Bike maintenance – Checking headset

My early spring bike service and headset maintenance – what to look out for and how to fix problems.

There has been a lot of salty water on the roads this winter. It’s not been the coldest winter, but it has been dipping below freezing enough for the roads to be salted and then wet. The result is bikes ridden through the winter will have taken a battering. Everywhere in Oxford I see rusty chains – a sure sign of riding through winter salted roads. I keep using TF2 chain lube, but even regular squirts can’t stop minor rusting.


Ideally, I would leave a bike service for another month (when hopefully the salting of the roads would finish), but the commuting bike has been driven into the ground so it was time to get another service from Sherwood Mobile Bike Mechanics.

I bought a new chain and cassette for Andy to put on. I thought the brake cable had gone, but actually it was the rear brake frozen up, due to rust. Andy cleaned the brake and regreased and changed the most worn components.

I’m not too fussy about the commuting bike, but Andy felt the headset needed attention. I haven’t pain any attention to headset maintenance and have never really understood headsets – so I got Andy to write his tips for headset wear towards the end of the post. In the end it was quite a lengthy service, but that is inevitable when you cycle on it so much during the winter.


After the service the bike runs like a completely different bike!


I keep a tight chain because I have a single ring and no front mech to stop chain dropping off. Continue Reading →

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Banbury Star Hardriders 2015

Today was the Banbury Star Hardriders 23 mile time trial from Wroxton to Ettington going down and then back up Sun Rising hill. For the first race of the season two weeks ago, I was relaxed to the point of seeing it as another training ride. But, now I’m getting more accustomed to the idea of racing. I’ve done 2,400 miles since the start of the year. It’s an unprecedented amount of training for me, and I’m interested to see if it makes any difference to speed in short distance time trials.

Although I remember many Banbury Hard-rider events which are a lot colder (snow, ice and sub zero), I was still very cold warming up. I went for 3 pairs of gloves, 3 pairs of socks  Once I got racing, it didn’t feel that cold. There was a strong Westerly wind which made the first leg into the wind quite hard. My pacing strategy was to go as hard as I could into the wind and then try and benefit from tailwind on way back.

Descending Sunrising hill was a bit tricky. It’s a sharp left hander, but the main difficulty was strong head/cross wind. Coming off the climb was hard-work because gaps in the hedge caused strong gusts of winds into the side. I was holding on very tight to the side of the tribars, looking ahead for the gaps in the hedge. It took a long time before it was safe to get back on to the tribars. Going through the village of Ettingham is also a bit tricky because of parked cars and road furniture. There were a few minor hold-ups here, but not as bad as the last race I di. On the way back it was a big relief, to turn away from the difficult headwind. You can start to pick up a good speed without as much effort. I took an opportunity to hold back a little, trying to save something for the big climb of the race.



On Sunrising hill. Photo courtesy Richard Brian.

(Note to self: Wooly socks cost 4 seconds. Tape coming off visor 3 seconds.)


Sunrising hill is a challenging hill (16%) at the best of times, but doing a steep hill in the middle of a race, where you’re already on the limit is another difficulty. Fortunately, I felt quite strong and with a helpful tailwind was able to climb most of the hill seated down. Only towards the end, did I stand up to squeeze the last bit of power out. The new TT bike felt quite good, but it’s not so great for climbing on the hoods up 16% gradients, it felt hard work handling it. After the top of the hill, there is another 3-4 quick miles, where I held a good average speed to finish in a time of 52.26. This was good enough for first place, with Dan Bigham (Beeline Cycles) in 2nd and Danny Axford (Arctic Tacx RT) 3rd. 1st lady was Philippa Schubert (High Wycombe CC. Philippa is the sister of 24 hour TT champion Jonathan Shubert (currently out in Oman) and was rider her brother’s bike. 1st Junior was – Ryan Kenworthy – 58.49.


A great selection of cakes at the HQ


As usual the event was well organised by Luke Souter and Banbury CC, with one of most impressive collections of post-race cakes. I also had a good chat to my minute man Dave Preece, who is in training for an epic Land’s End to John ‘O Groats on a Penny Farthing.

Results Banbury Star 2015


click to enlarge

 Banbury Star results

  • 2015 – 52.26 –  1st – 297 watts
  • 2014 – 53.27 – 2nd – 281 watts
  • 2013 – 53:32 – 1st
  • 2012 – 56:15 – 2nd (very cold)
  • 2010 – 54.31 – 2nd


Results 2015

Position Name Club Time CTT +/-
1 Tejvan Pettinger Sri Chinmoy CT   52:26
2 Dan Bigham Beeline Cycles RT   53:13
3 Danny Axford Arctic Tacx RT   53:47
4 Stewart Wilson Bonito Squadra Corse   55:48   4:43+
5 Karl Moseley Stourbridge Velo   55:54   6:25+
6 James Middleton Media Velo   56:41
7 Tim Hastie Team Jewson – MI Racing   56:48
8 Justin Belcher Banbury Star CC   56:51   1:30+
9 Matthew Nell Team Jewson – MI Racing   56:52
10 Ian Heming Team Echelon – Rotor   57:13   0:42+
11 Graeme Davidson Kenilworth Whs   57:29   1:44+
12 Jager Benjamin De Oxford University CC   58:13
13 Luke Souter Banbury Star CC   58:39
14 Ryan Kenworthy  (Jn)   58:49
15 Malcolm Rose Oxonian CC   59:09   1:14-
16 Martin Lines Worcester St. Johns CC   59:22   0:43+
17 Cameron Foster Team Corley Cycles   59:35
18 Edward Silverton Beacon Roads CC   59:49
19 Chris Spencer Royal Leamington Spa CC   59:55
20 Peter Wright Rugby Racing CC 1:00:01   1:51+
21 Daniel Alanine Oxford University CC 1:00:02
22 Ben Nichol High Wycombe CC 1:00:20
23 Simon Kisley Banbury Star CC 1:00:26   1:13-
24 Paul Demicoli Banbury Star CC 1:00:44   1:08+
25 Tom Bolton Oxford University CC 1:00:51
26 Peter Oliver Fairly United CT 1:00:54   0:58+
27 Rob Weare Leamington C & AC 1:00:56   2:46+
28 Andy Craig Rugby Racing CC 1:01:10   1:57-
29 Gavin Tillson Oxonian CC 1:01:17   3:47-
30 Chris Edgington Fairly United CT 1:01:34   0:09-
31 Keith Burden Rugby Racing CC 1:01:36   4:06-
32 Gregory Ashley Team Jewson – MI Racing 1:02:00   1:02-
33 Martin Prior Oxonian CC 1:02:06   3:19-
34 Dave Walker Worcester St. Johns CC 1:02:09   0:38+
35 Peter Busby Team Jewson – MI Racing 1:02:10   0:37+
36 Tom Giddings Banbury Star CC 1:02:40
37 Richard Howes Coventry RC 1:02:44   1:27+
38 Tim Butt Banbury Star CC 1:02:47   1:49-
39 Billy Leason    (Jn) Banbury Star CC 1:02:50
40 Martin Staines Worcester St. Johns CC 1:03:13   1:26+
41 Peter Graham North Hampshire RC 1:03:54   1:35-
42 Rob Stilgoe Rugby Racing CC 1:04:15
43 Jered Allcock Banbury Star CC 1:04:15
44 Roger Foster Team Corley Cycles 1:04:18   0:07-
45 Jos Busby Banbury Star CC 1:05:22
46 Dave Preece Worcester St. Johns CC 1:06:54   8:33-
47 Stephen Haynes Banbury Star CC 1:07:25   5:33-
48 Mark Boyles Banbury Star CC 1:07:38
49 Joe Kang Oxford University CC 1:07:41
50 James Harrison Media Velo 1:08:08
51 Adam Souter Banbury Star CC 1:08:09  10:39-
52 Philippa Shubert (W) High Wycombe CC 1:09:57
53 Keith Barcock Banbury Star CC 1:10:35  10:04-
54 Mike Hicks Banbury Star CC 1:13:03  13:50-
55 Geoff Booker Oxonian CC 1:13:37   2:14+
56 Stephanie Peters (W) Hinckley CRC 1:13:39  12:14-
57 Lindsay Nell     (W) Team Jewson – MI Racing 1:13:44  11:52-
58 Jemima Line      (W) Oxonian CC 1:13:49
59 Brian Wills Hinckley CRC 1:14:16   5:13-
60 Geoff Hewett Banbury Star CC 1:16:23   8:50-
61 Alan Morris Hinckley CRC 1:16:45  13:03-
62 Stephen Rooney Banbury Star CC 1:24:29  20:18-
DNF 43
DNS with apologies 14,18,29,34,39,46,47,49,67.




On Saturday I had a bit of good luck. I went into Beeline Bicycles who had Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on the TV. I turned up just in time to see the last 4-5 km. At that point, Ian Stannard (Team Sky) was with 3 Etiix Quick Step Riders. Usually in that situation, you expect the team of 3 to walk away with the win, I was just hoping Stannard would get on the podium. But, somehow Stannard managed to play his cards right and sneak a win. A great result after his difficult year (with broken back) last year. Procycling is back on telly. Perhaps my great winter training will go out of the window now?

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Reduced to walking

You have to be careful writing a cycling blog. A couple of weeks ago I was boasting about how – in 20 years of cycling – I have never had to get off the bike and walk up a steep hill. But, the curious hand of fate has meant that just a couple of weeks later, out of the blue, I’m forced to dismount on a climb I’ve never even heard of.


Forest of Dean looks beautiful but it hides some tricky climbs. Photo Anguskirk


The day before, I had a good ride up the Tumble and the nearby Symonds Yat. The next day, I was riding around the Forest of Dean. I didn’t have a map, so just followed my nose going whichever way I felt like going. The first climb of the day started off fairly innocuously – there was no gradient sign or anything to warn you of a difficult hill coming up. When I got round the first corner it was very steep and it took a big effort to get up. In the middle there was a little recovery, but I was turning a really low cadence even on this flattish section.

There was still no gradient sign, though rather ominously I saw a sign – ‘Drivers IGNORE YOUR SATNAV’ This was rather cryptic, which should have given a greater sense of foreboding. As I went around the corner, the road veered sharply upward. Like a good hill climber, I got on the hoods and started climbing as best I could. But, it soon became apparent I wasn’t going to make it. I was heaving the winter bike up the hill, but my speed was getting slower and slower; the cadence was at a point where I was worried whether I was going to be able to turn the pedals over. If I really wanted, I could have kept trying a little more, but I really didn’t have the stomach for it. I got off and walked up the last bit of the hill.

Like any good cyclist I had plenty of good excuses for getting off and walking. Not least, having a lowest gear of 39*23 which is far too high for winter training on steep hills. I didn’t really know what I’d let myself in for cycling blind around the Forest of Dean lanes. But, even if knew what was coming it wouldn’t have made any difference. Continue Reading →

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The Tumble

I was staying in Forest of Dean this weekend, so I thought I’d cycle out to the Tumble – a climb that has featured in many Tour of Britain’s and something I’ve watched quite a few times on the TV.


Two riders on the Tumble

In theory, it was 25 miles from the Forest of Dean to the base of the Tumble in Govilon, Abergavenny. But, I trusted my instinct of ‘remembering the roads’ from five minutes of studying the map, rather than taking it with me. I once did the National 50 mile TT on the A40 around Raglan. But, that wasn’t much help, and I ended up taking a long detour on an unknown Welsh road to Usk. I kept hoping to cut across to Blaenavon, but didn’t have much luck. At one point, I went a long way up a mountain road to be greeted by a dead end sign – right at the end of the road. 40 miles later I did finally make it to Gavilon, and in between hail showers climbed up the Tumble.



It’s a good climb. The first half is a consistent 10% up a few hairpins, perhaps steeper in parts. As you go out of the trees, the gradient eases off a little and if there’s a tailwind you can pick up a little speed. It’s quite exposed at the top. It was popular with other cyclists, I must have seen a good 20-30 on various parts of the climb. I managed to overtake a couple on the way up. I had forgotten my cycling jacket so was just wearing loose under clothes, and had a camera swinging from thigh to thigh on the way up, which was irritating. I didn’t look the part, but still went up in a respectable time for February, on a winter training bike.

On the way back I didn’t get as lost and was able to finish off with a little climb of Symonds Yat from the Wye Valley. In the end 75 hilly, slow miles. Nice to do some new roads, though next time I might take a map.

Tumble Climb

  • Location: Wales, Govilon,
  • Distance: 5.1 km
  • Average gradient: 8%
  • Maximum gradient: 15%
  • Height gain. 399m
  • 100 climbs: #97
  • Strava segment
  • Everesting? – 23 * 10.2 km = 234 km

Continue Reading →

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Cycling and negativity

Last week, I was complaining about motorists who would pass too close. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other reasons to complain when you get on to British roads. This is a shame because cycling should be an enjoyable activity – get on two wheels and pedal happily off into the sunset. But, it seems the world of a cyclist is squashed between the impatience of taxi drivers and complaints about the dangers of the road. If you’re not careful, you can get sucked into a ‘political world of cycling’ that is negative and endless arguments of who is right and wrong.


The internet has not particularly helped. There is something about the nature of the internet which encourages outrage, strong opinions, a tribal mentality of ‘us and ‘them. These issues of sharing the road were always around, but the internet gives it greater currency and force – feeding antagonism in a way that I’m not sure existed when you had to send a letter by pigeon post or go down to the local post office to send a telegram.


By the time you had Morse Coded your feelings, most of your anger had long since dissipated anyway. A more modern telegram service like Twitter lacks this natural delay of several weeks as you wait for the boat from India to come into dock.

What did minor-celebrities do before having twitter spats and outraging some or another constituents of the easily outraged? I’m sure if you read the Cycling Weekly letters from the 1950s, you would find letters of complaint. But, at least in the 1950s you could read a newspaper, without, on every article, getting sucked into reading comments from 335 outraged internet trolls, who don’t have anything better to do, but get disgusted with cyclists / motorists / pigeons / and the latest reality TV show on Channel 5.


Of course, it may just be we are just looking through tinted rays of ‘The golden age of cycling’ – this mythical utopia of cycling in the 1950s, where you could cycle 100 miles on quiet roads through British lanes to enjoy warm beer and sandwiches on the village green, with nothing more than a Bobby on his bike giving you a friendly wave.

60 years later and this mythical golden age of cycling utopia has been replaced by pitched battles between Uber fuelled tax drivers who equate cyclists to ISIS and the relentless finger pointing about who is the absolutely the worst person on the roads. The only thing we agree on is that it is always someone else’s fault!

Yet, all is not lost. If you go cycling on British roads, it is not as traumatic as you might believe from the comment sections of the Daily Mail. It is still possible to really enjoy cycling – whether it’s cycling up Hardknott Pass or even, dare I say it commuting into the centre of London. Continue Reading →

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The worst interval session

Early in the hill climb season, I did well in some Swindon R.C. short hill climbs. After doing well on a 1 minute and 2 minute climb, I was gaining confidence in my ability for short-distance hill climbs.


Dover’s hill – photo Cycling Weekly 1978

That week, I was training at Britwell Hill, near Watlington. I think the course record was about 2 and a half minutes.

Britwell hill

  • 0.6 miles
  • Average gradient – 9%
  • 85 metre of height gain
  • 18% max

It makes a good climb for doing intervals (the only drawback is that the road is quite narrow, you don’t want to meet a lorry coming down mid-interval). The climb starts with a gentle gradient, and gets steeper and steeper as you get nearer the top. By the end of the climb it is 18%. It is dead straight – almost  like a Ski jump and is a good place if you want to get a top max speed coming down

On this particular occasion there was a headwind, but I went full pelt right from the start. For the first minute I was averaging over 500 watts and flying up the hill. After a minute, the pain really kicked in. After 90 seconds, I was absolutely blown up and the climb just got steeper and steeper. It was torture to keep fighting up the steep climb, when you’re muscles are shot.  It took over two minutes and a half. My recent pride at doing well in short hill climbs took a battering.

That was the worst interval, so much pain and discomfort. When I looked at the climb using data, I found that my heart rate peaked after 90 seconds. After than the HR declined – showing my muscles were so tired they couldn’t even use the full amount of oxygen. The interval sent the muscles into over-use. I think after that interval, I did another 6 intervals with very little recovery in between. The legs were burning all the time. Afterwards, I could barely cycle home at 100 watts and took three or four days to recover. I never repeated that interval session.

Maybe it’s a good interval session to do if you can stomach it. But, you need to be super-motivated to do it properly. Also, I wouldn’t recommend doing it too often because it is must be causing more muscle damage than usual.

Worst interval practise

Choose a hill which takes 2-3 minutes, but gets steepest at the top. Something like the Rake would be ideal.

Then sprint from the start, and then when you’ve blown up, keep struggling up the steep bit as fast as you can.

Basically, read this post – Technique for riding up hills and then do the exact opposite.

If that doesn’t sound an appetising training session, probably you are very wise. But, it’s worth doing once or twice just for the experience.

I had forgotten about this experience, but I was reading about the 1985 National Hill Climb Championship held at Challacombe. A short steep climb in North West Devon. It is a similarly designed climb – flat introduction, then 25% at the top. The Cycling Weekly report from 1985 is full of competitors saying that after their experience at Challacombe – they will never do another hill climb!


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Wrynose Pass

Wrynose Pass is one of the most spectacular climbs in England. In terms of difficulty, it is slightly overshadowed by its more boisterous neighbour – Hardknott Pass. But, from the East, it’s difficulty should never be under-estimated. I speak from personal experience, once dragging the bike up into a headwind and over-geared (39*25) – the 20% plus gradient never seemed to ease all the way to the top. (Such an incident inspired a recent post – about walking up hills.)

If you get chance to look back from where you came, it’s one of the most memorable views you will get from a road in England. Whilst climbing you probably won’t get chance to appreciate, so it’s worth coming down Wrynose Pass too. It’s a great natural amphitheatre.


Photo: Gouldy



Photo: Gouldy

I’ve been up Wrynose pass on a couple of occasions, whilst visiting the Lake District. Often it involves going up Hardknott Pass as well. Continue Reading →

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Time Trial Skinsuits

It is estimated a close fitting skinsuit can save 3.2% of your total energy. [1] This equates to 29 seconds in a 40 km time Trial. Therefore a close fitting skinsuit represent a cost effective way to improve aerodynamics and save valuable seconds.

A time trial skinsuit will definitely be more aerodynamic. However, there can be a significant difference between a cheap time trial skinsuit that ends up being loose fitting and a custom built skinsuit which is absolutely skin tight.


It may not look much difference. But, you can see more wrinkles in the Dutch skinsuit left. Chris Hoy’s British Cycling skinsuit is as good as it gets. Or is that due to Chris Hoy’s enormous muscles stretching the lyrca? Photo John the Scone


British Cycling went to extraordinary lengths to gain marginal gains through producing the best possible skinsuit. In Michael Hutchinson’s book ‘Faster’ he made the observation that the best skinsuit could give more aerodynamic advantage than upgrading to a better time trial bike. The UCI actually banned some British Cycling skinsuit because they were considered too fast. (they are somewhere in a cupboard in Manchester velodrome)

A key element in getting a time trial skinsuit, is not just the make, but also one that fits.

A good time trial suit will be uncomfortable when you’re standing up. It should feel like your shoulders are being pulled down. A time trial skin suit only works when in the time trial position.

In recent years, more of the top time triallist have been wearing custom skinsuits. Loose fitting club skinsuits seem to be on the way out for top cyclists. Which is a shame because it’s another thing which makes sport more expensive and I like seeing club kits rather than generic brands. But, if you’re competing for medals you don’t want to be throwing away seconds on flappy skinsuits.

Even in road racing, skinsuits are becoming more popular as riders try to get all aerodynamic advantages. British Cycling are pioneers in this field. Nicole Cooke’s Olympic gold in 2008 were with a skinsuit. Also the British mens road team of 2011 where Mark Cavendish became World Champion played close attention to aerodynamics.

Continue Reading →

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Redhill CC 18.7 mile TT

Today was the Redhill CC ‘Sporting’ 18 mile TT around Dorking, Forest Green and the Surrey Hills.  (Redhill CC, 18 mile TT) This year is the 70th Anniversary of the Redhill CC.


Robin Johnson of Brighton Mitre CC Continue Reading →

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Overtaking cyclists

Motorists often give too little space when overtaking cyclists. It is potentially dangerous and an unpleasant experience. Often is just a combination of impatience and unawareness. But, once you have been a cyclist yourself, you would always approach overtaking a cyclist in a different manner.

Car overtaking on Oxford High Street very close



Big buses. Very often cars/ buses pass so close that if you put your arm out and signal right you will hit the vehicle. lorry-overtake

Beware of lorries turning rightcyclists-buses-pass-with-care

Cyclists – Pass with Care! – Buses overtake with Care!


‘Narrow Lane Do Not Overtake Cyclists’

How much room should you give a cyclist?

The Highway code states:

“give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211-215)”

Highway code

“As much room as a car” leaves some discretion, but, I would have thought three feet would be a good minimum. My grandma used to think the law was enough space for cyclist to fall off, without hitting the overtaking car. The highway code doesn’t quite say that but it seems a good rule of thumb.

Also the Highway code states:

“Motorcyclists and cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road. Give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make.”

This is an interesting one, as sometimes, if you deviate less than one foot from your line an overtaking car will beep aggressively. True, you should be looking over your shoulder, but, if a small deviation from line causes consternation, it is probably because the car is passing too closely.

Urban roads and Rural Roads

It is common for cars to pass closely on urban roads, but at least speeds are lower, and often cars are more ready to slowdown. It is a bigger problem on fast rural roads where cars can be doing 50-60mph + and motorists don’t have the mentality to be ready to slow down. 50mph speed limits can become like minimum targets. If a motorist comes across a cyclist, they are loathe to slow down so just keep on ploughing on.

Speed of overtaking

There is a big difference between a car overtaking close at 20mph and a car overtaking close at 50mph. There is also a big difference when a lorry overtakes you and it is so close the drag pushes you around.


3 Feet Rule


A car giving plenty of room to a young kid on Cowley Road (look how close the child is hugging the kerb). I wonder if the cyclists was wearing lycra, helmet and fluroescent coat, the car would have given less room?


Some countries have toyed with the idea of passing a law that motorists should leave 3 feet when overtaking. If this was the case, 80% of drivers would break the law everyday.

Doesn’t giving Cyclists Room mean an increase in congestion / time wasted?


I’ve lost count of the number of times a motorist has impatiently overtaken – squeezed through a gap which wasn’t there and then had to slam on the brakes because he’s approaching a traffic jam. There is a certain karma to then be able to undertake them whilst they are stationary in a traffic jam. But, you would think, people would look ahead. Squeezing through gaps which aren’t there rarely get you any quicker anyway.

Generally, cars should give more space, but all rules need some discretion. As a motorist I find it quite easy to give space to cyclists because I always think empathise with the cyclist that I am overtaking. I would give the cyclist as much space as I would want myself.

I really don’t understand why cyclists get such a bad press in the media. When I think of the 100,000 miles I’ve driven in the past 10 years – how much time have I lost by waiting for a good opportunity to overtake. It is completely negligible. Furthermore, I enjoy the process of slowing down and giving space – because I know the cyclist will appreciate it.

It’s just a matter of perspective – Get mad because you have to wait 5 seconds, or take a bit more time and get to the back of the traffic jam in a calmer state of mind. Life isn’t rocket science!

But Cyclists don’t wear A Cycle Helmet / Cyclists don’t pay road tax

  • Would you want to run-over a pedestrian because they don’t pay an obsolete tax, no one pays?
  • Would you run over a pedestrian just because they are not wearing a safety helmet – to teach them a lesson?


External link

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