Well, the quick answer is probably yes! Commuter bikes should be built to withstand the daily rigours of life. That could be the ride to work or perhaps being loaded down with a week’s worth of shopping. This is why they already make great platforms to build touring bikes from: their hardy quality and ability to carry kit goes hand in hand with what makes a good touring bike.
However, there are a few areas that you might want to look over whilst getting ready for that summer adventure.
Sounds simple, but often overlooked. A good rack will allow you to carry all the kit you’d ever need without any fuss. Often commuting racks can be small and lightweight, perfect for carrying a laptop and a couple of files to work, but perhaps not ideal for a full-blown tour with camping kit. Try looking for a rack with the capacity to take tents or bags strapped to the top, giving you more versatility whilst out riding.
Front racks are an option for those going on longer trips or perhaps looking to spread the weight around. We’d recommend using smaller pannier bags on the front so as not to affect the handling and to avoid any toe overlap. Again, front racks can be found with a top-loading shelf to optimise space.
That old and tatty canvas pannier bag that you’re lugging to work every day is probably not going to cut it for longer adventures. Investing in a good set of waterproof pannier bags will be a sure-fire way of keeping all your kit dry, no matter what the British summer throws at you. Bike touring is all about reliability, the last thing you want is for your pannier bag to rip halfway through the ride.
The other thing to consider is the bike packing vs touring argument. Bike packing is a lightweight option, strapping bags to any bike without the need for any rack mounts. This is a great option for faster traveling or allowing you to use any bike you fancy. No mount points needed! You might have to give up a few creature comforts, often dropping the tent in favor for a lightweight bivvy bag.
Make sure you are super comfy on the bike. That quick 20-minute ride to work might not give you the full experience of riding day in day out. We’d recommend heading out for a couple of day rides, just to make sure you can hold that position all day. Play around with it, it’s all about preference. What works for some won’t work for others. Perhaps looking at raising the bars or swapping the bars/saddle for something more relaxed will allow you more comfort over a longer period. Often we see customers fitting bar ends onto their bikes for longer trips. This is an easy and cost-effective way of adding an extra hand position. That way you can keep moving and not feel stuck in one position all day.
Linked to comfort, tyres can have a huge effect on how the tour goes. Really thin road bike tyres can be nice and zippy, but not provide much comfort to puncture resistance. Fitting slightly wider tyres can improve the comfort and rolling speed of your bike, especially when you factor in a heavy-laden touring bike. Skinny road bike tyres may be uneasy under that sort of strain. The other thing to consider is puncture resistance. Some people love super puncture-resistant tyres that are unlikely to cause any issues and offer ultimate reliability. Others much prefer a tyre with a softer sidewall, allowing for a comfier and faster ride with the trade-off on puncture resistance. It comes down to what you prefer and what the terrain is going to be like. Smooth roads mean you can relax a bit on resistance and enjoy the softer, more supple tyres. Mixed road conditions and gravel tracks may mean you want to look more closely at durability.
The best thing to do is just relax, and this is coming from a constant worrier. You will enjoy yourself much more if you just ease into it. It’s meant to an adventure, so if you are slightly apprehensive or you get the odd issue here and there, then it’s not the end of the world. Roll with the punches and think of the great stories you’re getting out of it. The best thing to do is just make sure you are happy with the bike before you go. Perhaps get a full service, take a few spares and make sure it’s running as smoothly as it ever has. If you do this, chances are you are going to be fine.
Check out our touring model as a great benchmark for a sensible bike to work towards. You don’t need the fancy dynamo lighting or butterfly bars, these are great and are worth investing in, but if its your first try, then chances are the bike you’ve already got will work just fine. Let us know what you think. Are you taking a trip this year? We’d love to see how you get on.
I hate winter, I don’t like autumn and I’m not a huge fan of the cold… but that said, I love riding my bike more than I hate all that. If I’m not riding through winter then I tend to get a bit grumpy. I’ve put together a few of my top tips and tricks to help keep those legs spinning over the colder months.
Mudguards (fenders to our friends over the pond)
Just put mudguards on your bike and thank me later. You might think they don’t look “cool” or that they add a bit of weight, but I’ll take being dry and warm any day!
Mudguards themselves come in all shapes and sizes; whatever your riding style there will be a friendly mudguard willing to help. I’ve opted for our strong light chromoplastic full-length mudguards on my Bristol bicycle. The silver finish and classic looks finish the bike nicely, also keeping me dry throughout the year. I’ve fully winterised my road bike with metal Kenisis fend-off mudguards. Full-length metal mudguards are super stiff and durable but maybe a little heavier (I just liked how they looked, to be honest). No excuses, the first step to winter riding has to be mudguards. For your sake, for the sake of your bike, and for the sake of whoever you’re riding with… fender up!
Hands and feet
making your body warm is easy (ish) – some good layering and you’re done. Hands and feet are where winter hits the most. I’m a recent convert to overshoes… they can make a simple bike ride look like a deep-sea diving expedition, but they will leave you toasty and warm all day long. I’ve previously wrapped tin foil around my toes as an attempt to warm things up, but nothing beats a nice pair of thick merino wool socks and overshoes. Hands are obvious… gloves. It can be a bit of trial and error when trying to find what gloves work for you, but keeping those hands warm will make everything a little bit easier.
Coffee (or tea)… and maybe cake
Take it easy – if you know you have a stop lined up mid-ride or maybe a few dotted throughout the day it will make motivating yourself that little bit easier. Nothing beats a cold day’s coffee stop for a refuel and warm up. Perhaps you could really push the boat out and bring a flask with you, Stopping mid-ride in the cold, crisp countryside with a flask of your choice… sounds like the perfect Sunday pootle. It’s even better when you turn up warm and dry.
That’s right people, summer and winter tyres. This all depends on what sort of bike and riding you do, but some of us will have lightweight, fast-rolling tyres for smooth summer rides and in winter use a completely different weapon. A tyre that’s a bit wider and more puncture resistant can not only mean you don’t have to fix punctures every few miles, it can also add a whole lot of comfort to what can be pretty testing road conditions. Don’t be afraid to embrace the fat tyre revolution, come to the dark side, we have comfort.
This is a big one folks. Lights can make or break a winter ride. Even if you pop out for the day, chuck a set of lights on and you’re free to extend the trip, or even just get home safely as the days grow shorter
That should be enough to get you started. Cycling is all about enjoying yourself, so if you are finding a lack of motivation or the conditions just aren’t worth it, sack it off… maybe go tomorrow, the roads will still be there some other time. Anyone else got any other tips for winter riding? A preferred mid-ride snack perhaps? Maybe you switch it up and go mountain biking in the winter. Let us know!
Summer holidays… wide-open beaches… beating sun… ice cream… factor 50. I didn’t get any of this, but that’s what you get for bike touring in September. Over the last few years I’ve been on some sort of cycling holiday with my dad, it’s become something of a Dibble tradition. After the lock-down and the closing of any travel corridors, we were left with no option but to ride in the UK. The location had to be flat and easy going with plenty of pit stops (a small Holland if you like).
We landed in Norfolk: somewhere I knew very little about but, with the prospect of a week out on the bike, I didn’t care where we went. We planned the trip for around 5 fairly easy days, with manageable mileage.
Before we get into the day-to-day, let’s talk bikes. I’ve finally committed to my Bristol Bicycle, and I love it. It’s not stock, but mechanically it’s not far off. Built up as a party pace touring bike with fat tyre capabilities, it became my go-to bike for relaxed rides, errands and shopping. My dad was on his trusty Temple Cycles adventure disc, with some big changes. Out with the classic drop bars with bar-end shifters and cable discs; in with the flat bars and hydraulics. In the week leading up to the ride I switched the old set up with some shiny new Velo Orange Crazy bars, a modern take on butterfly touring bars. He managed the trip with minimal back pain or hand issues, something which were a common occurrence with the drops. Dad had the standard full Ortlieb touring rig: rear double panniers, and a handlebar bag. I went for a lighter classic setup: Carradice super C saddlebag and front basket with Carradice bag sitting inside with bits and bobs fixed to the basket. Also, a little Restrap stem bag attached to the rear of the basket for those mid ride snacks.
We left the warmth of home on Thursday night to stay in a friend’s very nice air BnB just outside Ely. On Friday morning the ride started in much the same vein as the rest of the trip: we left the cosy accommodation, rode one mile up the road, and tucked into a full (veggie) English breakfast. This was not a trip from which we would come back two stone lighter and match fit; it’s a holiday after all, and coffee stops and guilt-free eating are what cycle touring is all about. The first section of the day took us through flat back roads which slowly meandered their way through Thetford and into Thetford Forest. Once at the forest we had to turn on the charm to secure two coffees and cheesy chips thirteen minutes before the cafe was officially open. After chomping through the chips we were ready to get ‘Rad’ in the woods. We had made good time and were probably now halfway through the day’s ride. The next section of the route took us on forest tracks and bridleways, a fun excursion from the long sections of road. With my 42mm supple tyres I floated over the bumps and sand that covered the forest. A mix of upright riding position and off-road riding never fails to bring a smile to my face. We then rejoined the road and slowly ambled our way to Norwich.
By the time we were heading to the hotel it was dark and wet, so that warm, welcoming bed couldn’t come quickly enough. We stuffed our faces with Indian food, had multiple warm showers and, after a night’s sleep, we were ready to hit the road again. This time our planned route would take us to the coast, first to Cromer and then along the seafront towards Sheringham. Day two was wet from the word go, and about 10 miles in we were already sitting under cover drinking tea and escaping the rain. We decided to take an ever-so-slightly shorter route along the start of the Marriott’s Way. The begining of the route consisted of a long section of single track alongside a miniature steam train line. This might have been the best part of the trip: muddy tracks, loose autumnal leaves, and laden-down touring bikes are a recipe for fun. I love how my bike floated across the uneven ground with its upright position keeping me planted throughout.
Once off this track and over a few more lumps and bumps, we cruised down into Cromer. Cromer can probably be best described as fine, not terrible, but also not top of my list. Think Weston-super-Mare with less mud. After a short tea break it was back onto the bikes and a quick nip down the coast to our hostel.
Hostel living… can’t say I don’t live a life of luxury! The bed was a bed and the shower was warm, that’s about all we needed after a wet day on the bikes. After forgetting to bring shower gel we were forced to use the tools we had and take apart the soap dispenser. “We found it like that,” was what we told the receptionist, while I slowly hid the multi tool.
The previous day’s off-road jaunt gave us our first mechanical. After a full brake clean and reset we realised that the pad had somehow completely worn away on my dad’s brand new disc brakes, impressive work for flat Norfolk! We are putting it down to a small fault with the the manufacturing – no pad or residue was left, and it looked as if the whole pad had fallen away from the metal plate. Luckily a very friendly man in Wells-next-the-sea had a spare set of pads left over from that season’s hire bikes!
The ride into Wells-next-the-sea was one of my favorite sections of the route, the sweeping lanes and rollercoasteresqe hills were a nice change from pancake-flat roads. The blue sky was just poking through (the first and last we would see of it on this trip). The rest of the day was much the same as the days before: food stops, photo opportunities and slowly pottering through country lanes. We were taking a beating from the heavens as the day grew shorter, so the warm and welcoming accommodation was even sweeter. The room for the night was above a pub, and there’s nothing better than a pint and hot meal after a day of wet and windy riding. One disappointing lasagna and a catch-up on the Giro Italia later and I was sound asleep.
Day four… you guessed it, was slow. We had decided to go for a slightly longer day and get back a bit ahead of schedule. We loved the trip, but another day of being rained on and getting cold didn’t sound like much fun. We had to cover 50+ miles to get from the Norfolk coast back down to where the car was parked in a village just outside Ely. The route took us past Big Liz’s house in Sandringham, into Kings Lynn, and then to our first pit stop in Downham Market for tomato soup from a greasy spoon. Once refreshed and re-energised, we had to slog across the flat levels near Ely and back into Chippenham. About 8 miles from the finish our route took us across an old farm track and through a thick grassed bank. Although this was really fun and felt like we were channeling our inner rough stuff fellowship. being so close to the end and against nasty crosswinds felt like a slight kick in the teeth.
Four days of cycling were over; a slightly different experience compared to previous trips on the continent, but no less enjoyable. The novelty of using accommodation rather than camping was something that might stay on some (NOT ALL!!) future rides. Not having to put up tents or find places to stay in the wet is always a plus. The bike was a dream! I had one puncture, but other than that it kept me comfy and smiling all week. I can see me and my new Bristol Bicycle embarking on many trips in the future. It’s already replacing the car for small trips. Back to normal life now… Oh well! I’ll be back out on the bike in no time.
I’m always in awe of those who chew through big miles or battle across continents. Ultra-distance and Audax have made a bit of comeback lately, and I fancied a challenge for myself. The Trans Devon is a multi-checkpoint, self-sufficient ride (not a race) across… well you guessed it, Devon; the perfect stepping stone to bigger things but definitely enough of a challenge to push me out of my comfort zone.
The ride starts and ends at Rockets and Rascals in Plymouth, the first checkpoint being Lynmouth (for the geography nerds out there, you’re right, that’s on the other side of the county). Then over to Dunkeswell, up onto Dartmoor for Princetown and back into Plymouth. You create the route but you have to hit all the checkpoints, get your brevet card stamped, and not use any A roads. My route ended up being 205 miles (330km) long with 20,000 feet of climbing (my body stills hurts just writing those stats).
The ride had been postponed because of the current situation and, as lockdown lifted and the rules were eased, it was pushed back to the August bank holiday weekend. Unsupported long-distance rides naturally lend themselves to social distancing and I’m glad it went ahead; with everything else shutting down for the year, it was great to have an event to look forward to. This did mean fewer people took part and there was almost no fanfare at the beginning, but all this added to the fun and personal feel of such an event.
5 pm on Friday rolled by, I had stowed my tracker in my handlebar bag and downed the last dregs of coffee. It was time to start moving. I was a mix of excitement and nerves… all right I was mainly nervous, but once I got going that all slipped into nothing and the constant rhythm of the pedalling soon took over. Riding through the night came with a certain level of apprehension but, with quiet roads and Dartmoor sunsets, I soon forgot about the beasts lurking in the bushes. If you don’t remember Friday 28 August 2020… it rained… a lot. The first leg of the trip was met by frequent rain showers and cold crisp air. This was made worse by poor route planning that took in a Dartmoor bridleway where I had to wade through a shin-high bog (or river). Knowing I had hours of riding ahead and no chance of drying off couldn’t dampen my spirits. Once back onto the Granite Way, I was flying into Okehampton.
Okehampton’s late-night pizza takeaway was the first of many guilt-free pit-stops. After munching down some chips and a doing a quick check on everyone’s spot tracker, I realised I had managed to acquire a flat rear tyre – not something I wanted this close to the start. After fixing it and having a brief chat with another rider, I was back out onto my bike and into the cold dark night. Ten minutes out of Okehampton, yet again the tyre gods had it in for me. I hadn’t managed to find the culprit for the last flat and had just put it down to a pinch or a rock. Under the power of my head torch and with closer inspection I spotted a small piece of flint poking through the tread. This time I was joined by another rider called Tom (tracker 10, I believe) and it’s amazing how just having a brief chat with someone can take your mind off the annoyance of yet another flat tyre in the rain. Tom sped off into the night (and by the looks of things, he never stopped as he finished in around 16 hours! Chapeau!). I was left to gather my kit and get going again. Shortly afterwards, I was joined by the chap I had met in Okehampton ( If you are reading this, sorry I forgot your name!!) and we rode for a bit before our routes no longer went the same way, maybe I’d see him later on maybe not… that’s the beauty of this style of riding.
Hills, hills, hills, and then up and over Exmoor… the first leg took its toll. But the sweeping descent into Lynmouth with my dynamo leading the way kept me awake for those final few kms. After getting my brevet card stamped I spent a while in a warm toilet block sheltering from the wind and stuffing myself with vegan jerky and samosas (middle class to the bitter end). Braving the cold once more to find my bivvy spot for the night led me to a little lay-by on the way back up and out of Lynmouth.
Three hours’ sleep… that’s enough, right? Well, that’s all I got, so I hoped it would be. In bed at 3 and back on the bike around 6, waking in between to find that a new slug friend had joined me in my bivvy bag, In an attempt to get that final bit of rest I decided to not disturb the fella but just roll my sleeping bag down a bit and get 20 more winks. Climbing out of Lynmouth in the morning was amazing; the sun was coming up over Exmoor, and I could finally soak in the views that I had missed the night before. This went some way to make up of the disgustingly steep and long hills I was bumbling over. Once over Exmoor I sailed into Dulverton for breakfast. I’m not sure what locals thought of a grubby cyclist who’d just slept in a bush stuffing his face with a full English, extra toast, two coffees, and one custard tart for now and one to go. I enjoyed it though, and that’s all I cared about.
With breakfast done and 106 miles behind me, I was set for a big day ahead on the bike. The next checkpoint was Dunkeswell airfield. Perhaps the “easiest” section of the route, the next 30 miles or so were undulating hills with very little respite. Just when you get into your stride, you turn a corner to see yet another short 20% incline. Fuelled by coffee and a sense of adventure, I was cruising through the lanes. Dunkeswell was situated at the top of yet another hill, but was a welcome place marker as to how much riding I had left. Card stamped, third coffee and custard tart smashed, it was time to shoot off for the final stretch.
I had called the last section of the ride “final push” on my GPS, this lulled me into a false sense of security. 70 miles suddenly didn’t feel like a final push, and I was annoyed with the past me who though I would find that amusing. The next leg took me down and around Exeter, then back up onto Dartmoor, over the top to Princetown and on the final stretch back to Plymouth. On the first section I was flying, wind blowing, birds calling, all the clichés. Somewhere outside Exeter, things took a turn for the worse. Flat number three struck. I’m still proud of my decision to fix the puncture rather than replacing the tube. I had only one tube left, and knew that if I had to fix that closer to the end I would be too tired and grumpy to get the job done. So, with a repaired inner and a beaten-up tyre, I set off back up into the hills in search of Dartmoor ponies. What amounted to a bit of a slog up onto Dartmoor soon became my favourite section of the ride. I was cruising over its consistent ups and downs, transfixed by the golden hour with the sun setting around me. At times like these, I would use music to distract myself in an attempt to keep the legs spinning. I opted for Jack Johnson’s Curious George Soundtrack, It’s a banger, give it a listen!
Once in Princetown, it was all downhill from there… literally all downhill. I had spotted it on my Wahoo earlier that morning so couldn’t wait for the final section. By this point, the tin foil I had taken from my food wrapping and put around my toes in some attempt to keep them warm in the morning had fallen further down my feet. Although I would normally stop to sort out this kind of issue, I was determined to get this ride done with, so I just pushed through for the last 20 miles. A solid pace back into Plymouth meant I was done in no time. Obviously, I got lost trying to find the café, but that happens almost every time I have to use my GPS in a city.
I finished just in time to get my final stamp and a free beer (well, “free” beer: I had to cycle 200 miles to get it, so it came at some cost). I chatted with the other riders who had also made it in that day, Lots of questions over my route planning, so that’s something to look into next time! Everyone seemed equally exhausted and elated. I believe I was the last of the bunch to get in Saturday and many other people had (wisely) chosen to stay out for another night of adventure and make it in the next day. With my card stamped and tracker handed back, the only thing to do now was ride five miles back to my parents’ camper van (with a Big M stop on route of course) and collapse on the sofa for some well-earned rest.
Would I do it again? If you had asked me that during the 3rd puncture and the endless hills I would have sworn back at you. Now… Yes, yes of course! I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the next big adventure, so if you have any recommendations, please do fire them over. Bit of time off the bike now to help recover, but I’m determined to not let bad weather and the ever-pressing threat of winter get in the way of more long rides.
Beep beep… beep beep: the alarm went off nice and early last Sunday. After a busy week of work, it was finally time to head out on the bike. 7:30am rolled through and I was out the door and heading into Bristol to meet up with David and Kate of @katedavetrip, as well as Oli and Ruth from @intandemmemories.
David and Kate had approached Bristol Bicycles for a bit of help when planning their LEJOG (Land’s End to John o’Groats) trip. Of course we were more than happy to oblige, and hearing good words about them from Oli and Ruth ( who previously cycled halfway around the world on their Bristol Bicycles) we struck a deal to sponsor the trip.
This was day seven for the guys, and the route took us from Bristol’s best coffee spot, ka:fei, up the River Severn ending in Gloucester, taking in country lanes, canal towpaths, and the odd “hill”, on what was a relatively flat day. This was much to the delight of Kate and Dave who had already come through Devon and Cornwall (possibly the most challenging section of the tour).
I had set out to ride with Kate, Dave, Oli, Ruth, and their friend Louie for the day, and join a short leg of their much longer journey. Oli, Ruth, and Louie had also joined from Bristol with all but Louie undertaking the whole rest of the trip; Louie is planning to peel off at Manchester, which in itself is a big effort, especially when you take into account the boneshaker bike he’s chosen ( if it works it works – you do you!).
The rest of the group were all on Bristol Bicycle touring models. Ruth’s and Oli’s had been to Bangkok, but were still going strong with original kickstands and even a bag of unused spare spokes. Kate and Dave were showing off their flashy new up-to-date touring bikes with hydraulic disc brakes, dynamo lighting and full rack setup. I had been informed that they were almost fault-free since they had set out. A bit of minor gear adjustment and double-wrapped bar tape and these bikes aren’t going to hold them back from any adventure. I’d often find one of the group staring longingly at their bikes as the bond between rider and bike grew day by day, tour by tour.
Even on a small section of the ride we met people along the way that wanted to share their own LEJOG stories or local tips: most notably a couple just outside Berkeley who took us to a local cafe called Perfect Blend, highly recommended… seeing all the cyclists there you might already know it.
Heading out of Berkeley a little bit heavier from a coffee and lunch, we (or rather I) had the first mechanical mishap. My oh-so-supple tyres had come back to bite me, sure enough, the front was flat. A quick change of tube and I thought I had it… Nope: pop went my pump as I stared down at what now amounted to a couple of metal tubes and a few valves. My pump had given up and, with no luck putting it back together, I had to plead with local cyclists to see if I could find someone better equipped than I was. Sure enough, we got it back up and running and the trip continued. With a little top-up 20 minutes later as we met up with Oli and his old faithful pump from India, I was set for the rest of the trip.
The rest of the day was much the same: a steady progress along sweeping country lanes and gravel canal paths fuelled by a potent mix of jelly babies, cashew nuts and coffee. The social aspect of the day meant we ate through the miles and I didn’t think too much about the distance. Whether it was Dave’s plan to become the Elon Musk of bug farming or Oli waxing lyrical about F1, the chat is all part of the experience. This was far being from everyone’s first rodeo with Ruth and Oli and their epic around the world trip, or Louie and his forays touring in Japan, I felt like a mere mortal hearing about the trips these guys have done. Nonetheless, with cycling stories being shared and snacks handed out, we quickly caught up with our destination.
My arrival in Gloucester that evening was greeted by yet another puncture, which put the final nail in the coffin of any remaining ideas about cycling home that night; so I shacked up with the rest of them in their hotel, and enjoyed a well-deserved meal from a local Thai restaurant. The next day it was a bright and early start and farewell to the group. They left me to funnel my breakfast in and make a dash to the local bike shop. Cheers Eastgate Cycles for sorting me out!
The ride home was a bit quicker, but no more enjoyable. It followed a nasty section of the A38 that quickly became closed swooping A roads, that led me straight back into Bristol for lunch. Even a small weekend out on the bike felt like a mini holiday. The bug is back ,and within a few hours of being home I was already planning my next adventure. Thanks to the gang for having me along and good luck with the rest of the trip!
The collection of an old man or a 21-year-old lad?
I think you can tell a lot about a man from his bike collection, and in my case, you can certainly tell I’m a middle-class boy with very few overheads… or an old man that’s got overly excited about his retirement.
With all this time at home, I thought I would run you through the collection and get nerdy for a little bit. I wish I could say “ oh yeah I just have the one bike for everything really”… but I don’t, I’ve probably got too many bikes for very little reason. So here we go…
The commuter: ‘Bromhilda’ (Brompton B75)
I’ll come clean guys: I drive. OK, I know it’s bad but I live out in the sticks and it is my only option. The Brompton, however, has meant I don’t go anywhere without a bike. It lives in the boot and means I can cut the miles down and cycle lots of my journeys. Also, my car (a very sexy 1 litre Kia Picanto) is only small and a folded Brompton is about all I can fit in it.
Not much more to say on this one, it’s got three gears. The brakes work and it gets me from A to B with a smile on my face. When I purchased Bromhilda I was told I may be the youngest person in Bristol to own one… it’s not a huge accolade but I’ll take it. The few bits of personalisation have been a lovely leather saddle from Ruperts in London, front and rear mudguards, new brake levers and a huge front bag to carry cameras and my laptop in (also often beer) on the way home.
The mountain bike: Genesis Latitude
After saying I don’t need a mountain bike I can just ride my drop bar bike around the Mendips, I quickly ate my words after purchasing a home build Genesis latitude a few months back. It became a new love and I feel like I’m 50 years late to the mountain bike party. Living at the foot of the Mendip hills, within minutes I can be in the woods and bombing around local singletrack, fire roads and sweating it up to trig points. Obviously, this one is having a bit of a rest at the moment with the lockdown. No getting “Rad” for me at the moment.
The bike itself I bought second hand from a “home mechanic”… and its a beaut. A steel genesis hardtail frame and a selection of Shimano parts. Nobby Nic tyres to shred the local trails and 150mm Rock Shox Sector forks to take up every bump. I’m no downhiller, nor am I going to be hitting the biggest jumps (or many of the small ones for that matter), so a full sus would be lost on me. Looking forward to strapping some bags on this one when the lockdown is over and getting lost in the woods for a weekend.
The racing whippet: Trek Domane
Forget “steel is real”… carbon is light! And it’s fast! (I take that back, I love steel really!). When the sun comes out so does the Trek. I never fully believed that light bikes made much difference and I’m not the smallest chap so I could do with losing the weight myself, not the bike. Yet… this one makes it feel like you’re gliding up hills (rather than the retrospective chugging I normally do).
Nothing too unusual on this one really, it’s 10spd Tiagra all round and comes in at around 8-9kg, so light enough for me. It’s not a super sporty geometry and comes under Trek’s “endurance” range, meaning I can go on long summer rides and still feel comfy. It currently lives between the Mendip climbs and the turbo trainer. It’s fair to say it’s getting a lot of use through the lockdown. It will be due a full strip down and a new set of summer tyres when this all blows over I think (28mm of course, the fatter the better)
Old faithful: Brother Kepler Disc
The bike of many faces. My beloved Kepler disc has done me well, from French tours to all-day gravel rides (both detailed in my previous blog posts). This is not far off being my dream bike really; a possible groupset change to swap the 105 road gearing for something a bit more versatile and it will be complete.
This bike has been on our social media and my blogs a fair bit and it constantly changes its guises from full tour mode to gravel grinder and currently long-distance mile smasher. With its new set of 32mm smooth Gravel King tyres, new 100 lux dynamo light, brooks cambium c15 saddle and Restrap frame bag it’s set up for a summer of long rides (fingers crossed) and the trans-Devon ride (more info on the turbo trainer blog).
So there we go, the tour of my collection! I know what you’re thinking: NO BRISTOL BIKE!!! As yet I’ve not needed a Bristol bike, but with the creation of our new Randonneur model (details to follow shortly) I’ve got plans in the pipeline. Sticking true to my style something gravelly, a little bit classic but a lot of fun. Keep your eyes peeled for that blog!
Whose collection do you want to see next? Jase the E-bike man? Colin and his new child-friendly Bristol Bicycle? Or perhaps you want to go straight to the top and see what oddball gems Jake is hiding away and perhaps what inspired the first-ever Bristol Bicycle?
I’m sure many of you like myself winced at the idea of spending the foreseeable future locked up inside. I’ve never been one to sit still for long, I lose focus on video games, have to be in the right mood to read a book and can’t stand day time TV. When the lockdown reared its ugly face it seemed that my worst nightmare had come true.
Luckily I had recently acquired an indoor turbo trainer. For some it’s the worst thing in the world, the idea of sweating indoors for the sake of spinning your legs just doesn’t appeal… well, I would normally agree and to some extent, I still do. But don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Earlier in the year, I had booked a place on the Trans Devon, a 300ish km ride across the south of the UK. The ride is set up much like the longer ultra-endurance events such as the Transcontinental but at a much more accessible distance for those seeking a mini weekend adventure. With checkpoints dotted across Devon (hence the 300ish) you have to match them up and get your brevet card stamped, much like the popular Audax discipline. To me, this seemed to be a gentle way into a summer of big miles and wide smiles.
This is where the turbo trainer comes into play: 300km is not to be sniffed at and I quickly realised I would need to do some training to be in with a chance of completing this event. The indoor trainer has meant I can do fast structured rides and fit them in with day-to-day life. This means an hour or so on weekday evenings paired with longer rides over the weekend. With lockdown it has become a much more indoor affair and the turbo trainer has become a vital part of the daily routine.
I’ll be honest: I’ve grown to love it. Even just an hour can burn enough energy to tie me over, also it keeps me from feeling lazy… or tricks me into thinking I’m not lazy, it’s one or the other. A smart turbo trainer allows you to use apps such as ZWIFT, that way I have something to look at on the screen and at least pretend I’m outside. (It really does amaze me what they can make Smart these days… I saw a smart toothbrush the other day, what makes it smart? Do I need an app for my dental hygiene?)
If I’m riding my turbo most days then I can quickly rack up the miles and before you know it you’ve done 100 miles a week without leaving your house… what’s not to love? I get bored pretty easily (I shaved my head within 24 hours of lockdown!) so I hate to think what would have happened if I didn’t have my turbo trainer. Do you guys use turbo trainers? Let us know what you think of them. They cant replace outdoor cycling but mine has been a great asset for my physical and mental health during these strange times. And if you also use a turbo trainer and ZWIFT, who’s up for a group ride?
I’ve started to spot a recurring theme: whenever I end up on holiday, it’s always centred around bikes. Some would argue that I do it on purpose, but I think it’s more of a natural attraction. A week in Copenhagen; I can tell myself it was for the Scandi architecture or the “modern art”… but really it was all about bikes and pastries and, you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The land of pastries, bikes and the ten pound pint (yep, I know, THE TEN POUND PINT ). Now I’m a big fan of all three. Well, maybe I prefer my pints towards the three to four pound mark, but when in Rome… It only ever hits home just how hilly Bristol is after you visit a place like Copenhagen. Not a hill in sight, there was barely a derailleur visible too, but then again why would you bother with gears when the biggest hill is the odd bridge here and there? The first thing that struck me was that, although there are loads of bikes, hardly any of them are any good. It’s not like Bristol in the way that if your bike’s not up to it the roads will eat it up and the hills will destroy your legs. In Copenhagen the cycling infrastructure is so well thought out that you don’t need a brand-new shiny bike. The second thing I noticed is that brands are almost irrelevant. No one cares if you have the new flashy on-trend road bike or a five-year-old banger; even bike shops are in on it. Almost every shop I peered into or went in to peruse the shelves was selling bikes by the gear number. It might be £200 for a single speed and then £250 for a double and so on and so forth. It was like a set menu for bikes, what’s not to love?
Another popular sight on the streets of Copenhagen was the humble cargo bike. I have a weird soft spot for the cargo bike, although I have no practical need for one – I just think they are the coolest. I can see why in a city like that they would be so popular; why pay to insure and service a car when most of your needs can be met by a cargo bike, be that kids in the basket or a week’s shopping loading you down? If it all gets a bit much, just get an electric version and you’ll be laughing. After a quick Google I found that the cargo bike was actually invented in Denmark. Lurpak and cargo bikes: is there anything these Danes can’t throw their minds at?
Now in the UK its probably fair to say we are going through a slight housing crisis. I’m no expert on Denmark’s socioeconomic problems, but they must not be suffering quite so badly as we are. After thinking many of the basement-level apartments seemed a bit empty and run down, I quickly realised that they were actually filled with bikes. It turns out that it’s fairly common to use the bottom floor in apartment buildings for bike storage. This must certainly cut down on bike theft! As I alluded to earlier, I’m not sure how popular it would be to turn perfectly liveable flats into bike storage in the UK but if you’ve got the space, why not?
Now I know you what you’re saying, “Oh George this is all great stuff but where is your obvious and tenuous link to Bristol Bicycles?” It’s coming up, don’t you worry.
Hire bikes… now a banned word within my family but I’m sorry Mum and Dad, I’m breaking the silence as we really do need to talk about how shoddy those bikes were. After one morning of failed Donkey bike hire (imagine if the Boris bikes had dropped out of school and gotten in with the wrong crowd… Bingo, you have Donkey bikes) we decided to cut our losses and hire bikes properly the next day. After traipsing around multiple hire bike places looking for that special Dibble price (cheap) we found what were to be our hire bikes for the day. Now these bikes were in no real shape to be on the road, but after having looked at multiple other places it seemed to be a recurring theme. We’re a friendly bunch but were not the most confrontational, so after we had picked up our bikes and found that one (Dad’s) was way too small we did the most British thing possible by keeping quiet and pretending it was all fine. Here’s a little check list of what you want to see in a hire bike (and what we pride ourselves at Bristol Bicycles).
What you want from a hire bike:
no signs of rust
trued and straight wheels
brake pads with meat on
a good lock
gears that index.
Now here’s a check list of what you don’t want to see (and what I got):
not a spot left unrusted
a visibly wobbly front wheel
brake pads – what are they?
a lock attached by a zip tie
hub gears that can’t decide what gear they want to stay in.
In the shop every time we have hire bikes come back we do a good check over and test ride of every bike, even if it’s out for half a day. This really does help save the bike from getting any worse. This chap in Copenhagen was probably not checking his bikes very often. After we got back and explained the issues we found we were treated with a casual shrug and, “Well I wasn’t to know was I?” I’m not one to judge, but I think it may be his job to know. In all honesty we did manage to get a small refund, it seemed to change my dad’s mind and what was a terrible hire bike became a bargain day ride. At least one of us was happy.
I must admit I did enjoy my bike by the end of the day. The hub clicks became part of the charm, and I was starting to ease into the mix of upright ride position with a back pedal brake. I must come back to Denmark on my own bike though, maybe that’s the next tour. In conclusion, is Copenhagen the cycling city its cracked up to be? Well yes, of course. The bike paths are amazing, the flat roads are a breeze, and the general acceptance of bicycles makes it perfect. Not all bikes are built equal and Copenhagen seems to be full of some scary and cheap builds. I’m probably just being a bit of a snob, but it seemed that bikes had become so big in their culture that they really aren’t anything special, yet at the moment in the UK it can often feel like you’ve found a life hack when you start enjoying your bike commute. Also, sort your hire bikes out!
There is always that one person at the side of the road saying “you should have gone tubeless” as you’re wrestling with the third inner tube of the ride. Well, I’m ashamed to say that was me… WAS me!
We often get asked ‘should I run tubeless on my bike?’
To be honest it all depends and who you ask and why you’re asking. Tubeless has its place and when it works, boy is it nice!
For your daily commute, you really don’t need the weight saving and possible “protection” that tubeless brings; good strong tyres and a watchful eye on tyre pressure and you’re going to be absolutely fine.
There is no worse feeling than when you’re halfway to work and your tyre has decided to give in on you or you’ve managed to ride over glass from the previous night’s revellers. Now imagine this has happened but you have tubeless tyres. To add to the stress your tyre will now be spurting latex fluid all over your clothes. Don’t take my word for it, come in to the shop and ask Jason how long it takes to wash the sealant off (actually just come into the shop and have any conversation with Jason, he’s bound to tell you anyway).
As for the tried and tested tyre-and-inner-tube combo, we believe we have hit the sweet spot on our Bristol Bicycles. The Continental Contact tyres are the perfect mix of supple and solid (supple being the hipster buzz word when it comes to tyres.)
The big man in the world of commuting tyres is the Schwalbe Marathon or its big brother the Marathon Plus. They might be heavy and pricey but they are built to last and can even roll over a drawing pin without puncturing.
Now, I may seem like a Luddite but you’d be surprised to know I actually run tubeless on my own bike! Before you hang me for hypocrisy I must make it clear that it is not on my commuter bike. My beloved gravel bike has been set up with tubeless and I must admit I love it… sometimes. The reason this blog post has come about is that I happened to find myself with a three day weekend and decided I was going to catch the last of the sun and head to the New Forest for a gravel adventure. This is when I called upon dreaded tubeless to help me out. Having previously put tubes in my wheels after an unfortunate blow out, I had to set the wheels back up as tubeless.
This took a bit of work but wasn’t too bad and wasn’t terribly messy. Luckily the wheels and tyres I have are a famously good match and are made with this combo in mind. But, now comes the reason why we don’t recommend the everyday commuter gets this set up. Not only do you need the correct tyres but also the correct wheels this can often mean you have a rather large investment for something that’s not going to give you many advantages over a good pair of commuting tyres. I wasn’t commuting so I wanted nice soft tyres that I could run at quite low pressures, and with the New Forest being famous for flint and sharp rock I didn’t fancy taking my chances with tubes.
Whilst at the New Forest I stayed in a little local campsite just outside Lyndhurst. After arrival and set-up I decided it was time to get some grub and check out the local area. I headed into Lyndhurst and got myself a couple of local Thai take away dishes and some bevvies (see previous blog posts). After enjoying the sunset over the forest and the ever-growing excitement of riding the gravel tracks the next day I headed back to camp. To my horror, the rear tyre had decided to deflate itself after I had spent a good hour trying to set it up earlier that week. A long dark walk back and some angry Instagram stories later, I hedged my bets and decided to pump the tyre back up. After doing this it seemed to then pop itself onto the rim and then stay inflated. After a good night’s sleep (and I mean good, I sleep like a log in a tent) the tubeless gods had worked their magic and the tyre had sealed itself overnight.
For any fellow gravel seekers, or just someone looking for a ride that’s a little bit different, get yourself down the New Forest, you will not be disappointed. The ride I was doing was designed by bikepacking.com with help from the Woods Cyclery; it’s a two-day ride with campsites dotted along the route but I didn’t have two days so thought I could bang it out in one. It’s 90% off-road on wide forest tracks that are interspersed with wooded singletrack, hike-bike through marshland and a few road sections (to boost that average speed). The whole route is around 63 miles but add on the time for getting lost here and there and then the extra loop back to my car and I would say I could have been knocking on 70 by the end of the day. Not huge miles, but enough when most of it is through wooded tracks with a few river crossings chucked in for good measure.
Doing it in one day, although a fun challenge and a good day ride, did mean that I had less time to relax and enjoy the surroundings. You pass plenty of pubs to stop in and little tea rooms for a sugar boost, so perhaps doing it in the recommended two days means you have more chance to appreciate the soundings (that’s what its all about after all). A few places to note are Brockenhurst as a perfect lunch stop or fuelling station. It’s the perfect spot to grab a coffee, cake or anything that’s going to get you through the next section of the day. Whilst in Lyndhurst you must stop at the Woods Cyclery, if there is anything about gravel bikes and bikepacking they don’t know its probably not worth knowing. If you’re looking for a full range of kit to strap to your bike or even just to go in and pick their brains for route ideas it’s a must stop for ALL cyclists. I probably spent too long there in the morning discussing last night’s tubeless mishap and sipping some of their amazing local coffee (dirty dirty hipster I know).
So the moral of the story is: tubeless is worth it… when necessary.
For most, tubeless is another thing to go wrong. You have to remember to top the tyre up with sealant every once in a while. This is easy to forget no matter how much of a bike lover you are (trust me I learned this the hard way). Get yourself some puncture-resistant tyres (Schwalbe Marathons or Marathon Plus if you fancy forking out) and for that everyday commute, you will be absolutely fine.
If you start to push the boat out and fancy getting off the beaten track then tubeless can be your saving grace, especially if you want to have the option of running lower pressures on rough terrain, but for the day-to-day commuter or even the roadies among you… don’t bother. Find another trend to get into, like spokey dokeys.
Here is the route… have fun and let me know what you think.
“Ooooh you work in a bike shop, now you can fix my bike” (when reading that it’s best to imagine a tiny little overly enthusiastic Bristolian lady)… No Nan I can’t… Well I couldn’t. Right up to the point I finished my first Bristol Bicycle.
Before I started here I could do the basics: change my tyres, straighten things up, maybe adjust the brakes if I was feeling adventurous. Having just finished a Bristol Bicycle build for our hire fleet (hire bike number 1 if you’re interested) I feel as though I have learnt a great deal – and tested the patience of the team (sorry Mat for all the stupid questions).
Now if I can build a bike I think you probably can too, it’s like a big Meccano set (sorry again Mat). OK, so there might be a bit more to it. Hopefully I won’t hinder business by saying little jobs here and there I’m sure everyone could do. Indexing gears and replacing brake pads are all jobs that you can quickly learn (and I mean LEARN… please don’t just go into the job blind, but once you know how it’s not hard to do the regular jobs). You never know when having those skills will come in handy.
Some of the bigger jobs do require a professional hand. When building our own bikes we pride ourselves on the detail. Hand-built wheels and properly installed headsets, it’s the little parts that make a difference. Although I would love to say go for it, try it all and who cares in you fail… unfortunately that’s not the best advice. Some things can be dangerous, believe me we’ve seen some disasters waiting to happen in the store. Odds and ends I do think you can learn as long as you put aside some time to researching how it’s done. Bigger jobs such as truing wheels and fitting bottom brackets if not done right can easily break your bike even more or make the bike more dangerous to ride (not that I’m trying scare you).
I’m sure many of you are aware of GCN (the global cycling network). They are a cycling entertainment company mainly posting on Youtube. They have a really good series of “how to” videos where they will explain maintenance tasks from the super easy to the super complex. It’s a good place to start if you are looking at doing a bit of your own work at home.
Back to my bike building odyssey. Don’t worry, I know what you’re thinking… “I don’t want a self professed cycling idiot to be building my hire bike” and in all honesty its a fair comment. Its been checked over by Mat (our in-house Bristol Bicycles guru) and he has tightened the loose ends and given it the all clear. And I’ll be keeping a close eye on hire bike 1 so if any of you take it out don’t be surprised if you’re waiting a while for the post-hire check-over. No one is going to mess with my baby!
After riding some of your workshop bikes (most of them we’ve used in our “bike of the week” Instagram series) and watching nice shiny new bikes coming out of the work shop it makes you begin to question your own bike. I’m lucky enough to have what in my opinion is a very nice bike but I began to pick up on the odd click and creak that I now know were not supposed to be there. So, long story short, I’ve been practicing on my own bike. A new bottom bracket and a full brake and gear service later on a new second hand bike and I was feeling rather smug with myself. Not that it’s impressive, but it’s a small sense of achievement in an other wise mundane set of skills. It was this though that made me realise that the devil is in the detail. After I had fixed my bike up to what I thought was a perfectly good level, Mat checked it over and even the smallest tweaks here and there made the bike a hell of a lot safer and not to mention running even smoother.
In conclusion, if someone like myself can learn to do the odd job on their bike I’m sure you can too. So next time you are watching the 5th episode of cats do funny things or whatever people watch on youtube these days, why not consider watching some bike maintenance videos or doing a bit of a read up. You can pick up the basics pretty quickly, just remember to do your reading! Maybe the big jobs are best done by the professionals. Baby steps is the term that springs to mind! Nothing worse than shearing a bolt on your nice new frame or cross threading a bottom bracket… Believe me we have seen it often enough to know these things are fairly common mistakes.
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