Friday, 31 October 2008

Another beautiful morning

This is the Neath river, as seen from the bridge
at Dinas Rock.

Got out early again this morning, cycling down the valley by 05.45, it was dark and the stars were out, but a little bit milder than yesterday, still nice and crisp. I made it to Aberdulais by 06.30, and turned back. I'm moving much faster on the Subway 1, I know it's lighter but I think also, the fact, that I'm wearing cycle specific shoes, has improved things too. Perhaps that helped me on the Rhigos bank yesterday as well.

Cycling back up the valley towards Resolven, the wind blew up and of course it was a headwind, and quite stiff, had to drop a couple of gears to maintain 13-14 mph. Not good news though, as my new Shimano shoes seem to allow my toes to get really cold. After yesterday's ride they were numb, and so too today numbness was setting in, well before I got back to Glynneath. So much so, I stopped at McDonalds by Cwmgwrach, to have a coffee to warm up. Yesterday, I thought the problem had been caused by the tight fit of the shoes over my hiking socks, which until now, have never left my feet/toes numb. So today I wore football socks, old ones of Conor's, they are thinner, but still my toes ended up numb. Therefore, I believe the shoes are just too tight across the toe area, somehow I'm going to have to stretch those parts of the shoes.

After my coffee, I did my usual circuit of Cwmgwrach, headed back through Glynneath, then on up to Pontneathvaughan. When I got to Pontneathvaughan, I decided to try the hill that climbs out of the valley towards Ystalyfera, much steeper than the Rhigos Bank of yesterday. It zig-zags up the side of the valley, and I made it only about 200 yards up before turning back down. Then I took my usual route, up the river valley floor, alongside the Neath river, towards Dinas Rock.

This is the Neath river as seen from the other
side of the bridge.

This is my Subway 1, at the gate to Dinas Rock
car park, as you can see, not open yet.

This is a tributary to the Neath river, as seen
form another bridge at Dinas Rock.

Looking down the road from that bridge
towards the Dinas Rock car park.

Not a very good picture, I know, but this is
Dinas Rock, looking over that gate.
Well I've got a few pics in, not the best but I hope they give a feel of where I ride, at least when I'm not commuting. I shot them all, as you can see by Dinas Rock, which is virtually, at the head of the Neath valley.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Improving in leaps, if not bounds.

Had a great morning on my new Subway 1, I was up and out on the road at 06.15, to do my usual local run, down through Glynneath, to Aberdulais, then returning back up the valley, a quick circuit of Cwmgwrach, back though Glynneath, up to Pontneathvaughan and home. Well that's what I intended, but when I got home, I decided to try the Subway 1 on Rhigos bank, the hill behind our house, that leads up and out of the Neath valley to Hirwaun and Aberdare.

Several times before, after my local rides, I've tried the hill on the Subway 8, and only managed a few hundred yards, it climbs for about 2 miles. Consequently, I thought to myself, I wouldn't be going very far, but I hadn't taken into consideration the better range of gears on the Subway 1. With 14 to choose from, as I climbed I dropped down through the gears and settled into 3rd, very much a granny gear, happily rolling up the hill at 6mph. Initially, I kept going because I wanted to find a spot, to take a photo, looking down the valley, it was cold this morning, but by 08.15, the sun was up in a blue cloudless sky, it was absolutely beautiful.

Halfway up I thought I'd found such a vantage point, but when I pulled into the side of the road, getting off the bike to take a look, the view was blocked by trees. Returning back to the road, I looked back down the hill, to see 3 riders on road bikes, and in all their regalia, powering up towards me. I decided to wait for them to pass, before continuing my climb. As they passed I exchanged hellos and a smile, it was 2 men, and a girl, then I spotted a 4th rider about a hundred yards behind, and decided to let this one pass as well. When this rider was close enough I could see it was another girl, and she was obviously finding the climb alot more difficult than the others. As she approached I gave an encouraging, " Well done, keep it going," to which she gave me a beaming smile.

I watched them continue their climb for a couple of minutes, and then continued with mine. Steadily I kept going, in 3rd and 4th, all the way to the top, and on to the outskirts of Hirwaun. In all the 3 years I've been cycling I've never dared to try that hill, yet today, I conquered it, seemingly with ease, with the aid of the Subway 1, so I'm a very happy cyclist, who feels he is improving his stamina and fitness, those are the "leaps."

By the way, those road cyclists were long gone and out of sight, well before I made the top, so I can't claim both "leaps and bounds." On top of that, I forgot to get a photo! But I did enjoy my ride today.

Mileage: 36

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Fresh start??

Went to and back, from my work, yesterday, on my new Carrera Subway 1, that Halfords gave me as a replacement for my Subway 8. Halford admitted they could not service/repair it, because their staff neither had the training or tools to do so. I think that is very strange indeed, and so I've been trawling the internet, to find out more.

Found this Guest Review at :

It seems I've been a little short changed, by my local Halfords, when compared with this gentleman, who at least had 2 years service from his second 8 speed hub, I only got 6-7 months from mine, before Halford gave up on it. The big question, however, that is begging to be asked, and of course answered is:-

" Why has Halfords sold, and is continuing to sell the Carrera Subway 8, alongside it's Bikecare Plan, when they, as a company, cannot service, or repair, or support the product?"

I wrote to Shimano, makers of the internal hub gears, the Nexus 8, which has given me so much grief, I'm hoping to hear from them about replacing/repairing the hub, because Halfords have said I can have the old Subway 8 back, all I have to do is pick it up from the store. My way of thinking is, if I can get the hub repaired/replaced, I can then refurbish the Subway 8 back to working order, we'll see.

Getting back to the Subway 1, Saturday I used it, as I said for my commute, I was very tentative about taking it, because of its derailleur gears. But quite frankly I was very, very pleasantly surprised by the whole experience, and I was able to change gears, when needed, with no bother, having twist grips for the 14 speed was great. The bike as a whole is so much lighter, it was a veritable revelation, and my average speed increased accordingly. Normally I manage about 12.8 mph on my 3 hour roundtrip, yesterday it was 14.2 mph., or was it, simply the joy of being back in the saddle, and actually having a bike to ride again, only time will tell, as I continue my commutes.

Sadly today I didn't commute, the weather was horrendous last night, I got absolutely drenched cycling, and it continued to pour down all through the night, when I got up this morning, all my gear was still soaking, so very unusually for me, I decided to take the car. Of course, a couple of hours after getting to work, the sun came out, despite the forecast for the opposite, and it hasn't rained since. So I've been kicking myself all day, for not managing to get a ride today.

My wonderful shift pattern plus using up my leave, sees me off work now, until a week next Saturday, unless I get some overtime. Yes, I'm off until Saturday 8th November. So I have to be strict with myself, and get in a substantial cycle ride everyday, because I have only been using the Subway 8 for the commute, I've tended to be rather complacent when I've been off work. Hopefully, the newness of the Subway 1, plus it's, seemingly, faster qualities will spur me on, to keep the good work going. I just feel so great as a direct result of my cycling, I have more energy, and am more willing, able, and don't feel so bothered about, taking on things, that really need doing, especially around the house.

I believe I had become a bit of a slouch, almost a couch potatoe, it's no wonder that 3 years ago I was up to 17 stone 6 pounds, I took no real exercise, and had got into a rut. I just couldn't be bothered to do anything around the house, and on the odd occasion, when Elizabeth shamed me into doing the odd bit of decorating or DIY, I soon tired of it, as too much of an effort. Things have changed, last week, saw me painting Tierloch's room, and also painting the living room, everyday. Elizabeth even commented, that it made a nice change for me to do it all without moaning or losing my temper. But then honestly I really enjoyed doing it, this newfound energy is there to be burned.

So while I'm making a fresh start on a new bike, perhaps it's also a new start, at home, with me being more DIY inclined. Again, we'll have to see how things progress.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Halfords give up!

Sadly, according to Halfords, the Subway 8 is beyond repair, I'm far from happy. Russell rang me last Monday, to say that the Nexus 8 was worn out, a new one, would cost me £110, I told him that because of the history of failings with two hubs on the Subway over the past 13 months, I had no intention of paying for a replacement, and I would take the matter to Trading Standards.

A couple of hours later he rang me back, to say that he'd had a word with the store manager, Steve, who was going to have a chat with head office, to see what they could come up with for me. When I asked what they had in mind, he said possibly a swap for a new bike, but that Steve wouldn't be able to ring me about it till Wednesday.

It wasn't until after midday on the Wednesday that Steve rang, he offered to give me a new Subway, but with a derailleur gear set-up, as HALFORDS COULDN'T SUPPORT THE NEXUS 8 HUB, BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T HAVE THE TRAINING OR CORRECT TOOLS, I am gobsmacked. We had a brief discussion, I said I'd have to try the new bike, that I'd come to the store for 14.00., he said he'd have one ready for me.

When I arrived at the store, I had to wait 20 minutes or so, but then Daniel brought it out, and I had a go around the carpark. I have to admit I didn't like the idea of going to a derailleur set-up, but this bike had twist grip shifters, which I found easy enough to use. I agreed to the swap, and Steve agreed that all the accessories would be transferred from my old Subway to the new, as well as tyres etc.. The new Subway would be ready late Thursday, and I arranged to pick it up on my home from work.

So today is the 8th day I haven't ridden my bike, and I'm missing it dreadfully, but hopefully I'll be back commuting tomorrow. Since I made the decision, to agree to the swap, I've been thinking a good deal about the ramifications, but I'll have to talk more about all that next time, but be assured things are afoot.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Not a good few days, bike in for repairs.

There have been pluses in the past week, but overall I'm not very happy about the way things have gone. My shift pattern /roster dictated that I'd be off work from last Wednesday, with no overtime available, and I'd booked Monday(tomorrow) and Tuesday as annual leave, I have to use it up or lose it, so I was looking forward to riding my Subway 8, every morning until I return to work next Thursday, back to my normal commute. It hasn't worked out that way.

Tuesday morning on my way home, after my nightshift, the internal hub gears of the Nexus 8, on the Subway, started feeling ropey/rough/not right, and then came back to normal again. When I got home I lifted the backwheel, and went through the gears and they seemed fine, so I checked my tyres for glass, oiled the chain etc., ready for my next day's ride.

Early Wednesday morning I set out for a local round trip, up to Pontneathvaughan, back through Glynneath, in and around Cwmgwrach, down to Resolven before heading home. The gears started giving me problems again about 3 miles to go, very rough, slipping, locking until I had to settle for 5th gear for the rest of the ride. At home I tried messing around with them, with no effect, and so resigned myself to the fact, I'd have to take the bike to Halfords, under my Bikecare Plan.

I took it in on Thursday, Elizabeth and I were going shopping, anyway, and for a walk around Llansamlet lake, in Swansea, very close to the Halfords store where I bought the Subway 8 and Bikecare plan. Dropping off the bike, I explained to the lad, on the bike repair counter, the problems with the gears, and also agreed, on his suggestion, that the bike was due for its annual service, yes I've had the Subway for a year now. Hasn't that year slipped by so quickly? He asked me when I would like the bike back I said Saturday, he told me that should be O.K., but that he wouldn't be able to start on it until 11.00 a.m., next morning. We agreed that if there was a problem with me picking the bike up on Saturday, then they(Halfords) would ring me, and I gave him both my home and mobile telephone numbers.

Friday came, and when I hadn't heard anything from Halfords, I thought to myself I would be able to pick up the Subway next day, and be set for a ride on Sunday morning, however experience with Halfords told me to ring them, to make sure. So I rang Halfords late in the afternoon, Russell, the manager, tried to put me through to the repairs department, but couldn't get a reply, so asked me to hang on while he went over to check, which I did. When he came back on the phone, he told me the lads behind that counter were busy dealing with customers, he wasn't able to talk to them, but saw my Subway 8 on the workstand, so yes it should be O.K., for me to pick the bike up, about lunchtime Saturday.

Sadly though Saturday morning Daniel, one of Halford's bike mechanics, rang me to say they had begun stripping the Nexus 8 gears, had found water inside, and that the bike wouldn't be ready until late afternoon. Disappointed, but relieved I would still have the bike for the next morning's ride I carried on with my Saturday. A bit of home decorating under the guidance of Elizabeth, then after lunch I went to watch my middle son, Conor play football, in the local park, for Glynneath. At 30 he's decided to play again, after a couple of years off?

Halfway through the 2nd half of the game, my son's team were losing 4-1, at that stage, Daniel rang me again, on my mobile, basically saying they couldn't continue repairing the gears, as they didn't have the relevent manual, that inside the gears were very rusty, and they would have to consult with their manager, Russell, on Monday, as to how they would proceed. I reminded Daniel that they had renewed the entire backwheel, including a new Nexus 8 hub only 6 months ago, and that I shouldn't be expected to pay for a new one. He simply replied he would need to consult with his manager, yet again Halfords had let me down.

It's staggering to find that Halfords sold me the Carrera Subway 8, which is their own brand, alongside their Bikecare plan, and are completely unable to service the agreement, neither having the trained staff capable of doing the work, nor the manuals to work with. An incredulous situation, don't you think? I certainly do, consequently I sent an email to Halfords customer services department last night so they should be contacting me Monday morning.

Meanwhile, and not for the first, second, or third time, I'm off the road because of Halfords incompetence. When I took out the Bikecare plan, I thought I had a bargain, free labour, maintenance, and servicing, just pay for any parts used. At £29.95 for a 3 year agreement, what a bargain! Everything isn't as it seems though, and I feel badly let down.

I checked out the price of servicing the Subway at Tredz, a bike shop round the corner from Halford, £60 plus parts!! I simply can't afford that.

All I seem to do is moan about poor Halfords customer service, on this blog, I'm sorry folks, but there's more to come, but with a happy ending this time. You will remember back 6-7 months ago I had a horrendous time with punctures, 8 in 10 days at one stage, in fact that's when Halfords changed my entire backwheel, hub and all, because all the punctures were being caused internally, and they could not pinpoint what was the cause. The tyres I was using were Continental Safety System, which are gauranteed against puncture for 12 months or a replacement tyre and inner tube provided free of charge, well the company, sorry, agents, in this part of the world, for Continental Tyres which is a German manufacturer, only provided one set of replacements.

When I complained to the agents about this, they replied that they only provided one replacement set per tyre bought, if punctured, so I wrote and complained to Continental's base in Germany. As a result I took delivery of 2 new sets of tyre and inner tubes, last Wednesday, so thankyou Continental Tyres. They sent me the reflex tour version of the Continental Safety system, one of which has been on my front wheel for the past 6 months, and I'm very pleased with.

So there are companies, out there, with a conscience. Will it prove the same with Hafords? That's very debatable at the moment, I've complained in the past to their customer services department before, about their poor service under the Bikecare plan, only to be told they were "sorry I had found it necessary to complain, that they took such complaints very seriously, and would work with their staff to ensure an exceptable standard of service would be provided, and if I wanted refund on the cost of the Bikecare plan, just to return the pack." As far as I'm concerned they were admitting they can't provide that service, why else offer a refund? By accepting that offer, it would only let them off the hook, scot-free, no way.

The ball is firmly in Halfords court for the moment, all I can do is await developments, but I'll keep you up to date, as best I can, as the story continues to unfold.

Going on now to some other good news, while I was at Tredz, checking out bike service charges, I had a look around at bicycle gear and clothing, bearing in mind I will be commuting through the winter. I've been in the shop before, they've a great range of bikes, but now I've seen a Rohloff hub for the first time, rather than on the internet, it was on a commuting bike, over £2000, so way out of my reach, no harm in dreaming though. Still I was looking for a bargain to do with clothing, and I found, in the sale section for shoes, a pair of Shimano cycling shoes, down from £40 to £12. I tried them on, perfect fit.

From now on I'll have proper stiff soled cycling shoes when I cycle, they've got cleats as well, but you have adapt them, so they can stay as they are, for now, or until I decide to fix my shoes to the pedals. Not something I fancy really, but hopefully these shoes will stop the outer toes on my feet, particularly my left, from suffering numbness towards the end of my commute home. I think its caused by my toes curling around the pedals, let's hope that will be the end of that discomfort.

A really long post this, and not a photo to be seen, sorry about that. Talk to you again soon.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Nice day, nice ride, sorry about the photos!

I had to go to Cardiff today, for my 12 weekly competency tests as a signaller, we have to do question and answer tests on the computer, it's the way of the world we live in today. To cut a long story short, I passed all of them no problem, but had to sit through the quarterly safety briefing, boring!!!

The only good parts of the day, for me anyway, were the ride to Port Talbot this morning, and then the ride back home to Glynneath. It was dark when I set out at 05.45 and quite cold, could still see the stars in the sky, and saw very little traffic, just a couple of cars passed me on the old road as far as Aberdulais, but things livened up from there on in, through Neath, and into Port Talbot. I got to my home signalbox, at about 07.25, having stopped at a Spar shop, to get a breakfast roll, and something else to eat. Had a quick bite to eat, a clean up, a chat with the lads manning the box, then went on the train to Cardiff.

Sounds a bit strange I know, for a railway signaller, like myself, but I very rarely travel by train, in fact once a quarter, i.e., 4 times a year, to complete these tests. It's not that I dislike travelling by train, in fact I love to look out of the window, at the scenery, wildlife etc., but the cost is very prohibitive. That isn't a problem for most of my colleagues, because they have subsidised travel, which virtually means they can wander the whole of the country, and Europe for that matter, free of charge. I joined the railway six months too late, August 1996, when conditions of service were changed, meaning new starters were barred from getting this valuable perk. Still what I've never had I don't miss, I suppose.

Fast forward now to the trip home, the sun was shining, but the skies were starting to cloud up, as I started my ride home, at about 14.05. It was a pretty ordinary ride home, but I stopped a couple of times to take photos of my environs, so that anyone reading, this very ignored blog, in the future, will know what the route I travel has to offer.

This is a shot of the A465, from Neath to Merthyr Tydfil road, taken looking down from Aberdulais, as it snakes up the Neath Valley.

And this is Rheola pond, between Resolven and Cwmgwrach, taken from the old road, which hugs the northern side of the valley up to Glynneath and beyond, alongside the aforementioned A465. Sadly my mobile phone's picture taking qualities are, it seems quite poor, obviously not enough pixels. I used the magnify setting on this shot, which results, now I learn, in a small shot like this. So sorry, but I'm now on a learning curve, hopefully quality will improve.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Slowing down--- big time!

Last Monday morning, 30th September, I cycled home from work, after my night shift, and because of my very strange, but at the same time, very nice roster, I have not been back since. In fact I'm not due for another shift until next Wednesday, and Thursday, for two day shifts. I think I've mentioned before on this, very rarely visited blog of mine, that I haven't done alot of cycling, except for my commuting, to and from work. Sadly that has been the case since last Monday, no commute, so no cycling, until yesterday.

I was itching to get out, hadn't been getting up till after 08.00 a.m., which is extremely late for me, anyway I was up at 06.30., and waiting for my eldest son, Keiron jnr to join me for a ride. The weather forecast was poor, wet and windy, that didn't matter at all to me, but it wasn't until 07.30 that we finally set off. We had to take it sedately, because junior doesn't bike much, and the ride had to be quite short.

We ended up doing 16 miles or so, cycling first up to Pontneathvaughan, back through the village, up to Cwmgwrach, back into Glynneath, down along the canal, then on the old road to Resolven and back home. We got thoroughly soaked, but enjoyed, especially me. The Subway 8 was much lighter, without the 15-20 lbs of gear in pannier bags, that I carry on my commute, so getting up the hills, ( not that there are any of real significance, on the rides I chose to make ), was alot easier, and my legs felt good, particularly with the slower pace. It took us an hour and a half, from start to finish, so the pace wasn't that slow, when you take into consideration the stops we made, to shelter from the rain a couple of times, to show Keiron where I saw the otters, and to look at the river and waterfalls etc..

All in all a good ride.

This is the river Neath at Abergarwood.

Photos at last!!!

This is Elizabeth, my wife, sorry partner to be politically correct, and Jack, my son Conor's and Anne's, his partner, little boy, who is 10 years of age.

Well, at last I'm having a go, I really thought it would be alot more complicated, but my son, Keiron jnr spent 5 minutes showing me what to do, so here goes....

At long last I can publish a photo to my blog, the above is a barricade scene form the Irish War of Independence c. 1919-21, courtesy of my eldest son Keiron jnr., who completed his PhD on the subject. Next I hope to be uploading pictures, from my mobile phone, that I take while on my commute or travels on the Subway 8.

And there's another one, this time a shot of Blarney castle, where we lived in County Cork, Eire, not the castle of course, but in the village, between 1975-1979.

This is a photo of my middle son, Conor with his new wife Anne, just after their wedding on 5th May 2007.

And these are from Elizabeth and my wedding way back on 16th August 1972, black and white, how times have changed. Well there are going to be alot of photos in this blog of mine from now on, not that I'm any good with any kind of camera, but I should get an 'A' for trying.

Now I'm going to try to upload a picture from my mobile phone, so I'll have to save this in draft form for now, to come back later.