Bodies and bikes

Geekiness warning. Some of you may fall asleep reading this so put down any hot drinks to avoid the risk of injury.

I am sipping a pint of English Pale Ale from the Hogs Back Brewery at Tongham, sitting in the fifteenth century Crispin Inn pub in the mediaeval town of Sandwich after walking it’s walls and I am thinking that touring Britain by bike is a very very good thing to do. We are actually having a day off here and it’s proved to be the ideal place for a rest and to get some essential repairs done. We often get asked if our bodies and the bikes are standing up to the test of this trip so for those of you who are that way inclined here is the story so far.

The bodies have, so far, been very reliable. There was a period of breaking in which involved quite a bit of sunburn despite the cold weather. Ears peeled and lips cracked and we got through a fair amount of sun tan cream but now we find that we just don’t need it anymore. Gill’s back problems have diminished as the days and weeks have gone by (almost certainly helped by her Pilates classes) and we are generally hardened to spending day after day in the saddle. We have both lost weight despite a policy of eating anything and everything that comes our way including using up the previous night’s pudding cream on our cereal in the morning. We both get aching necks and knees some days but generally speaking the bodies have served us well. We have had a relatively easy ride since North Yorkshire so it will be interesting to see if we have lost fitness when we hit the hills of the South Downs, Devon and Cornwall.

I almost daren’t tell you about the bikes for fear of jinxing us but so far we have had very little trouble. I set out with a worn tyre and had to replace it early on and the replacement Michelin World Tour failed after about fifteen hundred miles. That got replaced with a bomb proof Schwalbe Marathon Plus and I expect that to last the trip. I have replaced one set of brake blocks on Gill’s bike and I have had a replacement mudguard due to a minor misunderstanding at a roundabout. I am ashamed to say that I have only washed the bikes once but the main drive chains have been lubricated regularly.

So to the BIG question; how many punctures? Well believe it or not, two! Not bad for a combined mileage of 5,800. Of course both were in back wheels and my policy of rarely cleaning the bikes came back to bite me on both occasions but I only have myself to blame for that.
We did have a problem with Gill’s saddle moving which caused two problems. It meant that Gill was always uncomfortable on the saddle and it also created a fair amount of friction between us because I didn’t believe her. I eventually made a measure and proved myself wrong and a nice chap called Emlyn at the York Hub fixed it with some Loctite.

"That should suit madam's posterior now"

“That should suit madam’s posterior now”

The most serious issue has been the failure of the mounting brackets on one of Gill’s panniers. They are the Altura Arran ones and the rivets that hold them together have failed. There has been much deployment of temporary fixes with cable ties and bits of wood from the side of the road but a permanent solution has been found.

The lads at The Bike Shed in York

The lads at The Bike Shed in York

The first failure was fixed by The Bike Shed in York and the same pannier is now in the capable hands of Andy and Martin at Locks bike shop here in Sandwich after the second clip failed spectacularly yesterday depositing the pannier in the road as we came into town. The zip on one of the pockets has also failed but to be fair these panniers have seen a lot of use over the years so we aren’t really complaining.

A few days from now we have a date with Dorian at Black Bikes in Eastbourne. He is building a new back wheel for Gill as hers is seriously in need of replacement. I checked the wear groove a few days ago only to find it wasn’t there at all and the concave surface of the rim was a bit alarming. We contacted a friend in Eastbourne who put us in touch with Dorian and after a couple of e-mails and a phone call it was all sorted.

There have been other minor clothing failures. Gloves have worn out, my cap fell apart and I have just bought some new shorts because Gill refuses to ride behind me anymore because the view is obscene apparently.

On the whole I don’t think we are doing too bad. Both the bodies and most of the equipment were pretty well worn when we started out so we expected some failures. The one thing that has not failed so far is our sense of humour thank goodness. We are still smiling and thoroughly enjoying the whole experience. Warts and all. (I have two.)

Still smiling on a ferry across the river Crouch

Still smiling on a ferry across the river Crouch

About the bikes


Yes, in this case, it really is all about the bike.

Touring bikes are actually quite rare. Well, at least purpose built ones are. Most non-cyclists wouldn’t see the difference between a touring bike with drop handle bars and any other ‘racer’ but they really are a different species.

Firstly, they are usually made from steel rather than aluminium or carbon fibre (yes I know there are titanium ones) and secondly they are subtly different in geometry. Both the material and the geometry contribute to the more relaxed and less hurried ride that you get on a tourer. The steel adds a bit more flexibility while the more open angles of the frame soften the ride by creating more give in the frame. Steel also has the advantage of being easily welded in just about any garage or engineering workshop in the world should you be unlucky enough to break your frame whilst on tour. Uncommon, but not unheard of.

The other difference in the basic touring frame is that it will have specific brazed on mounting points for pannier racks and maybe extra bottle carrying mounts. Other than that it all comes down to the components used to build up the bike.

Tourers need sturdy wheels that will take heavy duty tyres and carry loads of weight and they also need plenty of room to fit full mudguards. They need very low gearing to be able to drag all that weight up the hills and most importantly, a saddle that is comfortable for up to eight hours at a time. Handle bars tend to be a personal preference so straight, drop and butterfly bars are all commonly used. Finally, one of the joys of touring bikes, in my opinion, is that they nearly all come with fascinating home made bodges and workarounds that make them unique to their owners.

So that is the background, now here are a few specifics for those who find such things interesting. For those who don’t, here are some penguins falling over.  (Best viewed with YouTube)

My bike is based on a hand built frame made to my own measurements and specifications by Dave Yates. Dave built around 12,000 frames for his employers, M Steel Cycles before setting up his own business. He knows a thing or two about frame building. Material is Reynolds 531.

Lack of funds after paying for the frame, forks and Campag headset meant that I cobbled the bike together with various bits from EBay but I have gradually upgraded most of it over the last six years. The components now read as follows:


  • Hand built wheels using ST19 rims on Shimano 105 hubs.
  • Shwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres
  • SRAM Truvativ cranks (EBay)
  • Shimano M520 pedals
  • Shimano rings (can’t remember the numbers and can’t be bothered counting, sorry) Edit: 50, 40,28
  • Shimano rear cassette 12 – 32 (or is it 11 – 32?)
  • Chain, no idea but it does have a speed link in it which I think is a no brainer
  • Shimano Tiagra long arm rear mech
  • Shimano Sora Triple front mech
  • Bars – drop. Cheap off EBay. Can’t remember what they are.
  • Shimano Flight Deck Brake/gear levers
  • Shimano RX100 Dual pivot brakes
  • Brooks B17 saddle
  • TorTech rear rack
  • Tubus front rack

Gill’s bike was built by Paul Hewitt of Leyland. It’s a Cheviot tourer based on a Taiwan manufactured frame (also Reynolds 531) and assembled to Paul’s exacting standards. Paul is very particular about fitting and uses his own purpose built fitting jig to get every measurement spot on before deciding on frame size and position for seat, bars, crank length etc. When Gill collected the bike it was perfect from the day it left the shop and nothing has required adjusting since, other than saddle angle. The components are all as supplied five years ago:


  • Hand built wheels using ST19 rims on Deore hubs
  • Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres
  • Deore cranks
  • Shimano M520 pedals
  • Deore chainset 48, 36, 26
  • Rear cassette Deore 11 – 34
  • Chain HG53 (but may have been replaced, can’t remember)
  • Rear mech Deore
  • Front mech Tiagra triple
  • Bars, drop, Omega Compact (for little hands)
  • Tiagra STI Brake/Gear shifters
  • Tektro CR520 Cantilever brakes
  • Selle Italia Lady specific leather saddle
  • Maddison rear rack
  • Blackburn low rider front rack

Both bikes have been to Colin Gardner The Bike Magician for a Gold service before the trip which involves stripping back to the frame and servicing/replacing every moving part. They both now ride like a dream. Thanks Colin.

We’ll do luggage another time. That’s quite enough tech stuff for one post. Feel free to ask questions but please don’t expect knowledgeable answers