When I was a child, I never liked insects. There was one exception to that, and that was butterflies. These elusive creatures would seemingly appear from nowhere, landing close by, and displaying an array of colour that mesmerised me. On occasion, one would land on my arm, and I would just stare at it, transfixed by its beauty, for the short period of time it would stay. Then it would fly away once again. I never wanted to catch them, they seem to have a need to be free, to move as they wish, and make other people smile as they go about their short lives.
It struck me last week that people who travel are like butterflies. They move about, often solitary, until they come across other travellers. When they come together, what ensues is a congregation of people with colourful stories and experiences. These meetings are often short, but always memorable, until those involved fly off in different directions once more, a short time later.
I’m a little like a butterfly myself. I’ve grown some wings, but I’m not entirely confident about using them. I’ve begun to spread them out to dry, and are almost ready. I can see their colours and the joys they could bring me, but the confidence to fly away is almost as elusive as the butterfly itself. I started to flit about within my own country last year, and in just under three weeks time will test those wings by flying a little further. I know that if I find difficulty on the road, people will see my wings, understand my fragility and offer help.
People are believing in, and supporting what I’m trying to do, and this week saw the moment arrive when I was to pick up my new bike, specifically designed and built around me. I’d been searching for a name. A few things had come to mind, but none felt right. I began to think about butterflies and flitting about, spreading my wings and flying away, and there it was, Fly. Short for butterfly, we would dance around each other as we explored the world around us. It’s a partnership for life, and this bike is the one I will do all my future distance riding on. Fly, it just feels right.
I was excited when the call came through that Fly was waiting for me to go and meet her. The trip to MSG Bikes is a long, but pleasant drive through East Devon, Dorset, Hampshire and West Sussex. Equally enjoyable, was an afternoon with my old flying buddy and his partner. Sean, Andrea, and I have had many adventures of our own, and the time flew past talking about Sean’s flying, Andrea’s jewelry making, and old times. A small amount of beer and a curry saw the evening off, and in what seemed like no time at all, I was walking into MSG Bikes where a smiling Alasdair met me.
My day was spent being measured and pedalling. Alasdair and Shelagh’s day was spent making micro-adjustments. Fly was set on rollers and lasers were used to check my knee lines from the side whilst on the bike (static) and dynamically from the front to check out whether my knees oscillated from side to side whilst pedalling. Saddle height and all three hand positions were checked dynamically, as Alasdair explained why my annoying habit of straightening my arms is not a good plan. I then went out a 30 minute, relaxing ride, after which the micro-adjustments began.
I could spend the rest of this article talking about what Alasdair did and how I tried to give him information to help him make adjustments, but I won’t. Suffice to say that when you move the saddle or seat posts, it affects bar position, knee line and leg length. It’s an inordinately complex relationship that Alasdair completely understands. A tweak here and there led us slowly to the final ride. When I arrived back at the shop with a big grin, Alasdair knew his job was done. The problem inherent in the process, is that a rider will always want to get the bike back to what they are used to. This was a new riding position for me, so the 30 minute ride was to allow me to get used to that before we started. I was amazed how close the bike was to perfect from the original measurements, but some tiny adjustments made it feel different again. All that remained was the long (200 mile) drive home and I woke this morning to a very shiny and highly specced bike in the kitchen.
Fly is special, made just for me. Some parts are very expensive, and others simply functional. You don’t need a special bike to do any trip (read Dervla Murphy, who rode to Afghanistan on a Hercules bike, with 3 speed Sturmey Archer, and a gun!) Irene will still do lots of miles, but this bike is just for the big rides. As it stands now, it should be good for thousands of miles with little need to change or replace things. That was always the plan, function over form, a workhorse.
Like all workhorses, it isn’t light, but is strong. It looks odd because its genes are those of a world traveller, where tarmac isn’t often the surface you ride on and heavy loads are easily dealt with. The frame and forks are Cro-Mo steel, not aluminium. That really makes no difference at all. Bikes this strong get their comfort from good design and the right tyres, not from any give in the frame materials. I could also write an article on this, but modern steel isn’t the easily weldable option it once was, and aluminium is just as good when well designed, as are all Santos cycles. The forks run in a Santos headset, which uses stainless steel bearings of quality. Irene’s has nearly 10,000 miles on the same headset now, and it has never been adjusted, and is still as smooth as silk.
Driving the rear hum is a SRAM single speed chain and an ultra-tough 38 tooth chainring from Chinook, a french company. It’s almost twice the thickness of a standard ring and less susceptible to being bend whilst having excellent longevity. The rear sprocket is a Rohloff 16 tooth, the same one I used last year that has been turned around to even the wear out (It’s designed to do that) . Those ratios sound tiny, but I ran them last year, and the range is fantastic. I spin-out at around 30 mph in top gear, but can still climb hills of 25% relatively comfortably. 38-16 is the lowest gearing Rohloff will warranty, and ideal when heavily loaded.
The bottom bracket is a simple, high quality, square taper, sealed unit. I couldn’t make heads nor tails of all the new types, and until it settles, I’ll stick with the easy to find and use kind. Alivio cranks are cheap units. They don’t bend and will go round and round as long as I want them too. Any upgrade will be in the light of deciding which BB arrangement is the one to use in the future. Clipless, double-sided, SPD pedals keep my feet in the right place. These are middle of the range and known for their durability. Last years bottom of the range version are still going after nearly 10,000 miles, which is remarkable for £20.
The rims are Rigida, Andra, CSS rims. Heavy, expensive, and immensely strong, they are specially treated by firing tungsten-carbide at the braking surface at supersonic speeds. This means no more rim wear, and no need for disc brakes. The front rim has a Son dynamo. It doesn’t drag like the old-fashioned ones, and I can’t tell it’s there. It’s made to last for years and will allow me to charge my phone and other things for free. The wheels are built using Sapim spokes, again, the best for the job. Alasdair built the wheels himself, and I know they will give me no problems at all. The rear has the Rohloff Speedhub I bought last year in it. 14 gears that operate off a twist-grip with even spacing and massive range. They are legendary, as is their back-up, should you be unlucky enough to have a problem. The rear wheel is not dished, as it would be where a cassette or freewheel is used. This means that even with much fewer spokes (just 32), you have a much stronger wheel.
I kept it simple and cheap on the braking front. Shimano Deore vee brakes/levers stop the bike well, especially with the treated rims. The pads are special (read expensive) ones for the CSS rims, but once a few hundred miles are done, I may be able to revert to standard pads. I use fixed shoes with replaceable pads. This is a much lighter option than brake blocks and you simply pull a pin out and slide the new shoe in with no adjustment needed. This is another time-saving, stress busting thing, that makes a small difference when all you want to do is sleep.
Keeping it all comfy is about having the right riding position for you, and what you are doing. Once that’s established, it governs the type of saddle you use (or should do). I’ll be very upright on this bike. Brooks’ B17 saddle is perfect for my sit-bones, and the B68 version with springs, brings a level of shock absorbtion which could be crucial on the rough surfaces that Irish roads are notorious for. The seat-post is a standard alloy one with the usual micro-adjuster.
Up front, there are some unusual bars. They are not butterfly bars (ironic?). Butterfly bars are narrow on the section where they clamp to the stem, and loop forwards before bending back to give a hand position, behind and below the stem itself. The two alternative hand positions on these are all forward of the stem clamp, kind of bull horn bars. Alasdair tried fitting comfort riser bars, but the backward sweep was too much, and would have caused my back to bend (not good at all). He called me up, and we decided on these. Whereas most butterfly bars are narrow in the normal hand position, affecting control when braking, these are as wide as normal bars and are adjustable backwards and forwards, as well as up and down, adding to comfort and control. Further enhancing comfort are the paddle-shaped Ergon grips. These help by spreading shock over a wider area. Weight on the wrists is a problem of bike set up, and these are not designed to overcome that. When riding Fly, I have almost no weight on the wrists, and no discomfort. The bars attach to a BBB Aheadset style stem which is simple, light and effective.
I’ll be using an LED rear light and a dynamo front light for those misty mountain passes. I will be fitting these in the next day or so along with the transformer for the Biologic Reecharge, the device that will turn the AC power from the dynamo into useful DC power, which in turn is used to charge my phone or battery or whatever else I choose. I also have to fit the cycle computer, a simple 7 function Catseye unit. I found these reliable and durable last year, and don’t need lots of other information. On a good day, I want to know the time whenI get up, and the mileage at the end of the day. Everything else is superfluous to my needs.
Finally, and keeping me upright (I hope), are Schwalbe’s superb, Marathon Supreme tyres. I’m running 26″ x 1.6″ for lower rolling resistance, but still with a great deal of comfort. The trailer will run standard Marathons, and Schwalbe have supplied lots of spare tubes and rim tapes, just in case I need them.
I see Fly as an investment in my future. Irene needed a new set of wheels and lots of other things, and Fly is a big step up from her in terms of quality and durability. It’s alway difficult to spend on a bike when that money would keep me on the road for a good while next year, but I’ve chosen to do it now whilst I have the money. This has only been possible because Alasdair and Shelagh believe in me and Riding2Recovery. I will be forever indebted to them for their generosity in donating the Frame set, a lot of time, and expertise. MSG Bikes is a shop where build quality, rider happiness, and comfort is key to everything they do. Alasdair and Shelagh’s outlook is unusual these days. They take pride in every part they fit to a cycle frame. I knew this from when they converted Irene to a Rohloff Speedhub last year, and had already asked them to repair, and prepare Irene for this trip, before they offered to sponsor me.
I have the knowledge that any support or parts I need are just a phone call away, wherever I go, and whatever I do. They will build you a bike to almost any budget, and you can guarantee that it will fit you beautifully, and be immaculately put together. It may cost a little more up front, but will cost you a lot less further down the road, which is exactly where I’ll be in just under three weeks time, flitting about like a butterfly.
Please support Mind by visiting my donation page at: www.justgiving.com/Riding2Recovery and donating whatever you can afford. Their work makes a real difference, to real people, who find themselves in difficult circumstances due to no fault of their own.