28 Mar 2016

No surprises

I went for a mountain bike ride on the weekend. I love my mountain bike. It's a Giant XTC, a bit more cross-country than the full-suspension bikes that my riding buddies are all throwing around, but from my experience it's about the closest thing that you can get to a BMX and still be riding a mountain bike. A sweet, sweet ride.

Even though it was technically a training ride I didn't see the problem with inviting a few extra people along, so The Lawyer and I started off with a nice ride down the Hutt River Trail to get warmed up, before heading up Wainuiomata Hill and smashing out some trails in the Wainui Mountain Bike Park. We met up with a couple of other riders who knew the trails really well, so we were able to follow some sweet lines and had an absolute blast. It was absolutely awesome. After a couple of hours everyone had pretty much had their fill and were ready for the rest of their weekend, but I had a small problem - my training wasn't completely over, and I still had to get home.

The plan was to ride along the fire break/4WD track that runs along the top of the hill and provides access to the ECNZ Power Pylons. This track, on paper, connects the top of the Wainuiomata Hill with the top of the Pinehaven valley, where I live. The track goes through private land at two points, both of which appear to have public access but the common restrictions on motor vehicles and dirt bikes. When I say 'on paper', that's basically because there isn't an official track, so there are no directions or signs, and at some points there isn't even really anything that passes as a track. I love this type of riding.

I got lost. I hadn't actually deviated from the path I was supposed to be on... much... but the whole time I had one growing problem.


The ride was planned to start at 8:30am and finish around midday, based on the numbers that were in my personal training sheet. At one point, about an hour after I was supposed to be home, I texted B to let her know I was at the top of the ridge and about to descend into the valley. In reality I was actually still miles away from home, with no proper idea where I was going. Turns out it was pretty straight-forward to get out, but with an additional 15 minute deviation down, and up, someones 13% grade driveway doesn't count. It totally looked like the way I was supposed to go! Who the heck has a driveway like that anyway?

I got home at 2pm.

When I got home I wasn't in trouble. In fact B cooked me tuna wraps and bacon wraps (tuna and bacon wraps?), plied me with hot cross buns and a beer, and listened attentively as I told her about the amazing ride I just went on. She also shepherded kids for the afternoon while I recovered.

And she did this instead of doing work on her PhD.

All my cycling has an impact on the family that comes along in a number of ways. There's the constant tiredness, the obvious time that it takes to actually do the riding, and the expense of pursuing such a ridiculous endeavour, but some of the impacts are more subtle than being 3 hours late for lunch. One day last week my legs were so sore I couldn't walk properly - they felt like someone had been punching them. Hard. It was a really slow walk around the supermarket that day.

I am scared by stories that I've read - Josh Kench mentioned a relationship breakup which seemed to be due to his excessive training. Tyler Hamilton, who rode for the US Postal Team with Lance Armstrong, mentioned a break-up with his partner due to the incessant nature of his training and, little things, specifically, not being able to walk around markets because his legs were basically only able to cycle. It's a bloody good read, I recommend.
I'm not in the same league as either of these guys, I can assure you of that, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a similar impact on those around me.

Right around the time that the Taupo events are on it is my daughters' birthday. It would be complete madness to drag her away on her birthday weekend, or even for just me to go away for that time, so I asked her what she thought. To my surprise we agreed that she would have her birthday and some awesome experiences in Taupo, and I am allowed to do the race as well - on the proviso that I have enough energy left over afterwards to sing Happy Birthday. Pretty awesome for a 10 year old. She's even taken to the idea of doing the kids race, where they get to ride the last 5km with a parent who is taking part in the even. It would be the last year she could do it as she is turning 11 on the day, but I just got told "there's nothing you can do to stop me!". You couldn't expect a better answer than that.

The trick has really been in talking about it, which is made slightly easier because talking about it is something I do all the time.

When I decided I wanted to do this it was in my typical manner; I got an idea stuck in my head and then carried on about how this was just the most awesome thing ever and that I really really wanted to do it. I obcessed. I researched, I planned, I gathered information; I talked about it non-stop. I think at some point it simply became tangible for us both - the realisation kicked in that this was going to happen, it wasn't just passing fad, I wasn't letting go; I was actually going to ride around Lake Taupo twice.

I still talk about it all the time, perhaps in a little more moderation, but all that talking helps; assuming they are not secretly tuning me out. Regardless, I natter on about how long my training rides are going to be in a few months time - My Top Secret Trainer has indicated that I'll be doing 200km+ rides on the weekends. That's a pretty long ride when you think about it, and it might take me hours to complete. This pretty much wipes me out for the whole day, and that has to be managed by us all; but everyone already knows about it and we are already starting to have conversations about how we'll handle it when it happens.

Last night we were working on the budget for my cycling for the year, scheduling in the regular maintenance that my bike will need and the parts that I'll be wearing out - if my chain needs replacing approx every 2000kms I'll theoretically have to fork out for a new one every 8 weeks. We worked through the numbers for all the parts and supplies that I'll be needing and came up with a timeline, a budget, and a plan. We talked about when things need to be booked in. B doesn't ride a bike, but she can organise a bike maintenance plan with the best of them. While I'm constantly amazed at how much money you can actually throw at a bike, we both know it and can plan for it.

It's about making sure everyone knows what is going on. Being open, honest. Planning ahead.

No surprises.

And so we move things around, we negotiate - I spend as much time as I can with the kids to allow B to get to her PhD. She lets me ride, encourages me to stick to my training. I make every effort I can to arrange my cycling around the family, and we schedule it in. I actively work at not being selfish about it, and when it comes to the crunch, if something has to give, I don't go for the ride - I figure out how to make up the time later, or I just write it off. We are going away to a conference for B's PhD at a point in the future, and for that whole week I can't ride. There isn't the time or space, so I've simply chosen to take that week off.

At the end of the day we all know what I've signed up for. We didn't realise it at the time, perhaps, and I know we'll find new and interesting ways that it will test us, but we are all on board with it, and that is the biggest reason I'll complete this event. Not because of all the training, but because they are all behind me every step of the way; because I know that I'll still have a family to come back to when it is all over.
~~ ~~

21 Mar 2016

Keeping it ticking over

It seems to be the month for it! 3000km have come and gone since I purchased my bike and it's time for some scheduled maintenance.

I'm relatively happy about this. It's not going to be overly cheap, but apparently this isn't a cheap hobby (although a quick Google for 'expensive hobbies' returns plenty of lists which 'cycling' is not mentioned in. Perhaps I should take up Aviation?)

Throughout the rigmarole with the strange noises coming from my bike I've become more conscious about the wear and tear on the bike. The idea of losing brakes, traction, gears... any number of things could be devastating at any given moment, and even the best-case scenario means time off the bike or training rides cut short.

With this in mind I've been keeping an eye on my chain wear using the old 'measure it with a set of callipers' method, and at the time that the chain showed noticeable amount of stretch. I also noticed that the chain started to get louder, and the shifting started to get a little rougher - kind of louder and less crisp feeling.

So off to my Favourite Mechanic I went, bike in hand, and today the bike is in for a few little tweaks and upgrades:
  • new shifter and brake cables
  • new chain
  • new bar tape
  • headset tighten and check

I'm led to believe the shifter cables that came on the bike were pretty inexpensive. They were coated with some form of plastic that has worn off and gotten everywhere and all jammed up in the cable housings. The brake cables didn't seem to be that fancy either and have effectively corroded, and the rear brake is feeling sticky. It's not terrible, but there is a definite lack of modulation. Actually it's pretty terrible. The plan is to replace the cables with either Jagwire, or stock Shimano cables. It's going to be a bit of a surprise to see which one the mechanic goes for - either way it will be better than what I've got now.

I'm a bit sad about the bar tape. I was running bright orange Lizard Skins, which were tacky (as in 'sticky', thanks!) as heck and BRIGHT ORANGE! Unfortunately they have worn through and are rather dirty from all the use. The plan is to stick some orange fi'zi:k tape on there. It's more 'Orange' than 'ORANGE', but slightly more padded, and hopefully should stay a bit cleaner for longer. I've used the black version before and been pretty happy with it. The extra padding will be nice too; I broke my thumb a few years ago and it gets a little annoyed over longer rides. Of all the things, the bar tape is the one that I'm most attached to.

The headset is an interesting one that I've learnt an interesting lesson from, I think. A few months back as I was breaking in the bike the forks got a little play in them. I didn't think anything of it and got some tools out to tighten it all up - and accidentally pulled apart the compression plug that holds the top tube cap on. I managed to get it all back together, but in the process noticed that the top headset bearing had no grease around it. I had a look at the bottom bearing and it was all greased up, and after talking to a mechanic confirmed that I did make the correct decision by greasing it before putting everything back together.

The thing that I learnt from this, along with the bottom bracket going, was that it isn't to be assumed that a bike is put together correctly to begin with. The mechanics who were looking into the BB mentioned that they don't always get put together properly in the factory and it does happen that they miss things. If (or more likely when) I purchase another bike I'll be ordering a complete strip-down and re-build of the bike before I take it out of the shop. I might even have some idea of parts I want to replace before I ride it, like the cables, brake pads, and a stronger BB for example. I can't imagine this will be free, or even cheap, but knowing that these things happen out of the box I can see the advantage of fixing these problems before they even happen. Something about prevention and cure?

But for now, it's time to part with my money. I could do this myself. I know I could do it myself, but the idea of dropping the bike off in the morning and getting an overhauled machine back at the end of the day tickles my fancy.

Plus, I'm shit at wrapping bar tape.


The results are in and they are pretty awesome - the new tape looks mint and matches the colour that I have in my head when I think about the colour of my bike.
The brakes are smooth and responsive - just how I remember them from the first time we rode (awww...)
When I first picked up the bike I noticed that the chain didn't mesh quite right with the rear cassette - the occasional 'click'. Apparently this is because the chain needs time to wear in to the cassette (unless I want to replace the cassette as well) and it should wear in within a few hundred kms - so by mid-next week basically!

Shifting on the way home, however, was another thing altogether. Silky smooth, highly responsive - she shifts so quickly, and next-to-no chain noise whatsoever.

I could get used to this. What a way to start the weekend!

~~ ~~

14 Mar 2016

Squeaky Noises

In the middle of the country there is very little noise. The wind in the trees, a babbling brook, the occasional farm-related animal sound far in the distance, and the peace only being broken by farming equipment trundling along. Cars occasionally whoosh by, but for the most part it's just the sound of heavy breathing, and rubber on tarmac.

I love this landscape of sounds. It's peaceful. It's one of the reasons I am here.

The sounds I am not expecting are from something on the bike going 'plink', 'plink'. Creaking noises. rattles. The resulting thoughts start to flow... What is it? Where is it? Then it goes away - whew. Possibly a stone?  5 minutes later; 'plink plink, tinkle'.

It could be a creaking stem that you only find out about on that hard climb, or it could be a slightly under-oiled chain. A misaligned dérailleur in the wrong gear perhaps, or a cable rattling against the frame.

Some noises are to be expected, the general sounds of a bike working aren't exactly silent - there are a lot of moving parts and other parts bolted to those parts.
But there are some noises that scream 'broken', and to an inexperienced and slightly paranoid bike mechanic such as myself these noises can bring all sorts of concerns to mind.
Is a spoke about to break? Is the frame cracked? Is this something normal and to be expected, or is something about to go hideously wrong?

Over the past couple of months I've had a few noises on the bike that have turned out to be pretty simple things - the cable for my front light banging against the stem and a slightly misaligned dérailleur were two that were simple to fix and made riding a pleasure again. But there were two things that went rather wrong and were pretty horrible to deal with.

First the bottom bracket decided to go. It started with a tinkling noise that pretty quickly evolved into a noise that sounded like a couple of metal walnuts being ground against each other in a bag of sand. Whenever I took to a hill or applied any pressure to the pedals I was met with this crunching noise. Turns out this type of thing is pretty simple to fix - you just replace the bottom bracket! I have a lot of respect for the mechanics at Capital Cycles who spent a good deal of time trying to figure out where the noise was actually coming from, then fitting my ride in to lovingly replace the BB before something terrible happened. The final theory is that it wasn't put in properly by the factory - slightly off-centre and eventually ground itself out.

I rode home from that really happy and took to a big hill to try it out, and it was silky and smooth, and best of all quiet... except for that bloody tinkling noise!

The rear wheel.

I'm led to believe that the wheel-sets that come on bikes are pretty low-end, but I've never really thought that hard about it until now. Perhaps it saves cost, perhaps they are simply provided as fillers as you are expected to bring your own... I'm not sure. This was a set of Shimano RS-11 wheels, which for all the reviews had as solid, heavy and 'bulletproof'; a common technical term for wheels it would seem, and the rear wheel was actually responsible for the tinkling noise. (This wheelset is so awesome , in fact, that I had to link to Wiggle; because Shimano don't actually list RS11s on their own website).

The problem was small. Annoying, just sitting on the edge of hearing. It was as if there was a small piece of swarf stuck in the rim that moved around occasionally, or a spoke moving around; a light tinkling sound similar to someone dropping wet grains of sand into a metal can in a quiet room, and totally unnoticeable until I was riding in a quiet place. The problems' sheer lack of volume made it all the more challenging to diagnose - bike shops tend to play music, have other general noises, and are often positioned near roads - all of which were loud enough to drown out the tiny little tinkle.

Not that I wasn't taken seriously, but without a firm diagnosis it isn't really possible to target a solution to a problem so we went through a few attempts at fixing it - a wheel service to straighten out a slight kink in the rim, a general tension check, and a disassemble of the hub and associated magic to check for problems; but no luck. I had a bright idea one evening and put some oil on the hub-ends of the straight-pull spokes and thought I had solved the problem. About a week later the noise starts again. To be honest the noise was so quiet it could have been there the whole time.

We have a rather skilled Velominatus at work who was happy to take a look at the problem and gave the wheel another truing and a good going over, which was magic in itself as the tension made the wheels feel a whole lot better, but again within a week... tinkle tinkle.

It was at this point that the noise became something else. It wasn't a tinkle, it was a threat. It was a warning of impending doom, a sign that something was wrong. It was chasing me down the road during the day and starting to haunt my dreams. I couldn't ride them any more. What if they collapse when I'm going down a hill? What if a spoke breaks? What if the weld in the rim is imperfect, snaps, and I get the sharp end through my chest right before my face hits the ground at 40km/h?

I started to fear my bike, and something had to be done.

It became academic. It was a simple problem with a simple solution. The old wheels were going in the bin, the only obstacles bring my insatiable need to ride, and my No-Budget. How much money do I have, and how much wheel can I get for that price?

What do wheels even cost?

Living in Wellington I have the luck of having Wheelworks right on my doorstep; so I had a talk to the wonderful Tristan Thomas and got a very reasonable quote for something that would be perfect. I've watched these guys build wheels before and I am very pleased that someone regularly takes the care and attention to building wheels that I would take should I attempt to build my own. They are simply amazing.

Unfortunately though, with my No-Budget the Wheelworks wheels will have to be saved up for, so an interim solution was required, and came quite by surprise at Kiwivelo.

My Favourite Mechanic works at Kiwivelo, and I was in there one lunchtime with mate looking at some options to fix up a his bike, and being in a bike shop is always an excuse to have a look at the things I don't have that I probably don't actually need.

I was having a lustful look at a set of rims on the shelf - mentally checking them out so I had something to compare details later. The wheels were a set of Fulcrum Quattros. I had the Fulcrum 5s, Quattros, and 3s on my list of sets that were kind of within my price range, and kind of not, depending on whether I would have to pay import duty on them - then there of course is the ultimate question of whether to buy local or online, especially for something that might need servicing.

I was half-way through all these thoughts when my Favourite Mechanic waltzed up to me with a price that I quite simply could not ignore. It was marginally higher than the online cost, but it came with the sublime knowledge that I'd be able to complain if they made noise, and that someone I actually trust with my kit was there to be hassled; knowledge which is well worth paying for. So I pulled the trigger on them.

Boom. New wheelset, 25c tyres, tubes, installed on the spot and I rode home that night.

First, and by far the most important: Silence! No noise. No weird tinkling noise (thankfully it wasn't something else!). The sweet sound of wheels doing exactly what you'd expect, and nothing more.

The wheels are also smoother, stronger feeling, seemed to put the power into the road more, probably due to less flex? The road noise is muted - most likely due to the 25c tyres and lower pressures I would assume. I'm sure all the other things that are said about new wheels, wider rims, and 25c tyres are all applicable, but that isn't the point.

The difference I feel it has made to my ride is similar to the difference I noted going from a 2007 alloy bike to a 2014 carbon bike, again.

Now the hill-climbs sound like rubber being slowly torn from its bed on the tyres, the strain of the chain on the cogs, and the whirring of bearings. One can even imagine the sounds of heavy breathing, and sweat dripping on the top-tube. The reassuring sounds that everything is functioning perfectly, and nothing is out of place.

Exactly the sounds you'd want to hear.

~~ ~~

7 Mar 2016

264 Days to Go

It's been a hard week. Not because I've actually done much, but what I have done has been hard. Heck, I was away for the weekend at the Otaki Kite Festival, didn't take my bike, and my legs were still hurting when I came back.

My Top Secret Personal Trainer has me climbing hills on the way to work most days, and I'm pegged to go out for 2-4 hour rides each day on the weekends. My week-day morning rides conveniently extend my commutes so I can spend time with the family in the evenings. These rides are all about detours; and all of those detours feature hills.

It used to be mentally challenging to cycle on an indirect route to work - my brain screaming that it wasn't the right direction and that I would be late, but with careful shuffling of my routine (i.e. getting up at stupid-o'clock) I can make my way to work via some of the awesome climbs that the Wellington hills have to offer.

I love it. I am shattered, and I'm doing it again tomorrow.

It brings me pleasure to take a detour away from work. To see the morning cyclists make their way along the flat, while I ease back on the throttle and prepare myself for 10 mins of climbing and a 15 km detour. It's nice not to be in so much of a rush. Riding up hills on the way to work is actually more relaxing than just riding along the flat to work. Who would have thought?

One of my workmates has mentioned, after seeing my training plan, that she'll be jealous of how fit I get. She has experience with this type of thing but I am yet to understand what this really means. General knowledge tells me that I'll get better at cycling, and I'm keen to find out what 'better' actually means. I don't know how my body will respond, will I get enormous thighs, or will I be more lean? What will I be like? It's exciting and slightly scary at the same time.

The rest of this month is pretty much the same routine - 4-5 commutes, 3 with climbs and weekend rides; then leaning up to Easter weekend where I'll be doing nearly 180km and 8 hours of road and trail riding. I wonder what my trainer will have me doing next month?

Whatever it is; it's going to be awesome, insane, and I'm going to love it.
~~ ~~

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