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!