Thursday, 30 August 2012

IN PURSUIT OF COMFORT.....

Helinox chair packed in zipped bag
 Regular visitors to this blog will remember that this time last year JD and I were on our Rock2UK ride.....
One thing that became pretty important for us as the ride developed from days to weeks, was something comfortable to sit on when we had finished our daily distance and were chilling out around camp..... 
The desire for something comfortable on which to park ourselves became a bit of an obsession....on arrival at a new campsite we would cycle all around the site checking to see if there were any unused picnic seats or benches....we were even known to pass a site by if we couldn't find anything suitable..........

Well all that searching could be over....
Let me introduce to you the HELINOX 'CHAIR ONE'.

This folding camp chair was first shown to me by a friend of mine who also knows how much comfort is important when on a cycle tour.....
I ordered one straight away and since I have received it I have managed to put in about 15 hours of sitting time and yes it seems to be pretty comfortable.... 
The folded and packed chair in it's zipped  bag fits into the bottom of one of my panniers and doesn't really take up much space or add much weight at all. 

It is made from the same type of DAC TH72M alloy that quality tent poles are made from. 
I have added a short specification list after the last image for anyone who is interested. 

One of my initial concerns was the possibility of the legs sinking into soft ground when the chair was in use, but my friend had thought of that and suggested using plastic milk bottle caps one on each of the legs and it works..!! 
The HELINOX 'CHAIR ONE' retails for around £70.00 in the UK right now which might seem expensive, but believe me it's worth every penny.
Helinox chair out of the bag.

Helinox chair tubes assembled and ready for completion.

The fully assembled Helinox chair.

Helinox chair with my Tilley hat for scale.
SPECIFICATIONS:
Weight: 900g / 2lb
Capacity: 145kg / 320lb
Chair size: 52 x 50 x 65 cm (w x d x h)
                   20.5 x 19.7 x 25.6 inch
Packed size: 35 x 10 x 12 cm (w x d x h)
                      13.8 x 3.9 x 4.9 inch
Current UK Retail Price £70.00

Sunday, 26 August 2012

UPS AND DOWNS.......

VIEWS OVER PATCHWORK FIELDS
One of the nicest things about my summer rides are the views....plenty of hills and plenty of views..lots of ups and downs... 
During a lot of the winter months the views are obscured by rain and thick mist and even in the spring and autumn the views can be spoiled by sea mist but on a nice sunny summers day the views are a real treat.....

Not that we have had our fair allocation of fine summer days this year. 
Most of my summer rides have been spoiled by more than our fair share of rain, but when the weather does get it right... wow... what a difference it can  make. 

The picture above was taken on one of my recent 'good weather' rides.....
The view is looking south from the Purbeck Ridge....the ridge here is in the region of about 200mtrs not a huge height although as the route to this point seems almost vertical it takes a little bit of effort to get here... 
I think that if I lived in an area that was flat I might find it all a bit bland....give me a hilly area to ride any day.......give me ups and downs.....

It's not that different to a hiking or backpacking trip...if the trail weaves in and out and up and down lots of hills the route is so much more interesting. 
When a group of backpackers start discussing various National Trails the flattest sections are always the parts that are mentioned as 'the boring bits'.... 

I can remember some years ago mentioning to a mate that I was going to walk the Grand Union Canal tow path from London to Birmingham and he said to me that he thought that I would find it boring because by definition a tow path is pretty flat. 
If you plan on walking the Two Moors Way people will always tell you that the flat bit between the two moors is the boring bit......

Now having completed both of these walks I must say that I wasn't bored on either...mainly because boredom is not something that I suffer with too easily.....but I have to admit that a few ups and downs always seem to improve a route....
So it is with cycling.......ups and downs improve the route.... 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

TOO OLD........


Maybe I am getting too old for this cycling lark.....or anything else come too that. 

A couple of weeks ago I went down to the garage to get the bike ready for my daily ride...I was dressed in my cycling gear except for my shoes....
Because on the Felt I use Shimano SPD-SL cleats etc- I put on an old pair of slip on shoes to walk down the stairs of Purple Towers...if I wore the Shimano shoes with those cleats and tried to walk down the stairs it's pretty certain I would end up on my backside......

Anyway I got the bike out and decided to put some more pressure in the tyres as I do before every ride....I removed the valve caps and put them to one side - inflated the tyres - put the front valve cap back on the valve and went to put on the rear cap.......could I find it..??  NO!  

I looked everywhere for it....
Stupid thing is that I knew that I had put it in exactly the same place as the front one but it wasn't there. 
I seemed to spend ages looking for it.....I really hate losing anything and this was starting to send me mad.....
I checked over the front of the garage floor inch by inch but in the end I had to admit defeat....maybe the cycle fairies had whisked it away. 
I took a cap from a spare inner tube I had in the garage and set off on my ride.... 

All through the 60 odd miles of my ride I kept running the mornings scenario over in my head......
How could a bright yellow continental valve cap just dissolve into thin air...Maybe my mind is finally giving up.....maybe this was the beginning of the end.... In short it niggled me throughout the entire ride...

About four hours later I arrived back home.... put the bike in it's stand....removed my helmet and took off the shimano shoes...I started to  put back on the old slip on shoes, but as I was about to put  on the second one I noticed a flash of yellow on the sole.... 

Yes....It was the blasted valve cap that I had spent ages looking for before the ride and all of the ride thinking about....I must have trodden on it and because the soles of these old shoes are getting a bit worn now it had slid up inside the sole itself.....no wonder I couldn't find the valve cap.....as I was scrambling all over the garage looking for it, it was attached all the time to my left foot......
As I said.... 'maybe I am getting too old for this cycling lark'.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

SEARCHING FOR ENERGY......

For the next few weeks my posts will all be PRE-SCHEDULED as I am currently away on a family holiday. COMMENTS have been left on but will be delayed in uploading.........
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Following on from my last post and my search for a form of energy supply for various electronic gizmos when away on touring trips- I decided to go back to basics and look at what it is that I really need. 
Even with a hub generator I would still require a battery system to store the power as I cannot charge the Garmin 605 whilst it is in use. 
After careful consideration I decided that what I needed was something that was flexible.... something that I could use for both cycle packing and backpacking trips. 

That eliminates power hubs anyway and puts me back into the solar power arena...
As I mentioned in the last post I have been using a 'Free loader' solar charging system...
it's major shortcoming has been that after loading power to a  device once, it then needed a full charge again and if there is no sun, another power source had to be found usually in the campsite toilets...
Maybe what I needed was something that has a much larger power capacity than the Freeloader battery offered...... 

When I had the opportunity to put a 'PowerMonkey Extreme'  (PME) to the test, the first thing I did was to contact one of my Backpackers Club buddies-Mike McEnnerney- as I knew that he had one...He told me he was pleased with it, so I agreed to put one to the test and see if it would satisfy my requirements........First up the current retail price of the PME in the UK is £120......
POWERMONKEY EXTREME IN SAFETY YELLOW
 When the unit arrived I was initially a bit taken back by the colour....
My test unit was in what the manufacturers call 'Safety Yellow'....apparently it also comes in Red, Blue, Grey and Black. 
After I thought about it I decided that the yellow was a pretty good colour, bearing in mind the number of times I have mislaid black devices in the tent due to the black groundsheet, at least with Safety Yellow I won't ever be mislaying this bit of kit when on tour. 
Also in the box was a 'LightMonkey' light that is being included for free in an offer that the suppliers are curently running - I'll tell you about that little unit at the end of this post. 

The main unit contents of the box consist of:- 
9000mAh Lithium Polymer Battery Unit.
High Performance Solar Panel with velcro strap.
International Mains Charger for UK / USA / Europe & Aus
8 Mobile Device Tips for fitting to various devices such as my Garmin.
Zipped Travel Case & Tip Storage Pouch.
USB Charging Cable.

For those of you that are interested in such things some Specifications for you:-
Battery unit size is 155x62x29mm & it's weight is 254g
Solar panel sie is 170x91x18mm (folded) & it's weight is 212g
Input is 5v 600mAh ~2.5A
Output is USB port 5v 700mAh & DC port 2.1A
Energy is 33.3WH
POWER MONKEY EXTREME IN SAFETY YELLOW
THE LIGHTMONKEY - CURRENTLY SUPPLIED FREE WITH THE PME
The unit appears to be very well and solidly made and it all fits very neatly into a nice black zipped carry case....
There is no on/off switch... instead you have a 'touch panel'...you just swipe your finger across the panel or tap it depending on the activation that you require. 
There is also a LCD screen that indicates the current state of the unit by way of little blocks and colour, similar to that used to indicate a mobile phones battery state of charge ie: Switched on / Needs Charging / Charging Indication / Fully Charged. 
The unit can also be set to turn off after it has fully charged a device so you don't need to keep checking it.. 

This unit has what is called 'Self Sensing Technology' and will detect what is charging and chooses the appropriate setting, it is also Shockproof and Waterproof up to IP67 which is obviously a must  when using for backpacking or cycletouring.

When away touring I need to be able to charge my Garmin 605 and also my Android Phone... so the way I tested the unit was over a two week period I charged my Garmin after each of my daily rides (about 65 miles) and charged the phone when it's power fell to the 20% level....
As I have most of the apps turned off most of the time this meant the phone needed to be charged about twice a week. 

The PME was left charging everyday whether the sun was shining or not. 
The daily ride used under half of the Garmin's power which seems about right, as a fully charged Garmin will run for about 15 hours. 
When I am on a tour my daily cycling time is usually between 5 & 7 hours. 
Therefore I figure that even if there was no sun at all and therefore no solar charging... a fully charged PME could give me about 10 half charges of the Garmin.....

This all seems to equate to about 7 days real world charging of the Garmin and my Android without taking into account any solar charging aspect....
The PME can also be charged from the mains or via USB if you are unlucky enough to not have any sun at all for more than a week. 

At the end of the two weeks test, my Garmin and Phone were both fully charged and the PME was indicating 5 blocks on the LCD state of charge indicator compared to the 7 that it had started with....an extra days solar charging returned it to a fully charged 7 blocks.... 

This all indicates that for me and my requirements this unit could work....it seems to improve my previous charging ability from one day to seven days which is a huge improvement......

The LightMonkey which is included as a 'free' extra currently by the supplier, is another flexible bit of kit....
I was thinking of replacing my current head torch and this little fella fits the bill perfectly....
It can be used on a bike..... in the tent....as a head torch..... and comes with an elasticated head band...a DC extension cable...a rubber bracket and a magnetic holder so you have lots of permutations as to how and where you can use it...
The LED Luminance of the LightMonkey is listed as 80-110 Lum. What I can tell you is that it's a mighty bright little unit.

I already own a purple PowerMonkey Classic (PMC) which will power the light for 7-8 hours but if you were to use the PME it could power the light for 30-33 hours... 
My intention would be to use it as a head torch in and around camp and also in the tent and for that my PMC will be the perfect power source, it can also be re-charged from the PME if I need to.

All of this kit will now have a full 'on the road' test starting on the 8th September when I will be riding the Lon Las Cymru cycling route which runs from Holyhead in North Wales to Chepstow England, but more about that in a later post......

Thursday, 9 August 2012

HANGING OUT IN THE...............

BOXED BIKE CHARGE

UN-BOXED BIKE CHARGE
When JD and I were on our cyclo-touring trip back from Gibraltar we seemed to spend a good chunk of our camp time hanging out in the toilets trying to charge various items of electronic kit...phones...cameras....garmin..etc.  
We were not the only ones either,  lots of other cyclo-tourists were there too doing the same thing... computers..i phones...i pads...all kinds of electronic equipment could be found in the gent's toilets...it often looked like a well stocked branch of Argos..

Out on the road I was using 'Freeloader' solar charging kit which worked well if you had a nice bright sunny day....the problems arose when you had a couple of overcast days. The battery units I was using to hold the solar charge did not have the capacity to charge my phone and garmin more than once before requiring a full days 'sunny' charge. 

I was also using a small bike mounted wind turbine....this had seemed OK as a backup during initial tests but out on the road on a proper long distance trip it failed to man up to the task. 

This year I have been sent a number of items that I hoped would help to sort the 'hanging out in toilets' side to my cyclo-touring trips. 
In this post I will tell you about one of these items.... 
I first saw this little unit mentioned in a cycling magazine....it said that it could be fitted and also removed quickly and easily and that it would fit ANY bike...
The idea is that it is fitted between the hub of your front wheel and the fork...it is clamped in place by your Q/R.

As with the small wind turbine.. I had high hopes for this little unit when it arrived here at Purple Towers for testing. 
My initial impression was that the Bike Charge seemed well built and a very solid bit of kit. 
I liked the idea of a unit that could be attached to my existing front wheel and could also be swapped between bikes, not that in my case that is something I would be doing. 
I also liked the built in lights on the bike charge, a nice extra feature.  

As I said I had high hopes ..... 
Unfortunately....... It would NOT fit...!!  

The problem with fitting to my bike was twofold....first of all there was insufficient clearance due to the lowrider racks that I have fitted on my tourer.... and secondly it would also not clear the fittings for the mudguard. 
This is a great pity as I really would have like to have been able to put the Bike Charge to a full test... 
The unit is supplied by 'RIDERMOUNT'' who have an EBay shop if you would like to see more of the unit for yourself....

Ah well !! It looked like I would be back in the gents toilets to do more charging..... However, in my next post I will tell you about something else that I have been able to FULLY test, that tackles the problem from a different angle.....

Sunday, 5 August 2012

I DID SAY......

I did say in my last post that the debate regarding cycling helmets was a contentious one....with so many differing views....various statistics.....tests...experiments... etc you wouldn't really expect it to be anything else.. 


 What you wouldn't expect, is that a National cycling hero would be vilified for simply expressing a perfectly valid point of view. The backlash that Bradley Wiggins received on various forums etc from the anti-helmet brigade was mind boggling.... 
I don't know what it is about this subject that causes such a high level of aggression, but it is far beyond what any reasonable thinking person could possibly expect under the heading of a debate. 


Some of the internet postings have been variously nasty...vindictive....venom fuelled....full of hate, scorn and hostility. 
Why does this subject generate such unreasonable reactions? 
After all, as I read on another blog...."it's only a hat.....it's all about wearing a particular type of hat". 


In my posting I put my own point of view ...I stated the reasons why I wear a helmet and rightly or wrongly I will continue to do so. 
At no point in my post did I state I felt that it should or should not be made law, but that has not stopped my blog receiving a higher than normal level of 'Anonymous comments' and most of these can be listed under the headings of Nasty...Hostile...and Aggressive....just because I wear a helmet when I go cycling.... 


Now I never post anonymous comments on my blog....let alone anonymous comments that are calling me 'a tosser'....so all of these comments were halted at the point of moderation.....but I must say that I am pretty well bemused by the reaction.....

Thursday, 2 August 2012

HELMETS.....MP3 PLAYERS AND PHONES..

A HELMET FOR EACH BIKE...
Following Bradley Wiggins tremendous win in the TT yesterday a journalist asked Wiggo during a press conference later, what his thoughts were concerning a cyclist who was killed last night, after being hit by a bus on the A12 in Hackney East London. 
The bus was carrying members of the media away from the Olympic Park. 


During his reply Wiggo mentioned that he felt that it should be made compulsory to wear a helmet whilst riding a bike in the UK....he went on to say that cyclists shouldn't be listening to their MP3 players and using phones when out riding their bikes. 
He reckons that cyclists should take some responsibility for their own safety. 


The helmet issue is a contentious one...both British Cycling and the CTC (The Cyclists Touring Club also known as The National Cycling Charity) feel that is shouldn't be made law in the UK to wear one when riding your bike...they argue that cycling numbers will fall dramatically if it was made compulsory. 
They quote various statistics as well as the experiences of countries like New Zealand who have actually made it a compulsory requirement. 
On top of their opinions, there are the 'freedom' and 'human rights' groups who always seem ready to argue the point.... 


Now my point of view is that it wouldn't bother me one bit if it became an offence to ride a bike without one... 
Three years ago, following a ride along the length of France and returning to the UK by way of a ferry from Spain to Plymouth, I came off my bike after only being back in the UK for a couple of hours...


I don't remember anything at all concerning the half an hour before the accident or the crash itself, but according to friends who were riding with me, no other vehicles were involved and it seems likely that my front wheel hit a pot hole throwing me off the bike. 
The helmet I was wearing was split into a number of pieces when my head hit the tarmac...


Obviously the helmet could do nothing to protect me from the broken collarbone and five ribs that were smashed,  in the same way that if I had been side swiped by a car it wouldn't have stopped impact damage to my body....but...I am certain that it did help to reduce the damage to my skull. 


I still had head injuries...one which caused a temporary loss of my sight in one eye a couple of months later, but according to the surgeon who treated me, in his opinion the helmet probably saved my life...
My opinion... I love helmets!! 
I have three of them..a different one for each bike!!
 I realize that they will not stop me being hit by a car, but if my skull makes impact with something hard they might help prevent a bad accident turning into something more serious. 


As for the MP3 players and mobile phones....it is certainly something I would never do....
When riding my bikes I like to have my senses aware of everything that is going on around me....
I want to do as much as I can to help myself to stay safe.....closing myself off to the world with earbuds stuck in each ear is something I will only do when training on the static bike. 
When I'm out on the road I want to hear what's going on....


As for the mobile phone..well I have seen many cyclists cycling along with a mobile phone held to their ear and controlling the bike in traffic with the one free hand....
As a group cyclists are very quick to point the finger at motorists concerning their bad driving and intolerance of cyclists, but I do think that Wiggo is right, cyclists do need to help themselves to stay safe on the roads....just seems like commonsense to me.

Cabin Fever .......

 Sorry for this week's posting being three days late but like the rest of the UK last weekend saw the arrival of storm Ciara and our in...