a simpler life el pocito header cycling

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Without doubt the cheapest, most efficient, and healthiest form of transport, so if you are thinking of buying one here a few pointers to bear in mind.

First, which kind of bike? 

Basically the choices are newsecond-hand, road use or off-road/ mountain.

In my experience second-hand, unless you get it from a reputable bike project (ie comes with a warranty) will always up with needing new parts, and in the long run turn out cheaper to have bought new.  Not to mention all the hassle of getting it sorted.  A decent new bike, one that will last, is probably going to cost at least £500+.  Though if you have the patience to wait, until the buying season is over, you could snap up an end-of-line model with a massive discount.

Road bikes are very lightweight (easy to carry) and fast on the level, but only thrive on the best of tarmac surfaces.

Mountain bikes are very heavy and slow, but can go almost anywhere (once you have developed the requisite muscles).

Note, neither will be much fun if you live anywhere windy.

There is a hybrid too, a bike that can allegedly go anywhere, but from my experience this just couldn’t be possible, so stick with one of the above.

Frame.  Getting the right size is crucial, like having a suit fitted, get the wrong size and you’ll never want to ride it.  Input your measurements here to work out the best for you: https://www.evanscycles.com/en-es/help/bike-sizing

Never rely on just being able to adjust the saddle. 

As a very rough guide, if you are: 4’ 10”-5 2” tall you’d need a 13-14” frame.  5’ 2”-5’ 6” a 15-16” frame.  5’ 6”-5’ 10” a 17-18” frame.  5’ 10”-6’ 1” a 19-20” frame.  6’ 1”-6’ 4” a 21-22” frame.  6’ 4”-6’ 6” a 23-24” frame. 

Also try and get the lightest bike you can afford, this will make all the difference, especially when you have to push the bugger uphill or carry it over obstacles.

Avoid any complex/ frivolous stuff on offer, that will either require a high level of skill or specialist tools, and will cost more in replacing worn parts.  Examples are this are hydraulic disc brakes, instead of plain cable operated, and fancy suspension forks.

TyresThe back one will wear out a lot quicker than the front, this is because all your weight is on it.  I got through four back tyres before the front one needed replacing.  They also come in at least two grades: performance or longevity.  The first will wear out at around 700 kms and cost a fortune (you can buy a cheap car tyre for the same price).  The second are a lot cheaper and go much further.  I found this out by buying a pair of very top-rated MAXXIS 2.1, after which I stuck with CONTINENTAL MOUNTAIN KING II 2.2.

When fitting a tyre look for the arrow printed on the sidewall, which shows which direction they should be going.  On mountain bikes this guidance is only for the front wheel, the rear one should be mounted the other way round, apparently this gives a better grip, though I haven’t noticed.

Punctures are the biggest problem.  Don’t bother with repairing them, it rarely works these days, keep a spare tube and try to prevent them.  One source is the sharp heads of the spokes inside the wheel rim.  Apply a couple of layers of electrical tape over them.

Don’t skimp on quality with inner-tubes, cheap ones will perish within a year.  I had two explode, on the same day, one while the bike was parked up.

And finally, take care who you buy your tyres from.  I’ve used Wiggle, who have been excellent.  Once, when they were out of stock I tried cycletyres.com, who sent chinese counterfeits, then refused to replace them.  Not a nice company.

Unless you are very rich, or have a bike shop on the corner, owning a bike also means having to do all the regular maintenance yourself.  Depending on use and conditions this can mean spending up to an hour a week on this, especially with mountain bikes.  For this you’ll need:

a repair manual.  I haven’t actually found one yet, but can advise avoiding anything published in the US

spares – tyres/ inner-tubes/ chain/ cables/ cogs/ bearings

special tools – lubricant/ spanners/ extractors for chain and pedals/ wire brush and old toothbrushes for cleaning

space to work, and if you can afford it a good stand to hold the bike off the ground (TOPEAK is the best I’ve seen, but as yet beyond my budget). 

All this could set you back another £300+.

Saddle.  This is as crucial as getting the frame size right, especially if you are extremely thin like me.  Try them out first.  I prefer it to be as wide as possible, foam not gel, and with a channel down the middle, for all the bony bits.  Very hard to find, which is why mine is held together by gaffer tape.

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Lights.  Don’t skimp, these will make you visible to other road users and allow you to see when there is no street lighting.  Go for rechargeable (mine are USB), a minimum of 40 lumens (though this isn’t enough for forestry tracks), and easily removable when you are leaving the bike in a public place.  Check out LEZYNE DRIVE (http://www.lezyne.com).

a simpler life el pocito mountain bike lezyne zecto drive front light

Security.  Sadly, if you leave a bike virtually anywhere (including Almonaster la Real these days) it will eventually get stolen.  Even with an expensive lock (there are specialised gangs who know all their weak spots, come armed with the right tools, and make their escape by van).  Best policy is always take the bike with you, wherever you go.  Another reason for getting a lightweight frame.

Helmet.  Crucial.  You are going to fall off.  You will also instinctively try to save yourself by landing on your hands, so wear good fingerless gloves.

Pump.  The best type I’ve found is a TOPEAK, the type you stand on (see photo below).  Very quick and requires very little effort to inflate, powerful enough to use with car tyres.  Forget about carrying a portable version, they simply aren’t powerful enough to get the correct pressure, you’ll have a coronary trying.  I suggest using a separate digital pressure gauge, for accuracy.  Check pressures at least once a week.

a simpler life el pocito mountain bike topeak joeblow cycle pump

Carrying stuff.  The obvious way to do this is to buy a set of waterproof panniers (one for each side over the back wheel).  Or so I thought.  Having shelled out for the best, a SUPER TOURIST TX DISC rear-wheel frame with a pair of DryBag DX panniers (both by TOPEAK), it turned into a nightmare.  I bought mine from ukbikestore.co.uk, and when they arrived there was a pannier missing.  They point blank refused to send the other or offer a refund.  Then having assembled and fitted the frame, discovered the pannier didn’t fit securely.  After a week of use every single nut/ bolt on the pannier had been shaken off and lost on the forestry track.  The reflective strips on the pannier disintegrated in the rain.  And after a month a hole had appeared in the waterproof fabric, where it was rubbing on the frame.  Basically, the whole system is totally useless.  I also had to wrap anything I carried in bubble wrap, as there are protruding bolts in the bag which cause damage to the contents.  As for carrying the pannier off the bike, it was really awkward and uncomfortable.

a simpler life el pocito mountain bike topeak pannier

In the end I stopped using it and strapped a plastic crate on the frame instead, holding stuff down with bungee clips, that has worked fine for 12 years.  Anything more delicate/ valuable carried in a drybag/ drysack.  This is like a rucksack but 100% waterproof (weirdly most rucksacks aren’t, you can even drop in the sea and they’ll float, keeping everything dry inside.  The first one I had was a cheap and cheerful version (costing £25), from LOMO Watersports, utilising a tarpaulin-quality pvc, with a roll-over top opening.  By sheer luck I chose the optimum size, which is 30 litre.  It literally weighed nothing and was super comfortable, carrying a 10-20 kg load easily, indefinitely.  What I especially liked was the roll-over opening, as zips are neither waterproof or last long.  The shape was a lot better than a pannier too, allowing for all kinds of loads.

As I said, that was the cheap and cheerful version.  After six months the pvc material started to crack in several places, which meant it was no longer waterproof.  The first time this happened LOMO kindly sent me a replacement, without any fuss (although I had to pay to return the damaged bag for evidence), but then it happened again to the new one.  This time they sent some replacement fabric, to make patches from (which can be done easily using the same glue as for inner tubes), but this only extended the life by another six months.

a simpler life el pocito lomo drysack

After that I sought advice from my favourite Bristol bike forum and was advised to get a Gab bag.  This uses the same design but is made from a very different and far more superior material.  Still super-light, just as comfortable, and I’ve had this one for eight years with no sign of wear at all.  I also use it as a rucksack in town, confident that nothing can be accidentally lost or stolen without me knowing.

a simpler life el pocito cycling gabbag drysack

Not cheap (around £90), but a brilliant investment. 

When rain wasn’t a problem I’ve also used an ordinary day bag, a BERGHAUS 24/7 30 litre.  Nothing special but is comfortable.

a simpler life el pocito cycling berghaus day sack

Bike trailer.  Ever since I saw these in Canada (everyone uses them there) it has been my dream to get one.  Finally that day arrived here in Shetland.  Cost me £40 (second-hand), has a quick release mechanism, and connects via the rear wheel.  I had imagined a saddle post connector would have been more manoeuvrable, but this works fine.

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Where to buy bikes and bike stuff on-line.

Shops I have had a good experience with:

http://www.merlincycles.com

http://www.holdsworthcycles.net/

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