Lovely Bicycle!

Aptitude (Di, 09 Jan 2018)

I have been thinking a lot about aptitude. It began last year, when I was asked to teach knitting to groups of community residents. Having worked as an academic instructor in a past life, I felt fairly comfortable taking on the task. I set a curriculum, with a plan to cover a series of basic skills within a specific time frame. I imagined beginning each session by demonstrating a new technique, which we would then all practice and master as a group. What I soon discovered however, was that even in small groups, the ability to pick up these skills differed so dramatically from one person to the next it was impractical to hold the classes in the manner I had envisioned. What one person mastered intuitively before I’d finish explaining it, another would be unable to replicate even after repeated physical demonstrations. After that, I altered the format of my teaching to be less class-like, and more like personalised sessions held in a group setting. I spent more time with each student individually, and accepted that everyone would learn on their own timeline - only marveling, now and again, at the difference in the rate at which this happened. All the students started from scratch. All were equally enthusiastic; all genuinely tried their best. And yet, by the end of the programme, some would whiz past my originally envisioned Basic Skills curriculum and become full fledged knitters, while others would still struggle with holding their tools correctly. I was witnessing the phenomenon of aptitude. And it was only when confronted with it so directly, that it truly sunk in what a huge role it plays in any activity involving skill - including, of course, cycling. In contrast to my aptitude for the fibre arts, it is fair to say that my aptitude for cycling is poor. Now in my 9th year of riding a bicycle as an adult, I am only starting to approach the level of handling skills that most cyclists I know attain within their first 6 months of riding. That is pretty poor indeed. And it's not as unusual as some might think. On a regular basis, I receive correspondence from cyclists frustrated by their lack of 'progress.' They love cycling, but just aren't getting 'good' at it, no matter how hard they try. The folks at the bike shop look at them strangely, when they say how long they've been cycling yet ask for the saddle to be lowered. Their friends have moved on to do challenging rides without them. Will they ever improve? Should they just admit defeat and call it quits? Sadly, I suspect that many do. As a cycling culture, we tend to classify cyclists on a scale ranging from Beginners to Experienced. The assumption there, is that what stands between a person having poor mastery of cycling skills and excellent mastery of cycling skills, are experience and practice. In reality, that is often not the case. There exist dedicated cyclists with decades of experience, and poor cycling skills. Likewise, new cyclists can become proficient at these same skills within a very short time span. That there is no allowance for aptitude in our narrative of cycling is problematic. When the experiences of those who do not adhere to the practice = mastery formula are undermined or dismissed - be it in bike shops, on bicycling forums, in the comment sections of cycling blogs, or in casual conversation  - a disservice is done not only to those people. A disservice is done to the concept of cycling in of itself - by smoothing away its nuanced contours, and simplifying it into something more rigid and bullish, less multifaceted and full of possibilities, than it really is. Because if we think abut it... The very fact that those of us who aren't 'good' at cycling still love it, and want to do it, and are able to do it, is fascinating, and wonderful, and a testament to what an engaging, beautiful, versatile activity riding a bicycle is. Oftentimes my poor aptitude for cycling has made me feel like an outsider in the very culture and industry I was writing about. It has not, however, deterred me from persisting with cycling, enjoying cycling, and sharing my experiences of cycling with others. My hope is that over time we can find a way to reframe our narrative of cycling to be more reflective of, and sensitive to, the wide range of aptitudes that exist among us. And that all those who ride a bicycle - in any way at all - feel free to enjoy it on their own terms.
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Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition (Wed, 03 Jan 2018)

I would like to begin by stating that I am not a Monty Python fan. But no matter how hard I try to think of an alternative, this phrase describes most accurately my experiences over the past year, including the abrupt pause in this blog's publication. Is a more thorough explanation than that required? After giving this question some genuine consideration, I do not think so. We are all adults here. We know that 'things' - private things - happen in life. And we also know that the worst things, the things that shake to the core and immobilise, have that effect precisely because they happen suddenly, without warning. We do not anticipate them; we have no planned response or coping strategy. We do not know how we will react. The inability to write, or even look at, the cycling weblog that had been a part of my life for years prior, was part of my reaction. What changed today, I do not know. But today I was able to open the browser, log in, clear the cobwebs, and write this. Whether there will be more, I honestly cannot say at this stage. I can only say what I would like to happen. And I would like to keep writing. I would also like to share a very brief summary of my life over these past months: I am happily married and, for the most part, healthy. I have found work in the fibre and textile industry. I have moved away from digital photography and gone back to film. And I cycle pretty much every day. All of these things bring me joy and have wondrous healing powers. And, if I do continue this blog, I hope that the new infusion of energy I feel from them will translate into my writing. In the past I have often been asked, and have certainly wondered myself: To what extent was my cycling influenced by Lovely Bicycle? would I ride a bike as much, or at all for that matter, if I did not feel obliged to write about it, to take photos, to review products? I would have liked to think that of course I would still ride a bicycle even if there was no blog. But in truth, I did not know for certain, because from the very start the two were intertwined. Despite having stopped writing about and photographing bicycles, my enthusiasm for cycling itself has not waned over the past 8 months. The bicycle remains my main means of transport. And I cycle for sport whenever weather and health permit. No matter what else goes on in my life, the bicycle is something I need every day. For better or worse, blog or no blog, we are enmeshed. What I have lost, I realise, is any curiosity in products, equipment and cycling tech/spec talk. I am fairly certain now that this aspect of things was largely blog-driven. And I am not sure that I see a place for any of it, in any future version of this publication. Since I last wrote in this space, I have gone through a life change and it is inevitable that things will be different. To any part of my former audience that is still here, and wishes to see where things will go - you are most welcome to keep me company. And to all who see this: I genuinely thank you for reading Lovely Bicycle in all its various phases, over its 8 1/2 year lifespan. And I wish you a Happy 2018.
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Vintage vs Modern Fit (Wed, 05 Apr 2017)

A few times, when writing about a vintage bicycle's setup, I have mentioned that it has been configured for a 'modern fit.' Subsequently, I have been asked what that means. Seeing these two bicycles side by side in our yard the other day provided a convenient opportunity to explain. I will preface this by saying that, to experts on the topic - with whom I do not doubt my readership is replete with - my explanation will come across as overly simplified and merely grazing the surface of the subject at hand. But in the interest of those new to the topic and not technically-minded, a discussion needs to start somewhere. And so I'll start mine here. The two bicycles in the above photo belong to the same rider. Both bicycles fit him. Moreover, despite their dissimilar-looking setups, they fit him similarly - meaning, he is stretched out in a similar way when astride each one. The bicycles achieve this differently: The one on the left stretches the rider out by means of a long top tube. The one on the right does it by means of low handlebars. If you sit down on a chair and have someone hold an apple just within your reach, this will start to make sense. If they lower the apple, you will have to lean over and reach for it. Now if instead of lowering the apple, they move it slightly further out, you will, likewise, have to lean over and reach for it. There is a rudimentary geometrical explanation for what I am trying to describe here, but I am going to stay away from abstractions. If you do the reaching for an apple bit, you will start to see how a bicycle can be set up in a variety of ways to achieve similar upper body extension in order to reach the handlebars. You will also start to see that, just because a bicycle has a metre of seatpost sticking out and a slammed stem, does not necessarily make it an 'aggressive' setup. In fact, depending on the rider's size, it can be quite upright. Similarly, a cyclist riding a bicycle with the saddle and handlebars level can be in a super-aggressive flat-back position. So why are bicycles today sized down and set up with lots of saddle to handlebar drop, whereas bicycles in the Olden Times (roughly pre-1990) were sized larger, with the handlebars and saddle nearly level? There are several overlapping explanations, and here is where we get to the more complicated stuff. The move to the modern drivetrain, with its integrated brake/shift levers, resulted in cyclists spending more time on the 'hoods' of their handlebars rather than in the drops. It therefore made sense to lower the entire handlebar setup. Some will argue that the rise in bottom bracket heights over the decades contributed also, as did the changing shape of the bicycle frame as tubing manufacturing practices evolved. It also goes without saying that there is more to a bicyclist's position than reach alone, and the vintage vs modern setups - combined with a specific frame's geometry - will affect the overall balance and handling of the bike differently. All this is part of a quite multifaceted and sometimes heated discussion, which you can follow on many a bicycle forum. But also... It cannot be denied, I think, that it's at least partly down to trends - which change for bicycling-related matters just as they do for other aspects of popular culture. To the eye of today's sporting cyclist, the modern setup simply looks cool - fast, sleek, aggressive. The vintage setup looks quaint, heavy, relaxed. But trend-based perceptions are not always in line with reality. And let's just say that quite a few of my friends of a Certain Age gently poke fun at the younger road cyclists for being far too upright on their bicycles compared to the 'correct' position. Of course the modern bikes, with their short top tubes and tall head tubes, are to blame. What constitutes an 'aggressive' setup is subject to cultural/ peer/ marketing influence. From a practical standpoint, the vintage vs modern fit preference matters, mainly because it determines the frame size we look for in a bicycle. For example, referring again to the photo in this post the bicycle on the left is a 57cm top tube frame, and the bicycle on the right is a 54cm. Put simply: for a vintage fit, you will need a larger frame ...and a polishing cloth for those pretty downtube shifters!
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Sure, I Can Hold That Speed. So Why Was That Club Ride So Difficult?? (Thu, 30 Mar 2017)

Having been away for a spell, I have lots of email questions built up in my inbox. Here is another one that seemed apt considering we are well on our way to spring. It is around this time of year that cycling clubs begin their annual schedule of group rides. Depending on the club, these can include anything from paceline training rides to brevet-style social jaunts, endurance rides, and 3-speed meet ups (see also: On Club Rides and Finding the Right One for You). Some hybrid of the formal training ride and the social ride seems like the most common style on offer. Typically, these rides will be divided into several groups, based on ability, with corresponding average speeds posted as a guide (i.e. Beginners' Group: 12mph, Intermediate Group: 15mph; Advanced/Fast Group: 18mph+). This way, cyclists who are considering joining for the first time can decide which group best suits their abilities. It seems fairly straightforward. After all, most cyclists use computers nowadays, so we have a pretty good idea of what average speeds we are capable of doing. Join the group with the corresponding speed and it should be fine. However, what often happens (and I have experienced this myself!) is that the club ride feels far more difficult than expected, sometimes to the point that the first time out we just can’t hang on. So… why? A few readers have asked me this question over the years. And, having pondered the mysteries of this phenomenon myself after several rather humiliating club-ride initiations, here are some things I have noticed... The Novelty of a Steady Pace First of all, we all have our individual patterns of energy highs and lows. When we ride alone, we are able to make the best use of them. We speed up when we feel an energy burst, slow and rest when we hit a dip. In the end it averages out. By contrast, the club ride tends to proceed at a steady pace. And this in itself takes some practice. Being unable to take advantage of our natural energy rhythms can feel absolutely exhausting. Rest Makes a Difference  By the same token, when we ride alone,  or casually with a couple of friends, we probably also tend to take breaks whenever we feel like it. Tired in the middle of a ride? No worries. We get off the bike, walk around, eat a snack, maybe snap a photo. On club rides, there are usually no breaks (unless it's a super long ride with a lunch stop). A 30 mile training ride usually means 30 miles without stopping - which is a lot more demanding than a 30 mile ride with rest breaks. What About Terrain? Considering that terrain plays a role in the average speed we are able to put out, it helps to have a look at the route the club ride will be doing. If the route has more elevation gain than the routes you typically ride, you may not be able to hold your 'usual' average speed. The Optimistic Self-Assessment    Repeatedly psychological research shows that on the whole people tend to slightly overestimate their skills, abilities, favourable traits - even physical features such as height! - compared to what they actually are, despite the availability of correct data. It follows that we also tend to be overly optimistic about our average cycling speed - so that even when supplied with concrete evidence, such as cyclo-computer data, we might tend to cherry pick average speeds from our 'best' rides when deciding what speed we are capable of holding on a typical random day. Of course in the course of a club ride, held on a typical random day, the truth comes out! ...And is that a bad thing? Personally I think not, even if it does knock the ole self-esteem down a notch. After all, there is nothing quite like a few shattering club rides to turn one's aspirational average speed into their actual average speed! On the other hand, structured, performance-oriented club rides really aren't for everyone. There is nothing wrong with going it alone or keeping it casual with a few close friends, sticking to one's natural energy rhythms, and taking plenty of breaks. It is useful to know there is a difference, is all. I recall the first time I joined a club ride in Ireland. This particular ride was women's only, and it was funny, because the leaflet advertising it read something like 'This is a ladies' ride, not a beginner's ride!' I phoned the ride leader to clarify, and she said I should be comfortable holding 16-17mph. I was feeling good that summer. So I thought, well okay I can do that - especially in a group, where I'll be getting the benefit of drafting. I lasted maybe two thirds of the ride. In fairness to this group, they didn't drop me; I peeled off voluntarily when we hit the meaty portion of a long climb and I just couldn't take the pace anymore. And as I hobble-pedaled defeatedly home in a stupor, I remember thinking 'Those girls must have gone faster just to mess with me!' Later I looked over the ride stats on my computer. An average of 16.7mph (not counting my ride home), precisely as promised. They were, after all, ladies of their word.
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Rough Ride (Tue, 28 Mar 2017)

I had known the remote mountain road would be battered after the winter. But I did not predict it being this stunningly bad. It was not a matter of having to watch out for potholes. The whole thing was a pothole. More of a ravine than a road. More of a riverbed. As I plummeted, bouncingly, down the mountainside, mud and water sprayed everywhere. Stones slingshot from under my tyres in all directions. It had been some time since I'd gone on a ride like this. Alone. Far. Wandering the back roads in search of a location the way to which I could only vaguely remember. Last time I had cycled this way, I did not recall there being quite so much climbing - which could only mean I was still pretty weak. My lower back was starting to ache. The wind was picking up and the mist growing heavier. If I didn't find the place in the next half hour, I would need to turn back, unless I wanted to do the return trip in the dark and fog (I did not). As the headwind showered my face with gravely dust from the road, there was a question I was asking myself - or rather, trying not to ask, which amounts to a more pressing, repetitive asking. Was I enjoying this? And if not, why had I not waited? Another month, even another week, until I grew stronger and the weather improved, before taking on this trip. But I hadn't waited. And now I was tired and slow, and needed to make a decision. My decision was to descend down a road which I knew was tricky, but would get me off the mountain before dark. A quarter of the way down, 'tricky' was no longer the fitting word for the terrain I found myself on. 'Tricky' had given way to 'no longer qualifies as a road.' Well, no sense going back now. It had been a while since I had last done this descent. But somehow my body retained the memory of the sequence of bends coming up. Rather amazingly, I sat through the bounce and jostle calmly, more surprised at the road condition than anything, as I steered away from the more gaping openings in the rough surface, and equally away from the cliff's edge. All the while I tried to take in - and enjoy - the glorious misty views. At some point during this, I felt my front tyre dislodge a particularly large rock. As my bike bounced sideways before regaining its composure, I saw, from the corner of my eye, the rock flying. It must then have bounced off of something violently, as I then heard a loud clanking noise. Hoping it was not my derailleur, I tested my gears. Luckily, they seemed fine. And so I continued the hideous high-speed bounce down the ravaged lane with no further incident. Two hours later, I was home. And after washing the mud off my face, I fell promptly asleep. It was not till the following week that I felt up to trying another adventure. I'd begun to feel better by then. And I also started to tell myself, that the earlier trip was not nearly as 'epic' as I'd made it out to be. The road had probably been fine, maybe a pothole or two. I had just been tired, is all, and my mind played tricks, exaggerating every tiny thing I encountered. After breakfast that morning, I looked over my bike - checking it, as I do before any long ride. I am especially concerned about the wheels; having built them myself I still don't entirely trust them to stay intact. And indeed, this time around I noticed a spoke on my front wheel was loose. In fairness, this has happened to almost every set of wheels I've ridden in Ireland, including factory-built ones. Not a disaster: the spoke gets tightened; the wheel re-trued it need be, loctite applied and afterward all is well. And so I did just that. And it was not until afterward that I noticed the ...other thing. When I saw it at first I had to force myself to stand up quickly and walk away - far away - from the bike, before I did anything stupid like fling it at the wall in anger. When I finally calmed down and looked at it again, I still had to take deep breaths. Wow. Wowwowwow. So that's what the rock had bounced off of. I ran my fingers along the dented seat tube, again and again. After a minute or two it finally sunk in that the dent was there, and would not disappear no matter how much I wanted it to. But whatever mix of emotions I felt initially, dissipated. With a clear head, I checked the frame for other signs of damage. There were none. I put on my shoes, got on the bike, and rode for a couple of hours. The weather was good. The bicycle felt wonderful as ever. I would not be the first to use cycling as a metaphor for - you know - Life. And this one is so obvious, I almost can't help but chuckle at the sight of that dent. (Almost.) We go through a rough time, convince ourselves all is fine, that it wasn't that bad really. But when trauma or damage occurs, it will surface afterward, sooner or later. Sooner or later we will notice and have to acknowledge it. And then? Well, that is up to us, isn't it. Either way, I think noticing is important.
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Basket Case: How Do You Secure Your Wicker? (Fri, 10 Mar 2017)

It's a sure sign that spring is on its way and the new bike-buying season has begun, when people start to email me about baskets! Specifically, over the past weeks I've had a few questions about the best method to attach a basket to an upright transport bicycle: Does the basket require a front rack? Some other form of support? Or are the buckle straps that often come with baskets sufficient to hold them up? And as is often the case, my answer is: 'It depends!' Because really, so much in cycling is context-specific. Speaking broadly, a bicycle will always handle better when a front load is tightly secured and well-supported. And the more performance-oriented a bicycle is, the more important this becomes. So, for instance, on a touring bike on which you ride many miles over mountain passes, do quick winding descents on, lean into corners at speed, etc., absolutely: a front rack is ideal. But is it necessary for the bicycle you will be riding <5 miles to work and back? Allow me to make the bold suggestion, that probably not! At the same time, I find that the leather (or similar) straps which come with many baskets are suboptimal. First, because no matter how tightly I pull them, the basket will slide side to side, as well as bounce over bumps or potholes. But also because the metal buckles tend to clank against the handlebars and this irritates me to no end! So in leu of either the front rack or the straps method, I opt for the high-tech and lightweight solution of using cable ties (aka 'zip ties'). Two around the handlebars, and - crucially - one around the headtube, pulled tightly, does the job splendidly. The basket does not bounce or slide, and remains stable even when heavily laden. Importantly, you want to use thick, industrial strength cable ties for this job, not whispy household-use ones! The latter will easily snap under a weight load; the former are practically unbreakable. You should be able to find them in a hardware shop, commonly in a choice of black or white - and, if you're lucky, sometimes even green. While of course not as attractive as leather straps, the cable ties, once in place, are actually quite subtle. And if you long for a quainter look, you can always twine them! The best feature of the ties, is the level of adjustment they allow. Just thread them anywhere through the basket's wicker or wiring, and pull as tightly as you like for a secure, stable fit. And if your container is made of more solid stuff (i.e. wine crate), you can cut, or drill, 4 holes. It's a pretty effective way to avoid a front rack or other hardware. And on a bicycle used for unaggressive transport cycling, I find that it does the job nicely.
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The Cyclist Rest (Mon, 06 Mar 2017)

Here is a local tidbit to brighten your Monday! Every time I post a picture of this pub on social media, it is greeted with such enthusiasm and so many questions, that after passing it again yesterday I vowed to finally write about it here. The Cyclist Rest is a pub in the village of Fahan, Donegal. Now, some people have tried to find its address and then emailed me when this proved impossible, so allow me to explain: In much of rural Donegal there are no street addresses as such. No postal codes, no house numbers, often the roads don't even have names. So, say you wanted to mail something to the pub? Its official postal address would be simply 'The Cyclist Rest, Fahan, Co. Donegal, Ireland.' And if you wanted to find it physically, you'd need descriptive directions. Luckily, in this case it is pretty easy: From the start of the Inishowen Peninsula at Bridge End, head along the main road toward Buncrana (R238). After about 5 miles, coastal scenery will open up on your left. The pub will be across the road on the right. I first discovered the Cyclist Rest when my husband and I were cycling home from the Gap of Mamore last summer. We were so out of it, we did not stop ...in fact we both assumed we had hallucinated it! It was only later that I looked up the name online out of curiosity and realised the pub was real. There was not much written about it though, which I thought odd - as surely something like this would be a well-known cyclo-tourist attraction? In reality though, as I discovered on subsequent visits, the pub is pretty low key and does not have much to do with cycling. The owner, Róisín, was kind enough to explain: The current owners took over the pub 10 years ago. It was the previous owner, over 4 decades earlier, who had named it The Cyclist Rest, and they simply kept the name. It was a name that, as I understand it, was once not uncommon in Ireland, though today it is pretty rare. As for the name's origin, it  is rather straightforward! The pub is located along a rolling road, and it sits on a rise - so that no matter what direction you're coming from, you are climbing for a couple of miles steady by the time you reach it. Hence: time to have a rest and replenish one's strength with a pint. The name is also apt for anyone doing the popular Inishowen 100 circuit counter-clockwise - which would mean passing the pub on the final leg, after having climbed the Gap of Mamore the 'difficult' way. But while decades ago this may have been the thing to do for cyclists, nowadays the stretch of road where the pub sits is quite busy and not entirely convenient to stop at. In fact, the pub's owner herself was gracious enough to recommend an alternative destination for my readers: The North Pole Bar (and B&B), outside of Buncrana, which is today a popular local cycling hub. That said: Should you wish to visit the Cyclist Rest - if only to take the obligatory photo - they will be happy to have you. They even keep emergency biscuits and tea for cyclists who need rescue from the 'bonk.' And, of course, Guinness for strength.
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The Reluctant Roadbike Commuter (Fri, 03 Mar 2017)

When I moved to rural Ireland, lots of people said (or wrote) to me some equivalent of: Aha! There’s no way you will continue commuting on an upright step-through bike. Those distances, those hills, those wind speeds? A roadbike will be more efficient and faster. And they weren’t wrong about those factors posing a challenge for plain-clothed transport cycling, as I had hitherto known it. However, I resisted the switch. Not out of principle. But because for transport, I genuinely feel more comfortable, more relaxed, more at ease, on an upright step-through bicycle - pedaling at moderate speeds, wearing my street clothes and shoes, arriving at my destination refreshed but not bedraggled. And so, despite the challenges of my new environment, I never changed my ways. And three and a half years later I still mostly commute on upright step-throughs. There are, however, times when even I must concede this is not a suitable option. When my destination, for instance, lies over a mountain and time is of the essence. Or the wind is so strong, that an upright bike would mean traveling at walking speed. Or even when I want to get some exercise and do not have the time to cycle for transport and sport as separate activities. On those occasions, I do use a roadbike to get around. And while it's not exactly ideal, I try to make the best of it. And as I rarely discuss this particular topic, today I thought I'd share my setup with you here. Setting up a roadbike for commuting is not in itself a problem, even for a backpack-hater such as myself. As my freelance work involves mostly writing, taking photos, and meeting with people regarding both of those things, in simplest terms I need the bike to carry my laptop and camera. This can be easily achieved by attaching some cycling luggage. The easiest candidate in my stable is Alice, as she is permanently fitted with full mudguards and a front rack. In commuter mode, I affix onto Alice a handlebar bag, a saddlebag, front and rear lights, and a stainless steel water bottle. Not so much because of the bags, as because of what is in them, in this state Alice weights at least 30lb, yet remains a fast performance bike - ready to deliver me to and from my destination with minimal struggle. More complicated is figuring out what to wear for this style of commuting. If I'm planning on meeting with people, or on sitting indoors for any length of time, I cannot arrive in all-out cycling gear. I know there are cyclists who find this doable, and I am genuinely glad it works for them. But for me it's uncomfortable, both physically and mentally, to spend the day in roadcycling apparel. Equally uncomfortable is riding a roadbike in street clothes, especially when distance and hills are involved. In a leaned-over position, jackets and tops start to pull at the seams; waistbands dig into tummy fat. Overall, 'normal' clothing begins to feel too fluttery and bulky to me once a roadbike gets involved. My compromise outfit aims for a happy medium. I wear padded shorts, with stretchy leggings over them. A base layer on top, with a long tunic over that. This tunic - a genius garment from Ibex - is a heavyweight jersey knit that nearly resembles a tweedy jacket-like thing, features a 2-way zipper, and is long and drapey enough to disguise the unsightly bulge of my padded shorts. Naturally, all of this is wool. As are my socks, underwear, neck warmer, and inevitable hat. From some angles (sadly, not from the one photographed!), this outfit almost passes for presentable. Except of course for those clipless shoes... Not to worry though, as I can bring my walking shoes, or boots, along in one of the bags (see also: Hysteria and the Cyclist's Wardrobe). Today they are in the Berthoud handlebar bag (size Small). However, normally that space would be occupied by a massive camera and lens(es), so the shoes would go in the back. For the rear I use a Dill Pickle saddlebag, size Large, made extra-wide for me on request to accommodate my 13" laptop inside a padded sleeve. This bag takes only a couple of minutes to attach/detach, and does not require a support rack. It can turn any bike into a laptop-toting commuter! The interior can swallow a 13" laptop easily, and then some, with room for shoes to spare. I can even stuff some random food items in there in addition, if I feel like stopping by the shop on the way home. The Lezyne lights I use these days (see review here) are reassuringly bright and easy to share between bikes. On Alice, which was previously fitted with a generator hub that has since been removed (needs servicing), I thought I would miss the lack of generator lighting and be quite annoyed to use these clip-on lights. However, in practice it has not been an issue. And miraculously, the headlight beam actually clears my handlebar bag. In the winter, I will also wear the dreaded 'puffy jacket.' Although normally I am no lover of the aforementioned garment, it is a jacket that is both warm enough to accommodate the sort of extreme temperature dips we can get here in the course of the day, and compact enough to shove into an already-stuffed handlebar bag should its services not be required. Overall, I stay comfortable, warm, dry. I have all the stuff I need for work. I look not great but okay. And even as I long for the step-through frame, the upright posture and the joys of a long tweed coat, I have to admit that the roadbike's speed and position are assets in difficult riding conditions. I'm a reluctant roadbike commuter. But when push comes to shove, a grateful one. 
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On the Dating Scene (Sun, 26 Feb 2017)

It's a situation which some people enjoy quite a bit, but which I, frankly, hoped to not find myself in again. I mean, the stress of it. The awkwardness. The expense. The uncertainty about future compatibility. And of course, that question most of us dread to even ask... What if he, or she, is French? That's right dear reader, I am back on the dating scene.  This time around I am older, possibly wiser, and - most importantly - armed with calipers. Where did we meet? Well, where else. On the internet. But it wasn't a random profile search that led me to him; in fact I wasn't even looking. We were sort of introduced, by a mutual friend. This friend did not beat around the bush. "Look here: I found a Sabliere. In your size. You must buy it." "Oh good lord, why?" "Because maybe then you'll believe that a bike from the 1960s can rival a modern racer in weight and performance." "I already believe. I don't need another frame. I really, really don't need another fr..." "Another frame?! This is not another frame, you philistine. This is a Sabliere!" At this point, I should have slammed my laptop shut. Walked away. Taken a cold shower. Instead I clicked on the link. The following week he arrived at my door. And yes... He was French. Now, what, or who, is this Sabliere, you might ask? And chances are, ask you will. Because Charles Sablière of Lyon was one of the lesser-known constructeurs - custom builders of fine racing, randonneuring and cyclotouring bicycles - in the heyday of such machines in 20th century France. Nowadays, you are more likely to find a bicycle made by his son, Andre Sablière, who picked up the torch in the 1970s. As far as the father, Charles, it is slim pickings. You can find some information on the older Sablière's machines here, along with illustrations by Daniel Rebour, along with other scatterings of published words and images, mostly in French. The rest is, alas, word of mouth. But while today the Sablière name is not as readily recognised as the names of Singer and Herse, it is nevertheless recognised in collector circles. Specifically he is known as an early adapter of fillet brazed construction, and for his exceptionally lightweight machines. How light? Well, our mutual friend - the one who got us together - challenged me as follows: To fit the Sablière frameset with period-correct components of the sort the builder himself would have used, and see how the result compared to my 2012 Seven Axiom - or, a typical carbon fibre bike seen at club rides today, for that matter. He reckoned they would be similar. "I want to believe," I replied. And wondered what the heck I had gotten myself into. Of course, to fit the frameset with period-correct components, it must be known what the 'correct' period is. Which is where the dating comes into it. So how does one date a bicycle, anyway? Well, you can't be too modest or shy when it comes to these things. Ideally, you'd inspect the bottom bracket. Look for a stamp indicating a serial number which can then be researched. Often the date itself will be part of that serial number, or stamped next to it. In the absence of such an easy tell (which, alas, is the case with the frame in question) there are other visual clues. To my eye, the 700C frame - in its aesthetics alone - suggested the mid-1960s, and with this my friend agreed. To confirm this, the measurements began - which for me, was pure torture, as I am hardly the most precise person in the world and seem to find it a challenge to even hold a ruler or a set of calipers straight. Still, after several tries I managed to get replicable measurements. The spacing between the rear and fork dropouts are consistent with 1960s manufacture. The inner diameter readings on the seat and head tubes, and the bottom bracket width, were all also consistent with a French frame of mid-late 1960s manufacture made using quality, thinwall tubing. So we are going with the mid-late 1960s hypothesis. Now, getting the appropriate components will be another matter. The wheels are built (more on those later), but the rest is up in the air. And my oh my, I am not sure what I look forward to more: sourcing lightweight French components, or honing my downtube shifting skills! Perhaps I can barter hand-knit hats again for components and coaching sessions? That the frame has been identified by a reputable party as a genuine Sabliere makes it rare and interesting. Still, its lack of markings makes it difficult to prove both this, and its age, definitively - which is frustrating, but also exciting, as it infuses the project with some degree of mystery. The 1570gr frameset is a beautiful shade of shimmery cerulean blue and, aside from the tidy fillet-brazing, has some other cool features. Notice, for instance, the flattening of the downtube toward the bottom bracket. Also quite sexy are the super-skinny fork blades. The fork crown and the wrap-around stays stand out, embrace-like, against the otherwise sparsely embellished frame. Overall, the frame has a look of minimalist chic about it. A nonchalant coolness. I imagine it smoking a skinny cigarette and shrugging its shoulders over a tiny cappuccino, as it throws me a glance - daring me to build it up and ride it, daring to compare it, without sparing its feelings, to the modern roadbikes I've ridden and praised over the past 5 years. And that, dear readers, is where dating a bicycle lands you. Let this be a tale of caution.
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I Sell Fluffy Things (Thu, 23 Feb 2017)

So, dear readers! I have been threatening to do this for - what - over a year now? And at last I am here to annoy you with an announcement of my little side project. As you might have noticed, there is a new sponsor on the sidebar. And that sponsor is ...me! Well, the knitting version of me, now known as LB Handknits. I will leave you to guess what the LB stands for. It was nearly 7 years ago now, as longtime readers might recall, that I first began bartering hand-knitted hats for bicycle parts through this blog. That went rather well. So well, that it evolved into a knitting-for-hire side project which, through word of mouth, has grown slowly but steadily over the past few years. Why knitting? I love making stuff, not just writing about others making stuff. And while I'm fascinated by things bicycle-related, I am not good at physically working on bikes and never will be. Which is fine, and which is why I admire those who are. I am, however, rather good at knitting. I have been knitting since childhood. I am quick. I can envision a design, pick up two sticks and some wool, and - woosh! - a garment materialises. In our day and age that is a nice skill to have. And it gives me great pleasure to use that skill to create clothing, start to finish, that someone out there will wear the heck out of and enjoy. If you'd like that someone to be you, you know where to click. I have tried to keep my prices low, at least to start with. And by low I mean: covering the costs of materials, plus paying myself a not-quite-minimum hourly wage. And while I realise that some will find the resultant price tags unaffordable, I hope in any case you find them fair. At the moment I have a small selection of ready-made socks and hats up in the shop. All are unisex, all made by me with locally spun Donegal Tweed or Alpaca wool. The temperature-regulating, moisture-wicking properties of the stuff are well known to us cyclists, and my designs aim to maximise these features. Once the things up on the site are sold, they are gone, but others will appear from time to time. I also take custom orders. For the knitters, there will be patterns added to the site very soon, as well as bits and bobs such as sock blockers and stitch markers down the line (I am working on some exciting collaborations!). Also watch for free tutorials on the LB Handknits blog (ever wanted to hand-knit a tweed jacket? I tried it!), and new photos added to the Look Book every week. And with that, I end this announcement, which I thank you for enduring, as I also thank those who encouraged me to 'launch' the shop. In launches as such I do not believe, but it's up anyway! If you are looking for some fine handmade woolens for yourself or a loved one, do consider LB Handknits and pay me a visit there.
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