Hors de Combat

It will probably be a few weeks yet before I’m ready to ride again, so now is a good time to look at what didn’t work out this time, and what could be improved.

DNF

In the “Did Not Finish” category I’ll look at things that just didn’t do the job they were designed for.

Brooks C15
Brooks C15

First up is the saddle, of course. I’ve had trouble with saddle sores in the past. My first solution was to upgrade to a Brooks C15 saddle, and then to get some good gel shorts. These things helped, but obviously not enough. I suffered more than a little fatigue this trip, but in the end it was the saddle sores which kept me from completing. Meanwhile, FLJ had no difficulties with his brand-new Brooks B17 titanium despite having no break-in time at all.

Exposure Redeye taillight
Exposure Redeye taillight

My Exposure Revo dynamo light performed flawlessly, sometimes still glowing more than an hour after we’d finished a day’s ride. The only shortcomings were a lack of a switch (I had to unplug it when it wasn’t in use and cover the power ports with the included dust caps) and no way to quickly tell which cable was which (main power or taillight). The piggybacked Redeye taillight, though, gave out almost immediately and remained hors de combat for the rest of the ride. I haven’t yet had a chance to determine if it’s a connectivity problem (possibly a port clogged by mud or a broken cable), a lightbulb failure or something else. The light has a two-year warranty, so presumably I’ll be able to get a replacement if needed.

Pannier held on by bungee
Pannier held on by bungee

Finally, the Mont Bell panniers, which previously saw me through a London-to-Paris ride, threw in the towel at the first opportunity. On the second day of riding I clipped a low barrier, breaking one of the two clips at the top which secure the pannier to the rack. I’m glad we had bungee cords on hand, and after a bit of fiddling I was able to come up with an arrangement which held the bag securely enough to continue riding. At the earliest opportunity I replaced the bags with a new set of Ortliebs in bright yellow, and these performed flawlessly. (On the other hand, I haven’t tried ramming them into any barriers. Yet.)

(The Mont Bell’s clips seem to be replaceable, but I couldn’t find any replacements in time for our resupply point on this trip. I’m happier with the Ortliebs, which also have replaceable clips. Meanwhile, I’ve left the unbroken Mont Bell pannier in London for FLJ or his son to use if they’re so inclined.)

Life on the canal
Your faithful correspondent

The most fundamental bit of gear that didn’t hold up under the stress was none other than your 58-year-old correspondent. Of all the prep I’d done for the trip, I failed to lose any weight in advance. And while I put in quite a few kilometers in the months leading up to the event, I didn’t have many days of back-to-back riding. As mentioned at the top, I’d already experienced some saddle soreness in one-day rides, and I failed to take that seriously enough before embarking on what was supposed to be 13 days of riding (with one planned rest day).

But I’ll be back … unlike some of the equipment listed above.

Also Ran

The “Also Ran” category covers things that worked, but not as well as they could have. In some cases I’ll be looking for alternatives before the next big ride. (NB: I’m not planning any two-week treks again anytime soon.)

Overseas travel charger
Overseas travel charger

The overseas travel charger comes with a variety of plugs to fit most destinations, and has four USB ports. That should allow it to charge multiple devices simultaneously. But it just didn’t deliver enough juice to charge my phone unless I turned the phone off and left it to charge overnight. It was a constant challenge for us to keep our phones (FLJ was using two) and the Garmin charged, particularly as some hotel and B&B rooms didn’t have many outlets. When I returned to FLJ’s London flat I was able to charge my phone in a couple of hours using his MacBook charger. So it’s likely that the voltage on the overseas travel charger is divided among its four ports, allowing it to deliver only one-quarter of the juice through each port. This is a lesson I’d learned in my day job with unpowered USB hubs, but I’d apparently forgotten.

Detail of bicycle frame showing attached pump
Topeak Road Morph G

The Topeak Road Morph G pump fits neatly to Kuroko’s small frame, includes a folding handle and foot pad, and features an inline gauge. It saw us through no fewer than four punctures, as well as the initial tire inflation after I removed Kuroko from the airline bag in London and reassembled her. The only shortcoming is the difficulty getting the pump head to secure to the valve such that the air is going into the tire. There were too many false starts where the air was just whistling around the valve, or where we were trying to force air into a valve that wasn’t open. I think the issue is the very small pump head, which doesn’t have sufficient depth for a secure attachment to the valve. I’m undecided about whether to seek out an alternative as the pump works well otherwise, and we were always able to get it to come through (albeit often after multiple tries).

Topeak Hexus II minitool
Topeak Hexus II minitool

I got the Topeak Hexus II in part for its included tire levers, but — as is often the case with such gimmicks — the levers turned out to be suboptimal. We were able to get our tires off to fix flats in every case with these levers, but they just didn’t work as well as a pair of dedicated tire levers would. I don’t think I need to replace this tool, which worked fine for everything else we used it for, but just augment it with a cheap set of purpose-made tire levers.

Shimano 105 rear derailleur
Shimano 105 rear derailleur

The Shimano 105 rear derailleur is usually a delight to use, providing swift, sure shifts with a complete lack of fuss and noise. But we had issues on this trip. The adjustment was off following the flight and reassembly of the bike in London (and it’s on me that I didn’t correct the issue before setting off). And after a couple of days in rain and mud, the pulleys were squeaking and I had to double-shift to get the result I wanted. Finally, after a long slog over a particularly muddy canal tow path, the derailleur stopped shifting up to the higher range. It was stuck on the four largest sprockets.

We dismounted at one of the canal locks and I played with the derailleur for a few minutes to get it working again. I backed out the adjustment screws, and I sprayed the unit with my water bottle to dislodge some of the mud that had built up in its workings. After that, the derailleur was shifting again — albeit by double-shifting and with no small amount of squeaking.

In backing out the adjustment screws, though, I’d made a fatal mistake: I’d loosened up the screw that prevents the chain from coming off the largest sprocket and into the spokes. It happened once shortly afterwards, and I made a mental note to correct it during our next stop. But I put it off, and in the end I got the chain into the spokes at speed (shifting down in preparation for a stop), breaking two spokes outright and mangling several others.

Mechanic truing wheel on bike in parking lot
Ben’s mobile bike repair

That might have been the end of the ride for me. I was able to twist the two broken spokes around their neighbors so Kuroko could limp along to the next town, but the wheel was out of true and rubbing against the frame. Meanwhile, the broken spoke ends were rattling around the hub, and there was a danger of a spoke going through the innertube was well. Fortunately, FLJ got on his phone and was able to locate a mobile cycle mechanic! Ben was able to come to our hotel not long after we limped in, and spent an hour in the darkening parking lot replacing three spokes, truing the wheel, adjusting the derailleur and cleaning and oiling the chain. In the end he charged a bargain £30 for his time, including the hour it took him to reach us and another hour to get back home when the job was done. (I slipped him an extra fiver so he could enjoy a cold one — after getting home, of course.)

After Ben’s attention, the derailleur never gave another moment’s trouble. Shifts were once again swift and sure, with no more noise coming from the drivetrain than the satisfying ratcheting sound of the freewheel. But until Ben arrived on the scene to save the day, my experience had been a rolling advertisement for the flawless (if heavy and expensive) Rohloff shifting mechanism on FLJ’s new bike.

WTB Horizon bicycle tire
WTB Horizon

The WTB Horizon tires that came with Kuroko (mounted on excellent Hunt wheels) are very good for road and gravel riding, with their smooth profile and generous volume. At one point of the tour when the going got particularly rough, I was able to let some of the pressure out for a more comfortable ride. And the tire is foldable, allowing me to carry a spare (which we didn’t need in the end).

The only shortcoming revealed itself when the path became particularly muddy — in fact, when the path was nothing but mud. With their smooth profile, the tires failed to get any purchase and the handling became treacherous. But this is not an issue with these tires as much as to say they’re not suited for all-out mud riding: something with a pronounced tread would be better in that situation. When the going was less muddy, I appreciated the Horizon’s smooth profile for the efficiency it gave.

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