Friday, 20 January 2012

My 2011 in bikes

"I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like"

Queen (who else?): "Bicycle Race"
I’m a cyclist and I’m proud to be described so. I don’t really race much. I do the (very) occasional short-course triathlon and I take part in the odd organised sportive ride. But mostly, I ride largely for fun, commuting and convenience. I love my bikes and, traffic and the state of Stirling’s roads notwithstanding, I love to ride. I have a few of my own bikes, none of them very flashy or new but each with their own strengths and uses.

In addition to my normal cycling experiences, I had a few encounters with interesting, unusual or odd bikes during the past year.

Le velo de facteur:

We were in Morzine in the French Alps in March and, on our last morning, we wandered around the village before departure and came upon the Post Office. Rather fantastically, there were four old yellow French post office bicycles leaning outside with little handwritten notes stuck on each, offering them free to take away: ‘a prendre’

Eh? What? No health and safety risk assessment? No cover-your-ar*e legal statement? But some of these bikes don’t even have functional brakes? Yeah. This is France. Refreshing, isn’t it? The coolest bike in Morzine? Darn right!
These bikes were obviously custom-made for les facteurs! They have a great parcel basket on the front, and a very solid-looking bespoke front-wheel based stand with little wheels of its own. The stand folds up under the frame. The one I tried was a bit stiff but nothing that a bit of oil wouldn’t sort.

The rear end of the bikes were pretty solid too, with a very robust rack and official French post office pannier bags:

Inevitably, the girls couldn’t keep their hands off the bikes:

Take one, get one free?

and it wasn’t long until they were test-riding them:

 I think if I’d been travelling with my own van, I might have brought one home. They were extremely solid and heavy machines (not one for the long climbs, I suspect) but one of these would definitely have been a unique bike for Stirling...

The recumbent tandem trike:

On our way home from helping out at our pals’ Apple Day in the South Lakes area of Cumbria in early October, we came on this recumbent tandem tricycle (not three words that you commonly see together) in a cafe car park.

From the decals, it appears to be a Greenspeed, not a manufacturer I've encountered previously. It was being ridden by a (fit-looking) couple who may have been in their 70’s and it had a Land’s End to John O’Groats sticker on it – that must have been an epic trip. It looks very stable and is probably very comfortable to ride but it is SO low down - I just can’t get over my feeling that British drivers are too uneducated in their dealings with cyclists for me to be attracted to riding a recumbent on the roads in this country.
First encounter with an electric cargo bike:

The low-carbon city project here in Stirling, Going Carbon Neutral Stirling (GCNS), has invested in a number of electric cargo bikes (trikes in reality) which it will lend out for people to use, attempting to replace some car trips in town with cycle trips. The large box at the front can carry a considerable amount, including a couple of children (a common sight in Copenhagen, where cargo bikes and trikes, electric or not, are very popular and widely used).

GCNS held a come-and-try event in the quiet residential Riverside area of Stirling on a rare warm summer evening. My wife O took one of the bikes for a spin and reported it as quite difficult to steer, especially around corners but this was her first attempt and I’ve seen the project staff riding one with relative ease on a gentle group ride around the town’s newer cycle paths. A friend, A, a massively experienced cycle racer, took one for a spin with his children in the cargo box at another open day at Stirling University and nearly turned over while cornering on a gentle downhill bend. He was probably going too fast but he did recover magnificently after cornering on two wheels. His children seemed to love it.

My wife’s old German racing bike:

 My wife bought a bike in Switzerland in the 1980’s which I’d never seen as it was stored at her mother’s. When we visited this summer, we dug it out of the shed to take a look at it turned out to be this splendid old Rudi Altig roadster. Rudi Altig was a German professional racing cyclist who, as well as lending his name to a range of bicycles, also won the green (points) jersey in the Tour de France, won the Spanish equivalent to Le Tour, the Vuelta a Espana, and became World road race champion in 1966, reflected by the addition of the World Champion colour rings on the bike’s down tube. You have to agree that they add a certain caché:

Note the unusual location for the early example of indexed gear shifters on the headset:

O rode this bike all over Berne, then brought it home to Blighty and it ended up in a shed. I just pumped up the tyres and oiled the chain and, despite the bike having sat in the shed for over 20 years, everything else on the bike (gears, brakes) worked so I took it out for a spin in the really hilly vicinity. I rode it for 30 minutes before, fearing that the old chain was going to snap under the strain of hill-climbing (they were REALLY steep!), I put it back in the shed again!

And as well as encounters with weird and wonderful cycles in 2011, it was also an unusually busy year as regards making the most of the bikes I already own.

Making do and mend – revamping my winter bike and my old hybrid:
I’ve had a lot of good experiences this year dealing with the guys at Stirling Cycle Repairs. Not the least of these was their advice and then hard work to help me reclaim two of my old bikes back into more active service. For the first seven or eight months of 2011, I was thinking about and researching possible option for buying a cyclocross (CX) bicycle. It’s not that I particularly fancied having a go at cyclocross racing (though if I had one, I might have had a go at a race or two as well), but it is more that CX bikes have become the new do-it-all road bikes in the past couple of years – tough, well-equipped, often for pannier racks and mudguards, they make for great general bikes for winter riding and there are many more on the market now.

I’ve been riding a bottom-of-the-range Giant OCR3 road bike as a winter bike for five or six winters and, having washed it conscientiously after most rides, it hasn’t rusted away or seized up as winter bikes often do (they are generally effectively bought as ‘sacrificial’ machines, to allow road racers, triathletes etc to preserve their expensive lightweight racing bikes for summer riding.

My Giant OCR3 has the most lovely light blue paint job and a very comfortable frame geometry that makes for quite relaxed road riding. But most of the original components had worn out. I’d already upgraded the brakes to Shimano 105 a couple of years ago. I was contemplating replacing this (and a mountain bike I never ride) with a cyclocross bike. But, given the current financial conditions, my dislike of disposing of perfectly sound equipment, and the fact that I do love that old OCR3 frame, I decided instead to investigate a refit. As I wasn't aiming for top-end components, the cost was less than I feared and so I went for it. Craig and Grant at Stirling Cycle Repairs did a great job of refitting it with basic Shimano SORA components (the gears, cranks and shifters), and finished it off with a very fetching and matching blue bar tape:

Look at the shiny-shiny! Didn’t the guys do a great job?

The wheels were still the same old wheels that originally came with the bike though and, after a week of riding, it was obvious that they were knackered (accentuated by how well everything else was working!) so I decided to replace them with a pair of Craig and Grant’s lovely hand-built training wheels – not so expensive, maybe not the lightest but light enough for winter training, pretty bombproof and likely to be usable well beyond the life of the Giant OCR3. And they are aesthetically pleasing too, with beautiful, curvaceous, silver Ambrosia hubs with Ambrosia rims. Look!

The final touch was a new pair of Continental Grand Prix 4-season road tyres with Continental inner tubes (funky yellow dust caps) to provide a durable partner for the new training wheels, and the package was complete for about a third the price of a decent new CX bike.

The final pleasing bike experience of the year was renovating, with my brother’s expert bike mechanic skills, my old Specialised Expedition hybrid, which has been stored in my brother’s garage roof for four years.

It was initially a disappointing insurance replacement for a much loved Marin Stinson hybrid that fell off a car bike rack. The replacement bike always felt heavy and clumsy in comparison to the Marin, was fitted with fairly cheap components (I constantly had to adjust the brakes, for instance) and I could never keep the wheels in true. They kept buckling and developing wobbles. I subsequently discovered from Craig at Stirling Cycle Repairs that the spokes had been incorrectly laced up when they were built and that there was no sensible way to correct that.

Luckily, my lovely brother donated a spare pair of used but good quality Cannondale 26x1.75 wheels (thanks lovely bro!). We fitted a new Shimano 8-speed cassette (that’s the rear gear cogs), a new 8-speed chain, and Stirling Cycle Repairs replaced the rubbish brakes with some good quality Shimano v-brakes.

My Old Specialised Expedition hybrid undergoing a facelift
I stuck on a set of Shimano SPD mountain bike pedals, Continental innertubes, a pair of Schwalbe Marathon touring tyres and some funky and surprisingly cheap SKS Beavertail mudguards (which needed some amendments with a hot needle and some zip ties) and I now have a tough utility bike with a rack(which I had fitted previously) and mudguards that’s ready for most of my non-training cycling needs – unglamorous maybe but helluva useful.

Oh, and it is in British Racing Green which is, as you know, very cool (like bow ties). Resurrecting and finally making useful this old Shimano Expedition bike was a fine end to a year of unusual and satisfying bike encounters and experiences.

Enjoy your own bikes in 2012!


  1. So you thinking of importing a cargo bike for work use? ;-)

  2. Those French bikes for free!, i would love one for shopping. a lovely post and pics.
    Lets get in some more rides this year big bro! -:)

  3. Thanks bro, and for your part in it too! Yes to more rides together in 2012!

  4. have just picked up a giant ocr3 identical to yours here in australia , someone must have brought it over from the uk.what year was that colour ocr3 sold in the uk ? love the colour. have kept the triple rings on the front, upgraded rear cassette 8 speed 12-34 which gets me up most hills here comfortably . cheers .


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