Category Archives: Bikes

A Crime Against Humanity

Crime "bike"

Look at it.

My cousin asked me to sort his bike out so that he could use it to commune to university. “Of course” said I. Then he brought the monstrosity ’round.

Let’s start with the weight. It’s quite unbelievable how much this thing weighs. I haven’t weighed it but I’d hazard a guess at around 40lbs (18kg). Then there’s the geometry of the frame, it’s really short for its height. Knee banging onto the sharp brake lever clamps will happen. The grips, solid bits of plastic. Oh no, the brake levers, a thin piece of wire covered in plastic pulling on brakes with a similar diabolical make-up. I could go on. Everything abut this bike oozed cheap (in the true sense of the word) and unsuitability.

Will this bike inspire anyone to ride it? No.
Will this bike bring pleasure whilst riding it? No.
Will this bike be a mental chore to even think about getting on it and a physical chore whilst riding it? Yes.

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. ~ H.G. Wells

I despair at this bicycle.

The thing that gets me most is that metals were dug from the earth, alloys were produced, the frame and component parts were manufactured, oil was processed to make all the plastic bits, rubber was used in the tyres, all the parts were produced then travelled many miles to be put together before travelling many more miles on trucks to a shop where some unsuspecting victim purchased it. An individual with good intentions, most likely. Intentions to use it as transport, to get fit, to get enjoyment from. Then they end up with this lump of uninspiring shit.

What a waste of all those resources and hopes and dreams.

Cantilever vs disc brakes on touring bikes

I wanted to write a piece about the merits and drawbacks of cantilever brakes and cable  disc brakes on touring bikes. Traditionally touring bikes have had canti brakes but discs are starting to become more popular with bikes such as the Surly Disc Trucker and a large proportion of the 2013 Dawes cycles touring range now having disc brakes. I have also been riding a disc prototype at work, basically to see if we like them or not. However rather than coming up with a definitive answer as to which I think is better for touring bikes I’m still confused, I’ve garnered some more knowledge about bikes and myself but not really anything that will let me jump one side or the other of the fence.

The outcome is that to be honest I’m just plain confused, discs do give a bit more stopping power than a set of canti brakes, however in my experience you can get the same power with a set of mini v-brakes like the Tektro RX5’s. Plus I was finding I was having to use almost as much hand strength with the disc brakes as I have done previously with cantilever brakes on steep hills to bring the bike to a stop. However strangely this isn’t something I’ve found on my own ‘project’ bike which has cable disc brakes where the required hand strength seems less. It’s the fact I have better Shimano disc calipers perhaps, but I have a rumbling gut feeling that actually the brake levers make more of an impact than people realise.
2013-03-01 10.18.37

The prototype I was riding and my previous cantilever equipped (geared) bike both had 9 speed Tiagra STI shifters, and suddenly I realised how hard these feel when you pull on them. The Sram Rival shifters on my bike feel really smooth and actuate the brakes with nice modulation and good power. The Tiagra levers with both types of brake feel stiff under the fingers when you pull the brakes on like they’re fighting back and although you can modulate the power a bit to scrub speed off rather than stopping outright they just felt really harsh and you really have to ‘honk’ on them hard to get full braking power.

So I’m undecided, I’d like to ride the same disc calipers with my Rival levers to check that I’m right and it is the levers that are disappointing not the calipers, I’d also like to try other Shimano levers (e.g. 105) with these calipers or cantilevers to see if it’s specific to ‘Shimano’ levers.

Mind bending?!?
Mind bending?!?

Yes there are advantages to disc brakes that I can see, namely no rim wear. It’s a lot easier on a long tour to change brake pads/discs than rebuild a wheel but conversely touring rims tend to have a lot of metal in them and not wear quickly. The rim wear argument holds more weight when applied to lightweight carbon wheels for example used in cyclocross.

Clearance issues also come more in to play off road and in the realm of cyclocross when you are dealing with mud clogging so are less applicable to touring bikes. Then there is the issue of things braking/going wrong when somewhere remote. A cantilever is probably easier to fix or replace in more remote countries than a disc caliper but you have to temper this with the fact that in reality how many people actually ride touring bikes to very remote places.

People just seem to make the assumption that disc brakes stop better, when the reality is that actually this isn’t necessarily true. I need to ride more bikes with differing set ups as I mentioned above but actually cable disc brakes don’t seem to be the holy grail of better braking as perhaps people are suggesting. A set of cantilever brakes which are well set up have provided adequate braking for a lot of people for a long time and I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed with cable discs if they make the switch as they won’t meet expectations and hype.

If anyone wants to comment and can provide better engineering knowledge than me, feel free. I am always aware of my limitations.

Postscript: The thing I learnt about myself this week is that I am an anomaly, I’m 6″4 yet only weigh 11 stone. This means my requirements for bikes and especially frames is very different to most of the population. When designing frames you generally have to work on the principle that as people get taller they are also going to get heavier and therefore require stiffer frames in order for the ride not to be ‘floppy’ especially if you are also designing a bike capable of carrying a touring load as well. I don’t fit this trend, subsequently this week I felt pretty beaten up by the prototype. It was too stiff for me and tired me out when riding it day after day. Strangely my own ‘custom’ bike feels brilliant and seems to fit with my physique (even though Lee never asked how much I weigh) probably more through luck than design.

Again I need to ride more bikes though and more people (who are heavier than me) need to ride the prototype. It would be nice to have access to all manner of fancy testing gizmos so that you could scientifically say this bike is x times more stiff than this bike but the majority of bike companies can’t afford this so they go on rider feedback which naturally is human and can vary depending on the riders size, shape, preconceptions and prejudices. The upshot is that a bike might be brilliant for a large number of people but terrible for a few people, and so if you’re buying a new bike (especially made from an unfamiliar frame material) test riding it really can be very important.

The Pursuit of Lance Armstrong – An Audience with David Walsh

Last night I had the pleasure of attending "The Pursuit of Lance Armstrong – An Audience with David Walsh" at Leeds University.

The story is well documented in many places, not least Walsh’s personal account in his book "Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong (2012)".

Walsh speaking at Leeds University

I found Walsh to be a genuine and honest person. His accounts of his early life as a journalist painted the picture of a man with integrity, having been faced with questions of morals and "should I report this story" it seemed he always stood by what was the right thing to do – despite pressures to not.

Lance Armstrong treated him like shit. And unsurprisingly so. Here was a man who was pursuing cycling’s greatest hero. A hero that transcended cycling – arguably the first to truly do so. And Walsh saw through it, despite overwhelming pressure to believe, and continued on the path to bring him down.

Walsh’s accounts of being abandoned by other journalists for fear of being seen with him and therefore blacklisted by the Armstrong entourage highlighted the enormous pressure he was under; to report the Tour de France without having any access to its leading rider doesn’t give the public the story they want to hear.

I’ve documented my personal feelings of Lance Armstrong in a previous blog post. My opinions have changed a little from then. Not in the coming back from cancer story being a separate issue than the doping issue, but in my personal feelings of Armstrong. While I never loved the guy on a personal level I have a lot of respect for his determination, but not for taking that determination to bring others down; and not down in a bike riding sense. The way he treated Betsy Andreu, Bassons and many others wasn’t recognised by me. I’d heard the stories but I’d dismissed them because I didn’t want to tarnish my relationship with the Lance Armstrong story. Having read up on them since I am severely disappointed.

The point of this post is greater than the LA story but highlights it perfectly. Throughout the discussions I’ve had about LA and the comments I’ve read online people are very quick to make judgment of how Lance is feeling. Comments along the lines of "the only thing he is sorry about is getting caught" and "I imagine an apology from Lance to be hollow and disingenuous" (in regard to the phone call to Betsy Andreau).

People are quick to relay their own perceptions of feelings onto a situation and not stick to the facts.

Walsh maintained integrity throughout, never commenting on LA’s personal life. LA was not so kind in return. This is the mark of quality journalism. Too many times I read columns and news reports that are opinion pieces designed to sway thinking. They don’t deal with the facts.

Yes, opinion pieces should exist but should be from a person’s personal experience of a situation. Speaking about their feelings, not their opinion of someone else’s feelings. As soon as you project your own rendition of how another should be feeling you are being false and untrue to yourself and to them. You cannot possibly know how another is feeling.

It happens all the time and it’s how newspapers and news agencies peddle their own agenda and create opinion among the weak willed and ill-educated masses. Ill educated meaning people who have never challenged themselves to think about a situation based on the facts they have. People who are quick to take the opinion of someone else because it doesn’t require real thought on their part. People who don’t question what is put in front of them.

I don’t want this to be holier-than-thou – we’re all subject to these pressures every day. But please don’t let yourself be dragged down into the mob mentality.

Question everything, especially yourself.


So it’s the time of year where you are bombarded with all sorts of ‘pro-bike’ features showcasing what the top stars are going to be riding this year. After a while one DI2 equiped carbon bike you could never afford to own blends into another. So here’s what I’m racing this year!
2013-02-08 13.46.09It will debut at Morvelo City Cross and I am excited to say the least, hopefully I’ll have a more tasteful saddle by then. Look to the back of the pack though, changing up some equipment isn’t suddenly going to increase my speed. The White Industries ENO eccentric rear hub is a thing of beauty, marred by the very functional (i.e. ugly) but I’ve found hard wearing Taya singlespeed chain.2013-02-08 13.46.25If you haven’t seen it here’s the CityCross video to wet your appetite.

Morvelo City Cross Trailer from Whitenosugar Productions on Vimeo.

Right, done. So here’s some ‘punk’