November: Working like a dawg, Rohloff miles, shipping bikes overseas and cake

Seems I blinked and missed November.

Given the lack of activity on these pages, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’d gone into hibernation. Not true, although the hours I’ve spent nose pressed to computer screen for the day job have monopolised my thoughts (and senses) somewhat. There’s been little room for much else – a hibernation of sorts, then.

I’m not complaining as it’s been rewarding work, but time for activity worthy of addition to the Northern Walker back catalogue has been limited. There are a few things of note, however.

Early thoughts on a Rohloff hub

rohloff-speedhub-surly-trollEvery conceivable characteristic of the Rohloff Speedhub has been covered elsewhere in magazines, blogs and forums. I’m not going to add too much to this exhaustive reading list although I’m pleased to report that after about 300 miles on my Surly Troll, the hub is starting to settle down.

As others have reported, there is noise in gears 1-7 and seven is a pepper grinder. Gears 8-14 are silent on the flat, with a little noise under load.

There is a minor sensation of vibration through the cranks under load too, but this getting less pronounced with use it seems.

The hub will not freewheel like a derailleur and probably never will – aggressive seals and internal gubbins are to blame here. I have followed Rohloff’s advice and dropped a little oil behind the rear sprocket has this has helped free things up a little. More miles will help too.

I also concur with other users who have complained about the shift in weight distribution due to the hub and how this can deaden the rear end of the bike. When I first built my Troll I found it surprisingly sprightly despite its heft and much of that character has now gone. This is not a problem, as the bike feels far more stable and more suited to touring, but it’s something to bear in mind of you’re thinking of fitting the hub to a mountain bike or monster crosser.

While the potential negatives are readily apparent from these early rides, so are the positives. I really appreciate the clean drivetrain, the ability to change gear while stationary, the evenly spaced ratios, the overall positive feel of the hub and the lack of fettling.

I also have the confidence that minor niggles with the hub are likely to get better with age.

Saying farewell to the Green Goddess

Thorn Club Tour boxed and ready for shipping
Thorn Club Tour boxed and ready for shipping

I put my Thorn Club Tour up for sale a few weeks ago. I had a few enquiries from prospective buyers in the States and Australia would you believe, while others wanted my to break the bike down and sell off the components separately. Another thought it a bit too old school (!)

Eventually I had an email from a rider in the Netherlands who was in the market for a lighter touring rig. We agreed a price and I got to work trying to find a suitable shipping carrier.

This proved to be difficult. I didn’t want to break the bike down too much to prevent squashed dropouts but most couriers’ package restrictions would not accommodate a large bicycle in a box. I asked the ever helpful folk at my LBS Keep Pedalling and they suggested some good courier options, only the price wasn’t right.

Then I came cross Direct Courier Solutions, a broker that has secured favourable rates from mainstream couriers for larger items. A bike to Netherlands would cost £70 (plus £7.50 for optional insurance cover of up to £1000). This was half the price of other quotes I’d received.

Save for a missed collection on my initial booked day, the bike shipped by Fedex in five days. Online tracking was excellent.

I’m pleased to say that the Club reached its new owner in fine condition (although I did spend an age packing it) and he seems very happy with his new ride. The whole process has given me a great deal of satisfaction, topped by the fact that this bike and its new owner will be going on plenty of adventures in the New Year…

Cycle touring the Ardnamurchan

Let me eat cake

I’ve had a few chats over the Interweb with the author of the blog Life in the Cycle Lane. We share a similar taste in bikes (not Bromptons!) and bike shops, and had the opportunity to meet a couple of times over the last few weeks.

Tim, the gent in question, is a fine fellow with a far finer beard than mine and, when not in the cycle lane, spends many a weekend selling cake with his other half Karen.

Not only would I commend his blog to those of a pedalling disposition, I’d also recommend The Baking Room, the source of said cake.

I am a fan of the Parkin and the delicious gluten-free marmalade cake, but I really must fess up my addiction to their excellent Guinness-ginger-dark chocolate bites. These flavoursome nuggets are a marriage made in heaven and highly recommended.

Check out The Baking Room here.

Thoughts on a Surly Troll MkII

above Pingvallavatn Pingvellir IcelandI’ve had my Surly Troll – ‘Tango’ – for over a year now. It’s carried me across Iceland, on some daft bike packing trips and other short tours, to the pub, to work, to the shops… lots of times to the shops in fact, including grocery runs with four panniers full to bursting.

I like it… I like it a lot. In fact, I like so much that my traditional workhorse-touring bike – a rather classy Thorn Club Tour – hasn’t had a look-in. It sits in the garage, ready for action, yet I keep on reaching for the Troll.

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Fully loaded

Thorn Club Tour loaded with Caradice panniersKit list… check; pre-trip pang of excitement… check; pre-trip doubts over a slightly sore knee… check; bike service… check; ferry timetables printed… check; Skin So Soft (for the wee beasties)… check; Long Wave radio for Test Match Special… check; carrying too much stuff… check; fears that bike is too heavy… check; leave some stuff at home… check; …and go.

Back in a week or so.

Thorn Club Tour ‘upgrades’

Update October 2013: This bicycle has now been sold.

Over the last couple of weeks, my Thorn Club Tour has been going through its annual service. This involves cable checks, hub servicing and the like… and I’ve taken the opportunity to make one or two upgrades.

Chief among these have been the brakes. I had been running some pretty basic Shimano cantilevers that were salvaged from my old Dawes Galaxy. These had been OK, but the bike merited better.

I have now fitted Shimano R550 cantilevers, which are a marked improvement. These were very easy to install and configure, although I did find the springs a little slack on the rear set, yet too tight to mount on the third hole of the cantilever bosses. A little bit of gentle ‘realignment’ with some pliers soon remedied the issue, though.

Other changes include a new Deore chainset. I have no reason to ‘upgrade’ to XT or other variations here. Deore has been solid and reliable in the past and I see no reason why this won’t be the case in future. The new ‘set is supplied with an external bearing bottom bracket. Although I was initially sceptical of this technology on my Audax, it has proved to be very reliable.

Finally, I have added a layback seatpost to provide a bit more cockpit flexibility. This is a ‘Zoom’ post supplied by SJS Cycles. It offers a slightly more stretched out position, which I now prefer after making one or two tweaks to the Audax.

Anyway, here are some pics and the spec:

Frame: Thorn Club Tour 620S, Reynolds 725 tubing
Forks: Reynold 531st
Bars: ProLT 44cm (c to c)
Brake levers:  Tektro RL340 black
Shifters: Shimano Dura Ace 9 spd bar end
Stem: Ritchey adjustable
Headset: FSA Orbit XLII
Brakes: Shimano RL550 cantilevers
Rims: Rigida Sputnik
Hubs: Deore LX 36 hole
Spokes: Double butted Sapim, plain gauge ‘strongs’ on drive side
Tyres: Panaracer Pasela Tourgruard 35mm
Crankset: Shimano Deore M590 22 32 44
Front mech: Deore
Rear mech: Deore
Chain: Sram PC971
Saddle: Brooks Champion Flyer B17
Seatpost: Thorn Zoom layback, 400mm, 27.2mm
Racks: Tubus Ergo front, Tubus Cargo rear.

A kit list for cycle touring

A person on a bicycle can carry more in comfort than a person with a backpack and inherent in that statement is the temptation to carry too much on your bike when on the road.

As with lightweight backpacking, though, your legs and back will thank you for shedding the pounds. A balance needs to be struck by the individual, although the basic mantra of laying out all your kit and leaving half behind generally applies.

The following list is by no means a definitive view of what kit to carry on the road. It has been refined with the benefit of experience, but I do acknowledge that more weight could be shed. Still, I would happily tour for a month or so with the kit listed here in a wide variety of conditions. Continue reading

Thorn Club Tour: Cutting a fork steerer tube

Thorn Club Tour

With rain and wind lashing the window when I awoke this morning, it seemed a good day to spend in the garage and cut the steerer tube on my Thorn Club Tour forks.

I’d purchased a dedicated tool for this job, the SJS steerer cutter clamp, and all I needed was a decent hacksaw.

Reading the cycling forums, cutting a steerer tube is one of those jobs that requires a deep breath before you start. It’s pretty final: get your measurements wrong and you’ll need a new set of forks.

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Time to hit the workshop – SJS Cycles steerer cutter

SJS Cycles Steerer Cutter Clamp

Christmas is only two weeks away and that usually means a little ‘project’ over the festive break. With (most of) the DIY done for the year,  I’ll get the opportunity to cut the steerer tube on my Thorn Club Tour forks.

As is the norm when it comes to buying tools, I check to see if something is available on the Park Tools website, and then see if I can find a cheaper alternative. I’d like to be in the position to fill the tool box with Park’s finest, but my pockets aren’t deep enough.

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Coasting… my C2C

Last week’s C2C was a huge success. I’m still basking in a warm glow (and a slightly dodgy knee) after traveling more than 250 miles over five days.

The pace was leisurely, well this was a holiday after all, but the itinerary did provide a couple of more demanding days in the saddle, not least the trip to Windermere from Whitehaven, which took in 70 miles of rolling roads and some testing headwinds.

Similarly, the stretch from Wooler to Bellingham through the Cheviots proved a test for the legs following very easy first section from Berwick, when I was buoyed by flat roads and a favourable north-easterly.

I enjoyed this uncharacteristic blow for the first two days, but more familiar south westerlies blew in once I reached the summit of the moors along Hadrains’ Wall and crossed the backbone of England.

A stiff and cold ‘facer’ then became my companion, and I didn’t shake it off until boarding the train at Windermere. This wind played havoc with my face, causing the skin to tighten and my eyes to water and swell.

An overriding memory of the trip must be the first phase, though, as my route wended its way through quite Northumberland back roads. This really is heavenly cycling country, with fabulous scenery and a sense of deep, permeating tranquility.

Dotted with castles and other historic distractions, this turbulent border country is to be savoured for fans of the velo.

Anyway, here’s the itinerary and some thoughts…

Day One: Berwick to Wooler. 30 miles

An easy day to start following a lengthy journey to Berwick. I’m always a little apprehensive taking the bike on the train but credit must go to the fine folk at East Coast rail. An Antipodean dispatcher gave me plenty of assistance at York and I was likewise well served when I arrived at my destination. I was told the fine is £1000 every minute they are late so it’s in their interests to help cyclists as much as possible.

Not only was the bike support first class, so was the train. I used to think Branson’s West Coast service was one of the finer ways to travel on the UK rail network, but the Pendolinos pale in comparison with this intercity service.

Alighting, I pushed the bike down to the harbour to get the traditional coastal departure photo. The sun was warm and soon there was nothing else holding me back… time to go.

Finding the route our of Berwick was a little tricky at first, but I was soon reveling in the network of quiet lanes, occasionally crossing the border to Scotland. I made the most of the tailwind and was soon in Wooler.

I camped at Highburn House, which reads better on the web than it actually is. I tried to find a pub showing the cricket (in vain).

Day 2: Wooler to Bellingham. 53 miles

Overnight rain fizzled out by morning and I was soon on the road… which climbed steeply out of Wooler. The guidebook said to prepare for a challenging day tackling the Cheviots and so it proved. At first, the landscape was all fields and sheep, and a slender, brown, rolling ribbon of tarmac. Later hills presented leg and lung-busting climbs.
The route did become perilous at one point, as the road degenerated into a grassy (read muddy) farm track and then a very steep path which was a challenge pushing a heavily laden touring bike. This wasn’t meant to be a mud-plugging tour and I cursed the diversion.

Once back on the road, more fields and lonely farms accompanied me. It was sublime save for one frisson of excitement when a Jack Russell spotted me some 200 yards away from his farmyard perch and decided to make chase, hoping he’d head me off at the end of his owner’s drive.

Yapping as he sped along the track, I too increased my cadence and reached the mouth of the drive first… but only just. I sped by offering him the ‘cyclists’ salute’ and he continued to chase for another 100 yards along the road before boredom won out.

A superb, gated stretch of road, the B6320 if memory serves, led to Bellingham.

I camped at the Bellingham CCC site. Spotless, if a bit pricey. I did find a nice pitch in the woods next to a Dutch family riding rather impressive Rohloff touring bikes. More impressive, perhaps, was the parents’ preparedness to tour with teenage children.

Day 3: Bellingham to Carlisle (and beyond) 77 miles.

Day three was bright but cold. There had been talk of wintry showers and snow in the north. This bleak forecast was far removed from my breakfast in the sunshine.

This long day started again on quiet country lanes but soon found the tourist traffic alongside Hadrian’s Wall. The B6318 follows the Wall a good stretch and here the tail wind was replaced with a stiff, and cold, facer. I stopped at Housesteads for a coffee and threw on my down vest, leaving it underneath my cycling jacket. I regretted not packing full gloves alongside my track mits.

The route eventually left the Wall and things warmed up a little. Heading towards the mayhem of Carlisle, the Cumbrian fells came into view, giving a flavour of what was to come.

The city was an unwelcome obstacle but I soon pedaled through it, finding a scenic but not direct route to Dalston, and Dalston Hall campsite.

A grand hotel concealed a rather splendid little site and an adjoining golf course. I re-supplied at Dalston village store and spent a great evening listening to the England New Zealand game from a neighbouring tent. It transpired that this camper was a little deaf hence the high volume of his digital radio. With the Co-op’s finest organic ale in hand, Test Match Special had never sounded so good.

Day Four: Dalston to Whitehaven. 45 miles (…ish, I inadvertently switched off my odometer).

The final push took on some pretty steep roads ‘back of Skidda’. I haven’t ventured to this remote part of the Lakes before and it had immediate appeal for future journeys by foot. Although there were no steep climbs, a couple of short sharp pulls necessitated the ‘granny gear’.

I dropped into the village store at Hesket Newmarket before venturing to the wilder areas of Cumbria. I picked up four excellent home-baked cheese scones, shortbread and a range of other goodies to fuel the engine.

Yet more sunshine and I was soon enjoying the view of Bassenthwaite Lake and the sea.

Dropping down into Cockermouth, I was alarmed by the trail of destruction last year’s floods have left. Business premises are being refurbished and the town is very much open to tourists, but the scars of that unseemly incident will be felt for years to come.

I followed quiet lanes out of the town west and eventually found the cycleway which forms part of NCN route 10 heading to the coast. I got lost spectacularly in Workington due to a bridge closure (another victim of the floods) but eventually found the track along the coast to my final destination.

Whitehaven came far too quickly and pedaled over a headland to St Bees and the Seacote Holiday Park, an unsightly collection of ugly corrugated holiday statics ruining a perfectly decent piece of coastline.

Travellers with tents are an afterthought here, but you will be charged heavily for your slightly unsatisfactory stay (a tenner, in fact).

I quickly headed into St Bees to find a better pub rather than the dispiriting bar of the Seacote Hotel. Stake and ale pie, a few pints of Cumberland and a conversation with an American group on the finer points of English ale and giant sausage-filled Yorkie puddings ensued. Happy days.

Day 5 Whitehaven to Windermere 69 miles.

I was undecided what to do on Day 5 right until departure. My first plan was to tough it out on the main road, try and get to Kendal and then assess my options for cycling all the way home.

My inadequate mapping had not highlighted the fact that the NCN route 72 threads its way along the coast until Ravenglass. It was only when I saw the sign and ventured along the route that I finalised my plans.

On arriving at Ravenglass, I’d join the A590 but only for a short time before cutting into Lakeland proper and ultimately getting to Windermere. I could get a train, and a direct one at that, and get in my other half’s good books as she was on leave the following day. I guessed it would be in the region of 70 miles, and I wasn’t far off the mark.

The start or end of Route 72 dances with the coastline for over 20 miles south of St Bees. There are some rough sections along the way, but following the coast so closely had tremendous appeal, as did the views of the Western Fells, including Great Gable standing proud at the head of Wasdale.

A blot on the landscape was Sellafield, an ever-present industrial mass the scale of which skewed my perception of distance. Thinking I was on the power station’s doorstep, I would then have to navigate more lanes until finally I reached the barbed perimeter fence.

I crossed the plant’s railway lines and cycled alongside a train of those ominous looking concrete nuclear transport vessels. A blot it may be, but it was inexplicably exhilarating to ride alongside such as huge complex… I was dwarfed by it.

At Ravenglass, I got a bit lost on the cycle lanes and forest tracks around Muntcaster Castle but I soon joined the main road though and the traffic. Motorists were considerate and I made speedy progress on good tarmac.

Turning off on to the A5902, the headwind returned as did the climbs, all short, but some had a real sting. The ascent to Gawthwaite and beyond was more demanding but I found the ‘zone’ on this climb and started to really enjoy the effort.

Eyes down and teeth gritted, I was suddenly aware of a field of extremely excitable and noisy sheep watching me as I trundled up the incline. It felt as though they were cheering me on… once I’d passed, the field was quiet again.

A welcome descent followed before joining the A590 again for miserable miles this time, due to the traffic, and then on the A592… a road that has not survived the winter unscathed and a real test for tired legs.

This long day had been draining with the ever-present pressure to meet train timetables and get that direct train.

A cyclist I met along the way summed it up perfectly… I came across him at a quiet junction on the A5902, red faced, astride a rather nice road bike.

(Apologies as I try to recreate the accent)

Him: ‘I dern know which I’m gannin…’

Me: ‘Where you heading?’

Him: ‘Ahh, back to ‘Barra.

’It dern matta which way I’m ganin, theuw, there’ll be a big fookn’ hill!’


Back at the desk…

I’ve just had the most enjoyable week cycle touring. The weather was reasonably kind, if a little cold, and miles in the saddle allowed me to detach from the grind and get a bit of much-needed perspective on things.

I rode from Berwick to Whitehaven and then back to Windermere following the Hadrian’s Wall cycle route for much of the way.

The itinerary was relatively gentle, although there were a couple of 70-mile days thrown in for good measure, some reasonable climbs and an ever-present headwind which robbed my face of moisture and each night gave me the bug-eyed look of a high -altitude mountaineer of polar explorer. I have never got through so much E45!

As soon as it was over, I started to miss the bike. I could happily carried on to Ireland or about turned and headed to Europe for a few months. Maybe one day…