Nope! Just the new rear rack I got for my bike 🙂
I have to admit, I had to check my last post to remember the last time I posted here. “Update blog” is always there in my to-do list but it has been continuously postponed due to more urgent tasks needing to be addressed.
Finally today I got some time to kill while I’m performing a clean install of F22 on my laptop so I figured I might as well get on with it!
So… my last post seems to be related to a little bike ride I did to East Blean Woods as I was recovering from a silly knee injury. Well, the knee is all better now (I’ve even managed to drop my parkrun PB to 20:04 afterwards, that’s all the proof I need!), and the bike featured on the previous post is currently lying in the shed with no chain and an un-matched wheel.
Effectively the week after I wrote that post I came across a listing on Freecycle of “two boys racing bikes” – I had a quick look and something didn’t add up as the proportions seemed to suggest they were of an adult frame. So I wrote to the poster and asked about the frame size, to what she replied “well they were 17-18 year olds, they are not small bikes!”. I set the wheels in motion then, stormed back home, fitted the bike rack in the car and drove away to get them 🙂 And although they needed some refurbishment I ended up with a pair of nice old road bikes – a 1986 Raleigh Granada and a mid-80s Puch Medallion (we were unable to trace the model to the year yet). The Puch needs a lot more done to it, but the Granada is now my everyday bike, after giving it the “cheapo” treatment – I only had to shell out a bit more (~ £50 more) because I wanted 700c wheels to use my Schwalbe Marathons in them, and the Granada came with the older 27” size. So I basically got a road bike for next to nothing! (it does have some surface rust but nothing too major – plus it acts as a theft deterrent 🙂 )
It is a bit big, though (25” from the bottom bracket to the seatpost! Those “boys” were not small, definitely way over 6ft tall !), so we’ve changed the stem to make the bike more compatible with someone of my stature. Although it isn’t too bad – I have some clearance from the top tube when I have to stop, that’s all I need!
Right, and a week after this happened I headed off to Porto with my two housemates, in what was supposed to be a 2-day conference followed by a nano-holiday (3 days, plus the weekend). The conference was all right, although the chairs in the lecture theatre could have been a bit more comfortable (!) , and I had the chance to network with a lot of Physics PhD students in Portugal doing a whole range of experimental research (the symposium was limited to Engineering Physics submissions). Another presentation under my belt, which is always good – you only realise how well you are within a given subject when you have to explain it to other people, especially those who are non-specialists.
After the conference I took out my scientist hat and put on my tour guide one. It was a short holiday, but one that I can actually call a holiday in the sense of the word – we did things, we went out and visited stuff. Ranging from canoeing down the Douro to a nice cycle ride round the Gaia seafront, topped up with a nice meal at a seaside restaurant, it was really nice. (well, the bikes could have been better! I really need to keep a good bike in Portugal, but for that to happen I need to get rid of the bad ones first… )
We then came back and I went straight back to work (the following day, at least – we got home quite late as we had an evening flight, plus a 2h drive down to Canterbury from Stansted). A lot of things awaited me – a couple of papers we sent for peer-reviewing, including one which has been basically stuck for the best part of an year (through different journals, not-so-competent reviewers and a franken-manuscript which could have definitely been written a bit better…), plus the usual experimental work and the thesis writing (I intend to have a bit more written till September, but first I need to find a way of marrying all the different projects and experiments I’ve been involved with and getting a coherent output – which can be difficult when you work with incoherent light all the time! (ha ha)
Little breaks are always welcome, though. I do my share of recreational (ie, non-competitive) sports, namely my runs, cycles and sculls, but sometimes it is quite good to just disconnect in full for a whole weekend (at least for now, while my thesis submission date is still a bit far away). I had the “excuse” of helping out a mate of mine who had a job interview up in Nottinghamshire and thought a weekend trip to the Peak District wouldn’t hurt, especially now that I had a nice road bike to explore it with! So we had a nice weekend where we did about 60 miles between two days (distance-wise it wasn’t a big deal, there were a few big hills along the way but it was mostly to appreciate and absorb the surroundings!). If it hadn’t been for the breakdown we had on the way back it would have been perfect – we ended up on the side of the A1 in the middle of Cambridgeshire with a broken clutch cable. 😛
The annoying bit about it was that I knew I could fit a replacement one myself, it was a very simple thing, but I needed to have an auto parts shop open (on a Sunday, good luck!) which had the cable in stock. So in the end we just had the car recovered back to Canterbury (thank goodness for the breakdown cover I kept paying for but never had to use, until that moment at least!) and a few days and £15 later I had the new cable perfectly connected and working. At least it was better than the blow in the exhaust which created another blow in my finances (a few days before the trip to the Peak District I found a big hole in the middle section of the exhaust, £100 for a full replacement… but I can’t say I wasn’t expecting it, in the past two years I’ve been considering replacing it but waiting until I had a fail on my MoT test, which surprisingly didn’t happen!)
Anyway, all good now, this weekend has been a bit quiet… I helped out in the parkrun doing the lead bike (I originally wanted to run, but I’ve managed to do something to my shins as a consequence of a 10k race I ran last weekend and after which I didn’t stretch properly…), which is now a doddle with the Granada, which is significantly lighter than my old Oakland 🙂 . After that I went to a bike jumble in Faversham where I got some nice cheap bike parts for the soon-to-be refurbishment operation of both the Puch and the Oakland (still don’t know what I will be doing with the latter, though…), and in the evening I decided to go for a nice bike ride, and along the way I thought about visiting a friend of mine living in Herne Bay, which turned out all right if it hadn’t been for the fact that I didn’t bring my bike lights (as I originally expected to return home in an hour’s time), hence the return journey was a bit scary – I did have my red one in the rear, but nothing in the front! Anyway, I’ve managed to clock almost 30k in a bit more than an hour – not bad, especially considering that I had to use some shared paths which slowed me down a bit.
Right, now the laptop finished its clean install – I now have to get all the data and things reinstalled onto it. This is going to be a long day… on a final note, let’s see whether I can keep up with the updates in here in a more frequent fashion!
Even though these woods are less than 3-4 miles away from my house (perhaps even less if I take the nasty B2205) I had never been there until today! Given the episode I had a couple of days before I wanted to go out but do something low-impact on the knee. Cycling there was quite nice, it is basically flat the whole course, although quite bumpy (and having the tyres inflated to almost 6 bar does not help). The bike did quite well, all things considered – and it was nice seeing so many people cycling along these bridleways and forest tracks, even on a grey-ish day like today. And happy to report that the knee is doing fine! Soon I should be able to get back to my sculling and to my runs as well. 🙂
Back to work! (albeit on a shorter week this time) The weather has made a turn for the worse, it has been very windy over these last days which makes cycling a bit more challenging (especially when you have the wind and the rain on your face). And the fact that I’m riding a 20+ kg commuter bike fully loaded with pannier bags does not help! 🙂
Indeed I “pimped” up my ride today with a pair of Schwalbe Marathons from Chain Reaction. I got two 700 x 28c, as I do tend to overload the bike quite a lot and a 25c would just be silly (and I came to that conclusion myself, after wrongly ordering one from eBay… I could feel every single bump hitting the rim!!).
Anyway, it wasn’t too hard to fit (especially when I had H. around to help, him being one of my housemates and a terrific bike mechanic! 🙂 ), the hardest bit was to remove the old 25c tyre I had on my rear wheel!
I went for a little test drive and it definitely feels a lot nicer, especially since now I can pump it to the required level (around 5-6 bar) with confidence that the tube will not blow up (I got some nice new inner tubes as well). But the best thing is really the puncture protection – hopefully these tyres will withstand at least a year of harsh treatment! (I ride in a mix of road and partially paved tracks)
Well, if you don’t see any further posts ranting about me having had a puncture, it is a sign that the tyres are actually quite good 🙂
And now, on to actually do some work!
I was hoping for weather conditions that at least would let me wash my bike outside, with cold water, without freezing my hands to death. Apparently that will not come soon… and meanwhile I’m getting even more mud in the frame 🙁 .
(in comparison, I’ve managed to wash my car while in Portugal in the last days of December ! It was quite sunny and nice outside…)
… and also a sort of a status update, since it has been a while since I last did that. Starting with that, then, I can finally say I am properly settled! Regarding my postgraduate studies, I am now fully registered, enrolled, contracted, and whatever other formalism they can throw at me.
Honestly, I am fed up of bureaucrats (I thought general services were only slow and inefficient in Portugal, but turns out that in here it is roughly the same thing, since it took them almost a month to actually do something as simple as forward me a couple of forms for me to sign and give the relevant details regarding my postgrad teaching assistantship position. Oh well, all is sorted now, and one should not look back, only forward! 🙂
In the meantime, my work in the lab and in the classroom (which is also a lab, but a teaching one) have progressed steadily, which is what one should expect.
The overall experience has been quite positive, even though I am sometimes annoyed at some things: for instance, since I’m a first-year postgraduate student, I have to attend a certain number of research seminars in my School – and that would be OK if they were aimed at a general audience, but these research seminars are aimed at a very specific area of expertise, one specific to one of the four research groups in the School (Applied Optics, Astrophysics, Functional Materials, and Forensic Science).The two last ones I went were quite OK, especially the last one which was in the Engineering School (my fellow coursemates will be laughing out loud when they read this, because some of them have a very strong opinion on scientists and engineers… 😀 ), but the first one was simply too Chemistry-focused for my taste (the only bit which interested me was the actual measuring device they used, but that was not the main focus of the talk…). I like to be encouraged to attend those seminars, not forced, which was a bit of a let-down to me. Anyway, it is only an hour per week, when they do appear, so it is not a terrible waste of time…
OK, enough talking about work (it *is* Sunday, for heaven’s sake! I am not supposed to be thinking about work on a Sunday, even if sometimes I have to…). Let’s move on to the (hopefully short) review… of my new bike!
For starters, you may remember from previous posts elsewhere in a certain social network that I’ve bought a beautiful grey Dunlop mountain bike for a very, very low price (paid £50 for it on SportsDirect) this February, so why am I getting a new bike now, not even a year after it?
Well, the Dunlop bike is fine (apart from the back brake that needs new callipers, but that’s a minor issue), but the major problem with it is that it is 2000 km away from me, in my house in Portugal :). When I left Canterbury back in August, my plans were to return here in one years’ time or something like that, and not after a couple of months. If I knew that I wouldn’t have shoved two big suitcases, two smaller ones and a bike box, plus two people into a small little purple rented Peugeot 107 and driven all of that to Gatwick Airport, because then all those things I so efficiently dispatched home would be already here. 🙂 As you saw, that wasn’t the case, and since I was not contemplating the idea of dragging an additional bike behind me alongside a big suitcase and a backpack through multiple train rides on my way from the airport I used the opportunity to get a better one.
I mean, a mountain bike is fine when you’re on the mountain, or, at least, in some more off-roady trails – but to use it for commuting and shopping one wants preferrably something with skinnier tyres and a more rigid frame (the dual suspension system I have in the Dunlop also doesn’t help with the weight – that thing is quite heavy!). It’s like using an off-road vehicle such as a Land Rover to do your grocery shopping: it works, but it isn’t either comfy or practical!
So now I got this, a Raleigh Oakland Plus. It usually retails for around £200-£220, but I got it with a small discount off eBay with free delivery, which was great. The specs aren’t anything out of the ordinary, really standard stuff: 18 (6×3) Shimano Tourney gears, V-brakes on the front and back, and lightweight trekking tyres (this is actually the first bike I own which has these kind of tyres, before I only owned mountain bikes…). It comes fitted with a springy saddle, rear rack and silver mudguards, and that’s about it.
Assembly was relatively easy, especially after having assembled another bike recently, so I knew what to expect: screw in the pedals, fit the handlebars and the seat post, set the front wheel in place. I was pleasantly surprised to find out the brakes were already perfectly tuned from factory, something that didn’t happen with the Dunlop (but that was a good thing, it taught me how to tune V-brakes, which is quite easier than I thought!). One thing with this bike that did annoy me is that they only supplied me with one Allen key, and I needed the size below (I reckon it is the 5mm one) to set some of the components, namely the angle of the handlebar and the seatpost height. One trip to the lab’s toolbox the following morning sorted out the problem, but it was a bit annoying they did not supply something as fundamental as an Allen key (the rest of the tools were supplied, so I imagine this was a failure in the automated distribution of the accessories).
As for the ride itself, I’ve only done about 20 miles in it so my experience is still quite limited. Raleigh offers a five-year warranty on the frame, which is good (I’ve already registered my bicycle, took me a while to actually find the frame number which is in a very unaccessible part of the bike, and the characters themselves are very shallowly marked on the metal, too…). I have the impression that most nasty things that happen to bikes are normally caused by misuse and by storing them in an inappropriate manner – the bike I had before the Dunlop lasted me for 10 years, and it is still running strong! And even the Dunlop, after 700 miles in just 6 months is still in very good condition with some basic maintenance and cleaning, so I imagine the same to happen to this Raleigh. Cherish something, and it will last you a lifetime (that’s what I say about my 20-year-old Fiat… :)).
One thing that I may change in the future is the saddle. One morning a few months after buying the Dunlop I went on a quite lengthy coastal bike ride up to Broadstairs and back (total riding distance was about 55 miles, if I recall correctly…). My legs were OK, given that the track itself is quite flat (a bit of a steep climb after Herne Bay, but that’s about it…), my face was a bit reddish afterwards because the day was quite sunny, but my bum… oh, it took me _days_ to actually regain a proper seating position, as the saddle was simply too hard/small and terribly uncomfortable. I ended up getting another saddle at SportsDirect, which wasn’t terribly expensive (about £9 or so) and was worlds apart from the original one. Returning to the Raleigh, the supplied one seems all right when you look at it (fairly wide, and quite springy too), but I still need to tune the pitch of it, as I keep getting projected towards the front, when it is the back of the saddle which is properly cushioned and it is where I should be seated. I will have to see if changing the pitch helps, otherwise I’ll just get a similar saddle to the one I got for the Dunlop.
As you can see from the images, I’ve already kitted out the machine quite extensively: bought a set of pannier bags off eBay which seem to work better than the ones I had before, because of their simpler design (the other ones I have on the Dunlop are fancier, with multiple pouches and all, but by having zips meant things weren’t going to last for long, which actually happened – some of the pouches are already not closing properly). I also got some lights for it (I have to make a review on the set of back lights I got, that will go on a future post!), a very cheap cycle computer (but which doesn’t constantly crash, which was the case with the other one I have and which had the annoying consequence of having to continuously reinsert all the data, set the clock etc) and a massive-looking U-lock (I had a combination lock before, but this one is way better and sturdier, should serve as proper theft deterrent). I also got a little side mirror which is handy to see the traffic laying behind me (useful when I need to negotiate an obstacle such as a parked car) – I had one before, a round one which you would fit in the handlebar, but the viewing angle wasn’t great, and the position where it had to be fixated meant that, in order to have a proper glimpse of the traffic I would have to move my arms into a very awkward position, otherwise I’d block the reflex! Certainly not ideal…
So, as you can see, a nice little bike (you can get it with a 22-inch frame too, if you’re a big fellow – since I’m 5′ 10”, the 19-inch frame is more than enough for me) for a reasonable price. All in all, I think I made a pretty good deal, and these should serve me well in both commuting and leisure, with the added bonus of the trekking tyres not dragging me down like a mountain bike would, so the journey becomes less tiresome, which is always good :).