Riding around Bristol now, you can’t help but notice the flashes of yellow. Casually dressed cyclists pass by, sitting upright, Dutch-style, on these distinctive cruiser bikes with 26” solid rubber wheels, high handlebars and ‘join a Cycling Revolution’ printed on their frame signs.
Naturally I had to have a go, so last weekend while we were in town, we decided to hire a couple to ride home. This was partly because my feet had been torn to shreds by evil flip-flops, and partly so we could be naughty and pick up a Chinese takeaway on the way home. Ssh.
How YoBike works
Unlike its London counterpart, YoBike doesn’t require bikes to be docked in terminals. You’ll find them spread throughout the city, propped on their kickstands in pre-approved public parking areas.
All you need to do is download their app, create an account and enter your card details. Your first ride is free, and after that it’s £1 for every hour you have the bike.
Simply find an available YoBike, select ‘Unlock bike’ on the app and scan the QR code on its rear lock. You’ll need to have your location settings and Bluetooth switched on. The bike will automatically unlock, and now it’s available to ride. Quick release skewers allow for a swift saddle height adjustment, and then you’re good to go!
Once you’re done, you need to leave the bike at one of the approved public parking spaces, highlighted on the map. If there’s nothing near you, you can park them in a public bike parking area (where there are racks), and send a couple of photos, along with the location details to the YoBike team, so they can add the area to their map. Select ‘End journey’ on the app, and the bike will automatically lock. It’s pretty nifty.
Within the app you’ll find an interactive map of the city, which points out the locations of all available YoBikes, and the areas where you can leave them. Their zone coverage seems to be pretty good as well. We saw bikes left outside the UWE campus near Filton, and we were able to cycle them home to Kingswood, which is about 5 miles from the city centre.
Square one wobbles
I have to say, I’m not very experienced when it comes to riding many varieties of bikes. Now that I’m so used to being in the racier position that Regina puts me in, returning to an upright position threw me a bit! The handlebars are very wide, and raised really high above the stem, so it has that feel of a Dutch bike (which personally I’m not a fan of, but it will appeal to many).
It’s always like riding a bike for the first time, and I started off quite wobbly! It took me most of the journey to adjust to the upright position and the sensitivity of the steering. I’ve gotten so used to steering with my body, so it was strange to go back to steering with the handlebars. However I can see that this will work really well for people who don’t normally cycle, and will be familiar to those who are used to hiring town bikes in large cities.
The only misgiving I’d raise really, is that they’re not ideal bikes for the hills of Bristol, having just three gears. Riding up the Bristol-Bath Railway Path towards home, it’s only a gentle incline but I found myself working up quite a sweat in the middle gear. I can imagine a lot of people who live in uphill areas, such as Clifton and Redland, may hire these bikes to cycle down into town, but will be unlikely to ride them back up again towards home! This could result in some uneven distribution of bikes, though perhaps the YB team are aware of this and will re-disperse them. I know they’re very quick to respond to misplaced and abandoned bikes, thanks to their in-built GPS trackers, so they’re definitely out on the roads.
The most interesting part of that journey was realising that I felt a bit like an outsider.
It’s not like I felt as though I was the butt of any jokes, but I was very aware that the bikes drew a lot of attention from the more ‘serious’ cyclists, and a few knowing smiles. Lacking a helmet, wearing flip-flops, and being ever so slightly wobbly as I adjusted to the unfamiliar riding position, I can only imagine what I must have looked like.
It’s certainly made me more aware of the judgements we’re very quick to make about other cyclists. After all, while YoBikes certainly will appeal to those wanting to get into cycling without yet investing in their own bike, it also makes for a really convenient way to get somewhere when your other transport plans haven’t panned out.
If the buses aren’t running properly (do they ever run a good service in Bristol?), it’s much cheaper and quicker to jump on a YoBike. You won’t be prepared with a helmet, and you may not have the most practical shoes, but you’re as much a cyclist as the guy in lycra next to you at the lights, smiling with an air of ‘aww, bless’.
It’s a great scheme, and has been a glaring omission from Bristol until now. It’s exactly what’s needed to get would-be cyclists out of their cars and onto two wheels. Long may it continue.
These aren’t their only accomplishments by a long way, but you don’t need me to tell you who they are. If you’re reading my blog then you either already know of them, or you’re going to click on their names to find out. And if neither of those is true, no one will know and no one will judge.
The talk was aimed at women who want to start riding long-distance, whether it’s for racing, touring, off-roading or anything in between. They came armed with shed-loads of advice, and I’m going to share some of it here, because all women who want to ride should, and as Emily reiterated last night – you are capable of so much more than you think you are.
Preparing the mind
The first subject we got into was mentally preparing yourself for the ride. It’s true that while there will be a great stress on your body, half of it is in your head. One of the things mentioned during Sunday’s panel discussion was that when you go into a long ride with a particular distance in mind, you know where your end point will be, and you’ll make it to that point if it kills you. And even if at mile 500 you feel like you’re literally going to fall off your bike and die, if you’d set out to do 510 miles instead, you’d still make that extra 10 miles, because it was all part of the plan. The key is to know how far you’re going and be prepared to make it to the end. Because you will make it.
Finding your time of day
Training your body will help with the mental preparation. If you’re planning a week-long race, you’ll be riding all day and all night with a few hours of sleep in between. Emily made an excellent point that most (if not all) people have certain times of the day that work better for them, and certain times that are worse. As part of her training, she did several rides from London to Manchester, starting at different times of day (and night). She found that no matter which point the night section fell, whether it was right at the beginning or end, she always flagged at around the same time.
Once you get to know which times of day are your strongest, and which are your weakest, you can prepare for them. If you’re a morning person, like Rickie, you can put measures in place to get you through the night – like snacking on your favourite treats every few miles – and get yourself up a hill to be rewarded with glorious views at dawn. If you’re like Emily and peak in the middle of the night, you’ll need more motivation to get you through the hardest parts of the day. Plan to stop at a café and have coffee and cake when you’re really struggling. 15 minutes of rest and some caffeine and sugar in your system, and you can plough through the next stage until you feel your strength returning. It’s all about breaking it down into manageable segments, knowing when you’ll struggle, and pre-empting it.
Fighting the fear
Lee made a fantastic point about the difference between fear and anxiety. A woman in the audience asked about how to prepare for the fear she might experience when cycling alone through a strange place at night – perhaps a country where there are packs of street dogs roaming, or if there are shady characters about. Lee pointed out that ‘fear’ is what you feel when something happens to you, and by that point you’re in fight-or-flight mode and you can’t pre-empt that. It’s anxiety that can stop you from setting out in the first place, and that’s what you need to address. If you know the sorts of things you’re afraid of, you can prepare yourself for them, and be ready. You can buy dog dazers which create a kind of forcefield around you and keep street dogs at a distance. And as Rickie pointed out, the likelihood of encountering a dangerous character is actually very low. If anything, by being in a field alone with a bike and a bivvy bag, you’re the strange character who probably shouldn’t be there, and you’re probably more intimidating just by being in an unexpected place at an unexpected hour.
Feeding the body
It seems that Emily cannot stress it enough: EAT.
Eat, eat, eat, and eat.
Throw your recommended daily calories out the window and eat whenever you’re hungry, because your body will be burning ridiculous amounts of calories all the time, and you need to keep your energy up.
When you’re not hungry
I asked about forcing yourself to eat when you’re not hungry, because I struggle with this. On Saturday I cycled a very long way between eating, and despite telling myself I was going to eat the shit out of everything, when I arrived my stomach didn’t want to cooperate. Rickie explained that when you’re cycling for a long duration, you’re placing so much stress on your body, and it’s concentrating so much on keeping your legs spinning, that it has less energy to digest, and so when you try to eat a big meal at the end, it can’t cope. It’s better keep snacking little and often as you go, to keep your digestive system active.
Keep the food up front
Emily recommends having a handlebar bag, which makes snacking whilst riding a lot easier. She has several compartments where she stores a variety of things (I believe at one point she was living on peanuts, chorizo, emmentale and Haribo). The point is they’re accessible, and you can keep munching little and often.
Think about your food groups
Lee finds that eating high amounts of fat and protein works best for her, as they provide slow releasing energy and it can encourage your body to burn energy from your fat stores rather than from carbohydrates. But she still eats carbohydrates as well; she just increases her intake of the other two groups. This followed a question about ketosis. It works for some, and not for others.
You cannot drink enough water. Emily tries to down two litres at a time to keep herself hydrated for the next couple of hours. Lee does the same the day before a race – drink, drink and drink. Rickie recommends carrying no more than 2 litres of water on the bike to save weight (1l = 1kg), but you can store anywhere up to 9 litres if you wanted to.
Another important note from Rickie – use your urine to track your hydration levels. It doesn’t sound glamorous, but you can tell by the colour if you’re dehydrated. If it’s dark and pungent, you need to drink more. Aim for the colour of champagne.
If you’re drinking citrus juices like orange, add a pinch of salt to them. Citrus alone can cause cramping, and the salt counteracts this.
Order two of everything – whatever you think you want to eat, order or buy double the amount. Even if you can’t physically eat it all straightaway, 30 minutes down the road you’ll be hungry again.
Look for Lidl (or Aldi) – they’re all over Europe and they always have the same stock and layout. Especially if you’re racing, you can run in and very quickly find all the things you need without wasting much time.
Carry a polyester backpack that folds down to miniature size. If at the end of a long day you need to go and stock up on food, you can just pull it out, fill it, and ride to your camp with full supplies.
Packing the bike
If you’re racing
Pack light. That’s a given, but if you’ve got the budget you can invest in some really handy equipment that packs down ridiculously small.
The best thing to do is to prioritise and pack only what you need. Lee makes a point of only packing items that can serve a dual purpose (which led to a hilarious discussion of doubling up a chamois as a sponge).
When you’re touring you can add panniers to your bike and afford to take a bit more with you. If you choose to, that is. After my experience of cycling with an overloaded rear rack at the weekend, I never want to look at another pannier again.
One of the things all three of them stressed was to really plan how you’re going to pack, and always keep certain things in the same place so you always know where they are. Don’t pack your waterproofs in the bottom of your saddle pack, because everything will get wet as you trawl through it trying to find it in a downpour.
Keep anything you’ll want regular access to at the front or on the top tube. Food should be at your handlebars so you can eat while you go. You may choose to keep a water bottle here as well, instead of in a bottle cage on your frame. That’s a personal choice.
Consider taking a small stove, which can cook enough food for one. Lee always keeps an emergency pack of cous cous and a vegetable bouillon cube in her bag for a quick, easy and last minute meal.
Try to get a bag with an external drawstring at your rear, so that you can wash your padded shorts as you go and ride with them fluttering and drying in the wind behind you. Pro tip for this: don’t turn them inside out, otherwise the chamois can get coated in dust, which makes for an uncomfortable ride later down the line.
Also consider carrying some hand sanitizer with you. Rickie made a fantastically gross point of how important personal hygiene is when being out on the road for long periods of time. She once left her bike in a shed for a few days following a long-distance ride, and came back to find mould had grown on the handlebars from the sweat and germs that had accumulated there. Think about how much time you spend with your hands on your bars, and how often you use them to touch your face, your eyes, your mouth, your lady bits, your food, and everything else. Keep them clean and prevent illness and infection.
On a similar note, if you’re riding through countries with questionable water sources and particularly if you’re off-road, carry some iodine tablets or miniature filters. Even when you’re out in the beautiful countryside and the river water runs clear, you don’t know what’s upstream – a cattle farm, a factory… don’t risk it. Illness can set you back for days.
Finding your way
Emily demonstrated brilliantly how she’s the last person to listen to on this subject, seeing as when she completed the Transcontinental in 2016 she was the only rider to visit Albania.
As far as technology is concerned, Garmin comes highly recommended. There was a discussion about the many complaints people make about them, and Rickie acknowledged that they’re by no means perfect just yet, but she stressed that right now in this market, they’re the best tech available for cyclists. One day that may change, but right now at this moment if you’re investing in something, invest in a Garmin. They use different satellites to other devices and are the most advanced gadget available right now.
In terms of powering them, there was a debate over dynamos and batteries. Batteries are a simpler method, but more wasteful. If you’re travelling for 5 days or less, then they’re not a terrible option, but anymore than that and you’re better off looking into a dynamo or a cache battery.
I agreed with Lee when she said there’s just nothing better than a paper map. Especially on a long ride, going through multiple countries, she said it’s so nice to finish one map and move onto the next. What a perfect excuse to stop off at a café, have a coffee and cake, spread the map out over the table and get the next part of your route planned.
While we’re on this subject, a question came up about whether it was better to plan the whole route or make it up as you go.
When you’re racing – plan everything. Plan it twice. Double and triple check each part of it, and cross-reference it against other maps to make sure you know of every single hill you’ll encounter.
If you’re touring, you don’t need to plan everything. If you know of a particular road/route that you’d like to take then by all means, figure out how to reach it, but allow for some deviation. Let yourself get lost, and enjoy the experience of exploration and adventure. That’s what it’s all about, after all.
It’s week 3 of Femme February where I’m chatting to other women in Bristol’s bike community, to explore our place in the workshop and the industry.
I met Erin whilst volunteering at The Bristol Bike Project. One evening we were paired together to work on a bike, and while she’s more experienced than me, we’ve got a good way of working where we discover and learn things together. You may remember me mentioning her here.
Do you remember learning to ride a bike?
Not exactly. I know that my dad taught me when I was about 5 or 6 years old, and there were definitely tears and tantrums!
Have you always ridden or did you take any breaks?
I’ve pretty much always ridden a bike, whether I was playing around with my brother or riding to and from school. I’ve always commuted on two wheels, to university and now to work. I bought my first road bike in the summer of 2009, and that was definitely a turning point in my cycling passion!
Tell me about bikes you’ve owned.
I used to ride a BMX, and then a Malvern Star (Aussie brand) urban bike through school and university. That one was known as ‘the Beast’. Sadly it was stolen and replaced, and then stolen, found, and stolen again. Now I have a Giant TCR C2 road bike which I used to use it for racing, and it was known as ‘the Rocket’. Now it’s my commuter, and known simply as ‘My Precious’.
Where were your favourite spots to ride?
There was a pretty awesome track down the street, I vividly remember the ‘really steep’ start slope and being terrified the first time I went down it. Having an older brother means not getting away with wussing out. We’d also take the bikes to the local park, think Aussie bushland, dry and dusty with loads of rocks and gum trees and gullies.
When did you first become interested in fixing bikes?
It was while I was at university, when I relied on the Beast for commuting, and was too cheap to go to a bike store for repairs. And my personality is such that I like knowing how things work and being able to take care of myself, which includes knowing how to fix my most important mode of transport!
Did anyone teach you?
Many people have shown me bits and pieces of bike maintenance. Dad showed me the basics and then friends with bikes and the odd helpful person at a bike shop. I also learnt a fair bit from the internet. It’s all trial and error – I got more tips when I joined the uni cycling club. I’ve by far learnt the most from volunteering at the Bristol Bike Project though.
Can you tell me about your experience of volunteering at The Bristol Bike Project?
It’s been great so far. I’ve met a bunch of friendly fellow-bike-lovers and learnt a lot about fixing bikes. As an immigrant/expat/foreigner, volunteering at the BBP has helped me feel part of the Bristol community.
What was the first break-through you had?
Understanding how the limit screws work! That was a pretty exciting day.
Have you ever felt like people were surprised when you told them you tinker with bikes? How dopeople generally react?
People who don’t know me are usually a bit surprised, though they always react positively. Reactions vary from ‘that’s cool’ and ‘what a great thing to do’ to ‘I’d be good at that’ and ‘do you want me to show you how to fix bikes’. Yes, the latter two are from blokes. *eye roll*.
Do you feel there’s any discrepancy between the way men and women are perceived or treated in the workshop?
Hmmm, yes and no. I think the workshop coordinators at The Bristol Bike Project are very good at treating women equally and not making gender-based assumptions of a lack of knowledge. The other volunteers are a bit hit and miss. If I’m introduced as someone with experience to a male, newbie volunteer then they tend to listen to what I say and are happy learning from me. If it’s someone on a similar level to me, then I sometimes don’t get listened to. There have been a few times when I’ve said ‘I think it’s the limit screw’ and they’ve ignored it or continued with cable tightening to then get a coordinator’s help and, hey! It was the limit screw. I could be pushier about it, but I hate confrontation.
What advice would you give to a new female volunteer at the Bike Project, in terms of asserting herself?
Good question. My technique is to keep asking questions and be persistent in suggesting what you think needs to be tried.
At what point did you learn to trust your own judgement and assert yourself?
I’m not sure I’ve reached that point! I am getting better and each time I discover (usually by workshop coordinator intervention) that I was on the right track, it builds my confidence. Regular practice is key.
Do you feel Bristol has much of a community for women cyclists?
Yes, somewhat, and I think it’s grown over the 5 years I’ve been here. There’s definitely been a global increase in women cycling communities since I got into road cycling in 2009. My focus is road cycling, so I’ve noticed the difference in the number of women with Strava segments over the years. Although, on the road I’d say 90% of fellow cyclists that I pass are blokes. No idea when the women are out!
What could there be more of/less of?
For women cyclists in the Bristol community? Ummm, I don’t really know. It’d be good if bike shops increased their stock of women’s kit and accessories. More options than pink and purple would be nice.
Do you also build bikes?
Other than at the BBP when we end up building a bike because all the components end up getting binned? No, not yet. It’s been my intention for a couple of years, but I haven’t found the time or frame.
What would you like to build?
For my dream bike I’d like to build an urban road bike. I’m not bothered about the brand as long as it’s a quality frame. It should have drop bars and a svelte, cherry red frame with shiny aluminium pannier rack and a gorgeous tan leather pannier. I’m moving back to Melbourne this year, which is flat, so I can make it a single speed! Easier build and maintenance. I’d also like to build a mountain bike, but that’s just because I want one and am too cheap to splash the cash on a new one. So I need to get some experience with shock absorbers…
It’s the second instalment of my Femme February theme, where I’m talking to Bristol bikey ladies about the industry and local community.
This week I’m chatting to Hattie Pullen, who I met last year during a maintenance course at The Bristol Bike Project. She was working at the stand next to me, and over lunchtime we got chatting about the Project, and I managed to persuade her to come along for Volunteers’ Night.
How old were you when you learned to ride a bike?
I don’t remember the exact age I learnt to ride a bike but it must have been around 4 or 5. I have a very clear memory of the first time I rode without stabilisers, as I remember finding a hedgehog on the side of the road and taking him into the garden and giving him cat food!
Who taught you?
My mum and dad, I’m not sure who had the most input, that part isn’t very clear.
Do you remember how you learned?
I started off like most kids did in my day, with stabilisers. This then progressed to a parent running behind with one hand on the saddle and one on the handle bars, until they felt confident to let go. I was very fortunate to grow up in the countryside of Lincolnshire, and the tiny village where my parents still live has very little road traffic so we had quite a lot of freedom to learn on the road. Lincolnshire is very flat and I remember thinking that the small slope from my parents’ house to the bottom of the road was super steep.
What’s your ‘cycling story’?
Growing up I always had a bike at home. I wouldn’t use it as transport to get to places, but I would often go on a Sunday afternoon bike ride with my mum.
I didn’t take the bike to Plymouth University; the city’s small enough to walk everywhere. I moved to Whistler in Canada straight after uni and ended up staying for nearly 3 years: skiing in the winter and enjoying the lakes and mountains in the summer. Whistler has a massive downhill mountain bike scene, so I had a couple of goes in the bike park but I was too scared. I stuck to the cross country trails, but never bought a cross country bike. I just borrowed from friends; a friend of mine used to work in a bike rental shop so we could always use the bikes for free!
I had a pink Raleigh for getting around on. A cheap ride-around-town bike was always difficult to get in Whistler, so I treasured her. There was a rack on the back which I used to give my friends backies on, especially after a few beers at the lake. Always great fun!
After Whistler, I moved to Bristol where I’ve been for the last 5 years. I bought a bike within the first 6 months, but it’s a lot hillier here than Lincolnshire! Until last year I would never have called myself a cyclist, I was just someone who rode bikes to get around and occasionally for fun. I don’t think I’d ridden more than 20 miles in one go until last year.
One of my goals for 2016 was to raise money for charity. My mum had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease so thought Parkinson’s UK was a good start. I looked on the website for fundraising events and a London to Paris cycle caught my eye, so without further thought I signed myself up. I had no idea what I was doing, and just thought I’d give it a go. I told my friend Lis who already had all the gear, and she volunteered to join me, so I now had a training partner! We completed the ride in September 2016 over 4 days and it was amazing. Such an inspiring group of people and I managed to raise about £3,000. I was hooked after this.
What types of bikes have you owned?
When I moved to Bristol I purchased a beautiful looking blue vintage Peugeot with a split top tube. She was only a 4 speed but I absolutely loved her, though she just wasn’t that practical for the hills of Bristol.
I replaced her with a Trek hybrid, which I bought on my boyfriend Will’s Cycle to Work scheme. I still have her now and she’s my trusty steed, but not a looker! Will’s into downhill mountain biking, and he bought a second hand Orange Hitman that I could ride on cross country trails and he could use on the pump track.
For my London to Paris cycle I purchased my first road bike. I bought it off a lady in Clevedon who had ridden it maybe once or twice, for half the price she paid for it. It still had the factory grease on the chain!
I turned 30 in January this year and bought myself a new bike (Genesis Croix De Fer) to start my new decade. I only picked her up on Saturday but I’m in love already. I’m really excited to have some adventures with her. I’m hoping to cycle the North Coast 500 in September this year.
When did you first become interested in fixing bikes?
I really want to do some more cycle touring, and thought I had better learn how to fix my bike so when I’m on the road I wouldn’t be stuck in the middle of nowhere. I’ve always relied on Will when anything has gone wrong with my bike before.
Did anyone teach you?
I went on a maintenance course at the Bristol Bike Project in November last year to learn the basics. Other than changing a tube I literally had no idea about anything.
Have you ever felt like people were surprised when you told them you tinker with bikes? Howdo people generally react?
I have to say it’s not really something I’ve brought up much in conversation. Those who I have spoken to though tend to be close friends who have watched my passion for bikes and cycling develop, so they’re not really surprised when I say I’m learning to fix bikes.
Can you tell me about your experience of volunteering at The Bike Project?
I have to admit I’ve only made it 4 times since I did my maintenance course. Everyone is super friendly and welcoming. There are definitely more men than women, and it would be great to get a few more women involved.
I’m not afraid to ask for help though, as like you, I forget everything between sessions. I need to ask otherwise I wouldn’t get anywhere. It can be difficult though when everyone is doing their thing and involved with the bike they’re fixing.
I haven’t been often enough to work out who is a good person to work with yet, but hoping to become more of a regular face, especially now it’s two nights a week. I think maybe I need to buy a maintenance book and take it with me, then I can be a bit more independent and not ask for help every 5 seconds. It’s a great place to learn and for such a great cause. I’m hoping someday soon what I’m learning might stick!
I’m happy to be writing a round-up of this week’s volunteers’ night at The Bristol Bike Project, with a genuine smile on my face!
I started off the evening having a chat with a female mechanic who has agreed to be interviewed for the blog*. We both agreed that most people (particularly women) have a tendency to doubt their own judgement. We seek a second opinion on matters that deep down, we know, but we don’t really believe that we know it.
It’s all tied up with Impostor Syndrome – something I’m very familiar with, and may write about at length in the future, if anyone’s interested. Remarkably, following this conversation, I proceeded to have an evening that completely confirmed this exact observation.
Trust your judgement
I started volunteering at the Bike Project last summer, so it’s been about 7 months now. That’s actually a long time when I look at it objectively. Despite that, I’ve had periods of 3 weeks at a time when I’ve not been, and whenever that happens I return feeling like I know less than I actually do. If you’ve read my accounts of my last two sessions, you’ll know that I returned after Christmas feeling particularly rusty, having had a complete disaster before breaking up for the holidays.
So when I turned up last night and was paired with someone who was less experienced than me, I immediately went into panic mode. How could I show someone what to do? I didn’t know what to do! I needed someone to guide me, to help me, I was completely clueless!
Before the panic, I was calmly working my way down the checklist with a Raleigh Blueridge (unstarted, as learned last week), and was about to service the bottom bracket. I had an idea of what I needed to do, and I was about to get on with it. With panic in full swing, I attempted to find something for my companion (Harry) to do, and drew a complete blank. I couldn’t think of anything simple to teach him.
Thankfully Adam (one of the coordinators) saw the panic in my eyes and stepped in, taking Harry off to one side to teach him how to service hubs. Of course, immediately afterwards, I felt ridiculous. I know hubs. It was the first thing Adam taught me. Why didn’t I teach Harry how to service hubs? I was blind-sighted by panic and forgot everything that I know.
But it was done, now. Harry was learning on the other side of the workshop, and I was left to go back to the bottom bracket. What do you think happened next?
Easy. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing – or at least, I thought as much. I had to get the crank arms off. I had the right tool in my hands, but immediately doubted that I was doing it right. I knew there was a reverse thread coming up somewhere, but couldn’t remember where. So I asked Mike (other coordinator) for help. It was easy – turn it left and loosen it. I knew that. But I didn’t know that I knew it.
This became a running theme throughout the servicing of the bottom bracket. I kept checking that I had the right tool, that I was turning it the right way, that I wasn’t putting too much force on it, that I was putting enough force on it. I was constantly seeking Mike for help with things that, as soon as he showed me, I realised I already knew.
How do you break that cycle? How do you start to trust your own judgement?
On one hand, Volunteers’ Night is a great place to learn these lessons, because there’s such a laid back atmosphere. No one minds if you get something wrong, and everyone is on hand to help if they can. On the other hand, I’m always so conscious that the bikes I work on are destined for people in need, and I don’t want to fuck it up for them. I don’t want to create more work for the next set of volunteers who try to finish it off, and I don’t want to potentially break a part or a tool that is otherwise useful.
I need to work on boosting my confidence somehow.
You know more than you think
In the end, we had a really successful evening. Harry serviced both wheels while I serviced the bottom bracket. I got him to check and grease the brakes, and showed him how to replace a brake cable. By the end of the night we’d ticked off about 3/4 of the checklist and it’s very likely the bike will be signed off in the next session.
If I went back tonight, I’d know exactly how to replicate what I did last night. I think the problem is that I only go once a week (if I even do that), and I’m not doing these things frequently enough to really hammer them home.
The Bike Project will be introducing a second volunteers’ night on Wednesdays from next week, and I intend to spend some weeks attending both nights. Perhaps I’ll even get a chance to start a bike from scratch on the Tuesday and sign it off on the Wednesday. That’s the dream.
*As an aside note – February’s theme will be ‘Femme’, and I have some awesome ladies lined up to interview about being a woman in the predominately male world of cycling and bike maintenance. Stay tuned!
As Project Regina continues, I’m now faced with a conundrum. In my efforts to build the bike of my dreams, one of the things I’m planning to do is have her painted in a lovely matte blue, pretty much the same colour as the Pinnacle Arkose 2 women’s bike that I have the hots for, purely for aesthetic reasons.
I figured powder coating was the way forward, because it’s cheap and it gives pretty good results. Plus I know of a few Bristol cyclists who have recommended a place near where I live. I popped in there to chat about possible options and I’ve been left with more questions than answers.
Powder coating involves exposing the frame and forks to extremely high temperatures, and if I go ahead with my plan to replace the aluminium forks with carbon ones, that means I need to look at painting options as well. Also, with powder coating I’m limited to the RAL palette available at the workshop, and while there was one that was fairly similar to the blue I’m after, it wasn’t spot on and there’s no flexibility to customise it.
I spoke to the guy at the paint shop on the same complex, and he’s able to mix custom colours. He can also add my Orange graphics back in, and once he showed me an example of their work, I was in love. If I’m going to build the bike of my dreams, I want it done well. But this is extremely costly.
So my current options are:
Have the frame powder coated and the carbon forks painted, and hope the colours match (budget-friendly but risky)
Have the whole frame painted and awesome graphics work added (very expensive but looks amazing)
Don’t swap the forks for carbon, and have the whole thing powder coated (cheapest option but means bumpier rides)
I’m ashamed to say that until last night, I hadn’t actually been back, through fear of having another stressful evening and walking away whilst fighting back the tears. Volunteers’ Night is supposed to be fun – a space to go and tinker with bikes, share skills, and give something back to the community. I’d completely forgotten that, and despite committing to going yesterday, I almost chickened out.
Thankfully my conscience stepped in. The moment I said I wouldn’t go, I instantly felt guilty. I should go, I hadn’t volunteered for three weeks. I know I’m a really flaky person and I have an awful tendency to cancel plans and chicken out of things in favour of a night in my PJs playing my PS4. I’m a hermit at heart, but I also care deeply about giving my time to local community projects to help make the world a little nicer for those who need it.
So I went. I teamed up with my pal Erin who is more experienced with bikes than me, but not by too much. It’s a good dynamic; she knows a bit more than me but also gets stuck sometimes and we work together to try to figure things out. It’s a great way for me to learn from someone without feeling like I’m being taught.
Despite it only being three weeks since I’d been, I immediately felt lost when we started. It’s amazing how quickly everything I think I know can fly out the window. A guy asked me where a tool was – a tool I’ve used many times – and I couldn’t tell him. I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to sort out a pair of V-Brakes – a task that should be quick.
Thankfully I wasn’t the only one. Erin hadn’t been for a while either, and we both muddled through, making silly mistakes and laughing at ourselves.
Lesson Learned: Don’t believe everything you read
I arrived early and had my pick of the bikes to work on, and I chose to work on one that had already been started. I figured it would be a good way to get a bike finished – something I’ve not done before. According to the paperwork, the previous two volunteers had made their way through half the checklist, checking the frame and seat post, servicing the wheels and bottom bracket, and checking the brake arms were made of metal.
Trusting that they knew what they were doing, Erin and I embarked on the first task for the night: adjusting the brakes. Nice and simple, it shouldn’t have taken us long. Unfortunately we were landed with a couple of really crappy pairs of calipers, which meant we spent significantly longer trying to figure out why they were so spongey, why the lever was reaching all the way to the handlebar despite braking much sooner, why one arm just wouldn’t spring back, no matter how much tightening and loosening we did.
Perhaps we should have figured it out sooner, but as I said, we were both feeling a bit rusty last night. We spent a while trying to figure out why the rear wheel was off-centre, attempting to realign it in the dropouts. I took the arms off, looked at the springs, put them back on again. Then took them off again, greased them, put them on again. Took them off again, realigned the pivots, put them on one final time.
About an hour and two brake cables later, they were sorted, and in theory we were ready to continue down the list. That’s when one of the coordinators pointed out that the wheel hubs had a lot of play, as did the bottom bracket.
We hadn’t bothered to check these things because we’d assumed that the tick in the box meant they were good to go. Of course, that was wrong. All the volunteers come from various walks of life, with a diverse range of experience with bikes. There are many noobs like myself who go along to learn, and perhaps many of them are also averse to asking for help in favour of figuring out a solution themselves – just like me.
So, we started working backwards on the list. I re-serviced the hubs, tightening them properly (a skill that took me a long time to master, and thankfully didn’t go away), while Erin cracked on with the bottom bracket, only to find out that the one they’d fitted was too short for the frame.
Long story short, we never made it any further down the checklist than the brakes, and we didn’t sign off the bike. What I’d figured would be a quick job and a bike ready for a new owner, turned out to be a learning curve for both of us.
We learned many lessons last night:
Don’t assume that everyone knows what they’re doing, even though that seems mean.
Give everything a quick check before moving down the list.
Ideally, start a bike from scratch.
Don’t expect to sign it off.
It’s better to start a bike well, and leave it for someone else to finish, than to try to finish a bike that’s been started badly.
The other lesson we both learned was probably the most important one of all: when you don’t volunteer for several weeks, you forget things. Therefore, get your bum down there every week!
I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I just want to introduce you to Project Regina, which will be dominating my Thursdays for the next few weeks, potentially months!
I bought the Orange RX9, named her Regina and tonight I’m taking her to The Bristol Bike Project’s Bike Kitchen to start stripping her (gasp!) and prepping her for her blue makeover. From there I’m going to rebuild her with some new and improved parts, and essentially create the bike I’ve been dreaming about.
Swoon! Watch this space, there will be plenty of updates.
As I’ve said before, I’m not your average bike blogger. Bikes didn’t play a large role in my formative years.
I have an awful habit of setting myself impossibly high expectations, planning to be better at things than I actually am, which always leads to disappointment and frustration. What’s worse is that I have a tendency to compare myself to others (don’t we all?). As I gradually get more involved with Bristol’s cycling community, I get to know many confident cyclists and I wish I was more like them. I feel like an outsider who doesn’t belong among them.
I look at someone like my boyfriend and I see a fearless rider. I watch him approach a steep, loose terrain descent, and he gets straight into the drops and lets gravity do the rest. I see him jump on a bike that he’s never ridden before without a second thought, and within minutes he’s tested all the gears, done some bunny hops, some track standing, and weaves in and out of oncoming cars. He instantly gets to know the bike.
I have to remind myself that he’s been riding since his feet could reach the ground. He’s ridden all types of bikes over the years: BMX, fixies, MTB, single speeds, you name it. To him, riding is second nature and it doesn’t phase him to mount a new set of wheels.
Me? I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was at least 9 years old, and even then it wasn’t governed by a deep desire to ride. I most likely wanted a bike just because my cousin had one – we were always in competition with each other when it came to possessions. I think I was on a Dymchurch campervan holiday that summer with her and her parents, and I must have gotten jealous of her bike. My uncle spent some time with me in a field, teaching me to ride. The following September, on my 10th birthday, I received my very first Raleigh.
Was I overcome with a new found sense of freedom? Did I spend every waking hour on my new set of wheels, exploring the area and pushing the boundaries, to see how far away I could get before I was summoned back for dinner? No. I hardly rode the thing. Maybe up and down the garden a couple of times, and there was one occasion where I remember riding to the local park with some of the kids who lived on my street.
The next year we moved to Thanet, and my Raleigh took up its new residence in the garage, where it stayed for years. I dug it out a few times when I was around 13, to ride it down to the seafront. There was a little green area that we called ‘The Dip’ and I sometimes rode up and down the little hills.
I also did a couple of rides to Reculver, where there’s a Roman fort overlooking the sea. The path is completely off-road, along the seafront, and about 4 miles each way. That was probably the longest ride I ever did as a child, and probably the first time I really felt that sense of freedom the bike afforded me.
But even then, it wasn’t enough to keep me riding. The following year, I turned 14. I got into heavy metal, cut off all my hair, painted panda eyes on my face and dubbed myself a goth. Cycling wasn’t goth. Back in the garage it went.
I actually have no idea where it is now, or what happened to it. Maybe we sold it? Maybe it got dumped? I never had any kind of sentimental attachment to it, and honestly couldn’t pinpoint the last time I rode it.
I didn’t get back on a bike again until I moved to Bristol, at the age of 23. Naturally I was a bit shaky, had zero confidence, and relegated myself to the pavements. But with time (and a few free lessons from Life Cycle UK) I learned to indicate, to take the lane and ride with confidence on the road. I’m now a regular commuter and a reasonably confident urban cyclist.
I’ve still got a long way to go though! I know that over the coming years my confidence will grow, and my technique will improve. But I don’t think I’ll ever be what I’d describe as ‘fearless’. The childhood years are the prime time to push through barriers, when you’re scared of nothing. That’s what I unfortunately missed out on. Learning these things as an adult is so much more scary.