A Cyclists Guide To Bike Frame Materials: Carbon Fibre

Carbon fibre-framed Team Sky time trial bike
Carbon fibre-framed Team Sky time trial bike

Welcome to the second in my series of posts on the materials used to make bicycle frames.

**UPDATE: The full list of ‘materials’ posts can be found on my new page dedicated to bike building: How To Build A Bike **

Readers of my previous article (which you can read here) will no doubt have been shocked, intrigued and ultimately delighted by my razor-sharp insights into the world of steel manufacture.

Now it is the turn of the young pretender to the throne: carbon fibre.

Virtually the entire professional road cycling world, and certainly all of the teams at the ProTeam level, use carbon fibre frames for their road race and time trial bikes. This would tend to suggest that, as a material, it has certain performance benefits.

So now, why don’t you join me, as we go … through … the … keyhole investigate the hi-tech carbon fibre industry.

What is carbon fibre?

Or carbon fiber, if your spelling is of a more American persuasion.

Carbon fibre is the shorthand term for carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer. Fibres are used to reinforce a polymer (normally expoxy) in order to create a light but very strong material suitable for making things that need to be, er, light and very strong.

The layout of the carbon fibres, and the proportion of carbon to polymer, allow manfacturers to vary the strength and rigidity of a piece of carbon fibre to suit its particular purpose.

How are carbon fibre frames constructed?

The individual pieces of carbon fibre are molded into their desired shapes. Once a mould has been created, sheets of carbon fibre cloth are layered within it and the epoxy is introduced. The contents of the mould are heated in order to bond the elements together.

As to how the bike frame itself is then constructed, the short answer is, ‘it depends’.

You can get carbon fibre tubes and lugs which are then joined together in much the same way as you would with steel tubing (albeit using glue rather than welding equipment).

Alternatively, you can form an entire section of the bike (for instance, the front triangle) using a single piece of carbon fibre before joining it to the other pieces of the frame.

A carbon buzz word that you often hear thrown around is ‘monocoque’. It sounds cool (very ‘racing car’) but is a bit of a misnomer in the cycling sense. Strictly speaking, monocoque refers to an object that derives its structural strength from its skin, rather than the underlying frame. Since a bike is only a frame, the word is a little nonsensical.

That said, the term is used to describe bikes that are made from a single piece of carbon fibre with no joins, such as the Lotus bike used by Chris Boardman to win gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Presumably, to the Spanish, monocoque can also refer to the appendage of a male monkey.

Who makes carbon fibre for bikes?

The main suppliers of carbon fibre used to make bike frames and components are Japanese, and enjoy exciting names such as Toho Tenax, Toray Industrial and Mitsubishi Rayon.

The companies responsible for turning ‘raw’ carbon fibre into individual frames and components are almost entirely based in China and Taiwan. The manufacturers work with bike makers and designers around the world to implement their carbon visions.

Why do people choose carbon fibre for bicycle frames?

The two main arguments in favour of carbon fibre frames, at least from a professional racing perspective, are weight and aerodynamics.

All else being equal (and let’s face it, they rarely are equal), a carbon fibre frame will be lighter than an equivalent quality and strength steel (or titanium) frame.

The process of manufacture allows bike makers to produce frames sculpted to maximise aerodynamics. Using computer simulations and wind tunnel testing, frame (and other component) designers can adjust the shape of the bike to reduce air resistance and ultimately allow it to go faster.

The lightweight nature of carbon fibre means that such aerodynamic augmentations can have minimal impact in terms of increasing bike weight.

What are the limitations of carbon fibre as a frame material?

It is important how we define strength (i.e. in my description of the advantages of carbon fibre above). There are a number of properties that might come under the umbrella term, ‘strength’, in which carbon fibre underperforms other materials.

Carbon fibre is a less durable material than, for instance, steel. It is more likely to crack or shatter when something strikes it (or, more likely, when it, and you, strikes something else).

An important factor, particularly if you’re riding the bike at the time, is the speed at which the material fails. If steel receives a dent or a crack, it will generally continue to perform its function for a time. Carbon fibre, on the other hand, tends to fail ‘catastrophically’, which sounds… er, entertaining…


As I’ve already mentioned, this post is one of a series looking at all materials that are used to make bicycle frames (well, all sensible ones at least). If you’ve missed it, be sure to take a look at my barely-disguised love letter to steel (here’s the link again).

In future posts I’ll be looking at aluminium, titanium and wood, plus any other materials I discover in the meantime.

I do hope you’re finding the series interesting. Please do share it with your own personal peletons (or just click one of the buttons below).

I look forward to welcoming you back to the Grimpeur Heureux soon. Until then, I hope your road surface remains smooth and the wind is always at your back.



A Cyclist’s Guide To Bike Frame Materials: Steel

Steel framed bike
Simple steel beauty

Most people with any interest in bikes will have at least a passing familiarity with the materials that are used to make them.

The sculpted, wind tunnel-honed lines of pro peleton bikes are unmistakably formed from carbon fibre. The skinny  road bikes of old evoke images of bespectacled engineers in oil-stained overalls, squinting at steel tubes in complex jigs.

But do you know how these materials are used to make bikes that meet the needs of cyclists in the 21st century?

The basic diamond shape of a bicycle frame may not have changed significantly for more than 100 years, but the materials used in their manufacture have progressed considerably.

In this series of posts, I am going to look in detail at what bikes are made from: why those materials were chosen, who makes them, and how they are used to make a bike.

**UPDATE: The full list of ‘materials’ posts can be found on my new page dedicated to bike building: How To Build A Bike **

My first choice of material is steel, a metal whose own development over the past century has been interwoven with that of the bicycle.

So, whether you’re a man of steel or an Iron Lady (or any other superhero/1980s British prime minister), I hope you find something useful in this post.

What is steel?

The question you’ve always wanted to ask!

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]Men are like steel. When they lose their temper, they lose their worth – Chuck Norris[/quote]

Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, amongst other elements. The types of steel used in bike manufacturer vary from lower quality metal (carbon or high-tensile steel), similar to that used in car production, through to specialised steel alloys.

Higher quality steel bikes are generally made from alloys. You might remember the name of one of the more familiar steel alloys, chromium-molybdenum or ‘chromoly’, from the sticker on your first bike. The highest-performing steel alloys these days include even more elements, such as nickel, niobium, titanium and copper.

The aim of the game in the development of newer steel materials is to increase strength, allowing bike manufacturers to use thinner tubing and therefore reduce the weight of the bike.

How are steel bikes constructed?

The frames of production steel bikes tend to be TIG welded together.  The tubes are cut and mitred so that they fit against one another and then a weld is made to join them together. (TIG stands for ‘Tungsten Inert Gas’, chemistry fans)

Higher end and custom-made frames commonly use lugs in the joining of the tubes. Lugs are joining pieces that fit around the ends of tubes, allowing two or more tubes to be joined together. The lugs are then brazed onto the tubes in order to secure them into place. Brazing involves the use of another metal (such as brass or silver), which is melted to form the join, and then cooled to secure it.

I could try to argue that the use of lugs benefits the performance of the bike. The argument goes something like this:

The brazing material melts at a temperature much lower than steel. By brazing on lugs, rather using higher temperature TIG welding to join the tubes directly, you avoid the risk that the tubing is brought close to its melting point, which causes the metal to crystalise and can result in the seperation of its alloys. Hence, lugged joints are stronger (all else being equal).

I could argue that.

But the truth is, steel bike aficionados tend to like lugs for aesthetic reasons. They hide what would otherwise be ‘unsightly’ welds (although there are those that will write poetry about a well-formed visible join) and introduce style and individuality into what can otherwise appear a rather utiliterian object. The use of lugs, and their design, speaks to the framebuilder’s skill – they remind the owner of the bike, and anyone that sees it, that craftsmanship went into its manufacture.

And who doesn’t like to see a little bit of craftsmanship?

Who makes steel tubing for bikes?

The major manufacturers of steel tubing for bikes are Reynolds and Columbus.

Reynolds is based in the UK (who said we’ve lost our industrial base!). The company started life in 1841 as a maker of nails, before turning to bicycle tubing at the end of the nineteenth century. The firm patented the invention of butted tubes (whereby tube walls were made thicker, and therefore stronger, at the ends) in 1898. Their flagship product these days is Reynolds 953, which purports to benefit from being a ‘martensitic-aging stainless steel alloy’ with ‘tensile strength in excess of 2000 MPa’.

I’m guessing that means that it is strong and light.

Columbus has its origins as part of an Italian firm founded in 1919 by Antonio Luigi Columbo. In addition to making tubes for bicycle framebuilders (Edoardo Bianchi was an early customer), A.L. Columbo supplied a diverse customer base, from furniture makers to manufacturers of aircraft. In 1977, a dedicated firm, Columbus, was established to develop and manufacture specialist bike tubing. Being an Italian firm, Columbus has benefited from (and contributed to) the reputation for quality associated with Italian framebuilders.

It’s always difficult to decipher the website of an Italian manufacturer (it is – I used to come across them a lot in my previous career), even when they’ve been translated into English (or maybe because they’ve been translated into English). As far as I can work out, Columbus’s top of the range steel offering is called Niobium, but your guess is as good as mine as to how it is made or why it works…

Why do people choose steel for bicycle frames?

The main argument in favour of a steel-framed bike, particularly over a carbon fibre frame, is strength and durability.

Steel is resilient to the repeated stresses placed on the bike frame when riding (flex, for instance). It is tough, being resistant to cracks and impact. When dents or nicks do occur, with steel, they are less likely to turn into full-blown failures. If there is a failure, it tends to progress slowly rather than catastrophically (unlike carbon fibre).

A steel frame can be repairable. If a tube is broken or corroded, more often than not it can be repaired or swapped out and replaced with a new one.

If you’re planning on cycling around the world (what, you mean you’re not?), and hit an argali somewhere on the Mongolian steppe, you’re more likely to find a workshop in an Ulan Bator backstreet that has the tools to fix a steel-framed bike than a carbon one.

(An argali is the world’s largest wild sheep).

Using steel is probably the most cost-effective way to get a custom-fit bike made to suit your precise requirements and body shape.

Many people (and I include myself within that number) consider steel-framed bikes to be more attractive than those made from other materials (particularly carbon fibre). This is, of course, entirely subjective. The aesthetics will depend on the design of the bike, and who (or which factory production line) made it. There are countless steel-made atrocities; some carbon fibre bikes are attractive (yes, really).

On the whole, when buying a product, people like to know there was a human directly involved in its manufacture. They like to feel there is expertise, craftsmanship and care deeply imbued within its fabric.

In buying a higher-quality, or custom-made, steel frame bike, a cyclist is supporting and celebrating the craft of bicycle-making and doing their own little bit to ensure that it continues into the future.

What are the limitations of steel as a frame material?

The traditional argument against the use of steel in high-performance bicycles is weight. All else being equal (in terms of quality and purpose), a carbon frame will be lighter than an equivalent steel one.

However, we’re not all pro riders looking to save every last gram.

Add on the weight of components (which will be the same in each case), graciously accept that we do not have the hungry whippet physique of Bradley Wiggins and then acknowledge that we would ideally like the frame to survive more than one season on our pot-holed roads, and suddenly the weight differential of the frame material becomes a little less important.

Sign up to the Grimpeur Heureux e-mail list: it’s a steel…

So that concludes my appraisal of the use of steel as a bike-making material. I hope you find it interesting and enjoyable.

The Grimpeur Heureux (that would be me) has been considering purchasing a new road bike. I’ve been looking at a variety of options, including a custom steel framed bike, to be made by a local framebuilder. If you’d like to read more about that, you can find the post here.

Look out for the other posts in this series, as I look at carbon fibre, aluminium, titanium and more unusual materials (at least as far as framebuilding is concerned).

If you liked this post, it would mean a lot to me if you could share it on the social network of your choice. Just click on one of the buttons below.

In the meantime, I wish you happy and safe riding.


RideLondon 100: Please Sponsor the Grimpeur In Aid of Macmillan Cancer Support

RideLondon for MacmillanReaders of this blog have probably picked up on the fact that I will be taking part in the inaugural RideLondon-Surrey 100 cyclosportive in August.

As the name suggests, the event is a 100 mile bike ride that loops out from London into Surrey, before returning for a triumphal sprint along the Champs Elysees the Mall.

I am not a naturally gifted athlete. 100 miles is considerably further than I have ever cycled before. Just over half way around, I’ll have to climb a series of hills, including the foreboding Leith Hill and the Olympics-gilded Box Hill. I’ll be putting in considerable training time and effort in order to make sure I finish, ideally with some of my dignity left intact.

What has this got to do with you, you ask?

Well, I want you to sponsor me.

Why am I supporting Macmillan?

I have strong personal reasons for supporting a cancer charity.

Last year saw the death of John, my wife’s stepfather, from a particularly aggressive form of bladder cancer.

John was a truly awesome person. He was a practical man that delighted in helping others. His patience and good humour were demonstrated on a frequent basis, as he helped me resolve my latest DIY blunder.

Despite never having had children of his own and really only entering my wife’s life as she turned 18 and left for university, John embraced our children as if they were his own grandchildren (to all intents and purposes, they were). He spent hours building train tracks with our son and showing him his treasured collection of Matchbox cars (his ‘swapsies’ – even I wasn’t allowed to handle his first editions). Even though he only saw the first 18 months of our daughter’s life, he thought her wonderful.

I want to raise as much money as possible for Macmillan in order to honour John’s memory.

What do Macmillan do?

Macmillan logo RideLondonMacmillan provides practical, medical and financial support to people diagnosed with cancer and their families. Having seen firsthand the pain and suffering that comes from a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, I believe that the help that Macmillan provides is vital.

The NHS is under increasing financial pressure. Its ability to provide support to those with cancer, and particularly those in its terminal stages is limited. Macmillan provides that support. We, in turn, need to support Macmillan.

Why should you sponsor me?

I would really appreciate it if you could sponsor me. You can donate as little or as much as you feel able.

If you have enjoyed reading the Grimpeur Heureux blog, then perhaps you could consider a small donation to Macmillan by way of thanks.

You might have noticed that there are no adverts on the site. The situation may change in the future, but for now and certainly until after the RideLondon event takes place, I will not be using the blog in any money making capacity.

If you are one of my former investment banking colleagues, then reach deep into those pockets of yours and give generously!

How can you sponsor me?

It couldn’t be easier. Simply click on this link to the mydonate website:


I chose mydonate because after some extensive research (i.e. a Google search), I determined that they have the lowest transaction fee of all the online charity websites. For every £10 you donate, £12.35 goes to the charity (due to gift aid), with only 15p going to mydonate as transaction charge.

Once again, if you sponsor me, you will have my eternal gratitude (well, okay, I’ll like you for a very long time).

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

Best wishes,



Which Bike GPS Device: The Ultimate Buyers Guide

In this post I will describe what a bike GPS device is and what it can do for cyclists. I’ll talk about the difference between a dedicated device and using the GPS functionality of your phone.

Finally, I’ll share with you a table that I have compiled, which compares the various characteristics (functions, size, weight, battery life etc) of the bike GPS devices currently on the market.

The purpose of the table was to help me choose which GPS device to buy. It certainly helped clarify my own thoughts (I went for a Garmin Edge 510). If you’re looking to purchase your first bike computer, or looking to upgrade, I do hope it will be useful to you as well.

Read moreWhich Bike GPS Device: The Ultimate Buyers Guide

Where To Find Cycling Training Plan Information

cycling training plan
Credit: www.elite-it.com

There is only so much progress you can make in your quest for cycle fitness simply by riding further and for longer.

At a certain point, your training will need to become more structured and specific, if you want to maximise your performance at whatever cycling challenge you have set yourself (and by ‘your’, I of course mean ‘my’).

In this post I will identify the resources that you can use either to find a suitable training plan (be that prêt-à-porter or bespoke) or, alternatively, to learn the fundamentals of training, such that you can attempt to build your own.

Read moreWhere To Find Cycling Training Plan Information

Sportive review: Igloo Peak District Sportive

Cycling Peak District
Strade bianche… in the Peak District

This is the first of what will hopefully become a series of posts reviewing the sportives in which I have taken part (I say, ‘hopefully’, because it will rely on me pulling my finger out and doing more events!).

My aim is to give you a flavour of the event, so you can decide whether you’d like to do this event, or a similar one, in the future. The account is clearly based on my personal experience of the sportive, and is probably heavily coloured by my low level of experience and fitness. If you’re in the same boat, I do hope it will give you the confidence to enter a sportive. If you’re a super-fit, experienced rider, maybe it will provide some entertainment…

As the name suggests, the Igloo Sportive takes place in the Peak District. More precisely, after starting from the outskirts of Chesterfield, the event visits the eastern portion of the Peak District, covering an area from north-west of Sheffield in the north and Matlock to the south (depending on which route you select).

What is the route like?

I participated in the short event. The route was 68km in length with 1,309m of climbing (which I’ll talk more about below).

The route offered a broad range of sceneries. Within 10km of leaving Chesterfield, we were up into exposed moorland, cycling past trees (and the odd building) growing at 45 degree angles. We then dropped down into the wooded river valley around Grindleford before climbing up the other side into Eyam (questionably branded as the “plague village”). After an undulating trundle through the verdant farmland in and around the Chatsworth estate, we popped back up to another moor, this time the one above Matlock, before finally descending into Chesterfield.

Summarising it like that, I almost forget the 3 and three quarter hours of windswept effort required to get round the route.

The majority of the roads on the course were quiet with few puncture-inducing potholes. The only busier section of road (the A623 coming into Calver) was downhill, lessening the impact of overtaking cars (‘impact’ in the figurative sense).

There were two sections of the road which I did not find particularly pleasant. The first, between Baslow and Rowsley felt more uppy and downy (my main issue being with the uppy) than I had expected. The resultant black mood, worsened by the howling head wind, gave me little tolerance for the large number of cars passing (I assume on the way to donate vast amounts of money to the Duke of Devonshire in order to see his house).

The problem with the second disagreeable section wasn’t the fault of the road (it was flat) or the cars (there were few) but the wind (there was much) and my fitness (there was little). The 10km stretch after the second feed station took place across exposed moorland with wind so strong that I had to lean sharply into it to remain upright. Intermittent gusts conspired to throw me variously into the ditch or into the path of passing or oncoming cars, without giving me a hint as to which direction I would next be flung (except forwards – the wind seemed pretty clear about not wanting to push me forwards).

What was the weather like?


It certainly could have been a great deal worse. The sportive took place only a couple of weeks after residents in the area had been snowed in for days at a time. Temperatures had been bitterly cold almost right up to the event.

It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, to find myself having to unzip my cycle jacket shortly into the ride and soon thereafter discard my gloves (mainly because they were unsuitable fleece ones – my son had ‘tidied away’ my cycling gloves having used them to dress as a superhero the day before).

But, oh the wind.

I knew from the weather forecast that it would be strong. Having to go straight into a time-trial position simply to exit the car park at the start gave me another clue. When I found myself having to pedal in order to maintain momentum whilst cycling downhill, I knew that I was in for a tough day in the saddle.

How much climbing and any hills of note?

Lots. Yes.

Oh, you want a bit more than that?

According to the final route map, there was 1,309m of ascent (and descent, given that it was a loop). This felt like a lot of climbing for the total distance covered, for my novice legs at least (but then what was I expecting, entering a sportive in the Peak District?).

The two long climbs at the start of the course weren’t too bad, considering the first one kicked off right from kilometre zero and the second one seemed to have been thrown in gratuitously to make you climb up twice essentially to the same bit of moorland. They were quite long (for me) but not too steep and I was on (what you might generously describe as) fresh legs.

The real killer climb came at kilometre 38, topping out 4km later, but with the real pain coming in first 1600m. I think the climb is called Rowsley Bar. It features gradients well into the double figures. At least one of the tight left hand hairpins isn’t (for my weak legs) cyclable on the correct side of the road (i.e. the inside of the bend).

I’m afraid to say that I had two ‘little rests’ at strategic points during the ascent (my strategy being to avoid having a connery and falling off the bike).

After finally making it to the top, my legs were shot for the remainder of the ride.

Since the next 10 kilometres were flat to slightly downhill, at first I didn’t realise the full extent of my muscle fatigue. That was until I got out of the saddle for the next climb (my metronomic Team Sky in-saddle climbing isn’t quite there yet). As I stood for a Purito-style dance on the pedals, both quads immediately began the strong wobbles that indicate a cramp is on the way.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never before had a cramp in my quadriceps and I certainly didn’t want to find out what one looked liked on the side of a hill some 15km from Chesterfield. I was forced to sit and attempt to spin up what hills remained in my very lowest gear.

So, yes, more than enough climbing for me!

Organisation and facilities

The event started and finished at Holmebrooke Valley Park, on the outskirts of Chesterfield. It’s a good location. Easy to find, with plenty of parking.

There was a small queue to register but the wait can’t have been more than 5 minutes or so. There were toilet facilities but no sign of the changing rooms that had been referred to in the event information (or rather, they were there but either locked or being used as store cupboards.

The most important factor in any sportive is the volume of calorific snacks at the feed stations and the finish. These didn’t disappoint, with copious amounts of custard creams and bananas (amongst other things) at the course control points, and what looked to be a sufficient quantity of cake, tea and coffee at the end of the event.

Overall enjoyment


But then it was my first sportive of the year (and my first for over 7 years), it was a bright sunny morning (let’s ignore the wind) and I was cycling through an area of outstanding natural beauty just 30 minutes from our new home. What wasn’t to like?

The course featured plenty of climbing overall and one particularly severe ascent – enough to give me a strong sense of satisfaction for having got round and sufficiently encouraged that, with training, I’ll be able to climb hills like these with a great deal more panache in the future.

I’ll probably aim to do it again next year. Who knows, I may even have the legs to do the long course. Perhaps you should all join me!


That’s it from me. Now over to you.

What’s your next sportive?

Are you prepared / excited / squeaky-bottomed?

Is there an event or ride that you are particularly looking forward to this year?

As ever, let me know in the comments box below.

Safe riding,



What road bike should I buy: the Grimpeur considers the options

Which road bike
My bike (in a compromising position)

I have a very warm regard for my bike. As a Yorkshireman, that’s about as close a declaration of undying love you’re going to get. But it’s time to consider an upgrade (it’s always time to consider an upgrade!). My bike has been with me for more than 8 years, since I snap-purchased it whilst my then-girlfriend (now wife) sought a heavy hybrid on which to commute (she still has it, but does not seem to have developed an emotional attachment).

Despite not knowing a thing about bikes (beyond what i had learnt as the proud owner of a Raleigh Mini Burner in the 1980s – red and black, since you ask), I made a wise lucky choice.

There goes my first love

It turned out that my unassuming Dawes Giro 400, with its mishmash of Miche and Campagnolo components, would be a sturdy workhorse, carrying me safely (and sometimes quickly) across London’s potholed and white-van-stained streets. The wheels have had to be be trued countless times. The carbon front fork was replaced after an altercation with a bonnet on the Kilburn High Road. A misguided attempt to replace the rear cassette (which turned out to be a strange Campy/Shimano lovechild) has resulted in the Giro now possessing a proud set of new Campagnolo wheels.

We’ve ridden sportives together. We’ve completed London-to-Brighton. We’ve even done a couple of triathlons (he whispers). It has been a trooper.

You’re more than a number in my little red book

But times change. I am looking for a new amor (and a new bike). At this point I planned to list the reasons why I needed a new road bike. Given that I’m an adherent to the bike ownership formula (B = n +1, where B = bikes required and n = current number of bikes owned), you would think I’d simply rattle them off. But the fact is, I don’t NEED a new bike (sharp intake of breath from cyclists everywhere).

However, being now based in Derbyshire, with the Peak District starting just a couple of kilometers north from where I sit, the image in my mind’s eye of powering up (ha!) the region’s many sharp climbs does not feature the gallant Dawes.

It’s not her/him/it/you, it’s me.

I plan to keep my trusty Dawes. It will continue to do its duty as a winter bike. So my new mistress bike will be my summer and events bike.

Which road bike to buy?

I believe my requirements (which I reserve the right to change, volte-face, disregard as and when the mood takes me) are as follows:

Looks cool

Canyon road bike Rodriguez
The ‘ladies bike’….

Yes, I know, I should be primarily focused on finding the bike that serves my particular needs. But since we have established that I don’t need a new bike at all, one of my particular needs is to satisfy my vanity (and, as we’re on the topic of deadly sins, avarice). But ‘looking cool’ isn’t just visual. Being able to do the job, in my mind, contributes to looking cool.

History and race credibility are also a part of my definition (though why I’m allowing myself to define cool I do not know). For some reason, I deem Canyon (probably due to the association with Purito) and Willier (probably not due to the association with Lampre) to be cool. This might be deemed heresy, but Pinarello don’t do it for me at all.

Steel or carbon

Steel framed bike
Steel looks good – I would probably get one with a few more gears

And possibly in that order. I refer the right honourable member to my earlier comments re: looking cool. A clean, thin-tubed steel frame can just look the business.

Whilst one of the attractions of steel is that you can claim some (moral?) superiority over the carbon brigade, I am not totally against going for a carbon frame. I’m sure I’ll appreciate the reduction in weight and some of the frame designs do look nice.

I would include titanium in the list of potential frame materials but when we move onto budget, it’ll be obvious that doing so would simply not be realistic.

Comfort and performance

The fact is, I’m unlikely ever to enter a formal bike race. For most events in which I participate, the priority will be getting to the finish. I want the bike to feel (and look) fast but the most important factor will be comfort.


I have not discussed this with my wife. In fact, until I sat down to write this post, I did not know I was in the market for a new bike.

I think we’re talking £1,500 – £2,000. As the owner of a £500 bike for so long, that’s the range that I’ve always thought I would step up to.

How about a curve ball?

As I admitted above, this is the first time in a while that I’ve thought in detail about getting a new bike. In part it was prompted by seeing an attractive Ritchey steel-framed bike in a recent Cycling Weekly. But then I read the comments below the linked article, talking about Mercian Cycles and Brian Rourke frames.

Thunder crack. Thor descends from thick clouds to strike me with his custom steel hammer.

I live almost equidistant between Mercian in Derby and Rourke in Stoke-on-Trent.

Given all that I have written above (steel, credibility, history, comfort), surely I should at least investigate the possibility of having a custom steel bike. Surely I should be supporting British craftsmanship and buying local.

Surely… (echo, tumbleweed, the crushing silence of my wife’s displeasure).

Help me get my feet back on the ground

So dear readers (reader?), I seek your guidance. Can you recommend the perfect new road bike for me?

Or maybe you want to encourage me to pursue the custom route?

Does anyone have a feel for how much a fully-built custom steel frame road bike will cost? Will my stated budget just mean that I’ll have to make too many compromises on the component front?

Any and all advice gratefully received.

As always, if you like it, please retweet and share this post.

Safe cycling!


RideLondon Reconnaissance Ride (And How I Accidentally Rode my First Metric Century)

How steep is Leith Hill
Leith Hill – the RideLondon route comes down this side (I think…)

Grimpeur is in pain. My knee is killing me. I’ll explain why in a bit.

The purpose of this post is to provide a bit more intelligence on the RideLondon route, specifically the two main climbs up Leith Hill and Box Hill.

You may have seen that I already wrote a post on the RideLondon route (if you didn’t, then you can read it here).

My initial analysis was mainly based on using the official summary route, plotting it into a route-planning website and then commenting on the elevation and gradient chart outputs. Helpfully this prompted a bunch of people with knowledge of the two main climbs (Leith Hill and Box Hill) to comment on their length and severity.

That was good and I know a lot of people that hadn’t ridden Leith Hill or Box Hill were grateful for the intel (whether it terrified or comforted them).

But, dear readers, I didn’t feel that was good enough for you. You want real, live, on-the-ground information. And I want to give it to you. Ahem.

So, with a view to providing more than just a ‘cyber reconnaissance’ of the route, I set off for Surrey. Via Croydon. Unfortunately.

Grimpeur Analyses the RideLondon Route: Redux

I may as well tell you the punchline now. You don’t have to worry about the climbs on RideLondon.

You do have to worry about something else though. More of that later.

In the meantime, let’s look at the section of the route I did, which was :

• from Abinger Hammer down towards Forest Green then looping back north up Leith Hill Road to the A25;

• the section of the A25 to Dorking; and

• up Box Hill on the Zig Zag Road and on through Box Hill village

You can see my full route here, which I plotted using RideWithGPS.com.

Climbing Leith Hill – Putting Down the Abinger Hammer

RideLondon Surrey loop
Where the climbing action starts

If, like me, you had concerns about Leith Hill, you may as well stop worrying.

If you seriously think you can ride 100 miles / ~160km in a day (as a RideLondon participant, I’m assuming that’s what you’re training to do), then you won’t find Leith Hill a particular problem, even with 60 or so miles in your legs.

Starting from Abinger Hammer, the route heads south through Holmebury Saint Mary. You climb around 70 metres over the course of 4km, at pretty gentle gradients, before a nice long descent to the foot of the Leith Hill climb. The longish descent gives you a chance to spin out the legs and have a little rest.

The official (summary) route map suggests you climb Leith Hill from the south.

(Disclaimer: this is based on my best guess of the route – I might have read the map wrong / it might change etc).

The ascent starts on Ockley Road before quickly turning left onto Etherley Hill. Then it’s pretty much straight up for 2 kilometres, with gradients hitting 10-11% in places.

Having read the comments on my earlier post, I was expecting a long slog, but it was over surprisingly quickly.

I was passed on the climb by someone that looked as if he knew what he was doing (a cyclist, rather than a noticeably-competent rambler).

“Long way still to the top is it?”, I aspirated.

“Just round the corner and straight up”

I took this to mean that the climb started just round the corner, and sank into a depressed funk.

The next thing I knew he had turned around and was coasting back down towards me. He had meant that the top was literally around the corner and up a short ramp.

Having built the climb up in my head, I actually felt a bit short-changed. (This is of course folly – I really don’t want to have to empty myself getting up a climb when I still have 40 miles of the route remaining).

Big Fish, Little Fish, Cardboard Box (Hill)

Box Hill cycling
The view point on Box Hill – remember that this isn’t the top…

Most people are pretty familiar with Box Hill. A quick internet search gets lots of great information.

My observations, for what they’re worth:

• The Zig Zag Road is a beautifully smooth piece of tarmac – the climb offers blissful respite from the judders and shudders of the road surface in the rest of southern England;

• The smooth surface and relatively constant gradient makes it easy to get into a nice rhythm as you climb – this certainly beats the potholes and sharp ramps that you’ll encounter when climbing Leith Hill;

• You get to enjoy the graffiti on the road, much of which was created to encourage Cav et al during the Olympic road race – without wishing to sound overly-emotional, thinking back to that period of British cycling success (albeit not in that particular race) does give you an extra bit of bounce as you make the climb;

• But be warned – the climb doesn’t finish at the National Trust Cafe or the viewpoint. The road continues to rise, albeit at a lower gradient, into and through Box Hill village. Even though I’d ridden Box Hill before, I forgot this – hilarity additional pain ensued.

Relax about the climbs, it really is all about the length

My RideLondon reconnaissance ride taught me a few things.

Firstly, if you can, it’s better to ride a route (or a section of it), than try to establish what it will be like by mapping the route on the internet. Comments from other people are helpful, but those comments are not spoken by someone at your fitness level or experience (he says, thereby negating the point of this post entirely).

RideLondon Epsom
“Somewhere near Epsom” – the racecourse, to be precise

Secondly, if you want to record a route on Strava for more than four hours, using your phone is not the way to do it. Trying to navigate my way home after my phone died somewhere near Epsom was somewhat trying.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the main issue for me with RideLondon will be length of the route, not the amount of climbing. 100 miles (~160km) is a seriously long distance.

My ride out to Surrey was in fact my first ever metric century ride (Ride With GPS puts it at just over 101km). I am obviously delighted to have broken through this mental barrier – less delighted that a significant proportion of my first century took place in Croydon.

The painful knee I mentioned way back at the beginning of this post started to twinge at around kilometre 85. I had been increasing my mileage gradually, but this ride was 40km longer than my previous best. Clearly it was a jump too far. I will need to continue building gradually to the 160km target.

The impact of long distance cycling manifests itself in other parts of your body, not just the legs. The last quarter of this ride was spent with a dull ache in my neck – the sort of neck ache that tends towards making you feel sick. I certainly need to make sure I am strengthening and stretching my neck and back as part of my RideLondon training programme.

C’est Tout, Voila

It is perhaps fitting that this ride (being both my first metric century and a recon ride ahead of RideLondon) will be my last as an honorary Londoner. This week, Famille Grimpeur is making its big move out of the city and towards the green and verdant hillsides of Derbyshire.

The climbs of the Peak District and beyond await, as does (we hope) an increase in the amount of cycling we do as a family.

The next time the wheels of my mighty Dawes steed hit London’s gold-paved streets will be in August, for RideLondon itself. I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Please Retweet Me, Let Me Go

As always, if you have enjoyed this article I would really appreciate it if you could share it via Twitter or Facebook.

If you have something to add on Leith Hill, Box Hill or anything at all, leave a comment below.

Are you more worried about the climbs or the total ride length, or both?

Finally, do sign up to receive the Grimpeur by email. Go on, you know you want to.

All the best, and safe riding.


Cycling to Lose Weight: How One Man Lost 6 Stone by Cycling (More Than a Third of His Bodyweight!)

In today’s post I am delighted to feature an interview with Mark Hammond.

Mark, writing as Velopixie, maintains a blog about his road cycling escapades, which you can find here.

Er, wait a minute, who is Mark exactly?

Well, like many of us, Mark is a keen cyclist and sportive rider.

Like probably fewer of us, this year he is signed up for the Etape du Tour, RideLondon and the 206km Dragon Ride Gran Fondo. Last year he turned 50.

So far, so within the normal spectrum of activities for a keen road cyclist.

But what makes Mark’s story worth reading is that over the course of 2012 he lost a whopping 6 stone, as a result of exercise (primarily road cycling) and changes to his diet.

Read moreCycling to Lose Weight: How One Man Lost 6 Stone by Cycling (More Than a Third of His Bodyweight!)

Best cycle app: Strava or MapMyRide?

I like to look at maps. I like to plan routes. I am quite obsessed with knowing where I have been.

Not all who wander are lost – JRR Tolkien

When I first moved to London, I used to walk excessive distances on a weekend, taking delight in piecing together seemingly disjointed sections of the tube map, beginning to understand how it all fitted together.

I also like data (to a degree – nothing against stats nerds, but I’m not one).

One of my first purchases after getting my road bike (to commute on, primarily), after the obligatory lights, locks and helmet, was a cycle computer. I wanted to know how far I’d been and how fast I’d travelled (or not, as the case may be).

When I upgraded to my next cycle computer (a Polar CS200), I fastidiously logged in to the Polar website at the conclusion of each commute, in order to record each data point it had captured during the pothole- and profanity-strewn ride.

I never logged cadence though, since this is a mythical piece of data that no human-built machine is capable of sensing or recording. I digress.

Cycling apps on a smartphone (in my case a labouring iPhone 3GS) were made for me.

Read moreBest cycle app: Strava or MapMyRide?