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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DIY Spectroscope

As it was the last day of the holiday season I decided to clear away a few things, at the bottom of the pile on my desk was a plan for a spectroscope which I had downloaded from http://www.iucaa.ernet.in/~scipop/Obsetion/spectro/iucaa_mvs_spectroscope.pdf, printed out but not got around to mounting on card and putting together, so it was now or never.

Here are the results, it took me about 30 minutes to construct, a fun little project.  I then proceeded to run around the house looking at all the different light sources I could find like a kid with a new toy on Christmas Day!

The photo of the spectrum doesn’t really do it justice, some energy saver light bulbs had definite strong lines whereas others had a more even distribution across the spectrum.

This is something I could get quite interested in, watch this space in case I can translate that enthusiasm into something tangible.

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DIY Baader solar film binocular filters

While the solar observing specs are on back-order I decided to have a go at making some binocular solar film filters, so ordered an A4 sheet of the Baader solar film and downloaded the Baader instructions.  While the translation may have lost out on one or two small things it was very easy to follow the guide to build my own objective filters using the film and some white card.

The view through them is better than I had imagined, there is some granularity visible (like a gradient around the edges of the sun giving it a spherical appearance) and right now I could see three large areas of sunspot activity.  The colour is white as advertised, with shades of grey and black.  I could just make out the branches of a tree that were close to the sun, probably just their shadow I could see as they blocked some of the sun’s energy.

As per the instructions, I held both filters up to the bright daylight to check for any pin prick holes before using them with the binoculars.  They are a snug fit for sure, no chance of them coming off once they are firmly pushed on.

These fit my 8×42 Bushnells, I’m sure a larger pair of binoculars would show an even better view.  I may attempt to make one for my 102 refractor with the remaining portion of the A4 sheet.

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Celestron 8SE Power Socket Replacement

Note: This is a post I made at stargazerslounge.com in 2012, pasted here for my own blog.

Finally, I think I’ve cracked it. I’d always had some dicky power connection problems with my 8SE mount, and even after replacing the plug on the end of my SkyTron power cable with one that I believed was a better fit, it still showed problems. I ordered matching plug and socket from Maplins, but even then it was all too easy to lose power from just the slightest tug on the cable.

While I had the mount apart (the power socket and switch are on a convenient panel which unscrews – it is not necessary to dismantle the whole mount to remove this panel, it is just a couple of screws) I had a closer look at the socket.. no wonder it is so easily disrupted, the main center pin is fine, it’s the pathetic small outer contact that is the problem; it doesn’t connect to the main metal part of the socket chassis as I expected, but is a small contact right at the bottom of the socket, meaning that the slightest movement could break the contact. This may be fine for most applications of this socket type but where there is a chance that the cable may be snagged it is a terrible choice in my opinion.

I had read somewhere about replacing it with a BNC connection, or saw another scope that used one, something like that, so that is exactly what I have done.

One order of matching BNC socket and plug from Maplin’s later…

Maplin parts:



(despite the picture on the Maplin website, it is silver in colour and not gold)

I needed to make my own hole in the plastic panel but this was easy enough to do with a small drill bit and some needle files to finish it off; I was careful to trim the hole so that it has a flat edge for the BNC socket, otherwise it would be possible to rotate the BNC socket which would make using it more difficult.

One trick I missed but got lucky with was marking which wire goes to the center pin (positive), I had to take a guess at their relative positions as I had removed the old socket. If I were to do it again, I would mark the wire with a red marker pen or such as they are fairly nondescript grey ribbon cable wires that disappear into the mechanism.

I made sure that I applied heat shrink to all of the connections to prevent any dew droplets from causing a short.

A quick test and it all works, the connection is rock solid and I believe should never break under normal conditions. The wire would probably get pulled out of the BNC plug before it broke due to the BNC losing connection! Perhaps that is a slight loss of a ‘safety feature’, but in my experience if the cable is wrapped around it will be pulling sideways and would not pull the plug out of the socket, if I snag my foot on the cable, well that would be my hard cheese.

It should be noted that I am fairly competent with a soldering iron, but if you can solder small wires together neatly then that should be all the skills required.

I’ll probably plug the hole with something. I’m optimistic that this should be the end of the power problem, only time will tell, the real test will be at 12am on a cold January morning.

And further posts that I made on the thread…

It should be noted that after some experimentation it turns out that the BNC plug from Maplin is not as good as it could be… I originally tested the BNC socket using a different BNC plug, but the one from Maplin is a slightly different design (not as good, in my opinion). The metal flanges that surround the center pin need to be pushed outwards slightly, as it is these that contact the outer metal of the socket chassis (on the inside of the shaft). Difficult to explain if you don’t have a BNC socket handy for reference. The one I tested with had a white plastic collar inside that kept these flanges out – see pic below:

Whereas the BNC plug from Maplin was like this:

For the sake of a fraction of a penny’s worth of white nylon it is suddenly not as good. Those metal flanges need to be kept pushed slightly outwards to make good contact, otherwise when the plug or cable are moved or pulled it can break the contact and result in the mount / handset resetting. I verified this by trying it with the flanges pushed in and then pushed out, out being very solid. Not sure how long it will keep functioning well, but I should at least know what the problem likely is if it shows any signs of intermittent power.

I’m not sure where one buys BNC plugs with the white collar, this one came from an existing cable that I picked up from a car boot sale (sealed unit, I won’t be taking it apart).

A further update regarding the BNC plug…

I picked up a couple of right-angle BNC plugs from an electronics shop in town, they have the white collar (I asked about the collar, the guy said he’d never heard of a BNC plug without one and gave me a bit of a quizzical look). Here it is on the end of a Skytron cable:

Fits well, works like a charm, and as a bonus doesn’t stick out as much so shouldn’t snag. Requires no soldering too which is handy.

And then finally an idea for a safety release cable:

I realise there is another trick here to help with the snagging cable potential problem.  The BNC connection is fine, but an added safety feature could be an in-line plug and socket that will pull apart should the cable be snagged suddenly.  I have already used such a pairing in a custom power lead configuration for my CG-4 dual axis set up (I wired up a regular 4xAA battery pack instead of the bulky 4xD cell battery pack).  If this was installed a foot along the cable from the BNC socket it would be easy to reach and find, I don’t foresee any intermittent contact problems with this method because the plug and socket pair I purchased are rock solid and fit tightly together, in fact the original SkyTron cable would probably fit this socket.

Here’s a photo showing the 4 x AA battery pack with short fly lead to a connector, and the two connector types, which I use to drive my CG-4 mount.  Also the BNC right-angle connector just because it was to hand (used with the 8SE, not CG-4).  These two connectors are a very firm fit, think I bought them from eBay – bought about ten of each (male and female) in case I wanted some for future projects, they were so cheap it only came to a few quid.

I have since sold my 8SE Goto mount as I was no longer using it for anything and needed the space.

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