Monday, 11 June 2018

Short London to Brighton Overnight Video

A blog post will follow but I thought I would share a short video I captured with my iPhone and edited on the train home from the last Friday night/Saturday morning night ride to the coast - London to Brighton.

Watch at the highest quality you can. Mac users you can watch in 4K if you open it in Chrome.

Click to watch video

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Surly Beginnings

About five years ago, at about the time I was buying my first Brompton and I remember having a go on a friends Surly Long Hall Trucker who was going to use it to cycle 'The Great Divide.' The Surly LHT was so versatile and so customisable that despite being a mountain bike route, his bike was kitted out with wide mountain bike tyres, gearing that could get him up almost any ascent and have front and rear racks to carry all his belongings. He completed 1000 miles of the route  that runs from from Canada to Mexico but due to unforeseen circumstances had to cut short his trip. Upon his return his Surly LHT was converted back to a light tourer with different gearing and wheels. I was in awe of that bike...almost intimidated by it if anything and left it there as a grail bicycle.

A few years later after lots of Brompton adventures I bought a Condor Fratello road bike. This is an all-rounder and could be used for light touring (rear racks / mudguards can be easily fitted) and I instantly fell in love with it. Miles just seemed to fly by

so easily on it. I know that it is a bike a will almost certainly never sell.

Wanting something that was a little more rugged and could do road as well as off-road I went on a few night rides with some devotees to the Specialized AWOL. These are steel bikes a little in the lines of the Surly LHT. I really liked them but didn't get any further than that.

There are times in life when you make a mistake as far as bicycles go. For me that was a Whyte 629 mountain bike. I had some wonderful adventures on it and even used it to rack up most of the miles needed to complete the Rapha 500 in the run up to Christmas 2016. However, despite its quite wonderful off road prowess, on the open road it felt sluggish and I didn't enjoy it. I found that although I liked it for anything off-road or trail-like, as far as the open road was concerned (which was often how I got to the off-road stuff) it was a bit of a chore.

I had to make the decision to sell the Whyte 629 and with that sold and one of my loved Brompton bicycles also being sold - very reluctantly I have to say - I decided to look into buying something like the AWOL or the LHT.

To my shame I was totally unaware that Surly had a version of the LHT with disc brakes - which was something that had stopped me actually buying one before. On a recent night ride to the coast I saw one of the participants on a gorgeous Surly (heavily customised) that looked very much like a Long Haul Trucker but this one had disc brakes? A quick search and I discovered that a disc version had been around for several years in the form of the 'Surly Disc Trucker.'

At home I searched for an old Moleskine notebook in which I had written down a few notes about the LHT and sizing and headed off to the quite wonderful 'Compton Cycles' in Catford to test ride a Disc Trucker.

Sadly, Compton's didn't have the 26" wheel version but with the geometry of the 700c wheeled version being much the same I tested that instead. I was pretty sure that the bike would fit well as I had tested out my friends version several times. (He still has it and uses it by the way and now lives in Canada).

The much more upright riding position, despite having drop handlebars, I found very agreeable and comfortable, more so than on my Condor road bike for which I had a bike fit! The bike had quite wide tyres (wider so on the 26" wheel version I wanted) and I again found them rather good.

The gearing was a bit of a revelation. The Surly's come with bar end shifters. The right one is indexed and the left that controls the shifter from one chainring to another is friction fit. I really enjoyed using these and didn't find them much slower than the much more modern Shimano 105's on my Condor.

The 11-36t cassette, coupled with the 26/36/48t tripple chainring meant that I effectively had the best of both worlds. I had something to get me up the steepest of hills and yet be able to cruise along on the road at a decent pace. When I got back to the shop I placed and order.

On Friday I got an email from Jim at Compton's that the bike was in. Saturday morning I travelled over to Catford with mudguards and rear rack I had ordered in the meantime and handed them over to Jim for fitting once the bike was ready.

Retiring to an establishment that sold tea for a while I returned to find Compton's incredibly busy. Offered a seat while I waited for the bike to be made ready I saw Jim and his team at work. I have to report that if you live anywhere near London, go to Compton Cycles. They are brilliant. There were all manner of customers and enquiries and Jim and his team were absolute troopers!

With the bike ready I wheeled it out and decided to head for Greenwich. I don't know why I just set my Wahoo Bolt to navigate me to there and I was off.

The bike felt really comfortable and it was as if I were riding a bike I had owned for several years as apposed several minutes! Again I really enjoyed using the bar end shifters - something I thought I would have to change straight away.

Arriving at Vicars Hill a fairly steep road it proved to be little trouble for the Surly gearing and I had many more cogs and a whole chainring left in the bag.

Once home I mounted the three bottle mounts the Surly posses, a Brooks B17 saddle and some leather bar tape.

On the open road I found that the 1.75" tyres didn't really slow things down too much. On the straights I could easily cruise along at over 20 mph. It is not an 8kg carbon road bike but nor it is meant to be. It is possibly 14.5 kilos but hey,  I can live with that if I like it as much as I already do.

Taking the bike out early this morning I enjoyed almost 10 miles on the open road and 10 miles along a trail - which had the added bonus of being a disused railway track.

Look up Surly Long Haul Trucker / Disc Trucker on the internet and you'll find people all across the world singing its praises and using it on the most incredible adventures in far flung locations. I am not sure that my one will be taken to places as exotic or remote but its nice to know I could.

My Surly Disc Trucker could very well be the most comfortable bike I have ever owned. I am pretty sure that it will take me on lots of adventures as I have already developed quite a soft spot for it!

Link to blog

Monday, 28 May 2018

Bristol to Cardiff - bicycles, trains, bridges and horses

Friday night was to be a very different sort of night ride. It wasn't to start in London and I would be cycling in another country. In addition to this, when I set out for my nocturnal adventure, the sun had not set and it would not for a few hours.

The ride was actually Bristol to Barry (but as the blog title indicates I bailed at Cardiff).  So rather than the usual central London meet / start point I travelled the short distance to Paddington Station where I was to meet Geoff - also on his Brompton.

The start of a nocturnal adventure in daylight!

Paddington was very busy when I arrived and people were milling about and waiting for or running to catch their train. While I waited for Geoff to arrive I admired the roof which had been originally designed by the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In fact much of the Great Western Railway line was also engineered by Brunel as well. There was definitely a running theme to this ride.


While I took a few photos of my Brompton I kept a close eye on a little dog that looked like it could be a savage little beast if it wanted to! It kept a watchful eye on my movements and looked ready to strike if I advanced any closer to what it obviously considered its territory!!

While this was all going on a brass band played a few well know tunes. They were very good and I for one was grateful that I had this to listen to while I waited.

Soon Geoff arrived and after getting a cup of tea we waited for our train to pop up on the electronic departures board. With the train and its ever important platform number appearing we boarded the train, locked the bikes to the luggage rack and retired to our seats. To go with our tea, Geoff had kindly brought some custard donuts. These I consumed with enthusiasm.

Don't let its petite size fool you. He was a beast!

The journey to Bristol Tempe Meads - much it also being designed by Brunel - took a few hours to get to but the journey did seem to go quite quickly. Once out on to the station platform the night was still fairly mild and a mosaic of Brunel continued the running theme.

Bristol at night was dominated by clubs and pubs with lots of people being half cut and enjoying themselves in vocal fashion. Seeing a lady in her late 20's on her knees vomiting with her friend by her side trying to step away from the growing puddle like the tide coming in, was not really a spectator sport!

Geoff and I navigated the mile or so the the meeting point that had Bristol Cathedral as a backdrop and generally a more subdued part of Bristol.

Soon more riders came. A veteran of all things Friday night Stuart actually rode 100 miles or so to get to Bristol and then had the 70 or so miles of the actual night ride to do. Chapeau or what!! Before long were were over twenty in number and going through the interactive safety briefing. That done we were off.

We soon found ourselves cycling across the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The bridge is world famous and has a grade I listing. The original bridge was designed by - you guessed it - Brunel but built to a design by William Barlow and John Hawkshaw. Despite this, ask almost anyone who designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge and 9 times out of 10 you will hear the name Brunel.

Not long after the Clifton Suspension Bridge we saw another in the distance - Avonmouth Bridge. Geoff and I stopped to take a few photos of it before pedalling hard to catch up.

Crossing the Avonmouth Bridge was very pleasant insofar as there was a dedicated cycleway. The bridge was opened in 1974 and despite being 98.4 ft above the water below, those suffering from a fear of heights need not have worried as all that could be seen was darkness. It was as if we were almost flying.

Next on the list was the Severn Bridge. Again this had a very pleasant cycleway all blocked off from the traffic of the M48. The cycleway is 154 ft above the River Severn below and again nothing could be seem - which is probably a good thing.

Taking photos was difficult but it didn't deter many of us from trying. I mean, it isn't every day you cycle across the Severn Bridge. Of course there may be people who do just that!

Geoff and I were both very keen to spot a sign that said we were now in Wales. I couldn't see any but luckily Geoff did and we stopped to take a photo just for good measure.

Perhaps due to the smallish group of 20 or so riders, the wonderful route, the company or a combination of all of these, the miles seem to fly by. We approached the tearooms at Goldcliff in good time.

The half way stop was memorable for all the right reasons. After collecting a cheese toastie - wrapped in tin foil and when opened just right - a mug of tea and a rather fine slice of homemade carrot cake, many of us retired to a large garden shed with lots of seating. It was as quirky as it was  welcoming.

When we emerged from the shed and got ourselves ready we lined up outside and the lady who owned the tearooms took a photo of us all lined up.

Sadly, James came off his bike. He had not really got going but he had a nasty fall and looked as if he had damaged his wheel slightly. Unfortunately he had also damaged his chainring which meant the chain would always come off after a few revolutions. For him the rider was over.

Sheep in the distance trying to see what was going on

Pressing on towards Newport we came across another quite amazing bridge in the form of the Newport Transporter Bridge. There are less than 10 of these left in the world and this one is fully working.

The suspended platform can take a few cars and if it had of been open I know that I would have gone on it a few times.

The scenery of Wales in the early morning was wonderful. One strange feature was seeing ponies at the side of the road on grassy verges, happily munching away. I must have counted 15 of them on one stretch of road.

No, not a pony.

Sadly, after checking my phone for messages I had to get back to the big smoke a little sooner than I had anticipated so at Cardiff and 59 miles in I bailed. Saying goodbye to Geoff and Adrian (on a rather fine Surly a particular bicycle and brand I have coveted for many years) I made my way to Cardiff Central Station.

The journey home took nearly three hours and when I arrived at Paddington I was glad to be off the train. I could have taken the tube home but decided it was a lovely day and I needed to make up the miles so I cycled the 13.5 miles home. As I passed Kensal Green Cemetery the theme of this ride continued further as the Brunel family are buried in a a modest plot (by the standards of the surrounding graves) there. I wondered what Brunel might of made of a small wheeled folding bike? I strongly suspect he might have been able to provide a few ideas but would surely have approved.

This was a great adventure and I really enjoyed it. Thanks to Steve for leading the ride and providing an excellent route, Adrian for his role as TEC and Geoff for his company throughout the ride. If this is on next year (which I hope it is) I would like to do it all again.