Introducing (yet another) new bike

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Who needs one bike… when you can have three?

Thanks to my very generous OH, I’m now the proud owner of a Brompton fold-up bicycle. I didn’t request the bike; I didn’t even know I wanted one. But now I have a lovely little two-wheeled fun machine to take on jaunts into the countryside by train.

This means I now have a hybrid for day-to-day commuting, a road bike for sportives and faster-paced cycling, and a fold-up bike for out-of-town excursions.

Now… if I could just get my act together and use them more often! Watch this space…

New kit for the new bike

What no-one ever tells you when you buy a new bike is that you need to factor in extra costs for additional kit. For instance, if you buy a standard hybrid bike for commuting, one that isn’t “road ready”, you will probably also need to buy lights, mudguards and a rack for your bag/panniers.

I’m not using my road bike for commuting, so I haven’t bothered buying mudguards. But I have bought:

  • a new lock and cable
  • a bell
  • a bottle cage
  • a front light (I already have a rear light)
  • a bike computer

That has easily added another £100 to the cost of the bike.

Of course, a bike computer wasn’t truly necessary, but I wanted something cheap and cheerful to keep track of my speed/mileage that didn’t involve mounting an expensive iPhone on the handlebars. And I didn’t really need to buy a new lock given I’ve got three or four lying around for my commuter bike, but I wanted something a bit more lightweight just in case I felt the need to park my bike mid-way through a longish cycle.

I’m yet to purchase new pedals and am making doing with the flat ones that came supplied with the bike. I wanted to get to grips (pun not intended) with the different riding position and gears on a road bike, before tackling a whole new pedal/shoe system. I suspect that in a few more weeks I’ll be ready to make that purchase… but until then, I’m enjoying playing with all my new kit.

My first road bike

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After eight years trundling the capital’s streets on a hybrid bike, I’ve finally taken the plunge and bought myself a road bike.

It’s something I’ve been contemplating ever since I completed London Revolution last year (it still astounds me that I cycled 180 miles in two days on a heavy, cumbersome, entry-level hybrid and lived to tell the tale), but it was successfully completing London Nightrider in June that made my mind up. I loved that event and felt I could have done it so much quicker on a better bike.

So, ever since then, I’ve been looking at what’s on the market in my price range, and last week, with a few spare days up my sleeve, I set about organising a couple of test rides.

My first test (at Evans) on a Specialized Elite was a bit of a shock to the system: not just the riding position, but the location of the brakes and the fact my (very weak) wrists had to support most of my weight on the drop down handlebars whenever I changed gears. To be honest, I thought the whole let’s-buy-a-road-bike idea was over before it had even really started.

But the next day, plucking up my courage, I ventured to another store (Cycle Surgery) and asked to test ride the Giant Avail 3. As soon as I got on the bike I knew it was for me. The riding position was less dramatic, shall we say, and I loved that it had two sets of brake levers: one near the drop down handlebars and another running along the top bar, which meant I didn’t have to suddenly change position to apply them. The gear changes were smooth and the bike was super light and quick. I felt confident riding it, whereas I simply felt scared on the Specialized the day before.

As an added bonus, the bike was 20% off the recommended price, so I parted with my cash and cycled home — feeling like I’d won the lottery.

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Later that afternoon I took her for a quick spin to Richmond Park and marvelled at how quick she felt on the road.

It took me a little while to get the hang of the gears, and I suspect I need to go on a few more rides before it all feels like second nature, but for a first go I was impressed.

For the time being I am sticking with the flat pedals and will look at switching them over to a clipless system once I’ve become more familiar with the bike. It’s bad enough learning new brakes, gears and riding position, without throwing pedals into the mix as well.

My plan is to use the bike purely for leisure/charity-type rides, rather than day-to-day commuting (mainly because I don’t fancy leaving it out on the street, even with all the locks I use). I’m really looking forward to going on lots of little adventures together… and writing about them here.

How to keep my feet warm: is it time to invest in some overshoes?

SocksEarlier in the week I purchased some new socks from Blacks with a view to keeping my tootsies nice and warm while out cycling. I opted for some "unisex anatomically designed walking socks" — according to the packaging they incorporate Silpure and Coolmax® technologies, whatever that means — and hoped they'd do the job.

So much for splashing the cash. My feet were toasty and warm for about half my journey. Then they started to cool down and before I knew it the toes on both feet were numb.

When I got back home I barely had any feeling in my feet at all!

The thing is, it was bloody cold out there. And I only saw a handful of cyclists during my journey indicating that everyone else had more sense than me to be out and about late on a Wednesday morning doing a loop of Richmond Park.

And yes, my face was frozen — is it acceptable to ride in a balaclava, do you think? — but the rest of my body, including my hands, was lovely and warm.

So, should I invest in some even higher grade thermal socks? Or do I bite the bullet and get some overshoes?  Note that I don't cycle in "proper" cycling shoes — I've been wearing the same pair of Puma speedcats since 2007 and find them perfect for grip and comfort on the road — so they may be part of the problem.

Advice, suggestions and recommendations on the whole how-to-keep-my-feet-warm issue are very welcome…

Total distance: 15.40miles (24.77km) | Ride time: 1hr, 28min and 30sec | Average speed: 10.4mph | Top speed: 19.9mph

Product review: Cateye headlight EL610RC

While the recent weather in London might be a lot milder than normal, the nights are still drawing in. That means cycle commuters need to use lights for their evening journey home.

But if you have ever gone shopping for a bike light you will know it's almost impossible to choose from the vast array of products on the market. Over the years I've tried various solutions, but by the far the best light I've ever had is the Cateye HL-EL610.

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It also happens to be the most expensive. I purchased mine from an online retailer in 2008 for roughly £80. It was worth every penny.

What I like about the Cateye headlight EL610RC

  • It is BRIGHT! 1500 candlepower bright, in fact. This one illuminates the road ahead without problem. Certain parts of my route are very dimly lit (street lighting is practically non-existent, especially along the cycle path on Constitution Hill), but when I'm using this light there's no fear of hitting an unseen pot hole or running over a twig on the ground. The light is so bright, I've had loads of cyclists approach me at traffic lights to ask where I bought it — they want one too!
  • It has three modes — a high mode (which I never use), a low mode and a flashing mode
  • It's rechargable — that means you don't have to worry about constantly buying batteries. It comes with its own recharger that you simply plug into the wall. It takes about four hours to recharge. I usually do it overnight.
  • The battery lasts for several weeks or more. Of course, it depends on how long your commute is (mine is about 40 minutes one way) and which mode you use the light in (the flashing mode saves battery power considerably), but I can use it every weekday for more than a month and not have to recharge it. (According to the manufacturer's guide, the battery is supposed to last 3 hours in high mode, 9 hours in low mode and 36 hours in flashing mode.)

What I don't like

  • It's tricky to get on and off the bike. (But once you figure out that you need to push it in the opposite direction to which you think it should be pushed, all the while holding down the little button, it slips off fine.)
  • It's tricky to work out how to switch between modes. If you want it to flash, you need to press the button twice very quickly, otherwise it will just revert to the standard high beam.
  • The recharging equipment is bulky and not something you really want to be towing around in your bike bag.

Overall opinion

I love this light and highly recommend it to anyone looking for something sturdy, reliable and bright! It's expensive, but I think this is a good example of getting what you pay for — and if you factor in the cost savings in terms of not having to buy batteries, it won't take long to recoup your costs.

Where can you buy?

While it is listed on the official Cateye website, it doesn't look like you can buy it from the UK site. At the time of writing it is listed on the Chain Reaction website for £89.99 and Wiggle for £79.99, but do check other online retailers — you might find a better deal.

Note that the headlight was NOT supplied to me for review purposes. I purchased this one with my own hard cash a couple of years ago.

Farewell to my Specialized Sports Sirrus

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Yesterday I sold my first hybrid bike — a Specialized Sports Sirrus — which I purchased in February 2007.

I rode her fairly solidly throughout 2007 but only intermittently in 2008, mainly because of ongoing shoulder and flank pain. But in December of that year I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in my hands and for the next two years I barely rode the bike.

When I took workplace redundancy last year, one of my goals — aside from taking some time out and doing some travelling — was to get my health back and regain my fitness. In Australia last December I bought an entry-level Trek hybrid to see me through a couple of months of leisure cycling — and a new love affair was born.

Riding that new bike put things into perspective for me: the Specialized, back in London, was too small and the ride position too uncomfortable.

That was confirmed when I returned to the UK in February. I was 9kg lighter and the fittest I'd been in years. Despite the winter weather I was keen to get out and about on the bike. But no sooner had I got back on the Specialized than my shoulder stiffness returned and I could feel the pain in my left flank that had plagued me throughout 2008.

I promptly went out and bought another bike — the exact same one I'd bought in Australia (and left behind for my mother) — and there's been no looking back.

But my poor Specialized, which I so loved when I first bought her, was taking up space in our storage room and I knew I'd have to sell her on at some point. I ummed and ahhed about it, though. It would be like saying goodbye to an old friend — even if the friendship had soured a little towards the end.

I placed an advert on the intranet at the publishing company where I'm currently freelancing last week half hoping no one would see it. But within a day of it going up I had a potential buyer.

I cleaned her up over the weekend and took her for a quick spin to make sure all was in order. Then I cycled her in yesterday, parked her up and at lunch-time made the sale.

It felt weird saying goodbye to her, but when it comes down to it, we just weren't made for each other. Sometimes you've got to be honest with yourself and get rid of the things that cause you pain…