Monthly Archives: May 2015

Bike racks

I recently bought a new bike rack to bring the number I own up to 3, which seems a bit excessive. I need to get rid of one but the other 2 are brilliant so I thought they deserved a write up.

The first rack I bought, several years ago now,  was a cheapish option to carry 3 bikes on the back of a saloon car. It was an adjustable rack from Hollywood that attaches onto the back with clips that go onto the edge of the metal boot and straps to keep it all tight. It works, having carried 3 bikes to the south of France and bikes to Mountain Mayhem, Enduro 6 and trail centres. It’s well made and well thought out. Once adjusted the bars can be locked with easy to use joints and the plastic coated parts are durable.

Hollywood rack

Plus points

  • It’s temporary. You fit it to take the bikes and remove it to get you car back. You don’t need to change anything on the car.
  • Cheap. I think it was £60 or so so £ per trip is very low.
  • Versatility. It can be used on many car types

Negatives

  • Ease of use. It’s a faff to use. After the initial setup of the bars to the right position you still have to attach 6 straps and tension them, one at a time, several times. Then the bikes need strapping on, and checking
  • Confidence. It’s not the most stable of racks. You can see the bikes moving and I felt the need to stop several times on long journeys to adjust and check the straps and the bikes.
  • Access while in use. Once it’s on, it’s on. The boot is out of action so you need to think ahead and make sure you have things you need inside the car.
  • Car material. For all steel cars it’s fine but when we switched cars the new one had a plastic skin to the top of the estate rear door. While the rack was re-adjusted and worked, it played on the confidence I had as it was plastic holding up several thousand pounds worth (shhh don’t tell) of bikes.
  • Security. The bikes and the rack aren’t safe and while you can lock the bikes together to make it cumbersome, all you need to do is slacken or cut the straps.

A new car (a Honda Accord estate) prompted a re-think on how to carry the bikes. We got the estate so I had more room for bike trips away family holidays and the downsides of the hollywood rack meant it had to go (it’s not gone but it will be when I get around to selling/giving it away). I just didn’t have the confidence in it when attached to the Honda as the bikes moved around too much and knowing the upper straps were hooked onto plastic rather than metal made me feel nervous putting expensive bikes on there. I’m sure it was fine but the lack of boot access as well made it difficult to use.

A lot of research led to what I consider to be the best possible bike rack – a towbar mounted one. So, I had a towbar fitted (not a Honda one, not for £600) and splashed out on an Atera Strada 3/4 bike rack from the RoofBox company. Lots of people like roof mounted racks but they require you to put a set of bars on the roof, which takes time and then lift the bikes above your head to load and unload. Not a problem with light bikes but more fiddly and difficult than a towbar mounted one. You can also keep an eye on them when they are in the rear view mirror.

The Altera Strada – this rack is superb.

Atera Strada

Plus points

Speed of fitting. The rack itself fits to the car in under a minute. It’s not light but drops onto the towbar ball and the ratchet handle secures it in a seconds. It also locks onto the towbar for added security.  It takes a little while first time out to sort out the best order of bikes and to set the wheel straps to the right position but subsequent uses take less than a minute to fit the rack and a minute each for the bikes. It’s very secure and with some pipe lagging to place on parts of frames to make sure there are no rub marks it’s fast and easy to use. Sometimes you need to remove or lower a saddle but it’s possible to get the bikes I carry on without doing this.

Confidence. It’s solid, the bikes are securely attached and are out of the wind so don’t move around too much or affect fuel consumption. All the weight is over the back of the car but it doesn’t affect things and I’m undecided on the beeping made by the indicators. Part of me likes it – a reminder that I have bikes on the back.

Access while in use. Brilliant. The rack has a feature whereby it slides away from the car allowing the boot to open allowing access to the contents while the bikes are on the rack. i’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve used it while at trail centres, travelling long distances etc.

Security. The rack locks to the towbar and the straps lock the bikes to the rack. The straps themselves are re-enforced to make cutting them more difficult. it won’t stop a determined thief but it will stop opportunists.

Build quality. I’ve had it several years and used it 30 or more times and it’s still as good as new. I grease the moving parts once a year

Negatives

You need a towbar so it can’t be used on lots of cars

Cost. It’s not cheap but you get what you pay for

Size. You need a garage to store it and it’s not the smallest rack. While it’s in use it stays on the car or can be used as a bike rack if you’re camping (another plus)

SeaSucker Talon

The most recent purchase was dictated by the purchase of a new car. A Mazda MX5 with electric hardtop. Neither of the current racks work with it. The Hollywood won’t fit, plus the boot metal feels too thin to support the straps. The car also can’t be fitted with a towbar so that limits the options.  After a lot of research there are only 2 possibilities. A Saris Bones – used by several people with soft tops  (probably the only option for them) or a Seasucker. Given that I have the retractable hardtop the Seasucker Talon was the one.

The Seasucker has it’s origins in marine applications allowing mounts to be added to boats and

Talon

Talon

other marine craft with smooth surfaces. The company has adapted the vacuum pump technology to add in mounts for bikes to allow mounting to all sorts of vehicles. The Talon consists of two parts, a front set of pads that contain a front wheel mount on a triangular set of 3 pads and a rear single pad to hold the back wheel in place.  Attaching a bike involves removal of the front wheel which needs to be stored separately. I also bought the additional flightdeck accessory that adds a front wheel mount along with a second pad for the rear.

The only concern I found when researching the rack was the use of vacuum pads and the consequence of failure. Given that the rack isn’t physically attached to the car this could be a big problem if the pads fail. I think the design and the addition of the flightdeck covers this. Each pad can hold 200lbs in weight so a bike mounted correctly (forward facing on a clean piece of bodywork) is unlikely to exceed this force. The three cups give redundancy so two could fail and

Flightdeck

Flightdeck

the bike will  remain attached. The flightdeck adds redundancy for the rear pad which after reading a review of the ear pad failing for someone (resulting in the bike sliding around the car) meant it was a necessary addition. Given the limited internal space in the MX5 it also allow the rear wheel to be stored outside on the boot as well. The rack is easy to assemble with clear instructions and a spare pad is provided as well, which was unexpected but given the cost, a good thing to include.

The rack is quite small and the pads are protected by rigid plastic covers, which are easy to remove and OK to re-fit. A bit fiddly but once on they are secure.

Using the rack is straightforward. I attach the bike to the main part on the ground then lift it onto the car. I place the rack on the floor with the protective covers still on, remove the bike front wheel and attach the bike to the rack with the QR.

I then wipe the roof with a cloth to make sure there is no grit or dirt on the roof so that a) the rack can attach properly and b) the roof doesn’t get scratched.

Seasucker on MX5 front view

Seasucker on MX5 front view

Next is to remove the pads from the front part of the rack. I tend to put the bike upside down on bars and saddle but have also done it by lifting the front with one hand and removing with the other. The main thing here is to ensure the rubber pads don’t touch the floor. I then pour a bit of water onto the pads to make sure they are moist and will make a good seal.

Then lift the bike onto the roof. With the MX5 this is easy as it’s quite low and my bikes are all quite light. I find that with the roadbike I need the pads in a different position to the mountain bikes which have a longer wheelbase. When positioned the rear wheel rests on the boot. Attaching the pads to the car is a simple matter of pumping each vacuum pump about 10 times. You press each pad to the metal and can see the rubber start to depress after 2 or 3 pumps. The pump has a white band what disappears as the vacuum is established and the pump remains depressed. For the 3 pads this takes less than a minute in total.

Yeti mounted on the Seasucker Talon

Yeti mounted on the Seasucker Talon

Next is to lift the rear wheel from the boot and place it on the flightdeck. Velcro strap it in place and attach the rear two pads in the same way. Add the front wheel to the vertical holder, quick check that there are no white stripes visible and every pad is attached and that’s it. 5 minutes at most once you’ve done it a couple of times.

The Yeti has the front pads on the largest part of the hard top, the pads are almost flat.

When in place the bike feels very secure. First time I attached it I left the bike for 20 mins on the drive to check that the pads remained at full vacuum, which they did.

Boardman roadbike on MX5 with seasucker

Boardman roadbike on MX5 with seasucker

I’ve driven 90 mins with the road bike on the car and it’s perfectly fine. The bike is quite light at 16lbs and barely moves. The car handles the same and the rear view lets you see that the bike barely moves. All the pads retained vacuum and removal is simple

To unload the bikes it’s a reversal of the loading. front wheel off, release the vacuum on the flightdeck pads (by pushing on a rubber T near the edge of the pad. This lifts the edge enough to let air in and to release the pad from the boot.

Talon closeupThe front pads sit across the folding hardtop. The front pad needs to be pushed down slightly when fitting as the roof curves but the platform is flat. An articulated joint would make this easier but would add weight and more cost.

 

 

The rear pads sit on the boot.
Flightdeck closeup Pad closeup

 

 

 

 

Pro’s

Confidence: For a lot of people on forums this seems to be the big downside and stops them buying a seasucker. I had no real choice and now I’ve actually used it I’m very confident. The additional pad on the rear means that a single pad can fail and the bike is still secure. The bike feels secure and physically moving it moves the roof – which given the way the roof attaches means it’s going nowhere.

Build Quality: This is a well made rack. The only thing I’d change is the QR which could be better. One end has a thread which would be better if it were smaller allowing the fork to rest on a solid bar rather than the thread. Time will tell how long the pads will last.

SIze: As it’s very small this is a big benefit. Once the bike is off the rack easily fits into the MX5 boot

Cons

Access while in use: Not good as the bike sits on the boot. It would be possible to release the QR, un-velcro the rear wheel and lift the bike off the boot but you just need to be prepared.

Security: Not good. The rack can be removed in seconds so you can’t leave a bike on the rack. Seasucker do sell a security clip and cable which would be good if you nip away for a coffee etc but I don’t have one so can’t comment. Not really a problem for me as I will always take the bikes off at each end of a journey and always keep them in sight when I stop.

Cost: Not a cheap rack but it is well made and you get a spare pad. Worth the money ? Probably.

The Verdict

The Seasucker Talon paired with the flight deck is a cracking bike rack. It’s innovative and well made, small, easy to fit and flexible enough to fit onto any vehicle. For a hardtop MX5 and possibly other sports cars and coupé’s it’s probably the best, if not only, choice. I feel confident enough to put a bike worth a lot of money on the top and drive down the country roads at a decent pace. You do rely on the pads remaining functional so time will tell if it remains a good buy. for me is a 9/10

Out with the old

In an attempt to sort out my garage (which was full of old boxes, bikes, camping gear and general tat and rubbish), I’ve got rid of some bikes. It’s taken me years to do this since I decided some needed to go and I think I’m halfway. 2 down and 2 to go.

The first to go was my Team Marin. My first decent mountain bike, bought back in the 90’s with Pace RC35AB elastomer suspension forks. The one I started racing seriously on, the one I rode my first Mayhem on, the one I’ve done most miles on. One I struggled to get rid of.

The decision came because I just wasn’t riding it. Hadn’t ridden it in over a year and I couldn’t see when I’d ride it again. A post on retrobikes and a local buyer saw it go in less than a week. I could have split it and sold it in bits to make more money but it was too much hassle (working away from home makes it harder) and just selling it was hard enough.
Next up was my first motorbike – a similar story – it’s been unused for years so it went a couple of weeks ago to a mate.

The Giant Escaper is next – I might give that away. My daughters outgrown her Dawes mountain bike so that will go the same way soon. Once the Giant has gone I’ll be able to justify a new road bike. The Boardman is over 5 years old and has done me very well but is showing signs of age and will end up being a winter training bike.

Then that will be it. All the bikes I will own will have a purpose and get used. It might have taken me a while to start but getting rid of stuff is now much easier and I’m on a roll and feeling ruthless.

Mayhem 2014 Review

Having looked at the draft posts I have I realised I never posted last years Mayhem report – oops only a year late

 

The biggest 24hr race is the first entry in my calendar every year and this year was my 7th and probably the most enjoyable. Gatcombe Park is a great venue and having learned from last years inaugural event there it was a lot better.

The weather help of course. From early morning Friday to well after the event we had glorious sunshine which led to dry fast trails, no bikes to wash, smiles all around and lots and lots of great riding.

Friday

I always take the Friday as holiday so Pete and I trekked over to Coventry to pick up a van, we loaded all the gear up and off we headed around 10.30. I took my Ti hardtail as well as the

Packed and ready to go

Packed and ready to go

Yeti ASR so I had a spare bike. We took several event shelters to make sure we had enough cover as we were camping with 3 other teams as usual. The LWB van looked big enough until we put everything in, despite us both deciding to try and pack light this year.

 

 

We marked out our area in camp site A and put up all the shelters and tents. Sun shone

Carbo loading on Friday

Carbo loading on Friday

down and with no clouds in the sky we decided to opt out a sighting lap and concentrate on carbo loading instead. With a dry short lap to ride we were all going to get lots of laps in so no need to waste energy so early on we thought.

A trip to the arena to register and check out the stands was as active as we got. Shiny bike parts were admired, nerves built, food eaten and much banter was exchanged.

All in all a very typical and enjoyable start to Mayhem.

 

Saturday

I was, by default, down to be first rider out as the others refused to run so after a relaxed breakfast and bike tinkering I headed to the start. I jogged very gently around the run course and set off at a medium pace knowing there would be hold ups at some point and plenty of time for a faster lap later so no need to get worked up at this point.

The course was, in my opinion, the best we’ve had in many years. Fun in places but not too mad for the newbie riders. Steep and challenging in places but all ridable if you had the legs. The run in through the camp site with a fast section and a bit of a jump after a path crossing made it a run run back the arena.

Sunday

The race was one of the smoothest we’ve had, aided by very good weather and fast conditions. This means, of course, that lap times were quick and more laps were there to be ridden. I managed to ride all of all my laps with no unclipping and physically I felt better than I’ve ever probably done.

Result

We managed 27 laps coming 38/80 in Sport men. I did 8 laps sneaking in a final one at the end and could have managed a double had I got back in time. Looking at the results it would have only moved us up one position.

The weather makes such a difference and the new course with trackside camping was a much needed improvement. We will of course be back next year.

Gloworm X1 review

A recent ride back from the pub a strategy meeting recently highlighted that my current AyUp lights are now indeed 5 years old, when the battery ran out after 5 minutes. Lighting has progressed quite a way since I did the research for my first set of decent off-road lights and light output and run times are now significantly higher. The top end lights still cost the same, you just get enough light to turn night into day, and the next price bracket down gives you more than enough light (and more than my AyUps) for around half the cost.

Upgrade or replace

I considered getting the AyUp LED’s and batteries updated as AyUp did and third parties do provide an upgrade service. I would have used the AyUp service to refresh them to something more powerful but it seems they no longer do this for UK customers and I don’t have the time to send them away. As the bar light has a 6hr run time, I guessed this might last for 2 hour long Mayhem lights so I decided a new helmet light would be perfect for my immediate needs.

After much research and contemplation I decided on the Gloworm X1, a pretty easy decision really as it ticked all the boxes – Lightweight – A lot of light – A decent run time – Well priced Gloworm are a New Zealand company but have a UK distributor so after a few days of pondering I put in an order. I decided on a spare battery and a bar mount while I was at it and applied my Singletrack Premier discount code and sat back and waited. 3 days later nothing, no lights, no emails, not a sign of anything. I dropped CRGMoto (the UK distributor) an email and left a voice message. A week after ordering, still nothing, and I was starting to get concerned. More messages and I finally got an email saying that they were due to ship the day after having waited for a new batch of bar mounts before shipping my complete order. So, customer communication could be improved but sure enough they arrived the next day. Since I got my lights CRGMoto are no longer the UK distributor after failing to fulfil orders and have been elusive in being contactable.

First impressions are good. The box is small and light so the light must be as well.

The light looks lovely, a CNC’d block of Aluminium on a minimalist bracket with a pair of cables coming out of the back. The light is held onto the stand by a single hex bolt (allen key provided) with rubber washers to allow it to be tight but still tweaked once secure. The bracket has slots in the base to allow it to be attached to a helmet and plenty of velcro straps are provided for this purpose. One cable provides power via one that has a weatherproof connector that attaches to the battery, the other has a sealed switch on the end, backed with velcro. This is used to turn in on/off and control the various settings that the light supports. It’s a good solution as the button can be located on the side of the helmet onto a velcro pad allowing easier access to the functions compared to reaching for the light itself. An extension cable means the battery can be located in a backpack if desired.

Attaching the light to a helmet is fiddly but not too difficult. finding an appropriate vent and routing the velcro strap takes a bit of time but it’s easy to secure and find suitable positions for the light, battery and switch.

In use the light lives up to expectations, the switch allows 4 different output levels that are easy to cycle through and I did find myself turning the output down on sections of trail that didn’t need it as it’s easy to do.

Conclusions

These lights do well in groups tests and it’s easy to see why. They are well made with good light levels and easy to use. You can program them if you want and are physically light.

I’m considering buying one it’s bigger brothers to replace the bar light but the uncertainty over distribution is making me look elsewhere. If this is sorted before I decide to buy then it sums up what I think of them nicely – by over £200.

… back in the room

So I’ve neglected the blog.
Life, work and a lack of mojo meant it’s not been high on my list of priorities but in an attempt to get my mojo back I’m going to try and do more updates.

Not riding much, feeling unfit (relative to what I have been) being heavier than I want to be blah blah makes riding and motivation a chicken and egg situation. I know that I need to break the habit so this blog is a part of that attempt.
No-one reads it this is a note to my future self….