Ask a group of experienced long-distance cyclists what would be their ideal expedition bike and, I guarantee, there would be little agreement about the detail. We might all agree that it should be a (roughly) diamond shaped frame, with two wheels, a wide range of gears and the capacity to carry luggage. But beyond that, everything (I mean absolutely everything) is open to discussion. And that is one of the things I love about cycling and associating with fellow cyclists……there’s never a dull moment! Never a chance to be smug or complacent……
Some will study the following vital stats of my new Dave Yates, and throw their hands up in horror, and shower me with suitably corrective advice. Some will agree, and quietly say “good choice”. Others, who haven’t given much thought to the equipment on their bike, might find some useful tips for a future machine. So let’s risk it and reveal all:
Frame: Reynolds 525 chromoly steel (sturdy and comfortable on long distances and easy to repair)
Wheels: 26″ Mavic rims with Chris King hubs, and 35mm Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres (26″ are easier to replace than 700c)
Brakes: Shimano Deore XT V brakes (disc brakes are arguably better, but harder to repair and replace in remote areas)
Transmission: Shimano Deore XT throughout, with rapid fire shifters (durable touring stuff)
Gearing: Rear: 11-34, Front: 48/36/26 giving a gear range of 19″- 106″ (high enough for rapid descents, low enough to climb Everest!)
Headset: Chris King Sealed Bearing “no Thread”
Bottom bracket: Chris King MTN
Handlebars: Ritchey Pro (straight bars with bar ends….my preference for long days in the saddle)
Stem: Thomson Elite x4
Seat post: Thomson Elite
Saddle: Brooks Pro (when it’s broken in, it should be the best)
Pedals: Shimano XT (with a platform for some comfort, and recessed cleats for walking off the bike).
In a nutshell, my choice of bike design was guided entirely by a need for comfort and stability, and my choice of materials and equipment was guided entirely by performance and replaceability.
With the promise that temperatures might rise to 34C, it either takes someone special or stupid (you might think) to head off for a full day’s ride. Well today was Thursday………and the group was meeting over in the ‘wild west’ again…….a long way off. But the surprising thing (perhaps, for the non-cyclist) is that, despite the rising heat, riding a bike at a brisk pace, actually provides its own air conditioning. It actually keeps you cool……..hard to believe I know……but, of course, it has to be at a brisk pace. Hitting 35-40 mph down long hills is the best…..climbing up them is the price to be paid!
The out and back route alone, to the two eating venues (Great Oxenden and Welford) stretched me to 78 miles:
and then the brisk group ride, which took us through some stunning countryside, and along several single track roads, out into the heart of north Northamptonshire, gave the legs another 28 mile stretch.
Back at home, I ‘pampered’ myself with a chilled Guinness. Could it get any better?
Those of you who followed some of the thrills and spills of my Bespoke journey Down Under, may remember that the frame of my expedition bike broke just outside of Queenstown, on South Island of NZ. Delayed by only 24 hours, I had been able to find a local welder to patch up my frame, sufficient for it to see out the rest of the ride.
I brought the bike back home, despite the advice of some that I should ditch it somewhere in the middle of Melbourne, and it has now been relegated to an occasional-use-bike for off-roading, and local luggage carrying journeys. Of course, its absence as an expedition bike left a serious gap in my stable of bikes.
So, since getting back to the UK, much research has been done, inspired by a visit to the Bespoke Exhibition of frame builders in Bristol. I decided to pay a visit to Dave Yates in deepest Lincolnshire (though he is a Geordie, born and bred), not only a frame builder with some 40 years experience, but also a teacher of frame building to the aspiring new generation.
Just like being fitted for a new bespoke suit, I had to be measured up after detailed discussion of my requirements, and after two hours, before I left, he informed me I was in luck, I would only have to wait about three months! (And I was not to ring him to make enquiries about how things were progressing in the meantime. This man knows his business, and he doesn’t welcome interruptions……….)
That three month wait came to an end today, and I picked up the finished product with just a twinge of excitement. Long-distance purists will appreciate that a good solid expedition frame has simply got to be made of steel (in my case, Reynolds 525 chromoly), though many will argue about the benefits of lighter composite materials. Dave Yates is one of those stern-looking dinosaurs who relegates materials like alloy, carbon fibre and titanuim to the level of “recycled milk bottle tops” or even “plastic”. He doesn’t mince his words.
Being the first time I’ve had a bespoke frame built, never before did I have to make a decision about the colour. I have always bought my bikes on the strength of their value and functionality, never for their colour. So what colour does and ex-Spanish teacher, who habitually wears red lycra, choose? Yellow, of course…..and this will ensure a warmer-than-normal welcome when I next go touring in Spain!
Like accountants and engineers, cycling nerds like to get their noses into the minutiae of the detail. So for those of you wanting to know exactly what has gone into my 8.5 kilos of luggage, here is the list. Enjoy!
2 base-layers Spare glasses
2 cycling tops Toiletries
2 pairs socks Travel towel
1 undershorts Comb
2 lycra shorts First aid
Arm/leg warmers Cash/cards
1 cycling shoes Watch
1 Gilet YHA card etc.
2 waterproofs Notebook + pen
Helmet Books (on smart phone)
Flip flops Money pouch
Buff Sunscreen/lip salve
For the bike Anti-chafing cream
Puncture repair Travel insurance (+ EHIC?)
2 tubes Smart phone
Mini-lube & grease Sun shades
Multi-tool Charging leads
Pump Flight socks
Cycle lock + 2 keys Battery pack re-charger.
Pliers/spoke key/spare spokes Maps
3 bungees/2 straps
Petzl E Lite headtorch
Tent Plastic mug + spork
Sleeping bag Footprint
Army knife Toilet paper
Total weight (including saddlebag and barbag): 8.5 kilos (18.7lbs).
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Being fastidiously conscious about luggage weight leads one to extraordinary solutions.
I know many of you will have heard of some of the little tricks, or may even have practised them yourselves. The Crane cousins, in their bid to cycle across the Gobi desert and reach the remotest point known as the ‘centre of the earth’, christened a ritual that has become anecdotal in the cycling world, and is frequently quoted by long-distance cyclists as a term of reference in identifying each other. The ritual I am referring to is commonly known as the “sawn-off toothbrush”.
Some would say you can’t be a serious long-distance cyclist if you carry a full length toothbrush. Fail to conform and you will be relegated to some lower form of cycling life. Now, if you want to reach the heady heights of being classed as an “ultra-light cycle tourist” (which is precisely my own aspiration), cutting your toothbrush in half is only the start. Cast your eyes over the following and, remember, this will be a 2 month trip:
Total (excluding water, food and sundries picked en route): 8.34 kgs.
Notable absence of: books, cooking equipment, pannier racks and panniers; clothing is general multi-purpose, lycra-based, which means it is all easily washed and dried. Warmth is created by thin layers. My secondary footwear is flip flops. I carry 2 waterproofs (one for the campsite) and a high viz vest; my smart phone carries e-books and guides, GPS, camera and can be used for emailing, texting and blogging….oh yes, and for phoning too!
I hope this post opens the doors to some friendly banter and sharing of opinions. I have friends in the world of cycling who would feel distinctly uncomfortable about travelling this light. One particular friend confessed to me that he would carry much more than this even on a non-camping weekend! Some have no qualms about loading up their machines with 40-50 kgs of kit. After all, it’s not you carrying it, it’s the bike!
But my humble contribution to the world of ultra-light cycle-touring pales into insignificance when compared to a certain Igor Kovse from Slovenia. He will happily cycle across some of the remotest deserts and landscapes carrying less than 7 kgs (and that includes a tent!). Check out his website for tips here.
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There are so many variations in the construction of tandems. We thought we had just about seen them all at a recent tandem rally over Easter. The rear-seated pilot was not new to us (click here), but this model (seen on a recent visit to Cambridge) really caught my attention.
Unmistakably of a ‘sensible’ Dutch design, it seems to be designed for a child front ‘stoker‘ and a rear ‘pilot’, but fascinatingly long and obviously a bit cumbersome. Made by a company called Dutchbike (www.dutchbike.co.uk), I discovered from their website that it is a versatile cargo-bike, that can carry either children (yes, in the plural) or cargo on the front. Give the children their own little cabin, and they are weather-protected as well. Very neat.
When the rains have passed, the waters will continue to rise. Anyone who lives near a river will know that, and anyone who lives in fear of a river invading their property will know what measures to take to protect their homes and gardens. When it comes to public highways, however, rivers will boldly go where motorists and cyclists hope to pass.
Our Sunday club run this morning found one such river, in the village of Radwell in north Bedfordshire. A stretch of 300-400 metres was completely under water, much too deep to ride through, and much too deep for average cars to handle. A poor motorist had just been towed out of the flood by a breakdown truck. No insurance company is going to look kindly on the driver’s poor judgement. But the notorious history of this stretch is evident in the construction of a permanent pedestrian flood walkway, which allows us to keep our feet and bikes dry.
If only we could encourage this temporary surplus of water to penetrate to the aquifers………..
There is a rare form of transport out there, more frequently seen in the Spring and Summer, that heads off to meet up with other ‘random tandems’ in remote spots, usually to do a bit of grazing at watering holes, but also to wander the lanes and byways in some kind of migratory procession. The remote spot, in this instance, was the New Forest, and the best watering holes were abundantly provided for over the Easter weekend. 100 tandemists (= 50 tandems) in case you have a problem with the maths, gathered at Avon Tyrell Activity Centre, and enjoyed a variety of sorties out into the local countryside. From gently rolling forest lanes to the steep climbs over heathland, from encounters with sauntering ponies and cattle (who know they have priority!) to the mêlée of Bank Holiday trippers in Lymington, from the quiet solitude of coastal cycle tracks to the hustle and bustle of holiday traffic on the move. The weekend had everything, including mind-stretching and competitive entertainment in the evenings and, most importantly, the camaraderie of an activity shared with a riding partner and a bunch of other enthusiasts.
The Tandem Club in the UK brings together the enthusiasm of some 4000 members, many of whom organise themselves into local or regional groups, and enjoy monthly rides of some 30-40 miles, the highlight always being the feeding stops en route! And tandem-riding can open a door to people with disabilities,
especially blind or partially-sighted riders, who can make excellent ‘stokers’ (back riders). And a new breed of tandem, the Hase Pino, is ideally suited for riders with other disabilities, with its semi-recumbent design at the front and its independent drive-train.
Humour and laughter are always attendant at such tandem encounters, whether its along the road sharing chat as you weave through the lanes, or at table over a meal in the evenings. As we pedalled along a forest lane, I said to the front rider of the tandem alongside us: if the front rider is called the ‘pilot’, what do we call the back rider? ‘Cabin crew‘? I suggested. He proffered: ‘No, trolley dolly‘!!
We were all enthusiastically appreciative of the fine efforts made by the Wessex regional group, who master-minded every aspect of the weekend. It was a well-rounded experience, designed to cater for every inclination of the motley crowd that gathered
I had a “yes” moment on the bike the other day………I actually saved the life of a field mouse. Honestly. And no, I didn’t rescue it from a flooded drain, or lift it down from a precarious precipice……..I saved it from a prowling cat! I was scooting along a country lane at xxxxmph, and a cat that was chasing this tiny little creature along a gutter, saw me bearing down on him and thought he might be part of my food chain, so he beat a hasty retreat, leaving his prey to escape. What a feeling of self-satisfaction I had for the rest of the ride!
Talking of cats, on another day a cat and I both had a very lucky escape (a case of mutual satisfaction?). As I passed this cat on the verge side, it decided to jump across the road to its own safe haven, and passed directly under my bike between my front and back wheels. Given that I was doing about 20mph, it seems unbelievable that it was unscathed……..and I hate to think what might have happened had it collided with my front wheel! On another occasion, it was a blackbird that zoomed between both wheels. Tell me, what is so attractive about these kamikaze missions in the animal world?
Then I chanced by this little car that still had on its winter coat of artificial grass……………… I’d really like to say something amusing about it, but words fail me ;0)
What better way to end a beautiful sunny winter Sunday than to jump on the bike and spend a few hours basking in the lengthening solar rays. The recent snows seem to have spring-cleaned the countryside, the crops once again are engaged in the process of growth, and the ancient village churches take on a special quality as the sun sinks beneath the horizon. Enough of words………….