For £500, you can get a pretty decent commuting bike. Personally, I wouldn’t be keen to spend much more than £500 for a commuting bike. If you lock the bike up in town, there is an increased chance of theft, so with just a £500, you get more peace of mind than you would if you had spent over a £1,000.
I bought a very nice commuting bike in 1999 for about £550 (It was a Trek) but it got stolen from the back of my house. I bought a second hand bike (Trek 1000) from a neighbour for £200 as a temporary stop gap. 17 years later, I’m still riding this temporary stopgap. It is essentially an aluminium road bike, adapted for commuting. I often check out alternative commuting bikes and have test ridden a few, partly for this blog, partly for interest in ‘upgrading’ my commuting bike.
There is a great choice of commuting bikes for under £500. I would separate the choices into:
Classic / Retro Style Bikes – Look cool, great joy to have. Slower. heavier. A bit more expensive. Not great quality at less than £500.
Hybrid Bikes– best value. Most practical, most widely bought. Cheap prices due to economies of scale.
Mountain Bikes – Good for rough terrain like canal paths. Wider tyres are slower. FOr under £500, you won’t get a ‘real’ mountain bike, more like a hybrid geared towards the MTB range.
Road Bikes – Faster, narrower tyres, more aggressive riding position, but less stable than hybrid bikes. Useful for longer commutes and those wishing to combine commuting with training.
Single Speed Bikes – Easy to maintain. Look cool. More expensive (not many under £500). Not good if you have lots of hills!
Foldups – Useful for those commuting by train. Limited choice for under £500. Certainly, no Bromptons come under this price range.
For tyres and tubulars there is generally a well-known trade-off
Low rolling resistance
It is impossible to have all four targets met. Even if money is no object, you still have to choose a tradeoff between low rolling resistance / low weight and puncture resistance.
I spend more time researching and choosing tubulars to buy than I do anything else. So many combinations, choices, decisions and tradeoffs!. In the good old days, I’d just shove Continental Competition on and have done with it. But, I fear I’m losing too much time with good old Continental Competition. Even now I have an increasing choice of tubulars, I can spend ages trying to work out which tubular to use. In short, there is no easy answer.
When it comes to buying tubulars, I’ve often caught in two minds. I want to use a lightweight tubular like Vittoria Chrono / Veloflex Record, but then I think about puncturing and walking along a windswept dual carriageway for 10 miles, and I think I might as well stick to Continental Competition.
The problem is that as the competition gets more intense, and you look harder for marginal gains, the idea of getting better tubulars becomes more attractive.
Front Wheel / Back Wheel
Another consideration is that the rear wheel is more likely to puncture / more likely to wear down because it is the rear wheel which transmits your power output. Therefore, it is a good idea to consider getting a slightly more reliable (heavy) tyre for the rear. I generally risk lighter tubulars on the front wheel.
In an ideal world, you would change your tubulars depending on conditions. For a dry day on a nice smooth dual carriageway, It is worth risking a proper track / timetrial tub like Vittoria Crono. Also, if you think you’ve got a chance for a PB, it makes sense to choose the fastest tubular. But, if you’re doing a 30 mile hilly time trial on rough roads in the wet, you have a higher chance of puncturing; in these conditions, it is not a good choice to go for a feather lightweight smooth tub.
I don’t particularly like the hassle of changing tubulars before every race – so tend to go for the default stronger puncture resistance. However, I am leaning more towards faster tubulars these days.
Width of Wheel
When I got into cycling, I made the ‘schoolboy error’ of buying 18′ width tyres. I made the assumption that the more narrow the tyre – the less rolling resistance there will be. Nowadays, you can hear the fastest tyres are 25′ even 28′. There are conflicting reports, but I’m happy with anything – 22-25. Perhaps slightly wider at the rear is preferable. I heard Team Sky use 24.5′ width tubulars – I’m not sure how they calculated 24.5 is better than 25. But I wouldn’t lose too much sleep if you have a 23′!
Too many models
The reason that I revisited this post is that whenever I go to buy tubulars, I always spend hours trying to find the best tubular. One problem is that companies make a bewildering array of tubulars – just as you get used to one model, you find it has become discontinued and you can’t buy it anyway. This happened yesterday with Veloflex Record Sprinter – I couldn’t find anywhere to buy it.
A rear mounted bottle cage is generally a good aerodynamic place to carry an extra bottle. For long distance riding, it is a good option, though a little awkward (and un-aerodynamic) to get from behind saddle.
One challenge with 100 mile time trials is working out how to carry enough fluid. I’ve done 100s on two bottles, but often felt it was insufficient and suffered as a result. A rear mounted saddle is a good place as it is generally out of the wind.
An important note is to make sure the bottle is secured. I have had experiences with bottles ejecting themselves. Make sure you test over suitably bumpy roads – before the big race!
Most aerodynamic position for a bottle
I’ve seen quite a few aero tests and suggestions that the optimal position for a water bottle is in this order
The first two have little aero drag. Some claim that having a bottle between the arms on the tribars reduces aerodrag. On the downtube, aero drag could cost 45g for a standard water bottle (according to tri-radar)
Testing water-bottles depends on how the bottle interacts with the frame and rider. Some TT bike designs have been specifically designed to make the water bottle more aerodynamic.
Rear mounted bottle cages are also said to be quite good in limiting aero drag, so I thought it would be good to get one. I did use one many years ago, it might have been my first 100 mile TT in 2005. But, the bottle jumped out and I never got to drink it. I think I threw away in disgust and have never revisited rear bottle mounts until a few years ago
Bontrager Race Lite Rear Cage Holder
I bought a Bontrager Race Lite Mount rear mounted bottle cage. It cost £35 from a local bike shop. The advantage is that you can have two water bottles or one in the middle. It also has two places to screw in CO2 cylinders.
I have chosen to have just one bottle cage. It’s fairly easy to set up and fairly sturdy. (It weighed 170gram with one water bottle.
The difficulty I had is that with the Adamo saddle, there is limited room to fit. This means I had to have it at an angle of 45 degrees. I would preferred to have it at 90 degrees because the bottle would be less likely to fall out.
This is a drawback of the Adamo saddle. – A comfortable shape for long-distance timetrialling, but you have to be careful which water bottle system you get.
Since I first posted this blog, I have got a new saddle. A Dash saddle, which still has a long tail making it hard to get a bottle vertical.
However, it is quite aerodynamic and easy to set up.
My concern about use long-term is that it is all held together by four Allen bolts. Two gripping cage to saddle. And two holding angle of the cage. I am testing in training, and its held up, though there is some small degree of slip. They really should have bolts on the other side of the side screws. You want to check pre-ride.
Strong Grip bottle cage for rear set up
I chose a Gorilla X-Lab water bottle cage and ditched the Bontrager because it has extra gripping power. I think this is important for rear mounted bottle cages at an angle. The risk of bottle ejection is quite high. I have used the Gorilla X-Lab bottle cage for many races and it is very reliable in having a strong grip. In fact, sometimes, you have to get used to the stickiness of the bottle cage.
I have also been testing this XLab Delta 400, hoping it would be better than the cheaper Bontrager version. Firstly, it is quite hard work to set up. You need a suitable sized spanner to hold locking nut in place. However, this time of set up gives a very strong and sturdy set up (more reliable than Bontrager). The angle of cage is also adaptable, though it is limited by my saddle.
It is a pretty secure system. If you tighten to correct torque, you will have no problems.
Unfortunately, compared to the Bontrager it holds the bottle lower down, exposing more of the water bottle to the air. So although it is lighter, better built and a lot more expensive, I am better off using the Bontrager because it will be more aerodynamic.
Firstly have the bottle cage at 90 degrees, don’t risk anything like 45 degrees – even if it is easier to get to.
Choose a water bottle which is tight-fitting on the bottle
Be wary of using carbon fibre bottle cages which are more prone to breaking. You’re better off choosing a standard sturdy bottle cage rather than a 17gram special lightweight.
If you think it might fall out, try putting an elastic band around the bottle. This will make the bottle wider and more sticky. (Though it didn’t work for me!)
Other points about using rear mounted bottles
In long distance time trialling – hydration generallyoutweighs any aero penalty.
Weight isn’t such a big issue.
Another issue is that in the race, you can forget to drink. When you are so absorbed in the effort of racing, it can be hard to pick up a bottle from behind the seat. This is another advantage of water bottle between the tribars – you can’t forget about it because it’s always in your face. If you do have a bottle behind the saddle make sure you don’t forget about it.
Test before a race! Go for a ride over bumpy terrain and see if your bottle stays in. If you test in a race you might find yourself one or two bottles down.
Always be prepared for mechanical mishaps. Even if you are carrying three bottles, ideally you will have a spare one by the side of the road, just in case one does fall out.
Make sure you tighten the bolts to the correct torque. This will make it less likely to fall out.
In triathlon community, the X-Lab rear mounted bottle system has good reviews. It offers quite a comprehensive choice of carrying options. Its design also means it fits nearly any saddle.
I was put off by the cost £69.99. But, if you are going to be doing a lot of long distance cycling, this may be a good option.
The Pashley Sovereign is a classic style bicycle for the real bicycle lover. Based on traditional bike design it is lovingly put together; it will appeal to those wanting to ride a bike with a strong pedigree, but not looking for a super quick bike.
You might say the Pashley is the Rolls Royce of bicycles, but that wouldn’t be really correct because a Rolls is flash, ostentatious and expensive, the Pashley isn’t. The Pashley is more of a lovingly restored vintage car you’ve picked up for a few thousand. It’s not often you get the chance to get a really great vehicle and still have change from £700.
Pashley have refined the art of bicycles, one glance at a Pashley and you feel it is the image of what a bicycle should be. I’m not enamoured of the over-engineered Brooks saddle complete with multiple springs catches. (though I feel it slightly sacrilegious for offering any criticism to a wonderful British product)
I’ve been a big fan of clip-on mudguards for many years. However, they do have a habit of breaking after several years of use. Parking bikes in Oxford is a bit rough and tumble, so these flexible mudguards tend to get a bit battered.
With my rear mudguard snapped in half, it was a good excuse to upgrade to the latest model – Race Blade Pro XL.
The Knog Oi Bike Bell is marketed as a bicycle bell which doesn’t look like or sound like an ordinary bike bell. The most striking thing about the new Oi Bell is that it has a very slim profile. This makes it easy to fit on the handlebars.
The sound is quite pleasing (a bit like a glockenspiel) and quieter than an ordinary bell. The ringer is also small and the first few times when I reached for the bell I missed the ringer at first glance. This was due to my reflexes being used to reach for my previous bigger bell. After getting used to the new position on handlebars it is fine.
(update: after 18 months of use it broke)
Optimal sound of a bicycle bell
Sometimes when I ring an ordinary bell, people jump out of their skins which probably makes them think ‘Bloody cyclist using my roads e.t.c.”
But then, on the other hand, you can ring your bell three times and the people are immobile – standing in the road or cycle path; when you go past, they mutter sarcastically ‘Don’t you have a bell?’ The problem with this bell is that it is quieter than ordinary bells. On a windy day on the footpath or during noisy traffic, the sound is easily lost in the environment.
When using this cycle path by River Thames I often timidly ring my bell because I don’t want to sound like a menacing cyclist wanting people to jump out of the way. But, when I timidly ring the bell, they often don’t hear.
This Knog bell is quite good if you want to err on side of not ringing too loudly. The sound is certainly not threatening, but at a distance might not be heard at all. The problem is if people don’t hear, the bell becomes a mere ornament.
There are various options for mounting your Garmin. Where space on your handlebars is a premium there are some extensions which give a wider choice of use, leaving more room for other stuff. Also, a forward mount can leave the Garmin in a better position for easier viewing whilst riding. It will save looking down on the stem (a la Froome) and can make a safer ride.
On my time trial bike, I needed a Garmin extension because there was nowhere suitable for a conventional mount. I looked at a few and in the end got the K Edge TT aluminium option for Beeline.
Traditional Garmin mount
The traditional Garmin mount is a nice piece of design. Easy to use, it can be set up pretty quick and moved between bikes fairly easily.
Edge 200, 205, 500, 605, 705, and 800.
Note for the Garmin 1000, you need a specific mount. They are not compatible.
I’ve had it on both stems and handlebars. But, it does take up space.
K Edge – TT Garmin Mount
The K Edge Garmin mount is a little heavier 35 grams – because it’s made out of aluminium.
The K Edge TT model has a locking mechanism underneath. This is suitable for awkward positions – you don’t have to twist the Garmin, put you can twist a locking mechanism underneath the Garmin mount instead. This was good for placing the Garmin between the tribar extensions. It is quite adjustable.
A nice and smooth looking piece of kit.
Fitting is not too bad, it just took a few minutes.
I’m fairly happy with the position. It’s mostly out of the windflow, though a little lower than optimal.
No ordinary tyre guarantees to be absolute puncture free, but improvements in technology have gone a long way to reducing your chances of puncturing. For the average rider and commuter, buying a puncture resistant tyre is probably one of best upgrades to make.
Highly puncture resistant tyres usually have a trade off of greater weight and higher rolling resistance (i.e. slower) but the slight decline in speed is well worth the greater peace of mind that comes from having less punctures.
These are some of the puncture resistant tyres that I have used over the years.
Armadillo – Specialized All Condition
The tyre feels pretty tough – it is a very robust 60 TPI (Threads per inch) – which is very different feel to the racing tyres of 300TPI. It’s toughness makes it very resistant to small scratches and glass cuts. It gives more confidence for commuting on a rought canal path. A minor downside of its toughness is that it’s a bit awkward putting on rim with fingers, but then you rarely have to change a puncture. It claims to be designed for low rolling resistance; but, in practice it feels heavy – it is is noticeably slower than a Grand Prix 4000. But, I am quite happy using it on my commuting bike and have also added to the rear wheel on my winter training bike, at various times.
I have been using them for over seven years (5 days a week) During that period I have had three punctures and one was a 6 inch nail. Roughly speaking its a puncture rate of 3 / 9,000 miles or 1 per 3,000 miles. It’s also pretty hard wearing, I get maybe 3,000 miles on rear and 5,000 miles on front, which is a long time for a commuting bike. At £30, overall this is a very good value tyre which offers excellent puncture resistance. It really is a good investment and one of my favourite.
I reviewed this last year, but I’m updating review after using it for a year, including a couple of 100 mile TT’s. It’s only when you’ve done a few hundred mile TT’s that you can really give a proper review to long-distance TT products.
Essentially, I’m very happy with product. In Nat 100, I hardly got out of aero tuck, but there was little pineal discomfort, until perhaps last 10 miles. The cut out in front of saddle avoids numbing pain in that area you would prefer to avoid. It is very comfortable, very aero, and lightweight. Also it avoids the chaffing I used to get on the Adamo (because Adamo is too wide at the front).
The only drawback is that it is expensive (and not so readily available); it’s difficult to choose which model to get – but overall it has been a good investment. I will be selling an Adamo on ebay soon.
Dash saddles are an expensive alternative to Adamo saddles. It is a good option for those looking for the anatomic shape of a Adamo, but want something which is lighter and more aerodynamic.
Earlier this year I wrote an enthusiastic review of Adamo saddles – Essentially the shape of Adamo – with the cut out insert – makes cycling much more comfortable – especially when you are in a flat time trial position. The Adamo really made a big difference to time trial comfort. A 100 mile or even 50 mile TT used to be tortuous for squashing of the crotch area. The Adamo relieved this discomfort making long hours in the saddle much more palatable. However, as enthusiastic as I was about Adamo, I was dissappointed when putting it on the scales and seeing it go to over 275 grams. It’s also a bit of a block, creating an aero drag. For many timetrialists and triathletes this weight and shape is not such a big deal, but for a hilly time trial specialist, you don’t want to be wasting 200 grams on a saddle. Also, I didn’t like the rear lip, which is used to hang up a bike in triathlons.
Another drawback of the Adamo that I noticed after a season of riding – was that you got superficial chaffing on the inside of the thighs, perhaps because the front of the saddle is quite wide. This isn’t really a problem when riding, but after there was a persistent irritation for quite a long time. I could live with it, but still quite annoying. However, the amazing thing about spending a year on an Adamo was not a single saddle sore all year!
To overcome ‘lip’ of the Adamo TT, I decided to buy an Adamo Podium because it looked a bit more aero. However, when I went into UBYK in Oxford, they suggested having a look at the Dash saddles – twice as expensive, but more than half the weight, and they did look a thing of beauty. Sleek, aero and slim.
I don’t like spending money on new equipment, but this did look like an expense that could be justified. Lighter and more aero and looks beautiful – the only doubt was could it replicate the comfort of the Adamo?
On Sunday, I used a new single chain ring. The Aerocoach Arc single chainring.
I explained in ‘converting to single chainring‘ the advantages of removing front derailleur, and inner chainring. For most time trials you only need one chainring, and it looks smoother.
This is specifically used for single ring use and the teeth are longer than normal to prevent chain slip. I don’t know if it is possible to slip the chain, but from my experience this year, I’ve had more chain slips using front derailleur and 39/56 chainring combination than with just single chainring without any front derailleur.
The shape of the Aerocoach Arc single chainring is not completely round, but is designed to provide more power at the start of the stroke when you need it most, before gradually decreasing down to a minimum gearing at bottom dead centre. See Aerocoach Arc for full explanation. Aerocoach claim “The unique time trial specific design will help increase power output by 3-5w, and allow a smoother pedal stroke than normal.”