1 Oct 2012

1st October 2012

1st 53F, 12C, overcast, grey, windy. I have a stack of inner tubes to mend. Still depressed from yesterday's visit to the narrow gauge, bicycle path to Ringe. So I'm just sitting here browsing about saddles and riding position instead of out on the open road enjoying the windy overcast.

I have found an interesting article by Rivendell about handlebar height and reach. Having raised my handlebars by an inch I ought to be more comfortable. Instead of which I have slight lower back pain after yesterday's ride. Another six hours and 66 miles ride yesterday. Though not riding continuously. A glance in empty shop windows shows that I am sitting up at about 43 degrees now but with my hands firmly on the hoods. Previously I was at about 40 degrees from the horizontal but felt too stretched to reach the brake hoods.

I've also been measuring  my saddles. My old B17 is actually a (150mm-ish) Narrow. The Professional is 160mm wide. I have a double sprung Brooks 'Indelible' which must be all of 180mm wide. The centres of my sit bone dents are about 100mm apart on the 'Professional'. This means they are too near the curved edges above the cantle plate for comfort on either saddle. Do I see a B17 standard in my stars? Can so many tourist owners be wrong? What about the Specialized test pad and my need for a 140mm wide saddle? Something doesn't add up but I was never brilliant at maths.

The sit bones should rest in the flat triangular area at the rear of the saddle. When I sit on most saddles I feel as if my sit bones are being forcibly wedged apart. This is inevitable if there is any curvature to the saddle base. One might as well sit astride a plastic pipe. The padding does nothing to protect one from the curvature of the base. Because the sit bones will depress most padding down to the plastic base where the curve is.

Padding pushes back as hard as you push it down. Newtons Law of gel saddle padding states that the plastic carcase must be indented to match the rider's sit bones. Sit bone action equals padding reaction. So a nice, soft, "W" shape is the minimum requirement for the lateral cross section at the widest part of any saddle. The padding can then be minimised without causing localised pain.

Did you ever see a broken-in leather saddle without sit bone depressions? It's just nature's way of telling us that all plastic saddles are crap because the designers are not cyclists. Any more than Ringe's narrow gauge bicycle path designers are cyclists. It's like expecting Hollywood film writers or BBC executives to know anything about cycling. Cycling is what those working class people did in the last century because they couldn't afford the latest Audi A7½ or Porsche Wrestler.

The leather top, in the case of a typical Brooks, has only slight, convex, lateral curvature but only when new. Once broken-in the curvature is replaced by the smoothly spaced sit bone depressions.  Over time the leather becomes more flexible. Providing some suspension from road bumps and (hopefully) a negative mould to match one's positive undercarriage. If Formula 1 cars can have their seats moulded to a unique driver's anatomy then why can't the cyclist? This is not rocket science, people! You'd think somebody would be selling their services by putting dimples in expensive plastic racing saddle bases with a heat gun. (Don't try this at home children without having a supervising adult present!)

As the 'Professional' is now too uncomfortable for longer rides I am sorely(!) tempted to soak it in a bucket of water. Then pad out the top where the sit bone indentations lie as it dries slowly. My use of saddle oil has probably made the leather too soft. Soaking, in water, will probably remove some of the remaining oil too.

I have read that warm water accelerates softening but must be kept to shorter immersions. Presumably warm water will remove more oil from the leather. The spine of the saddle is fine and I never get any pressure problems or discomfort in that area anyway. It's now a case of 'any which way but lose' if I do mess up with the Professional. I wonder if I should use washing up liquid to remove some more of the oil? :-)

My wife (The Head Gardener) puts it far more simply: Don't ride so far and you won't get sore! Nor will you stay out all day!

Wise words indeed! Except that it places a very limited radius on my exploration of rural Denmark. It might even curtail my access to certain shops where only her priceless organic cereal might be found. So think on, Lass! :-)

I left late afternoon, riding into the gloom to do two day's worth of shopping. It rained and it drizzled and spat at intervals. Blowing hard too. The B17 Narrrow felt like I was straddling a rotten log with my sit bones. My legs were a bit achy too. Perhaps it was the 20lbs of shopping?  It's heavy, man, but it's my tricycle. One day at a time. 19 miles.

The stain that came out of the Brooks after further overnight soaking in water with a dash of washing-up liquid. It makes you wonder if it could become a honey saddle if it is soaked for  long enough. :-)

2nd 55-60F,13-16C, windy, mostly overcast. I put the Vetta saddle back on just to remain mobile. The knackered B17 Narrow was doing my sit bones no good at all!

A young psychopath, in a silver car, thought it might be fun to try and scare me on my way to Assens. So he suddenly swerved right across the double white lines, just before he reached me, going the opposite way. To add interest to this unusual 'performance art' he had a trailer in tow. This had high weld-mesh sides. With added, dark plywood boards of different heights lining the cage to help contain his accumulated rubbish. I presume he was on his way to a recycling facility. He and his passenger were still shouting through the open windows as they continued on their highly amused way.

The trailer certainly made him very recognisable. Because such trailers are as rare as hen's teeth. Few people have any need for high mesh sides except professional gardeners with lots of garden trimmings to move. Add in the silver car and I may even see the two together on my endless travels. Just as I had previously found the home address of the owner of a white Golf. It was parked outside his house in a rural lane. You'd think they'd know that unusual transport would stand out like a sore thumb. Wouldn't you?

In such moments one wishes one had a helmet camera to be able to show the police real evidence as to how some raving lunatics behave behind the wheel. One presumes such behaviour would not endear him to his insurance company. Always assuming he had any insurance. Had I been quick witted I could have read the registration number but I was too busy deciding whether he was completely out of control. Or merely playing the idiot he was born to be for the rest of his life. 25 miles.

Having ordered a 60mm, steeply angled, Ahead stem, online, I found a short, 55mm, almost straight, Ahead stem at an LBS. Affordable too. This will to now go onto my quill/ahead adaptor form the T3 aero bars. I'm looking forward to reducing my reach but will have to strip one side of the handlebars first. I have built up a good thickness of cloth tape which will now all have to be discarded. The straight stem will give me an alternative to try until the other stem arrives in the post from SJS.

Changing from quill to Ahead stems has the unique trait of allowing the bars to be removed. Without ever touching the tape, brake and gear cables and levers. As pointed out by my technical consultant, Alan: All one has to do is remove the face plate and the handlebar "assembly" remains completely intact. All without loss of vital adjustment to brakes or gears. Also allowing further changes in stem angle and reach to one's heart's content. He also reminded me to grease and remove my saddle pins and stems at regular intervals to keep them free. Thanks, Alan!  :-)

3rd 55F, 13C, heavy overcast, gales. Another great weight of shopping. The Vetta doesn't get any more comfortable. 22 miles.

Pm: Agh, the plans of mice and men.. the cheap stem I bought had a different shaft clamp size to my Ahead adaptor. So I reasoned that if I took a larger piece of alloy tubing I could cut it to length. Then slit it along its length to allow the tube to spring to a smaller diameter to fit the clamp.

First find your tubing. I eventually found a saddle pin which was oversize by 1.5mm in outside diameter. So I lopped off enough to fill the height of the clamp on the Ahead stem and cleaned and chamfered the sawn end in the lathe.

The slitting went well but the tube was so stiff it would not go into the stem clamp no matter how much I filed off the sides of the slit. This went on for at least an hour. I would file away and then squeeze the bit of pipe in the jaws of the pump pliers, or the vice, to close the slit enough to reduce the pipe's outside diameter. Eventually the pipe would just go into the clamp but the inside diameter had not shrunk quite enough to fit the quill part of the Ahead adaptor.

I could have clamped it over the adaptor's split packing rings but decided it would be too much like hard work boring out the tube in the lathe. My bit of tube wouldn't go into the 1" bore of the 3 jaw chuck so overhung too much for safety. The clearance on the quill section was was so slight that alloy sheet cut from a drinks can with scissors worked well. The slit in the tube must not close fully before the quill section is clamped tight too. Otherwise the stem clamp will just tighten onto the bit of tube as if it were solid. Then the stem and its adaptor tube would simply rotate on the quill part of the adaptor. Ignore the pump plier's jaw marks. The tube is completely lost inside the pretty, new, Ahead stem clamp.

The stem is now on the adaptor and all is clamped up tight. Getting the layers of old tape off the handelbars took some time despite a knife being used. I found that both brake cables were badly frayed out of sight inside the levers! As was the rear changer cable inside the bar-end lever. So it was worth the effort in getting rid of the quill stem. The reach is much improved without the bars being lifted. The Ahead stem I ordered from SJS is angled upwards so will help reduce the reach even more.

I still have to fit the new cables and put some tape on the right side of the bars before I am properly mobile again. The forecast is for early rain in the morning so I'll probably do it then.

As I shall be sitting more upright I have ordered a Nidd saddle from Spa Cycles in Harrogate. Their saddle is the same size as the B17 but made of thick Ozzy hide. Cow's hide not real Ozzies. ;-)

Spa Cycles.co.uk/ Nidd saddle

At a very affordable £35 plus postage. Available in black, brown and honey. I have ordered the honey. Call me old-fashioned but I don't much like the look of the dark chocolate saddle in the attached image from Spa. The whole thing  just looks too perfect to be real leather. Almost like moulded, matt plastic or even rubber. It doesn't look like real leather to me.  Yet, thick, real leather is what is (hopefully) being sold by this image. Its USP, if you like, in comparison with its much more expensive competitors. Perhaps it's too cheap? ;-)

I'm still wondering which material is used for the Nidd rivets. It looks like stainless steel or an aluminium alloy. I wouldn't have thought that aluminium was strong enough in the long term. The steel rivets on my B17 Narrow pulled right through the cantle plate and I had to reshape and re-rivet them. Rust is always a problem with Brooks undercarriages despite the chrome or copper plating. This also applies to the Brooks steel rivets. Only the copper riveted models maintain the look for very long.

Spa do two narrower models too, but I'm not risking getting it wrong again. John at Spa Cycles was very helpful in voluntarily discussing saddle choice and maintenance by email.  Naturally, I shall report in full when the saddle arrives. Comparison with the standard Brooks B17 seems rather pointless. The Nidd is about half the price, made in China but has a much thicker hide top than the Brooks. Brooks is owned by the Italian company Selle but only the Brooks saddles are home grown but from foreign hides. Brooks prices seem to be rising quite quickly. Suggesting (to the cynics amongst us) that they are profiteering on nostalgia. While the forums are full of stories of continuously falling Brooks saddle quality. Broken rails and tension pins? Perhaps their riders are just getting heavier?

Brooks ancient machinery and handwork skills may be photogenic but few industries would tolerate such inefficiency unless it actually improved the product markedly. I've seen first hand how Carradice still trades on similar nostalgia. While completely failing to provide even the most basic product quality to match the misty-eyed hype. Yes, it's a £70 canvas bag. With wonky stitching. Carradice is not twice as nice!

The Ahead stem in place on the quill adaptor. The brake cable arrangements are a mess now.

4th 53F, 12C, breezy, overcast with brighter periods. The unused, coiled cables I was relying on turned out to be useless. So I rode to Assens for some new cables. £16 just for four inners! The trike feels rather different with the new stem. Light at the front but with slightly heavier steering. The front wheel felt strangely fat and soft at first despite remaining unchanged.

The Brooks Professional has been sitting in a bucket of clean, cold water for 24 hours but hasn't changed noticeably yet. There was some oil visible on the top of the water so I filled the bucket with clean tap water and added some washing up liquid to speed up oil removal. The water has turned a dark brown chocolate colour.

The sit bone dimples have lifted of their own accord. With a hint of milky oiliness only in that area. I'll leave it soaking overnight and then dry it slowly in the greenhouse. This evening, it's shape has returned almost to the original. Will it need to be broken in again? It rather depends on how soft the leather remains after fully drying out. Not to mention how much saddle oil remains behind. I haven't checked the tension yet. Though I slacked off the nut completely to let the leather do what it will naturally. I didn't want it stretching or tightening as it dried. Like some 1950s, cowboys and North American Indians, Hollywood saga.

I may have to change the old Mafac centre pull for a side pull if I have one with the correct reach. No bridge from which to hang a centre-pull cable any more. The Mafac is on the end of the long Higgins brake extension bar. So the cable is leaning foolishly forward. I no longer have a stem/handlebar clamping screw to hold the computer bracket either. One step forwards, two back. 19 miles.

After 48 hours of soaking the sit bone dimples have risen of their own accord. The picture shows the saddle still sopping wet after a quick towelling. The leather still feels as stiff as before. Which is slightly unexpected. I had imagined it would go all floppy and need support to retain its shape. 

5th 48F, 9C, windy, overcast, rain forecast all day. It stayed dry until 10am so I worked on the trike. Removed the left side handlebar tape and replaced the rear changer cable. I found a longer piece of outer to make the cable loop to the rear changer more gentle.

The Brooks 'Professional' saddle has almost returned to its "as bought" shape. Soaking has removed the former degree of stretch and even flattened the saddle-back. I ought to do something about pulling in the side flaps. I don't want to make holes for laces. There must be some rubbing against the skirts in use because the Brooks indented labels have almost worn away. I'm not aware of any friction there and always wear racing shorts. The skirts do flare when I press the middle of the saddle down. When unloaded the skirts rest against the rails. Making it difficult to do much about the skirts. They hang too low to get them inside the rails. The leather is so stiff that it would need pliers to tuck them in. Which would very easily ruin the leather.

I can't find a side-pull brake in my junk box which can reach the rim with the blocks. I presume the frame was originally built for 27x1.25" rims but it now has 700C fitted. There isn't enough space between the stem faceplate and the main body to insert a brake hanger for the front centre-pull brake cable. As the socket head bolt is recessed into the faceplate I can't hang anything off that in front of the stem either. I'll keep thinking about it. If I add a thick spacer washer I'll need a longer, stainless steel bolt. It will need to be a very long hanger to allow a decent cable run along the handlebars under the tape. Such cabling is more aimed at side-pull brakes on road bikes with dropped bars. Does anybody still use centre-pulls?

Click on any image for an enlargement.


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