My new bike

On the 8th March I posted here on my thinking about a new bike (buying a new bike) and identifying the Giant Defy 2 Advanced as the leading contender for my money. But due to it having been announced as the magazine Cycling Plus Bike of the Year, they would not be available at the dealers I contacted until late May or even early June. Then Graham Shortt of the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative in Leeds commented on the post saying they could get one for me within a few days. So, to cut a long story short, that’s where I collected my new bike on Good Friday.New bike 800

giant stem 002 800

Inverted stem with 10 mm spacer

A week ago I went along to the shop at Chapel Allerton where Graham spent some considerable time helping me decide which size of frame I needed. The problem was that, at 6 foot, I was exactly halfway between two of Giant’s frame sizes – medium/large and large. He produced 2 bikes with these frame sizes and managed to fit them both to the position I wanted. This involved changing a stem on one, inverting the stem on the other, moving and adjusting the saddles of both, and trying a few different combinations of spacers to adjust the height of the handlebars. For each change I took the bikes out for a spin round the block which included a surprisingly steep hill. In the end I road the two bikes adjusted to identical positions and chose the smaller frame. The smaller frame seemed quicker in the bends. The last thing I did was ride them both round the car park in tight circles and the smaller framed bike definitely felt as if it cornered better. I’m not sure why this is and may just be an impression rather than a physical reality. The wheelbase of the smaller framed  bike is just 1.5 centimetres shorter, just over half and inch, but I’d be surprised if this made that much difference to handling and cornering. In the meantime I learned a lot about the modern head set and stem arrangements. The illustration above is of the set-up we ended up with for the smaller frame – the default stem length but inverted (which raises it) and with a 10 mm spacer (which lowers it). For future reference this stem height calculator may be useful,, provided you know the angle and length of the stems you wish to compare and the available spacers.

The other issue we discussed was gearing. As someone who makes regular use of the smallest of the 3 chain rings on my hybrid to get up even quite modest hills I was worried that the fashionable ‘compact’ double chain ring set up wouldn’t give me the crawler gears I need. However, the bike has 10 sprockets on the block giving a theoretical 20 gears. My other bikes have blocks of 5 and 6. In practice you shouldn’t use top and bottom sprockets with the small and big chain ring respectively and there is some overlap so you end up with 18 usable gears. I could have had a triple chain set fitted for about £300 extra or an 11-30 block fitted instead of the 11-28 default for about £40. I decided to stick with the default as the bike is considerably lighter and more efficient than my hybrid and in due course so will I be. I can always get lower gears fitted one way or another later if I need them.

Graham told me about a nice on-line ‘drag and drop’ graphical gear calculator I found very useful to compare different combinations of chain rings and rear sprockets. You can view my 34/50 11-28 set up there. It shows the full range of gears in inches, percentage difference between adjacent gears and how fast you would be going in each gear at a cadence of 90 rpm. A more conventional gear calculator can be found at

So, as should be evident from this post, I was not short of attention, good advice and information from Graham and his colleagues at The Edinburgh Cycle Cooperative. This extended to the advice I got with pedals and shoes as I had never used the ‘new’ clip-less pedals and shoes before, another trip into the unknown. I was also very happy to deal with a worker owned cooperative. And the icing on the cake was when I was advised that, if I delayed buying and collecting the bike until Good Friday, I would get the sale discount on all goods including bikes of 15%!

Since collecting the bike yesterday I have been out on it twice for short rides to check the position and get used to the clip-less pedals. The position may need a little tweak and I will be going back to the shop in due course for a fine tune. Getting used to the pedals may be a bit more of a problem. On my first ride I couldn’t get my foot free as I approached a busy roundabout. I ended up using someone’s front garden path as and escape route before I got free. Embarrassing. I’ve got the hang of that bit now but I still have trouble getting my second foot clipped in when I set off. I am assured this will become second nature in due course. So far I am delighted with the bike. Comparing times and speeds on courses I have done on my hybrid it is clearly an easier bike to ride. Long drags I struggled up at about 4 to 5 mph I went up at 6 to 8 mph. Still not likely to worry Wiggins but a significant percentage improvement for me. Flat cruising speed is now nearer 20 mph rather than 16 and I’ve added a few miles an hour to my descent speeds too but this is probably due to the higher gearing. The bike is marketed as a comfortable but sporty endurance bike but I’m sure it is a better race bike than I’ve ever had before. It will be interesting to compare it with my retro Woodrup racer when I get it out when Spring arrives.

Developing an alternative vision for cycling in Leeds

I went to a meeting held at the Leeds University Business School a week ago where Roger Geffen, the CTC Campaign Officer, addressed a large group representing a number of local cycling interest and campaign groups to let us know what is going on elsewhere and generally how things are going. The message was generally positive. There seems to have been a dramatic turnaround in the Government’s attitude towards cycling policy due mainly to the Times Cities Fit For Cycling campaign, started as a result of one of their staff, Mary Bowers, being knocked off her bike while commuting to work and being crushed by a lorry, and the extraordinary success of the Team GB cyclists in 2012 including domination at the Olympics and Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour De France, the first Englishman to do so. However, the feedback from the audience painted a rather gloomy picture of cycling in Leeds and a council that seemed largely uninterested in improving the infrastructure and safety for commuting cyclists. Research has shown repeatedly that one of the most important factors, if not the most important, that makes cycling in general and commuting by bike in particular unattractive to non-cyclists is the perception that it is not safe. And Leeds has one of the worst cycling safety records in the country.

The response to this from Roger was that several successful campaigns had been accomplished in equally unpromising circumstances that we could learn from so we shouldn’t give up, particularly with the Grand Depart for the Tour De France coming to our area next year. One thing to take on board is that painting an unremitting negative picture of cycling in Leeds is unlikely to enthuse others to get involved and win them over to our cause. Other successful campaigns also had lots to be negative about but had counter-posed their critique with a coherent, positive and attractive vision of how things could be very much better. Having a strategic positive vision puts the negative account in context. The anger is not purely negative as it is justified by and gets a positive impetus from a comparison with where we could be. It is this positive vision, worked out with a strong evidence based set of ideas and propositions, that can be taken to a broader public and to the elected members of the Council as the basis for a negotiated and agreed plan for cycling in Leeds. One suggestion that came from the meeting was that something like an All Party group of some sort could be formed to review the arguments and evidence and add some authority to a resulting suggested cycle plan.

This is something that the Leeds Cycling Campaign could get their teeth into and take forward. The LCC already has a draft manifesto and its members have a wealth of knowledge and experience riding the Leeds roads and putting their issues and arguments to Council officers and meetings. The CTC has a number of campaign briefing documents to support pro cycling arguments on the benefits and practicalities of implementing cycle friendly policies. In addition there is an increasing number of reports and examples of what can be done and why, many of which have been generated in support of other campaigns. One notable one is the Siemens’s report entitled “London’s Transport: Progress and Future Challenges” which makes cycling central to much of its argument and vision [full report]. At the same time there have been a number of health related reports emphasising the necessity to get people to be more active and that to some extent this means getting people out of their cars. Typical of this is the guidance report (November 2012) by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) that states that cycling and walking should be the norm for short journeys and makes a number of policy recommendations to achieve this. The web page Walking and Cycling (PH41) gives full details and recommendations and a link to the evidence behind the recommendations.

What we need now is something persuasive, coherent and reasonably polished to underpin our critique of Leeds’ cycling policy and for our strategy to aim for. Importantly we need to carry on pointing out the problems of cycling in Leeds and the inadequacy of their car centred agenda but this would be contrasted with a vision what Leeds transport policy  could and should be, the reasons why and how we can begin to get there. I think the resources and evidence are in place. There has been a sea-change in government attitudes towards cycling that is already bearing fruit in some cities and areas, notably London. There is an unprecedented opportunity afforded by the coming of the Tour De France to Leeds and the surrounding area in 2014. If there has ever been a right time to promote cycling as a healthy leisure activity and as a practical and efficient mode of personal transport, this is surely it.

Reviewing targets

I’m beginning to think about what my objectives and targets are. Initially my main concern was general health as I approached retirement. My GP calculated, on the basis of weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and aspects of my life style, that I had about a 1 in 3 chance of having a ‘heart event’ in the next 10 years. In addition to this I was not enjoying physical activity, something that had been very important for much of my life – mainly cycling, squash and walking. Since I wanted to do more cycling and walking in a reasonably long , healthy and active retirement it was necessary that I started to reverse the trend of the previous 20 years and lose weight and get fit. This much I have written about before. I have also intimated, partly in jest, that I would like to take part in the alpine sportive, La Marmotte, in July 2016 when I am 70. This gives me about 3 and a half years to get ready. In all probability this may well be beyond me but it gives me a target and even if I fall short no doubt I will be much fitter and healthier as a result of trying to achieve it. There will also be intermediate objectives and challenges along the way as over the next three summers I will be gradually progressing to ever more demanding rides some of which will be longer club runs and sportives. I have also thinking about dabbling again in local club time trials. I won’t be particularly competitive of course but the age group system will give me a realistic benchmark and PBs will be more important than position on the leader board. I will probably start with a few 10 mile events, perhaps at the back end of this season, and build up to 25s and 50s next year. For the hillier spotives I will have to revise my weigh loss target, currently 13 stone 7 lb, down to nearer 12 stone and below. This post is just to record that I am considering a rather more ambitious project than I started with last July. I’ll see how I get on over the next 12 months or so.

Yorkshire media and the Grand Depart

The local media reports varying attitudes towards the Tour De France coming to Yorkshire. Here are two examples. The first, positive, report is from the Wharfedale Observer Perfect time to introduce new cycle strategy and makes a link to the very successful Otley Cycling Club and Lizzie Armitstead’s silver medal in the Olympic road race. The second is in the Craven Herald and Pioneer, Warning issued to cyclists over Tour de France route, reporting on the very negative and ill-informed comments of the Conservative Councillor Andy Quinn. I would have thought that the prospect of thousands of cyclists from all over the UK and abroad coming to the Yorkshire Dales would provide a fantastic opportunity to local businesses, particularly those connected to the tourist industry, with the prospect of attracting many more visitors in the future as well as the period of the Tour.

Cycling related Facebook status posts

For some time now I have been posting cycling related items to my own Facebook status and on those of cycle related pages and groups I subscribe to, such as the two that the Leeds Cycle Action Group(LSAG) run – (the more ‘campaign’ and activist of the two) and (the more ‘social’ of the two and that contains a surviving remanent of the OLD Leeds CTC section runs members) – and the Leeds Cycling Campaign – (that has an overlapping membership with the two LCGA FB entities). So these three different Facebook pages/groups/communities, whatever, are all related and I understand that in due course they will be rationalised in some way. I thought I would duplicate some of the more interesting items posted to Facebook here to save me having to plough my way through three different timelines to find stuff. Since they are mostly about cycling campaign issues I have create a new category of post here, campaign, for them. Watch this space!

Buying a new bike

Woodrup racing bike

My 1960s Woodrup, Reynolds 531 steel 23″ frame but with modern equipment.

At the beginning of my retirement project to get trimmer and fitter (and improve on my current 27% probability of having a ‘heart event’ in the next 10 years) I motivated myself with the decision to buy a new road bike when I got under 15 stone. I anticipated that this should be sometime this Spring and that has turned out to be the case so I have started to look around. Both my current bikes are steel, my old racing bike a 1960’s Woodrup and a 20 year old Ridgeback hybrid. The first decision I have to make is what frame material to go for. After a bit of research I have decided to go for full carbon as I have been persuaded that my budget of about £2000 (I’m selling my Suzuki Bandit 1250) is enough to get a good quality and well specified carbon bike. I also understand that carbon frames are often more comfortable to ride than aluminium as they have more flex and iron out bumps and road buzz better. In fact the better aluminium frames often have carbon forks, rear triangles and seat pillars to make them more comfortable. The downside of carbon apparently is that they damage more easily in crashes and are less easily repaired, if at all. So I just need to make sure it is insured and I don’t crash.

Then there is the issue of size. It used to be quite simple. 2 inches clearance above the crossbar when standing over the bike. Legs straight with you heels on the peddles to get the saddle height. Elbow on the saddle tip and fingers just reaching the handlebars for reach. But mainly it was just a matter of being comfortable, your knees slightly bent at the bottom of the stroke and your hips not rocking when pedalling at speed. But frame geometry and sizes are different now. Using various on-line guides (e.g. Wiggle and Evans) I measured my height (6 ft) inside leg measurement (33) and APE Index (arm span minus height – 0). This gives me a frame size of 56 to 58 centimetres. The ebicycle’s calculator gives me a frame size of 56 centimetres. There are a number of bike fitting services on offer these days that I will look into and say more about in due course but one of the dealers I am considering purchasing from, All Terrain Cycles of Saltaire, have such a service and I may well make use of it. This may also help me make up my mind about another issue – peddles and shoes.

toe clip and strapI have always used toe clips and straps, going back to the 1960s and my club cycling and racing days. I’m used to them, the straps can be left loose for casual riding or commuting  if necessary and you can wear plimsolls or trainers with them to pop down the shops or use the bike on an ad hoc basis. However, with a new bike, I need to decide on whether to get the new clip-less pedals with the appropriate shoe cleats that fit them. I understand that clip-less is more efficient and comfortable and easier to disengage from than a tightly strapped clip. I am used to leaning down to snap the quick release on toe straps but I can see that there would be occasions when there might not be time for this before disaster strikes. Release from a clip-less pedal seems to be quicker and easier but not so easy as a loose strap perhaps. I will probably go for clip-less. This will mean buying a pair of shoes to fit but it looks like they are easy to set up and adjust. With the old toe clip system we used to ride tightly strapped in and before fitting the shoe plates that slot over the ridges on the pedals until the soles were marked. This gave the position to nail(!) the plates onto the shoes. This was more-or-less a once and for all process and quite difficult to make subsequent adjustments if necessary.

Giant Defy Advanced 2

So, at the moment I am thinking of getting a Giant Defy Advanced 2. These are on 14 week delivery as I write this, which is a pain. On the other hand by the end of May I should be down to round about 14 stone so the wait will encourage me to keep going. And in the meantime I can always take the Woodrup out when the weather improves.

A history of blood doping

Click on the picture to go to Blood Doping 101

Click on the picture to go to Blood Doping 101

I mentioned blood doping in an earlier post Markets, Money and Genes last October after the Armstrong confession. Now an interesting 3 part article, A History of the Use of Blood Transfusions in Cycling, part 1 with separate links for part 2 and part 3, has been published by To quote from the article’c conclusion:

Why does the role played by transfusions in the years before Gen-EPO matter? Why does the role played by transfusions during Gen-EPO matter? It matters because it alters our perception of what happened in those years. Many cycling fans have a somewhat rose-tinted view of doping in the years before Gen-EPO, comparing the two eras to pop-guns versus howitzers. Doping is an arms race, and in an arms race you move from pop-guns to howitzers and on past intercontinental ballistic missiles. If blood transfusions were part of the armoury the pop-guns versus howitzers view needs to be reconsidered. You can compare EPO to howitzers if you want, but you cannot say that transfusions were just pop-guns.


December to February activity

The first 3 months activity, September, October and November, were summarised in the post earlier. This is a summary of December, January and February. At the beginning last September I weighed about 17 stone, By the end of the first 3 months I was down to 15 stone 10 lbs. Now, at the end of February, I am down to 14 stone 12 lbs. Weight loss has been quite a bit slower therefore but this period covers Christmas and the New Year. In fact I put on about 3 pounds over December. In addition my riding on the road has reduced quite a bit, perhaps not surprising given it is winter. On the whole I am pleased with my progress and I am on target to get below 14 stone in another 3 months, the end of May, when I will probably take delivery of a new Chris Hoy road bike.

12 x turbo sessions total minutes 380
1 road ride 11 miles
End weight 15 stone 10 lb

14 x turbo sessions total minutes 425
2 road rides total 13 miles
End weight 15 stone 5 lb

11 x turbo sessions total minutes 355
4 road rides total 41 miles
End weight 14 stone 12 lb

Following a rough calculation I did in an earlier post I decided it would be interesting to calculate each month’s weight loss as a percentage due to exercise and to calorie reduced diet. On the basis that 1 lb loss is the equivalent of a 3,500 calorie deficit it is possible to use the calories burnt figure given by a combination of my Polar HR monitor and the Garmin ride calculator to calculate weight loss due to exercise and this as a percentage of the total loss over each month. The figures for the months I have the data for are:

November: Total loss 6 lb, loss due to exercise 2.25 lb or 37% (exercise calories = 7861)

December: Total gain(!) 3 lb, loss due to exercise 1.1 lb, presumably the gain would have been 4.1 lb without the exercise  (exercise calories = 3987)

January: Total loss 5 lb, loss due to exercise 1.48 lb or 30%  (exercise calories = 5185)

February: Total loss 7 lb, loss due to exercise 1.7 lb or 24% (exercise calories 6,079)

December included the festive season of course and equivalent to a 2 week break in exercise. It looks like a pattern is emerging of 7 lb loss per 3 months with about 25%-30% dues to cycling. My weight at the end of February is 14 stone 12 lb so by the end of May I could be down to 13 stone 5 lb. This would amount to a total loss of 4 stone since July last year.