Good rules of thumb not already covered

  • If your bike is making a noise that it shouldn’t, it is trying to tell you something. Don’t ignore it. The longer you leave an issue the bigger and more expensive the problem will become. That rubbing chain is not only annoying, it is damaging your chain. And whatever it is rubbing against.
  • Most annoying ticks and other noises are because something is loose or not properly greased. Quite often it is your seat post or pedals. Another major culprit is the saddle. Make sure all threaded and clamped metal is greased and tightened to the recommended torque.
  • Before making adjustments to your bike, clean it and make sure it is lubricated.
  • Clean your bike with soapy water and a cloth or sponge. Pressure washing can drive grit into places it should not be and can strip out grease from places that it should be.
  • Invest in a bike stand to carry out bike maintenance and repairs. A decent stand will hold the bike at the right height and angle so that you can work on it comfortably. If you do not have a stand try to suspend your bike from something rather than turn it over. Turning a bike upside-down can damage anything in contact with the ground (normally brake hoods and saddle) and may affect adjustments.
  • If it’s threaded, grease it.
  • To check to see if your headset is loose, apply the front brake and rock your bike back and forth.
  • To check for give in your wheels and crank bearings, pull the wheel or crank side to side. If you feel a wiggle, your component needs an adjustment.
  • A squirt of wd40 (other brands are available) into outer cables can fix sticky braking or slow gear shifting.
  • If you need to take something apart keep a careful record of the order parts were removed so that you can put it back together in the right order. Taking photos on your phone can help.
  • If you need to remove your rear wheel shift gears onto the smallest cog. This moves the chain and derailleur as far out of the way as possible.
  • When installing new pedals note that they are marked left and right. Make sure to insert them into the correct side otherwise you will ruin your crank arms. Also note that the left pedal tightens anticlockwise. This stops it coming loose as you pedal. It helps me to think that I am tightening by turning in the same direction that I will be pedalling. Of course it is the opposite to remove pedals J
  • If you need to work near the chainset (for instance changing your pedals) shift the chain onto the big ring. If you slip you might give your knuckles a rap but you won’t mangle them on the teeth.
  • Sometimes you need to take your bike to an expert for repair or maintenance. This could be because of a lack of knowledge or a lack of specialist tools. For instance, the replacement of a bottom bracket might happen so infrequently that it doesn’t warrant the cost of the tool needed to complete the job.
  • Riding with cleats can improve your pedalling efficiency. But riding with worn cleats can be dangerous; they may release unexpectedly or stick in the pedal. Make sure you change cleats when the wear indicator tells you to.
  • You will fall off your bike as a result of riding with cleats. This is normally just when you have got used to them and have given up reminding yourself to unclip every time you stop. A good habit to get into is to disengage the cleat (but keep your foot in place, ready to click straight back in again) every time you come to a potential stop, such as an obscured give way. That way you can quickly put a foot down if necessary or click back in and ride on if not.
  • If you need to box your bike for travel then give the box a shake before you seal it. Note anything that is loose and secure. Now try again, pretending that you are a baggage handler and make sure it is really secure.
  • If storing your bike for a long period (shame on you) shift gear to the smallest cogs on the front and rear. This combination provides the least stress on your derailleur springs.

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Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.

Where to next?

The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Chain

Image of Chain DriveThe chain is at the heart of your bike. Without it the power from your muscles cannot be converted into the rotation of your bike’s wheels. Like your own heart, you need to look after it, although it is more easily replaced if it fails.

Inspecting your chain

You should inspect your chain regularly, at least once a month and possibly more frequently if you are doing a lot of riding in chain wrecking conditions (very wet, gritty or sandy).

The easiest way to check your chain is to use a purpose made tool. There are several brands available and most will indicate whether a chain is ok, may need changing or should be replaced. The tools are relatively inexpensive but you can also check your chain for free.

Image of chain wear tool

One visual way is to change gear to your biggest chainring (front) and smallest cog (rear). Now try to tug the chain away from the chainring at the 3 o’clock position. A new chain will not easily lift. A worn chain will lift. If the lift exposes 3 or 4 teeth the chain needs replacing.

A less touchy feely way is to use a ruler. Measure 24 links of your chain, rivet to rivet. A new chain will be 12 inches. It the distance is 12 1/16th inches the chain should be replaced.

Image of Chain wear measure

If the chain becomes too worn (more than 3-4 teeth exposed or 12 1/8th inches or more) it is likely that your cassette (cogs at the rear) will also need changing. This is because chains and cassettes wear together and if the chain becomes too worn it will damage the teeth on the cassette cogs. The result will be skipping and slipping gears, even when the chain is replaced. But it is not always the case so change the chain first and take it for a test ride – you might get lucky.

My advice is to buy the tool – you can get one for very little and a check will take seconds. That way you will do it!

Looking after your chain

Be nice to your chain. Look after it and it will last longer and provide you with smooth trouble free riding. Keep it properly lubricated and don’t abuse it:

  • Buy and regularly apply the right sort of lubricant for the conditions you are riding in. For instance, a dry weather lube will soon be stripped out in wet weather and a wet weather lube will be less efficient in hot dry conditions, attracting more dirt and dust.
  • Apply the lube to the roller, not the plates, of the chain. After applying the lube back pedal whilst holding the chain in a clean, dry cloth. This will remove any excess lube from the plates of the chain, which has no positive effect and only acts as a magnet for dirt and grim.
  • Do not change gear whilst pedalling hard, in particular whilst standing on the pedals. This will put undue stress on the chain and may cause the gear to jump or jam.
  • Try to stay in gears that keep the chain as straight as possible, so avoid being in the biggest/biggest and smallest/smallest cog combinations. You will have another gear that is almost the same but which keeps the chain straighter and therefore under less strain. For instance a big/big ratio of 52/26 (2:1) is the same as the small/medium ratio of 36/18 (2:1). Basically this means that, in either combination, your wheels will rotate twice for every rotation of the pedals.

Image of Cross chain shifting

Replacing a chain

First, buy a new chain. It is generally accepted wisdom that chains should be interchangeable between brands but you need to make sure you buy one for the right number of cogs on your cassette. If you are not sure just count them. Most modern road bikes now come with 11. A few years ago it was 9 or 10. The more cogs in the cassette the narrower the gap between them and hence the narrower the chain needs to be. A size 10 chain will not work with a size 11 cassette, and so on.

Having said that brands are interchangeable I have had an instance where a new Sram chain caused skipping on my Shimano cassette. When I swapped to a new Shimano chain there was no skipping. Since then I have matched brand with brand.

You will need a chain splitting tool to push out one of the rivets from the old chain. Once the rivet is out, pull the chain free of the gears, first noting its path, especially around the jockey wheels on the rear derailleur. If you get the new chain the wrong side of a dividing support between the jockey wheels it will not turn properly. Then you will have to take the new chain off and re-thread it. Been there, done it – more than onceJ

Your new chain will have a set number of links but this is unlikely to be exactly the same as the chain you are removing. They give you extra links because each bike will need differing numbers depending on the size of the cogs and chainrings and the size of the frame. So you will probably need to shorten the chain to be the same length as the old one. You can either lay the old chain on the ground and the new one next to it to judge the length or literally count the number of links on the old chain. Personally I do the latter, firstly because the old chain will have stretched, so lining the two side by side is not exact but mainly because the new chain will pick up a load of dust and grit from the floor. I also count everything twice because if you shorten the chain too much you will need another new chain (or at least another link pin top add links back on)!

Once you are sure you have the chain the right length use the chain splitting tool to remove the relevant rivet to shorten the chain.

Re-thread the new chain being careful to get the path correct. Please note that some chains have a right way around. For instance, Shimano chains should be fitted with the plates with the chain number on facing outwards. Guide the chain over the smallest cogs so that there is the greatest amount of slack. This will make attaching the two ends easier.

To connect the two ends of the chain you will need a quick link or a special fixing rivet. A quick link can be attached by hand but the fixing rivet will require the chain tool. The fixing rivet has a pointed attachment that makes it easy to push the rivet in, to hold the two ends of the chain together. Once in position you can use the chain tool to wind the rivet in until it is even each side. Then snap the pointed guide off with a pair of pliers.

Images of Chain Links

Test the chain by rotating the pedal and clicking through the gears.

If you have threaded the chain incorrectly you will need to remove it and rethread it. If you have used a quick link you can remove the link fairly easily. If you have used a special fixing rivet you are going to have to use some finesse (unless you have a spare fixing rivet). If this is the case, to remove the chain you need to locate the fixing rivet on the chain. It will have a solid face whereas the other rivets will have a dimple in the middle. You need to push this rivet out using the chain tool BUT DO NOT push the rivet all the way through. You need it to remain in the far plate. This is quite precise so you might need to do it a little bit at a time. It is a pain but if the rivet pops out you will not get it back in (although I have been known to super glue the pointy bit back on the rivet and even keep an old pointy bit just in case).

Once the chain is free, remove it and rethread using the end that does not have the rivet sticking out. Now reattach the two ends.

Kickstart your Lands End to John O’Groats planning

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Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.

Where to next?

The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Brakes

You need to be able to stop and stop quickly and smoothly. So brakes are quite important.

Test your brakes

Firstly, check the brake pads. Three signs that you brake pads are worn are that:

  • there is gritty scraping sound when you apply the brake,
  • the grooves in the pad have all but disappeared (the one in the picture has a bit of life left but not much),
  • the brakes are sticky or jerky.

 Image of Worn Brake Pads

If any of the above are true you may need to change your pads.

If the pads look ok then test the front brake by pulling the lever and pushing the bike forwards. The brake should not slip. Test the rear brake by applying the lever and pulling the bike backwards.

If either lever pulls against the handlebar the cable needs to be tightened. You can do this by turning the barrel roller positioned where the cable enters the brake mechanism (if there is one). If there is no further adjustment in the roller you will need to loosen the brake cable anchor bolt, pull the cable tighter, and tightening the anchor bolt again.

When testing the brakes make sure that both sides of the brake mechanism move when the brake is applied. If this is not happening, turn the small adjustor screw on the stationary side until both sides are moving again.

The brake blocks should also be parallel to the rim. If this is not the case you will need to realign them. This is best done by loosening the offending block slightly then applying the brake. Applying enough pressure to keep the pad against the rim, ease the block into the correct alignment. Then, applying more force to stop the pad moving, tighten the bolt. If both pads need realigning then it is easier to do one at a time.

Similarly, if front and back need adjusting do one at a time so that you have a reference point to go back to should things go awry

Replacing pads

If your pads are worn you will need to replace them. If you are currently using bolt on pads (the pads bolting directly to the brake mechanism) this might be a good opportunity to swap over to a cartridge type. With a cartridge system the holder remains in place and you simply slip in a new pad, thus removing the need to realign the new pads. The following procedure assumes you are using cartridge style pads.

Image of cartridge pads

Whilst it can be possible to replace a pad without removing the wheel it is easier if you do. To replace a pad simply unscrew the retaining screw and slide the old pad out. It might need a little persuasion with a flat headed screwdriver or pliers, if there is enough pad left to grip.

Before inserting the new pad it is a good idea to roughen the glazed surface with sandpaper. This should ensure a better grip for the first few uses.

Now slide the new pad in. The pads will be labelled R (right) and L (left) with an arrow, which, when inserted, should point to the front of the bike. Change one side at a time and you will not go wrong. Some pads are a tight fit and you may need to use pliers to tug them in fully. Then tighten the screw to hold them in place.

If you have been slowly tightening your brake cable as your pads have worn you will need to slacken it to fit the wheel back on.

Now you need to check that the brake blocks are correctly aligned and are as close to the wheel rim as possible, without rubbing, using the techniques outlined in Test your Brakes above.

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Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.

Where to next?

The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Gears

The most annoying thing whilst riding a bike is when your gears don’t shift smoothly and quickly. No, hang on. The most annoying thing is when drivers sit on your shoulder, neither overtaking nor giving you any room. No! I tell a lie. It’s when the ring pull comes clean off your can of Coke. Wait! It’s actually that random stranger that appears out of nowhere and sucks your wheel, isn’t it?

Image of snapped ring pull

One of the most annoying things whilst riding a bike is when your gears don’t shift smoothly and quickly. This is especially true if the gears are slipping and the chain is rubbing. But alongside the puncture (and possibly before it) it is the most common ailment of the day to day cyclist.

If you haven’t done so already, it is time to master adjusting your gears.

Image of Chain Drive

Most bikes will have multiple cogs on the rear wheel and the chainset (the bit the pedals attach to with all the teeth). In both positions there is a derailleur mechanism that shifts the chain from one cog to another, changing the gearing. Each of these can be adjusted to create a smooth gear shift.

Most issues arise with the rear derailleur, mainly because it is the one most used.

Adjusting the rear derailleur

Normally there are two limiter screws, marked H (high) and L (low). Sometimes they are not marked, which is a pain because you will have to experiment to find out which is which. H adjusts how far the mechanism can move in one direction (the higher limit) and L the other direction (the lower limit). You will need to use a screwdriver to turn the screw to adjust the outer limits. Each mechanism will have a slightly different setup so it is impossible to say what the effect of screwing clockwise or anticlockwise will be. One will shift the limit out, the other in. Best advise it to make small adjustments and make a note of the effect.

Image of Limiter screws with lables

Test the outer and inner limits by changing to your smallest and largest cogs. If the limits are set correctly the chain will sit on the middle of the cogs with no rubbing. If the limits are set too far the chain could jump off the cassette completely, which is not desirable.

Once you have the limits set, click through the gears. If the gears are not running smoothly from cog to cog you will need to adjust the cable tension. When you shift to a bigger cog (easier gear) you do so by pulling the gear cable (via a lever or twist grip). Moving to a smaller cog (harder gear) is achieved by releasing the cable. You can experiment with this by pulling on the cable where it is exposed on the frame whilst the pedals are turning and noting the effect.

Your gear shift mechanism is pre-calibrated to give enough pull (or to release enough tension) to shift the chain between cogs. You do not need to worry about this. But you do need to get the correct tension in the cable to line it up perfectly with the cogs in the first place.

Click your gear mechanism through your gears until the chain is (or should be) on your smallest cog. Now, whilst turning the pedals, adjust the barrel tensioner (at the end of the outer cable casing where the cable enters the derailleur) by turning it clockwise or anticlockwise. As you turn it the cable is tensioned (or released) by small amounts making the derailleur shift in or out. I find the easiest way to remember which way to turn the barrel is to turn it in the direct I want the derailleur (and by consequence the chain) to move. If I want the chain to move towards the bigger cogs I turn the barrel in that direction and vice versa (so rolling your thumb away from you to move to a bigger cog and towards you for a smaller cog). You need to turn the barrel until the chain is on the smallest cog and running smoothly with no noise. You can roll it back and forth to find the best position.

Test through your gears by shifting up and down the cassette a few times. All the gears should change smoothly if the first gear is set correctly because the shift between gears is pre-calibrated.

If some of the gears do not shift properly then this could be a sign of some other issue:

  • Your chain could be worn and need replacement.
  • If it is regularly not changing on the same gears it is probably a sign that the teeth on those cogs are worn and that you need to replace the cassette (it is not cost effective to change individual cogs, even if this is possible).
  • Your cable may be sticking or stretched and either needs some attention or should be replaced.

There is a third adjustment screw on the rear derailleur which pushes against the frame of the bike. This is known as the ‘B tension’ (or angle adjustment) screw. Adjusting this screw should move the position of the top jockey wheel (small wheels on the derailleur) in relation to the cogs on the cassette.

Ordinarily you should not have to adjust this screw but you might need to if you have changed the cassette to a different size (e.g. taken off an 11-25 and replaced it with a 12-32). To adjust, turn the screw to position the jockey wheel close to the cassette. This should ensure a crisp gear shift. If you can adjust whilst pedalling (bike on a stand) then you should be able to find the sweet spot by adjusting back and forth.

Adjusting the front derailleur

Before making any adjustments to your front derailleur shift the gears so that the chain is on the inner (smallest) ring on the front and the inner (largest) cog on the rear. Then release the tension from the cable by turning the barrel adjuster (this should be located somewhere along the cable run) until the cable is slack.

Position

Your front derailleur can easily be knocked out of position, for instance, by your foot. It should be positioned 1-3 mm above the large chain ring so that it is parallel with the chainring. If it is not, loosen the screws attaching it to the frame slightly and realign it.

Set the inner limit

As with the rear, there should be two (hopefully labelled) limiter screws on the front derailleur. Locate and turn the inner limit screw until the inner part of the derailleur cage is as close as possible to the chain without rubbing.

Image of Front Derailleur Limiter Screws

Tighten the cable

Tighten your cable by releasing the bolt anchoring the cable, pulling the cable tight and then retightening the bolt.

Set the Outer Limit

Shift gears so that the chain is on the outer (largest) ring on the front and the outer (smallest) cog on the rear. Locate and turn the outer limit screw until the outer part of the derailleur cage is as close as possible to the chain without rubbing.

Test

Shift the front derailleur a few times to make sure it is shifting the chain properly from ring to ring. If it is not, the most likely cause will be incorrect tension in the cable and you may need to re-tension it slightly with the barrel adjuster. If the problem persists it may be that you need to clean and lube your cable or possibly replace it. It is also worth checking the teeth on your chain rings – if they are shaped like sharks teeth (slightly hooked rather than symmetric) then they are worn and this can cause a delay in down shifting (to a smaller chain ring).

Image of Chainring Wear

Breakages

If your rear derailleur breaks on a ride it can be game over. But, if you have the tools, you can remove it completely from the bike then shorten the chain so that it sits on one of the middle cogs. You will only have one gear on the rear but you will be mobile. The choice of cog should depend on your pedalling power and the terrain you need to cover to reach a bike shop.

Kickstart your Lands End to John O’Groats planning

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Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.

Where to next?

The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Tyres

Tyre Pressure

Tyre Pressure Check ImageWhatever tyres you have, you should ensure that you have them pumped to the correct pressure. You do not need to pump them up to the maximum although the higher the pressure the lower the rolling resistance (lost effort to friction) and the better the puncture resistance – both because there is less tyre in contact with the road. However, a lower pressure will give a more comfortable ride. Going too low can affect handling though and can, in the long term, reduce the life of the tyre.

The best pressure will depend on a number of factors including weight (you, the bike and any luggage – the greater the combined weight the higher the pressure), road surface (rougher road, lower pressure) conditions (wetter roads, lower pressure) and personal comfort preferences (more comfort, lower pressure). So if you are light and are riding on a dry, well surfaced road and like to feel cushioned, then you should have a low pressure. But it should still be within the range shown on the tyre wall to remain safe and to preserve the life of the tyre.

Tyre Pressure Sidewall image

Tyre choice

Tyre choice is very personal and is affected by the type of cycling you are doing. Some of the factors to consider when selecting a tyre are discussed here.

Fixing a flat

Image of Fixing a Flat Tyre on the RoadOne thing that is universal amongst cyclists is a dislike for the dreaded (but inevitable) puncture. So invest in good quality tyres with a puncture protection layer. However, no matter how good your tyres are, you will get punctures. They may be infrequent but they will happen. So you need to learn how to fix them.

The easiest and quickest way to fix a flat is to replace the punctured inner tube with a new one:

  • Remove the offending wheel from the frame. If it is a rear flat, change gear to your smallest cog (disc with teeth also known as a sprocket) at the rear before removing the wheel. This will make removing the wheel much easier. Most modern bikes have quick release wheels. Simply flip the lever over and the wheel should be released. For the front wheel you will probably have to turn the bolt a few times to allow the wheel to slip over the raised ends of the forks (which are there to prevent the wheel coming off should the bolts not be fasten properly – in the USA these are known as lawyers lips, presumably because they prevent accidents and the subsequent injury claims).
  • Tyres are normally completely flat but if not, remove as much air as possible then remove the tyre using tyre levers.
  • Inspect the tyre carefully to make sure that there is nothing embedded in it. Most punctures are caused by tiny splinters of glass, metal or stone penetrating through the tyre. More often than not they are still in the tyre and will cause a second flat if not removed. Once located remove it carefully by flicking it out with screwdriver head, key, coin or similar. Failing that try a fingernail but remember that the offending object is sharp.
  • Slightly inflate the new inner tube to give it some shape then position it on the wheel with the valve through the hole in the wheel rim at a 90 degree angle.
  • Now resit the tyre. If the tyre has a direction of rotation marked on the side wall, make sure to re-sit it the correct way round. Resit the tyre bead into the rim, one side at a time, starting at the valve and working equally each side. Invert the wheel half way and continue easing in equally left and right until the last section snaps in opposite the valve. The second side invariably takes more force than the first.

If possible resit the tyre without using tyre levers to avoid the possibility of pinching the new inner tube against the rim and puncturing it. Some tyres are easier to sit than other and, despite what people say, it is not always possible to fit a tyre without levers. Invest in good quality plastic levers. These are less likely to cause a pinch puncture than metal ones. But poor quality plastic levers will just bend.Image of plastic tyre levers

  • By pushing the tyre away from the rim inspect all the way around the wheel, on both sides, to make sure the inner tube is not trapped between the tyre and the wheel rim. If it is wriggle it inside the tyre. If this is not possible you may have to take the tyre off and resit it.
  • Inflate the tyre halfway and replace the wheel in the frame before inflating it fully:
    • To get the right tension when closing a quick release lever first tighten the nut on the opposite side of the skewer until it is just firm. Now ease the lever over. There should be resistance but you should not have to force the lever closed. If you cannot close the lever slacken the nut a little at a time until you can.
    • Make sure to replace the wheel the correct way round. This will be obvious for the rear because of the cassette for the gear. The quick release lever on the front (and the rear) should be on the side of the bike that does not have the chain and gears (also, if there is writing on the wheel hub it should read from left to right when you are sat in the saddle).
    • To avoid damaging the valve inflate with the valve pointing down, between 10 and 12 o’clock.
    • If using a floor pump use both hands.
  • Spin the wheel to make sure it is not rubbing the brake pads. If it is, release the wheel, realign it and retighten. Repeat the check until there is no rub.

You can repair punctures with a patch. These do not work well with high pressure tyres though. The secret is to make sure the glue is thinly but evenly spread on both the tyre and the patch and to wait long enough for the glue to turn really tacky but not so long that it dries out (it should go from clear to cloudy) before sticking the two together. For high pressure tyres inflate to about 80-90% of your normal pressure to get you home, where it would be best to put in a new tube rather than risk the patch failing on a subsequent ride (but that might just be me).

If you suffer two flats in a short period of time without an obvious reason (e.g. hedge trimming or broken glass) then it is a good indication that your tyres are worn and you need to think about replacing them. A new tyre might seem expensive but you will soon rack up the cost in replacement inner tubes if you ignore it (and you will still have to buy a new tyre).

Avoiding flats

Image of debris in gutterWhilst it might seem obvious, you can reduce the chances of getting a puncture by not riding through crap on the road. Of course, most of the things that cause punctures are tiny and cannot be spotted from a moving bike. These tend to gather at the sides of the road, deposited there by water runoff from the cambered road profile. The closer to the edge the more concentrated the deposits because car tyres do not clear them away. So, to reduce the risk of punctures don’t ride in the gutter if you can avoid it. The best place to ride (to avoid punctures) is in the track of the car tyres.

It is also worth inspecting your tyres regularly and removing any tiny chips of glass, metal and stone embedded in them. Use a small screwdriver head to lever them out. Left in they are likely to be slowly driven through the tyre into the inner tube.

Kickstart your Lands End to John O’Groats planning

Land's End to John O'Groats Route Book Special Offer - image

Download FREE samples

Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.

Where to next?

The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Mudguards

Confession: I have not ridden end to end with mudguards.  Consequence: I have become thoroughly soaked  and muddy on several occasions whilst riding end to end.

So, on the positive side, mudguards keep you drier in the wet, especially you lower half.  It is amazing how much water is thrown up my your tyres onto your legs, backside and back.  They also protect your bike and your clothing from grit and grime cutting down on cleaning time and making your equipment last longer.

On the negative side mudguards are additional weight (although with modern materials very little) and they can become clogged with mud if you are riding in very muddy conditions.  If not fitted properly they can also rub and/or rattle, which is annoying.

There are various types available offering different degrees of protection.

Full mudguards

Image of full mudguard

Full mudguards offer the maximum protection from mud and water from the road but are heavier than other varieties and may not fit on some types of bicycle, such as some mountain bikes and racing bikes.

Full length mudguards curve around both wheels. The rear mudguard is semi circular in shape, extending from the bottom of the seat tube, around the top of the tyre and down to nearly level with the axle. The front mudguard is a quarter circle wrapping from in front of the fork to about the level of your feet when the pedals are horizontal. An additional mud flap at the bottom of the front mudguard can help to keep your feet drier.

Half Mudguards

Image of half mudguard

These are a compromise.  Shorter than full mudguards, they are lighter but offer less protection.  Some brands will fit bikes that do not accommodate full mudguards.

Shorties

Image of shortie mudguard

The shortest of mudguards that, perhaps, looks the best and are the lightest but with a corresponding drop in performance when it comes to keeping you and your bike dry and clean.

Clip ons

Image of clip on mudguard for lejog

If your bike’s frame does not have the necessary attachment point for mudguards clip on versions are available.  These attach either to your seat stay or seat post at the rear and your forks at the front, either direct of via a quick release attachment.  Seat post attached rear mudguards have a tendency to swing away from the wheel when cornering if not attached firmly, which somewhat mitigates their usefulness.

Clip ons are light and easily removable but can be difficult to adjust to provide significant protection from water and dirt off the road.  Also make sure that for clip on rear mudguards that attach to the seat post that you have sufficient seat post clear between the frame and the saddle to make the attachment.

Ass Saver

Image of ass saver mudguard for lejog

Originally produced by the company Ass Saver but now much copied, these are perhaps the ultimate in convenience and light weight.  These are strips of flexible plastic that insert into the back of your saddle. They are surprisingly effective at keeping your backside dry (or at least much drier than it would have been).  They are also cheap, just a few £s.

If you watch videos for the Ass Saver product they show it being fitted in seconds and bent to store under the saddle without having to remove it so that it is always there.  The reality is that it depends on your saddle and, more importantly, your seat post attachment.  Also, most of us do not have a team car following behind and need to carry spare inner tubes etc with us.  Many do so in a saddle bag, which immediately restricts fitting and storing. I have used ass savers on four different bikes and each one had its own fitting issues but I could ultimately fit it (just not in a few seconds) and it worked well.

Where to next?

The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

Cycling Mirrors

Much as in a car, mirrors can be very useful in increasing your traffic awareness.  They are particularly useful when cycling in a built up area (or come to that on a dual carriageway so you are have some warning before the juggernaut comes thundering past).

Aside from traditional mirrors, which can be quite bulky, there are a number of small, sleek versions now available for a range of bicycles.  You can even get stealth aerodynamic ones for racing bikes which plug into your drop handlebar ends.

For years now I have been using Spintech drop bars mirrors. They weigh nothing (well, not nothing but as good as) and are almost unnoticeable.  The mirrors come as a pair but you only really need one on the right so you can kit out two bikes (if you are lucky enough to own two) for the cost of one.

I have also found that, as I get steadily older (no matter what I do I just can’t seem to avoid it) my dexterity is diminishing and casually glancing over my shoulder is becoming more and more of an effort. Being able to see behind me by merely glancing down is a great benefit.  In fact I now do it instinctively every few seconds, again like checking your mirrors in a car.  I realise this every time I ride a bike without mirrors and find myself glancing down at the tarmac all the time, where the mirror should be.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

 

Cycling Helmet

Without stepping into the bear pit of debate as to whether helmets are a good or a bad thing, it is highly recommended that you wear one.

The three main factors to consider when buying a helmet are:

Fit

Cycling Helmet Fit Check Image

A properly fitted helmet should cover half of your forehead and as much of the back of your head as possible.  The internal cradle and straps should be adjusted so that they are tight enough to stop any forward and backward or lateral movement across your head but still be comfortable.

Keeping cool

Image of Cycling Helmet for Lejog

A helmet should keep your head cool with vents to allow a flow of air across your head.  The more vents the cooler your head will be (or colder in winter!).  Of course, to create more vents there is, of necessity, less padding between your head and whatever you might crash it into, so a compromise might be what you are looking for.  You might also want your helmet to look cool.  This is probably where most of your money is going on the higher end helmets.

Cost

Anything between £20 – 200.  You will probably get most of the protection benefits you need from a low cost helmet.  The higher end helmets will have the very latest innovations in ventilation, aerodynamics, weight saving construction and head cradling fit technology but you should be able to find a lower cost helmet that fits well, keeps your head cool and provides the protection you need.

Features to look out for

  • Easy to adjust fit.  Ideally a one handed operation so you can make adjustments on the bike.
  • Padded inserts for comfort.  Preferably removable and washable because your head sweats.
  • Light colour/reflective trim.  This will increase your visability to other road users.  Some helmets even have built in lights.
  • Rounded outer shell without edges that might get caught on something in a fall.
  • Peak to keep glare of the sun out of your eyes.  This can restrict your vision if riding low to the frame, for instance with your hands on the bottom of drop handle bars, which is why most racing helmets have no peak.  You can buy helmets with easily removable peaks to cover both options.

Where to next?

The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page

What Happened to My Bike?!!

One day a cyclist chained their beloved bike to the rails outside Plymouth bus station.  For some reason they didn’t come back to claim it.  If you have read my post about a car becoming obscured by parking tickets near the office you might draw the same conclusions here, that the owner might be scratching his head wondering where he left it, in a coma or dead.

Whatever his condition he probably won’t want it back now anyway.  In an effort to reduce the weight of the bike and improve its performance the local populace has been pimping it.  Over a period of a few days they have removed all the unnecessary and weighty items like: tyres, inner tubes, wheels, gears, saddle, seat post, handlebars, stem, pedals, cranks, brakes and even cables.

All that remains, without the enterprise of removing the lock, is the forks.  I wonder how long they will last?

Cycle Breakdown Cover and Insurance

One of the worrying issues for most end to enders is how to deal with mechanical problems en route. Certainly you will need to be prepared to deal with punctures, although if you have a decent pair of new tyres you might get lucky.  But what about more drastic mechanical issues?  How many tools should you carry?  Should you carry spare parts; spokes etc?  What if you cannot fix the problem…and you are twenty miles form the nearest house in the wilds of Scotland…with night setting in?

On my last LEJOG I suffered a ripped tyre and consequently a series of four punctures within a couple of miles on a canal path.  It was my own fault for riding with lightweight road tyres, that were badly worn before I started (my excuse is I was testing the limits of what I could get away with for the sake of research).  I used up all my spare inner tubes and was stuck.  I phoned home, got the emergency services (wife) to locate a nearby B&B and limped the four miles to it, having bodged a very low pressure repair.  The next day I rode the bike very slowly ten miles to a bike shop, which was closed.  I then limped another eight miles to the next closest bike shop and had new tyres fitted.  Hooray!  But I still had 150 + miles to ride to get to my next B&B and it was already 11:00.

Since then (and I may be slow on the uptake) I have discovered Cycle Break Down Cover. This is an AA style service for bicycles. From researching on the internet I have taken out cover with ETA Insurance. They seem pretty ethically minded and I have full cover for £18 a year.

Cover includes:

  • 24/7 pick up from any road in the UK that is navigable by recovery van
  • transport for you and your bicycle back to a safe location*
  • unlimited call outs**
  • 90 days european cover
  • 60 days worldwide cover

* they will take you to the nearest repair shop, railway station, car rental agency, overnight accommodation or home, within 25 miles.

**  if you have been rescued for the same fault three times in a year you will need to provide proof of the issue being fixed before they will pick you up for the same fault again.

They also provide cycling specific insurance.  If you take this option then the break down cover is included for free.

If I had been covered on my last trip I would have been rescued and at the bike shop within an hour or two.  I could have then continued on to my prearranged B&B stop.  I would have saved the £60 cost of the additional B&B (I had paid in advance for the much cheaper one I missed) and wouldn’t have had to face a 160+ mile day.  Now, in my mind that would have been £18 very well spent!

If you want more details on the breakdown cover here is a link:

Link

Please note that this link takes you to the Cycling Insurance page, which includes Cycling Breakdown Cover.  If you want Breakdown Cover only, scroll halfway down the page and there is a link in the menu on the left hand side.