Spring is approaching.

I’ve been lucky enough this week to get out for a ride out on my own bike, and while servicing and fixing your bikes is important to us, it’s nice to get out into the air sometimes to recharge our batteries. It’s great to see our customers taking the opportunity to enjoy this early spring weather and do the same.

Since we started the Steel Town adventure two and a half years ago, our goal was to find a way to share our passion for cycling and pass on our years of experience.

Cycling is one of those activities that has a wide range of participants – those with a love of the sport, the machine, and the various disciplines; those who just enjoy the level of fitness that cycling has to offer, and then there’s the next generation of cyclists, kids, encouraged by their their families and peers alike. We believe that cycling feels the same for all those involved, and at its heart, it’s a simple and very rewarding activity.

At Steel Town Cycles we hope to become a trusted service to our customers and the wider cycling community. We’d like to encourage you all to take time to appreciate what we have around us in the areas we live.

We really hope you’ll get on your bikes this spring and enjoy some journeys of your own. It’s often not necessary to venture far, especially in County Durham, before you’re away from the main roads and noise. Perfect for getting out with the kids in school holidays and other times. We have a network of disused railway lines and traffic free lanes. For those wanting more of a challenge and altitude we have that too, nestled in between the north Pennines , Weardale and Northumberland; there’s also our local moorland at Blanchland and Stanhope. To me, Stanhope and Bolihope Common have some of the most beautiful scenery in our country. What’s more they’re right on our doorstep and there are plenty of routes in our wonderful county to challenge all abilities.

That’s the fantastic thing about cycling. You don’t have to be a professional or even a race participating amateur to enjoy its straightforward joy.

Steel Town Cycles Repair and Service all types of bicycles but the one thing that joins us all is the love of that simple, perfect, machine.

Indoor Training…….Love or Loathe?

It’s not something that everyone enjoys, but more of a necessary evil. I first started using an Indoor Trainer or Turbo as a winter training tool 20ish years ago. It wasn’t something I took to with any kind of consistency until around 9 years ago; I was Road racing for Activ Cycles at the time and wanted to have a methodical structured program that wouldn’t be weather dependent.

To those that don’t know there are different types of trainer but the most simple is the mag trainer which uses a moving magnet alongside a metal flywheel. The nearer to the flywheel the magnet sits the more resistance there is, so similar to climbing a steep hill rather than more gentle terrain.

Over the years the trainers have become more complex measuring more of the metrics we expect from the Cycle GPS computers that many people use. Apps like Zwift, Sufferfest and TrainerRoad seek to make the experience more realistic. Many of the higher specification trainers have routes with visual representations and adjust your resistance to match the virtual terrain. These are quite good as many of them have training plans that can be followed according to the aim of your training or time that you have a week.

You should always aim to be consistent as one week you may have 4-5 hours but it’s better to do the 2-3 hour plan and top up with some further rides if you have extra time. I’m trying out Zwift and have been happy with it so far, and I’m now on week 2 of a 4 week plan, riding 3 hours a week.

It’s not the easiest thing to ride many hours, so break it down into manageable chunks, such as 30-45 minutes. There are also many good training books. I‘ve used Joe Friel’s “Cyclists Training Bible”, and although I would only suggest this for more experienced cyclists, as it’s really written as a year-long plan for racing cyclists, that’s not to say that good Sportive rider wouldn’t find some useful advice here. The book I really like is called Chris Carmichael’s “Time Crunched Cycle Plan”. It contains plans for Cyclocross/Criterium, 100 milers and racing cyclists and uses a system very similar to HIIT. There are useful plans even if you don’t intend riding an event of 100 miles and it builds on the level of difficulty throughout 10-12 weeks.

So whether you want to keep a high level of race fitness or just something structured to keep you away from dangerous winter conditions, there is something for everyone. An hour or 2 a week spread over x4, 30 min sessions starts to sound not too bad if it protects that good condition you worked hard for in the Spring, Summer and Autumn.

If you’re a complete indoor training novice and think this would suit you, Steel Town Cycles can help you find the equipment – and plan – suitable for your aims.

The Lost Art of the Group Ride

I often find myself reminiscing about these times and while I absolutely advocate joining a cycling club for the meeting of like minds a cycling group is also great for getting you out on those days where you’re struggling.
Search out your local bike shop they may have regular rides. You’ll learn new routes, get riding tips from real people- not the internet and make friends that will support your riding as you gain in experience and confidence.
Here’s the article.

Every so often, I’ll ride a recreational group ride. I love the camaraderie of cyclists, the talk, the last minute pumps of air, the clicking in, and the easy drifting out as a peloton. “I miss riding in a group,” I’ll think to myself.

The magic ends by mile 10. The group will surge, gap, and separate, only to regroup at every stop sign. I’ll hear fifteen repeated screams of “HOLE!” for every minor road imperfection. And then no mention of the actual hole. Some guy in front will set a PR for his 30 second pull. Wheels overlap, brakes are tapped, and some guy in the back will go across the yellow line and speed past the peloton for no apparent reason. A breakaway?!

I curse under my breath, remembering why I always ride with only a few friends. Doesn’t anyone else realize how dangerous this ride is? How bad it is for our reputation on the road? There are clear rules of ride etiquette, safety, and common sense. Does anyone here know the rules? Who is in charge?

But no one is in charge, and the chaotic group has no idea of how to ride together. As a bike crash (not “accident”) lawyer, I get the complaints from irritated drivers, concerned police, controversy-seeking journalists, and injured cyclists. It needs to get better, but the obstacles are real:

First, everyone is an expert these days. The internet and a power meter do not replace 50,000 miles of experience but try telling that to a fit forty-year-old, new to cycling, on a $5000 bike. No one wants to be told what to do.

Second, the more experienced riders just want to drop the others and not be bothered. It is all about the workout, the ego boost, or riding with a subset of friends. But a group ride is neither a race nor cycling Darwinism. As riders get better, they seek to distinguish themselves by riding faster on more trendy bikes; but as riders get better they need to realize two things: 1) there is always someone faster, and 2) they have obligations as leaders. Cycling is not a never-ending ladder, each step aspiring upwards, casting aspersions down. It is a club, and we should want to expand and improve our membership.

Third, different rides are advertised by average speed, but speed is only one part of the equation. This approach makes speed the sole metric for judging a cyclist, and creates the false impression that a fit rider is a good one. Almost anyone can be somewhat fast on a bike, but few learn to be elegant, graceful cyclists.

Fourth, riding a bike well requires technique training. Good swimmers, for example, constantly work on form and drills; so should cyclists. Anyone remember the C.O.N.I. Manual or Eddie Borysewicz’s book? They are out-of-print, but their traditional approach to bike technique should not be lost. More emphasis was given on fluid pedaling and bike handling.

Before the internet, before custom bikes, and before Lance, it was done better. Learning to ride was an apprenticeship. The goal was to become a member of the peloton, not merely a guy who is sort of fast on a bike. Membership was the point, not to be the local Cat. 5 champ. You were invited to go ona  group ride if you showed an interest and a willingness to learn. You were uninvited if you did not. You learned the skills from directly from the leader, who took an interest in riding next to you on your first rides (and not next to his friends, like better riders do today). Here is some of what you learned:

To take your cycling shorts off immediately after a ride.
To start with a humble bike, probably used.
To pull without surging.
To run rotating pace line drills and flick others through.
To form an echelon.
To ride through the top of a climb.
To hold your line in a corner.
To stand up smoothly and not throw your bike back.
To give the person ahead of you on a climb a little more room to stand up.
To respect the yellow line rule.
To point out significant road problems.
To brake less, especially in a pace line.
To follow the wheel in front and not overlap.

The ride leader and his lieutenants were serious about their roles, because the safety of the group depended on you, the weakest link. If you did not follow the rules, you were chastised. Harshly. If you did, you became a member of something spectacular. The Peloton.

How we look after your bike

The starting point for most of our services is a Free of Charge safety check and inspection.  This informs you, the customer, what is needed to get your bike into a safe and rideable condition.
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If you are unsure of what your bike may need or haven’t ridden it in a while we take this opportunity to find out what kind of cyclist you are or may be.  Riding with the kids, for leisure or with a goal in mind, such as an event.  This will all help us shape what level of service is appropriate for you.
We’ve developed our own safety check/inspection starting at an M-Check.  This is a basic functional check that we all should perform before hopping onto a bike.  It’s a little like a risk assessment; it doesn’t require a vast knowledge and isn’t  difficult to carry out.
The basic premise is to move through the bike starting at the front wheel in a M-shape (see pic); we would always talk a customer through this process when you bring your bike to us for it’s service.
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If during this process you come across anything that makes the bike unfit to ride you should fix that problem or take it to your nearest Independent Bike Shop for repair.  A bicycle is like any machine in the respect that regular maintenance will prolong its useable life.
It is certainly wise to service a bike at least annually.  If your intentions are to ride more often, then service your bike more often e.g 2-3 times annually.
At Steel Town Cycles we focus on quality of service and workmanship.  I treat every bike I work on like my own.  We work with lower quantities coming through to ensure we keep the quality high and our turnaround times lower.
The internet can’t fix your bike it is true and won’t generally give you true experience-based advice for FREE.  We hope that you’ll entrust your bike to an independent at it’s next service.

Winter Riding Advice

A fair few of us will consider not riding once the clocks go back due to the shorter days. Riding in the dark can be great fun though as long as a little thought is given to what we need to say safe, visible and warm.  There are lots of lights and reflectives on the market and Steel Town Cycles will advise you as to what is best for your budget.  Clothing is really just about layering.  If you use a base layer, short sleeve top with arm warmers on the Autumnal days with a shower proof jacket its covering most situations. Layers can be taken off and put back on also.  I prefer cycling tights when the mercury dips into single digits, before this shorts with knee warmers.

As important as making sure you are prepared, your bike needs to be sorted too.  The Autumn and Winter are hard on bikes components and your bike is going to need a little more care to get it though, whereas in the Spring/ Summer we may somewhat neglect bike care, so we recommend washing of the frame, components,  wheels/tyres and relubrication after this.  Again there are many products available to clean, degrease and polish your machine.  A dizzying array of lubricants – Wet, Dry & Wax to name some types of chain lube.  But don’t worry I am going to explain and try and cut through some of the spin.

Bike cleaning & protectBike cleaners aim to soften up muck and light, greasy deposits, and are best used to clean
the frame and wheels/tyres.  Most are designed to be used with the bike already rinsed with water.  So, start with a wet bike, and apply whatever wash you use.  I don’t recommend the use of Washing-Up liquid as this has salt in it which can scratch frames – it happened to me – pick a bike specific cleaner that suits your budget (Steel Town Cycles can advise).  Spray the cleaner on and leave it to work in for 30-60 seconds.  Use a Soft brush or sponge to wipe around your frame and components then rinse it off.

In doing this you are washing off not only the dirt but also any salt that has got to the frame and components during use.  To put this into perspective, if you only wash your bike once a  month during the winter there’s a high chance you’ll need to replace some components come spring.

I like to also use a de-greaser to remove old chain lube and gunk that builds up on your drivetrain – Cassette, Chain, Chainrings and derailleurs – (see pic).  If you think about the combination of oil, dust and soil, mixed together they form an abrasive paste which more quickly wears out your cassette, chain and chainrings.

Dave’s GT Grade.jpgAfter all this cleaning, which can take 15 minutes, or more depending on how thorough you want to be it is important to drive out the water from your chain.  There are several brands here but perhaps the best know is WD-40 Spray.  There are others but they do the same thing.  They are,  in very few circumstances suitable for lubricating a chain, so use of a specific chain lube is advised here.  If you use WD-40 or similar the lubricant part is extremely light and will leave your chain dry and running metal to metal, significantly shortening the component and chain life.

Once you’ve driven off the water make sure you lubricate the chain with a good quality chain oil.  If in doubt about which type to use speak to your local bike shop who will be pleased to advise and sell you the right oil for your purposes.  I prefer the drop bottle type (see picture) and drop the oil onto the chain rollers, working from the rear derailleur forward to the chainrings.  Try to avoid the outer plates and move the chain backwards by pedalling backwards.  Do this a few times until the chain is visibly coated.  Take an old rag (I use old T-shirts or T-Towels) run the chain backward through it with a gentle grip to remove the excess and lightly coat the outer plates of the chain.

Depending on how much your bike is in use repeat this procedure periodically.

If you wish to protect the finish on your bike there are also bike polishes which will protect frame and components between cleans.

Here are some examples of the lubricants I use and sell: