Taping my handlebars…

January 29, 2010 at 23:00 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Yesterday evening, I acquired a new skill. Or rather, I did something for the first time, which means next time I do it I’ll know how to do it better. But probably still not skilfully.

Anyway, the story started when I decided to replace the bars on my Peugeot; the ones that were on there were rather narrow and not comfortable. The bike, being old, has a quill-style stem which requires the bars to be threaded through (as opposed to the more common ‘pop top’ on modern stems), so I also thought I’d make it easier on myself by switching this out too.

So I bought a quill-to-theadless converter along with the new bars; it seems to work quite well, although it was a bit tricky to get the converter deep enough into the headset with much wiggling I finally managed to get it down to the ‘min insertion’ point, which in any case seemed about the right height.

New bars all went on fine, although I did them struggle to get the brake levers off the old bar. My trusty ‘how to do bike repairs’ book assured me that these were loosened by turning bolts under the rubber hoods; I struggled to find these, and in the end removed the rubber hood off one of the levers completely. Nope, no bolts to be found. After much head-scratching, I realised they were behind the brake levers; it was necessary to slacken off the brake cable and then insert an allen key into a bolt that became accessible when the lever was pulled down as far as it would go. The downside of this was that I stretched the rubber of the hood somewhat whilst removing it. Oh well, lesson learned!

Once these were installed on the new bars, I had to apply the tape. This was the bit I was most nervous about. I had bought some rather nice brown tape, and whilst it wasn’t especially expensive I was worried I’d botch it up completely.

Getting started was fine; I left what I thought was plenty of overhang to tuck into the plug (about 2/3 the width of the tape), and then proceeded up the bar. My first error (which my book said to guard against), was not checking I was leaving enough overlap on the outside of the curve. I didn’t notice until after I finished the first side, but there is a spot where the tape doesn’t quite meet.

The second problem was finishing it off neatly at the top. How far should I go? How should I trim the tape neatly in order to finish it off? I probably should have considered these questions before I started. Ah well. Another lesson learned. Actually, I found finishing it off neatly at the top the hardest part; I had kind of assumed this would be the easy bit, but it seems not. On the second side I managed to cut the tape the wrong way too, so had to chop some more off to finish it. This meant the two sides are not quite the same length, and I’ve used far too much ugly black tape to secure the ends. Actually this is the part of the job I’m least happy with.

The other problem was getting the plugs in; I had actually left too much overhand, and it was too thick to tuck in. I ended up having to trim it, after having some nervous moments as it all looked as it it was going to unravel from the wrong end! The bits around the brake hoods are also not ideal; one thing I also didn’t consider was whether to wrap inside-to-outside or vice-versa. I think I did each side a different way (!), and one of them goes around the brakes more neatly than the other; on one side there is a gap. It doesn’t help that this is also where I stretched the rubber…

Still, it was my first time, and at least the stuff is on there. It just remains to be seem how long it lasts before it all starts unravelling!

Taking the wife to Watson’s Bay

January 24, 2010 at 22:54 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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A friend of mine has just come back from Adelaide, where he spent the summer break with his family. He came back just a bit too early to see any of the tour, but his brother-in-law rode the open ride stage, and had a lot of fun (notwithstanding the stinking hot weather and the headwind!). Anyway, he’s fired up to do the same thing next year, and bombarded me with a bunch of texts about ‘training’.

So, this morning, we hit the road at 6.30am in the drizzle; I suggested my bĂȘte noire , the ride out to Watson’s Bay. I had planned to take the fixie, to put my demons to rest, but given that it was raining I took the wife – it was too good an opportunity to experience the swishy goodness of mudguards.

It was all very smooth. Apart from my dry bottom (about which I lost no opportunity to point out to by riding buddy) the hills rolled underneath me quite easily, even with the heavier bike.Yet, yet, it’s not quite the same. To be half-way up a hill, and to drop a gear (which, especially if you’re pushing out of the saddle, involves losing some momentum as you ease off) somehow feels a bit, well, like cheating. And the wife, well, she’s sturdy and reliable, but it just wasn’t quite the same. I love her when she’s loaded up and I’m in full utility mode, but, um, how can I put this gently without hurting her feelings – she lacks excitement on a ride like that.

So next time, I’ll be back on the fixie.

Or maybe I need to invest in a more hard-core road bike…

Hmmm, that one’s going to be hard to justify with a new baby just weeks away!

(PS Where was youse all? Too soft to ride in the rain? We must have seen no more than three other cyclists all morning!)

The Greatest Show on Earth – Dawkins

January 9, 2010 at 18:10 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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I finished reading the latest from Richard Dawkins. In it he discusses the evidence for evolution. He likens the whole process to a detective coming across a crime scene – what are the clues, where does the evidence point? And, of course, the evidence overwhelmingly points to evolution by natural selection, occurring over a timescale of millions of years. Dawkins piles on layer after layer after layer of such evidence in a well constructed argument; he also takes the time to point out where the evidence flatly contradicts what is asserted by those who deny evolution as the mechanism for how the diversity of life on Earth arose.

Dawkins’ books are usually quite a rattling good read, and this one is no exception. Whilst much of the material was familiar to me, there were lots of interesting new examples, thought-provoking analogies and explanations – for example an excellent description of how the various nuclear dating mechanisms work (as used to work out the age of rocks, and the age of old timbers).

He also takes a number of potshots at the various flavours of religious fundamentalism dedicated to denying that evolution exists. He doesn’t pull his punches, comparing them to holocaust deniers. This is, of course, a bigger issue in the US than in Europe or Australia, although as he points out it is a growing trend especially in English-speaking countries as they become infected by such nonsense. It certainly seems to be happening in Australia, as the rise of profit-seeking mega-churches such as Hillsong attest. It is, undoubtedly, very worrying, not least because not just of the crazy ideas they espouse, but the total closed-mindedness with which they pursue them.

The other interesting thing about the book is how Dawkins’ personality comes through; it seems to come through more strongly in this book than in other books of his I have read. I know that Dawkins is sometimes accused (mostly by his religious critics) of having a ‘strident tone’. I find his tone far from strident, but there is something in there that undoubtedly annoys some people. Dawkins wears his intellect on his sleeve; there is more than a hint of the crusty Oxford don about him, and his delight in intellectualism, the scattering of classical quotes and allusions throughout the text and apparent frustration with those who lack the curiosity or willingness to learn about things is deeply unfashionable. As such, I’ve no doubt some people find him infuriating. There is a certain irony that he hopes the book will be read by people who do not understand or accept the facts of evolutionary history, and convince them of its veracity. However, these are the very people most likely to be put off by his tone…

Choc Ripple

January 9, 2010 at 18:02 | Posted in biscuits | 1 Comment
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For my birthday, Laura bought me a pack of biscuits. Very excitingly, they are a hitherto untasted variety of Arnott’s called ‘Choc Ripple’. Indeed, I was so excited I was compelled to share my thoughts on them with the world. The Choc Ripple is part of Arnott’s ‘Simple Goodness’ range of everyday biscuits (as opposed to the ‘everyday treats’ range of more luxurious creams) which was instantly of interest. Chocolate is normally considered a premium ingredient (as the top of the range Arnott’s biscuits, such as the Tim Tam attest), yet here it is in a cheaper variety.

A scan of the ingredients reveals that these biscuits are made with vegetable oil (not butter), and the ‘choc’ comes from cocoa, rather than full chocolate. They are, however, packaged up nicely with the biscuits nestling in a plastic tray more commonly seen on more expensive lines, with 27 in a pack.

So what do they taste like? There is no doubt the ‘choc’ flavour is understated; coming through more as a hint at the end. The golden syrup (the other main flavouring ingredient) actually comes through more strongly, and in fact they do have a quite nice home-baked taste. A bit like when your mum used to make chocolate cakes by putting a bit of cocoa powder into the mixture – you know, the ones that were brown but only a bit chocolatey. These are rather like that.

Interestingly, when dunked into tea (I chose English Breakfast to have alongside them as I felt it would be a good combination) the texture goes very soft – almost brownie-like – and the chocolate flavour comes through much more strongly. In fact, they would be excellent for dunking because of this, if it was not for the fact that they are rather crumbly and bits break off into the tea as you go. This is going to leave a lot of brown sludge in the bottom of your cup which no-one wants, although I suppose you could conceivable make two cups of tea for this; one for dunking and one for drinking. This seems rather extravagant, however, for such an everyday biscuit.

The most extraordinary thing about the Choc Ripple, however, relates to its texture. When I opened the packet and had the first one, it was very crunchy, with a tendency to fracture into crumbs. However, it is rather a damp day, and evidently these biscuits go stale extremely quickly. (They must rival silica gel as a dessicant; I daresay you could use them to stop moisture forming inside your camera case, although crumbs might get into the mechanism, so perhaps this isn’t altogether advisable.) Within about four or five minutes, the texture had changed; they had become softer and less crumbly. I suppose it’s a but harsh to say they went stale; they are still quite OK to eat – in fact, they might even be nicer with a softer texture. But it is a bit disconcerting that they change so fast; if you want to experience crunchy Choc Ripples you really have to work fast after you open the packet.

Still, not a bad biscuit. Overall I’d give them a 7 out of 10 – quite nice for an occasional change. Mrs Chillikebab believes their role in life is to give to kids who are pestering for a chocolate biscuit; they can be palmed off with these instead of a more expensive Tim Tam, and I daresay she’s right.

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