24 Mar 2010

Freezing saddles

Hi, I'm Chris and I'm a masochist tricyclist.
One day at a time. ;-)

A former partnership between the Longstaff conversion and another recycled frame. Fanti? A search suggests it may be an SCO product. The B17 saddle has since been restored,  re-riveted, oiled and retensioned  but it was still the saddle of choice back then.

I really can't recommend the drooping brake cable idea. It collected water and made the braking muddy. The idea was to avoid contact between the cable of the side-pull brake and the down tube at full lock. Proper trikes have brake extension bars or use alternative stirrup designs. The Tektro R725 range looks promising for a lack of vertical protrusions, is relatively inexpensive and has side cable entry. It looks much sexier in black: There are a number of different product names associated with this design but I believe the original manufacturers are in Taiwan.

I wish I had a smarter chainset. I have ridden so many miles that it is has become grooved from the toe straps rubbing against the cranks. All my recycled, cotterless chainsets seem to have tooth counts around 52/37. Okay for racing but not much use to me on the local, roller coaster roads. I have always preferred a triple with a comfortable, rather than wide ratio, sprocket block. Triples keep the chainline tidy and avoid having 9 or more sprockets and expensive chains (and rings and changers) for exactly the same ratios as the much cheaper triple set up. None of my ex-mountain bike, triple chainsets would look the part on an old trike. I could look around for a better combination of rings to fit one of my crank sets. Or find a small inner ring to make a triple? Now there's a thought. Except for the even wider tooth count for the rear gear changer to manage.

Having exceeded 20 miles per day for a whole week (stop laughing at the back!) I found another saddle problem. The Vetta SL was biting back for suffering the indignity of my presence. So the Brooks B17 medieval leather throne was restored to its former place and I set off with high hopes. On the first day (24 miles) it felt like a badly shaped rock. One picked from a field completely at random. It made my nether regions numb! It didn't help that I got lost in the back lanes of the Empty Quarter. Next day I remembered to drop the nose by one click and, thankfully, the numbness did not return. I must be a fully qualified masochist by now if only for doing the course work. The written exam must surely be a formality?

I really fancied an old, but beautiful, Brooks Professional saddle on eBay(UK) but several vendors would only accept UK bids. Parochialism is so "yesterday"! Haven't they heard of the www? Don't answer that! Prices seem to hover around half (or more) of new UK prices. It must be the vintage bike fans trying to build something original and willing to pay for it. The Pro is slightly narrower than the B17 and looks just a bit more curved across the back. I shall have to find a new one in the shops to see whether it would suit my own sitting geometry. There must be some secondhand ones knocking about here in Denmark if I look hard enough.

Yesterday was the first serious frost of the year. Denmark had somehow avoided a frost during November for the first time since records began. (1874) Instead it chose to set a new record for wettest number of days. And there I was wondering why it rained all the time. 29 days of rain in one month raised the umbrella tally by two whole days from the previous 1944 record! If this is AGW then I want a refund!

The icy wind was blowing straight through my windproof jacket, Norwegian jumper and polyester vest yesterday. Though my knees didn't even notice the cold. I had decided to put off my daily ride until after morning coffee and toasted rolls with marmalade in the forlorn hope of a thaw. The extra hour seemed to have hardly affected the ice on the puddles. One village was full of slush from the earlier passing of a tractor through the ice covered, road-bridging puddles of the previous days. Thanks goodness for the built-in stabilisers! The trike crosses ice as if it were dry road. Though I do remember in my youth sliding slowly but inexorably down the camber on black ice into the kerb as I rode to the local shops. I also vaguely remember that snow was also a  bit difficult with only one wheel drive.

Those of you shocked at the sight of two large, galvanised nuts can rest assured that they are precisely the width necessary to fit assorted frames without springing the donor bike chainstays apart. I could turn a smart cylinder out of brass or aluminium in the lathe but the nuts get the job done well enough. The two heavy rectangular bars and chromed reinforcing bar all add to the weight of the conversion. A "real" trike frameset is lighter and probably stiffer without them. Requiring only light, tubular steel, semicircular hoops for axle casing reinforcement and no duplication of the seat stays.  

Bright sunshine from an almost cloudless sky has finally taken the place of the former leaden skies. Despite my superb, wraparound sunglasses my eyes were still watering. With bright red plastic frames, these sunglasses were a good buy at a fiver from the local supermarket and have served me well. This, despite being dropped a few times as I fumbled in thick gloves outside supermarkets on forced shopping trips. I feel no extra drag or discomfort over the dress designer prices of the bike shop wares.

The Longstaff has a different geometry to the Higgins and it can be felt through the saddle thanks to the more upright position. I think this is why the Vetta saddle is complaining. It had an easier life on the Higgins since more of my weight is on the 'bars. The Higgins definitely makes saddles feel more comfortable. Rotating the pelvic girdle forwards may present a broader surface of the sit bones to the saddle top. The trike shown below has the handlebars set too high and is from a time when I was much less fit than I am now.

I have been temporarily stuck on the 36T chainring and this has been an interesting rediscovery of the art of twiddling. Despite the dangers of trying to read the seconds hand of my watch, sandwiched between gloved wrist and jacket cuff,  I found that I rarely drop below 80 rpm on the cranks. 100 rpm feels comfortable and I can go much higher without strain now. I have long forgotten the gear inches of the 36T chainring so don't ask for numbers.

The bike computer is staying on the Higgins until I get some new HP wheels. So I'm using Google Earth's Path measure option to check my daily mileages. Despite the kilometre reigning supreme over here I still stick to miles as my yardstick. Miles are what I know. They have a familiar feeling born of decades of painful exposure on foot and on a bike saddle. 

On the Higgins, with 3 chainrings to choose from, I deliberately snick it up a gear every time the pain in my legs eases off slightly. Bringing back "the burn" is the only way to improve my strength and level of fitness. My quadriceps seem to suffer the most.  I could easily go twice as far, at much lower speeds, but what would be the point? I wouldn't lose more weight or increase my stamina. It would  also take four times as long! My only worry is damaging my knees if I start to push instead of spinning freely. I have even started to climb hills out of the saddle! Not always easy with gravel and farm mud to cope with. Wheel spin is a problem on wet roads and there isn't much one can do about it. Except to sit down and pedal harder to maintain one's impetus.

I have an old Monarch exercise bike in the shed but the slightest friction applied to its massive, cast front wheel feels like very hard work! I don't put in that much effort even burning up the steepest of hills as if my life depended on it! I have a turbo (fan) trainer as well but have never even tried it.  Buy on a whim. Repent at leisure.

The last two days have been rest days with only 16 mile runs. (stop sniggering) I wore my supermarket ski goggles today and avoided the watery eyes but still needed a gutter and downpipe for my nose. There's not much difference between a tricyclist with cheap red sunglasses or cheap ski goggles in  my book. I attract no more admiring glances in either guise so it's not something which will keep me awake at night. I wore the thicker version of my many ski long Johns too and was warmer than yesterday. A bit to too warm on the uphill slogs on my meandering route back from the shops. I've got into the naughty habit of doing figures of eight lately to add a few more miles and then arrive back home half an hour late. I wonder why I have to keep clearing my throat when I'm out on the trike. One would hope I am clearing out decades of muck but I'm not sure the lungs work quite like that.

By the way; I have rebuilt the Higgins rear axles. The cups and cones fit together and hold the grease and the loose balls trapped while reassembly takes place. One just has to be sure  that the cones are sitting on the axle flats before tightening the cups. The idler axle side was easy but I had to back out the drive side axle to fit the sprocket block (cassette) on its freehub and the tubular fixing nut. A ring spanner on the hex at the wheel end of the axle made short work of tightening the tubular nut. IT saved fitting a wheel to accomplish the same task. A little experience is worth a thousand words of instructions.

A sky full of promise. It lasted less than two days and now it's overcast and leaden again with rain forecast for more than a week ahead. The front mudguard is on the Higgins.

I am delighted to say that my new Mavic CXP22, clincher rimmed, rear wheels have arrived from Geoff Booker. (Trykit Conversions) Very pretty they look too with their Sapim double-butted, stainless steel spokes. The polished, Higgins-fit, Trykit hubs are true works of art! Geoff was very quick to build and supply the wheels from my first placing my order. I've already fitted new Bontrager Racelite 700x23 and new inner tubes to them. I was very tempted to step up to 25mm but couldn't get a pair in blue. The complete wheels weigh almost 3lbs each against 2.5lbs for the sprints and tubs. So about the same as my Longstaff wheels with Alesa rims with the same tyres. As I have said before; I really like these tyres because I have not had a single puncture on them to date. Tomorrow will tell if they are a drag compared with the sprints and tubs. I'll take some pictures of  the wheels tomorrow in daylight:

I didn't quite line up the tyre name with the rim label. The Mavic label is opposite the valve position on the rim. Which makes it very easy to find the valve simply by rotating the wheel so that the label is near the road. Some people don't like these bright labels but I can't see them when I'm riding the trike.

The pretty TRYKIT hubs and Sapim, double butted spokes. [2/1.8/2mm] These stainless steel spokes are subtly "waisted" by stretching rather than having obviously thick ends and a thin middle. I'm not particularly heavy and hate camping so I went with 32 spokes. These wheels are a great visual improvement on the rusty spokes and battered Rogers hubs on the sprint rims. They should last for years. I tend to divide such expenditure by the number of years of ownership. Which make things very good value compared with bus journeys. Moreover, I should get an extension of useful, personal lifetime if I am lighter and fitter. Thankyou Geoff! I will try and live up to the new wheels' true potential.

I have been doing the rounds of every cycle shop I can find for a used Brooks Professional. Sadly they don't seem to be at all common over here. Few shops bother to keep old saddles. Though there are still plenty of shops left to try. I was offered a very dull and dry B66 for a fiver (equiv) and couldn't resist it at that price despite the weight of the three pairs of rails and coil springs. I was also offered a used lady's B66S in good condition in another shop. However, I decided I really had no use for it so didn't enquire about the price. The B66 has now been dismantled and the leather well soaked in some expensive (horse) saddle treatment to see if it can be revived.

It is amazing how many different suggestions and dire warnings there are online for treating dry leather saddles. I shall be more patient with this one than I was with the B17. It is much broader across the back than my <150mm B17 Narrow but still has the same family features. It's certainly not a fat, shopping bike saddle. Once it has recovered a little I may try it out. Though it won't be easy to find a saddle pin  to fit the tiny clamp and the modern micro adjusting pins are impossible to fit.

I found a brand new Brooks Professional, in black, in one shop and was stunned by the light weight compared with my old B17. It was unlabelled but I can only assume that it was a Titanium framed model. It really did look superbly shaped and finished but likely to be horribly expensive judging by the prices I've seen online. (~£160 for the Ti) The standard Brooks Professional is anywhere between  £80 and £100 (equivalent) over here.

Higgins Ultralite trike with smart new Trykit /Mavic back wheels. (400KB enlargement if you click the image!)

I set off on my new wheels with an over-the-shoulder, tail wind and averaged an exhilarating 20mph for the first 10 miles. Even the local big hill was taken on the 46T chainring and I crested it effortlessly still somewhere in the middle of the gear block. I could have continued like this until I reached the north coast of Fyn. However, common sense prevailed and I turned across the wind for few miles before being forced straight into the wind by the road options left to me. Even pedalling into the teeth of the wind I was still averaging 15mph on the computer. Ten miles later I turned right and curved gently back towards home. Thirty one miles is my highest mileage yet (without a pause) on either trike and my route formed nearly a perfect circle.

The Higgins with the new Trykit-built rear wheels seen from the Continental offside. (400KB enlargement!)

After twenty miles I was becoming acutely aware of the saddle but still able to continue. It gradually became more and more uncomfortable from then on. The problem seems to  be the raised rear end of the saddle where the rivets run across the back. My weight is putting a bow into the saddle making it hollow relative to its nose and back. I just don't have enough muscular padding left to avoid feeling the back of the saddle. The sensation is one of sitting on a hard triangle pointing forwards in a delta. I may benefit from increasing the tension to flatten the saddle more to give it a flatter backbone.

The new wheels feel quick and lively. Within only a few yards I had noticed the narrower track of the Higgins. It seems to rock  and roll much more from side to side on the undulations of the road surface compared with the wider Longstaff. With the new tyres pumped up hard I could feel every bit of gravel but it certainly wasn't uncomfortable. Cornering is quiet, smooth and stable. The 28 spoke sprints wheels used to be quite noisy and flexible on corners. Sometimes giving the impression that they were about to fall to pieces on rough, tight corners. Hitting a typical larger piece of gravel was often jarring.  I felt very secure the whole time I was out on these new wheels.

The gravel moraines on most rural junctions offered no real problems either. Allowing me to maintain my line instead of having to use far more of the road. I wonder whether any of the brains in government have calculated the long term costs cost of losing a single cyclist to a road accident due to gravel and litter compared with sweeping the roads regularly as they used to? How many commuting cyclists give up in the face of mounting obstacles, appalling road surfaces and cycle lane debris? All of which seem to remain untouched for literally years on end. Often causing dams which collect rainwater to form deep puddles or slippery strands of twigs and leaves to add to the cyclist's misery.

How do these pompous clowns stand up at the Copenhagen Climate Conference knowing that the roads and cycle lanes are completely unfit for cycling? All due to their endless cuts to council expenditure. The council workers now cut the hedges with their specialised tractor flails and don't even bother to sweep the road-wide scatter of thorns, twigs and branches! The debris is often left to compost and (eventually) to be swept aside by passing traffic and the weather! Unemployment is rising fast but there is nobody available to clear the cycle lanes and rural junctions of detritus? It's odd how the politicians of every land can find the funds for endless salary increases, wars and open ended "defence" contracts for new and completely unproven armaments. Not to mention their rafts of inflation proof, personal expenses and gas-guzzling limousines.

But I digress: Hopefully I now have the insurance of puncture resistance allied with the lightness, cornering fun and greater liveliness of the Higgins. Being able to push out my safe radius from home will allow a much larger circumference to my daily routes. Meaning more miles and fresh sights to see. I just need to solve the problem of the uncomfortable saddle to be able increase my endurance significantly. My legs were still in good shape yesterday apart from a slight soreness just above the knees.

I'm now just under 12 stone. (about 168lbs or 76kg)

After several days in a row of 28-30 miles the B17 has been replaced by the Vetta SL again. I managed 28 miles on it today without discomfort. Though it is far too firm to be considered comfortable. I intend to stay with the Vetta SL now until I can find a Brooks Professional at a tolerable price. Or get used to the Vetta. It is certainly very light. I'm not really sure which model it is. There seems to a road and an ATB version and even a ladies model. Mine has sharper geometry to the plan view which suggests it is the women's saddle. According to one website both men's saddles are smoothly round at the back. I don't really mind as long as you promise not to tell anybody else. ;-)

BikePro.com / Buyer's Guide / Vetta Saddle - Bicycle Parts at discount prices / the Buyer's Guide / Bicycle Parts at their finest! / Professional Bicycle Source / Bike Pro
I also wore my Shimano racing shoes for the first time in ages. (without cleats) In preparation for their more likely use I had been stuffing the toes hard with newspaper to make them more roomy. I used a broom handle to compact the newspaper as  much as possible and left it in there overnight. Since these shoes are so strongly built I doubt it helped much. Now I'm looking for some old fashioned shoe trees to try and get more toe room for the longer term. The very pointed toes of these shoes used to make my toes sore on much shorter rides and it was difficult to walk any distance in them. Which is why I stopped wearing them altogether when I began to get lots of punctures. Though today's experience with them was really quite favourable. (Apart from clopping about like a stray pony in the supermarkets) Now I have high pressure tyres I can carry a spare inner tube and lightweight tyre levers. This will add a further level of insurance against having to walk back if I should ever puncture.

I have adapted a new lightweight nylon bag for shopping trips. It is easily roomy enough for a large loaf, water proofs and several cartons of milk. In fact the bag can expand considerably more than it appears in the picture below. The second handle is  easily slipped back over the saddle to allow easy filling via the large, zipped, top panel. Then the handle goes back over the saddle to pull the contents together so they don't move about.

The 'Winterized' Higgins 'Ultralite' three-wheeled shopping trolley with Vetta SL saddle. The magnet driven, diode lights flash continuously while I'm in in motion. Anything which helps to warn others of my presence is good  news. Fit and forget. Batteries not included. Nor needed. I really ought to have a look at the handlebar tape but haven't settled on the final choice of fittings yet so didn't want to waste new tape. As my fitness improves I feel the need for lower handlebars. I quite often feel too upright as I'm riding on the brake hoods into the wind. It's odd how much the saddle looks tipped back. It isn't really.

It doesn't look much but the new bag is very practical and can be removed from the trike in seconds if necessary. The secret to success was allowing the bag to hang much lower using its own carrying handles for support. I was inspired by the bag position of the red Longstaff in the previous chapter. When I tried to fit the bag up high, like a normal saddle bag, it swung into the wheels on almost every corner. I have tied one carrying handle to the seat stays with a shoe lace and this stops all sideways movement even when the bag is stuffed full of shopping. A very thin plywood board has replaced the original (and completely useless) vinyl-covered cardboard insert. This new board is very light but helps to stiffen the bag and support loads much more evenly. Of course I carefully smoothed all the edges of the plywood insert to ensure it did not rub through the nylon bag material over time. A trike has enormous advantages over a bike in carrying loads between the rear wheels. Normally the back wheel of a bike forces compromises on bag size before it rests on the tyre or mudguard. Or requires a strong and  heavy metal carrier to support the bag.

This bag cost only a couple of pounds (equivalent) and finally allows me to stow unwanted clothing and a good load of shopping. Yet adds almost nothing to the weight of the trike when empty.  Which saves me worrying about removing it when it wont be used to its full capacity. I'm not sure about wind drag since it isn't far behind my legs. Which aren't likely to get any more streamlined than they are at present. Such flexibility of capacity is invaluable in cold conditions when I warm up and need to shed a jacket.

I have a classical, British saddlebag somewhere in the shed but it is foolishly heavy. The stiff leather straps were a pain to buckle up and undo despite treatment with saddle oil. Being cotton canvas duck the bag was also very prone to mildew as I was much too lazy to proof it.