Monday, March 27

Oxford Bike Works step through touring bike

I have been intending to write this post since last October, and now having read this post on anniebikes recently about the Rivendell Clementine I've been inspired to get on and do it, as her post, and the comments that follow, has lots of interesting things to say on the subject of step through bikes. I also found this article about mixtes on Lovely bicycle! very useful. I didn't even realize that my own bike, a roughly 20 year old Trek, was a mixte until a few months ago, and now I'm a great fan of them - I've learnt a lot in the past year!

My mixte Trek

Back last year, this bike was off the road for several days, and as it was and is my main and preferred means of transport I felt lost without it! It was a bit like my sewing machines - some time ago I realized I could probably do with having two machines, partly because different machines are good for different things, but also in case one ever goes wrong and I can't fix it. Eldest Son told me of this formula about the number of bikes people have, and I believe it has also been applied to sewing machines  - it is n + 1. What this means is that is the number of bikes/sewingmachines one has but one always wants/needs one more.......

So last year I decided I really would like to have that + 1 bike. A couple of years before that, I had looked longingly at first Thorn touring bikes, and then at Oxford Bike Works bikes. OBW bikes were similar to Thorn's and a mere 14 miles or so away from me, and as I do like to try to buy locally, I decided to arrange a visit to Richard there. I wanted a step through (this was before I knew what a mixte was) as I didn't want to swing my leg over the saddle, having done it on the Trek aluminium hybrid that I should never have bought in 2014 (although technically it was a women's frame, the crossbar was high and I ended up swinging my leg over the saddle). It's not that I can't do it - I just don't want to.

I had the choice of a step through frame with either 700c wheels, which would be built from a frame supplied by Intec, or 26" size wheels with a frame made by Lee Cooper in the UK, and being basically the OBW Model 1. Both were steel. I went for a short ride on one of Richard's "men's" bikes in the 26" wheel size (I can't actually remember the frame size of this bike - this is significant regarding what happened in the end) and decided to go for the latter, although it was more expensive, as I liked the extra controlability that the 26" wheels seemed to give. Richard took the measurements of my Trek, as I was happy with the size of that, and did various measurements in the workshop with me on the bike I had ridden, and the new step through bike was ordered. At this point I should mention, as it's significant later in the story, that I thought I remembered him saying, when I was sat on the bike in the workshop, "I think you need a large frame".

I requested a Brooks B17S saddle. I like my Bontrager saddle, which I was measured for in my local bike shop, but I had wanted to try a Brooks for ages and adding it on at this stage was cheaper than adding one later. And small bar ends.

Six weeks later I went to collect the bike. I have to say that my immediate impression was of disappointment, because my first thought was that the bike looked small, a little bit like a child's bike made to fit an adult. I hadn't expected it to look like this. It may sound silly but I didn't want a bike that looked small, even if it was the right size for me. I actually think now that that first thought - of it being small - was because it was too small. Anyway, I rode it the 14 miles home. I have to say it was an extremely uncomfortable ride!! My immediate thought, thinking of the very harsh ride that I got with the Trek hybrid, was "Oh no, what HAVE I done....? Have I made another mistake?"

This was the bike as it was when I first got it home.

One thing I knew was that despite what everyone says about breaking in a Brooks saddle, there was no way I was ever going to break this one in. I'd worn my padded undershorts even though I wouldn't normally need them on a short journey like this one but even with them on I was very uncomfortable! So that was the first thing that would have to be changed. I came home and read up all I could about the different Brooks saddles, comparing all the measurements, and comparing the B17S measurements to those of my current saddle. I concluded that I would probably be better off with a wider one. I wasn't getting the width that I needed according to my sit bones measurement. Lovely Bicycle! has a very good post on Brooks saddles.

Another thing that I thought might be affecting the ride were the tyres, which were Schwalbe 32mm (I think they were Marathon Plus but I can't be certain now). I also didn't think the handlebars were at the sort of height we had originally agreed, but it wasn't until I rode it home that I realized this.

So, back to OBW. Richard changed the saddle to a Velo model, which I knew wasn't my ideal but was acceptable, put wider tyres on (unfortunately I can't remember the width now), and raised the handlebars to the position I wanted by putting in more spacers (though it was only afterwards that I realized that in fact this put the handlebars slightly nearer to the saddle, which I didn't want). This time I left it with Richard, and he kindly returned it to me a few days later.

New saddle, and extra spacers under the handlebars.

I took it out for a ride. It was more comfortable, but inside me I had this awful thought that I'd just spent about £1600 on a new bike and I knew I wasn't happy with it.....Husband and I measured and measured both this bike and my Trek, to see if there was a logical reason why I didn't feel right on it. There was very little difference in the measurements, although one important one was in the distance from the saddle to the handlebars; I needed to move the saddle further back but it wasn't possible - it was as far back as it would go. I do know I've got long arms. Again I refer here to Lovely Bicycle!, although I can't remember the particular post, but it says somewhere concerning fit, that in the end you just have to go with your gut feeling as to whether a bike is right for you or not, and my gut feeling was that this one wasn't, although the only reason I could give was that it just felt small, and generally not right.

In the end, Richard offered to take the bike back and give me a full refund, and this I accepted. I rode it back and he kindly took time to discuss things with me. I think it was probably like when I know a sewing customer of mine isn't happy (thankfully it has rarely happened!) - I just want to know what's wrong and put it right if possible.  I did mention that when I first went to see him I thought he had said that I needed a large size, as opposed to the medium I had. So possibly there was some error in the sizing, but neither of us could be certain. 

He did put forward two ideas; one was taking one of his large size bikes home to try out for a longer time than I had originally had, and the other was that he was thinking of getting in a step through in the next couple of months in a large size for customers to try and maybe I would like to try that out. I would have been particularly keen on trying out the large step through, but I have heard no more. I am the first customer he has refunded - he obviously has lots of happy customers judging from his Facebook page.

My own theory is that given the choice between two sizes of bike, I would naturally tend to choose the bigger one, which may be something inexplicable, or may be down to something logical - I don't know! I've studied bike geometry until it comes out of my ears.....

Regarding step-throughs and mixtes, I also know now that looks wise I definitely lean more towards a mixte. As I said earlier, I like to buy local when possible, or at least British, but I have to admit that a bike I am leaning towards is the Dutch Koga Traveller. I would have loved to have the steel Koga Randonneur, which another blogger, Brenda, has, but unfortunately Koga are no longer making them. The Traveller is aluminium, which I would have steered (ha ha...) clear of after my experience with the Trek, but after more research and talking to people who know more than me I'm inclined to rethink my opinions. I've also looked at the bikes made by VSF Fahrradmanufaktur, although they only come in black, and the mixtes apparently only come in one frame size, which I don't get. You certainly get a lot for your money with both of these.

I'm slightly nervous about buying a bike from somewhere that isn't within reasonably easy reach by bike (for me that's Tadcaster or London for the Koga, and London or Cambridge for the Fahrradmanufaktur) in case I need to take it back for any reason, and neither of these makes are available within that sort of distance, but hey ho, maybe I shouldn't worry.

I'm sure I've missed out something I wanted to say but after several days of reading this post through and editing it I'll go ahead and finally post it.

And just to give you something to look at, Vulpine, the bike clothing manufacturer, have collaborated with British frame builder Gavin Buxton of August Bicycles to make this very beautiful - and expensive! - mixte. Intended more for urban riding than touring so I understand.

All comments and opinions very welcome on this subject (as on any other post of course)!


Friday, March 3

Winter cycling - a bit late!

I can't believe it's March already, and I haven't yet written my "Winter Cycling" post...... possibly the following explains why:

Early February - down to Devon to help look after new granddaughter (while Marines daddy is away) for 11 days.
Back home for 3.
Back down for 3.

All these 3 journeys by train - I love going on the train but don't often have reason to. I got quite excited while waiting at Swindon and hearing them announce the arrival of the "Devon Express"! The first time I went down, as we approached Exmouth I was looking out of one side of the train and then turned to the other side and thought - oh!! there's the sea! I haven't seen it for some time. I took a book with me called Slow Travel by Dan Kieran which I read in quiet moments over the 11 days.

Back home then with car packed to the hilt with me, daughter, 4 week old baby - and Molly the cocker spaniel in the boot! The journey went well, with one stop at Gordano services to feed baby, walk dog, and top up with refreshments. I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally reached our other daughter's in Wantage, where mother and baby stayed for 4 days before coming here. Original plans for daughter and baby (and Molly the dog - who has gone on holiday in a nearby village) to stay elsewhere had fallen through, hence them coming here.

And here is the cause of the blog post delay! Lovely baby Emmie, sozzled after a feed! One bundle of cuddliness........

Her 14 month old cousin Lily loves her, and is learning to be gentle with her.

So - the winter cycling!

This winter I was aiming to try to keep cycling throughout the winter, and I have indeed managed it, although to be honest the weather has not been particularly wintery.  The coldest day I cycled was actually on January 21st, when it was frosty to start with but then lovely and sunny. What with one thing and another happening most of my riding has just been the usual shopping trips, of 8 or 9 miles, but I also managed to add extra miles onto these trips sometimes, increasing them to perhaps 15 miles, and also a couple of jaunts of 20 miles or so. Although the miles only added up to 109.4 (very important that point 4!) compared to last January when I didn't cycle once that is a massive improvement!

What one wears when cycling in the winter is a good topic for discussion. Like many other cyclists I don't believe that you necessarily need special clothing for cycling, but sometimes the right garment helps immensely. I think the two most valuable items for me are merino wool long sleeved tops underneath everything, and my Primaloft jacket - I was going to put a link to mine, which is made by Vulpine, but I am flabberghasted to see that they aren't doing them anymore. Oh well, other makes are available..... This jacket was expensive but it was money well spent. Under this jacket, and over the merino top, I wear any old thing. My fleece lined Buff keeps my neck lovely and toasty.

Legwear is either Craghopper trousers or my favourite altered-to-fit-me charity shop jeans that have plenty of stretch in them. Either of these are fine for the length of rides I've been doing, but I did think that maybe cycling tights might be more comfortable for longer rides, and I bought a pair of these Altura Women's Cruisers choosing them for their price and the fact that they didn't look too tight. I haven't had a chance to try them out yet - I'll try and remember to report back when I have.

I don't have any problems with my body and feet staying warm (Husband gets cold feet when cycling) but another thing I knew I'd need for the winter would be good gloves. I bought these Pearl Izumi Elite Softshell Gel gloves. I actually got men's ones, and in a medium, and I still find the thumbs a bit short! And no I haven't got huge hands, just longish fingers perhaps. I bought these gloves on the recommendation of my cycling Elder Son, who wears his with a pair of merino liners underneath when the weather is extremely cold. Verdict? I couldn't have kept cycling in the winter without them, as my other Bontrager lighter weight ones wouldn't have been warm enough. However, I did find that on that coldest ride in January my fingers were pretty cold for the first few miles of the ride, until the sun came out. Temperatures that day were probably just above freezing. Comfort wise they are great.

Several weeks ago I noticed that I was getting discomfort with the gripshift on my bike, and I asked Husband to have a look at it, as I thought it was just stiff. He did, and lubricated here and there, and it was slightly better. However I think it's me that's got the problem. I've noticed slight discomfort in the joint that's involved when I turn the shifter towards me. Because of this I want to change the shifters to the rapidfire type, which should solve the problem.

I have entered my first sportive! It's the Childrey Spring Classic and I am going to do the 30 mile ride. I'm looking forward to the bacon rolls afterwards. I know some of the people who have also entered, but they will be doing the 60 mile trip. When they see me they'll probably think "Eh? what's she doing here, on that heavy bike, in those ordinary clothes, and her being a grandmother and all.....". I'll show 'em.......!!!!

Here's my bike loaded up with shopping a while ago, and charity shop curtains on the back rack.

Happy cycling! The days are getting longer - hurrah!


Friday, January 27

Another baby! and new sewing space

I have been hanging on to write this post until our second expected grandchild arrived, which she did last Friday, just a few days late. She is our elder daughter's first, and is called Emmie, and weighed 7lbs 2 1/2oz , and was born in a birthing pool. So we now have two granddaughters, 13 months apart. I made more cot pockets - my daughter chose the fabric, and as they live by the sea it's very appropriate.

With a small piece of leftover fabric I also made a little quilted picture (one of the boats) and I also made a large drawstring toy bag out of different fabric, but stupidly neglected to take a pic of either! I think my brain was in baby's-coming-soon mode and even though I usually take pics of everything I make I just forgot. I will do so if I remember when I go and visit in a week or so.

Our now 13 month old granddaughter, Lily, got to the stage a little while ago of pulling her toys out of her cot pockets and taking great delight in throwing them onto the floor. Her daddy sent us a pic of her standing up in her cot, having done this, with a look on her face that said "It wasn't me, Daddy - honest!"

While we're on the subject of babies - I have now moved my sewing stuff to the smallest bedroom. What's that got to do with babies I hear you ask........ Well, when we lived in this house over 32 years ago, the room I am now sewing in was our eldest's bedroom (we didn't use the word nursery - is it just me or are more parents these days using that word? In my day only the upper classes had nurseries!). This is a much younger me drying him after a bath; in the corner where this blue table was my black Singer 201 now resides, in its table.

Note the Stork margarine pots used for top and tailing.....

And by the way I hadn't realized how incredibly useful it is to have your machine set into a table (if you're not using a free arm that is) which gives you that extra flat space. Still not enough to start making big quilts, but big enough for what I do.

I found that having my sewing machine etc downstairs in the sitting room didn't really work very well after all. I had thought before we came to this house that I just couldn't stand the thought of working upstairs, because in our old house I used to feel very cut off upstairs. However, I have found that here I can see what's going on in the neighbourhood even better than from the sitting room downstairs. This may be a small hamlet but even here stuff happens - occasionally!

Also, one of the problems of working in the main thoroughfare, as it were, is of having one's other half going in and out and asking me things and generally disturbing me!!!! Having my own little room out of the way upstairs is much better. And I don't have to clear up, tidy up, or whatever in order to keep up with Husband's standards........

I worked out that the table on the right would fit in nicely, with my Bernina on it, and that I could have the Singer to the left.

I did have a problem with storage though. Nothing that I had used in our old house had been suitable so I haunted our newest charity shop in Wantage which has lots of cheap furniture, and also another secondhand furniture place locally, for weeks to try and get something. In the end I got so frustrated that I couldn't organise all my sewing stuff properly that I decided that I'd have to buy something new, which I don't really like doing, partly due to expense and partly because I just don't like buying new when there is so much good secondhand stuff to be had. But in the end I just had to bite the bullet, and I went for these Ikea Kallax units. I wouldn't normally even consider flat packed furniture, as it's often so shoddy, but I'd had a look at some of these units that a friend across the road had, so I knew they were pretty sturdy and would suit my needs. You can choose whether to have drawers, doors, baskets or boxes in the gaps, or just leave them open. Husband had fun putting it together (at least I think he did....) with a little help from me. 

The blue spined Reader's Digest "Sewing and Knitting" book is one of the best sewing books I have come across - get it if you see it! Guess how much I paid? 20p. Yes, you read that right - 20p! that was once again in my local favourite charity shop, where all books are 20p, or, wait for it, £1 for 5! Excuse me a minute while I do some arithmetic...... hang on, 5 x 20p = £1. Must have a word with the staff.

So, this tiny room works well as my sewing room, but I still needed some extra table space for cutting out. Thinks - "There's some space in our bedroom at the end of the bed, and if I were to have a gateleg table there, I could have it against the wall and have one flap out when I need it". So, charity shop came up trumps again - quickly this time -  with this for £15 (the sun was shining well and truly in when I took the photo) so that's my cutting out space. Maybe not as big as I'd like ideally, but you can't have everything. 

I am always interested to see other people's workspaces so I hope this has been an interesting tour for you, dear reader. 

The next post will be about my winter biking. And on the reading front, I have just got to read this book, Knit 1 Bike 1, written by Janet Renouf-Miller, about her "woolly cycle journey around Scotland" on her Brompton bike. I hope to get some hints on how I might combine sewing with cycling!!

Till then