Cyclists And Their Bikes (Part 1)

What cyclists say, when asked about their bikes:

An old bike rotting in woodland

A good bike will last a long time if you look after it

“I think I love my bike. Whatever love is.”

“I keep mine in the house, in the hall if there are people coming over but quite often it’s in the dining room. I just like looking at it.”

“My bike? It’s over there if you want to take a look. You’ll have to move all the kids’ bikes off it. Sorry. The tyres are probably flat.”

“I had silver tassels on the ends of my handlebars but they’ve come off.”

“I’ve gone retro; I don’t like these modern ones. Give me steel any day.”

“Don’t look too closely – it’s in bad need of some loving care.”

“Do you like it? I’ve just painted it that colour. Very pink, very bubblegum, very me, don’t you think?”

“I’ve got a folding bike, just for the commuting. That’s my only one.”

“I like bikes and all that but I don’t go mad about them. My boyfriend’s made, like, a fetish out of his. He’s always fiddling with it, has to have the latest bits for it. I don’t get it. He spends a fortune but he never goes any faster.”

“That thing?! That was left behind in the shed of a place I rented when I was a student and it’s sort of stayed with me ever since. Lord, that was a few years ago now.”

“I just ignore it until it goes wrong and then the old boy in the bike shop sorts it out for me. I can’t even fix a puncture. I suppose I ought to learn really. Mind you, it’s people like me that keep him in a job.”

“Can’t say I’ve ever given it much thought. It gets me about. It’s a three speed.”

“It’s the old ones I really like; finding an old gem in a bike sale or something is just brilliant.”

(More next week)

Part of theUnstated.Net   Part of


Walking the other day, I was passed by a cyclist. He wasn’t hurrying or working hard, but very soon he was in the far distance and then gone. It brought home to me, not for the first time, how efficient riding a bike is, even if you’re not “a cyclist” (whatever that might mean). It’s just a very good mode of transport.

It also made me think about how liberating it must have been back in the day – before cars – and how liberating it should still be. It’s a great shame that cycling now comes with a huge amount of baggage for the unwary.

A bike doesn’t have to be expensive to be enjoyable to ride. You don’t have to dress up to ride it if you don’t want to. You don’t need accessories galore. All of that stuff is the stuff of marketing – fluff, bullshit, hype. You just need a reliable machine, your ordinary clothes and yourself.*

I’m old enough to regret the passing of the days when even ‘high end’ bike bits would stay more or less the same for years on end; there wasn’t this ludicrous routine of ‘this year’s model’. (And it is dull and boring, as ‘routine’ implies.) I do think the introduction of mandatory helmets would be a mistake because of the amount of people it would drive away from cycling; I do think the same is already true for a lot of the cycling industry. No-one needs disc brakes on a road bike, nor electronic gears, nor ‘hydration systems’, nor … nor … There are any number of other examples … Most of it is about manufactured need (and profits). And it’s all combining to create barriers to riding a bike.

A new sticker

The tedium of the routinely new

Bikes can be simple and reliable. They can be user-serviceable or cheaply fixed by someone else. They should be understood to be approachable and accessible – cycling should be uncomplicated and inexpensive.

Explore your local world – there’s a huge amount of pleasure to be had in getting out and about, not using a car but out of range of where you can easily walk to, without any fuss or faffing about. Cycling gives you a freedom that walking can’t – and that driving a car can’t either. Take advantage of it, without feeling like you have to have ‘the right kit’ – whatever that may be.

If cycling is to remain a liberating experience (or, perhaps, if it is to regain its potential to be a liberating experience) then we’d all do well to remember that the cycling industry, by and large, isn’t on the cyclists’ side. It’s just about making money. In short: “Dear Mr Marketing Person, please f**k off.”

* And before any long standing readers accuse me of hypocrisy: I think there’s a lot of pleasure to be had from a higher-end bike if that’s your thing, and I think if you’re riding a lot then some well designed clothes and shoes can make the experience more comfortable. I just don’t think any of that stuff is essential, and the hype surrounding it all can put off the non-enthusiast who might just want to ride a bike. (For that matter, even enthusiasts need to be careful they’re not sucked-in to wanting the latest when it’s merely that – the latest. ‘New’ is not synonymous with ‘best’.)

Curing Old Aches (Just For Cyclists)

I’ve had a lot of aches and pains from cycling in the last 14 months or so – and I’ve had back problems, tendon problems and so on. Cutting a long and tedious story short (because all medical stories are tedious), I’ve identified the so-called Q-factor as a source of problems.

The Q-factor is the distance between a cyclist’s feet when on a bike – bottom bracket width, crank thickness and offset and the pedals all contribute.

Pedal Extender saving the day!

With apologies for the photo quality – it shows a pedal extender on a very dirty and well used bike

During 2013 I rode most of my miles on a bike with a bottom bracket and crankset fitted around about Christmas 2012. It’s one of the new design Campagnolo ones – and it’s narrow. It turns out that that’s the cause of a lot of very ‘in the joint’ hip pain, and possibly also pain in the tendon behind the knee.

I’ve identified this (and eliminated the other niggles I have from the picture) by dint of riding very little for some weeks, doing what few miles I’ve done on a mountain bike with a wider Q and finding that helped a lot on the pain front; finding hip pain returning on riding the narrow Q bike again, and now trying out Specialized Pedal Extenders – and finding they’re making a big difference for the better.

Perhaps it’s because I’m in my 50s and have a lot of years of riding at a wider Q that’s making the narrower sizing a problem, but if you’ve an otherwise unexplained pain come on in your hips, knees or ankles, and you’re now riding a narrower Q-factor, this could be something to consider.

Lights On Bright Days (Just For Cyclists)

I’ve ridden with LED lights in daylight before, but generally only on murky days. However, I’m adopting them all year round now.

LED Light on a bike

Flashing for safety

No, I haven’t suddenly decided cycling’s a terribly risky thing to do. It’s simply because the other day I was out cycling, I was going down a lane that was partly in shade, partly in bright sun, and I didn’t see a cyclist coming up the road.

There wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t even a near-miss – it was plenty wide enough for the two of us – but I didn’t see him until we were almost level. I was genuinely shocked … and I’d say that by being out in the open I had far better visibility in those circumstances than someone in a car.

Hence the new attitude to lights (Knogs, if you’re interested), and today’s ride was the first with them. Pleasingly, the experience I’ve had before with riding with them – by and large you get given a wider berth – remains true even on decent days. All the observations I had about them last October are still true.

So, no, I don’t subscribe to the view that cycling’s some terribly dangerous way of getting around that requires as many ‘safety aids’ as possible: I think a lot of that attitude arises to assuage the consciences of drivers and those that make and enforce the rules for drivers. But I don’t mind applying some (for me new-found) common-sense to my own visibility.

Suspension Please (Just For Cyclists)

Suspension forks

Just a little bounce would be nice

I was on a full-suspension off-road bike today – riding up on the Ridgeway with Charli again. Of course it’s to state the obvious, but the ease with which suspension absorbs the bumps makes one heck of a difference: the key gain is that the wheels can keep going forwards; they’re not being pushed off-line by the lumps or pits.

If I had to pick between road and off-road cycling it would always be the former for me – that type of bike and that type of riding just happens to ring my bell, and the aesthetics of a road bike have a lot of appeal. It would be very interesting though, if a road bike could be developed with just a smidge of suspension.

The movement would have to be in the forks at least, possibly the rear as well, to get the benefit of the wheel or wheels being able to react to the bump or hole and go forwards rather than being deflected. Suspension seat posts are just for comfort – they don’t alter the ride. Some kind of hybrid with just a small amount of travel in the suspension, to preserve the characteristics of the road bike on most road surfaces but that could react to a bad surface, would be very interesting to try. Given the rotting infrastructure of the UK, it would be worth a reasonable weight penalty.

Kippers, Curtains, Wheels And Progress

Time goes on and I sometimes think it’s hard to keep what’s been achieved in mind without being fooled. That applies to pretty well all spheres of human activity. The issue is always confused by interest groups: there are plenty of people who are keen to paint life as a story of endless progress, when a lot of what’s called progress is really merely change and change is often merely that – change, neither positive nor negative in the big scheme of things.

But of course there is positive change too – and today I was thinking bike wheels are a perfect example of that.

Part of today’s ride included Henley; Henley and nearby has more than the regular smattering of teeth-jarring pot-holes. According to some measures Henley is – or was – the most expensive place to buy property in England. Given the state of the roads and given the more-or-less perpetual traffic queues there, you could hold Henley up as proof positive that money doesn’t come with sense. (One suspects Henley is largely kippers and curtains, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, the stupidity of the rich aside, despite the pot-holes in Henley or anywhere else, the wheels on all my bikes are remarkably true still. That’s quite amazing given the battering they take; as they did today and as they do most days. At the risk of sounding, ahem, like an old codger, when I was young broken spokes weren’t uncommon and we’d often have to get wheels trued-up.

So, yes, modern bike wheels are examples of real progress. We should value that. We should consciously appreciate that. We shouldn’t be fooled though. We don’t need electronic gears on any bikes; we don’t need disc brakes on road bikes; we don’t need hydraulic rim brakes on road bikes. It seems to me that these are all examples of ‘mere change’: solutions looking for problems.

Of course, these are developments being introduced in a bid to make money. Whether that aspect renders what might be mere change into something good or bad isn’t immediately obviously. By turning these changes down and not buying new equipment, am I threatening livelihoods? Or does reduced consumption mean I’m helping save the planet? Should we all be trying to stop cycling becoming overly technical, to keep it accessible? Or is that stifling innovation?

Sometimes, it seems absolutely nothing is straightforward. It must be wrong to wish for ignorance and the certainty of a simple world view. However …

And even if we do all accept robust wheels as a positive development, do they contribute to the neglect of Britain’s roads? Would we be passively accepting our rotting infrastructure quite so readily if every other bike trip meant a broken spoke?