Paul Strickland

Paul Strickland

Kaffenback – an Update

As I write this, I have ridden almost 500 km on my new bike — the Planet X Kaffenback that I built during May. Re-reading the article I wrote after completing it, I thought my conclusions came across as rather negative, so an update is in order.

I built the Kaffenback for use primarily as a commuting bike. I wanted something that would be capable of transporting me the 14 km or so to work and back fairly quickly, but without having an all-out racing bike, since racing was not what I would be using it for. I also had a half-baked idea that I might like to try longer rides and do some sort of touring, so a requirement for rack mounts was also thrown in.

What I ended up with was pretty much what I wanted. In the 30 rides I have been on so far, I have gradually been getting used to the bike, finding out how it handles, where the best gear-changing points are and how the brakes perform. I have been practising riding in the drops and on the tops of the handlebar as well as my default position on the hoods, and during that time I have steadily increased my riding speed. In fact my commute time has been improved by as much as four minutes on some occasions. So really the bike has performed exceptionally well. It doesn’t look half-bad either as far as I am concerned, so that’s a bonus.

Over the course of the last few weeks of riding the Kaffenback to work, and also having my mountain bike back in its intended role for riding cross-country, I have discovered a few points that I’ll briefly discuss.

Stretching

Stretching is not something I have ever given much serious attention to before, but after an initial struggle with having my hands in the drops of my bars, I did some quick research and came up with a list of stretches for cyclists. Now more often than not I will spend a good ten minutes stretching after my cycle to and from work, and I have been quite surprised by the results. The most noticeable change is that whereas before I would have stiff legs throughout the days when I cycled to work, now they feel almost normal. There is still a degree of aching towards the end of my cycling week (I currently only cycle on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays), but less than I was used to. I have a small perception of some increased flexibility as well (noticeable more during climbing than cycling), but I cannot be sure about that.

Mountain bike joy

I have a reignited the enjoyment of riding my mountain bike now. When it was all I was riding — and predominantly on the road — I had no particular opinion of my mountain bike. But now when I wheel it outside ready to take it off-road, I get a great rush of excitement. It now shows off its wide bars, powerful brakes and commanding riding position proudly, and I love riding it all over again.

Pedalling quirks

Another perception of mine is that pedalling a road bike is quite different to pedalling a mountain bike. On my Kaffenback I have been trying to maintain a high cadence, and I think I have done fairly well so far. On that bike, however, the cadence is achieved in a very much reciprocating way. When climbing a hill I am more likely to push down much harder with my legs to keep the pedals spinning than I would if I was on my mountain bike. Off-road I am much more aware of the importance of pedalling smoothly — often at the expense of cadence — in order to maintain traction on loose surfaces.

Cleat and handlebar positioning

I chose to put pedals that would be compatible with my mountain bike shoes on the Kaffenback, and ended up picking the Shimano PD-A530 single-sided pedal. There were two reasons for choosing those pedals. Firstly, I wanted something compatible with my mountain bike shoes so that I wouldn’t need to have two separate pairs of shoes. Secondly, single-sided pedals would offer me more flexibility with the bike — I would be able to use it with other shoes/trainers if necessary, allowing me to ride the bike without having to swap shoes around.

During my first few rides I noticed quite a bit of pressure on the outside of my left foot. My knee also felt a bit sore at times. Given that I was also having to consciously keep my heel away from the chainstay, I decided to try adjusting my cleats. In the end I think I moved the cleats backwards and inwards by a couple of millimetres. So far this appears to have solved the problem, and fortunately there is no noticeable adverse effect when I use the same shoes on my mountain bike.

The initial problems with riding in the drops of my handlebar have also been reduced by a reasonable amount. I rotated the bar downwards slightly, so the bottom of the drops are more horizontal. That — plus practising riding in various positions and some stretching — has made me feel more comfortable in that tucked position.

Mudguards for summer…

For the first couple of weeks of riding, the weather was fantastic. However, June has not been nice at all. It has been fairly cold, windy and wet. I don’t mind the cold when I’m riding as I don’t tend to notice it once I’ve warmed up. However, I really don’t like the wind when I’m trying to ride to work — the prevailing conditions where I live mean I have a headwind in the morning, and more often than not in the evening too!

As for wet weather, mountain biking in winter had got me used to getting soaked and covered in mud on most rides. For the Kaffenback, however, I decided to indulge on a set of SKS Chromoplastics. They actually sat at home for a couple of weeks when the weather was nice, and I expected them to only get fitted in the autumn. But at the beginning of last week I realised they would be needed much sooner. They are still in a state of ‘trial installation’ at the moment whilst I try to get the best fit, but so far they have been excellent. It was quite a novelty to ride along a very wet road, expecting my shoes to be sprayed with water from the front wheel and my back to marked with the usual muddy stripe up the middle, and to get off the bike relatively clean and dry!

Summary

I am very pleased with my new bike. Granted, it is a different riding experience than I am used to, but the more I ride it, the more confident I am with it, and — so far at least — the faster I am able to go. Not only does it meet the requirements I had for an alternative bike to my mountain bike for commuting, but it has also given me more opportunity to ride that mountain bike in the way it was intended, increasing my enjoyment of cycling even further.

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