Back to Road Again

When I first started this blog way back in the autumn of 2008, I had just purchased my first ‘proper’ road bike, an Orbea Aqua 2009 model.  It was a £500 bike, as I recall, and it set me on the road to my current lifestyle in many ways, as I have cycled as a matter of course when ever time allows, ever since. 

As regular readers of the blog will be aware my cycling tastes have evolved ever since.  The Orbea donated many of its parts to my next purchase, a lovely Post Office Red Thorn Audax Mk3.  That was ridden a fair bit, including my first 100 mile ride, and in the summer of 2010 I sold that and bought my Thorn Raven Sport Tour with the Rohloff gear hub.  Along the way, I also acquired a Circe Helios tandem as well.  So why, you might ask, am I now writing about my most recent purchase, a 2011 Cube Streamer road bike?

The Cube was one of those ‘too good to be true’ bargains in the autumn sales, when bike shops habitually clear out the ‘old’ year’s models in readiness for the coming years bikes.  This one was reduced in price significantly, but also had an extra 10 percent off as well, which made me crack.  But why a road bike, after all this time?

Well, I have to admit that the frequency of my riding has dropped off somewhat this summer.  Partly that was due to being busy most of the time, but it was more than that.  The Raven Sport Tour is a heavy bike.  It runs 1.4 inch tyres on 26 inch wheels.  I guess I was finding it hard to get excited about doing my regular circuits on a bike which, I was painfully aware, took a massive amount of dragging around.  And the problem with doing less riding is that you get less exercise.  Which kind of leads me full circle – I began to recall the excitement that a lightweight bike with close tolerances gave me.

Since about March this year I have been using the excellent Garmin Edge 500 GPS computer on my rides.  This, when you connect it to the Garmin Connect web site, allows you to upload ride data and analyse it – average speed, distance, time, elevation, heart rate, etc.  When you are faced with actual metrics regarding your riding, it becomes too stark to ignore.  My average speed was declining, my ride frequency was less; in other words, alarm bells were ringing.  And so it was that I began to seriously consider a road bike again, as an addition to my stable.

A quick look at the bikes on sale caused the usual problem – where to start?  I anted to go for something rather less entry level than my Orbea, which, although an excellent bike was rather sparsely equipped.  And I must admit to having considered Cube last time around as well – the dealer I bought my first bike from was also by chance a Cube dealer.  Being German, they are a very respectable marque, who along with the likes of Focus, Rose, etc have penetrated the UK market quite successfully in recent years with bikes that have a standard spec way above their price bracket.  The Streamer is a mid-point model – between the entry-level Attempt and the ‘serious’ level Agree, it had the same Aluminium frameset as the higher priced line, and a decent level of kit – which included Ultegra levers and rear mech, 105 triple chainset and front mech, cassette and chain, and ‘old’ 105 brakes.  I’m not sure why the Germans tend to supply so many of their bikes with triple chainsets, and after much pondering I decided to change this to a double Ultegra chainset and front mech.

So, what was it like taking to the tarmac on a sleek road bike, after a year of riding an upright, long wheelbase comfy tourer?  In a word, my first ride scared me senseless.  The excitement and engagement that a road bike gives you came flooding back.  I rode around the village in a mile long loop, and came back heart pounding and smiling all over.  Since then, I have managed a couple of decent rides, the last one being just over 30 miles.  I am getting accustomed once again to the feel and position of the bike, and the very direct feedback that it gives.

I have replaced the standard fit saddle with a bargain last years model Specialized Romin SL, which is feather light and very comfy.  I have also fitted the cadence sensor that came with the Garmin, so I can now use the ANT+ links that allow the heart rate monitor, speed and cadence sensor as well.  These modifications have got me motivated once again.

The bike has a Deda carbon fork which gives a nice comfortable ride, and on normal road surfaces it is a very firm but not uncomfortable bike which seems to be stiff and not given to flexing under accelleration.  The standard fit Easton EA-30 wheels [made specially for Cube, I guess, as you can’t seem to buy then anywhere else] are perfectly reasonable hoops, although a wheel upgrade will be on the cards at some point.  But even so, it gets up to spped easily, and seems to hold that speed as well, the awesome Ultegra brakes bringing me back to a more sensible pace when applied.  I have taken the step of replacing the standard pads with Koolstop Salmons for the winter.  The Ultegra levers, which are carbon bladed, allow very precise modulation on the brakes, and the gear shifts are sweet.  Having moved from 105 triple to Ultegra double seems to have been a smooth transition, given that the left hand [front mech] shifter is actually designed to work with three gears not two.  I just figured that living in flat old East Anglia, there would be little use for the small 30 tooth ring and I always liked the 52-39 gearing on the Orbea, so have replicated this against a 12-27 rear cassette.  I just have to accept that next time I try and do Holme Moss, Mark will beat me to the top as I struggle and puff away….

I’ll report further in a few weeks, but initial impressions are good.


Making the Most of a Sunny Day

Today has, at last, seen the cloud disappear temporarily.  In its place was bright sunshine, so I took my camera in my Carradice handlebar bag, and shot some interesting things on my 31 mile ride through the wilds of north Suffolk.

Above: Down a little lane near Botesdale, in the wilds of North Suffolk, I found these pylons stretching into the distance and decided to try and get a nice geometric shot of them.  I used F10 in aperture priority mode and employed an ND4 Grad filter to darken the sky.With a little processing in PS, I rather like the results.

Above: Stopping for a rest, I liked the old wooden gate and the view behind it, which I have applied a detail effect to in Topaz Adjust.

Above: I rode past this shot on the way out, and considered stopping but couldn’t be bothered.  Then I happened to come the same way on the return leg and stopped to take it.  The field has been partly harvested and I love the way the lines all lead up to the tree on the horizon.  Some nice clouds were appearing by this time, as it was about 11 am.

Eye of the Storm

I’m sitting at the Mac whilst outside a full-on summer thunderstorm rumbles away.  This morning, however, it was a different story – out the door at 8.30am, I rode my Thorn 51 miles through North Suffolk and a little bit of Norfolk in 28 degree heat.  I took some photographs, although I’m a little bit nervous of taking the camera in my handlebar bag…..never a problem when I had a little compact!


Above is a close up shot of the contents of my handlebar bag, which is the stowage for my camera as well.  Must be careful not to get splashes of Lucozade on the lens!

Above – I had to stop, turn back and snap this old oak tree.  The great thing about cycling with a camera on board is that you can just stop and snap whenever a nice image comes into eyesight.

Above is a shot of the Thorn on a timber bridge, with a nice bit of English park land behind.

Above – the Thorn outside the Cherry Tree in Yaxley, just before I had to take my life in my hands and cycle half a mile along the dreaded A140 trunk road to go further east.

Now, my legs are really sore, but a lovely long ride in weather so good that it’s criminal to miss it!

Flickr show here.

Velo: Bicycle Culture and Design

Mark recently lent me this book by Robert Klanten.  It’s a bit of a coffee-table read, being mainly pictorial in content but with some interesting areas of cycle culture being covered.  The blurb says:

“This book introduces a wild bunch of passionate cyclists – frame builders, urban planners, artists, photographers, designers and those who ride professionally – who are making an impact”

Drawing its subjects from around the globe, including framebuilders, couriers and various others, it gives a nice insight into early 21st Century bike culture and its seemingly unstoppable rise.  Klanten, author of a number of books on design, tends toward the more outlandish end of the cycling spectrum.  There are, it has to be said, few references to cups of steaming tea at roadside cafes and middle aged gents in threadbare Tudor Sports jerseys here; it’s more the skinny jeans and tattoos kind of aesthetic, but for passing entertainment, none the worse for it.

Summer Riding Pictures

It’s a sunny, if rather windy day in Suffolk today.  The ideal time to set out on the Raven Sport Tour and notch up 40 odd miles, therefore.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, although you’ll probably use less energy than I did.

And as usual, a link to the slideshow on flickr.

Vive le Tour!

with thanks to my man Crudson, who spends his days slaving over his macbook looking for cycling films.

Suffolk Summer Time Riding Pics

Complete Transmission Changeover on a Rohloff-Geared Thorn

Few earthly pleasures can compare with that of riding a bicycle equipped with a Rohloff hub gear.  This much we have already established in these pages many times.  But what happens when, as is inevitable, the wearable parts such as chainring, chain and sprocket need to be replaced?  Can you, as a cyclist, tackle such a task with confidence and pride?  Or should you bow to the unspoken pressure that your local bike shop exerts on you?  Well this is the story of one man who did it his way.  He was no longer content to take it in the ass from The Man, as it were.  My correspondent from the North has prepared an essay detailing how, during a break in his special needs metalwork classes at Wirral Tech, he swapped the transmission on his Thorn Raven Sport Tour himself…….and if he can do it, then so can you!  Throw off your chains, cyclists, as it were!

“As the teeth on my chainring had become gnarled away [still wasn’t slipping but it was nearing it’s end] and it had done 10,000 miles plus, a full transmission change was called for.

I’d already flipped them once before so a reversible 48T chainring,a reversible 16T sprocket & new chain were procured from SJSCycles.  A special Rohloff socket removal tool and decent chain whip are essential for the job.

As with anything bicylic, there are 817 different opinions on best practice but I use the removal method suggested by Thorn.

I had previously tried another method not using the vice, but I couldn’t get the leverage and had ended up with scraped knuckles.   So a bench vice is needed and, of course; a decent cuppa…..[at a push it’s a 2 brew job].

Pic showing special sprocket tool – put QR lever back in and drop into vice.

This way is much better I think, with the only drawback being that as you have to clamp  it sprocket face down, oil WILL leak out [see pic below] so you have be a bit lively in getting the chain whip on and muscling the little fella off.  Having learnt from previous experience about the leak, scheduling an oil change after this is not a bad idea…[any excuse to get the rhino tranquilizer syringe out eh Paul?!]

That’s the hard bit over!  Changed the front ring and linked up a new chain [put a more expensive one on this time as the cheap KMC one had stretched far quicker than I expected so I went with the KMC X1 ] – Job done! All in the space of an Archers’ omnibus edition!

…..and the end result……looking good for another 10,000 miles!!”

Thorn Raven Sport Tour: One Year and 1500 miles On

Back now to a cycling theme.  Regular readers will know that, a year ago now, I sold my beloved Thorn Audax Mk3 in order to fund the purchase of a Raven Sport Tour.  It hardly seems like a year ago – but having now completed my second Rohloff oil change, the anniversary is very real.  So, in the tradition of Flamme Rouge’s Long Term Test series, what have I found?


The inspiration for this unusual choice of cycle was based on the fact that my cycling pal Mark had bought one a year earlier for his trans-Wirral commute.  You can read his reports for FR here [the first year], and here [the second year].  Now, not being possessed of much in the way of original thinking, I saw his bike, rode it briefly, and experienced the magic of the Rohloff hub gears.  I was sold.  The only problem was that they are a rather expensive bicycle to purchase – you can blow two grand without extras no problem.  My reasoning was that this would represent a do-it-all bike which was designed to last a lifetime – well, you can justify anything of you really want it, can’t you???

The Purchase:

I scoured brochures, checked specifications and got glummer every day.  No way could I afford the price of a new one.  The Raven Tour, Thorn’s slightly less expensive touring steed, was a little less painful price-wise, but this would involve compromising on speed and sportiness.  Then, last June, I was browsing the Thorn Owners Forum, which includes a bikes for sale section when I chanced upon an advert for a used Raven Sport Tour with what seemed an incredible specification, for half the new price:

  • Red gloss finish
  • Rohloff 14 speed hub (black anodized)
  • Rohloff reversible sprocket 16t
  • Rohloff SLT -99 8 speed road drive chain
  • Rohloff chain oil
  • Rohloff gearbox full oil change kit (new)
  • Chainset Thorn alloy 110 PCD, crank length 175mm, Chainring 44t
  • Mavic EX 721 rims (black)
  • Shimano XTR M960 front hub (black)
  • Shimano XTR M960 V brakes and XT M739S levers
  • Thorn Comfort handle bars
  • Cane Creek Ergo Comfort bar end grips
  • Gents San Marco Rolls Classic saddle (new)
  • SKS P45 mudguards (black)
  • Profile bottle cage
  • S/S rear rack
  • All handbooks

500 miles approx., beautiful condition

That was enough.  I had to have it – and a flurry of emails with the seller sealed the deal, the only problem being that I am in Suffolk, and the seller was near Penrith.  Ho Hum.

I decided to bite the bullet and drive up to collect it.  And so, setting off ludicrously early, I drove through the dawn and ended up on the A66, snoozing in a layby as Northern England woke up.  I arrived by breakfast time, and after a quick test ride and an excellent coffee to revive me, I was on my way home again with a shiny red Raven Sport Tour crammed into the back seats.  I was home by lunch time, having completed a 600 mile plus round trip!  Here it is the day I got it back:

Now there were one or two changes I had to make.

  • I did an immediate Rohloff oil change
  • I swapped the 1.75 Panaracers for 1.25’s
  • I replaced the 42t chainring with a 46, and lengthened the chain with some kindly donated extra links (it has the Rohloff ST-99 chain and I didn’t want to lose this)
  • I put on my trusty Brooks saddle and Carradice SQR bag
  • I removed the foam handlebar grips and added a set of Ergon grips.


It rode beautifully, and the Rohloff fulfilled its promise.  My buddy and fellow Thorn owner, Crudson, said ages ago that once you ride a Rohloff you will never want to go back to derailleur again.  And he’s right.   The bike was a pleasure to ride from day one – there are one or two eccentricities that the Rohloff forces you to get used to, chiefly the gorgeous whirring sounds made in certain gears, and the uncanny ability to change gear when stationary.  I rode it and rode it, tweaking things here and there.  The tyres had to be changed because they were four years old and perished, but thinner tyres gave a harder and faster ride.  But then….


I adjusted the chain tension using the eccentric bottom bracket one evening, and overtightened one of the two screws.  The screw head broke off!  I was stuck!  I tried drilling the screw out in order to use a reverse threaded extractor tool, but to no avail.  Eventually, in despair and missing my riding, I contacted a small engineering firm locally and they managed to get the screw out with a drill.  No need to re thread the screw hole, thank goodness!

Not Red Any Longer!

My only frustration at this stage was the fact that the frame size, although in theory perfectly ok for my height [6′ 1″] was feeling a little on the small side.  Mark’s bike is the next size up – 587L.  I began to research the possibility of selling the red frame and buying a used 587 L one, but again to no avail.  Everything I found was sold as soon as it was advertised, or in poor condition.  So on receipt of a little spare cash, I took the plunge and ordered a new frame from Thorn in the larger size and in the ‘Stealth Matt Black’ with no visible logos save for a discreet Thorn badge on the headset.  And, as of today, here she is:

I have acquired a few extras for the bike over the last year, perhaps most notably two new rims, and a dynamo lighting set up.  The rims, which were originally Mavic EX721, were not really built for high pressure touring usage.  As I reported at the time:


The rear wheel rim on my Thorn, being over 4 years old, has been retired.  I was using the original Mavic EX721 rim, which as well as being old and worn had the distinct disadvantage of being a extreme downhill mountain bike rim – designed for 2 to 3 inch wide tyres!  Quite why the original owner specified these rims I don’t know – they’re expensive and highly thought of within the MTB fraternity but not really suited to touring.  They are I guess a long-distance option in countries where few real roads exist!

The wheel was packed off to Madgetts last Saturday, and I have been in London working all week so today was the exciting moment when I went northwards to Diss to collect the wheel.  I have posted an article about Madgetts before, and in my opinion there are few wheelbuilders around that would gain more respect in the cycling world than Mick Madgett himself.  I felt that although not cheap, I was guaranteed a good job – and I was.  There’s a great quote on the shop’s website:

“Mick’s expertise in wheel building is renowned world wide having learned from his father at a tender age and his wheels have been used in the Olympics.

Eric Madgett still holds the Trump Card of wheel building as he also built wheels used in the Tour de France. The nearest Mick has got to this was supplying the ‘Mavic’ service mechanics with spoke keys!!”

True to form, it is a tremendous job.  I specified their last remaining Mavic XC717, the ‘standard fit’ rim for Thorn bikes where Mavic rims are specified.  The spokes are DT Swiss stainless, and the whole Rohloff hub has been given a good clean into the bargain!  It means I can now run the tyres at a much higher pressure than was safe before, and I can also run narrower tyres in the summer (Marathon Pluses at 1.5 inches in the winter, and something slicker in the warmer weather).  A quick chain lube and a tightening of the chain via the eccentric bottom bracket later, and the bike is fit for the year ahead.

So, having now got a new rear wheel in effect, I treated myself to a Christmas present of a dynamo lighting system to be included when I had the front wheel rebuilt:

I ordered a wheel and hub, plus a light, on 21st December and resigned myself to receiving it some time between Christmas and the New Year.  After all, the newspapers have spent days proclaiming with glee about how the country has ground to a halt and deliveries are piling up at sorting offices.  But I had not reckoned on German tenacity and efficiency [Bike24 is an online bike shop based in Dresden, Germany, if you are not already au fait].  On Christmas Eve, I got my parcel and within an hour or so, I had fitted the light and hub / wheel.

On the left, the old front wheel, soon to be usurped by the new dynamo-hub wheel, right.

The box contained one new wheel, with a Mavic 317 rim and a Shimano DH-72 Dynamo Hub.  This is a lovely bit of engineering, with Ultegra-quality bearings and a 3 watt, 6 volt output.  The wheel was beautifully made, and true running. After fitting the tube and tyre to the rim, which incidentally is far more suitable for my kind of riding than the old Mavic 721 rim, which is only built for wide, low-pressure tyres, I fitted the skewer and locked the wheel in place.  Next, I unpacked the light, a Busch and Müller IQ Cyo [175qndi, if you wanna get geeky].

The light is a beautiful, solid item, and obviously German – made.  B&M make the lighting for BMW among others, so you know you’re getting a quality product.  One note – you may find, if you have a Thorn like mine, that the standard-fit bracket fouls against the bottom part of the FSA headset.  If this is the case, then a stout pair of pliers will soon sort it out, although I opted for an old SJS bracket that was in my spares box.  I fixed the light onto the fork crown, and then began the fiddly process of clipping the wires to the fork, being careful to avoid the recently installed Cateye wireless computer [I have cleaned the bike since this picture was taken, you will be reassured to know].

**NOTE: In the picture below you will see two mistakes I initially made.  One, the Cateye sensor is, as Cateye advise, BEHIND the fork.  I have now repositioned it in FRONT of the fork.  If an obstruction got caught up in the spokes, the sensor would have been pushed into the wheel  The second is the wire from the dynamo, which is now routed INSIDE the fork to protect it from damage.**

Having fitted a lavish number of cable clips, the only really irritating part of the install was to insert the bare wire ends into the two little greased connectors on the dynamo hub.  This seems to be a process that has to be repeated every time the front wheel is removed, which I shall have to learn to deal with.  Then, I gave the wheel a quick spin and, behold, light issued from the small black pod.

I lost no time in getting wrapped up in my thermals, and then hitting the road for a ride.  I used the light as a day light running light, and could barely wait until darkness descended so I could witness its legendary output [I chose the 60 lux version, which throws the light beam further forward that the 40 lux version of the same light, which simply has an altered beam pattern designed for slower riding].

The most recent change I have made was a new rear V-Brake.  The old one, an M970 XTR brake, was the top of the range and when the cable retaining bolt threads sheared, I felt it safer to replace it rather than try to fix it.  So, horrified at the price of a new one, I dropped down a level and bought an XT one instead which, although noticeably less effective, is still a good solid brake.


So, after all this excitement and 1500 miles added to the Rohloff, what are my thoughts?

  • It’s a seriously expensive choice for a bicycle!  But you get what you pay for.
  • The Frame is, like all Thorn frames I have ridden, enormously capable and endlessly entertaining in terms of comfort and handling.
  • The Rohloff hub has never missed a beat.  It is like a big Swiss watch [although it doesn’t tell the time!].
  • The flexibility of the gears, and the fact that all the mech is hidden away inside the hub, means worry-free riding all year round.
  • It is a bike built for long rides, possibly carrying luggage.  It is not a full blown touring bike, but most people will never need such functionaity.
  • The handling is not snappy like a road bike, but it is quick and it goes wherever you point it.
  • For anybody with the money, and a regular ride such as a year round commute or a regular riding habit like me, it is a near perfect choice.
  • You will rarely see another one, as they are as rare as hens teeth!

Not the Royal Wedding Photos

Some random and interesting photos from my 34 mile ride today, on which the roads were nice and quiet, for some reason.  

Above – found by the side of the road – not my preferred beverage on a ride….