Winter is here

It’s been a few weeks since I rode my mountain bike – we’ve had a few very rainy weeks so I decided to give my road bike some fresh air until the weather calmed down a bit, and this week it has so this seemed like a good time to get back out on the mountain bike.  This has also had a problem with the brakes which I wanted to sort out but as it’s been so bitterly cold recently I didn’t feel like standing around outside (when it wasn’t raining, that is) fiddling with the brakes, but now some milder air has arrived I’ve managed to sort out the brakes and the ground is looking slightly less flooded, hurrah!

With winter comes added responsibility for my own safety while riding on the public roads, which I do in order to get to and from the local mountain bike trails.  Some may scoff, but being seen on the roads is very important – I’d rather suffer a few giggles from ignoramuses than be hit by a car because they simply didn’t see me, perhaps they were distracted by a windscreen full of dirty road spray, who knows?  But if I am lit up and very visible they might just see me in time to take avoiding action.

With that in mind, it’s lights on and reflectors at the ready – namely pedal reflectors.  These are official Shimano pedal reflectors for the Shimano Saint pedals, a very shrewd by for anyone who rides these pedals on the road in poor light or weather conditions, which one should anticipate during the winter months.

Shimano Saint pedals with Shimano orange pedal reflectors

Shimano Saint pedals with Shimano orange pedal reflectors

I had these reflectors on these pedals last winter, they survived the trails despite a few pedal strikes on trailside objects (the reflectors are away from the pedal corners which is where most of the danger is).

I will be attaching front and rear LED lights that have built-in reflectors, even if the LEDs don’t shine then the reflectors should in car headlights.

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Brake Bleeding

This has been another of those new experiences for me, I learned as I went along the right way and also the not so right (or not so easy / necessary) way to do things…

My mountain bike has Magura hydraulic brakes, nothing unusual for a mountain bike, but not something I had ever had the courage to do anything with myself when they weren’t working as well as they should.  I don’t think this has anything to do with the fact that they are Magura brakes, all hydraulic brakes need maintenance or occasionally have problems when frequently used in a harsh environment (such as muddy trails), these particular brakes have worked brilliantly for me most of the time, only recently the left hand trigger has been getting closer and closer to the handlebar which meant less room to pull on the brake hard, I knew I had to try to do something about it so off to YouTube I went for some bike maintenance advice.

The first video I watched advised having two plastic syringes, one to pump fluid into the system (via a bleed nipple which is to be attached at the brake calliper) and the other to catch the fluid coming out of the other end (at the handlebar lever), it all seemed relatively easy so even I could manage it.  What I managed to do was purchase the wrong kind of syringe (a local shop sold me a farming syringe with a metal tip, I later learned that a plastic tip is much better for this task), spilled what seemed like a lot of brake fluid – it’s just mineral oil but is quite toxic if swallowed so needed cleaning up sharpish from the kitchen floor – and probably spent money that I didn’t need to on a bleeding kit.

Cut to the chase – here’s what I actually did that sorted out my problem, which was probably just a bit of low pressure in the hydraulic system for that lever (the back brake), after watching another YouTube video (which was shown to me by a local bike shop as an alternative method for bleeding the brakes, wish I had seen it to start off with!):

  • I slackened off the bolts keeping the lever in position so that it could be swivelled up to an almost horizontal position,
  • tightened the lever adjustment screw so that the lever was closest to the handlebar,
  • removed the screw / cap (it is a special screw so be very careful not to lose or damage it),
  • push a syringe containing suitable mineral oil firmly into the hole,
  • then push and pull on the syringe to force the oil in and out of the system, while also pulling on the brake lever several times.

I repeated this push/pull technique for a few minutes, during which I saw air bubbles rising into the syringe, clearly they were in the system from my earlier botched attempt; once they were out and I was happy that the lever was giving good pressure (and the syringe is not under pressure itself, i.e. I had not pushed or pulled on it hard, but it was at a mid-point), I removed the syringe from the hole while doing my best to catch the oil that flowed out a bit using a piece of kitchen roll, then fitted the screw back into the hole with just enough firmness to tighten it without breaking anything (perhaps 3nm or less).

Plastic syringe firmly pushed into brake lever hole

Closeup of the syringe inserted into the hole

The brake lever should not touch the handlebar when pulling with normal pressure, it should stop about 10mm from it; I did wind out the levers about two turns of the screws in order to give more lee-way for a really firm pull on the lever before adjusting the levers back to their original angles.

Job done, and all I needed was some mineral oil and one large plastic syringe (I actually purchased mine very cheap from a local farm equipment shop, they are designed as use-once-throw-away items for use with farm animals most likely, but similar ones can be found on eBay for about the same price).  For mineral oil I splurged on Magura Royal Blood, which is just blue mineral oil from what I’ve been told; thought I might as well stick with what’s already in the system.

This method would probably work for most normal mountain bike hydraulic brake systems, it’s just fluid and air after all, although there are some makes/models that have special requirements so best to consult advice before making any purchases or attempting anything, and check more than one YouTube video on the subject for your exact system.

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Beware Cheap Goods – Tamiya Adaptor Wired Incorrectly

I’d previously purchased some Deans to Tamiya battery adaptor cables with the intention of using them with vehicles that still had Tamiya battery connectors if I bought batteries with Deans, or vice-versa, but didn’t find the need to use them until now.  I’d recently purchased a new battery that came with a different type of connector all together, but it came with an adaptor to Deans which was fine because I had wired up my new Trail Finder 2 for Deans, however I’d also changed the connector on my only other LiPo to Deans which meant that my Axial SCX10 would need to use one of the adaptors.  With me so far?

I plugged in the adaptor to the SCX10 but as soon as I tried to connect it to the Deans plug on the battery it sparked like crazy, like there was a short; I checked to make sure the battery was OK on the charger and also tested the connector on the SCX10, all looked to be fine – no shorts, charges and balances OK, so I tried it again this time with the Deans end already connected to the battery, the connector in the adaptor actually burned out from the brief moment it was touching!  Handy fuse-like protection, which made me think that perhaps an in-line fuse wouldn’t be such a bad idea, but it still didn’t make any sense.

A quick google for sparks when connecting Tamiya revealed others that had experienced the same thing – it transpired that, like a forum poster I found, the adaptor was wired incorrectly, rather scary that these items are sold for batteries that pack such high current.

Fortunately I was able to push out the connectors in the Tamiya plug on the adaptor and swap them over, it all worked fine after that (luckily no damage was done to battery or model).  The moral of the story is that Tamiya connectors have positive (red) to the square hole, negative (black) to the half-rounded hole.

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RAM Mounts are GO!

I’ve had my Garmin Dakota 20 and a RAM Mount for a few years now, I originally had it mounted on my Claud Butler hybrid bike which became my first ‘exploration’ bike for getting back into cycling almost ten years ago now, however I had definitely out-grown that bike so I let it go to a friend, and although I kept the RAM Mount it didn’t fit my new cyclocross bike so it sat unused in a drawer, I carried the Garmin in my jersey pocket mostly just for recording the GPS trace.

Recently I decided that I missed having the Garmin road route facility, and with a renewed desire to explore new roads I thought this would be the time to look again at the RAM Mount to see about fitting it to the cyclocross bike somehow.  The problem is that the bars are already jam-packed with bar tape, cables, a cycling computer, and a bell, leaving no room at all for the RAM Mount; the only place left was the stem and that was far too thick for the old mount diameter.  After a false start with a seller who repeatedly sent me the wrong thing, I eventually tried a different seller who sent me the correct thing and I was able to fit my old RAM Mount to the new stem, hurrah!

RAM Mount attached to handlebar stem

Dakota 20 in the RAM Mount

The photo above isn’t quite what I see when riding the bike, my body and head are further forward so the cycling computer is easily visible.

I have contemplated treating myself to a dedicated cycling GPS but while the Dakota 20 does such a good job and is also useful for just about any other outdoor activity (including car sat-nav duty) I could not justify the cost of something that would provide everything I already have, and I doubt I would really benefit from the extra cycling bits such a dedicated GPS could provide.  Maybe one day when I have money to burn.  Two things I am considering adding to this setup are a heart rate monitor and cadence sensor, the Dakota 20 can record this info, I already have the Tempe sensor for recording the temperature as I ride / hike; these would mainly be for my own amusement, I’m not thinking about entering any competitions or massive fitness push, it’s just interesting to see how I would compare to others and how these things change over time.

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New 11-32 Cassette, New Chain Rings

I like a challenge when it comes to cycling, especially where hills are concerned.  I’ve ridden up most of the hills that are in cycling distance from my house, some I can still only do (and can only ever imagine myself doing) on the mountain bike with its very low gearing, some I have battled up on the cyclocross bike with the mostly-road gearing, some I really wanted to and tried to get up on the cyclocross bike but was defeated, so I cheated – I bought lower gears!  The cyclocross bike came with an 11-28 cassette, all fine and well, but after having gone to an 11-32 cassette I may never look back, that extra few teeth in the lowest gear was enough to enable me to get up those climbs that had previously defeated me, what’s more I frequently don’t use that 32 tooth gear as I’ve become so used to 28, the 32 is there as a reserve in case things get really tough for me.  This has worked brilliantly for me and, coupled with removing the clipless pedals, given me the confidence to tackle longer and steeper hills that I might otherwise have bailed on, thus I get even stronger in the legs and lungs for even better hill climbing.  It’s all about what works for you, and this definitely works for me right now.

There are a few YouTube videos on the subject of fitting an 11-32 cassette to a Shimano 105 group set, the key factor seems to be the medium cage derailleur, which fortunately for me my bike already had; the short cage is easy to recognise because it looks really short, the jockey wheels are very close together.  With the medium cage 105 derailleur there is just enough gap between the top jockey wheel and the 32 tooth sprocket on the cassette to allow the gears to operate without interfering with one another.  I can testify that I haven’t had any trouble with gear shifting or pedalling, I just had to adjust the positioning screw fully in to move the derailleur downwards away from the cassette.  It even works fine on the 46T chain ring, though I try not to ride in that configuration, it is better to use the smaller chain ring (36T here) when in lower gears on the cassette.

Shimano 105 medium cage derailleur with 11-32 cassette

Gap between the top jockey wheel and the 32 tooth sprocket is minimal but just enough for free movement and perfect operation

A new chain is always recommended when fitting a new cassette, plus it was a different cassette so the chain length would be longer; I went for a good quality KMC chain.  I kept my old chain and cassette to one side in case I need them at a later date.

Unfortunately after fitting the new cassette and chain, and feeling rather pleased with myself that it was all working smoothly, I noticed a click-tok-tick on my next ride out, most annoying!  Having just fitted a new 11-32 cassette and chain, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t the chain rings that were causing the problem – perhaps they were worn and the new chain wasn’t sitting on it correctly?  Maybe there was a tooth snagging the chain as it went round?  Experience now tells me that there are other things to check before spending money on parts but I am still relatively new to home bike maintenance.

The new chain rings are the same ratio that I took off but look much more snazzy, they were purchased online from Spa Cycles.

New chain rings from Spa Cycles. 46T/36T BCD/110mm 7075/T6

The annoying click-tok-tick was still there, slightly different but definitely there.  I was hoping I wouldn’t have to remove the crank and bottom bracket, something that I have never done before, but this seemed like the only thing left to check.  I ordered a tool to remove the MegaEVO BB Cups (identifiable by their rounded front profile, the official FSA tool is a closed ring spanner and I would not want to use anything else for risk of slipping or otherwise damaging the slots and/or bike frame) to check the bearings and once that arrived set to removing the bottom bracket.  This turned out to be far easier than I had imagined, it just took a large Allen/hex key, a bit of leverage, and a big rubber mallet to tap the crank arm out.  Inside I found the orange shaft did indeed have some tiny pieces of grit on it, as did the cup bearing surfaces, so after plenty of careful cleaning with dry paper towels later I simply reversed the process to replace the crank shaft and tighten it all up, the torque amount isn’t that important so long as it’s good and tight, as this is an alloy frame not carbon – if I was tightening anything into carbon then I would definitely use the correct torque.

Test ride and the click-tok-tick is gone!

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New wheels, new fun

Having waited a while before placing the order then another few weeks until the order finally arrived, I now have new wheels for my mountain bike – new, lighter, slicker, and tubeless too.  This last point makes the biggest difference from anything I have previously owned, which all had inner tubes; I have had to learn how to handle the tubeless system almost from the start as one of the tyres wasn’t holding air very well, it was fine for the first ride but after that it lost all of its air over a period of a few days… when I went to get the bike out for my next ride I found it completely flat, I pumped it up and thought the sealant would fill any holes, which it seemed to at the time, but during the ride I started to lose pressure until it wasn’t possible to pump it up fast enough to just maintain pressure, something had gone very wrong.  I had to use the emergency inner tube and by this time it was late afternoon, time to head straight home and sort out the mess later.  In my haste I forgot to take the valve with me so dropped into the local bike shop to buy new valves and a roll of rim tape.

Later was today, almost a week later in fact.  I took the tyre off and gave it a good clean with hot soapy water (just normal liquid hand soap) to remove the sealant, I did the same with the wheel and inspected the rim tape – it had lifted where the join was and also the tape was not the correct width for this wheel, it was too narrow so not seated correctly, in places it was barely covering the spoke holes and was not trapped at the rim by the tyre as it should be, little wonder then that there were massive air leaks, I’m surprised it managed to seal at all.

Old rim tape

The old tape was too narrow for this rim and had lifted in several places, allowing air (and sealant) into the wheel void where the spoke holes are.

Old rim tape lifted.

Here it is obvious that the tape doesn’t go all the way to the edges so the tyre, when fitted, can’t hold the tape in position. Sealant was already working its way under the edges of the tape in several places around the wheel. The tape join was also at the valve.

Cleaning off old sealant

Hot soapy water and a normal scouring sponge to take the old sealant off the inside of the tyre and around the rim, didn’t want any clumps of dried sealant interfering with the tyre seating properly when refitted.  It is not necessary to scrub hard or remove all of the old sealant, just enough so that it doesn’t leave any lumps or clumps especially on the tyre bead.

New rim tape

New rim tape (as wide as the rim) fitted neatly and smoothly, with the edges pressed firmly down with fingers and the back of fingernails so as not to scratch or damage it. It shouldn’t matter if the tape does not touch every millimetre of the rim centre so long as there is a good air seal around the edges.

Rim tape join

New rim tape join is about 12″ long – I don’t want any chance that it will peel away, even if it does lift a bit it should be unlikely to lift a whole 12″ worth. The join is opposite the valve too.

Tyre fitted

Tyre fitted, sealant added, tyre pumped up, swirled the sealant around inside. No air leaks, job’s a good ‘un.

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Flat Pedals

My cyclocross bike was originally supplied with a pair of dirt cheap ‘just to get you going’ flat pedals, I actually rode these for maybe 500 miles before taking the plunge and trying clipless.  I decided to go with the Shimano M520 (white, to match the bike) as reviews said they were bullet-proof and very easy to maintain; I rode with these for another 500 miles or so, however it never felt quite right being fixed to the bike in that way, I wouldn’t dare use them on the mountain bike (would have had some really nasty falls if I had), and after four really silly falls on the cyclocross bike I have decided to give them a miss.

I hardly ever fall off my bike, these four instances were entirely due to the clipless pedals – mostly stalling and keeling over because I couldn’t get my foot unclipped fast enough, except once when the front wheel hit a grass curb which sent me shoulder-first onto the hard grass at speed, hurting my shoulders, neck, knee, and pride; I actually did have my foot unclipped but was concentrating on the pedal instead of watching where my front wheel was going.  The bike has also suffered minor damage from these pointless falls – bar tape ripped, pedals scratched, rear mech scratched, admittedly superficial but annoying none the less.  One fall onto tarmac has left me with a bad elbow, something which is taking a very long time to put right with physiotherapy and stretch exercises.  Thanks a bunch, clipless pedals.

So I’ve decided to put the original pedals back on the bike, but before doing so I cleaned out and re-greased the bearings as the pedals had become lumpy and gritty when turning.  What a difference some quality grease has made!  The pedals now turn better than when they were new (I compared them to an exact same pair of new pedals).  This is just a temporary measure until the (hopefully) much nicer alloy pedals arrive, still in the same style but with alloy body and slightly less unforgiving nobbles on the cage.  An important pedal feature for me is being able to ride on them on either side, as fumbling with pedals and looking down when I should be looking forward is something I definitely need not be doing.

Old pedals

El Cheapo Pedals, cleaned and re-greased.

I used GT85 PTFE spray to clean out the old grease and muck, then after drying it all with kitchen roll applied Bearing Juice by to the cups and bearings, tightening just a fraction before the point of binding with the bearings so that the pedals turn smoothly with no roughness.  Applied a small amount of copper grease to the pedal thread before attaching to the crank arms.  That should do me for a while, I might wait until the better weather arrives before fitting the alloy pedals.

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Being Seen

I’ve always been very keen on making sure I have a good set of lights for my bike, not so much for seeing by as I don’t normally stay out after sunset, more for being seen.  I have looked into bright lights for bikes and bought a few to try them out, but experience has taught me that bright lights for seeing dark roads can’t get away from the problem of carrying around a heavy and often bulky battery pack if I wanted something that would last longer than 60 minutes; I made the conscious decision to eliminate this need as much as possible by simply not being out after sunset.

Riding to and from the trails is great as it means I get a good warmup by the time I reach the forest (it is uphill all the way), this is not a problem during the summer months as the light doesn’t fade until well after 9pm and I hope to be back home long before then, but during the shorter daylight hours of winter a few dark clouds can dramatically affect the light levels and thus my visibility to other road users.  Mountain bikers and probably many road cyclists may scoff at reflectors but I still believe the British Standard is worth paying attention to, it is designed for the UK after all despite the very lax European standards which are undoubtedly more based on continental cycling habits and seasonal light levels etc.  To this end I scoured bike shops and the internet for lights that met BS6102/3, what I found was basically Cateye and their TL-LD570 front and rear lights, nothing else seems to be available anymore, but while these lights are still made I don’t think there’s much of a need as they are brilliant for being seen.

Cateye TL-LD570-F

Cateye TL-LD570-F

The front light looks pretty nifty on the bike and presents a large reflector for any car headlights to light up – even if the batteries fade or go flat I will still be visible to an oncoming car (assuming they have their lights on of course).

Cateye TL-LD570-F

Cateye TL-LD570-F

The Cateye mount that fits the 32mm bars comprises of #544-0892 Universal Clamp and 5445610 Bracket.  The light itself is light-weight as it uses just two AAA batteries which last a very long time, the brackets are sturdy and tight enough that the light never bounces out even on the mountain bike when riding the trails all day.

The TL-LD570-R rear light is the same as the front in form and function.  I have actually noticed a difference in motorist behaviour when I have the rear light lit on a dim or dark day, they tend to keep their distance more and give more space when overtaking.  The lights have a variety of pulse and flashing patterns as there are LEDs ranged across the face of the light behind the reflector, including a steady central light which is not enough to light up the road in the pitch black but definitely enough to be seen by.  I also use this on the mountain bike when riding on the road if the light is bad or fading, attached using Clip (C-1N) #544-0900N on the saddle bag light fitting loop.  The rack mount bracket is Cateye #5445620.

Cateye TL-LR570-R on C1 Belt Clip

Cateye TL-LR570-R on C1 Belt Clip

Cateye TL-LD570-R

Cateye TL-LD570-R

As well as lights and reflectors, I also try to buy cycling clothing that includes reflective stripes, including shorts, jackets, overshoes, tights, you name it I want reflective stripes on it!  I have tyres with a reflective stripe around the circumference which really shows up well at night in car headlights from the side, outlining the wheels to make it very obvious that it’s a bike.

Lights, reflectors, and reflective clothing are all about safety on the road, not about looking good or being hip.


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Being Heard

Some may scoff and turn their noses up at such things, but being heard on a bike which can often be silent is very important, not least for pedestrians but also for motorists.  A good bell can make the difference between hitting someone or being hit, and other road uses being aware of your presence so that they can take appropriate action.

As usual I did plenty of reading on the subject online, it took me a while but I now believe I have what I need so far as bells go.

On the mountain bike (yes, I use a bell on my mountain bike) I have a Cateye PB-1000AL, it is a very loud and efficient bell which gives two dings for one pull on the lever, which is also very easy to operate; it may sound silly but some bells are hard work to get a loud ding out of.  This bell is mainly there for the courtesy of pedestrians who also use the forest where I ride, they will normally shuffle out of the way when they hear it; the same goes for slower riders on the trail ahead of me, although it feels a bit mean ringing my bell at them (feels like I am commanding them to move over!) I think most prefer a polite bell ring rather than hearing me breathing down their neck in silent judgement, or turning around to see me right behind them , giving them a fright and causing them to almost fall off into a ditch as they hurriedly try to get out of the way (it has happened in the past!)

Cateye PB-1000AL

Cateye PB-1000AL

For the road bike things were a little more difficult owing to the thick 32mm bars, most bells simply do not fit this size bar, and the space available is severely limited where the bar tape ends and the stem head begins.

After buying a few cheap bells and looking at possible ways they could be modified to fit, I came across an offering from Rock Bros which has a wide adjustable fit system and is also a very loud and simple bell to use, perfect!  I used a piece of old inner tube to protect the bar from the metal strap.  The actual strap footprint is very small so should fit any handlebar.

Rock Bros bell

Rock Bros bell

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661 Rage Knee-shin Guard

With the new Saint MX80 pedals having pins I decided some shin protection would be in order to protect against pedal strikes, which I have experienced a few times with the old stock pedals on but not yet with the Saints, probably thanks to their grip on my shoes; I have also witnessed someone falling off their bike into a hole, it wasn’t the ground that hurt them but rather their bike frame that hit their shins, ouch.  I decided to go with the 661 Rage Knee-Shin Guard 2015, despite mixed reviews they looked good and were at a price point I was comfortable with (again, not really knowing whether I would be able to ride effectively while wearing them).

They turned out to be an excellent fit and did not slip down as some had reported, although if I wear full length tights they just slip right down because there is just no grip to be had from the material compared to skin.  On that subject, they don’t pull on my skin or hair and once fitted correctly they feel very comfortable, the strap may feel a little tight around the back of the knee initially but after a few rides the material loosens up a bit and I hardly notice I am wearing them.  The only time they do tend to slip downwards is if I am walking around off the bike, having my knees bent while in the riding position means that they hardly slip at all; on a 30 mile ride I might need to pull them up slightly a couple of times, depending on how much really rough vibrate-y stuff I am riding over (and having to stand rather than sit on the bike).

In the winter they help keep my shins and knees warm, combined with Endura MT500 3/4 length shorts and normal cycling shorts underneath there is no need to wear long cycling tights, the only exposed skin is a couple of small areas at the back of the legs which don’t feel the cold at all while riding.  A hot summer’s day also is not a problem, they appear to wick away sweat and heat pretty well, I only noticed my shins were a little sweaty once when I came to take them off after my ride; the MT500 shorts have zipped vents which work brilliantly to cool the legs too, and can be zipped up in the winter for warmth.


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