100 MILES ON A £100 BIKE


Cycling Plus - - CONTENTS - Words Si­mon Withers Images Pru­den­tial RideLon­don, Marathon Pho­tos

Tech writer Si­mon takes on Pru­den­tial RideLon­don on a late-’90s Raleigh M-Trax 6000R

The idea for the day came from CP ed­i­tor Rob Sped­ding. “Can any of you do a 100-mile ride on a 100-quid bike?” he asks the team, as they whis­tle dis­tract­edly and try not to make eye con­tact. But as the team’s res­i­dent cheap­skate and go-to guy for test­ing bud­get-re­lated kit, there was only ever go­ing to be one, er, ‘vol­un­teer’. “Oi! Withers! You’re do­ing it!” Which is why I’m strug­gling up the Sur­rey hills on an overgeared bike.

The lower reaches of Leith Hill in Sur­rey, just af­ter the half­way point of the 100-mile Pru­den­tial RideLon­don sportive, was where I dis­cov­ered the

big dif­fer­ence be­tween to­day’s road bikes and their skinny steel equiv­a­lent from the late 1990s. For­get car­bon fibre and big-di­am­e­ter tub­ing, ig­nore aero­dy­namic this and ul­tra-stiff over­sized that – the real change is the wide­spread use of the com­pact chain­set.

I found this out when I flicked from the 52-tooth outer ring to the 42-tooth in­ner for the ride’s first as­cent and barely no­ticed the change down. Which didn’t bode well as the big­gest sprocket isn’t that big – so the granny gear isn’t that OAP-ish – and part way up its length Leith Hill briefly reaches 12 per cent. It didn’t help that the first time that day I’d tried an out-of-the­sad­dle ef­fort – to look ag­gres­sive and show off my finest Al­berto Con­ta­dor moves for the of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­phers – I shipped the chain off the in­side of the in­ner ring, came to a halt and nearly crushed my dan­gly bits on the top-tube. This meant out-of-the­sad­dle climb­ing wasn’t pos­si­ble, while the low­est gear was too big to spin com­fort­ably while seated.


So, hop­ing no­body I knew was watch­ing I un­clipped and walked for a minute or so, at about the same speed I was cycling! I was in good com­pany as a long line of pedes­tri­ans clipped, clopped and stum­bled up the left-hand side of the road. I’d an­tic­i­pated this even­tu­al­ity by fit­ting a pair of sin­gle-sided SPD ped­als and wear­ing my softer-soled – and eas­ier to walk in – com­mut­ing shoes. By that stage I’d al­ready bro­ken sev­eral of the car­di­nal rules for rid­ing a ma­jor event, so what was one more?

We rec­om­mend you don’t tackle a big day out on kit you’re not used to. Well, thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of work and ill­ness, I hadn’t man­aged more than a mile or so on the circa-1997 Raleigh M-Trax 6000R I’d just bought from eBay, enough to en­sure the cor­rect sad­dle height and that noth­ing would fall off. I mea­sured and greased the seat­post, oiled the chain, checked the brakes and noth­ing did fall off… Oh, ex­cept the chain a cou­ple of times. One of the other joys of down-tube fric­tion shifters that I’d for­got­ten. And I couldn’t pre­vent the sad­dle from slip­ping for­ward un­til I tight­ened it as far for­ward as it would go.

It could have been worse, and the climbs that much harder, as some of that era’s M-Trax bikes had 53/42 chain­sets with a de­cid­edly not knee-friendly 12-23 cas­sette.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years, in fact it’s got worse, is the plethora of stan­dards. I needed a slightly shorter stem than the M-Trax had. Sim­ple. Bristol has loads of bike

“One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the plethora of stan­dards”

shops where I’d be able to pick one up. Sure enough, the Bristol Bike Work­shop had a hand­ful in stock. Bingo. Un­til I had a thought and got out the Vernier cal­lipers. Ah yes, Raleigh had gone with the Ital­ian 26mm clamp­ing stan­dard rather than the English stan­dard 25.4mm. And the shorter stems? Yep, the smaller di­am­e­ter. Luck­ily Cycling Plus’s of­fice is more-or-less next door to Black Beard Bi­cy­cles, which spe­cialises in clas­sic bikes, and a cou­ple of days be­fore RideLon­don, co-owner Pa­trick swapped the bar and stem combo for an iden­ti­cal one with a shorter stem. It’s just as easy to do this as it is to swap the stem; along with the com­pact chain­set the mod­ern stem with four-bolt face plate is a real and un­der­es­ti­mated boon.


RideLon­don is fan­tas­ti­cally or­gan­ised event, a cel­e­bra­tion of the de­lights of two-wheeled trans­port and part of a week­end of events for cy­clists of ev­ery abil­ity that cul­mi­nates in a race for the pros over the same course, which means you have to get a bit of a wrig­gle on if you’re not a speed­ster and aren’t one of the first off the line.

The start at the Olympic sta­dium in Strat­ford is smoothly mar­shalled and a good chance to check out other bikes. Swanky all-car­bon machines mix it with more mod­est bikes, a sprin­kling of tandems, Bromp­tons and sin­gle­speeds (fix­ies aren’t al­lowed), though I only saw one other bike with down­tube shifters.

The weather was nigh-on per­fect, so my light­weight show­er­proof stayed in my mini-sad­dle­bag as we pow­ered through East Lon­don and along­side the Thames. The early part was car­ried out at a very de­cent lick, as I got used to the bike on pleas­ingly car-free roads, af­ter I stopped reach­ing for STI levers that weren’t ac­tu­ally there. Us­ing down-tube shifters, you don’t want to look down at what your gears are do­ing


when you’re shar­ing the road with 25,000 other rid­ers of vary­ing abil­ity. I was rid­ing di­rectly be­hind a se­ri­ous rider-caused crash last year and I cer­tainly didn’t want to cause one this year.


Most of the time I didn’t no­tice I was rid­ing an old bike. At 10.25kg it’s heftier than a con­tem­po­rary one, but it’s only a kilo or so heav­ier than a top-end bike of its time (Bjarne Riis’s and Marco Pan­tani’s Tour de Francewin­ning Pinarel­los weighed around 9kg), and de­cent hand-built wheels make for a smooth and easy ride on the flat. I changed the tyres and sad­dle, just in case, and there was a tiny amount of play in the rear wheel’s bear­ings, but noth­ing that a ser­vice wouldn’t sort. The rims are nar­rower than a mod­ern bike’s but with qual­ity 23mm tyres and a Fab­ric Spoon sad­dle there were no issues with com­fort, and it could bomb down­hill once I’d puffed and grunted my way up. I was happy to reach 40mph or more on de­scents, only a bit slower than on my own bike.

The real joy of the day is shar­ing the roads with other cy­clists, re­al­is­ing just how much good cycling there is within a few miles of one of the world’s ma­jor

A smooth start from the Olympic Park sta­dium

Our man Withers was just one of 25,000 rid­ers who took part in the week­end’s rid­ing

The city is left be­hind to head to leafier Sur­rey

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