It’s been a LONG week. The days have been passing very slowly and I’m a bit confused as to which of these events, thoughts and discoveries are from this week and which are older, but hey.
I’ve been back in the saddle with my journey’s to work and back, and this has raised a few interesting cycling things.
First, a long overdue note on clothing. You’ve probably noticed that my blog is titled “Magic Roundabouts and Padded Pants”. This is partly from my love of the Magic Roundabout – iconic of Swindon, my home town and the place we have recently moved to – and partly inspired by a writer in the Guardian who recently wrote an article on cycling entitled “Padded pants saved my life”.
Now, it’s not like she fell off into her bike into a lake and would have drowned if it weren’t for the foam padding in her cycling shorts keeping her afloat (I’m sure someone can come up with a better story to match the headline) – she is, of course, speaking metaphorically. And I can wholeheartedly agree with her sentiment.
Though I don’t consider myself an official “lycra lout”, and despite a healthy dose of initial skepticism, I have definitely discovered “technical” clothing. And there’s quite a lot of it! Thankfully, my wife assures me that I don’t look completely stupid when wearing my cycle gear. And I don’t really care if other people do…my prepared response to anyone who might say that I look stupid would be “Well, I’m warm, dry, comfortable and stupid”.
Here are some of my finds…
I’ve taken to wearing “Baggies”, which are padded lycra shorts but they have water-resistant “baggy” shorts over the top. These are great and, so I’m told, they even look cool! The difference they make to ride comfort is quite impressive. I wouldn’t cycle without them! They dry quickly too so if you get caught in the rain they’re usually OK to use again after a few hours.
2) Wrap-around shades
I HATE the thought of these, but they’re REALLY important. They keep dirt, grit, wind, rain, flies, branches, sunlight and harmful UV rays out of your eyes. But surely ordinary shades are OK? Well, I thought that. But I bought a pair of inexpensive DHB shades from Wiggle andI wear them ALL the time (when cycling) because:
- Wind gets round frames and still blows into your eyes.
- If you have frames you can’t see out the corner of your eyes – important when looking around/behind you.
- They have interchangable lenses so you can use them in different lights and weathers.
If you’ll excuse the pun, I’ve not looked back since!
3) Technical Tee’s and Jerseys
This took the most convincing before I invested, but it’s quite simple. Cotton T-shirts soak up sweat and hold it! This means that:
- they take ages to dry;
- they make you cold in a wind;
- they saturate – so they reach a point where they can’t absorb more sweat, meaning YOU get wet, which is not particularly pleasant
So, “wicking” clothing is the answer. These carry moisture away from the body and let it evaporate quickly. “Base layers” are used for skiing, walking, climbing, etc, and could probably be used for winter cycling. These are fitted and good for keeping you warm. You wear them under other things. “Technical Tees” are thinner, cooler and loose-fitting.
I also have a couple of cycle “jerseys”, which are more like base layers than tees but have lots of useful pockets and a zip to allow them to be breathable. My favourite jersey is long-sleeved. You’d be surprised how cold your arms get when cycling! They also tend to come in bright colours – good for visibility.
Most obviously for keeping your hands warm – and you be surprised how you need them even in mild weather! Especially as you don’t use your hands and arms much in cycling. Also important for a bit of shock-protection and pressure relief. You have important nerves running through your wrist (I’ll maybe write about RSI involving such nerves at some point!), and continuous pressure and vibration is not really good for any part of your body.
5) Water/wind proofs!
A lightweight, water and wind-proof top is pretty essential too. They make these incredibly thin and light these days so you can pack it a small sack even in good weather (this is England we’re talking about). From what I can tell you can get specific wind-proofs, but I’ve got a cheap (£8!) water and wind proof that does the job for my commute.
I’m not SO convinced about these but they’re worth a mention. Overshoes are water-resistant, and have a thin layer of something like fleece or neoprene inside. As the name suggests you wear them over your shoes. They ARE pretty good at keeping your feet warm, and slightly dry. They’re good for really cold weather. But they don’t look good and they’re a bit of overkill really.
Finally, and well worth a mention…I have a thin, fleecy headband. With all else covered up, on a cold, wet, windy winters day, your forehead gets REALLY cold when cycling. It gets painful! This little thing is a few quid VERY well spent. My friend Mike is a bit lacking in hair so he has an all-over skullcap equivalent (sorry Mike – had to mention that!).
Chains and Sprockets
My chain broke this week. Not a complete break, but a link became splayed. Easily fixed with a pair of pliers but I’m worried about having a weak link now. The bike shop says it should be fine but it got me looking at the chain a bit.
I remember when it happened – I was turning a corner, changing down gears, and there was a clunk. I didn’t notice until the next morning. It seems, and it makes sense the lateral movement from changing gears bends the chain a little. If you put too much pressure on the chain while it’s bent in this way, you can weaken or damage the links.
I didn’t have to do it in the end but my cycle maintenance book says that changing the chain can require you to change the rear “cassette” – the gear cogs – as the sprockets get worn down. So I had a look at those too while I was looking at the chain and, sure enough, my cogs are looking pretty worn after 800 miles. I’ll try to get a photo here at some point.
Chains are important and I’ll be watching and maintaining my “transmission” system more carefully from now on.
So, having had the chain incident I took the bike in for a service – mostly because we’re taking the bikes off on holiday to Cornwall and I don’t want to get caught in the middle of nowhere with something broken.
They didn’t think the chain would be a problem so that’s been left…which makes me cringe slightly in fear…I hope they know best.
So they offered me a “brakes and gears” or a “full service”. I asked how much the full service was and they told me it would be £25. Which seems very cheap to me – so I put it in for a full service.
I didn’t expect much for £25. That can’t even be 30 minutes labour can it?
Anyway the bike came back. Disappointingly the gears were worse than when I took it in. But it was running VERY smooth.
Was it worth it? Probably not. I reckon a chain clean and lube, brake adjustment, pumping up the tyres. That will probably just about do it. But then £25 wasn’t much so maybe it was. Anyone know what they do in a “full service”?
I mentioned the tyres. I’ve done a couple of REALLY speedy rides recently and I think having well-inflated tyres helps a lot. I’ve put a track pump on my Wiggle wish list!!!
Cycling is a complex thing to get right. I’ve been playing around with foot position to try to stop my knees hurting (see my post on amateur physiology). I do seem to have had some success (25.5 miles today with little pain), but in working out how to do this I think I’ve realised that I’m pedalling inefficiently.
I’ve been pushing mostly down, starting my push at about 2 o’clock (if you look at the pedal from the side). What I’ve found is that pushing FORWARD from the top of the revolution, from 12 o’clock, feels much more efficient – the pedalling action is smoother and it feels like you get power through the full revolution.
Definitely something to work on and possibly to research! Oh, and I’m sure cycling shoes and clipless pedals (with the slots that you slot cycling shoes into) probably help with all this too…that’s a whole other subject!
Computers and Cadence
And finally (gosh this has turned into a marathon post), a note on cycle computers. I bought one ages ago and it’s REALLY useful. I spent £35 on a Cateye Micro Wireless.
I hate all the cables that you get with a non-wireless and, despite the advice of the guy in the shop, I gave this a try…and it’s been fine! I’ve had no problems with it what so ever. The batteries have lasted well over 6 months and, as far as I know, it’s never skipped a pulse.
My only regret is not buying one with MORE functions. You can get computers with what’s called “cadence”. That is, your rate of pedalling (RPM). Which, it turns out, is a really useful thing to know.
I’m not going to trade-up just yet. But if I was starting again I’d go for something bigger and better!
Phew – what a lot. But to anyone serious about getting into cycling, on clothing, on computers, on maintenance, on tools, on ALL the things I’ve talked about and more, it’s worth investing a little more to get something extra. You might not need it now, but you’ll appreciate having it later on!