Handlebars and More Trails

When we bought my Mixte bike it had drop handlebars. This is not normally a problem, both my road-race bikes have them. I find them very comfortable and like the fact that I can change hand positions to relieve any pressure. However, for some reason those on the Mixte were not comfortable. Whether this is because the bike is heavier or the reach is a bit further away I don’t know, but I was feeling a lot of pressure around the base of my left thumb, with considerable aching. My husband suggested changing the handlebars, so he removed the drops.

Haughton, Stafford Greenway

Haughton, accessed from the left, trail ahead

At this point we decided to go and finish riding the Stafford Greenway, a local disused railway line that we had already ridden in part, once as a family outing and a second section on our own. We had bought the Mixte’s for rides such as this, but with no handlebars on mine at the time we decided to take the tandem.

We picked up the route by riding through the lanes to Haughton, where we had left it on our family ride and headed up the trail towards Newport, the end on the cycle route. The track was narrow in places and there were quite a lot of dog walkers and joggers out, but it was a very pleasant ride, mostly through trees with a few more open sections, especially towards the end. At one point there was a cow on the track, obviously escaped from a nearby field. We left it to find its own way back!

Free bicycle pump, Newport

Free Bicycle Pump

When we came to the end of the route we were pleasantly surprised to find a bicycle pump fixed beside the track. I have heard of this sort of thing before but never actually seen one anywhere. We didn’t need it but it would be a godsend to anyone who does.

Leaving the track on the outskirts of Newport we rode through the town and made our way home via country lanes rather than retrace our steps down the trail. In all we did a round trip of about 27 miles.

Now, we had a set of ‘sit-up-and-beg’ type handlebars in stock at home which needed shortening. My husband suggested I tried these on my Mixte, so he chopped an inch off each end and put them on the bike. I tried it round the block, a scant half-mile, but I found steering very jelly like, I didn’t like such an upright riding position. Also, I didn’t feel at all secure and I had difficulty in squeezing the brake levers, as the angle of my hands on the bars put strain on my painful thumb when I needed to brake and there really wasn’t any alternative position. On top of that we both decided they looked dreadful, not at all in keeping with the bike. Back to the drawing board.

Hubby’s Mixte bike has straight bars, to which he has added some bar-ends (like Viking helmet horns) which gives him some alternative hand positions. We also happened to have some spare straight bars in stock so my bars were changed yet again. We then got some similar bar-ends and put those on along with some foam rubber handlebar covers.

Last Tuesday, my eldest son had the day off work and we went for another family ride, (without our daughter who is back in Spain). We had decided on another trail ride, along the Biddulph Valley Way – a good chance to test my new handlebar configuration. Yes, this is another disused railway route, running from Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire to Congleton in Cheshire.

Border snack stop

Border Snack Stop

The whole route is 12 miles and would have to be a there and back again ride, which was likely to be rather much for our grandson, so we rode about 7 miles to where the route crosses from Staffordshire into Cheshire, stopped for a drink and a snack, and then rode back – a round trip of some 14 miles and which Tom could manage. This is a lovely route, some really smooth tarmac and some gravel tracks, a few road crossings which require care and some wonderful open views as well as a ride through a park with a lake in the early stages.

I’m pleased to say the latest handlebar swap seems to have done the trick, I survived this ride without any aches and pains around the base of my thumb and applying the brakes was much easier – always a good thing. The other good thing about this day out is that our grandson is doing a ’50 miles in the month’ challenge, for which he should get a medal on completion and he now only has about 4 miles left to do. Way to go, Tom!

Biddulph Valley lake

Biddulph Valley Way Lake


Made for Two

TandemFor several years now my husband has been thinking it would be fun to buy a tandem. Last week he finally bought one on Ebay. On Wednesday we drove up into Yorkshire to collect it, a two-hour drive each way. We had to take it to pieces to fit it in the car for the return journey.

After re-assembly we needed to set it up to suit. It came with drop handlebars and my husband found that the ones on the back interfered with his peddling action so he took them off and put straight bars on. Then he discovered he couldn’t reach the brakes too well on the front so he put straights on there too. However this resulted in not being able to operate the brakes properly at all as the levers touched the bars before being sufficiently depressed, so he put the drops back again.

Meanwhile I hadn’t got a lot of leg room at the back and a trial run up the road demonstrated that my knees kept knocking the handlebars with the constant resulting bump affecting the driver. The obvious answer would be to raise the handlebars, however this was when I learned that the handlebars were attached to the front seat post and couldn’t be raised without raising the seat, which hubby didn’t want to do!

We adjusted both seats, moving the back seat further back and the front one further forward to clear the bars and then put the drop handlebars back on the back position as the straight bars interfered more than the drops when rounding corners. With the front seat further forward the original problem was resolved.

Off we go!With the bike now seemingly set up we risked a ride up to our eldest son’s house on Saturday, a 7.5 mile round trip, with a coffee break of course. This was a bit scary but great fun, with questions such as “are you peddling?” coming from up front. We developed a pattern of verbal instructions to keep us in synch. “1, 2, 3 go” to push of, “roll” to freewheel, “pedal” to resume peddling and so on.

It was our son’s birthday and we had taken his present with us in a rucksack which hubby carried on his back – not ideal, it was rather in my face! While we were there our youngest son also arrived and the boys tried out the tandem with great hilarity, especially since they are both a bit big for it.Tandem boys

The bike is constructed so that it is smaller framed at the back and obviously this is intended for the smaller of the two using it, generally speaking the female. Traditionally the front rider is called the driver and the rear rider the stoker. Since the word stoker implies the one providing the power it seems a little strange to say the least. The driver has all the controls – steering, brakes and gears, while the stoker just sits there and pedals. Believe me it takes a bit of getting used to that you can neither turn the handlebars to go round corners nor apply the brakes to control downhill speed. Also it is rather difficult to see where you are going when you can barely see over the driver’s shoulder. I suppose it is some compensation that I was allowed to give hand signals.

By the time we got home again we were beginning to feel we were getting the hang of it and foresee some fun in the future. There is a little more work to do on it and I think I need my seat a little higher. It could also do with some new tyres and these are on order. The tandem, a French made Gitane, had sat in the previous owner’s garage for many years. We think it probably dates from the early 1980’s so we should be eligible to take part with it in some of the classic bike rallies. Often for these events people dress up appropriately and I wonder what we should wear. Strangely the words of an old Music Hall song come to mind…

“Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do,
I’m half crazy all for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage,
but you’ll look sweet upon the seat
of a bicycle made for two.”

Site content copyright of Elizabeth Leaper (Libby).

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