31 January 2013

Removing stickers/decals from your bike frame (e.g. Surly frames)

If you, like me, are not sponsored by bike manufacturers and/or don't like all those silly decals they insist to put on their frames, you might be interested in reading this post.

I find the Surly ones to be particularly awful, with all those too-cool-for-school phrases. Luckily, these guys' decals are plainly glued on to the paint, and not clear coated. Not sure what you will have to do if you owned a coated frame - may be worth investigating!

In my case, all I needed was these items to remove a glued-on decal:

1) A hair-dryer to warm up the glue
2) A flexible plastic thingy (a credit card will do!)
3) Some ethanol-based solution
4) A rag

Step 1: hair-dryers come in useful, sometimes
Step 2: using a credit card doesn't always mean spending money

Step 3: rag and ethanol-based solution to remove glue

Step 4: a clean frame with no decals
So, the recipe, as see above in pictures, is as follows:

1) Heat up the decals with direct heat from the hair-dryer (a few seconds is enough, although this depends on your own machine!)
2) Scrap off the decals with the credit card (they fall off easily)
3) Clean up with ethanol-based solution to remove remaining bits of glue

Surly have their own advice on here

29 January 2013

Ride report: The Willy Warmer 200 audax

January is always a funny month when it comes to cycling. Not only do we have the Christmas celebrations to attend (which they extend to the 6th in Spain!), but also try and get used to be being proper cold when out on the bike. Add to that that I got a bad cold and you rule out two weekends out of four. And then we had heavy snow the third weekend.

With just one weekend in hand, I had to do my best to keep riding one 200 km audax per month. After a last minute decision, I decided to join a postponed Willy Warmer (snow) audax. I am always reluctant to do rides to the West of London, after having experienced a few not so nice routes around the area, but this one seemed to be a good one according to some reports on-line. Some 20 riders would be joining on the day on the route shown below.

After another 5:15 am alarm, I almost managed to miss my train out of Marylebone due to getting lost in an otherwise pretty straightforward route from home. In any case, I was still sceptical about this ride. The snow had been melting nicely throughout the week (Monday started with lots of slush on the roads, in central London), but as soon as we got out of London, there were loads of ice on the station platforms, and on the fields.

Came 7 am and I made it to Gerrards Cross with three others on the train. Our fears of a cold and icy day were luckily disappearing as soon as we rode to the start of the ride: it really felt warm!

Had a quick coffee and a croissant, chatted with some of the riders about audax plans in 2013 (not LEL for me!) and soon afterwards we got going. It was 7:30 am.

Still plenty of snow in the fields, but otherwise dry roads
For the first 53 km or so I rode with Jordan and Mike on relatively quiet roads at this time of the morning. There was no sign of ice or snow/slush so far, but I kept a very careful eye on any indicators. The day was warming up by the minute, and I soon was feeling hot with all my winter gear on. Henley-on-Thames was up next on the list of controls, but we somehow managed to miss it, possibly due to the nice scenery and all that.

We pressed on and encountered some of the first bumps of the day. We three were still going strong and made it to Pangbourne at the front of the pack. Although I was not feeling hungry or in need of a proper stop, we agreed to go to the recommended café (The LouLaBelle café). Their service was pretty damn slow, but the cake was good. Other riders arrived as we set off.

No snow on the roads meant a lot of grit and dirt, far more than usual. My brake pads were diminishing in thickness by the km and I worried the rear ones were not going to make it round (note to self, bring spares ones in conditions like this and/or long rides!). The bike was covered in mud/grit and the chain was soon out of grease. The bike was taking its toll, but we were enjoying a great day out, with temperatures going near the 10C scale.

In need of a proper clean
Mike and I made good progress to Hungerford, while Jordan fell a bit behind. A few hills kept us entertained, and luckily the traffic was relatively light. It was nice to see snow-covered fields, which made for a nice change. We took it easy on the descents though, fearing to hit some slippery surfaces, which luckily did not happen.

Hungerford (the intermediate control) was a typically English town on a Saturday morning. Traffic jams and lot of exhaust fumes everywhere. Still do not get what's the fun in getting stuck in yet more traffic on your day off...We did try to find the suggested café, and after some faffing, we located it. I quickly pulled some of the rear cable down the caliper to counterbalance the worn out brake pads.

The Tutti Pole café in Hugerford was another good example of bad/slow service, bad/overpriced food and rude staff. Yet it too was completely packed. After a painfully slow service, and £4 less in my pocket for a minuscule beans on toast, we left with a receipt in hand. Another note to self, avoid these kind of cafés!

Half way done by now, and the sun was shinning. The lanes were lovely, the traffic light and we were still making good progress, although surely no longer at the front of the peloton due to too much sitting down time. Mike and I rode to Kingsclare while chatting about future audax plans and potential tours. He mentioned about riding London-Budapest along the Danube - something to put on the to-do-list.

Quiet lanes
As always, I start faster than I can keep up for 200 km. I could stick to Mike's wheel and at some point we diverted on different routes. He took the fast (and busier) roads to Winnersh (the last control) whereas I took on the lanes. My chain was so bad that I had to re-apply some grease.

A tandem went past also, which re-assured me I was on the right route. For the remainder of the 85 km I rode on my own. It was nice to have the company for most of the ride, but I also enjoy the solitude of a nice sunny day, and allows for stopping when I fancy doing so - for pictures mostly.

I made it to Winnersh at 4:30 pm and was glad to meet the tandem people, who had set off 40 minutes after us, but yet had managed to catch up. We'd spent far too long at cafés this time.

Riding sole through the night
After a quick refuel consisting of rice pudding, coffee and some home-made sandwiches, I got all my night riding gear on and set off on my own. Riding into the night (or out of it!) is my favourite time to be on the saddle. It feels like I have achieved something, or rather, that I have pedalled for quite some time.

The roads were smooth and fast till the end, with a few sharp hills to keep me entertained. I only rode about an hour in full darkness, but enjoyed it quite a lot - I cannot wait for those long and warm-ish summer months riding in the dark!

I surely averaged more than 25 km/h for the last 40 km, which got me quickly back to the start, via a very steep Wanders Lane 2 km before the finish, for a final proof-of-passage receipt.

It had been a great day out on the bike. Legs felt good, and I was glad to be back in audax mode. The ride was, to my surprise, much better than others I've done in the area. Still, well above 10 hours, but this was mostly due to too much time faffing at cafés.

Stats for the day

- Overall distance: 210 km
- Time pedalling: 8h 51m
- Time stopped: 2h 05m
- Moving average: 23.8 km/h
- Overall average (including stopping): 19.2 km/h

25 January 2013

Western Scotland and Isles Day 7: Ashaig (Skye) - Locharron (via Bealach Na Bas Pass)

Another night with plenty of rain, if a bit warm. Of course, because there was no wind, the midges were out. I managed to get ready by 10:30 am.

Good to be reminded in your own language. Right before the Skye bridge

The A87 towards the Skye bridge was not too bad at that time of the morning, despite my fears of heavy traffic. In less than 6 miles after setting off from the campsite, I was crossing over the bridge, which afforded nice views of the Skye/mainland coastlines.

There is a cycle path on the pavement as you cross the Skye bridge

See you soon Skye
I quickly stopped at Kyle of Lochalsh, which is the furthest you can get to on the train, to re-stock. The Co-Op there was nicely stocked, and I was happy to be given a wider choice than normal. From there on, I took some quiet lanes north of Kyle.

Road to Plockton
My plan was to go around the Loch Carron along quiet lanes, which proved such a good idea. There was almost no traffic, and the views were amazing, with some quick descents from 150 m down to Loch level, and back up again. It was fun.

Plockton was probably one of the prettiest villages I have come across in my cycling career (and probably as a tourist also!). The location was idyllic, probably helped by the fact that it was sunny and comfortably warm! It certainly was a place to come back to and relax, or even better, do some sea kayaking.

Plockton Lochfront

Surely amongst the tinniest Post Offices in the UK?
From Plockton, I simply followed the coastal road all the way. The railway runs parallel to it also, so I reckon it is a very scenic trip on the train as well, if you cannot travel by bike. Apparently there was a ferry linking Stromferry station to the Northern side of the Loch, but the service has been discontinued, so you have to go around the Loch if you want to get to Lochcarron. Not a problem though - it was probably one of the most scenic bits of my trip. I also hit 72 km/h (>45 mph!) on one of the descents - the tarmac was so smooth that it would have been rude not to let the bike freewheel!

Loch Carron
As it was still early by the time I hit Lochcarron, the town, I decided to have some lunch and take in the views of the lake, while enjoying the sunshine. I quickly decided my next move.

Loch Carron, while having lunch
Phil, the guy I met back in Arran, had mentioned about Bealach na Ba pass (pass of the cattle in Gaelic). It happens to be the highest road in the whole of the UK, and the longest (though certainly not steepest!) climb one can attempt on a bike in the country. It raises to above 600 m from sea level, which certainly isn't an Alpine or Pyrinean climb, but not too bad either.

Locharron is the latest proper town until the mountains of the Applecross peninsula. A plan was made. I would set up camp, leave the panniers and cycle up the pass before I got dark. It is a bit of cheating I have to admit, but still, with a 16 kg of bike under my legs, it would be a bit of challenge. 

The campsite (£4 per person per night) was a nice field run by an elderly family, with basic but good facilities. They were obviously not expecting any guests as when I set up camp there was nobody at reception. I was the only camper there also. When the owners finally returned, I quickly had a chat with them about how long and how steep the pass was...Unfortunately I could not gain any additional information from them, as I could not understand a word of what they were saying, despite their efforts to speak clearly. Perhaps they too were from Glasgow?

Applecross peninsula mountains
At 4 pm I made a start on the 25 km ride up to the pass. I got some of my winter kit and long finger gloves as I predicted bad weather at some point. The bike felt a bit weird and unstable without the panniers and with the bar bag on, so my time standing on the pedals would be limited.

Leaving Lochcarron I was soon confronted with a very steep road, which then flattened out. About 10 km later, I turned on to the Applecross road for the 8 or so km up the pass at 600 m (2053 feet).

The scenery was great and so far the weather had been very gentle. But it was about to get nasty. The road climbed very gradually for the first 5 km, but it then got fairly steep for the last 3 km, with the infamous switchbacks that feature on all the cycling magazines. I only stopped once to let a car pass and to get some calories in. It was very quiet and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole climb.

Must get nasty in the winter!
Still very gradual
Once I got to the top it soon started to rain and it was also very foggy. It did not feel like an inviting place to be, and no cars were seen for quite some time. It was unfortunate though, as apparently the views from the top are amazing! The descent into Applecross must also be good, but that will have to wait for another future trip. I have actually heard that Applecross itself and the road North of it are very scenic, and in a way, remote.

Nearly at the top

At 624 m elevation. Carry on West and you get to Applecross. Perhaps next time?
The descent was obviously pretty quick, if a bit cold. I put all my winter gear and lights on, and was back down at Loch level in no time. On the way back I got completely soaked but stopped at a random fish bar along the road. Although their fish soup was not great, the women in charge were very friendly and seemed surprised that I did not own a car and that I had pedalled from Kilmarnock, where one of them was from.

Back at Locharron campsite it was now dark, so had a shower, ate dinner and planned the following day. Inverness was only 100 km to the East, so in 5 hours I could pretty much get there the following day if I wanted to. My train back to London was not due until two days later, so will end up having an extra day in Inverness, where I could enjoy a day ride without panniers around the Loch Ness.

Loading up for breakfast
The stats were as below:

- Odometer: 92 km
- Max speed: 72.7 km/h
- Moving average: 16.3 km/h
- Pedalling time: 5h 40min

23 January 2013

Our visit to the London Bike Show 2013

We have learned over the years to steer clear of the commercial side of amateur cycling. Dabbling in sportives and the like has taught us that we don't really enjoy all the overpriced gear, 'electrolyte gels' instead of food, and the obsession with carbon, as if a lighter bike was all that stood between getting spit out the back of a club ride and winning the Tour de France.

But I happened to win a couple of free tickets to the London Bike Show this weekend from the I Bike London blog, and it isn't actually possible to abstain from all commercial transactions when it comes to cycling, unless we were going to start welding our own frames and knitting our own merino wool jerseys--so we decided to check it out.

The show was packed with people -- hard to believe so many of them have paid for the privilege of being marketed at all day. But it was good fun to see some fancy bikes up close, and there was lots of interesting gear and gadgets to keep us entertained.

Bikepacking ready rig from Salsa

Chris King fancy rear hub

UK-made Feather steel frame (with nice bits of Chris King stuff)

Another UK-made steel frame - would make a nice Audax bike

Bikepacking ready 29er Salsa and moustache handlebars

Check out the size of those tyres (for snow and sand riding, in theory!)

I wonder who the hell can move this
Fat tyres bike Surly Pugsley...not that useful in the UK, but still, fancy

The only Pinarellos I can seem to like
We also happened to catch the launch of a new women's amateur cycling team sponsored by the CTC (the Cyclists' Touring Club--the UK's national cycling charity). They've done it as an attempt to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to supporting women's cycling, which I like - though I'm not sure I like the emphasis on racing and competion. Still, I was glad to have seen it.

Launch of the CTC women's cycling team
After viewing the Bike Show we also took a look at the other shows included in the same ticket. At the Outdoors Show Alberto got to try out a superfancy Canon camera, while at the Boat show we got a kick out of exploring the super-luxury boats that cost as much as a very fancy house in London!

Eventually we got tired of all the sales pitches and the crowds, but it was good while it lasted. I'd never pay to attend the event, but it was a fun way to spend a day nonetheless.

21 January 2013

Snow riding within the M25

We have been suffering from cold weather and snow for the last few days in the Southest of England. That means no road cycling for us - the risk of slipping and sustaining an injury is far too high and not worth it.

Unfortunately I had to cancel my audax plans for this weekend also, meaning just one last chance to fit in a 200 km this January next Saturday. However, snow and cold weather has its benefits: it is great for mountain biking and areas that are normally too wet/muddy become ridable again.

Along the Lee Valley canal, -2C
Dan and I set off from our doorsteps, and rode all the way to Epping Forest along the canal path, making it a pretty much traffic-free day. The way to the Forest was bitterly cold, and soon started to snow, first lightly, then quite moderately. We felt fine and relatively warm, but our fingers were getting uncomfortably cold. So much that we decided to warm up in a café until the temperatures rose to balmy -1C.

Rolling into the Forest

Snack stop
The Forest was quieter than usual, being a Sunday. The snow remained soft throughout the day, and it was nice to ride on it while on the broad paths. However, our attempts to take on the singletrack weren't successful. Firstly, they were pretty much invisible, and secondly, they had a thick layer of wet mud underneath the crust of snow that made them a pain to ride on.

Soft snow has a good grip, if you have knobbly tyres

Obligatory picture before heading back home
We rode for about 15 km in the Forest, mostly on broad paths, and it did feel like a good work out with all attempts to take the narrower singletrack. When on the broad paths, it was fairly easy rolling and the grip was pretty good - certainly a nice experience if you happened across soft snow - surely not so good when it ices up!

By 11:30 am we decided to turn back home, and by then, we had endured more than 3 hours of continuous snow. The canal path was completely covered by snow, as was the water itself, but that made for a nice ride back. Not many cyclists had been on it yet, but as the snow was still soft and fluffy, we had no trouble averaging more than 20 km/h on the return leg.

Heading back. On the right, the frozen and snow-covered canal
When I got home, we'd clocked up more than 60 km, which, for a ride like today's, was certainly a good work out and better than originally anticipated.

My kit held up ok, although both toes and fingers suffered a bit from the cold. In such conditions it is normal for people to use bike mittens or even ski gloves. I just took liners and winter gloves, but that did not do the trick. They got wet far too early, and with the wind, my fingers felt painful for a good while. I learnt my lesson for the next time.

My toes, however, seemed all right - I had thick wool socks and theoretically water-proof sealskinz socks. I wore my only mtb shoes, which are meant to be summery ones, with plenty of ventilation. As I was showering, I could feel the tingle on my toes, and they seemed far too red. Perhaps I could do with overshoes on the next cold ride?

The bike. A good cleanup will be needed...

The rider. It was cold and snowing
We couldn't convince Lucy that five hours of snow biking was a fun way to spend a day, but she earned some machaca points too when she went out for a run later in the afternoon, as the snow continued to fall.

19 January 2013

Night riding in the Herne Hill velodrome

For us outdoors lovers, London is definitely not the best place to be based. However, every now and then I am reminded of how cool this city is. A good example of this is the Herne Hill velodrome.

It is tucked away in a residential area of South London (i.e. Herne Hill!). To get there, if you come by bike and from North London (as is my case), you cycle through Central London with its busy traffic and all that. Then, at some point, you take a random residential road, and on your left hand side (or right, depending where you come from) you find the entrance. It looks like this.

View Larger Map

Herne Hill hosted the track cycling at the Olympic Games in 1948, and for quite a while, it was the only velodrome in London. In fact it remained London's only velodrome until last year when the 2012 Olympics created a new one. Last summer, I decided it was about time to pay this legendary place a visit, and perhaps even get to ride in it. In over 2 hours I got taught what to do (and most importantly, what NOT to do!) while on the track. It was good fun.

I've been wanting to go back and do some track cycling for a while, but never find the time or mood for it. But on a random Thursday evening, in one of the coldest weeks I remember in London, I got an invite to join  a bunch of people from the bike industry and do some laps.

When Dan and I got to the velodrome, it was pitch dark and freaking cold. We found ice puddles on the way in, and no one seemed to be around at 6 pm, which was the advertised time of the event. When we actually got nearer to the track, a couple of instructors were there waiting for the group to arrive.

Our fixed gear bikes ready to roll
Given that we both had had our inductions a few months earlier, we were given the green light to go and ride by ourselves. Too bad it was pitch dark, surely below freezing, and that we had forgotten our good lights at home! As it turned out, this event was organised by a light manufacturer, and so, we got a few sets of powerful lights to test out.

Although one of the banks of the track was iced over and could not be used, we set off to do a few laps with our fancy front lights on full beam. I was wearing jeans and feeling cold all over, but feet and fingers were especially bad. They never warmed up.

That's how cold it was!
When the large group arrived, we had a much needed cup of tea and some food, warmed up, and kept on riding. At some point we were asked our names and put down on a list, not knowing really what for or why...

The event finished at 9 pm, and by then we had done a good number of laps, some relatively fast, but mostly at a relaxed talking pace. When we were having our second cup of tea before heading home, we were told we had actually won joint 2nd place on the fastest laps overall, and with that, a couple of those fancy lights we had been testing!

Obviously, I could not believe it. I have never been fast nor did try to be fast at all on this event! I was even wearing jeans and casual shoes while riding!

Perhaps I should have considered professional cycling a little earlier...Sir Alberto Hoy. Sounds good to me!

The velodrome at night
Last adjustments before the off
Riders ready to go. Surely an unusual sight
Riders being given the track induction

15 January 2013

Western Scotland and Isles day 6: Salen - Mallaig - Ashaig (Isle of Skye)

I spent a few minutes the night before killing all the midges that had got into my inner tent. Despite the heavy rain and wind overnight, I managed to get a good night's sleep and woke up at 7 am.

My handlebar tape was now playing up - it had got extremely wet overnight and did not have any grip on to the handlebars anymore. Rob had found the solution: a big bike bag to cover the bike whilst wet outside! It did not take me long to re-tape the bars, but I can see it being a problem in future trips to potentially rainy environments. Perhaps I need to find a tape that has glue on it or even try carrying a large piece of plastic to cover the bike overnight?

In any case, by 10 am I made a move, having re-stocked on some meths for the Trangia.  While in the shop, I chatter to an old guy and his wife, who were kayaking their way round the Lochs, carrying all their food and gear for up to a week at a time, rough camping all the way. They were awaiting for a window of good weather for the next leg...I should try this one day were my immediate thoughts! Rob was taking it easy today as he was still feeling knackered from the day before and his plans for the day were to reach Mallaig only. I set off in the rain and wind.

The wind was so bad at times that it nearly blew me off the road on a couple of occasions. Being tired, grumpy, and hungry, I stopped at Achrade, where I had some coffee and a bacon bap at the Comunity Centre-café. The woman noticed I was in much need of more caffeine and warmth so offered me free refills which of course I kindly accepted.

From there on I went almost non-stop to Mallaig. The A861 was a beautiful road, despite the weather conditions. When I joined the A830 I feared it would be busier, but again, I was wrong. It even had a cycle lane for some of the way. I made good progress and eventually got to Mallaig at 3 pm. The next ferry was due at 3:15 pm, so all was good.

Ferry to Skye
After a quickly re-stocking at the local Co-Op, I went to the terminal to be told the ferry crossing had been cancelled due to bad weather. I was so soaked that I thought at least I would have some time to dry my kit in the waiting room...

Four young cyclists were also there waiting for the ferry crossing. They had come from Oxford, where they were studying, and had plans to cycle up Skye and on to the Outer Hebrides. One of them had a broken spoke and they could not get the wheel straight. I offered help, but they sort of refused saying a new wheel was waiting for them in Broadford (Skye).

As it turns out, they had tried to fix the broken spoke with a multi-tool, and had knackered the nipples to a point that they were totally rounded. The guy with the broken bike would take a bus to meet his mates at Broadford.

Also in the waiting room were two guys on touring motorbikes. They happened to be doing something similar to an audax, but on motorbikes. In fact, they were on a "rally" and they had been averaging >1000 km a day and more than 12 hours daily riding round Scotland! It was nice to chat to them about interesting places to go visit, including, the Outer Hebrides.

Eventuall I managed to get on to the ferry, where I kept shivering throughout the crossing - it had been the first time I felt proper cold on this trip. Once on Skye, I tried to cycle with the Oxford guys, but they were on light road cycles and I soon got dropped. At some point I thought I would just rough camp anywhere along the A851, but as I was still feeling cold, I pressed on.

Skye, in the mist
I got to the A87 intersection in about 1 hour. The road had been quiet and easy going, with very open landscape, somehow different to the previous days. At the A87 I turned down the idea of going to Broadford, and went right. I was not sure about timings and miles for the remainder of my trip, and despite my initial plans of going round the northern bit of Skye, that would have to wait for another time.

More mist along the A87
In Ashaig I found the local campsite. It was just an open field with a ton of midges, and a very friendly guy that was looking after it. Apparently the location of it is very prone for midges, but it did have amazing facilities, including a towel drier, an small fridge and a good power shower. All for £5. 

The buggers were out!
By 10:30 pm I was tucked in my tent, writing the last bits of the journal and planning my last three days of touring.

The stats were as below:

- Odometer: 91 km
- Average speed: 17.5 km/h
- Max speed: 59 km/h
- Moving time: 5 h 14 min