Thursday, 26 October 2017

Do Andriods Dream of Electric Bikes?

Its finally happened. I been gone and bought an E Bike. Trust me, I do have a good reason for doing so and the bike was purchased for sensible practical applications (I have no intention of doing any hill climbing on it).

Ever since the summer when my dad was first admitted to hospital I've had to combine work with visiting him and also taking care of the dog. This has meant running round like a stressed out blue arsed fly and I initially took to driving to work so I could check on the dog every lunchtime. Given that I work close to home this is plain stupid. Thing is, there is a fairly steep hill between work and home and even with the right bike, the right clothes and the right frame of mind I'm going to struggle riding up that damn hill at least twice a day at a speed that will allow me to fit in a meaningful visit home. Doing so in work clothes wearing steel toe shoes will make it even more difficult. I'm good but not that good.

After a few weeks of driving the car to work I decided the best option was an E bike. I wouldn't have the hassle of parking the car and the stress of having to park it after using it, plus after a stressful and difficult summer I guess I just wanted to spend a bit of money on myself. Besides, a man can never have too many bikes...

E bikes range from cheap and nasty to expensive and very lovely. After looking around at what was available at a price point I was happy with I decided to go for an Original 700 E Bike from Decathlon. I've long been interested in their bikes as they generally get very good reviews whilst being pretty good value for money. I also figured that being a European manufacturer that Decathlon would know how to put together a truly practical electric utility bike.

Worlds largest bike box. Stood on its end its almost as tall as me

A few days after ordering online the worlds largest bike box was delivered to where I work. It seems that Decathlon like to ship their bikes fully built. I had to borrow a works van to get it home and even then it took two of us to manhandle the box into the back of a Ford Transit Connect. Getting it out by myself at home involved a lot of swearing and trying not to drop it on the dog.

Removing the bike from the box revealed Decathlons new slider box design. Basically the inside of the box has a separate cardboard runner that the bikes wheels sit in. It allows you to slide the whole thing out really easily. Its a neat idea. The bike only took a few minutes to set up (Decathlon do most of the hard work for you) and the battery didn't take too long to fully charge. I was soon able to view my new purchase in all of its glory.

The beast emerges from its lair. No dry ice sadly

The beige beast

My first impressions of the bike were not encouraging. The online photos didn't fully prepare me for just how beige it is. And ugly. Its an ugly beige bike. Its sort of endearing but, well, ugly. The cheap rear suspension doesn't help the looks. The suspension fork I could live with but the rear suspension is a bit rubbish and is already creaking and squeaking. With any luck it will seize up without any proper servicing and the bike will become a hard tail.

Whats that famous line from the film Predator? Oh yes; "You are one ugly motherf**ker"

The bike is also heavy, I mean small moped heavy. Seriously, the damn thing needs a motor and I need some form of truss after trying to pick it up. The motor and battery mean most of the bikes weight is at the rear and quite high up. It takes a bit of getting used to the balance point of the bike. Unlike a lot of the more modern E bikes available the beige beast has a non integrated battery pack that sits in a rear rack arrangement with a motor hub in the rear wheel. The more modern solution is for a motor built into the bottom bracket area but £799 doesn't buy a lot of modern in the E bike world. It does however come with a dashboard which lights up at night, which is kind of cool.

The brakes aren't great, which is a disappointment given that they have to try and stop a bike that seems to weigh a million tonnes when it is careering downhill. Its mainly down to the rubbish brake blocks which I can replace with decent cartridge ones once I wear them out.

The one thing that the bike does have going for it is its practicality. It comes with full mudguards, a kick stand, a rear rack, built in lights and a funky dashboard thingy. Ideal for riding around town and to work.

The power

Of course all of the accessories are nice but the key feature about this bike is of course the source of the weight; the power pack and how it lets the bike go. Like all legal road going E bikes mine is limited to providing only pedal assisted bursts of power with a top speed of 15.5mph before the power cuts out. It also cuts out if you stop pedalling. Downhill its a case of holding for grim death as gravity takes over. 30 mph is easily achieved just by coasting downhill. Did I mention its heavy? The motor is a 250 watt unit (all you are legally allowed) and provides the bike with three levels of assistance:

Level 1 – low level of assistance unless you are really starting to struggle but quite good on flat bits of road and just getting going.

Level 2 – a mid range setting that I've not gotten the hang of yet.

Level 3 – Turbo fun time. Stick the bike in a high gear, crank up the watts to level three and just go for it simply to see how fast you can accelerate. Also good for steep and/ or long hills. Or for when you just want to experience turbo fun time. Blasting away from a standstill is quite addictive and I spent my first test ride laughing like a fool at the experience. I use this setting a lot.

Ohh, look a motor...

I should also add the bike has a walking mode. If you have to push it up a steep hill it will literally power itself along at walking pace as long as you keep a button pushed down. Seriously. Its a great feature for getting the thing up some shallow steps at work.

Using the power effectively takes some getting used to. You have to meet the bike half way to get the best out of it. You can spin slowly up steep hills and get some assistance or you can try to use the 250 watt motor to provide a decent boost to your efforts. On the flat you can just spin gently whilst accelerating but on the hills working a bit harder does result in some decent speeds.

The future is electric?

Well, possibly. As a practical way of getting around town without the car the E bike is a great tool. Its been designed to be an everyday form of transport and in that respect it works really well. Its been designed to be ridden everyday by normal people, in normal clothes doing normal things like going to work or the shops. For me it gets ridden to and from work and also to the nursing home where my dad is. Some days I have to ride up the same steep hill three times and on the E bike its just easy and I never think that I'm too tired to do it. Its comfortable and as long as you just want to get about without much fuss its excellent. At the weekends however climbing onto the road bike is more fun. Yes, you have to put all the motive effort in yourself but a practical E bike will never replace the sheer joy of riding a responsive 'normal' bike in challenging terrain. The feeling of riding a lightweight bike after a week of manhandling a two wheeled tank about is actually quite liberating.That said, for urban trips the E bike is a bit of a game changer. With its built in lights, sensible riding position and lack of parking restrictions it is now regularly a better option than my car for around town trips. Of course any normal bike is better than a car for around town trips but after a hard and tiring day at work a normal (or should than be analogue?) bike doesn't give you the option of selecting level 3...

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Slamming on the Anchors

Well, slamming on the anchors for now.

Bit of a difficult blog post to write this one but for the time being I'm going to have to postpone my efforts to complete all of the remaining 100 Greatest Climbs. Things haven't been going well for some time with regard to getting the time away from home to get the final few rides completed and after I had to call off a trip up to the North East earlier in June because of a few issues at home those issues have only become worse. To edit a long and difficult chain of events into a simple sentence; my dad is quite unwell at the moment. I was worried about leaving him at home when I was due to go away in June and called off the planned trip. Fast forward to the end of July and I ended up having to go all emergency services and call an ambulance for him. It turned out to be far less dramatic than it looks on the telly but was nonetheless stressful.

Nearly six weeks on some of the problems my dad is facing have been sorted, some have not and it is clear that any plans I had for a cheeky trip up North this autumn in an attempt to get things back on track are well and truly out of the window. Right now I have neither the time or energy going spare to finish of the remaining climbs and I'm not sure when I'm likely to have either. I should be in the finishing strait by now (well, I should have been some time ago but life has rather gotten in the way) but things have gone a bit Pete Tong.

I am still getting out on my bike but not as much as I would like or my sanity requires; my energies need to be directed elsewhere at the moment. Besides, my touring bike is in need of a full rebuild, my single speed has a knackered wheel, I've managed to break my hack bike and a simple repair job on my folder resulted in me having to take a hacksaw to it. Yes, my bicycle maintenance skills remain top notch as ever; I still have to pluck up the courage to explain the whole hacksaw thing to my local bike shop.

My Dahon post angry hacksaw moment. That'll learn it.

Anyway, thats all for now. I'm pretty gutted at everything that has happened recently but rest assured I will be back to complete the remaining climbs but not for a while. Other things have to come first right now. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Cat and Fiddle, better late than never

Its taken a while to get this ride written up and the video sorted. Both my work and home life have kept me pretty busy recently and I guess I've struggled with the energy and focus to get it all sorted.

A few years ago when ticking off some of the climbs in the Peak District and the North West I tried to ride the Cat and Fiddle. It was the middle of the week and late in the morning as I drove from Buxton to the Cat and Fiddle pub and the weather was appalling. It was over cast and astonishingly windy. As I pulled into the pub car park I struggled to open the car door and all I could see was a seemingly endless stream of lorries thundering along the road. I pretty much decided then and there that riding the Cat and Fiddle that particular day was a no no and that moving on to ride Swiss Hill was a better plan. I did stop for lunch in the pub first though.

Of course, I still had to ride the Cat and Fiddle at some point and I reasoned that because of its location and length, and traffic levels, I would be better served doing it as part of an overnight trip; drive up on a Saturday, ride it first thing on the Sunday and then drive home again. Simple, right?

On the 18th March I drove up to Macclesfield ahead of riding the Cat and Fiddle. My aborted attempt a few years ago wasn't entirely a waste of time as I found out at the time that there is a Travelodge at the base of the climb. I was a bit disappointed to find out that the annual fair was in town and that the car park in front of the hotel was full of brightly lit, noisy spinning fair ground rides with crowds of local chavs getting drunk and nauseous. Thankfully everything was quiet by 10pm as I had feared I wouldn't get any sleep.

Cycling nerds can insert their own jokes about well known Italian bike brands and 
furniture warehouses

Because I was several floors up and there were so many people wandering the streets of Macclesfield that night I was reluctant to keep my bike in the car and so took it into my room. Nothing unusual there but come 6.30am the next morning when I was ready to leave and tackle the climb I couldn't resist going for a quick spin along the 4th floor corridor. Lets face it, I've spent enough time in hotels with nothing but a bike for company that it was bound to happen at some point and besides it was genuinely the quickest way to the lift. I'm thinking of a companion series of hotel bike rides to complement my remaining 100 climbs efforts; Moutain bike in a Premier Inn anyone? Fat bike in a Best Western? The possibilities are endless.

We all knew this was going to happen eventually...

The first part of the ride up the Cat and Fiddle isn't as bad as it looks, more of a long gentle drag out of the edge of town. I started off at an easy (slow) pace as I knew it would be a long climb and I couldn't see much of the top of the moors from my travehovel room window because of low cloud. I figured it was best to take a measured approach and leave something in the tank. It soon became clear to me that taking it easy was going to be necessary because despite the overcast morning I was starting to overheat pretty rapidly. My shades steamed up and I was soon unzipping everything I could get away with. On such a long climb its easy for the temperature to rise, especially if you are tapping away at a steady but slow pace like I was.

It isn't every day you get a hotel room with a view of the next days climb

About halfway up the climb the temperature started to drop as I slowly moved away from the suburbs and into the more rural sections of the road. The more remote things started to feel the chillier it got and the stronger the wind became. The gradient on this climb never becomes too taxing and once you get to the half way point you also start to encounter the odd down hill section which offers a bit of relief from the constant uphill efforts. Unfortunately the wind also started to pick up around this point and the downhills weren't as much of an enjoyable coast as they could be. In fact it got much colder and windier and the final big ramp up to the summit became a bit of a slog as I turned a corner and got hit full in the face by a vicious cross wind. The visibility also took a major downward turn with low cloud sweeping across the road. Even though the pub that marks the summit wasn't far away I had to lean into the wind to make it there. The pub is shut these days but seeing as how on both occasions I've been there you would have needed beer glasses made of solid lead to stop them flying across the beer garden its perhaps not that surprising. There was a group of local club cyclists catching their breath in the car park when I got there. They had passed me on the way up and I'm not sure who was the daftest; them for continuing across the top of the hills in the poor visibility and high winds or me for trying to make my way back down to Macclesfield with a biting cross wind.

After a quick stop to catch my breath it was time to venture out into the growing murk and head, seemingly sideways back down to the bottom. The first couple of miles heading back down involved a lot of leaning at crazy angles into the wind whilst trying to navigate fast down hill corners. It wasn't a relaxing coast back down the Macclesfield and by the time I got back to the Travelshack I was knackered and cold. I had hoped for a triumphant downhill sweep back to the hotel but instead had a nervy wind blasted tooth loosening clatter back down to the bottom. Once at the bottom I did decide to put my bike back in the car though rather than taking it for a farewell spin around the hotel reception; it was a bit dirty by then.

On the whole I really like the Cat and Fiddle. 6am on a cold Sunday morning in March probably isn't the best time to ride it but I love the way the climb takes you from the middle of Macclesfield, past the suburbs and into the wilds of the moors above. You get a real feeling of going on a journey with this ride instead of just grinding your way up to the top of a wind blasted peak. Its a climb I'd like to do again, a bit faster and in better weather, but this ride will have to do for now. Its certainly one I'd recommend. I will be back.

Oh yes, I'm off the North Eastery shortly. I've got five climbs and well over 1200 miles to try and knock out in 3 days. Good job I enjoy this sort of thing.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Nick of Pendle

I did this ride in October last year on the same morning as I rode up The Rake. Not sure why it has taken me so long to do this write up. After tackling the Rake I bought some food for the drive back home and then programmed Sabden into my Sat Nav. It only took about 20 minutes to get there and it was pleasing to see the built up urban sprawl and urban motorways around Ramsbottom turn to a softer more rural setting.

As you drop down into Sabden at one side of the valley you see the Nick of Pendle making its way up the other side of the valley. It looks pretty fearsome from a distance but it didn't prove to be quite so savage up close and personal. I parked up at the top and made my way downhill with my highspeed down hill coasting having to make do as a warmup. On a cold day in October I perhaps unsurprisingly started the hill stone cold and took it gentle to start with.

Near the top of the climb. A rare bend in the road.

The first part of the hill is dead straight and there are a lot parked cars to deal with. I wouldn't recommend trying this climb during a busy part of the day as the road up it is a major traffic route. My climb was in fact interupted by a couple of motorists arguing about who had right of way. It didn't last long and didn't result in any violence so I was on my way fairly quickly. Sadly that was the only really exciting part about the climb. It isn't particularly rewarding to climb. 

Once you leave the outskirts of Sabden it gets more open and the gradient eases,which it nice, but this climb didn't really enthuse me to try my best; its just a ride up a relatively straight bit of road and as a result I got a bit bored and backed off. I very slowly spun my way up to the top, tried to take in the view on what was a bit of grey day, got in the car and went home.

I even found the summit a little underwhelming.

I can imagine having the Nick of Pendle right on your doorstep would be great for training and it must have some dedicated fans but I was a bit unmoved by the whole thing. Ah well, another hill ticked off the list and you won't have to wait too long before you get to read my write up of the Cat and Fiddle 'cos I've just ridden it and its a great bit of road to tackle. Watch this space.

Friday, 18 November 2016

The Rake

My first 100 climbs focussed trip for a couple of years had to have a statement climb in it, you know; one of those climbs that is well known for its fierceness. I wasn't too sure if I would have the legs for it but The Rake in Ramsbottom seemed a safe bet. It has been used in the past as a national hill climb course and is famed for having a very long handrail bolted to the wall that borders the steepest section of road so that knackered walkers have something with which to pull themselves uphill. Hopefully I wouldn't find myself in a position where I need it.

After a rubbish nights sleep in a Travelshack it was only a 15 minute drive to Ramsbottom. The town itself didn't really leave much of an impression apart from seeming very busy, even though it was pretty early on a Saturday morning. It seems a prosperous little town but a bit scruffy. The parking was at least free which is always a welcome bonus. Coming from North Devon where the cost of parking can sometimes be more than the value of your shopping I made doubly sure by asking a confused looking parking warden that the car park I was using was indeed free.

Anyway, once parked up it was time to see if I could still get into the groove and get the bike, the cameras and myself set up and ready to go in a short space of time. I guess I must have some sort of latent muscle memory because within about 5 minutes I was rattling across some cobbles towards the start of the climb with no idea of how I managed to be on the bike and moving forwards.

The Rake is kind of in three parts. The first section takes you up a straight bit of road to the pub which sits on a left hand uphill bend. The pub is a well known spectator spot when the hill is being raced up. This first section is steep but not too difficult. It was a bit hard to get my cold legs turning over but I was pretty pleased with how it went. Once past the pub (thankfully there were no beer drinkers to heckle me at 8am in the morning) the gradient eased off a bit. I wasn't able to coax any more speed out of my legs but it was a chance to catch my breath before the final steepest part of the climb.

All the best climbs have their own warning signs

I was surprised at how busy the climb was, both in terms of parking and the traffic. Taking on the climb later in the day could have resulted in a few holdups. After a brief bit of spinning on the easier middle section the final turn off up The Rake proper came into view along with a couple of signs displaying the 25% gradient sign and a warning not to tackle the road in snow as you turn right into Rawsons Rake. Adjusting to the gradient took my breath away at first but if I'm being totally honest it didn't feel like a proper 25% slope. I've ridden plenty of them by now and this one didn't seem too bad. I'd like to think I'm fitter and wiser as a cyclist and so better able to cope with the steep stuff but in truth I think the climb is only 25% for a short section past the initial warning signs. Thats not to say it was easy; I managed to winch myself up the final section but only at a slow pace but, I still don't think it is as fearsome a gradient as the signs suggest. I didn't even really notice the hand rail until I was nearing the top and not once did I feel the need to grab hold of it

Once the top of the hill appeared the slope eased very quickly and it all felt like a bit of an anticlimax. It all seemed to be over very quickly. The ride back down was at least fun but I didn't really feel like I had taken on a great adversary and escaped with only a few minor scrapes. It was just a bit steep at the top and then over. Maybe I'm being more critical these days.

After packing the bike away it was off to Sabden to ride the Nick of Pendle which proved to be a more entertaining ride with a bit of random road rage thrown in. More on that to come.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Back In The Saddle

Its happened; after a year or so of failing to find the time to ride my bike, let alone complete my quest to ride all of the hundred greatest cycling climbs, I finally managed to bump start my efforts back into life.

After a Friday afternoon spent stuck in traffic (I'm convinced our motorway network is fundamentally broken) I found myself in the not exactly inspiring Chadderton on the outskirts of Oldham. After spending six hours in the car I was pretty knackered (I am out of practice afterall) but I had the comfort of a Travelshack and a cheap burger from a dodgy local takeaway to look forward to before riding two climbs the following day.

Like every Travelshack I've ever stayed in I had an appalling nights sleep. Why do they always crank the heating up to blast furnace levels? Surely the staff should know that if you walk into a room and your eyeballs instantly dry up the heating is probably on too high. Despite turning the heating in the room completely off I still woke up feeling drier than a mummies armpit the next morning. The ferocity of the heating was matched only by the volume of the police cars that seem to patrol the area in packs, at high speed, with their sirens on. I can only assume Oldham was on fire, or being invaded by aliens judging from the level of frenzied police activity. Maybe it was just a normal Friday night in Oldham. I didn't intend to find out; I had a nights sleep to try and salvage.

You know you're on a cycling trip when this is the view from bed...

The next morning I was up before it was light and heading to Ramsbottom to ride the infamous climb called The Rake. There will be a more detailed update complete with my legendary bad camera work to follow so I won't go into too much depth here apart from saying that I managed to complete the climb and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Ramsbottom didn't inspire me all that much though. Its a town that seems to be completely surrounded by urban motorways and the whole area struck me as pretty grim.

The Rake was followed by a short drive along yet more grim stretches of motorway to the more rural setting of Sabden where I got to ride the Nick of Pendle. Not viewed as being as tough a climb as The Rake it still looked pretty fearsome, especially when viewed from the road that heads into Sabden across the other side of the valley, but once again I didn't find it too bad to ride. Sure, I was never going to set a fast time but I'm fairly happy with my latest efforts; they bode well for my more concentrated efforts to tick off the remaining 19 climbs (yes, I'm slowly getting there) next year. My recent training seems have been worthwhile and I actually have some vestige of form to develop over the winter months.

I still have a few more summits to aim for but the weekend was encouraging

I have the hell of video editing to reacquaint myself with but hopefully in a week or so I should have the videos completed and up on the site. Don't worry, despite me being happy with my riding they will still come complete with their normal sound track of me wheezing as the scenery wobbles past very slowly. Watch this space.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Revenant

Ok ok, I'm not quite back from the dead but it feels like this blog is.

It finally had to happen; I'm back in the hill climbing game. Well I say game, I'm about to start hurting myself in public, which in the minds of many non-cyclists would count as self harming, but I'm strangely looking forward to it.

I suppose I should explain about the vast expanse of time that has passed between this and my last blog post. I was working for myself and quite frankly that took up all of my time and money. If cycling is an obsession self employment leads to an even more all consuming one. Quite simply I had no room for anything other than work, and finding work. Cycling, whilst still a passion of mine, had to take a back seat and any spare time was eaten up by work. After two years of self employment I was starting to realise that without taking huge financial risks I would face real problems in growing my business to a point where I could have a decent life outside of work again. I was good at what I did but struggling to get the big break through I felt I needed. Plus, my social life, my hobbies and everything else that was important to me was being shoved ever further into the back ground.

At the start of 2016 I made the decision to seek out full time employment again. I've learned a hell of a lot by working for myself and don't regret any of the time spent trying to build my own business but that first free weekend when I started a new job working for somebody else, when I had no work commitments and all the time I wanted to ride my bike...boy was that ever sweet. Suffice to say I've found another job and I'm working hard to get my cycling back on track, if I ever was on track in the first place. 

One thing I need to tackle is the 21 remaining hill climbs. I dusted off the little black book of pain the other day and vowed to never let it get dusty again. I've built a new bike and have planned a trip away to bag at least a couple of climbs before the year is out. I don't intend to try and complete the remaining climbs this year; autumn is too close for that as well as the prospect of appalling weather in the hills, but I feel I do need to kick things off and test my form ahead of an all out effort early next year. Watch this space for news on the climbs I decide to tackle.

New approach, new bike. Sort of.

About a year and a half ago I bought a cheap frame and fork from Planet X. I liked the idea of a lightish road frame with decent tyre clearances and disc brake compatibility. What I ended up buying was a London Road frameset from a production run that has achieved notoriety for poor tolerances and build quality. My frame certainly ain't too pretty up close but I decided to persevere with it. My plan was to finally call time on my beloved Surly Karate Monkey frame and use its parts on the new frame. It would make for a cheap and quick build. 

           Yep, thats apparently a bottom bracket thread...brute force won out in the end

Well, it was a cheap build but a wonky bottom bracket thread and seat tube like a clowns pocket made for a fair bit of swearing during the process. I'm still working to resolve the seat tube issues but the speed and responsiveness of the frame makes up for it. I'm not intending to use this bike for the 100 climbs. My faithful old Uncle John is still in my mind the best tool for the job but the London Road is growing on me. I even like climbing the steep stuff with flat handle bars. Time will tell if it ever gets to be ridden very slowly up a steep hill somewhere in the North of England but with a few tweaks it will make a good spare/ standby bike.

Over exposure hides the cheapness

My hill climbing efforts will restart this month with The Rake and Nick of Pendle being the climbs I've decided to test the water with. As ever I'm under prepared and probably not in the right form but what the hell, I've got to get going somehow. Now, where did I leave my charger for the helmet cam?