Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tour de Twilight Zone

Green Gate B&B, Ardara
It began as a wonderful idea. A solid plan, reasonable and simple. You see, for years now I had wanted to try bicycle touring. And why I had not done it already, I cannot quite explain. I mean, I have done long rides on consecutive days. I have covered distances upward of 300km in one go. I have done dusk to dawn rides, cycling through the night on no sleep. But the idea of cycling to a destination, then (gasp!) staying there overnight and continuing the next morning, intimidated me beyond all reason. There is something about the logistics of it all - the what ifs of the weather, of bringing the right stuff, of planning where to stay, of having the strength to do the miles intended on the days intended - that would inevitably send my neurotic mind into overdrive, ultimately short-circuiting it. And so I continued to fantasise about bicycle touring, yet put off actually trying it.

Then one day, my companion came up with this brilliant plan. Since his problem was enduring distances and mine was whatever existential nonsense I had going on (I am paraphrasing here), why not join forces and take baby steps by trying a teensy-weensy little mini-tour together? Just one night. We pick a cool place we've always wanted to visit, a reasonable distance away. Then we cycle there, stay overnight, and cycle back the next day. Just to get used to the feel and logistics of it. Yes? Okay!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Nouveau-Velo-Americana? Thoughts on the Brooklyn Bicycle Co. Willow

Brooklyn Bicycle Willow
In a funny roundabout sort of way, I was reminded of Brooklyn Bicycle Co. this morning whilst browsing the website of a Scandinavian bicycle manufacturer, one of whose models happens to be named Brooklyn. This was not the first European brand I have recently come across using American references in their product descriptions. And it made me think of how funny it is that the trend goes both ways now. For the past 6-7 years, American companies have been naming their bicycles after Amsterdam and Copenhagen to suggest certain European characteristics. Now European companies are using references to places like Portland and NYC to suggest... what exactly? I had to think about that for a bit. Perhaps a more casual aesthetic, pared-down build, nimbler handling, brighter palette? As I thought of this combination of features, the image of a bicycle came to mind - made, as it happened, by a company that is not only named after Brooklyn but is actually based there. Since having met them at Interbike some years back, I have tried Brooklyn Bicycle Co. bikes a number of times, yet have neglected to write about them. Today this fact I shall remedy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Choose Your Fork Adventure

It began with a meandering phone conversation - of the kind I have grown accustomed to having with one of the gentlemen behind Italian-German mystery brand Bella Ciao, whose Frascona curved bicycles I am rather partial to. A rear rack I designed for them is finally about to become available (made by Tubus), and they are sending me a finished sample, which will be nice to see. But really we were chatting about this and that and the other thing, when somehow we got on the topic of low trail bicycles. Actually I think I know how. Bella Ciao has been working with Giles Berthoud, and so perhaps we were discussing his handlebar bags - whereupon the whole low trail and front load issue came up. What do I think of it? I gave my usual song and dance.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Shakedown

Glenveagh Mountain Trail
If you want to know whether your bicycle's build is solid - and I mean, really, truly bulletproof - there is no better method than the so-called shakedown ride. Now, in bicycling parlance we throw the term around pretty liberally these days - typically when referring to riding a bicycle for the first time in a specific configuration to make sure everything works as it should. But the true shakedown ride is more than just that: It is a stress test, meant to bring any hidden weaknesses or problems to the surface quickly, so that they don't surprise you in the middle of long, important cycling trip later. A good proper shakedown ride should, quite literally, shake, jostle and vibrate the bejeezus out of your machine. And of course there is no more effective way to achieve this than over rough, unpaved surfaces. If something's going to start rattling, come loose, or go out of adjustment on your bike, it will happen faster on the rough stuff. It was for this reason, after all, that the French Technical Trials were held on unpaved terrain. Having made some final modifications to my own bicycle's setup, now I too was ready to submit it to the truth of the shakedown.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Celestial Disguise

The summer evenings are long in Ireland. After a spirited ride through the Sperrin mountains there were still plenty of daylight hours left, and I had settled in to spend them quietly and productively - tending to my velo stable, darning socks, and setting up to make a fresh batch of potcheen in the bathtub - when all the sudden the telephone rang.

“I got something here you might like to see,” said a voice full of hushed urgency. It could only be about one thing.

Putting my important evening plans on hold, I got on my bike and raced down the road to my friend Owen's house, as the sun bathed the fields in a deep golden glow.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Too Busy to Prepare Meals? Let Your Bicycle Do the Cooking for You

Velo Chicken
Oftentimes friends and readers who are getting into cycling encourage me to share what they refer to as "practical tips." What gives them the idea that I am an appropriate target for such a query, I do not pretend to know. Nevertheless, on occasion I make an effort to oblige. For instance, recently I was asked whether I have any tips for getting out on the bike in the evenings while still managing daily housework and meal preparation. And while, as far as the "housework" bit, I might not be just the best person to ask, as my way to dealing with it is usually to eliminate it from the equation altogether, as far as the other thing it just so happens that I do have some rather valuable information to share. You will be delighted to know that I have discovered a secret that has not only saved me time, but has solved the dangerous problem of hungry post-ride cooking (Ever tried to dice an onion in the throes of bonkium tremens? I need hardly say more!).

Friday, July 10, 2015

Rewind the Day

the "Death Farm"
It began innocently enough. Getting ready for an appointment in town, I was late going out the door. This was not a big deal of course. I would just cycle a bit faster. I usually end up arriving early anyhow.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Grand Designs: Impressions of Soma's Low Trail Rando

Soma Grand Randonneur
In the course of running this blog, I have come to notice some seasonal patterns in my readers' new bike acquisition tendencies. For instance, in late spring I get the most emails with questions about roadbikes, while interest in city bikes seems to peak in early Autumn. And smack in the middle of summer seems to be when desires for mixed terrain roadbikes, 650B rando bikes and the like, hit their all time high. With the warm weather no longer a novelty, no doubt the relentless heat and fierce sunshine drive folks into the woods - whereupon they discover a need for a dedicated bike for those lovely fire trails and gravel paths. In any case: Like clockwork, I have begun to receive emails pertaining to this topic. And among these is a recurring request to share my impressions of the Soma Grand Randonneur.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Hybrid Gearing in the Wild: a 6-Speed Hub x Derailleur 'Collabo'

Kalkhoff Hub/ Derailleur Hybrid
On my Brompton folding bicycle I have a drivetrain that most people who notice it find innovative and exotic: a 3-speed hub combined with a 2-speed derailleur. "Leave it to those engineers to come up with a solution like that!" a man on a train exclaimed the other day, awed by the eccentric pulley and cog medley. But while exotic it may be, mixed hub/derailleur gearing is hardly innovative - considering it dates back to the late 1930s, when the Birmingham-based Cyclo Gear Company began offering conversion kits for turning one's hub into just such a drivetrain, as a means of achieving a wider gear range.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Speedy and Adorable! T's Teeny Tiny Roadbike

T's Tiny Viking Roadbike
Along the Foyle bicycle path in Derry, I have grown accustomed to seeing all sorts of cyclists on all sorts of bikes. But I did a double take today, when I noticed beside me what appeared to be a perfectly normal, perfectly proportioned roadbike - only shrunken to a diminutive size. I have seen junior roadbikes before. But this one was one step smaller still, its wheels similar to those on my folding bike. And the rider was a boy whose age was almost certainly in the mid-single digits. The overall effect was like seeing a child on a Shetland pony, except a road cycling version of that. Unable to contain my delight, I complimented the fellow on his machine and asked a few questions.