Über Granny Ring

I can’t remember the actual reason why this all started; I guess I just figured that I could tackle some steeper hills with confidence if I had some lower-ratio gears. So I considered the possibility of fitting a smaller granny ring to my Campag Veloce triple (52Tx42Tx30T) on my Giant TCR 3. I called my LBS for advice:

“Do you have a copy of Fly Fishing by J R Hartley?”

That’s not what I asked, but I might as well have done for all the help I got.

  • “Oh, that’s a really old bike” (10 years old)
  • “No-one does triple cranksets any more – everything is 10-speed compact”
  • “Campag are notorious for not supporting older stuff”
  • “Campag are notorious for not being compatible with any other make”
  • “I’ve looked in the Campag catalog and no, we can’t get one”
  • “Your best bet is someone selling an old one on eBay”

I wasn’t going to take that for an answer. So, after searching the web to no avail, I posted the question on this really excellent forum, where I was immediately informed that I needed a chain-ring with 74 BCD bolt holes, and I was directed to a site where I could get one.

So it was possible to fit a smaller granny ring, some folks reporting having successfully gone as low as 24T. The caveat was that some combinations of front/rear would be no longer usable; I wouldn’t be able to use the smaller rear sprockets while on the small front ring – the dérailleur just wouldn’t be able to take up that much slack in the chain. I didn’t mind this inconvenience. After all, I would almost never use that combination of front/rear gears anyway. I bought a 26T TA 74mm PCD from here for £25 and fitted it to my bike without making any other adjustments.

I can use the new small 26T front with everything except the 2 smallest (14-15) rear sprockets. On the 2 smallest sprockets the chain touches the dérailleur as shown here:

On the next sprocket (16T) there is a couple of mm clearance:

On the front, the chain still clears the front mech:


What did I gain from this? I gained two lower gears. On my old 30T chain-ring my lowest gear was 28 gear-inches. As you can see from the chart, the new 26T ring gives me extra gears of 27 (hardly any different to my old 28 really) and 24.

How does it perform? This is what I wrote at the time:

“Went for a 25-mile ride today and tested my new 26T front ring. Worked perfectly. No problems whatsoever changing up or down. The only thing is the extreme difference between the 26T and the 42T at the front, so when approaching a hill and changing to the small front it plunges me into a really low gear, resulting in my legs spinning furiously; so I’m perfecting the art of simultaneously pushing down both thumb levers to move to a smaller sprocket at the rear and the smaller at the front at the same time!”

Somewhat ironically it was only about four weeks later that I got a new bike that had a lowest gear of 28 gear-inches, so I was back to square one! Since that time my fitness has improved and I have shed a few pounds so I no longer need the ultra-low gears, at least on any hill I have yet climbed.

So what have I learned from this? That my LBS is no longer the font of all knowledge. Those days are over. In fact it pales into insignificance next to the vast amount of information and informed opinion out there on the web.

Le solstice d’été

Cloud and mist earlier in the day had given way to a sunny evening for the Summer Solstice. I went out for this leisurely ride:

It was the first time I had ridden around Brenchley. There is an amazing view from Crook Road where there’s a nice lookout point with benches and a 3D model of the view to help identify things in the distance.

Shortly after that I was enjoying an exhilarating descent down Pixot Hill and had reached 40 mph when I glanced down at my Garmin and noticed that I needed to turn left at a lane that  I was already right on top of. There was no way I was going to be able to slow down quick enough to make the turn so I overshot and slammed on the brakes, or at least to the extent to which you can do that on a road bike; which is to hardly any extent at all actually!


Using data from my Garmin I was later able to work out how long it took me to stop – 90 metres. The stopping distance for a car from 40 mph is 36 metres! Actually I could have stopped faster; I didn’t really brake hard until after I had passed the turning and even then it wasn’t exactly an emergency stop. But it still would have been significantly worse than a car.


The best part of this evening was when I came to climb Barn Hill. I was really in the mood for it and went up most of it in third gear and blitzed my previous best time by 33 seconds.



All in all it was un bon solstice d’été.



Yalding Hill Falls Again

Just been out for a quick spin on this lovely warm evening.

I scored another victory over Yalding Hill by smashing my previous ascent time by almost 30 seconds!


“It doesn’t get any easier – you just go faster”
Greg Lemond

Edit (14/07/2014): Since this post, have now taken another 30 seconds off:

latest YH

Hastings for Father’s Day

The weather forecast said it would be dry in most places. Well, it started raining near Marden and didn’t let up until about 5 miles from Hastings. It was only fine rain really – enough to get me a bit damp, but the roads didn’t get wet enough to cause splashing. What I was mainly concerned with is the fact that it made my legs cold and I didn’t want to ask too much of cold muscles, especially my knees.

Despite the rain, and the slight headwind, and the fact that I was carrying a 2.1kg backpack (yes, I did weigh it! I have to measure things) filled with a change of clothes, I beat my previous Hastings run by almost 15 minutes! I am well-pleased with that time. The route was slightly different from the last Hastings run in that I included Stonestile Lane which was challenging enough to be put on my list of tough climbs.

Once in Hastings I got changed at my brother’s house and walked briskly from West Hill down to the sea front. I had a lovely meal with my mum, dad, bro and his gf. Then we went for a walk on the beach. Then walked all the way back again. Then I had to ride home again! I was really sluggish on the ride home after all that exercise. I only had one JB and one energy gel for the ride home (I hadn’t had any food on the ride there), so I had to ration them. JB after 10 miles and energy gel about 8 miles from home. The weather by now was absolutely beautiful – sunny and calm. Some of the evening views from that route are stunning.


The low evening sun really showed off the landscape and in the wooded sections I was constantly aware of the beautiful aroma of dappled sunlight.  Eventually I made it home and managed to drag myself up Barn Hill.

Bloody knackered!

When I got home my son gave me a Father’s Day card that he had made (without Photoshop!)


While writing this post I got cramp in my leg. That’s the first time that’s ever happened; it shows how much I pushed it today.

Stonestile Lane

 Date climbed  16th June 2013
 Elevation gain  336 feet
 Length  0.7 mile
 Duration  7.5 minutes

About a mile north of Hastings. The first part of this hill is steep enough that I had to be out of the saddle. There was no possibility of sitting down. It’s quite a slog and reminded me of Cob Lane. That means it’s good enough to be on this list. Luckily that bit doesn’t last long and once you get it over with it eases slightly – still no chance of getting out of first gear but at least you can get your breath back and maybe sit down. It continues climbing like that for about another half a mile. Then it kicks up slightly again at the end and you find yourself out of the saddle again.

Holdsworth Pro

Just been out on this route and got 3 Personal Bests on Strava, including Yalding Hill.

And now I’m aching.

Nothing much else happened this week, cycling-wise, except on Monday as I was passing a bike shop in Ashford I saw this thing of beauty through the window

holdsworthI literally did a double-take and had to turn around and go back and stare through the window drooling! This was like the dream machine of my youth. I used to have a Holdsworth frame – I even sprayed it orange, but didn’t have the logos on. Used to commute on it in the late 70’s.

Purists would say (and I agree) that the wheels/tyres on this re-issue look too lairy. The A-head stem looks a little unrealistic too I guess but I could live with that, and the carbon forks.

I want one! Now! Of course I’d have to get some retro kit to match!


Giant Defy Composite 2


Giant Defyr
Giant Defy Composite 2 as delivered

I saw a glowing review of this bike and it must have been just at the right time for me to be thinking about getting a new bike, even though there was nothing particularly wrong with my existing bike. It’s a bit like when you suddenly decide to get a different car. Once your mind is on that track you can’t shift it. You always end up getting a new car, and in my case it was inevitable that I would get some sort of new bike, and this one fit the bill. List price was £1499, but I had seen them going for £1299, and in one case £1199. Being late in the year this was 2012’s outgoing model, hence the generous discounts. I called my  to see if they would offer a comparable price.

“Oh no, we sold out of those back in August. We can’t get any more of those. There are none left anywhere in the UK”

I panicked, thinking they were in short supply and immediately ordered one from Pedal-On. It was delivered in a couple of days. Needless to say, my LBS had got it wrong again! These were still for sale months later.

I was really looking forward to trying it but it rained every day for 2 weeks! I eventually got to try it out but the weather never really improved and I ended up riding it through a wet winter. I even bought mudguards because I was so fed-up with hosing it down after each ride! I find the bike very comfortable to ride, even over the atrocious road surfaces I encountered on the back country lanes. I love the SRAM Apex DoubleTap gear shifters. It took no time getting used to them. The ability to shift up or down while down in the drops is so convenient. The first upgrade I made was to fit Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels I bought second-hand from a bloke selling them on eBay. Recently I fitted a  , after briefly trying a defy2

This shows the bike with the Mavic Ksyrium Elites, Selle Italia saddle and with the stem flipped to give a more aggressive rider position.

Local Bike Shop
selle italia

Tour of The Isle of Sheppey

Well I didn’t listen to my own advice: If the Google Street-view car didn’t go there, then think twice about riding a road bike there.

Planning The Route   The design of this route was inspired by the weather forecast. There was to be a ‘fresh north-easterly breeze’. That translated to winds of 15-22 mph with 30 mph gusts. So I decided I would ride straight into the wind for the first part of the journey and have the wind blow my tired body home. Looking on the map I saw that The Isle of Sheppey lay NE of me so it became the target destination. The first part of the route would be the same as the beginning of this one, except I decided to cut out the bit where I would have to ride through a field, opening and closing gates; little did I know what was to come later! I also cut out the footbridge across the motorway, which would have been hair-raising on a windy day!

altFurthermore I decided not to take the usual route up Bluebell Hill, (Warren Road, in yellow, steep),  but chose instead to use  Lower Warren Road / Bell  Lane (in green) which would shave 1.5 miles off the journey. This was obviously even steeper than Warren Road, rising at a rate of 825 feet per mile, which is way steeper than my guideline 500 ft/ml. And I couldn’t tell what the road was like because the Google street-view car hadn’t been there! I thought I’d take a chance.

lower warren road
This is as far as the GSV car went up Lower Warren Road. The road surface is looking pretty rough at this point and I wondered what lay round that bend just ahead

The rest of the route aimed directly for Sheppey, and I would be passing through loads of places I had never been: Farthing Corner, Hartlip, Breach, Lower Halstow, eventually leading to the old bridge across to the island. Once on the island I would do a quick clockwise circuit taking in a ‘road’ through the marshes to the south. It looked like there were a couple of farms on this road so I assumed that it would be a rough track. Again, the GSV car hadn’t deigned to go there so I had no idea was it was actually like. I imagined it to be a peaceful country lane; I could see from the map that there were no houses there – that should have rang alarm bells. The route home from Sheppey took the most direct route I could while avoiding the built-up parts of Maidstone.

The Ride  It was a beautiful sunny day. But there was that ‘fresh’ wind. It was supposed to warm up later so I wore a short-sleeved jersey. A bowl of porridge for breakfast was supplemented en route with a banana, a couple of slices of fruit loaf and a couple of energy bars. I took 2 bidons of isotonic juice. The first part of the ride went as expected. The path through the woods north of Barming wasn’t too muddy. In Aylesford I met a group of cyclists on the old bridge; it turned out they were headed for Bluebell Hill as well. I wondered about asking one of them if they knew what Lower Warren Road was like. But I didn’t, and 15 minutes later I found out for myself anyway.

When somewhere has ‘Road’ or ‘Lane’ in its name you expect it to be at least traversable by road bike, and this is what I expected of Lower Warren ‘Road’ leading to Bell ‘Lane’. However, after I turned that bend shown in the photo above, the path worsened, and narrowed, and got steeper. Basically it degenerated into what I can only describe as a ‘gulley’ through the woods up the side of the hill. It was about 6 feet wide with steep sides. The surface had deep undulations and was strewn with rocks and stones making it almost impossible to ride on. Road my arse!

warren road500Large stones and rocks just spun out from under my wheels as I tried to ride over them. There was just no grip. I managed to keep going for a couple of hundred metres until a particularly rough bit forced me to stop. I attempted to get back on, but the surface, combined with the severe gradient (must have been 20% at least), made it impossible. I ended up walking the rest of the way (hangs head in shame). Even that was really difficult because my feet could get no proper grip. I’m sure that even a mountain bike couldn’t get up there (I hope!).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rest of the ride to Sheppey was straightforward. The wind was constantly in my face and I managed to average 15 mph. Once I was on the island the wind seemed even stronger and I couldn’t wait until the route started turning back so I could have the wind behind me. I went past Sheppey prison, which is just one huge slab of concrete. I stopped by a field that had two huge wind-turbines in it. The gate was slightly open and I was sorely tempted to ride up to right underneath the massive spinning blades (did I mention it was windy?), but decided against it – they were really impressive this close up. I set off again and soon the route took a turn for the worse.


My GPS took me off the nice smooth tarmac onto a rough track, heading towards a farm. At this point I hadn’t seen a single person for miles. I went through a gate and about a mile later rode past the farm, which was just a collection of large empty buildings. The landscape was flat and featureless and totally deserted. The surface of the track was poor, a mixture of gravel, grass and embedded rocks and bricks.

I was really concerned that I had totally the wrong tyres for this sort of surface and hoped I wouldn’t get a puncture. Another gate; this time the main gate was padlocked but the pedestrian gate to the side was unlocked. Then another gate; this time the whole gate was padlocked so I lifted my bike over and climbed over. Now the farm buildings had almost disappeared, miles away in the distance behind me and I was out in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t see any signs to actually say that I wasn’t allowed to be there; there was one sign saying something about the land being managed by DEFRA.

It was impossible to make out in the distance which way the path led but I could tell from my Garmin that the route veered to the right up ahead, and when I looked in that direction I saw a herd of cows. When I eventually got there I found that they were guarding yet another gate that I needed to get through. I cycled right up to the gate at speed, hoping they would be freaked-out by this quick-moving object and back away. They didn’t budge an inch. They were huge and there were young among them. I got off my bike and ate a bit of fruit loaf while I pondered the situation. I had come too far to turn back now.


After a few minutes I approached the gate and shouted at the herd, waving my arms about. Grumpily they slowly backed away and didn’t seem particularly bothered by me after that. Once they had moved back 20 feet or so I opened the gate, wheeled my bike through and then had to turn my back on them while I frantically tried to get the chain back round the gate-post as quickly as I could. I jumped on my bike and rode cautiously through them without any further incident.

It wasn’t long before I came to another gate…


I sheltered from the wind by the wall of this deserted building and ate the rest of my fruit loaf. The constant wind and lack of real effort meant that I was quite cold by this point.

All I had for company was the constant wind and various unrecognised birds swooping and calling above the grassland. It was so deserted I imagined I was on some post-apocalyptic version of Earth.


The rest of this off-road excursion was more of the same. Interesting wildlife, more gates, several cattle grids and lots of wide-open marshland.



The bridge, ever-present on the horizon ahead, gradually got bigger


After seven miles of Paris-Roubaix-style pavé, I was free. To get back onto a proper tarmac road was a revelation. I was on smooth road with the wind behind me! I averaged 22.5 mph to the old bridge.


The most notable thing about the journey back was that I was cold; uncomfortably so by the end. That north-easterly breeze and the relative lack of effort on this ride meant I hadn’t been able to warm up properly. Nearing the end I couldn’t wait for it to finish so that I could get warm; I don’t think I’ve experienced that before. I shouldn’t have worn my short-sleeved jersey. As the old saying goes

There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes

or something like that..

A few more pictures taken on the return journey:

View from Church Road, Hucking