RogerBW's Blog

Back on the Bike 02 August 2014

It's been around four years since I cycled much. About time I took it up again.

I've been doing it much less since I left London in 2008, because when I was living there I had a convenient supermarket two miles away (down low-traffic roads and then the Greenway, the flat pedestrian/cycle route along the top of the Northern Outfall Sewer), and the local tip was about a mile further. That was quite fun. The staff at the tip eventually decided that I was a car, particularly when I had a trailer full of garden rubbish (pedestrians weren't allowed, but cars were, and they'd never had to think about bicycles before). Between grocery shopping and occasional bulky rubbish, I'd do that run two or three times a week.

Here, I'm no longer doing the grocery shopping because my wife's much better at it than I am, so I don't have an ongoing reason to leave the house every few days. If I want to get to London, Oxford or Reading, I have to go much further; if I want to get to a good pub, there's one at the end of the road. Three miles and a slight climb gets me into High Wycombe, but it's either along a fairly busy road (without much room for dodging cars, and local drivers tend to be more cyclist-hostile than the ones in London) or along the cycle route (link is to a PDF) which has a vicious short hill followed by a shared-use path that tends to be full of dog-walkers, so it's very slow and tricky going. And at the end of it, well, I'm in High Wycombe, not the most exciting place, and certainly not somewhere I want to go several times a week. I can go instead round the hill towards Wooburn Green or Bourne End, the only route from here that's more or less on the flat, but I don't have much reason to visit those places either. Three miles including going up White Hill gets me to Beaconsfield, but I've hit 26mph coasting down that hill and I really don't fancy riding or walking all the way up it.

The other downside is the steep hill that's an inevitable part of any ride from here, because it's the only way to get home again afterwards. There's not very much of it, but when I'm tired from having been out it's very much not my favourite thing. Yeah, I can dismount and wheel the bike, but I don't like doing that.

All of which sounds like making excuses, and to some extent it is. I've considered myself a utility cyclist first, rather than doing it for the sake of the cycling, but even so I've got lazy. So yesterday evening I hopped on the Marin Sausalito (which I got off Freecycle back in 2007) for the first time in several years, and went for a quick ride, just down to the local DIY shop and back — about a mile each way. Bloody hell I'm out of shape. But I made it, even up the horribly steep hill. So that's a start. Now I need to do more.

I'm posting this in the hope that my Faithful Readers will notice if I suddenly stop talking about cycling, and embarrass me into getting started again.

Tags: cycling

  1. Posted by Chris at 11:56am on 02 August 2014

    and if I get the nerve up to ride a bike with about 21 more gears than I want, need, have any use for or have ever had on a bike before, arranged in a way which I am absolutely not used to and do not like, I have the electric bike which is now fettled, and maybe I must start to ride it or you will put me to shame.

  2. Posted by Owen Smith at 04:44pm on 02 August 2014

    I bought my current bike from a place where you could specify the parts you wanted. I insisted that 20 gears was enough (2 gears at the front, 10 at the back) and I really didn't need 30. However I do need the two at the front, because in Cambridge I need sudden downshifts to cycle up steep foot and cycle bridges, and you can't get big enough gears to produce the ratio needed on the rear deraileur alone.

    I cycle to work 4 days a week (Milton to the old Pye building with the wavy roof in Chesterton). It's not far, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on wind direction. But it's enough to stay in reasonable shape. After a recent fainting episode (very low blood pressure) my resting heart rate was found to be 60 bpm, which I'm told is very healthy for a 48 year old male. I always wondered why other people can't count seconds, I've always just counted my heartbeat. It never dawned on me that this wasn't very common.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 04:59pm on 02 August 2014

    I find the use of terms like "24 gear" at best inaccurate and at worst deceptive. "3×8 gear" is a much better way of putting it (that's what's on my Marin); I leave the front rings in mid position most of the time, and shift the back as needed. The low range on the front is just for getting up the hill on the way home when I'm tired, and I only use the high range when I'm on a completely clear road with plenty of space ahead.

    I'm told that it's a bad idea to use the high front range with low back gears, and vice versa, because the chain's running at too much of a diagonal and it'll wear out the teeth on both gears. In any case there's not much point to it when the middle range is available.

    That said, I'll admit that as a non-sporty cyclist I really do prefer the Nexus 8 hub gear that's on my other bike. Apart from anything else you don't need to be pedalling to change gear (in fact you shouldn't be, at least not with any sort of load), which made it much easier when I was getting started with cycling and is still good when I'm in suddenly-changing traffic situations.

  4. Posted by Owen Smith at 07:37pm on 02 August 2014

    I agree, calling my bike 2×10 gears is more sensible. By the way, the Tour De France bikes are now using 11 gears at the back.

    And indeed you shouldn't have your chain very diagonal on the gears, this will wear things out more quickly. But it's not that significant unless you use extreme combinations.

    Most of the wear is due to stretched chains. The best tool I own is a device that measures how much my chain is stretched. If you replace your chain when it gets to 1% stretched, the gear teeth are vritually immortal.

    Hub gears are about 90% efficient, 10% of your energy is generating heat. They have their place, but I don't generally like them. Deraileur gears are about 98% efficient.

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