Tag Archives: bicycle

Stolen Saddle Bag

Saddle Bag

Today, some odious little tosser has stolen my Bontrager saddle bag from my bike. It didn’t have anything in it, except for some mud, and it is quite positively the worst cycling accessory I have ever purchased in my life. I shan’t miss it. With a sort of gypsy’s curse, I hope it brings as much misery to the thief as it did to me.

The bag never really served any purpose for me. It was too small to fit anything in, other than perhaps a small bunch of keys or some energy bars – certainly nothing that wouldn’t fit in a typical jersey or jacket pocket anyway. It hung awkwardly beneath the saddle and all it really did was block my rear reflector and invite people to unzip it to see if there was anything inside worth stealing. It was an impulse purchase back from when I first got into cycling and I thought it looked like the kind of thing I “might” need, “just in case”. Well, I never did, and I don’t care, so there.

Enjoy your mud-filled worthless accessory, Mr Tea-Leaf.

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Worn Brake Pads


When your brake pads start to squeak and squeal horribly, it’s probably because the metal behind the pads has become exposed through wear. It’s time for a replacement. Without realising it, all four of mine had gone at the same time (see above for an idea of what they looked like).

There’s some really good videos on the Internet showing you how to replace the pads, and it’s certainly not a difficult job. The wear and tear on my pads was discovered a couple of months ago when I took my bike in for its 6-week service at Evans, and they only charged me £12 for a new set of pads. The difference is, as you would expect, quite amazing – as well as being critical for your riding safety. If your brakes are squeaking and rubbing, don’t leave it to chance. Have a look, and if they look like my old set here, get them changed.

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The Big Bike Cleanup

Bike maintenance is one of those things that I often think I should do, but frequently find excuses to just go out on “one more ride” before getting round to it. As a rough guide, so I was told, routine maintenance – including cleaning, checking tire pressure and so on – should happen about once a month, unless there are obvious problems. In winter, cleaning should be more frequent, owing to the generally wetter, dirtier and grittier road surfaces. As I’m largely an off-road cyclist in my leisure time, I’m quite good at the once-a-month clean – but I have neglected my bike a bit of late. After my Boxing Day ride, I simply had to brave the weather the day after and get on with it – my wheels and gears were clogged with mud, and I could literally feel the grit and muck in the chain as I pedalled when I came back home. Worryingly, my chain appeared to have gone rusty in all the bad weather of late.

Like most people, I find cleaning my bike a bit of a chore – but one thing I found very helpful was my latest Christmas present, the Raleigh “Bike Hand” Workstand. This allows you to lift your bike off the ground and work on all the mechanical parts at eye level. It also allows you to freely spin the wheels (the importance of which I’ll cover later) when you’re working, and you can move freely all around your bike – something you can’t do if you’re leaning it on a wall or on the ground. It retails for around £100, and my first impressions were that it was sturdy, of good quality and very easy to use. I had to tighten a couple of the quick-release levers, but that was just a case of turning a couple of nuts.

Bike ready for cleaning

A variety of cleaning products are marketed at cyclists, such as Muc Off, Pedros and Dirtwash, all designed to remove tough mud from your bike without the use of soap and water. Here, for me, lies the rub – none of them, in my experience, are any better than using a bucket of hot water and a sponge. I’ve never had trouble with even the hardest packed-on mud. I have, however, been using a bottle of Dirtwash lately, because it’s given away free by Evans Cycles in their regular Fix It! classes. I don’t think I’ll bother to replace it when it’s empty, but you get quite a generous amount.

As you can see from the following images, my bike had suffered quite a bit with my latest ride – look at the colour of the chain and casette, particularly:

Always a dirt magnet - the front mech  IMG_0314 IMG_0315

However, as well as a bottle of Dirtwash and some soap & water, my other tool of choice is the excellent Park Tool “Cyclone” Chain Scrubber, seen here on my kitchen side:

Park Tool Chain Cleaner

Short of removing the chain completely, I haven’t ever used anything that’s come even remotely close to being as good as this for cleaning up the chain. It works by filling the gadget with de-greaser (available from most cycle shops; basically just a lemon juice / detergent solution), clamping it around the chain and then turning the pedals. The cranking action pulls the chain through the scrubber, which has several little brushes inside to get into all those hard-to-reach places between links. Park Tools also supply a handy stiff-bristle brush with the chain tool, which is ideal for scrubbing mud out from between the gears and rear derailleur:


If you try and do it with a cloth, you’ll probably shred it to pieces on the teeth of the cogs.

I started my cleanup by liberally squirting Dirtwash all over my bike and left it for about 30 seconds before going over it with hot, soapy water. The mud just slid off, leaving behind clean and shiny surfaces all over. This was all easy enough – just don’t use a jetwasher to do this, else you run the risk of blasting grease out of important parts and damaging fragile bits & pieces. Imagine having to put the rear derailleur back together because you shot it to bits with high-pressure water!


Once I’d removed all the clogged bits of mud, I scrubbed between the cogs with the brush shown above. Sure enough, great chunks came out of my gears, including grass, stones and clumps of grit – all little things that could do damage to your bike long-term if not taken care of. I then came to the fun part – cleaning the chain. This used to be a hassle when I had to find ways of standing my bike up so I could crank the wheels round, but the Raleigh Bike Hand had now made short work of that. As a result, the Park Tool cyclone worked like a dream, and I was amazed as I watched my chain change colour before my eyes; it wasn’t rusty after all! You can see how much muck was taken off just the chain alone in the picture below – this was after I’d accidentally spilled the mucky water in the bottom of the cyclone on the ground while setting up this photo:


The tissue was used just to remove excess water and grit left on after going through the cleaning mechanism. You can see a good video over on Youtube showing exactly how this tool works. Look at the difference it made to my chain:


All that was required after this was an application of Wet Weather lubricant to every link and rivet in the chain – again, very easy if you’re using a workstand. If you use a summer Dry lubricant, you won’t get the same level of protection. You can get “all year round” lubricants, but the last bottle I had of one of these was utter crap – I now use specific lubricants for specific conditions. It needs to be applied liberally.

The end result of my Bike Bike Cleanup looked like this:


Considering I hadn’t taken my bike apart and cleaned each piece by hand, I was very satisfied with the end result. Bike maintenance doesn’t have to be expensive – you don’t *need* the chain cleaner, Dirtwash (or Muc off, etc) or the workstand, but they do make life easier. You can’t, unfortunately, do without the degreaser or the lubricant. Maintenance should be performed regularly – I recommend monthly – and it is here that you’ll notice any problems developing. While doing this cleanup, I also noticed that my rear brake lever was having problems (easily fixed by tweaking the barrel adjuster and adding some lubricant) and that my tires were woefully under pressured. This simple, regular maintenance can stop long-term expensive problems developing. You also get the satisfaction of a job well-done, restoring your pride and joy to nearly-new bike-shop condition!

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The Power of Headlights

At this time of year, with the light getting dark at around 4pm, headlights are (in my view) an absolutely essential purchase – though, of course, not legally required.

When I first bought my Pinnacle, I also got a pack of Cateye lights thrown in on the Ride to Work scheme. “I only need them to be seen,” I told the salesman, and duly he gave me a pack of lights that could just about light up the inside of a paper bag. The folly of this purchase became painfully obvious to me when riding on the huge cycle paths near Woking in Surrey – they’re absolutely no good whatsoever. If you can’t see the pavement in front of you in the dark, you’re riding dangerously. Even street lights often don’t give you much light to ride by, and car headlights present all their own hazards.

For the winter, I purchased a Lezyne Power XL from Evans Cycles. Retailing at around £85, it came as highly recommended by Cycling Active magazine as one of the best purchases for under £100. Prices for bike lights can go to stupid heights – I’ve even seen one set for over £400. That’s more than my bike cost. Anyway, the Lezyne is powerful – with several modes of varying brightness, all of which give different longevity to the battery, which is USB chargeable. This is a constant balancing act for cyclists. Simply put, we don’t have the huge batteries of cars, and no alternator to charge up on the go. The more light you want, the less time your battery is going to last. Lezyne claim that the Power XL will give you around 4 hours light on its maximum setting, but in reality I’ve found it’s more like 2 – 3, and can get quite a bit dimmer as it tries to conserve energy in its death throes. The Power XL does give off a decent beam, though, and is ideal for commuters. The fitting to the bike can be a bit of a pain, and has a tendency to shake loose if you go over a hard bump, but that may just be the way I’ve got it installed. It’s frequently discounted, and the bargain price of £64 I paid makes it worth every penny.

Things brings me to my final point: other cyclists. If you’re in a 2-way cycle lane, coming head-on to other cyclists, and you have no headlight, you’re an accident waiting to happen. Twice in the last month, I’ve had to brake sharply because a cyclist couldn’t see the lane properly and was about to hit me head-on. Be safe, be visible, and invest in a decent light.

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