And with that average post, the blog just topped 1000 unique visitors since I started it in May 2011. Thanks for stopping by.
It was 1am (or was that 2am) and clouds of steam rising from the clothes of eight cold, wet and slightly broken men saturated the already damp seaside air in our little flat in Whitstable. We stared blankly into our bowls of pumpkin soup with tired, half closed and bloodshot eyes. Several sense of humours had been dropped from the back of our little peloton some hours ago. You’d be forgiven for thinking that we were at the end of an epic adventure. In truth, it had only just begun.
We were just over a quarter of the way through the inaugural nocturnal cycle event, The Big Deal. Conceived by myself as a replacement for the Dunwich Dynamo - a mid summer, overnight, 120 mile cycle on tarmac from East London to Dunwich on the Suffolk coast - The Big Deal was turning out to be a match for this event… and more.
The Dynamo regularly sees in excess of 1000 riders turning up for the challenge. The only problem is, unless you book yourself on the coach home, or have a lovely person pick you up (cheers Joe), your ride can end with a problematic journey back to London. (There is always the option of doing ‘the double’ but this is really only for the brave or slightly mad - I have indeed done the double and won’t say which of those I am). So The Big Deal aimed to turn the tables on this logistical problem and starts with a train ride from London to Deal, on the East Kent coast, followed by a leisurely 110 mile cycle back to Greenwich, overnight.
Many of us had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast in the run up to the big ride. Each had their favourite forecast. I was looking at forecasts for Canterbury and Rochester and had up to the minute observations from our tea stop in Whitstable. 6pm - all was well. However, it was quite a different story 30km away in Deal. I think it was at Sandwich when I first suspected something was up. The doors of the train opened to reveal what looked like a good dusting of snow on the platform and a numbing chill in the air. It turned out to be hail - surely the most random and unpleasant form of precipitation. I suppose we had it coming really - attempting a ride like this at the end of October. Our team of nine cyclists (and one caterer) headed to Middle Street for some of the best Fish and Chips you’ll ever eat. Bellies fuelled, bodies wrapped up warm and accompanied by a brisk Arctic wind we set off at our proposed start time of 8:30pm.
Our route plan was very simple - to follow National Cycle Route 1 from Deal to Greenwich. We would ride the route with no exceptions, be it on tarmac, gravel, mud, on or off-road. Between us we were well (or perhaps ill) equipped with road bikes and lots of lights. Andy, who I think told me he’d only ridden his bike once in three months, was even sporting a set of fairy lights on his pack! We had six geared bikes, two single speeds and one fixed gear. Five aluminium frames, two steel, one carbon and of course the Splinter bamboo. With a first-aid kit, foil blanket, spare tyres, loads of tubes, patches, spare chain links, zip ties, gaffa tape, a Leatherman and plenty of bike tools, what could possibly go wrong…
3km in. Raining. Arctic head wind. Numb faces. Numb toes. Numb fingers. Crunch! Crack! Snap!
No it wasn’t the sound of a new breakfast cereal or the bamboo giving up the ghost (it’s very resilient you know). It was Simon’s beautiful carbon Look bike having a serious shifting malfunction. You hear those noises all the time from guys crunching their chains as they hit the bottom of a hill, realise they are in the wrong gear and try to change down under heavy pedal pressure. The thing was, we were on a pan flat road and I wouldn’t expect that kind of behaviour from Si anyway. Nope, we had a problem. I only realised how much of a problem as I approached him and spotted his rear mech on the wet tarmac before me. (For non-cyclists - this is the thing at the back of the bike which is responsible for tensioning the chain, changing gear, and keeping the bike in gear. It is vital. In fact, if you are a non-cyclist you may want to skip the next paragraph)
The derailleur hanger (a replaceable metal component, fixed to the frame, which holds the rear mech (or derailleur) in place had snapped. This had sent the rear mech and chain into the spokes of Si’s revolving back wheel and snapped the mech in two. There was a glimmer of hope though, as the wheel and chain were intact. I knew immediately that the only solution was to shorten the chain, by removing some links, and try to find the ‘magic ratio’. This would be the perfect combination of chain length, front chainring, and rear ‘cog’, that would keep the chain under sufficient tension to stay in a single gear. The Splinter is designed around a magic ratio as, unlike most singlespeeds, it doesn’t have ‘track ends’ that allow chain slack to be taken up by sliding the rear wheel backwards. So we had to bodge a singlespeed from the nicest bike on the ride! I spent an age trying to release the ‘quick release’ link from the chain. All the time the rain came down. It was probably about this point that Rob’s Garmin recorded the lowest temperature of the ride at 1.6 degrees Celcius. I could feel the group losing hope in my plan so I gave up and ‘broke’ the chain by pushing one of the pins out with a chain tool. Now we just had to find the magic ratio. We had two options at the front and ten at the back. The rear choice would have to be somewhere in the middle of the cassette to keep the chain in a straight line to help it stay put. I think I settled on a 39x17 ratio. The chain seemed pretty straight and tight. I was confident and sent Si off for a test ride. It didn’t work, and the chain slipped down the cassette, thus creating a very slack chain and eventually became useless. Balls. From my favourite magic ratio calculator, I see that a 39x12 could have been the solution. The main problem with bodging a singlespeed from a geared bike is that the teeth on the cogs of a geared bike are all truncated. This allows the chain to move efficiently from one cog to another. It’s not the teeth that hold the chain in place, as on a proper singlespeed, it’s the rear mech that has that job.
In hindsight, with 108 miles to go, there was no ideal solution and it was game over for Si. Train and a lift back to London. Gutted.
We said our goodbyes and set off into the wind and rain following the same road until I saw one of the Route 1 signs off to the right. We regrouped at this point and took our first bit of off-the-road cycle path beside a river and into the pretty town of Sandwich.
Soon after, the rain eased up and we had 23 kilometres of quiet, almost traffic free, tarmac to look forward to. The skies were clearing all the while and eventually revealed a bright, nearly full moon. So bright was the moon that it cast shadows on the road and I could ride (fairly) safely with no front light. It was beautiful.
Spirits slowly lifted and got an extra boost (or was that just me) at Fordwich when we hit our first sustained section of off-road path. One by one we negotiated the gate and single-filed our way down the dark track, our skinny tyres snaking around on the mud and fallen leaves. The fun was cut short one kilometre in with puncture number 1. I’d got my hands dirty on the first mechanical so stepped aside for this one. Quickly sorted, the off-road fun continued for another couple of kilometres and eventually brought us to Canterbury. A short pedal North took us to the start of the first of our King of the Mountains climbs. KOM number 1 - Eliot Hill - a challenging flood-lit path up to the University. We half-heartedly fired up the Strava apps on our phones and took turns at dodging drunk students up the hill. It ended with even less gusto than it had begun as I hadn’t managed to properly communicate to the team where the top of the climb was. They all stopped short and so no KOM were won on that effort.
Never mind. Next up we were treated to my favourite section of the ride - the six kilometres of off-road tarmac, gravel and mud path which forms part of the Crab and Winkle Way. This would take us without incident up into the woods and down into the seaside town of Whitstable and our tea stop, albeit a couple of hours behind schedule.
Naomi had been up early baking cakes and making pumpkin soup which, along with the warmth of the flat, just about brought us back to life. At least enough for James, of Media Velo, to remember that the Hell of the Ashdown entries had just opened and somehow managed to persuade everybody in the room to get online and enter. We sat around in my living room for a couple of hours before setting off for the final 130 kilometres (80 miles) of Route 1 to Greenwich.
To be honest I don’t remember that much about the next 65 kilometres to Rochester. There were several decent sections of gravel / mud. About four more punctures. A few minor crashes. Regular questioning about the distance left to go. Possibly some less than truthful answers to those questions. Some lost looking faces. Maybe some on-the-bike micro sleeps (a few seconds is all I could manage before beginning to lose balance and waking myself up). What I do remember is that the team finally started to get the hang of looking out for, and following, the little blue cycle network signs that had been there all along but went largely unnoticed. We even did a little bit of Sustrans Ranger work and re-oriented a sign to point in the right direction.
We rolled into Rochester just as the sun was rising and stood for a while beside a decaying submarine in the Medway to take in the first light of day. It always feels good to see the dawn break but I’m not sure it was enough to take the sting out of telling the boys we still had 60 kilometres to go. KOM number 2 was just ahead of us and I’m not sure anyone actually contested it. We followed undulating roads up on to MOD land and beyond until we arrived at the old Thames and Medway canal and another section of gravel. This time it was fast and flat (it’s a canal) for 2 kilometres in a straight line to the outskirts of Gravesend and our first views of the Thames. Gravesend is every bit as lovely as it sounds (cough) and you can’t help but think that the next section of path up to the river-side promenade is a place where no man should go dressed in lycra on a road bike. Maybe a full face helmet, body armour and a mountain bike with 2.5 inch tyres would be more appropriate. The path cuts through an old industrial area with ramshackle buildings on either side. Broken glass, rubbish, car tyres, old oil drums and graffiti all come together to make you feel very unwelcome. Inevitably came punctures number 7 and 8. I kept up my record of not fixing punctures and rode off around Gravesend trying to find a cafe that was open. Without luck we settled for a coffee at a petrol garage.
We were really dragging our heels now. Still 40 kilometres to go. Lots of off-the-road tarmac took us past the big hole in the ground that is Bluewater shopping centre and into Dartford. On our way we tackled the final instalment of the KOM contest with all the enthusiasm of a teenage burger flipper doing the late shift at McDonalds. It was a non-event which saw us climb the second biggest hill on what was a very flat ride and provoked a few moans and groans in the process.
General enthusiasm had all but gone and I’m not sure how much the team appreciated the last section of gravel across Crayford Marshes to Erith. Johnny had previously torn the side wall of his rear tyre whilst on a recce here and had obviously decided he wanted to get through it as quickly as possible. The child in me elbowed my way past the others to catch him up. I don’t know why but I can’t resist going quickly off-road on the most inappropriate of bikes. Fun, fun, fun (and another puncture for Andy - and another job for Rob). Five kilometres of gravel and mud later and we were in Erith where we lost Sam to the railways as he had an appointment to keep.
All that stood between us and the Cutty Sark was 20 kilometres of the Thames Path. Joy. Actually, it wasn’t that bad but it had been over 15 hours since we set off and I, for one, was feeling very sleepy.
Two hours later and we were all sat in a pub in Greenwich eating the food of champions - burgers and chips. Due to our late arrival, we were in a little bit too much of a hurry to get home so our adventure ended somewhat abruptly. But, two weeks on, I think we can all look back and give ourselves a big pat on the back. Well done team.
The Big Deal 2013…October 19th/20th to catch the full moon?
First long ride in over a year. 205km and 2200m of climbing on the Splinter’s 69inch fixed gear off the back of 4 hours sleep.
When I think back to the 2009 Race Around Ireland, I sometimes wonder why I gave up. Technically it was because my average speed had dropped too low to finish within the allotted 132 hours. Yesterday, I was reminded of the pain of long distance cycling. The pain in your butt, your neck, your back, your feet and, last but not least, your legs. And that’s just the physical pain. Add to the mix what your brain is saying and you can find yourself in a big bowl of trouble. I am out of practice but rides like yesterday’s really remind me that suffering and long distance cycling go hand in hand.
This year FIVE out of thirteen solo riders finished the Race Around Ireland. You may think that this is a poor percentage, but consider that these extraordinary people are in fact just ordinary folks like you and me. They have jobs, families and all of life’s commitments outside of their cycling. It is incredible.
On the back of yesterday’s 200km I’m going to push any thoughts of future ultra distance events to the back of my mind. But give it a day or two and I’m sure thoughts of London-Edinburgh-London will be making their way to the fore once again. That might just have been my first training run…….
Sounds a bit rude, doesn’t it. If you read my last post you’ll know how desperate I was to build up my new bamboo rim for the Exmoor Beast sportive at the weekend. Well, after a frustrating wait, the Royal Mail broke with tradition and delivered my spokes and hub, special delivery, on Saturday morning. I had a busy day planned but managaed to begin the build at about 8:30pm on Saturday night.
I’ve read and understand that it takes anything up to a week to successfully build up a wooden rim. Throwing caution to the wind, I approached it as I have any other build and put in quite a lot of tension quite quickly. Guess what? It didn’t go so well. I soon realised that I’d have to lose some tension and try again with a bit more care. It was also the first time I’ve used very thin spokes (DT Revolutions) which seemed to want more tension than I was expecting. Eventually, I got a tension of close to 100Kgf and it was round and straight to within 1mm. Not the most precise build I’ve ever done but I was very happy nonetheless.
By this time it was getting late. I grabbed the tubular, stretched it onto the rim, gave it 100 psi and took it out for a gentle spin down the road (in a straight line and without braking). Smooth and quiet was the overwhelming feeling. All that was left to do was glue the tyre on. A job which, if you follow the instructions on the cement tin, should take about 48 hours. I had 8 hours until the 8am start. So I had little more than 5 hours to glue the tyre on and get some sleep in before setting off at 5:30am for Minehead.
Less than 3 hours after going to sleep I was up and testing the wheel down the dark and sleepy main street of Wrington in Somerset. No real test. There was only one way to test it from here…….
It was mild and damp in Minehead, where we gathered along with hundreds of other cyclists to take on the Exmoor Beast. Possibly the only fixed gear rider for the second year in a row - where are all the other fixies? - but that wasn’t on my mind. I knew I could ride it fixed. Two things bothered me; the pain of getting a puncture on tubular tyres and, of course, my untested bamboo rim. I’m not much of a worrier and riding a homemade frame is about as worried as I’ve ever been whilst cycling. You soon get over it. The first 5 miles are a straight forward run down an undulating A39. No problems so far.
As soon as we turned off onto the lanes we were greeted with the sight of a guy walking towards us with a seriously bent front wheel. Then another with a puncture. At the foot of the first big hill I was not feeling particularly strong. A gradient of about 20% with a cattle grid on a steep section, which I only just got up in 2010, awaited us. It was looking good until a young motorist decided he’d try to overtake a load of cyclists, in various states of struggle, just before the grid. Cue a cyclist falling into the grid, followed by the car getting stuck on the grid, then rolling back and almost hitting my riding buddy, Ben. Well done that man! We walked the cattle grid - which, wearing road shoes, must be slightly more precarious than riding it. To get going again I had to ride down the hill and switch back into it. Ben had similar problems getting started again because it was his first outing in clipless pedals. Then a slow grind right up to the route’s high point just below 1600ft. The next 13 miles are up high on the moors and we had fine rain and wind to keep us company.
There were a couple of short steep downhills to test the braking on the bamboo. Surprisingly it was very good and felt as consistent as a decent aluminium rim. At least that was my conclusion after I realised braking on a wet rim would have no affect for a couple of seconds until the rim dried out. I think it was about 16 miles in when I had to do my first bit of sustained heavy braking. A faint smell of burning bamboo followed me down the hill. Sure enough, the rim was now sporting a nice charring to the braking surface. I was quite glad this happened before the section of route I was most concerned about - the the 2mile, 1000ft drop into Lynmouth.
A descent that would easily take a freewheeler over 40 mph. Last year I really let the legs fly down this hill. Not this time. Front rim and leg braking the whole way, regularly releasing the brake to allow the pads to cool. By the time I hit the 1 in 4 section my arms were as tired as my legs and I was a happy chappy to see the feed station at the bottom.
We’d got through the worst that the Beast could throw at us with the wheel still true and solid (if a little burned). Worry over. The sun eventually shone and I found the rest of the route much more enjoyable. Well done to Ben for getting around with a dodgy knee. Thanks to everyone who spoke to me on the way round. Even all those who called me a mad man. It’s all good, and helps you get through the tough sections. We tamed (or should that be caned) the Beast again.
Two cane sprints and 100 miles next year. Anyone else going fixed?
My uncle likes to recall the days he used to race bikes, in an age before carbon composites and when most cyclists (not just the hipsters in London) knew what is was to ride fixed gear. When I showed him the Splinter bike for the first time he recalled owning a set of cane sprints.
So what are Cane Sprints? If you asked this question to someone who raced bikes before the war they may have simply shown you their bicycle wheel built with regular steel spokes and a wooden rim. (Edit - my uncle is not that old. Sorry Bryan) The term ‘Sprint’ is simply what they used to, and sometimes still, call rims for tubular or sew-up tyres. In the past, wooden rims have been used for all types of bicycle racing but I think they found most popularity in the velodrome and grass track racing. In these days of high tech materials, it may seem absurd to some that wooden rims could stand up to the task. But if you were to take a quick look at the history of wood in engineering you may conclude differently. Cars, aircraft (WW2 Mosquito), buildings and bridges all have structural wood firmly set in their history. Wood is extremely tough and much lighter than all other materials used to make bicycle rims. This allows rims with similar dimensions to a normal section aluminium rim to be built solid and weigh about the same.
Since my interest began in all things bamboo and cycling I’ve searched the internet for other bamboo or wooden cycling projects. One site that has given me great inspiration is Ric Hjertberg’s Wheel Fanatyk blog. A superb collection of writing and pictures which is a must for anyone with an interest in wheels, especially those interested in wooden rims. It also contains the best article I’ve found on Tubulars vs Clinchers and I have to say it has been the main catalyst for my latest bamboo project!
The Splinter Rim. Yep, as I write this I am waiting for the final coat of Danish oil to dry on my very own hand crafted bamboo rim. A few weeks ago I took delivery of some large diameter bamboo and have whittled it down into a 20mm wide laminated bamboo (cane) sprint. It took one (and a bit) poles to make the rim. A pole being 80-90mm in diameter, 3m long and weighing around 3kg. The finished rim has 36 holes and weighs in at 390g. I’m just wishing that the rest of the wheel components will arrive in time to build up the wheel for this weekend’s Exmoor Beast sportive.
Having ridden the Beast last year I know what a challenge it is, not only on the ups with the fixed gear but even more so on the descents. Descending into Lynmouth, running only a front brake, legs going like the clappers, and riding past an ambulance attending to a fallen rider next to a stone wall highlights how sketchy it was. So it would be a true test of the Splinter Rim to ‘tame the Beast’ - we’ll see.
This brings me to the issue that is perhaps most worrying for a wood rim rider - stopping. Everything I’ve read suggests that braking on wood is very good in both dry and wet conditions. The problem occurs with the brake pad material rather than the rim. Wood (or woody grass) is an excellent insulator. Quite the opposite to Aluminium. Where Aluminium will heat up on braking a wooden rim will tend to get very hot at the surface but, due to it being a poor conductor, then dumps all that thermal energy in to the brake pad, which will respond by melting. Thankfully, the popularity of carbon rims gives us the solution. Carbon is not the greatest conductor of heat in the world and will certainly behave more like wood than Aluminium. So carbon specific brake pads are where I’m looking for stopping power.
One thing that has puzzled me is that, although known in the UK as ‘cane sprints’, I cannot find any reference to these old rims actually being made from bamboo cane. It seems that they were mostly made from Maple or Beech. Which makes much more sense due to the difficulties (and waste) of making straight, thin laminas from bamboo. The only wooden rims still in production today are made from Beech by Ghisallo in Italy. Again check out the Wheel Fanatyk blog for all things Ghisallo.
I’ve nothing more to report at present but will update the blog once the wheel is made and had a test ride. Wish me luck! Here’s a couple of pics of it in the making.
Post turning on the lathe with all the holes marked out and ready for drilling.
A little bit Blue Peter but it was the best I could come up with.
I can hardly believe it’s been more than a year since I scavenged the components from my Giant Bowery and assembled them on my unfinished bamboo frame. That tentative first ride down the road at the back of my workshop was one of fear, surprise and elation. It had worked! After a couple of runs down the road over the speed humps I realised that I had achieved my goal in building a working bike - even if the flex in the frame did make for an ‘interesting’ ride.
Despite realising that it had stiffness issues, I came back to the workshop and insisted my 80+kg, non-cycling colleague had a go. Confident that it would hold up to the extra 18kg I sent him off down the road on a fixed gear bike that was too big for him. Thankfully he, and the bike, came back intact. After some reinforcements to the integrated seat post and a metallic grey paint job it was ready to roll. Since that time I have not ridden any other bike.
It is about the bike. All of the three thousand miles I’ve covered on the Mk I have very much been all about the bike. Every time I finish a tough ride I am more pleased with the bike’s performance than my own. A prime example was riding the Exmoor Beast sportive. It was cold, wet and the roads dirty. It also happens to be one of the most hilly sportives going. The Splinter got me round the 100km course on a 69” fixed gear well within the gold standard time. I didn’t have to push up any of the hills and I managed to hold on to it down the hills whilst bouncing around on the saddle at cadences of 160 rpm (new balls please). We finished 79 against 630 geared bike riders, most of whom were blissfully unaware it was fixed gear, let alone made from bamboo.
Not all smooth running. It was in June 2010, after taking a cheeky pavement shortcut near Russell Square, that I rode off a kerb, hit a stone in the road and lost all control of the front end. At first I thought it was the front wheel but a brief inspection showed nothing wrong. I set off again and soon realised I had serious problems. The downtube / headtube joint had cracked on the right-hand side! Game over…..
Disheartened with the failure after just 540 miles, I put the Splinter in the back room and left it for a couple of weeks. It took the Dunwich Dynamo to make me take a good look at the failure and start on the repair. I removed the headtube with careful use of a chisel and discovered that a failure of the bond between the initial layer of hemp and the alloy headtube was the cause of the problem. I believe that this happened quite early on in the bikes’ life and the headtube was effectively hanging on by the joint with the top tube and about six layers of hemp composite. I took great care of re-wrapping the joint and made sure that this time the hemp was wrapped tightly and not just laid on as it was the first time. I scraped all of the paint off the frame, lightly sanded it and then used a gloved finger to spread on a couple of layers of epoxy. A day later, and the same day as the Dunwich Dynamo, I polished the frame with some Autoglym and assembled the components ready for the overnight ride from London to the Suffolk coast. A bit of a risk to set off on an unsupported 200km overnight ride on the first outing since the repair, but it went without a hitch. Since then we’ve covered more than three thousand miles on all manner of terrain and it’s still going strong.
Flexible friend. Much is said about the stiffness and comfort of bike frames in the cycling press and in bicycle marketing. It seems that bicycle reviewers have very finely tuned backsides and wrists which can distinguish minute differences in these two golden properties of bicycles. My opinion is that we have all been sucked in by the marketing boys into thinking that one essentially rigid structure is more ‘vertically compliant’ and ‘laterally rigid’ than the next. The truth is that pretty much all bicycle frames do a very good job at transferring the power from our bodies into forward motion and our pneumatic tyres do a very good job of smoothing out, and keeping us on the road. How comfortable you feel is more down to bike fit and your position on the bike. How quickly you can climb a hill is determined by your overall power to weight ratio and not by the lightness or stiffness of your frame. There are so many components and variables that make a difference to comfort and performance that it is over simplistic to compare different frames with different geometries and different components and then state that the differences in comfort are due to one frame having more vertical compliance than the other - or something like that. So what might a seasoned reviewer say of the Splinter Mk I? First impressions might be something along the lines of; ‘the front feels disconnected from the rear’. Followed by; ‘there is a huge amount of lateral deflection in the bottom bracket area’. Then some subsequent talk of loss of power and sketchy handling. Or perhaps that’s just what I thought before I learned to embrace the flex. Certainly there is a lot of deflection from the BB when climbing hills and sprinting. But whether this actually makes any real life difference to me is debatable. I flex the frame with one pedal stroke and it flexes back as I start the opposite pedal stroke - given me back some of that lost energy. Or that’s what it feels like sometimes. I don’t ride with elite riders but the only reason I’ve ever struggled to keep pace with friends or club riders is due to the fixed gear and it’s limiting cadence. Despite the rant about testers and marketing, the Splinter is unusually bendy and the next edition will use larger diameter tubes to give it a more solid feel. However, I can honestly say that embracing the flex has made me a better, stronger and happier rider.
In my last post you’ll see I rode 150 miles on the Splinter. I didn’t mention the reason for such a long outing. Well, it was in preparation for my first official Audax. Not just any old Audax either; it was the final installment of a Super Randonneur series in which riders complete 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km events in one season. This is required for riders to enter Paris-Brest-Paris, perhaps the most famous of non-competitive long distance events, and was the reason for many of the riders to be out on the Sevenoaks Weald 600km last Saturday.
First long ride in over 18 months. Should have been riding the 75” gear but the 46T chainring I had ordered didn’t turn up and, having already committed myself to ride, I set off on Saturday at 6:15am on the 81” gear. Did I have the legs for it?
Well, the answer is nearly a yes…..
As you may have seen on the Splinter Mk1 page, my prototype bike is fixed gear but has dropouts and not track ends. The dropouts do angle forwards but can be considered more vertical than horizontal. They are long enough to allow for about 2mm of chainstay length adjustment. So how do you get the right chain tension with only a limited range of rear wheel movement? You find one of the ‘magic’ gear ratios. The combination of chainring, cog and chain length which yields the perfect chain tension for a given chainstay length. The Splinter’s effective chainstay length is 410mm and was designed, after much deliberation, testing and measuring of other frames, for a ratio of 48T x 18T with 49 chain links. With 700c x 23 tyres, this yields about a 69 inch gear - what’s this?
I used the great free tool by Eric House called FixMeUp to find the magic ratio. Using this tool, along with some real life testing, you can find a gear ratio to work with any bike with vertical dropouts. Whether the ratio yielded is suitable for your type of riding is a different matter. The tool will also help those with track ends to work out what gears will work in the range of adjustment they have.
Without using special half-links the Splinter will run the ratios listed below. Alongside are the types of (road) riding each one is suitable for:
- 44x23 - 50 inches - 49 chain links. Very little use unless you plan on racing a hill climb event.
- 48x18 - 69 inches - 49 chain links. My ‘ride anything’ gear. Happy spinning at 18-22mph. Top speed about 37mph (180rpm - not fun!). Will get up 20% hills (25% for short bursts).
- 46x16 - 75 inches - 48 chain links. All round gear for flatter areas.
- 44x14 - 81 inches - 47 chain links. Great for faster riding but not so great on the hills.
Gears above 83 inches are best left for the track, unless you are going out on a pan flat time trial and you need special tailored trousers to fit your huge thighs. I’ve just put the 81 inch gear on the Splinter to see if I have the legs for it…..
Taking a break at the top of Starhill Road. Photo by Rob
Calling all London based Etape du Tour entrants. How do you train for the Etape if you live in London? After all, the South of England is flat-to-undulating at best, isn’t it?
Well, while we might not have the great mountain passes and hills found elsewhere in the UK, we do have a couple of lumps of chalk known as the North and South Downs. They run roughly parallel to each other, about 30 miles apart, to the south of London and stretch from Hampshire, in the west, through Surrey, Sussex and Kent. Closest to London, of course, are the North Downs and that’s where you’ll often find me hauling myself up hills on the Splinter’s fixed gear. With a highpoint of 267 metres and steep gradients, they are not to be sniffed at.
I often ride out on loops around the North Downs with over 4000 ft of climbing but, the other night, I wondered what it would be like to take in as many of the hardest climbs as possible in one (rather convoluted) route. The answer is what I think may be the hardest 100km I have ever done in Kent / Surrey and takes in nearly 6500 ft of climbing. I’ve christened it the North Downs Nasty but when you set off from South East London at 4 pm it is more ‘epic’ than ‘nasty’.