A pun-free title and fairly quick return to my rather occasional blog, spurred by a visit to the stats page.
Quite a number of people have come here via a ‘net search for the b’twin Riverside 1 bicycle, made and sold by Decathlon. I’m the unfortunate owner of one these, so perhaps an update is due to give those searchers an idea of how the bike has stood up to a few short months of normal use:
Very poorly indeed.
To put things in context, I use my bike almost exclusively to commute to work along city streets, a round trip of about eleven miles. Hills are few and minor, so the main stresses on the bike are down to the poorly maintained Manchester roads. Naturally I avoid potholes (travelling the same route every day means that I know where they all are) but the tarmac does have a few rough areas. Still, nothing that would trouble a halfway-decent machine. I bought the bike when my Pashley needed a fairly major, urgent overhaul and at a time when the mechanic I trust to do such a job was out of the country for a time (I wouldn’t take it back to the shop from which it was bought, since they have generally caused more problems than they fix). With no time to find a good second-hand bike I read some reviews and was persuaded that a new one from Decathlon would be worth the money.
The first bike I looked at was set up as a city model. Looked pretty decent on the website, with mudguards, pannier rack and lights, all the things needed for a commuting set-up. In the shop I was surprised to find that despite being sold as a bike for adults it was so tiny that my knees rested between the handlebars… which made it impossible to do anything other than trundle in a straight line. So, some time later I settled on the Riverside 1, a men’s bike lacking things such as mudguards (heaven knows why) but seemingly a much better option. The staff cheerfully said that they could fit mudguards, stand etc while we waited.
Three days later the back wheel had developed so much side-to-side play that I began to expect it might pull out and overtake me at any moment. Back to Decathlon, where the mechanic told me it was “perfectly normal” and simply needed some adjustment. After lowering my incredulous eyebrows I let him fix it. By the trip home from work it was as bad as before.
Back to Decathlon and a different mechanic, who admitted that the wheel shouldn’t do that and changed it for a different type. He also changed the mudguards, since the ones installed on purchase were too short. It subsequently became apparent that the new ones, supposedly the correct size, are also too short because Decathlon don’t seem to think that mudguards should actually stop water from spraying up your back. I fixed a piece of plastic to the back and solved the problem. A few days later the back tyre blew out. Ah well, punctures are inevitable in the city… but wait, what’s this? A small puncture, yes, but also a complete failure of the rear tyre itself, which had split along the sidewall. I nursed the bike along to Ken Foster’s Cycle Logic in Chorlton, bought a new tyre and fitted it myself.
Decathlon offer a free service in the first six months. Due to further problems and the sneaking suspicion that the bottom bracket might have gone I took the bike in after about two. They replaced the bottom bracket. They also noticed that the rear axle was bust and so fitted yet another model of wheel, this one seemingly better than the previous two. The brake pads had to be replaced too, as the ones it came with were apparently made of cheese and wore out if subjected to a hard stare. I had to pay for those, Decathlon’s policy being that even though the ones they initially supply are barely fit for the job such things naturally wear out anyway.
Currently I’ve had the bike for about three months. It’s required a number of fixes, most of which entailed getting it over to the shop in Stockport, including two new wheels, a new tyre, replacement brake pads and a new bottom bracket. The right pedal seems to be failing and is making an ominous plasticky cracking sound with each revolution. The gears have begun to slip. Bear in mind that in the short time since I bought it the bike has also received a full service.
If you need a cheap bike try to find something on the second-hand market if you can. It’s worth asking at some small bike shops too, as they might carry reconditioned models or have suggestions for where to get a good one. If you’re considering a b’twin Riverside 1 from Decathlon then I suggest you forget that idea immediately and look elsewhere. Unless you want to buy mine, full service history, serious offers only…
The cheque is in the post. So is the application form.
It’s TGO Challenge time again, or at least the time when several hundred of us scramble to submit our applications for the draw and hopefully avoid the dreaded waiting list: the Challenge itself kicks off next May. For some this is an annual event, some will be entering for the first time and others will be back after a break of a few years. I’ve been lucky enough to join and complete the Challenge twice now, in 2009 and 2011, and it looks as though every other year is probably the very most I can manage, always assuming I get on of course. Thoughts now turn to route planning, getting some more local walking done (or at least fairly local, since I’m stuck in a city these days) and, that evergreen favourite, gear.
Discussions of hiking kit are both engaging and exasperating. Gear is very easy to talk about. Something new comes out, it’s announced with great fanfare by those who make a living from selling it, discussion forums clamour for details and pick them apart, arguments and comparisons abound. I read this stuff too (and occasionally get involved in the conversations, although rarely too deeply) and I certainly spend a more than reasonable amount of time looking at clothing and equipment, but when you get down to it much of the gear on the market is quite superfluous for the typical camper. Still, it’s not the creep of comfort and technology that feeds all this gear talk – people would probably be arguing over colour schemes in the absence of anything else – and I’m certainly not going to claim that I prefer my old Peter Storm cagoule to my Paramo 3rd Element.
My cupboards will tell the truth even if I try to fib about it: I’m not immune to this. I’ve bought things I didn’t need and plenty more I thought I needed, but could have done without. Perhaps luckily I don’t have a lot of cash to throw around, which does at least minimise the occasions when I succumb to temptation.
With the Challenge back on the cards I’ve been looking through my hiking equipment and seeing what needs to change, as well as what might be interesting to change. Despite being tarred with the “ultralight” brush I don’t think of myself as an ultralight hiker. I do try to carry as little as possible, yes, but the whole idea of arbitrary weight categories and the like is such nonsense it almost embarrasses me to find myself associated with it. It’s nearly fifteen years since Ray Jardine’s interview in Backpacker magazine, the first time I and the majority of other hikers came across his lightweight system. Any number of new and established companies have jumped into the lightweight paddling pool and we’ve seen gear go to flimsy, wispy extremes and then start to settle into a slightly more stable and usable norm. Isn’t it about time that “ultralight” hikers were simply regarded as hikers? It’s not a competition. Well, for me it’s not; some people do seem to compete to have the lightest possible pack regardless of practicality, but their sort have been around since recreational camping began, and even before that:
“We all know the type. He professes an inordinate scorn for comfort of all sorts. If you are out with him you soon discover that he has a vast pride in being able to sleep on cobblestones… In a cold climate he brings a single thin blanket. His slogan seems to be: ‘This is good enough for me!’ with the unspoken conclusion, ‘if it isn’t good enough for you fellows, you’re pretty soft.’ The queer part of it is he usually manages to bully sensible men into his point of view… ‘Bootleg is good enough for me!’ he cries; and every one marvels at his woodsmanship.“
— Stewart Edward White, Camp and Trail, 1906
So, on that slightly defensive note, I have to admit that I weigh every single piece of gear I might take on a trip. I began trying to carry less weight (and also less actual stuff) in the mid to late nineties when I found myself suffering from ankle and hip problems when hiking. Unfortunately I went about it in entirely the wrong way, trimming ounces and keeping pounds, and it was a few years before I had anything approaching a sensible system of gear, with minimal redundancy and everything chosen to work together as well as possible. Camping suddenly became much more enjoyable. The little digital scales I now use (under a fiver from eBay and an absolute bargain at that) mean that I can compare items in my notebook or on a computer spreadsheet and use weight to help me decide which of two similar things might be better for the task required, but weight is always only a part of it. Scotland in particular can be a harsh place for someone hoping to use kit intended for American long-distance trails, a wholly different environment.
This time there’s every chance that my rucksack will weigh a little bit more than it did in 2011. That year saw some pretty rough weather – high winds, in particular – and apparently the most recent Challenge was the wettest on record, so I see no reason to skimp on comfort and protection. The lightest item that properly does the job is what I aim to take. Considering the bag weight was not far over eight and a half pounds last time, not including food and water, I can easily add in some waterproof overtrousers and an insulated down vest without fear of my knees buckling. Since I already own some it means I don’t have to reach for my wallet, either.
The tarp, though… Ah, the tarp. I was not the only tarp camper in either 2009 or 2011, but we were certainly rare; it’s easy to see why. Many people simply dislike the idea of sleeping under an open-ended sheet of nylon. Others like to take higher routes where tarp use becomes questionable, or at best somewhat limiting. Personally, I love camping with a tarp (have done ever since a school trip where we camped with them, although they were universally known as bashas then) and don’t mind choosing my route to accommodate that choice. I aim to have plenty of more sheltered options when it comes time to set camp, although in a pinch the tarp can be more storm-worthy than many expect. Having used mine for over ten years I’m familiar with its quirks and limitations, one of which is that it’s only seven feet long. As I’m six feet tall that doesn’t leave a lot of extra cover when the weather turns wild. So, a different tarp may be on the cards. There are several options – fewer than I expected, to be honest, as most manufacturers seem to be aiming for very light tents these days – almost all of which are hampered by being sold only in the USA. Import charges would inevitably make for an expensive purchase, so I need to weigh the choices. Whichever I opt for, though, I probably shan’t get into an argument about it:
“On a campaign you may attack a man’s courage, the flag he serves, the newspaper for which he works, his intelligence, or his camp manners, and he will ignore you, but if you criticize his patent water-bottle he will fall upon you with both fists.“
— Richard Harding Davis, 1917