Learning to let go

After commuting across London for a good few years, cycling is now predominantly my recreation: a physical test, a way to be in the wonderful hills near my home, an escape from the desk and computer, a mechanism for tapping into those alpha brainwaves.

But I am trying to cycle for more utilitarian means again. Last week, I did some Christmas shopping on my bike. This was before the snow carpeted and I simply didn’t want to drive. Saturday afternoon trying to find a parking space? No thanks.

I pedalled to the store with a sickeningly virtuous glow as I passed cueing motorists. But as I locked my trusty hack to a sturdy Sheffield stand, I had that feeling again… the anxiety that the bike would not be there when I emerged laden with stocking fillers.

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The instrument of torture

Things have been a bit quiet on here of late and I can only apologise.

I’ve been on holiday to not-so-sunny Scotland and did manage one or two rides through the Rotheimurhcus Forest near Aviemore. Tearing through that wonderful Caledonian woodland was akin to careering over the forest moon of Endor on a speeder bike… kind of.

Now the nights are stating draw in and, keen to keep some level of fitness over the winter months, I’ve invested in a very basic turbo trainer.

It’s an Elite Elastogel model, which features magnetic resistance and a gel ‘tyre’ on the roller (hence the name). This is meant to reduce tyre wear, although I have rigged up an old wheel and a Gatorskin for the purpose in order to protect my road tyres.

I’m using my Kona Dew Drop in the garage and placed the turbo on a few foam tiles which help deaden the noise somewhat. So far, I’ve had two sessions of 45 mins each based around a basic interval training programme – warm up and then five minute blocks of increasingly harder resistance separated with a ‘cool-off’ periods.

That, I find, gets the blood pumping the legs working. And, in view of the lack of wind, one tends top leak quite a bit. Consequently, I’ve taken to riding it in bib shorts only… a kind of mankini sportif, if you will.

Many have commented on how boring turbo training is, but I find the time flies. I put the ipod on and concentrate on good pedalling action. I’m hoping it will improve my technique ultimately…

Kona Dew Drop 62cm, photos and thoughts

I took the Dew out for a spin this morning and the nature of the trip prompted me to write my initial impressions of this machine.

On the menu were main roads, country lanes and forest/fire tracks and towpath, and such variety of conditions underline the rationale behind the Dew… a do-anything-pretty-well machine, while not necessarily excelling at anything.

So, what’s it like…

The ride

Some reviewers (notably Cycling plus) have complained that the ride of the Dew Drop is harsh. Having ridden the bike on a number of surfaces, I can’t agree with this conclusion.On the road, the bike is fantastically sure-footed and ‘straight’. Although not recommended, you could ride for hours no-handed if roads allowed.

Over potholes and cruddy road surfaces, the bike is comparable with my Thorn Audax (a supposedly silky smooth steel frame) although not as plush as my tourer. I have ridden without padded mitts for two hours with no signs of numbness, suggesting a lack of frame ‘buzz’. Despite the gas pipe front fork, this hefty steel unit does help iron out the bumps along with the long seat post.

The riding position is excellent for me at 6ft 6 ins

. It’s upright, useful for edging between cars in the city or negotiating a rutted track, while the excellent Kona swept back, shallow drop bars allow you to hunker down out of a head wind without troubling the chiropractor. Indeed, these 46cm bars are so good I would like to fit a set on my tourer. The swept back tops offer a wrist-friendly position for taking in the view.Another important contact point, the saddle, is also good. It’s no Brooks, but a couple of hours on this perch posed no problems. Others may find it too soft, though.

Overall, the set up is distinctly mountain bike, with a higher bottom bracket, but the Dew doesn’t share the energy sapping characteristics of its knobbly-tired brethren.

Gears

As for the drive train, well it’s pretty rudimentary given the bike’s price point. The FSA chainset it ‘bling’ and I’m rather enjoying Shimano’s entry-level shifter with the separate thumbshifter. The Deore rear mech is a trusted personal favourite.

The front mech is not so good, though, and I’m really missing the option of trimming provided by my other mounts. It will do for now, but the more I ride it, the more I miss this feature.The cassette is straight from Shimano’s trekking stable with a ‘Mega Range’ large cog, but I can’t help feeling the bike is over-geared. Given its heft and off-road ambitions, a mountain bike groupset with smaller front triple would be a better choice overall.

Brakes

The Avid BB7 road drops are excellent. Still bedding in (I am getting some moan from the front)they’re easy to set up and adjust, and provide good modulation. Mountain bikers used to hydraulics will be unimpressed, but those used to V or traditional cantilever brakes will enjoy the reassurance provided by these excellent units.

Wheels

These are a disappointment on the Dew Drop. The 32-spoke Alex rims are substantial enough for most riders, perhaps, but I really need something with more lateral stiffness. Stand up in the pedals and the wheels are immediately squashy. They were also hopelessly out of true when the bike was supplied (they’d obviously not been checked properly) but my LBS soon got them straight and they’ve remained so.

The Continental tyres are a good compromise for mixed surfaces.

Ideally, I would change the wheelset to Rigida Sputniks on 36 spokes with Deore hubs all round rather than the Formula front. I would also spec a slightly more road-friendly tyre such as a Pasela Tourguard and the ride would be even better.

Apart from the wheels, the bike was supplied well finished and set up. The frame welds are neat but not filed which adds to its ugly-ducking attributes, and the frame features chain stay protection. It could do with more patches to counter cable rub and I will fit more to protect the paint in these all-too-vulnerable zones. That said, paint appears to be good.

I’ve also installed a supplied barrel adjuster for the front brake to help to counter cable stretch and ease adjustment.

Summary

The Dew is the tough commuting bike as the manufacturer intended. However, it’s also a light tourer, a National Cycle Network muncher and a trip-to-the-pub cruiser.

With a decent set of wheels and some meaty tyres, it could be a day-long ‘29-er’ (almost)  machine for forest tracks while carrying a fair bit of luggage. Conversley, with a more road-friendly set up, you could use it for Audax.

A ‘jack of all but a master of none’, then? Yes, but it does have a bit more appeal than this badging might suggest. As I ground around a local reservoir this morning before pushing along some rough forest tracks, I had smile on my face as the Dew took it all in its stride. Whatever you use it for, it’s great fun.

New hack…

I sold my car a few months ago as it was sitting on the drive doing nothing… yet costing me. Once I found a rusty hole under the driver door sill it was time to give it the old heave ho.

That left me needing a commuter bike which I wouldn’t worry about if left locked in the middle of Manchester or outside the pub. I also needed a knockabout to ride with the other half along the bumpy trails of the Peak District.

I toyed with the idea of a tough single speed for a while, maybe a Genesis Day One, but the sizing didn’t look too great and those Tektro Mini Vs seems to be more trouble than they were worth. I also thought about a self- build On One Il Pompino, but then started thinking about how fashionable and nick-able single speeds have become so opted for something more agricultural… a Kona Dew Drop.

I’ve broken my cardinal rule and bought a bike with and aluminium frame. A 62 cm version arrived today and it fits really well, though. Indeed, I don’t t think I am going to have to change anything which is a bit of a result for an off-the-pegger.

It’s a bit of an ugly brute, though, with its chunky Conti Tyres, bizarre sloping top tube and disc brakes. It’s so weird and ungainly that I hope it will not be too tempting to bike thieves, not that I will leave it unattended for long.

I’ve fitted a disc specific Top Peak rack and am about to take it for a spin. Pics and further opinions to come…