… 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 :).