Thursday, 21 August 2014

Announcing: A Viking Invasion

Yes, I did it:  I ordered a Viking Bromley singlespeed mixte from Parkers of Bolton, taking my chances with buying via mail order. 

Opening the box.
(Is there anything else as exciting as taking
delivery of a big cardboard box
that by its shape and size screams NEW BIKE?!)

If you are thinking of doing the same, here are a few points to consider. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

WOMEN'S CYCLING Giveaway: And The Winner Is ...

... Sarah L. of Somerville, Massachusetts, USA!

Congratulations, Sarah, your copy of Women's Cycling is winging its way to you now. I do hope you enjoy reading it and pick up some tips to help you with your next cycling challenge, which I understand is a 50 mile charity ride next month. Good luck!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Combined Ops

What a busy weekend! Hard on the heels of a Friday Night Ride to the Coast (Whitstable edition - one of the nicest ever - dry, not too cold, light tailwind), Adam and his son and I headed off on Sunday to the Headcorn Aerodrome in Kent, for The Military Show & Vintage Aircraft Weekend. 

The main draw for us was the scheduled appearance of the only two airworthy Lancaster bombers (one kept by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the other by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum), reunited here in the UK this summer to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. They were to be based at Biggin Hill airfield for the weekend but scheduled to do fly-bys and aerial displays over airfields all over the South East, including Headcorn. Adam and Sam went down to Eastbourne last Friday for the airshow there, and saw the Lancasters along with a number of other WWII-era aircraft. But Sunday would be my chance to finally see them, too. 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The London Town Bike Challenge: A Look at the Modern Viking

Just a few days ago, I wrote about the dilemma of finding a suitable bike for commuting in London with minimal risk of being stolen.

Recently I spied a new-ish Viking step-through framed bicycle locked up in the West End, one street away from my office.

I recognised the Viking name, partly because of a recent discussion on the Lovely Bicycle! blog about the Viking company, its English and Irish history and the "competent but un-inspired" reputation of its bicycles, but partly also because I run regular searches on Ebay for mixtes (as you do) and the Viking name comes up regularly as the main modern alternative to all the vintage Raleighs and Peugeots out there. From the Ebay listings, I knew the current owners of the Viking brand offer a 7-speed mixte called 'The Continental' and a singlespeed called 'The Bromley'. I also knew they are incredibly cheap! The Continental runs £160-£180 and the Bromley is often well under £150. Most are offered for sale by Parkers of Bolton, a well-established online retailer in the north of England. And if you visit Parkers' website, you'll find both models at even lower prices than those on Ebay. 

Frankly, I had assumed that the Vikings on Ebay were "Bike Shaped Objects" on a par with what you can expect to buy from the likes of Halfords. True, the Viking name has more 'heritage' behind it than Apollo but these days it's difficult to know who owns the Viking brand or where exactly the bikes are made. It certainly is not Wolverhampton or Derry anymore! 

But to be honest, I was really impressed by the bike I saw in person. It was obviously quite new so it's hard to say what it will look after the coming winter, but the welds were tidy and the build looked really quite nice. 

So at this kind of price point, is Viking worth considering?  I'm going to take a closer look at the two models of mixte.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The London Town Bike Challenge

A common sight in central London.  Basket optional.
Image courtesy Watch My Wallet 

For the past 5 weeks, I have been without a commuting bike that I could leave locked up in London overnight. As explained in previous posts, when I started a new job in central London last April, I had assumed that I would resume using Lucy the Brompton for round-trip commuting duties (especially with her more hill-friendly 8-speed upgrade), but found in reality that she's too heavy for lugging up and down stairs at Luton rail station (where there are no lifts to the platforms). I then thought that the solution would be to eliminate the need to carry a bike on the train at all -- simply have one bike that I ride back and forth between home and Luton station and a second bike that I ride in London between St Pancras station and my office in the West End. Obviously, however, the Brompton would not be ideal for either role: not really hill-friendly even with those 8 gears and far too valuable to leave locked up anywhere out of my sight, whether at Luton or St Pancras or my office. 

The Surly Cross Check is perfect for the Bedfordshire end of my commute -- it's tough as old boots with touring gears, full mudguards and a sturdy rack. The question was, what to use on the London end? 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Magazine Review: WOMENS CYCLING ** And First Blog GIVEAWAY! **

A new magazine launched here in the UK last year, aimed specifically at women cyclists.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I first heard about it. I had been reading the likes of Cycling Plus, Cycling Active and Cycling Weekly for years. None of these well-established titles expressly say they write for men, but it's pretty obvious that they do! Each occasionally has an article or two per issue dealing with issues specific to women, but these generally are along the lines of "5 Winter Jackets for Women" (when the corresponding article for men is "20 Winter Jackets for Men"). One of these magazines (I've forgotten which) tried including a separate supplement for women with one issue. It was about 16 pages long. All the articles had a whiff of condescension. You know the test for how to give advice or write a how-to article? Swap out all the pronouns and ask yourself, would I say this to a man?

The mainstream articles were spectacularly failing to address women as equals, but frankly I wasn't too confident that a womens-specific magazine would be the answer. Would everything sound as if it was pitched to beginning cyclists?  Or, at the other end, assume all women are interesting in how the pro cyclists are doing -- albeit the female ones, not necessarily Mark Cavendish et al.

Well, I am pleased to say that Womens Cycling has got it just about right. After reading two issues (and finding it just a bit of a bother to find them each time a new one came out, as not many shops were stocking this title yet), I took out a subscription.

Here's a little peak into the latest issue, which landed on my doormat a week ago.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Last Goodbye

It is with great sadness that I announce that Swoopy could not be saved.

We made another attempt to build her up -- this time with a proper plan and a selection of new components that all worked together, as opposed to a hodgepodge of old parts we happened to have lying around!

Unfortunately, the slight kink in the driveside rear triangle (just above the dropout) means there is no way to prevent movement of the wheel in the dropout. Adam believed that fitting a rear mech would help make allowance for any movement, but we have not been able to find a mech hanger that fits the dropout very well. The best fitting one we found could not be fitted so that absolutely no movement was possible.

So today I'm afraid we stripped the frame again and are awaiting the next visit of the rag-and-bone man.

I am very disappointed as she was a lovely ride -- quite sprightly and responsive.

RIP Swoopy.

In looking back at my first post about Swoopy, written with such excitement and hope, I am grief-stricken too by the fact that the kitty who inspected her that momentous day is gone now, as well.

Unbeknownst to us, she had heart disease and one morning in early June, her little heart just gave up. And with her last heartbeat, my heart was broken too.

RIP Sara.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Talisker Loop (#ScotTour Day 5)

On our first day based in Portree, we set off back the way we had come the previous day (I detect a pattern here...). We had an appointment on the other side of the Isle at 11am and could not be late!

This called for a Big Breakfast.

I left the B&B saying "Today, I am going to suffer". I dreaded the climb up out of Portree towards Sligachan (remembering the wind and inconsistent gradient) that was such an unwelcome surprise the day before) and figured I better resign myself to it -- make my peace with it, manage my expectations -- well before I actually had to do it. 

That "talking to" I gave myself must have worked, because it was... dare I say it, a breeze. Adam was waiting at the top and I cruised up to him saying "I don't believe it, my heart rate is still normal". 

At Sligachan, we turned westward off the A87, onto the A863. The day before, it had seemed to me that this road (across the middle of Skye from coast to coast) was siphoning off a great deal of traffic from the A87 -- for which I had been very grateful! So today, I was braced for quite a lot of motorhome and caravan traffic, on a road even less suited to it than the A87. 

We were immediately faced with a climb upwards into -- surprise, surprise -- low cloud and mist. There were no motor vehicles, none moving at least. Instead, we found ourselves negotiating a few families (with children) and walking groups, all strolling down (or up) the middle of the road. We went by a few cars parked up alongside the road, before cresting the backbone of the Isle and free-wheeling for miles down towards Loch Harport. 

The view across the valley, as we coasted to the coast.

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