Sunday, 16 June 2013

On the right path

Dear Sir or Madam,
Living outside of Portsmouth I commute in everyday via bicycle down the fantastic Eastern Road cycle path.
As grateful as I am to see the council maintaining cycle paths, the recent resurfacing of the Eastern Road cycle route has in my opinion ruined a brilliant resource. As anybody who has ridden a bike will know, what a cyclist desires is a nice clean, smooth surface. The recent Eastern Road cycle path resurfacing is rough and course, with regular lumpy joints and a dangerously loose gravely surface. As a result the majority of cyclists now resort to riding down the pedestrian section of the path, which has retained the original tarmac. This leads to congestion and makes it harder for faster riders to come past as they do not know which side to pass. Riding along Eastern Road is now more dangerous and the new surface makes my morning commute feel similar to riding down a flight of steps. 
I hope that this email reaches those that arranged the resurfacing and helps ensure that future cycle path maintenance work is performed in a more cyclist friendly manner.
Kind regards
Ben Connor
I have never felt compelled to write a letter of complaint before. Maybe it is a sign of my age!
Approximately three times a week I cycle to my office in Portsmouth. Luckily much of the route is on cycle paths including the busiest section down Eastern Road into the city. On a sunny morning I can pass in excess of 100 cyclists on this 2 mile section which can become quite congested. The path is split 50/50 for pedestrians and cyclists by a big white line. Back in March the cycling half was resurfaced with a course gritty orange finish that you might be familiar with for rumble strips and marking hazardous areas on roads. In my mind totally inappropriate for a cycle path, and judging by the 100 riders I was now passing each morning who were trying to all share the pedestrian section of the path I wasn’t alone.
On Wednesday I turned onto Eastern Road to find that the new surface has been removed along the entire length of the path. I am waiting in eager anticipation of what they are going to replace it with, but it appears I may not have been alone in voicing my concerns. As pleased as I am to see the council responding, one has to think of the cost to tax payers of resurfacing miles of cycle path and then ripping it all up 3 months later.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

XX1 Chainring Review – S-Works Cranks

This review follows my initial trials and tribulations with a Carbon-Ti monoring and chainguide. (Review here.) XX1 was the big news from SRAM this year. It introduced 11 speed cassettes to mountain biking, but also an innovative chainring solution that claims to allow you to run a single chainring without the need for a chain guide. The teeth of the chain ring alternate between thicker and thinner gauge to improve the engagement with the chain. Sounds simple but would it work?
My mouse button was hovering over the “Buy” button on a set of XX1 cranks when I stumbled across a spider on ebay that would allow me to fit the XX1 chainrings to my existing S-Works cranks.

Given my previous experiences I’ll admit to a little anxiety as I headed to Peaslake with my brand new and untested chainring. The North Downs is quite a tough challenge for a chain, with plenty of drops, steps and technically challenging terrain. Within five minutes we were bouncing over roots and the chain was peacefully quite. The XTR Shadow Plus mech was doing an excellent job of stopping the chain from flapping around and I hadn’t missed a single pedal stroke. As the ride wore on I completely forgot about the chainring and just concentrated on riding, which I see as a great recommendation for any piece of kit.
Having now followed up the 2.5 hour thrashing around Peaslake with another 2 hours racing on an extremely challenging XC course, the chain hasn’t once skipped or dropped. I can categorically say that no chain guide is required!
I’m a weight weenie so the 37g extra weight of the spider and ring over my previous Carbon-Ti Monoring was making me twitchy, but this is cancelled out by the lack of chain guide. The performance has been flawless so far! The XX1 chainrings and the clutch rear mech have really revolutionised the mountain bike drivechain.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Carbon-Ti Monoring / Superstar Chain Guide Review

Earlier this year, fed up with relentless chainsuck ruining my races I switched to a single chainring. Running a single chainring has other advantages too; firstly there is a reduction in weight of about 1lb when removing the front mech, cable and shifter. There are also less mechanical components to go wrong and it certainly looks neat!

The disadvantage is clearly a reduced range of gears. I opted for a 32 tooth chainring which has worked perfectly for me in races and never left me lacking. I stuck with the existing 11-36 10 speed cassette. I will admit that on social rides I have on occasion spun out on long fireroad descents, but strangely I haven’t missed the lower gears. A 34 tooth chainring would be an option but I am more concerned about struggling on the climbs than losing a little on long boring descents.
Carbon-Ti Monoring - Needs a chain guide!
Owning a pair of S-Works cranks I opted for a Carbon-Ti Monoring paired with an XTR Shadow Plus rear mech with internal clutch. The Monoring mounts directly to the cranks, doing away with the need for a spider to support the chainring. At about 72g it is seriously light! I had hoped that the XTR internal clutch would provide enough control of the chain to prevent me requiring a chain guide up front to stop the chain dropping off the chainring.

Unfortunately although the clutch rear mech does a superb job of maintaining tension in the chain, preventing noisy chain slap against the bike; as I reported at the time it wasn’t enough to stop the chain dropping several times a lap at the final round of the Brass Monkey’s series.
Superstar Chain Guide - Poor Design
After this experience I fitted a Superstar chainguide, which I can safely say is useless! At nearly 100g its heavy and isn’t pretty! It does have the advantage of being cheap - £25 compared to £90 for similar devices from the likes of E-Thirteen. Mine arrived ‘on the wonk’ and needed some filing to get everything true and aligned with the chain. It’s biggest failing is a design which relies on a tiny grub screw tightening on a shaft to maintain the chainline. The screw regularly worked loose during rides, dropping the guide onto the chainring.

A friend with the same bike then kindly designed and produced a chainguide for me on a 3D printer. Happy days! This worked brilliantly, weighed only 25g and it appeared the job was done.  Until one day towards the top of a climb the pedals went round and the chain didn’t! When I got home I found that the titanium Monoring had rounded off the spline on my S-Works cranks. The interface between the chainring and the spline is only about 3mm. I assume Carbon-Ti have made it this small so that you can adjust the chainline using the spacer provided. Luckily the damage to the spline is only at the very edge so I might get away without an expensive bill for new cranks – but I’m not happy!

Damaged Spline
Unfortunately mine is not an isolated story. Another friend with a Monoring has also encountered the same fault. What do I try next? – Another review coming soon!

Monday, 3 June 2013

National XC - Hopton Castle

Will, Ian and myself arrived early and bleary eyed at our chaffeurs house for the long drive to Hopton in Shropshire. Many thanks to Steve for driving nearly four hours each way either side of his race.

As we approached the fluttering flags and row upon row of camper vans, a huge wooded hill loomed menacingly against the blue sky. From the line the course headed straight up this savagely steep climb, that had all the riders scrabbling for their lowest gears! It was a leg burning effort of about 10 -12 minutes with a couple of false flats that didn't really provide much respite. After the climb was a great section that resembled a welsh trail centre, as it undulated along the contours of the hillside. Then came the reward for all that climbing, a sometimes scarily steep, sweeping descent with stutter bumps in the precipitous braking zones leading into the bermed corners. It was a memorable course in every way - not all of them pleasant!

Climbing, climbing and...
Will was first off, unfortunately when his chain snapped before the top of the climb his cycling was done for the day. Standing nervously by the start waiting for him the three of us started to fear the worst, as we saw rider after rider coming through coated in dirt and blood after taking a fall on the descent to the finish.

Myself, Steve and Ian were all gridded for the final races of the day. Even on the first lap the climb was agonising and it felt as though I rode most of the race in my bottom gear! My single 32 tooth chainring only just allowing me to crawl upwards. I drank and gulped gels to prevent cramping which would have surely ended my race. Only after the fourth time up the climb could I relax and was then able to attack the final descent to cross the line 29th.

On the way home we raided the services M&S shop, sharing out Scones, Pain au Chocolate and Hot Cross Buns the rest of the way home. Sorry about the crumbs Steve!