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The joy of one….

I’m the first one to admit that I get bored easily. However if I didn’t there would probably be no Velotastic, I’d be doing the same thing I always did and life would be rather dull.

The same goes for my cycling. It would have been so easy just to stick with riding my MTB just like I did in 1986 and not have a crack at road cycling, the track, cross, gravel or numerous other bicycle related disciplines.

One of the things I’ve been wanting to have a go at for a while is single speed cyclocross. This is a chapter of the broad church of cycling that is definitely tucked away in a darkened corner as an outlier.

SSCX as it is known has its followers though. There is an unoffical World Championships in the USA and a European champs which is being held at the cyclocross mecca of Koksidje, Belgium this March.

My aim was to build a bike out of old spares that I had available and minimise my spend. I was not planning on crossing continents or doing anything epic – just blasting round the local woods and trails and having a bit of hoot.

I set myself a budget of whatever I could get for a pair of secondhand SRAM shifters on eBay which turned out to be around £70.

I’ll stick my hand up and admit that I did happen to have an old cyclocross frame complete with old school cantilever brakes and a set of Winter wheels to hand which helped keep my roughly on budget. All I had to buy was a sprocket and spacer set, chain tensioner and a set of cheap levers.

The ride

I’ve already got a singlespeed bike that I use for commuting so I had a rough idea what to expect. I’d worked out roughly how many gear inches I wanted to push using the Bikecalc website and a few internet forums and settled on around 55″ which worked out as 38:19 on the bike. I hadn’t a clue if this would work in the real world, but thought it would be a good starting point.

There is a certain zen like joy from the sound of a quiet single speed drive train. Hitting this sweet spot of cadence and forward motion makes it all worth while. However I had the hills surrounding Chesterfield to spoil this bit of cycling Nirvana.

Initially anything too steep and it felt like you were pedalling squares and either the drivetrain or your body was going to snap. Routes that I’d done time and time before were taking on a new dimension as I had nowhere to go on the gear hunt and the options were dig deep or walk.After a few rides I’d developed a rather crude technique of attacking the bottom of climbs and managing to keep my legs momentum going. I was slowly increasing the severity of the hills and was managing some shorter 1:8 climbs.

The other problem was the other end of the scale  – downhills and flats. The bike initially spinned out at around 25 km/h. I slowly built up my cadence levels and have learned to pedal a bit quicker and have got this up to around 30 km/h on the flat. Especially on road, downhills turned into a massive freewheel complete with a aero tuck to gain the maximum amount of speed.

Because the bikes a bit old school there are no disc brakes – just canti’s which means braking a little bit earlier and that noisy grinding sound when you get grit between your rims and the pads after going through a puddle of mud.

In conclusion

Would I do it again  – definitely yes. In Winter months when the roads and trails are dirty a single speed is a lot easier to keep clean. OK riding single speed does involve modifying your riding style but it also has the benefits of building your leg strength up and increasing your cadence which cannot be a bad thing.

They are also relatively easy to build and once you have the bike built there are less things to go wrong on the bike which is not a bad thing in the cold Winter months when you want to be riding rather than fettling.

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Wear and Tear

Summer seems to be taking it’s final bow and Autumn is creeping up on us. If you are fortunate enough to own a Winter bike you maybe thinking about digging it out of deep storage for a few months riding.

Now’s a good time not only to give your Winter ride a check over but also to service your best bike so it is ready to ride when you get it out next Spring. That way you will not forget about any little niggles that have developed and will not miss it if you are using your other bike.

Like it or not, if you’ve been lucky enough to get a few miles in this year, your bike will have suffered some wear and tear. It does not matter how much you have looked after it – it will, it’s just a fact of life.

Here’s a few things that we usually encounter in our workshop:

Bearing wear

Bearings are the things that keep your bike going round and are an essential part of a bike regardless of how much you have spent on it. Over a period of time these steel balls will become less than round and harder to spin round. In some key areas this wear will be accelerated by the ingress of dirt and water. This can show itself in a knocking bottom bracket, a notchy headset and lateral play in your wheels.

This component is relatively cheap to replace  – think of it as a consumable and part of the cost of running a bike rather than something that should not go wrong.

Cables

There’s a popular urban myth that cables stretch under normal usage on a bike. They don’t. Just think about it, unless the cable is made of spaghetti or elastic there’s not way you could stretch it just by shifting gear – there’s not enough force in the system. What does happen is that when you’ve had the cables on your brakes or shifters changed, the outer cables bed in which causes the inner cable to become loose. This is why your gear cables normally need the tension adjusting after a few rides.

What does happen though is the inside of the outer cable gets a bit grubby from dirt and a little rust. This can cause the inner cable to drag a bit. This causes your gear shifting to take a little longer or your brakes to become a little bit harder to put on. In extreme cases we’ve seen derailleurs unable to shift because of gunked up cables.

An easy solution and a good way to get that ‘as new’ feeling back in your bike is to change the inner and outer cables at least once a year.

Chains

Chains are a fantastic piece of engineering but unlike cables they do stretch over time. If this is not kept in check it can cause premature wear to other parts of your drivetrain like cassettes and chainrings. The reason for this is chains are made of harder material than gears so a worn chain will slowly grind the softer components to match its profile.

We have a tool that can check chain wear. We also recommend that gear cassettes are replaced every 2-3 chains just to keep moving smoothly. It’s also worth keeping an eye on your chainrings as these can be ground down and in extreme cases cause the chain to skip at the crank end of the drivetrain.

Torque 

It’s always worth checking that any nut’s and bolts that hold things like your brakes, stems, pannier racks and mudguards are tightened to the correct torque. An over tightened bolt can cause a lot of damage on an expensive carbon frame so it’s advisable to use a torque wrench to get things just right. It goes without saying an under tightened fixing could be very dangerous – especially if it is something to do with your steering or braking.

We operate a mobile workshop in the Chesterfield area and all of the above items we would check in a standard service. Not only will it lengthen the lifespan of your bike but it will make it more enjoyable to ride.