Saturday, 18 February 2017

Trailer Failure

Update on 25th February: I am a complete idiot who didn’t know the difference between 130mm and  135mm dropouts, and didn’t read the instructions closely enough to realise that I shouldn’t have been using the spacers or the nut. It’s a great trailer and I will write another post as soon as possible, making it clear what an idiot I have been. In the meantime, you might enjoy this email I sent Topeak’s UK importer’s excellent customer service team, explaining my error and grovelling for it:


It is with my most humble abashed face on that I write to tell you that the Topeak Journey trailer fixing is actually a very clever system that works well, and that my problems with it were entirely of my own making. I hadn’t read the instructions closely enough, and didn’t realise that my dropouts are the 130mm variety which, consequently, don’t need the spacers and the nut was, therefore, entirely surplus to requirements, as the instructions actually make clear. I enjoyed a five minute explanation from Jason at TAV Cycles, whose day was brightened no end by being able to explain to me what an idiot I had been. Therefore, it doesn’t require a spanner to remove the brackets, just an allen key, which I always have with me anyway and, if you’re not a total idiot, it is no more difficult to remove and replace the trailer brackets than it would be with a quick release. I blush.

I am busy today, but I will try to update my blog before the end of the weekend, explaining my stupidity and expressing my satisfaction with the trailer (not that anyone reads my blog). I did twenty five miles with it attached yesterday, including the journey to TAV’s. It rides like a dream, and I am now very happy with my purchase.

I am very sorry for having bothered you with my idiotic misapprehensions. Your faith in the product can be fully restored.

Thank you for your attention and patience with me.

Kind regards,



I teach ‘in the community’, which is a posh way to say that I have to supply my own transport and carry all my stuff with me. Besides being sceptical about the legality of an employer requiring you to supply your own transport, I am not willing to run a second car when I have two good legs to serve me. So, when I got this job, I bought myself a bicycle trailer, and it has done me very proud.

Looking worse for wear, but it has done four years’ hard service.

As you can see, it is looking rather ragged now. It cost me £150, but I think it is from a European supplier, because it has gone up to around £250 now, which is still a great improvement on what is supposed to be the industry standard, although how Bob justify their prices, I cannot tell. Also, although I am not complaining, it is only made of box aluminium and the coating is terrible. Single wheeled trailers will get scratched up, as they stick out from the bike slightly and are heavier than the bike, so that when you lean it against a wall, the trailer bears the brunt.

Did the job without fuss.

Its great design strength is its hitching system, which uses a quick release skewer with connection knobs on, that the trailer arms fit over. A sprung-lever then locks into place to hold the trailer firmly on the knobs (feel free to respond in an adolescent manner). Its weakness, if weakness it is, is that it was cheap, and its price showed in the materials and in certain details, such as how the mudguard attached (although it didn’t help that a twatmobile driver ran over my back wheel at a roundabout this winter, cracking the mudguard beyond repair).

After four years, then, it was time to think about replacing it as the wheel’s bearings are shot, and I don’t have any faith in the corroded frame lasting another winter. I wouldn’t have minded buying another of the same, except for the rise in price, which made me think that, if I was going to spend £250 on a trailer, I had other choices. My favourite bike shop, TAV Cycles in Ryde, had a Topeak Journey Trailer in the window, and a lovely looking thing it was. After a bit of internet browsing, I was enthused, and when the repairs my bike needed (new headset, new driveset) came to far less than I was expecting, thanks to TAV’s excellent service, I bought one.

“Where will you ride next?” they ask, and the answer is, not too far from a bike shop.

The problem is that the much vaunted “Quick release” system, while it cleverly eases the difficulty of attaching and detaching the trailer from the bike, relies upon a bracket system that is, speaking charitably, a bit of a bodge.

The circular lugs to which the trailer attaches are on brackets which attach to a screwed skewer, rather than a quick release skewer. This requires a lot of pressure and very precise placing to get it strong enough to take the weight of a fully loaded trailer. With a quick release skewer, this is easy, as you place and then close, but with this, you have to place it, stick an allen key in one end and an 8mm spanner on the other, and tighten it all while keeping the skewer, which is bearing the weight of both brackets, the wheel and your bike (unless you’re in a workshop with a clamp) perfectly in place.

My first attempt was inadequate, and the nylock (single use only) nut that secures the skewer on the non-geared side of the bike failed while I was in Newport, bending the skewer and dropping the trailer arm. Fortunately, I was pushing at the time, not cycling, or I would have come to a very abrupt and messy halt. I went to Hurst’s and they let me use a vice to straighten the skewer, and I bought another nylock nut and tried to repair the set up, but to no avail. I had to call Amanda and ask her to come and get me, thankful, not for the first time, that we had bought a bike rack for our little car.

On Wednesday, feeling a bit deflated, I took the bike and trailer back to TAV. James fixed the threads on the skewer which, thankfully, hadn’t torn up the threading on the receiving bracket. He also, incidentally, fitted a longer gear cable and cable outer to my rear derailleur, to give the trailer arm more clearance: a useful mod for a bike that will be towing any trailer, not just this design. The trailer is now,at least, usable: I did sixteen miles with a full day’s work kit on Thursday and it behaved beautifully.

However, there is one huge problem. With the mileage I do, I do get punctures: even if you use a puncture-resistant solution like Stan’s, you’ll eventually hit hawthorn or a nail, creating something beyond its ability to seal. I don’t like them, but I can deal with them, and QR wheel skewers make them pretty straightforward to remedy. Wheel out, tyre off, replace tube, pump, wheel back in. I still swear, but at least I’m moving again. With the Topeak setup, you’re looking at a major piece of engineering to get the wheel off, and you have to keep track of a couple of fairly small, but mechanically crucial, washers, and then go through the process of reinstalling the brackets and skewers when you’ve finished. In the dark, on a rainy night, after a full day, I really do not fancy my chances of getting that right.

I should point out that I do not blame TAV’s. This looks like a quality piece of kit, and unless you have quite wide experience of using a trailer, you’re unlikely to see the problem. I didn’t, and I’ve been using one for four years. None of the reviews on the internet that I’ve seen point out this weakness, but it can’t just be me: this is supposed to be a trailer designed for wilderness adventure: it has to be fixable on the road, or trail.

I’ve sent Topeak’s UK importer an email, saying that I’m not happy. I’ve also ordered an extra long QR skewer from Halo, which I am going to try to fit. I think there might just be room to get a QR handle between the lug and the end of the chainstay. The problem I anticipate is that the hole in the bracket on the receiving side is threaded, and I worry that this might be a necessary support for the bracket: it is held in place by the threads, rather than simply by inward pressure, which is what a QR relies upon. James at TAV’s has done a quick Google search and is looking forward to having a go at setting it up, so at least I will have the pleasure of hanging out in my favourite bike shop for a while.

I’ll update as things progress. For now, it’s a lovely day, so I’m going for a ride.


Friday, 20 January 2017

To do

I’ve got a busy weekend ahead. My latest batch of homebrew is ready to bottle, which always makes for a happy couple of hours.

The science of homebrew.
The chaos makes it taste better.

It’s been fermenting in the corner of my office, a heatbelt around the bucket, since last Monday, and is no longer generating bubbles on its surface. Update: yes it is, and there’s still a bit of sweetness in it, so the bottling will have to wait for another day or so. A few weeks from now, I will break my beginning of the year booze fast with a couple of bottles of ‘not-bad-for-the-price’ homebrewed pilsner, as my wife sniffs disapprovingly beside me.

Also tomorrow, I’ll have to go into Newport and get a new chain for the bike: the old one got fouled up in the derailleur, no doubt assisted to its doom by the layers of oil and dirt I’ve allowed to build up over the winter. I really must discipline myself to do a little more maintenance on my bikes: the A wing is sitting with an almost unridden drive train rusting to uselessness, which represents the wastage of £150 or so. It’s a sorry decline from its glory days.

Some time this year I intend to get a new, 2 X 10 drivetrain for it and start using it again. I love the twenty-niner, but it is a tough commuter for me, rather than a full-blown mountain bike, and the A-wing, with its rear suspension, is a light, tough, easy to ride all day machine.

Besides that, I need to do a grocery shop, which I quite enjoy, but which takes time and hogs the brain pan. Then, I want to apply for the Step Up To Social Work scheme for next year, just in case the incresing chaos of Island politics does lead to the closure of my department in the next year. I’ll post about all that at some point, I expect.

Finally, I’d like to mend the muddle that I’ve got into with my various computer projects, and clear the decks so I can start doing some computer learning. Whether any of that will happen this weekend, I don’t know.

There is also work stuff to do, of course, but I won’t dwell on that here. Least said…

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Going Offroad, On An Impulse.

Brock’s Copse Road with frost on the ground and the rising Sun behind the trees. 1st December 2016.

The weather today has been dull and mild, after a week of bright and sharply cold winter days. It has been a joy to have proper winter weather, with low sun and crisp, frost-covered grass.

On Monday, I went out early to pick up some paperwork and got to Ryde by about nine. Usually I would have had the trailer on the bike, and have been dragging files and a laptop and a change of clothes, but I didn’t need it for this errand, and the bike felt as though it weighed nothing, freed from its usual burden. It was a good ride over, in glorious weather, cold enough to cause my hands to ache when I got into the warm of the Learning Centre. I collected my papers, did a bit of photocopying, had a cup of tea and headed home.

For some reason, I chose The Sundays for my headphones: Blind. It’s a cheesey album, but it holds memories for me, and I was able to let my thoughts drift back in time as I climbed from the valley below the back of Ryde up to the top of Havenstreet: a journey of about two miles that switchbacks over two steep hills. By the time I reached Firestone Copse, I was riding smoothly and comfortably, enjoying the cycling rather than enduring the journey as I so often do when I cycle for work, when I’m struggling with the weight of the trailer or against the clock. As I passed a gate at the head of a path into the woods, I turned, almost without thought, and rode into the Copse.

Firestone Copse in Winter. December 5th 2016.

I don’t recall the last time I rode a bike simply for the fun of it, without being on my way somewhere, with a purpose. I think it would have been about two summers ago, when I took part in a couple of organised events. Since then, my bike has been transport. I’ve enjoyed it, often, but only incidentally.

Well, this Monday, I rode for pleasure. I was probably only in the woods for twenty minutes or half an hour at the most, but it was timeless. I followed that first path until I reached a branch, and kept turning off onto smaller and less well-defined paths, until I was riding down a leafed-over avenue that barely qualified as a track. I remembered a ride in Firestone Copse with a mate, when I had first bought a reasonably capable mountain bike, eight or nine years ago. That had been the Hardrock that I had named Millenium Falcon. It was stolen from our front yard two years ago and I still miss it. Back then, when it was a relatively new toy, Kev had shown me the tracks down to Wooton Creek, at the bottom of the Copse, where a track winds along the shore, in and out of  the trees. Now, lost, but in a good way, I supposed that if I kept heading downhill, I’d reach the Creek.

The trail along the creek shore at the bottom of Firestone Copse. Monday 5th December 2016

And, soon enough, I did. Too soon, in fact. It has been a long while since I rode a winding woodland path downhill, jumping fallen branches and skipping over roots and winding around trees and stumps. I didn’t hare it down, but let the hill take me and just kicked the occasional peddle turn to get me over small rises and obstructions. But it’s not that big a wood when you’re headed downhill, and even with all the twists and turns, I had reached the Creek after about ten minutes.

The tide was out, and Wooton Creek, as the name implies, is tidal, so it was largely mudflats. I didn’t see any animals, and the only birds were a flock of gulls resting on the water way out in the creek, but the potential of life was everywhere: I could almost hear the heartbeats, scurrying and squeaks of the life hidden in the landscape. The picture to the left is of the trail I remember cycling with Kev: It was Summer then, but another beautiful sunny day, and the ground, instead of being covered in fallen brown leaves, shone green with the light through a full Summer canopy. I’m not sure that it is any less beautiful in mid winter, though.

I laid my bike down, got my phone out, and took some photos. These are all taken from within a couple of metres of one another: three beautiful views from one spot.

Wooton Creek from Firestone Copse at low tide. Monday December 5th 2016.

The battery on my bluetooth headphones had died on the ride, and the old, slightly tired pop music had been silenced. I had returned from my memories of another time in my life to the beautiful present; the living peace of the sounds of a wood. Far off, around the bend in this last picture, is an hotel, and beyond that, less than a kilometre away, the main Ryde to Newport Road. I strained to hear the traffic, but all sound was deadened by the blanket of peace that trees lay over the earth.

At one time, I would have, at least, smoked a cigarette here; I don’t do that anymore, and though I miss it, I was glad to be able to cycle hard away from the shore and up, back through the Copse, without the aches and rattles of a smoker’s chest. Lost, I found a little bit of myself, and when I regained the road, I was travelling with pleasure, for the first time in a while, less tired than I have felt for months, and a fraction lighter of heart.