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 juicelubes.co.uk 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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Five Ten Freerider MTB Shoes

After upgrading my stock pedals to Shimano Saint MX80 Flats I discovered that my hiking shoes were no longer up to the job, their tread pattern was too open so didn’t grip the pedal pins, my feet would move around on the pedal too much.  After looking into what others use with flat pedals I decided to try the much-recommended Five Tens, as luck would have it they were on sale so I picked up a pair of Freeriders.

What a difference the Five Tens made, they gripped the pedals like glue compared to my hiking shoes, this combination were a world away from my old stock pedals.

If there is one niggle it would be that they feel a little tight across the top of the shoe, as a consequence the sole of my foot feels compressed against the sole of the shoe and in cold weather feels numb after a while; I will need to try the next size up at some point, I am normally somewhere around 8.5 – 9 in UK shoe size, 9 is 43 in Euro size.  The problem is made worse in the winter of course as I need to wear thicker socks to keep my feet warm, the Five Tens are not waterproof so waterproof socks are a consideration along with a woollen sock inside that.

In conclusion the Five Tens were a very good investment for me, on the Saint MX80 pedals they provide just the right level of grip which I should be able to improve by extending the pedal pins (if I’m feeling brave!)

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Shimano Saint MX80 Flat Pedals

My mountain bike came with a pair of those cheap shop-fitted pedals, the kind they fit just so that you can use the bike and quite honestly expect you to throw away within a week; I used these for over a year, I struggled with them as they were one-sided and often rested with the wrong side up, so I ended up trying to pedal on the pedal axle rather than the platform.  Eventually, after doing some research and umming and arring, I decided to buy a decent pair of pedals.

For a long time I looked at the Superstar Nano-x with Titanium axles in black, they received good reviews and looked to fit the bill for my strong, light-weight ideal requirements, however I decided against them for two reasons – one was the cost, at £85 for the pair it felt like quite a price for something I wasn’t sure about yet, second reason was nobody seemed to have heard of Superstar Components, meaning that I might have difficulty finding spares (or have to pay through the nose for them).

I decided to play it safe and go for the market leader – Shimano – selecting the Saint MX80 as a good solid looking pedal that seemed to be in every bike shop.  I heard people saying there were problems with them but so far I haven’t experienced any, at the same time the Shimano pedals all have a reputation for being completely serviceable, with cheap and readily available spares and bullet-proof reliability through thick and thin.

I’ve had the pedals on for the winter and found no problems with them at all, they have helped my riding style and confidence enormously so I would recommend them to anyone; it’s easy to get hung up on what the in-crowd think you should be riding but at the end of the day if it works and I’m not in a race where every gramme of weight matters, it really doesn’t matter if they are 20g heavier than a pair that costs twice as much.  I think with any product there will be people who have a bad experience, these are usually the voices that are heard the loudest when they leave reviews, there will be a lot more people who are perfectly happy who never leave a review.

I use Strava to keep a record of my efforts while out on my bikes, the time improvements with these pedals was staggering – no more looking down or trying to flip the pedal over to the flat side when I should have been concentrating on enjoying my ride and making the next turn.

When combined with Five Ten flat mtb shoes the Saints have turned out to be a great upgrade for me, I also discovered that there are orange pedal reflectors available which I added for winter riding on the road to and from the trails, a good road safety feature for those dull winter days or in case I find myself out after sunset.


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Celestron CG-4 Mount DIY 6V Battery Project

The CG-4 is probably my favourite astronomy mount – it has very sturdy thick tripod legs, a good solid feeling mount, has space for a polar scope (which I have purchased separately and fitted to mine), and can also be driven by dual motors for RA and Dec control.

When I first started using the CG-4 I tried it with the manual slow motion controls, this was fine but it soon became a bit of a chore to have to keep winding it on, especially as I was not very good at polar alignment (still not that great at it), I decided to go for the upgrade to dual motors.

The motor drive kit came with the controller, motor units with gears already attached, and a big battery holder pack, however I found inserting and removing batteries to this big plastic battery holder difficult, I also looked up batteries and read on numerous sources that the large D cells that this holder took were usually just AA cells in a larger casing, not a true ‘bigger’ cell inside at all; rather than spend extra money on a charger and rechargeable D cells (which cost a small fortune for anything really good) I decided to try battery adaptors – two AA cells in a plastic D cell casing, just like the internet sources said was in actual D cell batteries anyway – and this worked quite well for easy charging of the AA batteries, however I was still left with the cumbersome large D cell battery pack.

My first thought was that I could simply lose the D cells completely and, at the expense of some Ah, just use an AA battery pack instead, here’s what I put together (ignore the BNC connector in this photo, that was from a different project):

This small, light AA battery pack provided the same 6 volts that the much larger D cell battery pack did, at about half of the Ah but that was never really a problem for me; this AA battery pack was then easy to slip into a cheap compact camera case that I could hang off the mount accessory tray.  The power cable was custom added by me with connectors so that I could easily remove it from the mount.  I used this pack for a while but still wanted something a bit more powerful as rechargeable AA batteries don’t hold their charge very well if left for a while and I was liable to forget or not be ready when a clear sky event happened, I decided to go bigger.

I did my research and eventually went for the Yuasa Y4-6 6V, 4.0Ah C20, which is a sealed lead-acid battery in a small tall form factor, fits perfectly in a medium-sized compact camera case for hanging from the tripod or accessory tray.  Again, I added custom wiring using Fast-On battery connectors and plastic covers, although I don’t need to remove them for charging as I made a small additional wire with metal contacts for connection to the battery charger I purchased for charging it.  An in-line fuse holder on the negative wire, available from any auto accessory shops such as Motosave, prevents any short circuits from causing a fire in the cabling; it has a 2A quick-blow fuse in it which should be more than enough for the wire I use.

This lead-acid battery setup works very well so far with the CG-4 mount, I can’t comment on tracking accuracy as I’m not able to finely measure this, I can say that I haven’t had any problems with low power that I occasionally experienced with the D or AA batteries (mostly because they had discharged by themselves before use – the lead-acid battery holds its charge for a long time if stored at room temperature).

I have made a similar setup for my larger NEQ6 Pro mount, using auto power sockets instead of the smaller connectors, more on that in another post.


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