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.