One of the more important aspects of owning a bike is looking after it. A little bit of TLC goes a long way to keeping your bike going well and looking good. And it doesn’t take a lot of effort.
Now I’m no bike mechanic, but I do know the basics of how to keep my bike(s) going. Over the years I haven’t spent much on tools, but I have got some specialist tools that from my point of view are invaluable. Spending a few quid on the right tools really makes the job easy!
Firstly, you can’t work on your bike without having a stand. I was lucky to pick up the daddy of bike stands second hand a few years ago – the Park Tools PCS-4. But you don’t need to go to this expense, you can pick one up in Aldi or Lidl for €30 or €40. If you haven’t got one yet, keep an eye out for those ones!
Next up allen keys or hex wrenches, whichever you prefer. Make sure to get the ones with the ‘ball’ ends – this allows them to be used at an angle – invaluable for example when trying to remove bottle cages.
A good cable cutters! I persevered for years with an ordinary cable cutters and many frayed cables later I splashed out my tenner for a proper one! Probably the best tenner I ever spent!
A track pump – that’s the one that you stand on. Again you can get them for cheap from the German discounters – my advice – spend €30 or €40 on a decent one.
And finally, a little more specialised – but a really great tool – a master link pliers. Like the cable cutters – I spent many a year messing around and generally swearing a lot with long nose pliers trying to open those magic chain links. This tool does that job in seconds. And the point is when it can be done simply and easily, then you’re more likely to do it – and if you can remove your chain easily it means you’re more likely to give your drivetrain a good clean.
I could go on, the potential list is endless - cassette removers, crank pullers, bottom bracket removal tools etc..etc.. but in my view, if you have those pieces of equipment above in your shed you’re off to a good start!
I’m a quarter of an inch under 6’, never quite made it to that magic mark. In-seam of 32”. Sort of lanky you might say.
I ride a 54cm road bike. Fits me perfectly, comfortable – weight centred in just the right place, feels great whether going up or down, no back or shoulder pain etc...
The first bike I bought was 58cm. A big steel cyclo-cross bike. And when I mean big, I mean big. Miles too big for me in fact. Why did I buy a 58cm bike? Well that’s what I was told I needed for my height, corroborated by some ’online’ sizing guide.
I subsequently realised that even though I’m quite tall, a smaller frame size – albeit correctly proportioned is best for me. Most online guides – and bike shops for that matter would automatically put me on a 56cm or 58cm bike.
So let me try to explain how frame sizing works. Hang on, it’s going to be a bit of a bumpy ride.
So – a 54cm frame. This refers usually to the distance from the centre of the bottom bracket (thats where the cranks go through the frame) to the top of the seat post tube (the part of the frame that the seat post fits into) – that’s “A” in the chart below. Except Trek of course – when they say 54cm they mean the distance horizontally from the seattube to the headtube (that’s the part of the frame directly above the forks) – that’s “B” in the chart. And Specialized. Confused? Of course you are.
It gets worse. Take a few 54cm frames from different manufacturers - they will be proportioned differently. All may have 54cm measurement "A", but could be anywhere from 52cm to 56cm on measurement "B"....
And then of course, by the grace of the good Lord, we are all made differently. Take two six-foot men – they may be the same height, but could have vastly different leg lengths, arm lengths, torso lengths etc.. And then of course there is the fairer sex...Different proposition again..!
So what’s the point of my rambling I hear you say? Well, you can buy the fanciest bike in the world, but if the fit isn’t right then you won’t get much enjoyment from riding it, which sort of defeats the purpose. The point is that if you want to find the bike that’s the perfect fit, then you need to sit on a variety of sized bikes. I have had lots of people come to me with a pre-conceived idea of what size bike they want, only to leave with something different. Why? Because they tried different sizes, we made some small tweaks, and at the end of it all I asked them – what do you think? Which one feels right? At the end of the day this is what matters – am I comfortable enough on this bike to put in long hours in the saddle.
So yes folks, size is everything ;)
Now some people say they like nothing better than sitting down with a good book. For me there’s nothing better than poring over a good map.
Maybe it’s my background as a geologist that gives me such an interest. The world of a geologist is one that’s immersed in maps – basic geology maps, topographic maps, plans, drillhole sections, mine plans….maps, maps and more maps.
Let’s start with the map of the world. A map that we are all familiar with. But did you know that most of the published maps of the world we see are wrong? Wrong in that the size of the countries of the world are usually incorrect relative to each other. Funny enough, it’s usually the good old USA that’s proportionally too big. Fancy that. But of course the problem with producing accurate world maps is a complex one, and the complexity lies in the fact that the world is essentially round, so how do you represent it on a flat 2D map? With difficulty. That’s why most common maps are really just a cartoon. Like this one below. Is North America really bigger than Africa! Don’t be silly.
So along came Dr Arno Peters. A German historian/cartographer, who in 1974 produced an area-correct map of the world. Take a look below – you’ll be amazed how different it looks. I have one on my wall and I often just stand there admiring it. Africa is a mighty big continent! Of course poor old Dr Peters was told he was wrong and caused a storm in the world of cartography; the debate still rages about the accuracy of his map.
But the maps I really like looking at are of my local area. The Ordnance Survey of Ireland have done a great job with their Discovery series, as have East-West Mapping in Clonegal, who produce beautifully detailed maps of the Wicklow Way and South Leinster Way amongst other things. The OSI’s online viewer is a fabulous resource, where you can look at various vintages of maps and aerial photographs, or orthophotos to use the correct term. Locate your local area and flick between the orthophotos from 1995-2000-2005 to visually see the roar of the Celtic Tiger. Then go back in time to the 6” and 25” maps of old. The detail is fabulous. Once you get your eye in spot the townsland boundaries. These maps were produced as a result of a mammoth survey of Ireland between 1825 and 1846, and the detail is phenomenal. Of course many of the features mapped such as field boundaries, are still accurate today. The layout of my own town, Bunclody (formerly Newtownbarry) hasn't really changed at all since these maps were produced.
Of course viewing online is one thing, but there’s no substitute for paper. Unfortunately these days paper maps are quite expensive to buy, but if you’re lucky like me and have acquired some over the years then you’re in luck.
Above all else, the map – just like cycling – is a great way to get to know and learn about your local area. You’d be amazed at what you don’t know about your local spot! Get your map out and start exploring!
How many times have you heard this old chestnut trotted out over the last few years?
It’s nonsense. Lazy journalists massaging statistics. Cycling numbers are increasing and golfing numbers are falling , but does this really mean people are giving up one and taking up the other? Don’t think so.
There’s no doubt that the numbers of people cycling in Ireland have shot up over the last few years. Not only is it plainly visible on our roads, but Cycling Ireland’s figures prove it, just check out the graphic below.
At the same time, the CGI (Confederation of Golf in Ireland) reported last year that membership was down 25% between 2009 and 2014.
The rise in cycling is due to many things. A combination perhaps of more awareness of healthy living, the bike to work scheme making it more affordable to buy decent bikes, sportives springing up everywhere, the social aspect. At the same time the fall off in golf membership numbers coincides with the recent recession. Whilst the cost of equipment for both sports is probably around the same, most golf clubs have a hefty annual membership fee – and quite simply this has to be the main reason for the dramatic fall off in golf membership.
Now back to the point. Cycling is the new golf. Here’s something interesting. Looking from the outside you could say that I could be the poster boy for the yes campaign. Once a keen golfer, now a keen cyclist. But why…?
My golfing career started when I was about 14. A neighbours Dad showed me how to swing the club and brought me out for a few rounds. Lucky for me then, I had three friends with a shared interest and the following three years in particular saw the four of us play more rounds than I can remember. We were lucky to live equidistant from two good golf clubs, both with strong juvenile sections. We also had parents who were willing to drive us around. I remember often leaving my house at 8am on a bright summer’s morning for the golf club, packed lunch in hand. We would play 45 or 54 holes – basically until dark or we were too tired to continue, one or the other. Great times.
Of course college and all that goes with it came along then and golf got the cold shoulder until my late twenties. I found myself working in Africa of all places in a remote location. Not much to do except…you guessed it…golf. I fell easily back into it and had a great few years and actually got my handicap down to a very decent number. I arrived back in Ireland in the early noughties and re-joined the club of my youth and played for a few years.
But then along came the kids. First one, then two, three and finally four lovely babies. So I can tell you there wasn’t much time for golf! And that’s simply it, I decided I no longer could or wanted to be gone for 5,6,7 hours on a Saturday or Sunday. Time to find a new pastime…
Coincidentally with the arrival of the kids, I decided to give up the cigarettes. And then I took up cycling to lose a few pounds and embrace a healthier lifestyle.
Since then my main pastime is cycling. Something I love doing – I don’t mind what the bike is – road, mountain, cyclocross (I even had a bmx!) I just like getting out on the bike!
But here’s what I want to tell you…I love the game of golf too…and I haven’t swapped one for the other. Golf was the game of my teenage years, so many happy memories. It just so happens that playing regularly at this time in my life doesn’t work. But that’s not to say it won’t in the future.
For me, cycling is not the new golf, it’s just that right now I can’t do both - so purely on a time constraint basis, cycling gets the nod. But I look forward to the time in my life when I do have the time for both great sports and they can co-exist in harmony in my sporting life.
Since I took up cycling in my adult life, which I guess was about 12 years ago now, I’ve owned a few cyclocross bikes. As a matter of fact the first “proper” bike I bought was a ‘Cougar’ steel framed cyclocross bike that I bought on ebay. No idea why. Lovely black and silver thing that was a size too big for me and weighed half a ton. I do remember though that it was really comfortable to ride.
I bought a ‘proper’ road bike shortly thereafter and forgot about cyclocross for a few years.
So last year I decided to build myself up a new cyclocross bike, this time mostly motivated by a desire to try out some cyclocross racing. So I bought a Graham Weigh frame, stripped the groupset off my TT bike (yes I did have a TT bike) and set to work.
The bike I ended up with was a joy to ride, apart from one thing – the brakes. If I was a teenager I would say OMG. Shocking things that made stopping quite a chore, especially in the wet. I remember one comical incident at a race on Bray Head, barrelling down hill, unable to stop - straight though the tape...That’s cantilever brakes for you. Had a great time racing on that bike all the same.
So last summer I decided to sell that bike and buy a new cyclocross bike, this time with disc brakes. Being primarily from a mtb background I am well versed in the quality of disc brakes and their superiority over canti or v brakes. So after some research I went for the Rose Pro DX Cross 2000, made by the eponymous German company. And what a bike it is.
The race season is now over and the bike has served me very well. More about that in a future post.
But cyclocross bikes are not all about racing. Quite the opposite in fact. This is what I want to tell you about.
The modern, disc brake- equipped cyclocross bike is, in my view, the most versatile and enjoyable bike out there. And they are made for Ireland, its roads and its weather. The fatter tyres (usually around 32mm) give unbelievable grip and more importantly comfort. But the brakes are the big plus. Disc brakes work the same wet or dry. No more cramped hands pulling the bejaysus out of your brakes on a wet, cold winters day.
But most importantly the cyclocross bike allows you to go where your road bike won’t take you. Where I live, like most places in Ireland, we have a complicated network of quiet country roads and lanes, roads to nowhere but for the few who live down them. Rough roads, as ancient as the hedgerows that line them. For me and my cyclocross bike it’s an opportunity to escape the traffic, shelter from the wind. And if you have good companions, cycle side by side and have the chat. All things not possible out on the main road on your regular road bike.
This winter my cyclocross bike has brought me down roads and lanes within 20km of my home that I would never have been on, but for the bike I have christened The Wild Rose. A year of exploration awaits!
Most road bikes these days at the entry level point are fitted with 8 speed drivetrains. This is nothing new of course as they’ve been around for a while in various guises – most commonly Shimano 2300, now on newer bikes replaced by the Claris groupset.
So look at the most common entry level road bikes and what they’re equipped with. The ‘big three’ brands all have 8 speed components on their lower end road bikes. Now when I mean lower end, I don’t mean price – because one of these beauties will set you back somewhere in the €600-800 range. As well as that there is a proliferation of cheap and nasty 7 speed ‘road’ bikes out there, or bike-shaped-objects as we call them, which pricewise are cheap, but to be avoided at all costs.
So why is it a curse. It’s simple – apart from if you live in a completely flat country (which fortunately we don’t), 8 speed equipped road bikes are in my view not suitable for beginners, and it’s down to gearing, and specifically the jumps between gears. This is fairly ironic as this is the market that these bikes are aimed at. Actually it’s completely backwards and I’ll explain why.
As any experienced cyclist will tell you, shifting on a 10 speed is always smoother than 9 speed, and 11 speed smoother than 10. For the uninitiated, the gearing is controlled by the sprocket on the back, or cassette to use the technical term. It’s smoother with more gears because the gaps between gears are smaller making the transition from gear to gear better. So take for example climbing a decent hill, nothing too steep but a good drag. You want to work up through the gears nice and smoothly, with even steps. Easily done on a 9/10/11 speed. Not so easy on an 8 speed, especially at the top end. To make matters worse, on these ‘beginner friendly’ bikes, commonly the manufacturers use an 11-32 cassette, which is fine in that you have a nice low gear in the 32 , but have a big gap (4 teeth) between it and the next gear. This is a killer for beginners.
Now bear with me while I get a little more technical. Take a look at these common cassettes. The numbers refer to the number of teeth. The smaller the gaps the better/easier:
8 speed: 11-13-15-18-21-24-28-32
9 speed: 12-13-14-15-17-19-21-24-27
10 speed: 12-13-14-15-17-19-21-23-25-28
11 speed: 11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-23-25-28
Here’s an analogy. Imagine walking up a long set of stairs. At the start the steps are nice and evenly spaced, short steps. No problem. But as you get to the top and you start tiring, the steps are now much more widely spaced, you have to jump three before you get to the top.. That’s what riding an eight speed is like. If you want a set of steps that are nice and even all the way then go for a 10 speed, 11 speed if you can afford it and 9 speed at the least.
A couple of years ago I actually bought an 8 speed bike. I was working abroad and just wanted something cheap and cheerful to train on. I nearly lost the will to live! Definitely wasn’t feeling the love, that’s for sure. For a while I couldn’t figure out why – but soon enough I figured it was that pesky 8 gear setup..
My buying advice: if you’re just starting out, avoid the 8 speed bikes. Especially if you’re living somewhere hilly, riding an 8 speed will just turn you right off! There’s enough value out there in the used market right now to get up and running with a very nice 9 or 10 speed, almost definitely for far less than you’ll pay for a new 8 speed bike.
Don’t fall to the curse of the 8 speed!