Month: November 2006

Wales and Australia show us how it’s done

Wales 29 – 29 Australia

Fantastic opening match of the Autumn series here in the northern hemisphere with a superbly entertaining performance from both sides. The rugby wasn’t always perfect with a couple of mistakes in the last 10 minutes as energy levels were exhausted, but overall each team performed in a way I’d be proud to see Ireland to reproduce.

Although Larkham was a fair choice for man of the match, my choice was Martyn Williams who had a brilliant game.

It was interesting in the post-match interviews to see how gutted the Aussies were – they had hoped to win 7/7 of their games up here. Tough luck lads πŸ™‚ It always amazes me how high scoring rugby matches can end in a draw – with so many different scoring combinations it seems impossible. For these 2 teams, this was the first draw in their 98 game history.
If the rest of the autumn series is to this standard we’re going to enjoy some great rugby!

Erin, cycle a mile in my shoes

32 Spokes drew my attention to this post in the Telegraph blog criticising cyclists for some valid and some invalid reasons.

“The worst offenders though, by such a long way it’s laughable, are cyclists. They are, for the most part dangerous, irresponsible road-users who nonetheless take the moral high ground at all times because they’re not polluting the atmosphere.”

I’d love for Erin to understand the motives of the most vulnerable road users. To that end I offer her my Trek 4300 mountain bike for a weeks use in cycle commuting (I will have an alternative to use myself).

Erin, you might find it energizing and good for your health, and you will gain an insight into our world. It would be great if you blogged about your week of cycle-commuting experiences on the Telegraph blog.

If it’s not possible to easily transport the bike from Dublin then I’m sure we can figure something out with a local biker or shop to get a loan – the blogosphere will somehow provide. I want to take all the obstacles out of your way so that you can give it a go. Leave a comment or send me a mail at the address I posted to the telegraph blog.


Sadly Erin refuses to put her money where her mouth is…

“I realise that the more people get out of their cars and onto their bicycles, the greater the benefit to us all in terms of the future of our planet, but I’m afraid I’m not going to take up your suggestion of cycling in London on account of having already increased my risk of significant injury through choosing to ride a motorbike, and not wishing to double it…

…the point of my blog is not to go on a fact-finding mission before I file (and there are always facts to suit both sides of the argument), but to share honestly my experiences with you”

I like that last one. Reminds me of Dubya – “these guys with their science and their facts and books… poouey, what I got is ma gut instinct”.

Oh well. Sorry you won’t be taking us up on the bike offer, Erin.

5 steps to buying the right bicycle

“Which entry level bike should I get?”

This is a common question on every bike forum on the global interweb. Generally the poster is a bike newbie and is looking to buy something for 100-200 euros. I know because I was one of these noobs just two short year’ ago. Ok, well this might well help get you started – here’s some tips for the decisions you have to make.

1. Get a realistic budget (or go 2nd hand)

Money, money, money!If your budget of 200 quid is not realistic, unless it’s pounds Sterling we’re talking about. If you really have a hard limit then 200 quid will buy you a very decent 2nd-hand bike, or a piece-of-sh!t from Argos and plenty of change. I strongly recommend going the 2nd-hand route if you do have to stick to your small budget. One option is to go to a police bike auction. In Dublin it’s held around twice a year, and although this October’s one wasn’t great, there were a couple of good bargains to be found. Otherwise try your local adverts website or Craigslist.
Once you’ve done some research it’s obvious that to buy a new bike you’ll need to up your budget to at least 300eur (~$350). It helps to remember that you’re spending money on a well engineered machine that will help your fitness and can substitute for your car.

Did you factor the accessories into your budget? I’m talking at least 35eur for helmet and 20eur for lights, 20eur for a lock and that’s the basic models. It depends on yourself and your local laws but if you cycle in the dark without lights you’re dumb and if you go without a helmet, well, it’s your choice and hopefully you won’t fall and hit your head.

2. Decide what type of bike

Now that you have a realistic budget you need to decide the type of bike you want. This choice is dependent on what you will definitely be using the bike for, and what you think you may use the bike for. You might want to lose weight, or commute to work, cycle with your kids on the weekend or get into road racing or triathlons. Three months after buying it you might suddenly decide you want to go on a bike tour to France. It helps to be a little prescient πŸ™‚Sergio - a really nice Italian guy we met on his way to Chartres

The main type of bikes you’ll be looking at in the entry level arena will be mountain bikes and hybrids. Proper road bikes (aka “racers”) are way out of your budget – you’re looking at 700 euros for a Trek 1000, the de facto standard of entry level (this, like all things, is debatable – post a comment). Also out of budget are well spec’d touring bikes like the Trek 520 (nope, I’m not on commission from Trek, it is the de facto standard for entry level tourers – at least until they go AL this year). So back to what is in budget, the mountain bikes and the hybrids. (If you really do want a road bike post a comment or follow one of the forum links on the right.)

Why buy a mountain bike? If you’re a heavy rider -weight or style- or maybe you will be travelling on bad road surfaces, perhaps you think you’d like to try some trail riding, or want to be able to treat your bike mean and have it come back for more.

Mountain bikes are made to take a hit more than your average road bike, though don’t try full-on DH or 12 foot drops on your new Specialized Rockhopper. Entry level mountain bikes are generally suited to XC or cross-country style riding. Although they’re not rigged for it mountain bikes can make great commuters if you put some slick tyres like the Continental Sports Contact 26×1.3s on, and either lock out the suspension fork or replace it altogether with a rigid fork.

If you do want to hit the trails keep the standard tyres and the entry-level suspension will keep you going for your first couple of months until the upgrade-bug kicks in. Good suspension is expensive, entry level is crap. Do not buy a full suspension bike mountain bike – get a hardtail first off. If you can get a rigid fork and some cash off the sale that’s even better – you can buy a decent fork for 200-1000 quid later when you need it.

On the flip side you should get a hybrid if you’re going to be exclusively on road and want a faster and smoother ride. Hybrids come geared and with better tyres for road riding. Hybrids range from aggressive “road bike with flat bars style” Claud Butler Levante to the more relaxed and upright Ridgeback Velocity. They generally come set up as commuters or light touring bikes. How to be uncool: if you’re ever going to be commuting in the rain put mudguards (fenders) on there. Yep, they look very uncool, but first time it rains you’ll be very glad you did. You won’t look cool with a black stripe down your back. If you really want to look cool on the sunny days buy some of the plastic clip-on ones and you can leave ’em at home (and pray that’s not a thunderstorm you spot in the distance).

If you’re still not sure what type of bike you want then ask online – post on the relevant forum on bikeforums or on the Cycling forum or simply post a comment here and I’ll help you best I can.

3. Test ride potential bikes

It’s really important, particularly for your first bike, that you try it out at the bike shop. Fitting your bike correctly is important because the capacity for injury or strain is there due to the repetitive nature of the exercise. You’ll learn some important things from trying out a bike at the shop – you’ll find out if you get on with the staff, you’ll find out what size bike you need, and you’ll get an impression of the different types of ride available. This should help you decide what you’re buying.

4. Call around for quotes

I called 5 shops asking for quotes for my Trek 4300. The first guy said “370 euros, and it’s the best you’ll get. Call around and find out”. Good advice, and he was dead right – I was quoted from 420 to 480 at all the other shops.

Guess who got the 370eur plus the 170eur on accessories plus the Ridgeback Velocity I bought there with my girlfriend, plus the Ridgeback Velocity I bought there with my housemate, plus the Trek 3900 I bought there with my cow-orker plus the Ultegra-spec’d Surly Cross Check he’s building up for me right now. Quick calculation shows I’ve spent or influenced the spending of more than 3000 euros in that shop to date. I guess he made his 50 quid’s worth back since then, eh? πŸ™‚

5. Buy the bike, negotiate on everything

Your first time buying you’re better off buying at a shop. If you’re going to get accessories like lights, lock, helmet, gloves, mudguards, rack, panniers then now is the best time to get them. When you buy the bike be ready to ask them to do some work on it there and then e.g. fit the rack/mudguards/lights/rigid fork/slick tyres that you want. This should be free. Ask if they do 1 year/2 year/lifetime service for free. 99% of shops will give you a free 1st service 1-3 months after you buy the bike.

You can negotiate on the accessories, they should offer you a discount anyway, but in case they don’t then ask for one. They’ll either say yay or nay. One of my favourites is to calculate the total cost, and then say to the guy “ok, so that all comes to about [insert 85-90% of actual cost], right?”, he’ll pull out his calculator and figure out how much I’m taking him for and agree and we’re all happy. It’s a fun game to play, and like I mentioned above, the guy knows he’ll get his money’s worth. I think he’s gonna throw in a free pump with my new bike πŸ˜‰

Ok, well that’s the end of my tips, this is such a vast subject that I could write for hours and hours. In fact I’m definitely unhappy that there’s plenty I’ve skimmed over and others I’ve ignored altogether. Yet it’s good enough info to point most people in the right direction. I’ll be revisiting this one. If there’s something you disagree with, you spot something that’s patently false, or you have any questions or suggestions then please leave a comment.

Update: some potential candiate bikes for you.

Mountain bikes 300-400 euro: Trek 3500 (cos it’s rigid fork and very cheap), 3900, 4100, 4200, 4300 (best bang for your buck). Giant Boulder. Specialized Hardrock (very similar to 4300).

Hybrids: Ridgeback Velocity (more relaxed geometry). Claud Butler Levante (aggressive road-like hybrid)

Road bike: Giant SCR 3. Trek 1000. (if you’re getting a road bike do a lot more research)

Pinched disc gives you plenty of time for blogs

I’ve had time to play with my blog a lot recently because I’ve been out of action the last couple weeks – I pinched a disc cycling about 2 weeks ago (right at the time of the Garda bike auction actually). It’s pretty amazing, I’ve been playing in front row rugby for 17 years now and I hurt my back for the first time cycling! Amazing, but f#cking annoying!
Initially I thought I had strained or even torn some muscles in the lumbar region because the symptoms were similar to muscle strain – spasms, painful to move, hot to the touch etc. It seized up pretty quick and I wasn’t able to bend at all all.Spine - image from

I don’t remember exactly the time it happened, but it was on my trip back home after going to the Garda Station. The first couple of hours I could feel my back seizing up, and sharp painful spasms. The next day I could hardly get out of bed (worked from home horizontally – don’t tell the boss!). Thankfully it was the weekend then, so with a hack saw and a mop handle I had a useful walking stick to help me get around.

After that weekend I was able to get around pretty ok so I got a lift to work a couple of days and taxies the days I didn’t. Expensive, but better than walking. Being my stubborn self it was only this week that I finally acknowledged that I was not improving at the rate I hoped to be and bit the bullet by going to the doctor.

Doc tells me I’ve pinched a disc and that it should heal up by itself over time. I need to take it easy and won’t be playing rugby anytime soon. I asked about the bike, I should be good to get in and out of work as it’s only a couple of miles each way. Of course I don’t need to get in and out of work today because I seem to have picked up the winter vomiting virus that’s going around. Wonderful. I’ll save that one for another day.