain Checker arrived today. Tried it on my chain, and assumed it wasn’t working, because it suggested my chain was totally wrecked. Tried it on a mate’s chain, and it said his chain was fine. Then thought about it for a minute, remembered that I hadn’t changed my chain for a while, looked up when I last did that, discovered it was in August 2012… whoops. Time for a new chain and cassette, it appears, as I’ve done about 4k miles since the last change.

Cycling With Rollers: First Attempt

With winter setting in, I got myself a set of rollers to use when the weather outside isn’t conducive to slick 23mm tyres. Specifically, I got Elite V-Arion Parabolic Inertial Rollers, from Wiggle:

So the main thing that I knew about from reading the reviews on Wiggle’s site was that they take a bit of getting used to, especially stopping and starting on the things, and that falling off is something to expect the first few times you try them. They are not wrong.

First, though, unpacking was a breeze. Nothing to assemble, they came ready to go, just unfold, get the loop on to the rollers to link up the front and back rollers, and off I went. I suspect I have a “normal” sized bike, because I didn’t need to change where the rollers were, it was set up perfectly, but there’s massive room for differently sized bikes, especially smaller ones. The instructions to move the rollers are simple, and it looks like it can cope with much smaller wheels than standard road bike 700c wheels, as well as bikes which are a lot shorter. But if, like me, you have a recently purchased normal road bike, you will probably find you need do nothing.

IMG_3606Now, for the first ride, I can only suggest you make sure you are in a narrow space, such as the one in this picture. This is necessary because, unless you have some amazing abilities, you will fall off. So, to save me falling off, I put the rollers in a doorway, and placed it such that my shoulders and upper arm would hit the side of the doorframe when I failed to balance. Seriously, this happened a lot – in the 35 minutes I rode on the thing, I would have to say that I probably hit the doorframe about 20 times.

Not only that, I even managed to fall off outside of the doorframe when attempting to stop. So here’s the most important lesson for anyone wanting to use rollers for the first time – the way you use your brakes on the road is pointless on rollers. It makes sense when you think about it – you’re not going anywhere, so there’s no need to brake, but it’s a mind-fuck to get through your head. If you want to stop, you do not need to slow down or brake, you just put your foot down, on the handy slightly raised step on the left hand side (sorry, lefties; thankfully, I’m ambidextrous). So in other words, you pile along at 22mph, and you want to step off, so you do just that; step straight off, and let the wheels continue spinning. They will stop soon enough, especially if you have the inertia resistance set to maximum.

The inertia resistance unit, according to the instructions, is set up so that on its maximum setting, it’s equivalent to riding on the road. After about 20 minutes getting used to it on the lowest setting, I put it straight up to maximum, and it feels fine. The one thing that it can’t do is replicate the wind, so I assume you’re likely to go faster than if you were actually on the road, but so long as you’re not spinning with no resistance at all, which is pretty pointless, it’s a good start.

So, all in all, just be prepared to fall off a lot on your first attempt, and as I say, get yourself in a place where falling off won’t have you falling too far. I’m not convinced I’m ever going to clip in when I’m on the thing, but maybe after a few tries I’ll get the hang of it and have the confidence to give it a try.

Adjusting a Threadless Bicycle Headset

Almost a year ago, I collected my mid-life crisis vehicle; a top-end road bike, the one that was victorious in the 2008 Tour. When I collected it, the guys at the shop explained to me that the bars had two spacers below and two above the stem, such that I could lower it or raise it depending upon my preference. I understood the theory, but when they then explained how to go about doing it, I was utterly confused. Rather than just loosening one screw, swapping bits about and screwing it back in again, I needed to also deal with other screws in a specific order. They rushed through it a bit fast, I tried to understand and asked questions, but I still was pretty much clueless when I walked out the shop. There was also talk of drilling or cutting something once I knew what I wanted, and I had better make sure I knew what I wanted before I did that, otherwise… well, I wasn’t sure of that either, but apparently the consequences were not good.

It kinda scared me a little, tbh, so I put it to the back of my mind and tried not to think about it.

Fast forward 11 months, and I’ve had the bike out a few times. Not as many as I wanted to ideally, but that’s mainly because winter lasted 5 months, I broke myself completely rendering bike riding impossible, and then I was training for the marathon. But I’ve had it out a few times, and thus enough times to note that my back got sore very quickly every time I went out on it.

I wasn’t sure why this was, or what to do about it, but I did know that the guys in the shop had fitted me professionally for the bike, so if anything, my riding posture on the new bike was surely “correct” in comparison to what I’m doing on my commuter road bike, which I ride vastly more and never get a sore back.

Today, I decided to wash both bikes, which gave me the opportunity to get them side by side for the first time, so I could see where the difference was, because ultimately, I figured that there must be a difference, and if I can get them the same, then the sore back will disappear – right? So I put them beside each other, and they were exactly the same… except for the bars. On my commuter, they are higher than on my new bike. And then it became clear! I’m having to lean over more on my new bike, thus making my back sore. The saddle is in exactly the same position, as is everything else, so all I needed to do was raise the bars so that the spacers are all at the bottom.

And at that point, I remembered the confusing conversation that I had in the shop. So a bit of googling later, I came across this video, which explains what is going on with the headset, and why you have to deal with the screws on the stem. It all makes sense! And 15 minutes later, my bars are now at a decent height. Winning video here:

1 Week To Go

Yeah, I’m a day early.

So I went through about 11 days of not knowing whether I was going to be ok for the marathon, up until Thursday of this week, when I went, as advised last week by the running shop, to see a physio. He took the history of my health and injury, then had me doing a bunch of things like standing on my toes and hopping on one foot, all of which was quite comical because, let’s face it, my balance is pretty pish because of the MS. However, he was quite happy with things at this point, and said he thought this was good news.

He then got me to lie on the bed and he went to work trying to find the pain. Now, I couldn’t pinpoint whether there was a specific area that was sore, I just couldn’t find anything. He did. At this point, he said he thought it was a 5th metatarsal edema. And then quickly followed this up by saying that this was a typical injury when runners are going longer and longer, because although the body is getting stronger, at times it’ll break down a little bit and there will be inflamation, but what I’d done in terms of resting it was good. He suggested I should put ice packs on it 3 or 4 times a day, for 20 minutes at a time, to aid the recovery, which I was initially confused about because I thought there was little point doing this after a couple of days of sustaining the injury, but he reckons I should do it daily, up to the marathon.

And then he had me on a treadmill. I was concerned about this because I assumed it was going to be sore, just like when I tried to run last Sunday. However, after all of 3 seconds, I realised that it was all going to be ok. I’m not suggesting it was pain free, but it was the kind of soreness that goes away once you’ve warmed up, rather than sharp pains which I was getting the previous week.

View of the BridgesWhat a relief.

So in summary, the physio said there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to do the marathon, and said I should get back on my bike immediately to keep my cardio levels up. I’d stopped riding the bike this week because I was concerned that I was making things worse, but I got it back out on Friday to head to work, and this morning went on a fairly short 30 mile loop to get the cardio going. Chest feels awesome.

I might even try a short run in a couple of days, just to keep the legs remembering how to run. But I will be listening closely to my foot and stopping if there’s any sign of pain.

One weekend, three injuries

I think I’ve excelled myself this weekend, with three separate injuries. Two are, I’m fairly sure, quite minor, mind you.

Injury number one – cycling home at the end of the week, actually now I think about it, this was Thursday evening, so I’m stretching the definition of “weekend” here. But anyway, the weather was foul (not as bad as today though, the first day of the Tour of Britain and I’m pretty sure Wiggo wasn’t pleased to be in Peebles) and I think I was hunched up quite a bit to protect myself from the wind and rain. So later that evening, I discovered that my neck was stiff, and I struggled to get comfy that night in bed. It’s still that way today. I can barely move my head left or right. I’m such a softy.

Injury number two – running 16 miles on Saturday morning, and the 4th toe on my left foot gets a touch sore during the run, and continues to get more sore during the day. It’s not so bad today though, so hopefully it’ll wear off before I go out again either tomorrow evening, or Tuesday evening.

Injury number three – potential broken finger. This was a classic – I’m swimming at the Commie and as I’m coming to the end of a length, while practicing the new Total Immersion techniques that I’ve been reading about in the past few days, I punch the handrail at the side of the pool because I’m too close to the side. Rather than punching it like I’m Floyd Mayweather, however, I punch it with the proximal phalanx on my first finger. It’s quite sore. But, to be honest, I’ve been in hospital too many times this year, so rather than head in again today, I figure I may as well wait and see how it is in the morning. After all, I went 6 days with a broken wrist before heading into hospital, so… well, that’s justification in my book.

Endomondo Breaks Garmin Uploads Again

About a week ago, Endomondo managed to release an update to their web site which totally broke uploads from Garmin devices. Thankfully, they fixed it quickly; I noticed it broken one day, raised a support ticket, and it was fixed within 24 hours. It’s probable that they took longer than 24 hours to fix it, as I don’t think I spotted it immediately, but still, it’s fixed.

Now, however, they have released a new “feature” which allows you to specify what type of activity (running, cycling, swimming, hiking etc) you are uploading. Previously, Endomondo’s site would determine what the activity was from the Garmin, since my Garmin devices are able to specify what it was I was doing. For example, Garmin Edge 800 is cycling all the time, while Garmin Forerunner 910xt is a triathlon watch, and you can tell your watch what it is you’re doing when you are doing it. This was previously used by Endomondo’s site when uploading activities.

Not any more. I tend to upload many activities at a time, and they now all default to running, despite me stating in my preferences that cycling is my most common activity. Not only that, but the UI to change the activity from running to something else is atrocious if you want to do it with any kind of speed; it is truly painful.

I’m not entirely sure what it is Endomondo are playing at here – there must be some kind of advantage somewhere in their system that they think they have offered to their users. However, I’m a fee-paying premium user, and they’ve totally shafted their site as far as I’m concerned.

Sort it out, Endomondo, or you’re going to lose paying customers, fast.