Update on our thumps and cracks

12 02 2011

(see yesterdays blog for the intro re bike damage..s)

Having reached the southern Laos city of Savannakhet calamity free and intact we rendez-vous with our parcel of crucial cassette removal tools. We then scanned the town for a decent bicycle mechanic… there are many motorbike ones but scant few bicycle ones. We stumbled upon one with pictures of race teams plastered all over the walls – a sure sign of interest if not quality – Holien Bike Center (041-213190 / 020-55250782).  Where upon Liz’s cracked rim was dismissed as they didn’t have a 32” replacement. When choosing this size we were aware that they are harder to come by in this part of the world than 26” – ho hum. Nevertheless the mechanic confidently set too on my (Catherine’s) bearings. And what a beautiful act of maintenance it was to behold – we shall call it the Dance of the Bearings. With clarity and tenderness he moved through the steps, meticulously cleaning the socket and inspecting the little balls.  He settled upon a change for one set and a general loving of the other.  All told the job was complete in little over 20 mins and cost a whopping £1.  Unfortunately the rear ‘thump’ still remains as does Liz’s rim crack. Our second thump suspect is a thinning patch on the said same rear tyre…. new tyre? ‘Right!’ Liz exclaims, ‘we are only a boat ride over to Thailand. I’m going to go there!’  Extreme measures! This is a risk and a cost but if needs must so must we. After checking the dwindling pages in her passport, stacking up on biscuits, pocketing enough dollars she was sent on her way.  Not 200m down the road Liz spied another bike shop and decided to give it a try – where upon she was duly convinced that her crack will probably last the last 1500km’s to Thailand (the Southern bit – not the bit a 20 min boat ride away) and to not worry about it. This is a bit of a “time-will-tell” solution. With the rim out of the running we decided to scrap the Thailand dash and switch my (Catherine’s) front and back tyres instead. This should take the weight pressure off it and *fingers crossed* help it last the distance!!!  If anyone is close to any wood – if you could touch it for us – it would be much appreciated!

Losing our bearings and cracking up

11 02 2011

‘What do you do if your bike breaks?’ this is one of the most common questions we get asked, everywhere, always. ‘Well’ we confidently reply ‘we can fix most things; a puncture, a broken chain, a snapped cable etc. And for anything bigger than that, why, there are any number of bicycle shops lining our route.’ Brave words.

We are bike maintenance careful, we keep our bikes as clean as we can, we toothbrush our chains regularly and keep them well oiled and debris free. But this trip has taken more of a toll on our poor bikes than we could ever have envisaged. The roads have been rougher, the way bumpier. And now we are into problems beyond any learning accrued on our 8 hours of bike maintenance training. We are into wheel truing (which is surprisingly easy), bearing maintenance and rim cracking. The latter two are of significant concern as there are two tools we didn’t bring that we seem singularly unable to find; a chain whip and a cassette removal tool. Though these may sound like kinky sex toys they are in fact what you need to take off your rear bike cassette (the rear gear cogs) and thus get access to your bearings (they are small balls that live in the centre of your rear wheel).

After days of being plagued by an unidentifiable ‘thump’ from the rear of Catherine’s bike we turned to the great interweb. Whereupon BIGTOOL, ROADMAMBA and other such bicycle experts helped us to the conclusion that her rear bearings must be wearing out or worn out. While knowledge is a wonderful thing we are still left somewhat stumped as we can’t actually get to the bearings (because of the lack of cassette removal tools – in rural Laos no bikes have gears….) and are still hazy on the long term affects of cycling on wearing bearings. Thus Catherine’s, somewhat cautious approach to hills, has become a crawling ginger paranoia; ever terrified of the rear wheel spinning off or locking and throwing her onto verges littered with unexploded ordinance (UXO), carelessly left every which where, by the US in the Vietnam war, to be blown into a thousand smithereens! We take hills moderately now.

Thankfully we have what every long distance cyclist needs; a Mothership, or, in this case a Fathership, who has cast a few tools in our direction to be collected in approximately 200km time. … *gulp* .  On top of this a rim inspection (again, not a kinky sex game) has revealed cracking on Liz’s rim (see pic). …. God (and maybe BIGTOOL and ROADMAMBA if we could get close enough to a web connection to ask them) alone knows what this means….. anyone?

ps – we have turned Right and are now cycling through Laos to get to Saigon… if anyone is interested..

Oh no! Liz gets a new bike!

6 06 2010

Liz is now the proud owner of a Condor Heritage touring steed.


I’ve only been cycling for about 3 years and the vast majority of my cycling experience has consisted of staring at Liz’s bum rolling merrily off into the distance. The Red Stallion revolutionised everything, I had my first taste of passing Liz on a hill and taking the lead, on a few occasions I’ve even had to wait for her to catch up!

Am I fitter than Liz? No. Am I more driven with gung-ho spirit? No. It was all because of the Red Stallion under me and the lesser mountain bike under her.

Now, however, things are set to change. The Condor Heritage sits confident, calm, and understated; a newcomer in the bike room. I can sense my little red stallion eyeing her up nervously, completion is in town!

On Your Bike Maintenance course

5 04 2010

I know a few things about fixing bikes.. I know how to change a tyre and brake pads. But to me bikes are a bit like maths, I learnt all I’ll ever functionally need to know in primary school,  I don’t need algebra to live my day to day! However with the big cycle looming Liz convinced me we’d better get a bit of long division under our belts.

Liz had heard of the Southwark Cyclists course at On Your Bike in London Bridge – we knew the shop, we’d heard it was good, so off we went. Every Tuesday evening, for 4 weeks, we pitched up ready to tinker.

There were 9 others on the course and 2 instructors (3 really but 2 on an evening by evening ratio). I know that some long distance cyclists are super bike whizzes and some neither know nor care how to change a tyre (there are plenty of bike shops in the big wide world!). Thus, for us, the aim wasn’t to become bike mechanics but to gain a bit more confidence and loose a bit of the fear.

Interestingly I loved it, Liz tolerated it. I think I’ve a bit more patience for tinkering than she has.  But between us we covered everything- It really was a super course and the instructors were lovely (as well as highly knowledgeable), however, the key things we (shakily) learnt were:

  1. We can’t fix everything ourselves because we can’t carry all the necessary tools. But the more you know the less likely it will be that you get diddled.
  2. Cleaning the wheel rim, chain, and cassette cogs on a weekly basis are the keys to long kit life.
  3. If a spoke breaks, open the breaks and ride (if possible) to the nearest bike shop (KNOW WHERE THEY ARE ALONG THE ROUTE). Carry a spare spoke to give to the bike mechanic.
  4. Check for chain stretch every so often (max every 3000KM’s) – if you think things are loose then take it into a shop and ask them to measure it for you. If it’s getting too loose change the chain and expect some slippage for the first week or so. If it is really bad then change the chain and rear gear cassette. If you change the chain before it has gone over the edge you can extend the life of the rear gear cassette.
  5. It is important that you have used the tools you are planning to take with you – a multi-set may not be the most useful thing.
  6. When you have oiled the chain wipe the excess oil off the outside so that dust etc doesn’t stick to it.
  7. Tyres have a direction arrow!

🙂 …


13 03 2010

About 3 weeks ago I took the plunge and ordered a Condor touring bike! For a while now I’ve been mulling over whether to stick with my hybrid or go for broke and get a new ‘something else’. In the end I felt that my hybrid was not really up to the rigours of our trip and I was worrying about it being an aluminium frame. Though slightly heavier, steel frames are easier to fix on the road than aluminium ones. Basically if your aluminium frame goes you’re looking at having to get a whole new bike!

Condor bikes are a popular touring choice as they are renowned for having really super components, being built to fit and generally looking really snappy (well mine does anyway!). I caught the tail end of the January sales and managed to get a cut price frame. After a rigorous 2 hour fitting and much handle bar mass debating I put in the order. It feels a bit odd not having seen the bike before committing to it but … fingers crossed.

Today I picked her up! She is a RED bike! Shinny shinny red bike! – if you want a component break down here it is….. RED! 🙂 – will post better info bits later.

Condor RED bike!

Kit – to laptop or not to laptop!

7 01 2010

Wheel, we’ve started to scout out bikes, bags, saddles, med kits etc etc etc (more about all that later) but one of our biggest quandaries is what electrical kit to take. We have been looking at the little Flip’s that are light (every gram saved will be a blessing in the Himalayas!) and small (we are aiming for only two back panniers and a handle bar bag each…. possible??), but it can’t focus and only stores about an hours worth of footage. So now we are looking at hard storage digital cameras – we have seen some that are pretty mini ones that store quite a lot of good quality footage (maybe the Samsung C10 SD camcorder for example) – swell! …. Now all we have to do is slush our way through a PC soup of info to make the actual final choice!

The next big decision is to lap top it or not.  If we have a PC we can blog more easily (or prep for the blog while we are off web radar) and thus be able to save money and time whenever we reach an internet cafe, we can also use it to edit our VOICES footage. But on the other hand it is extra weight, and something extra to lose or get stolen and we could probably manage by using just the internet cafes. …. .. Maybe if we found something small enough that was still usable (e.g. – big enough hard drive etc) AND under 1kg if possible. It’s all too easy to be seduced into forgetting that all those little gram shavings really will add up when being trailed over 10,000 KM and up some stormingly massive hills.