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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Buying a bike as a gift and MTB racing

Ok, so you want to buy a mountain bike for Christmas...

If you are thinking of buying someone special a mountain bike - then the place to start (unless you are enormously flush) is a "hard tail" bike. When you spend money on a bike you are buying:
  • lightness
  • reliability, and
  • ease of use
A cheap bike might work well to start with, but if it's used regularly off road, you'd better be a good mechanic So what should you spend? (Lets assume this is for an adult - or at least someone who won't get too much bigger) Well, how does £500 sound? Does it sound a lot? If so, then maybe have a serious think about a second hand bike. And if you do, get expert help.

For a £500 bike, you really can't get much better than this Merlin-malt 2 mountain bike It has disc brakes and a full Shimano groupset, a light frame and looks pretty cool.

The other bikes of this quality are mainly £650 plus, this includes the Boardman from Halfords and the offers from Trek, and usual suspects. For me - I'd go for the Merlin, it has much better forks, which may appear to be trivial - but vital on an MTB and it stands out from the crowd.

Of course, if you are feeling really flush, then you could go for something like this, Santa Cruz Heckler which is my main bike. I built mine up from a bare frame - but it's unbustable, comfortable, and will last for ever. I did try and replace it, but I ended up preferring the Santa Cruz. For an American bike, it almost looks exactly like a bike designed for the UK. It's got single pivot suspension, so less to wear out in the rain and mud, it has loads of clearance and is not too heavy or too fragile.

I do wonder how it came about, I mean do they get much rain and mud in California? The company is good at replying to e-mails too - I had a query about forks if you were wondering (which of course, you were.......)

If anyone want to buy a second hand bike - then I'd be happy to help. I love spending other people's money.

It's too cold to go cycling?

There is never the wrong weather, just the wrong clothing. There are limitations - I have called off mountain bike rides when the trails were covered in ice, but most of the time it is possible to get out and ride. Snow if fine - so long as you are careful.



I prefer riding off road in winter. It may look less safe, compared to the road, but you only have to deal with nature and not a driver in a rush for dinner..and there are ways of making your winter MTB ride "easier". 

This would be my list of things to consider;
  1. Tyre choice. It really is worth getting a pair of more knobbly tyres 10-of-the-best-mud-tyres My view is that for loose mud, a tall knob is best, if it's sandy and grippy mud, a low wide spaced knob is best (stop sniggering at the back)
  2. Mud guards. You might not like a Crud Guard, but it's better than a back covered in mud
  3. Wash your bike, before you wash yourself. The Army has a mantra, Gun, Kit, Self. Now, whilst I don't pack a gun for most of my rides, I do clean my bike as soon as I get in. If there are a bunch of you, do it as a team - then go for a shower (not necessarily as a team), then go to the pub - you'll have earned it!
  4. Use winter chain oil. It's a no brainer - but it's £5 well spent - your chain will thank you
  5. Clothing
    1. Merino underwear is good (for cycling....) if  not that sexy.......
    2. Windproofing is better than water proofing if it's not raining, less "boil in the bag"
    3. Waterproof socks rock - I use Seal Skins
    4. Longs keep your legs clean and warm and save drinking time post ride
    5. Get a buff
    6. Wear a balaclava under your helmet
Give it a go, charge those lights. Don't go by yourself, just in case.....

Ease your way into racing - and winter is host to many races......

I am often asked how to give racing a go. Well it depends upon your discipline - but I will briefly look at XC (cross country) MTBing this time and Time Trails another day.. Whilst Sportive events exist for XC MTB'ers and are a useful way of "doing an event" it's not like racing. It doesn't really get your adrenaline going and you're not really competing, you're participating. 

So XC mountain bike races.  Events you can do on your usual kit or with very little adaptation. I'm assuming you have bike if you are reading this nonsense.

Cross Country Mountain Bike Racing (XC MTB)

I've done a number of these races. So what does a race look like? Well, it's a mountain bike event, usually using a lap of around 5 miles and over fairly testing but not difficult terrain. A starter race would last around an hour and cover two laps XC MTB is raced in classes and this makes it possible to find a level that you won't feel a complete berk in. A bit of a berk possibly.....but not a total berk.

Gorrick Mountain Bike Club are one of many who host races. They organise races around the Bracknell/North Surrey area and have a guide to entering racing The link goes to the class you should start in. what I call the "so called Fun Class". It's harder than you think, but not so hard you'll never have another go. You don't have to be a brilliant technical rider, but a decent level of fitness would help.

I would prepare by doing something like building up to a one hour of non stop MTB ride on your fav trails. When you you can do 10 odd miles in that time you're ready to roll. You'll probably end up in the middle of the finishers. If you can't do an hour without stopping at a reasonable (but not Olympic) pace, I'd keep the training going. If you can ride 16-18 miles in an hour on your road hybrid in an hour - you'll be fine too!

I know of racing with Gorrick and at Thetford Forest and East of England and XC Racer has a lot of stuff on  racing. And if I can do it anyone can. You could do beginners class, which is one lap, but that mainly for kids and the really unfit and you can do an hour on the bike, can't you? And in beginners' class, you will definitely look a bit of a berk........

Here's a link to a Race Day - Gorrick

Update on Xmas Pudding Vodka and a Xmas pudding link

Made the first batch - and it rocks - give it a go - best straight from the freezer. I just made this christmas pudding. I made just one (half quantities) and its a faff to boil for 8 hours - but it looks great. I used ready prepared citrus peel, much easier!

Recipe of the week - peanut butter cookies

This is easy, super tasty and will gain you friends. This Peanut butter cookie recipe makes about 12 very large ones - they spread on the baking tray - and you might need to separate then a little. Survives a little over cooking. They need to colour slightly and will fall slightly in the middle on cooling. They are chewy and fab

Make some now! Probably best to share unless you want that ever so fashionable "prosperous" look.....they are made from peanut butter........



Friday, 16 November 2012

Christmas presents for cyclists and why Pink Stinks

Christmas - a time for "guiding" your friends and family

Like many cyclists, I am rather picky about the parts and accessories I like. It's not being difficult, honest, it's just that my bike, like yours, is a very personal expression of me. Many cyclists have a very close relationship with their machine(s) and it's the customisation that makes a bike"yours". Of course, these changes are never ending as stuff wears out, or you notice a little carbon item that will be vital to your enjoyment and safety. Well, ok, vital to your bling factor......

So, what's a keen cyclist to do at this time of the year? Well, no one wants to look difficult or ungrateful but having in a previous life been given lovely cycle gifts of dubious origin I started to be very specific with what I might like as a gift. 

I have to say that Aldi and Lidl often have really good bits and pieces for bikes and bikers, but be selective. This offer (now expired) included a bike repair stand for £30. Now, it would only be useful for occasional use but it's the way to go for repairs and far better than wedging your bike against the garage wall. They have also offered some excellent value cycling shoes - so good, my wife has two pairs!

So - presents........ Gift vouchers might be a good way to go, depending upon where it was from. I know people don't like giving value presents - but it's effective. One of my favourite bike-part porn sites is ChainReactionCycles (CRC) and they do vouchers from one pound. They also deliver virtually everything for free. Merlin Cycles do a similar "e-voucher" and are also home to the UK's best value own-brand hard tail MTB's

The other possibility is what I might call consumables. Chain lube, energy bars, more energy powder (match whatever is already in the house, carefully) are all welcome. A bottle of Finish Line Green and Red chain oils would never be a wrong option, nor would any bike cleaning items from the big manufacturers such as Finish Line and Muc Off and Park Tools - name but three of the many cleaning products at Chain Reaction Cycles

Cycles for kids for Christmas

I had bikes as a kid for Christmas. As a kid, I didn't really care, but I guess things have changed since 1968.......Cycle fashions come and go and many bikes for kids are made to look a bit "mountain bike-y" or a bit "BMX-y" and there is nothing wrong with that. It is important to remember though that knobbly tyres offer less grip on tarmac/pavements and a BMX style one speed bike will be a pain to go any distance on.

So what's out there? Well, Halfords do a service and CRC have a long list of kids bikes. But whatever you do, please avoid PINK BIKES FOR GIRLS. Ok, so it's a personal bug bear.........

The Pink Stinks website is one to have a look at for "pink issues".

The pinkification of being a girl - and skiing......

It's not just cycling that has a pink problem, skiing has a similar problem. Apparently, a ski insider tells me, "women's specific" in skiing means "fat calves, wide arse, can't ski for toffee". This has a number of strange effects. Women's kit has to have some flowery/butterfly/kitten motif, probably some crystals (bits of cheap glass glued on somewhere) and a range of colours that we had hoped, died sometime in the 80's, but that designers think that women might just like resurrected. 

At the performance end of skiing, this ends up with hardly any skis being long enough for good women skiers (who then properly, select a weapon from the men's range - or "unisex" range)

But are the marketeers so limited in their thinking that the only way they think they can sell sports stuff to women is to make it pink? It beggars belief!

Recipe of the week - Christmas pudding vodka...

Ok, so it's not a particularly healthy recipe, well, actually rather unhealthy, apart from probably some vitamin C content....but if you are struggling for a pressie for a cyclist, I have yet to meet one who after the tea, cakes and long ride, wouldn't fancy sitting down to a post shower "nip".

This comes from the Hairy (Motor) Bikers recipes, which of course now include odd diet food like lasagne made with leeks instead of pasta. Isn't that just spiced mince in a dish?

Anyway - this looks like it can be made in three days, I'm making mine next week, just in time for the festive season!

Christmas Pudding Vodka        Please note the recipe repeats itself. Odd for the BBC!