Cycling around the lanes of East Sussex just south of Tunbridge Wells last weekend, I had a bit of a tumble. It wasn’t a wild crash, but due to the unfortunate mix of a newly serviced bike and a few wet leaves on the floor, my confidence in the grip of my tyres and the efficacy of my brakes turned out to be a little too high. I was cycling from Brightling to Burwash when my overconfidence led to a 10 meter skid and me left dangling upside down in a hedge after flying straight over the top of my handlebars. Luckily there were no cars coming the other way, but three lovely motorists did decide to stop to make sure I was ok.
I’ve loved my Trek 1.5 since getting in as a birthday present back in March 2012. A sleek white racer, it was the first ‘road bike’ I’ve owned. I did once borrow my Granddad’s Dawes roadies for a few months back in 2003, but technology appears to have massively improved since the 70s. I love the flat, I love going up hills, but sometimes going downhill can feel a little.. hairy.
About 14 months ago I was training for the etape pennines up north of Buxton, Derbyshire. I’d spent quite a bit of my youth up near Edale and Mam Tor, and with my sister up at University in Buxton, figured it would be a great place to get some hill training in before the etape. It was - but cycling down Winnat’s Pass left me feeling pretty uncomfortable about descending at speed. Whenever I applied the brakes it simply felt like the bike was squirming and bending underneath me; not wanting to follow the direction I was guiding it, but behaving like an angry bull trying to throw the rider. It was not a pleasant experience.
A few weeks later I was doing the BHF’s Heart of England ride with my family, when I asked my Dad if I could borrow his Madone 3.1 for the ride. A carbon fibre bike, it was definitely lighter than mine, but I didn’t expect the braking so be so much more comfortable. The Madone comes with a mix of 105 and SRAM components, and it was an absolute dream to ride. Gone was the horrible binary braking experienced on my 1.5, and suddenly I felt in control and far more confident about how the bike would behave at speed downhill.
I begrudgingly gave the Madone back to Dad once I’d finished the etape (3 months later, but who’s counting…) - and since then have been looking around at other bikes to work out whether it’s time to take the plunge and upgrade the 1.5, or whether some small componentry upgrades would help ‘fix’ my problem. It’s taken a while, but for now I’ve decided to upgrade the non-branded brake calipers on the bike to some simple Tiagra ones. I have no frame of reference or comparison as to the difference they may make - but I hope to feedback what I find out.