Saturday, 14 February 2015

Fittings update: Busch and Muller Toplight

In my previous blog entry I showed pictures of the home-made bracket for the Busch and Muller Toplight. The idea was to fix this rear dynamo light to the Carradice Bagman rack and enable me to mount the light centrally.

Unfortunately the bracket - a cut-up bidon - wasn't sturdy enough and the unit's centre of gravity kept pulling the bracket round causing the rear light to shine on the ground. A fellow audaxer and member of the 'yet another cycling forum' community got in touch and sent me some p-clips.

These clips have clamped securely round the smooth metal of the bagman and so far are holding the light perfectly aligned and facing following traffic.

Thanks to Nick for sending me these clips - very much appreciated.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Review: Busch & Muller Toplight

After enjoying the benefits of the amazing Busch & Muller Lumotec IQ2 Luxos for about a year, and sort of wishing for a dynamo rear light but being unable to justify it while I had plenty of battery powered ones... eventually the rain destroyed my very old CatEye (which had given me excellent service itself). I was pleased to have a chance to purchase a "B&M Toplight Line brake plus rear break light" (Honestly I think there must be a shorter name) from Rose Bikes in Germany. Even with shipping it seems to be significantly cheaper to pick these lights up from Germany and the choice is much more extensive.

I was drawn to the B&M Toplight Brake Plus thanks to Dave McCraw's excellent review on "don't talk to me about bikes" and I was encouraged also by the information available on Peter White Cycles which warned me that Supernova taillights are not compatible with B&M headlights. Phew - mistake averted.

There are two LEDs in the white band at the top, which project a broad light intended to help motorists to gauge distance, apparently more easily than with a flashing or exceptionally bright rear lights. This light is still very bright though, and is visible from a very long distance away. The light is above a nice reflective plate too - giving a large lit area for following road users.

This particular light has some clever electronics which detect when the power from the dynamo is dropping, such as when the bike is slowing down, and puts extra power to the LEDs to give a brake-light effect.

Dave's wiring is beautiful, he has drilled holes in his frame on the downtube and in the seat post - so that the whole cable-run is internal to the bicycle. I'm not that confident! I simply connected the rear output from the B&M Lumotec to wires which I ran the length of the bike. NOTE: the light does not come with cable. I bought some of this twin core light cable.

This was threaded alongside the head tube and next to the rear brake cable:

The excess cable has been zip-tied under the saddle:

I don't know if this is an obsessive/compulsive behaviour, but I prefer my bicycle to look symmetrical; so I wanted the rear light underneath my saddle bag but centered over the rear mudguard. Using the Carradice Bagman tubing, I created a homemade bracket to wrap around it: cut from an old bidon, wrapped around the tube and drilled for mounting holes.

I'm going to have to revisit this bracket because it likes to slip round slightly - not a lot, but just enough to be away from vertical. I have thought about buying some p-clips. I would be happy for advice on this one.

The light itself is very slim and the wires connect without trouble underneath. I'm delighted with the whole setup and have ridden on a few dark winter evening nights with no problem. I believe a back-up is a good idea so I still use my FibreFlare across the Carradice Barley.

Heading out into the night, armed with a camera and a tripod; I wanted to film this and take some photos to see for myself what this so-called brake light looked like.

Both lights are very bright and visible, the FibreFlare has fresh batteries and runs seemingly forever, the B&M will run as long as I do of course. In both these photographs the B&M is on standlight mode - the light visible when I stop at traffic lights.

However, in this video footage, the light is shining as it ought to in normal use. I have also been able to spot the moments I brake. A pool of brighter light appears on the road beneath me, and the B&M shines out more brightly. I ran two comparisons, with and without the FibreFlare lit. I am very pleased with this lighting setup - I'm clearly visible for a long way even with the potential for street lights to drown out my bicycle light.

So far the only downside to having dynamo lights is that when I park up, friendly people stop to point out I've left my lights on. So. Not much hardship then.

Recommended? Absolutely.

Carradice Camper vs Carradice Barley

This isn't really a death-match or anything; I've been using my Carradice Barley since 2009 when I paired it with an Ortlieb Ultimate handlebar bag for a lightweight LEJOG. However, I recently treated myself to a Carradice Camper Longflap for a tour of Scotland I'm planning in March.

The Barley is a nice compact 9L saddlebag, I've packed spare cycling clothes, spare trousers, a lightweight fleece and t-shirts into it before. Mainly I use it now for Audax rides and I'm a bit lazy about packing light - I just stick what I think I might want or need.

In March, with the tour of Celtic Christian sites of interest, I'm planning to get off the bicycle occasionally and for this reason I'm going to need some shoes. The Camper's 24L capacity will help me pack my luggage and a pair of super-light fell running trainers. I thought it amusing that the Barley disappeared inside the Camper.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Durham to York

Winter has left me feeling old and cronky; I want to feel strong and capable again. Riding round Durham always leaves me feeling slow and heavy, so it seemed like a good idea to try a flat ride on familiar roads - something I wouldn't need to think about to navigate - something I could try and blast along. I set my mind on a Durham to York ride.

Leaving home early on Friday morning, the weather was nicely mild in Durham. Down over Elvet bridge and with a clear view of the castle and cathedral, before turning my back on Durham and following the commuter route against the flow of traffic, went straight through Bowburn and Coxhoe. No need to keep my pace down, perfectly acceptable to get sweaty today.

The mist laid thick across the valley ahead and steam rose from the road as I rode down into Sedgefield. The choice ahead was to follow Durham Rd (A177) or enjoy some less busy country lanes. As the sun was low in the sky and directly ahead, I opted for the quieter roads - I just hadn't realised how icy they were going to be. The temperature down here was a lot colder that back in Durham. Through Bishopton and over the A66 at the cycle crossing; I made it down to Yarm for 10am and a Mocha coffee.

Back on the road by 10:20am, and ramped up the effort through Kirk Levington, but had to ease right back off again following the tiny lanes through East Rounton to Northallerton. Ice as far as the eye could see. Didn't stop, didn't walk - but required nerves of steel. Many of these roads have been resurfaced and they are a delight to ride. Come the summer, so long as the council don't top coat them with gravel, they will be covered with Teesside's cyclists.

The Hambleton Hills were deep in snow, with untouched fields of white teetering over Mount Grace Priory. As I looked past this farm to the snow beyond, I noticed the signs and was reminded of Half Man Half Biscuit's "Asparagus Next Left"; 

"This-a-way For New Potatoes"
An arrow points innocently
Dirt track to a darker place
That’s what it says to me
"Last Chance For Hanging Baskets"
They’re even giving you clues!
"Fresh Broad Beans and Aubergines"
Euphemisms, Audrey, euphemisms!

Northallerton, round the ring-road and make the choice to follow main roads down to York. If I stick to the A168 I can enjoy some hard riding, so I work hard to lift my pace. In Northallerton I'd averaged 24kph so far - I wanted to lift that a bit by the time I reached York. The sun was still low in the sky and there was a deep contrast between the shadows and the sunlight, the road was beautiful.

Reaching Thirsk I stopped at the world famous "Wetherspoons" pub for some soup. Stilton and Broccoli - which came loaded with extra cheese. Just the stuff to warm me through and charge the batteries for the next leg.

The next leg was the hardest by far: just straight down the A19 from Thirsk to York. The sign said 22 miles. I just put as much effort in as possible for the next 1 hour 2 minutes: from the roundabout where the A170 turns into the A19, to the junction with the A1237 York ring-road - it is 32km, 20 miles. I kept the effort on as much as possible and only just missed the 20mph average. At Shipton my legs started to feel empty and I finally found a use for the energy gel in my back pocket.

At 2pm I coasted to a stop outside York Cathedral. 4hrs 20mins from Durham to York. All I wanted now was to top the ride up to 5 hours with a cool down to Bishopthorpe and a pint of Samuel Smiths at the Ebor. Then it was a single train ride back to Durham. A grand hard-riding day out.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Snow Chain

The snow has been falling for a couple of days, but I noticed that my "day off" on Friday coincided with a cold but sunny day in County Durham. After the last trip over Bollihope, I had wondered what it would look like in the snow - so headed out today to have a look. This meant taking gritted A-roads, and essentially took me from Durham along the A690 through Crook to the A689 and towards Stanhope.

The A roads were busy, it was just after morning prayer when I headed out, 9am, leaving Durham Cathedral in the bright sunshine and climbing out of Durham on the A690. The traffic was heavy; I chose to pass long queues of stationary traffic on their offside. In return I was given a lot of space by passing motorists later in the day and although I was following a main road I didn't feel threatened.

The biggest challenge was keeping away from the black ice lining the gutter of the road, I had to keep out far enough to be comfortable. The headwind and general trend of climbing kept my pace really low, with my average struggling to rise above 18kph. I plugged away and passed through Langley Moor, Brancepeth, Willington and Helmington Row before facing the climb of Job's Hill Bank to reach Crook.

Crook is a nice little market town, and the white snow was adding to the picturesque feel in the square where the little parish church is. Once through the town there was even more climbing to get over the top of Coal Bank, but the reward was a beautiful view down into Weardale.

The sun had been shining brightly on my left shoulder and this had the effect of drying out the right hand side of the road, but leaving me guessing about ice and snow on my side. I cautiously descended to the A68 roundabout and over that into Weardale.

I passed through Wolsingham but didn't stop as I'd only done 36km and it had taken me 2 hours! I was looking to see if either the climb from Frosterley or the climb from Stanhope would be clear for an ascent of Bollihope.

At Frosterley I turned onto a gritted road, and stopped to assess the situation. An elderly gentleman asked me where I was going and then said I'd be fine going up - it was coming down that would be the problem. He told me his Dad had died coming down Mellbutts Bank at the sharp right hand bend. I said I was sorry to hear it but that I wish he hadn't told me. He replied he was only being helpful. What can you say? I said "Thank you."

As I climbed away from the Weardale valley floor, I was trying to deal with the occasional car in the middle of the road, and the snow drifts and icy patches. I was being cautious, but didn't expect what happened next. Snap. The chain was left lying by my back wheel as though my bicycle was a naughty puppy and had dropped a mess on the floor.

Fortunately I was carrying my toolkit and had a quick-link from two years ago wrapped in cellophane and cardboard. I pushed the bike to a convenient farm gate in the sunshine and set to work. After a minute or two the chain was safely repaired and I was ready to go. I cleaned my hands in the snow before I realised I had nowhere to dry them and suddenly felt extremely cold! Silly me.

Discretion being the better part of valour, I valiently tip-toed my way back down the hill and made my way back to Wolsingham for a lovely cup of coffee and a ham'n'cheese toastie.

I called it quits - it had been a really nice morning ride, but I turned for home and enjoyed the tailwind pushing me along at 30+kph all the way back to Durham. It was a lovely trip out and if I had more time and more confidence I could definitely have made it to the top. The road is gritted and clear - so I would happily recommend the climb, especially in the snow. The sunshine, clear blue skies and beautiful white snow were wonderful to be immersed in.