Riding Around (this wee country)

Riding Around

There are lots of reasons to like cycling. Exercise, fresh air, environmentally-friendly way to travel, genuine tanning opportunity and people tend to think you’re pretty hardy. I’ve also mentioned the coffee stops too and the inevitable accompanying piece of cake. But the best bit about cycling, for me anyways, is speed. That feeling of whizzing through the air, preferably down a hill, wind bellowing past your ears and bringing tears to your eyes as you soar through space feeling like a superhero.

It’s utterly childish and utterly wonderful.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is taking my bike out for a ride one afternoon after school and homework had been completed (I’m nearly sure it was a Thursday afternoon and I reckon I was 10-11 years old). It was hammering rain outside and I just suddenly got the urge to get on my bike. My Dad, you see, was very liberal in his child-rearing views so he wouldn’t have objected to my apparent lunacy of going for bike ride when it was pouring rain outside. What I remember is pedalling, standing up on the pedals and going absolute full throttle down the road from my house, no rain jacket, no helmet (wouldn’t advise this now, mind you!), rain spitting up from the road and coming down from the sky and it felt amazing.

Pure unadulterated, unrestrained freedom.

I felt free, I felt invincible and I felt I could do absolutely anything.

I don’t do stupid things like cycle about without a helmet anymore, but I do still have moments of speeding down hills as fast I can go on my bike, big stupid smile across my face and feeling thoroughly heroic. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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I’ve also taken to being more adventurous with my cycle routes in the last few months – trying out different areas and even driving to a start point a bit further away so that I can explore new areas and unexplored territory. Not gonna lie, it hasn’t always proved a roaring success and there have been some not so good road surfaces and just predominantly boring areas of Ireland that I would quite happily not miss ever seeing again. But mostly, it’s been great seeing new parts of the country and enjoying different landscape and towns of our fair green isle.

 

Sitka spruce and lodgepole pine dominate most of the coniferous woodlands of the Slieve Blooms, the largest cover of forestry in Ireland

Today, I took a venture around County Laois. I started from Monasterevin in Co. Kildare and headed towards Emo (because I always wanted to visit this place with it’s very cool name…), then Mountmellick  and on to Clonaslee and the Slieve Bloom mountains. I passed through quite a few small towns and villages along the way. Most of these towns were old, delapidated, small towns with not more than the usual old pub, shop, church and great looking GAA club. I was hoping there might be a coffee shop somewhere along the way but if there was, I didn’t see one.

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I like seeing these small towns, as there is something reassuring in the way there are so many towns around Ireland that are exactly how they were 30 years ago. Sure, the cities are modern and progressive with all their fancy dancy wifi, frappuccinos and chic male haircuts, but take a short ride out to the countryside and let you be in no doubt whatsoever – you won’t be getting no fancy wifi down here.

Lest you be getting notions about yourself 😉

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This is Rosenallis, not far from the Slieve Bloom mountains. Quaint, you might say.

It was nice to see rural Laois and they did have some lovely cows and friendly locals, but some of the roads weren’t the best (poor road surface makes for gritty cycling…), the scenery was not special and the towns were disappointing. I probably wouldn’t return here again unless there was a cycle race in the area. Rather, I think I’ll be trying out another area the next time.

The good news? It didn’t rain, I didn’t get lost and I had a little weekend adventure – and that’s good enough for me to feel just a little bit heroic for the rest of the day.

Happy weekend!

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A Day at the Greatest Cycling Event on Earth: Tour de France

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A day’s stage of the Tour de France looks a bit like an instalment of the Hunger Games -an unsympathetic game of elimination in which 198 riders start together and ride progressively faster for 150-plus kilometres until a combination of tired bodies, nasty crashes and mechanical mishaps leaves one small group of riders out in front.

The finale inevitably involves either a flat all-out sprint or an unfathomably steep climb up some ridiculous mountain, where the roads narrow and the riders enter a human tunnel of overexcited fans who lose all sense of self-control, screaming and running around the riders like they’ve completely lost their minds.

The riders battle through the crowds, fighting fatigue and their own mental demons, wrestling with each other as the tension rises and team rivalries start to spill over. Bodies are forced to the absolute max, as riders begin to drop off one by one, ultimately leaving one rider who can grind it out to the line pushing past everyone else, pushing past all the pain, fatigue and aching limbs to say screw you all, I am the strongest today. I am the strongest despite the ultimate test of hell you just put me through.

Fail to make the time cut, don’t bother coming back tomorrow. If you do, you get to go home, rest up and come back tomorrow and do it all again. And every other day after that for the next 23 days.

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It’s the toughest endurance event on earth, without question. My own feelings on the Tour de France have always been that if you make it onto a Tour de France team and finish the three weeks, that in itself is a massive achievement. Putting aside placement or any thoughts of winning stages or, dare I say, one of the coveted jerseys. Just finishing the race – is HUGE.

This is a race with no sympathy. No room for moaners, wusses or posers. This race will weed out the weak and spit out the pretenders. It’s part of what makes this race truly great. It’s the hardest and the best of cyclists, competing against each other on some of the world’s toughest climbs across the French Alps, Pyrenees and Massive Centrale.

Brutal.

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I’ve wanted to go to the Tour de France ever since I read David Walsh’s book on Lance Armstrong – Seven Deadly Sins. Not for the reasons you might think! David wrote about driving around following the tour as a journalist from place to place, day after day and just being apart of the tour story. Feeling the drama as it unfolded around the French countryside.

This year, I went.

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I didn’t follow the tour for the full three weeks, because of work… and other boring reasons. I followed it for a week. I greeted the tour as if came into Pau, witnessing Marcel Kittel soar to victory in a sprint victory, before then moving eastwards to Rodez and Laissac. It was magic. The atmosphere in the french towns on the day the race was due to arrive was fantastic – pure joy and like the biggest parade you could imagine. Old and young come out, all day to line the streets and raise the atmosphere.

What You Can Expect Spectating at The Tour…

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You will stand for four-five hours under a hot sun if you want a good spot next to the barriers at the finish line… and you will only see the cyclists for five seconds (ish). If you’re clever, you pick a spot along the route with some sharp corners or on a climb where the riders are forced to slow. That way, it takes much longer for the riders to move past you and you get to see them for longer. Also, these spots are much less populated so you don’t need to arrive here until maybe 30 minutes before the peloton is due to arrive.

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You will get close enough to the cyclists after the race to hug them!

It’s good craic waiting for the race to arrive so don’t be put off by the long wait time. You can chat to the other people waiting and get to hear lots of good stories. There’s also the caravan which always arrives ahead of the peloton, which is basically a big parade. The finish line area also has lots of big screens showing the actual race, which you can watch as you wait. If you’re the chilled variety and are not fussed about being right next to the barriers, you can also bring a fold up chair, your book and a picnic and just sit at the side of the road and chill out until the race is about to arrive.

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The boys doing their cool-down bit. Bora’s Bodnar was THE break of the day, having been in the break from the beginning and then going solo from 25km from the line, he so nearly managed to hold off the peleton only to eventually be caught in the last 400m. Hate that!

My experience of being apart of the Tour de France was fantastic and I loved it. The atmosphere was definitely worth travelling for and is something special that I will always remember. And as for the south of France, in general, I’m happy to report that it was beautiful, relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable. In fact, I’m already thinking I may be making this trip an annual event.

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Tomorrow, Chris Froome will ride his bike from Montegron to Paris with a glass of champagne in hand, tipping his hat to his fourth Tour de France victory. This will be the fourth time he has proven himself to be the toughest, grittiest, strongest cyclist in the world.

Or just the most stubborn.

Making Your World Bigger

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I live in a small world.

I get up, put my cycling gear on and head out the door to work in Dublin. I do my work day, mostly in the office in the city centre and sometimes out and about around the country. At the end of the day, it’s back into the cycling gear, train home, make dinner, watch some TV and bed. Gym one or two evenings a week and I also venture out to the Dublin suburbs to stay with my Grandad one or two evenings too.

At weekends, I’m also pretty boring – long cycles around Kildare, Meath, Laois or out towards the Wicklow mountains. Then it’s food, meeting up with friends for coffee around Kildare or doing something nice with my cousin and my little goddaughter. I drink about 5 times a year and go out on the town even less than that. I love a good night out and getting my dance on, but the opportunities are few and far between these days with most of my friends (who I would do these things with!) having moved away or emigrated.

But I’m also the kind of person who is quite happy in myself and mostly content in my own company – reading, cooking, going to the cinema, following sports, whatever. I’ve always been good at keeping myself entertained and finding something to do.

I love my little world. It reassures me in many ways and I feel lucky to have somewhere I feel safe and somewhere I can call home.

But lately, I have started to feel like my world is too small and I have this itch to break out and blow it wide open – run in every direction and see where it takes me – let it tear me down, re-design me and build me back up, one foreign brick at a time.

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Breaking Out

I was lucky enough to be given a last minute opportunity at work to go to Scotland for a week to take part in a work-related course. I jumped at it – to my surprise more than anyone else’s… I am such a person of routine – I make the same things for dinners, for lunches and supper – I do much the same things every day of the week – but when given the opportunity to drop it all and have a whole week of newness and the unknown, I didn’t even hesitate.

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Funky building in a park in Hamilton where I went for a wee walk

I had a great week in Scotland, despite a wee bit of rain 😉

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Big building in Hamilton, Scotland where I was for the week

I met loads of great people with incredible experience, who were a joy to meet and get to know.

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I didn’t take any pics as I was driving, but this cool looking island could be seen all along the coastal drive and it was amazing looking!

I saw a whole new country with stunningly beautiful scenery.

I felt free.

This trip reminded me of what life is about and what my soul really wants. I forget this. I forget because the day-to-day needs and foggery gets in the way, clouds my view and makes me forget. It forces my soul to submit, conform and behave.

But I don’t want to conform anymore.

I want to be bold, break out and live in the big, big world around me.

Tomrrow, I go to the south of France to see the Tour de France in person. First stop Biarritz, then on to Pau, Toulouse and Rodez. I can’t wait. Sun, tiny villages in the south of France, pro cyclists up close (and hopefully personal) and pure unadulterated freedom.

Freedom to roam, freedom to discover and freedom to just be me. Away from everything I know, all the crap and away from my little world into a much, much bigger one.

Cycling, Coffee, Cake &…Wind

Coffee

Go cycling, they said.

You’ll love it, they said.

When I first started cycling (in any sort of meaningful way, as opposed to a 5 minute jaunt to the shop…) it was with the local triathlon club. I figured I was very new to all this lycra and metal malarky and could benefit from some guidance and experience around me. After all… unlike running, when you’re on a bike you’re typically going much faster and the potential for becoming entangled in metal or wiped off the road is much greater. So tips from the experienced… most welcome!

As I quickly learned, apart from things like road etiquette, what gear you should be riding in and general tips about how to actually ride your bike (who knew?) , there are also a particular number of certainties that go hand in hand with cycling, which unless you have already been initiated into this clandestine little world, you never would have put together.

(I didn’t know anything of this cycling decorum so lest you too end up looking like a confused, gormless gobshite – like me – I suggest you read on!)

1. Coffee 

Every cyclist’s best friend and unapologetic indulgence.

Before a ride, multiple times during a ride and always, always AFTER a ride.

If you’re out cycling with a club, group or a buddy, be prepared for a nice stop at a cafe along the way. Good chance for a break during a long spin and it can be a welcome rest before heading off again. The caffeine is a helpful boost too – just ask Floyd Landis who infamously downed 15 cappuccinos in one sitting 😉

If you think cyclists are a very serious lot, think again. For a lot of cyclists, the coffee stops are the best part of cycling. I was once out with a small group of cyclists and it was pissing rain so I tabled the idea of forgetting the cafe stop and just cycling straight through to the end.

“Then what’s the point in all of this then?” said four disgusted faces.

 

2. Cake

Yes, actual cake. Butter, sugar, flour, eggs, whipped together and slathered in icing.

You might be forgiven for assuming all cyclists starve themselves and probably stick to a bare americano  or espresso on their coffee stops but no. Nearly every cyclist I’ve ever encountered will go for a pastry,  slice of cake, scone, whatever – without hesitation.

Most reckoned they’ve burned the calories and need a few more to fuel the next part of the ride. Most would be right. Granted, I’ve never been out on a ride with a grand tour rider but I like to think they eat cake too 🙂

Similar to a cyclist’s feelings on coffee stops, I get the feeling that most view the cake situation along the lines of sure, what’s the point in a long spin if there’s no cake?

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Cake honestly tastes much better when you’ve worked for it.

3. Wind

Nobody tells you about the wind. Nobody.

OMG, the friggin wind.

Before I started cycling, I ran. As a runner, I thought I was one with nature and the elements, frequently returning home from a run knowing exactly which way the wind was blowing and being in a position to compare wind strengths from day to day.

Now I look back and realise I knew nothing. Within the first 20 seconds of a ride, I’m immediately calculating which direction the wind is blowing from, estimating wind speeds and working out wind gusts. You feel the wind so much more when you’re seated up on a saddle and though I’m no expert, I expect the fact that you’re moving much faster on a bike than say, you would be while running means that there is a much greater wind resistance and it’s therefore a much greater factor.

The wind is huge in cycling and it can make your ride or… well, just make you want to dump the bike on the side of the road and curl up into a ball. No exaggeration.

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I cycled through this pretty little village of Dunsany today. Not relevant really, just pretty!

4. Social Bunch

Cyclists are the best. One of the reasons I love being a cyclist now is that I feel like I’ve joined a some kind of very cool secret society.

You go out for a spin and you spot a cyclist coming in the other direction. Never met him, never even seen him before, but I look up, give him a little wave and a smile and he likewise, lifts a hand from the handlebars and waves back, giving a respectful nod of the head.

This happens all the time with nearly every cyclist I come across on the road offering a smile, wave, respectful nod and sometimes a few words of hello. Not to sound naff, but it’s really quite lovely. Particularly nice at those moments when you’re feeling tired, bored, soaked to the skin or just otherwise want to turn around and go home – an encouraging greeting from a fellow road warrior can give you a nice little lift and spur you on a bit further.

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I don’t know what this face is, but I never know how to pose for a selfie. I may need training.

5. Chamois Cream and Underwear

I’ve saved the best till last.

What no one wants to talk about but what you MUST know about. Ignore this intell at your peril.

Most cyclists do not wear any underwear when they cycle. Two reasons – you can see the lining of the underwear under the lycra cycling shorts, which some find unfashionable/ unseemly. Secondly, wearing underwear can exacerbate the saddle sore situation…

When I first started cycling, I never had any problems with chafing or skin injuries anywhere on my body. Alas, when I started to crank up the frequency and duration of rides, I quickly became acquainted with what are commonly known as “saddle sores.”

Leg up, leg down, leg up, leg down… over and over and over again for 3+ hours, rubbing back and forth over the side of a saddle. Add a good splash of rain and sweat and you quickly have a recipe for skin abrasions. While on the saddle, you might feel a slight discomfort, but actually this is not the worst – what is worse is what comes afterwards.

Stand in a hot shower with fresh saddle sores and you’ll know all about it. Very similar to chafing injuries from running, except these ones are on your heiny and on the inside of the upper leg.

Because of the location of saddle sores, they can be very slow to heal because you cannot very well avoid sitting down completely. And if you’re like me, you’ll be back on the bike a day or two later again and more than likely end up re-aggravating the injuries once you start pedalling away again.

It’s a nasty circle, but the good news is that it can be avoided – mostly. Get yourself a jar of chamois cream, slather some around your shorts and may you never have saddle sores again!

I use Udderly Smooth Chamois Cream (with shea butter) which retails for about 10 euro (on wiggle.com). I only ever need to use a small amount owing to the coconut oil – like consistency, which means you get quite a lot of lubricating for quite a small amount.

Blistering Sunshine, Biblical Downpours and Irish Summers

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I write this from a position from which I confess I may not be able to move from for quite some time. In a very supportive, yet comforting sitting room chair, sheltering from the biblical rains that continue to pummel down from an overwhelmingly pessimistic sky. To cut a long story short, I went for a long ride this morning and got soaked.

It rains a lot in Ireland.

This is not a new concept to me. I’m Irish, I get it.  In fact, I’m quite sure my Irishness makes me part human, part rain. However, the last few weeks in Ireland have been nothing short of stunning with absolute clear blue skies and tear-inducing sunshine that occasionally shines on our fair green isle as a kind of tease, to remind us of the weather we could be having all the time, if it weren’t so prone to the wet stuff.

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This was the sky from my garden at 7.30pm one weekday evening.

Take yesterday, for example. Hottest day of the year so far at a balmy 26 degrees celsius – beautiful. Today, not so much. This morning it was lightly raining, with the weather forecast lady promising “rains will clear”. No Lady, the rains did not clear. As I cycled my way up to Dunshaughlin, Ratoath and did a wee tour of Meath this morning, the rains in fact got significantly heavier and steadily worked their way up to being what I would class as an out-and-out solid downpour.

It’s almost as if the universe was having bit of craic with us today – See here now Irish people, a few days of sunshine and here ye were, getting all cocky and carried away with yourselves thinking ye be living the life of Reilly. Now, let’s be putting ye back in your place!

I was like Forrest Gump walking around Vietnam.

First, the rain came the front, like teeny darts to the face, despite the extra peaked cap I had added to my headwear this morning. Then the rain seemed to come from the side. And then, there were times when the rain seemed to jump up from the ground. Mushy socks and swimming pool shorts soon became the dress du jour.

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Apologies, I don’t mean to moan.

Really, I don’t mind rain that much, as I said, I’m well used to it at this stage. And sure once you’re wet, you’re wet. What was a real kicker though, was when I picked up a puncture 50km from home and it was yes, still spilling down. It’s tricky enough to change a puncture by the side of the road, but when your hands are soaking and you’re trying to fiddle with little nuts and bolts, it’s not funny. And you just know the people driving by are thinking “Who is that crazy girl messing with her bike on a day like today?”

Irish summers are typically temperamental and utterly unpredictable. Once you reconcile yourself to this fact, you’ll never stress again over Irish weather. Me, I am at peace with this fact but I’m also an inherent optimist so despite my intimate acquaintance with the facts about Irish rain, I will always ALWAYS believe that maybe the weather forecast peeps have got it wrong and maybe the sun WILL come out tomorrow.

My country, I love you. But enough with the rain already.

Going Further

Going further

In running, there are certain distances you become accustomed to. 5km, 10km, 10 mile, half marathon, marathon etc. These are milestones every runner grows to know intimately – you learn to recognise how you feel at certain distances and what to expect physically and mentally at different points, the result being that you develop a kind of mental store and psychological toughness that helps you be better the next time. But when you’ve ran enough races, you also learn to know how you can expect to feel at the end of certain distances. For example, even though I haven’t run for over a year, I can remember exactly how I would feel after a 5km parkrun Vs. how my body feels after a half-marathon race Vs. after a marathon.

With Cycling, I find it a lot less clear cut. I could cycle an 80km today and be in bits tomorrow. Or I might cycle 100km today and be up for cycling another 70km tomorrow, no bother. There have been some days recently when cycling 37km to work on back to back days has just knackered my legs. But where is the sense, I ask you?

Apart from being able to draw the obvious conclusion that the harder the ride and more effort you put in, the more it will take out of your body and the slower it will be to repair and refresh. And the hillier the cycle, the tougher it is – also going to tire you out more.

But generally for cycling Vs. running, there are no milestone distances to focus on – or maybe there are and I’m just out of the loop! Oh well…

Some cyclists seem to work with time, rather than distance. You cycle for an hour a few days during the week and then go for a three hour ride at the weekend, for example. I don’t work that way. I like to map out a ride beforehand and then see how long it takes me. Next time, I try do it faster. That’s what motivates me. I’m less good with a “three hour ride” because for me that’s just a licence to sit on my ass and flooter away three hours coasting along at my ease.

So I stick with distance. Up to this year, I’d never ridden over 100km, with the longest cycle I’d have competed being around 91km. So I cracked out mapmyride and mapped a few 100km -ish cycles and worked my way up to them. Then I did a race a few weeks ago which involved a 105km spin around Carlow and over Mount Leinster. I loved it.

Today I took a spin from Naas to Kilkenny, travelling through Athy, Carlow, lovely Leighlinbridge and Bagenalstown along the way. The weather was a bit crap to be honest with dark clouds, some rain and a headwind most of the way… but I was happy out just to find I could actually make it all the way to Kilkenny. Needless to say when I arrived in Kilkenny 3 hours 41 minutes later, I was delighted with life and Kilkenny was buzzing with people, despite the rain.

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I had booked to get the train back from Kilkenny to Sallins and had a bit of time before my train was due. I knew exactly how to spend that time.

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What is cycling, if not really good coffee and cake?

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After all, it’s the worst kept secret in cycling that the only real reason cyclists actually cycle is for the coffee and cake. And it’s worth it every time 😀

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After wandering around trying to find a coffee shop that I could safely leave my bike outside without fear of it being pinched, I came across the Pantry on Kieran St., which was exactly what I was looking for. Really good coffee and a good selection of homemade baked goods, as well as soup, sandwiches and hot lunch options too. I really just wanted somewhere to sit down and rest my weary bones for an hour, while indulging in a much looked-forward to pick me up.

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Nice design and good, friendly atmosphere, you can’t go wrong.

The staff were lovely, the coffee was excellent and my cupcake was just grand. The bun could have been fresher and the icing was a bit over-sweet, but I was starvers so it tasted great anyway. Good spot and I’ll be back again.

Next Up. Now that I’ve gotten past the 100km mark, I’d like to build on that and be able for greater distances. There’s a clatter of 200km events in Ireland that look fab but I’m a long way from being able to remain upright for 200k. But it gives me something to aim for – oh, you know how it goes… citius, altius, fortius… better.

Bike Chains: Which to Buy

SRAM Red 22 11 Speed Chain - 114 LinksI’m an enthusiastic amateur cyclist and while I’ve a loooonnnggg way to go before I’m any kind of cycling expert, I’ve learned a few bits and pieces in my short career in the saddle. As things break down, become worn out or go wrong, situations arise where I need to fix or replace things on the bike.

Like it or not, I’ve had to learn a few things. Simply put, if you don’t fix it, you can’t ride it.

The most recent thing to go wrong with my bike was my chain snapping. I was out on a ride when suddenly my chain just vanished from my bike. Annoying and a wee bit tragic when I’d just finished all the hard parts of the ride and was just about to slip into the easy part of the ride home… but I lived to tell the tale so I cannot complain! 🙂

I brought my bike to a local bike shop and the nice chap there told me that the chain on my bike was not a very good one. He checked the tension in the chain with a special measuring tool and explained that while it’s okay for now, I’d probably need to replace the chain before the summer.

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The bike fella explained to me that I should also replace the cassette on the bike at the same time because the chain and the cassette wear down at the same rate. All of this was new to me so I thought I’d do some research for any other novice cyclists out there and break it down for you all. Here’s what you need (or just might WANT to know – because who doesn’t love some useful trivia?!) :

Bike Chains:

The bike chain is the bit on the bike EVERYONE knows about. When you were a kid, your chain probably “came off” all the time so you probably regularly had to run Dad to ask him to put the chain back on. Or you learned to do it yourself. That was pretty much all I knew about bike mechanics until the last couple of years when I started into triathlon.

The bike chain is part of what’s called the “drivetrain” and is what links the whole thing together to make your bike go. The chain is how the rider transfers power to the wheels.When you pedal, you push the pedal down and cause the crank arm to rotate in a circular movement.

Most bicycle chains are made from alloy steel, but some are chrome plated or stainless steel to prevent rust, or simply for good looks.

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The pedal your foot pushes is attached to the end of a “crank arm” and you push this around in a circle. This arm (at the other end) is fastened to a circular piece called the “chain ring” – this piece has metal teeth all around the outside and the chain sits on top of it. As you pedal, you push the arm around in the circle, this turns the chain ring, which then moves the chain.

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The chain ring

Most bikes have two chain rings – one for higher gears and one for lower gears. When the going is tough, you switch down to the lower gears to make it easier on yourself. When your bombing down a hill, you up the gears to the higher level because it’s easier to pedal and you’re able to push a higher gear.

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Bike Cassettes:

Still with me? Nearly done. Like I said, the chain sits on top of the chain ring which you’re pushing around with your foot – but to be able to rotate, the chain needs something else at the back to rotate around. Otherwise, how would it be able to move full circle? So at the rear of the bike, attached to the rear wheel, you have the “cassette” – a cluster of other metal toothed circles. Also known as “sprockets”. These metal toothed circles are all different sizes. The bigger ones feel easier for your legs to push, while those smaller ones are harder.

So the chain sits into the grooves of the cassette in the same way it sits into the grooves of the chain ring and when you push pedal around, you move the chain ring which moves the chain and the chain is able to spin around the cassette at the back in a circle.

The Rear Derailleur is just a part which the chain is fed through (see the diagram) and sits to the bottom of the cassette. This is the part responsible for changing gears. When you click your little lever to switch gear, the rear derailleur is the part that lifts the chain from one metal toothed circle at the back (or sprocket) to another.

Now you’re an expert! No actually you’re really not. But no one ever explains these things to you and I only recently learned these basics when I started to really look at my bike and how it all works. Most people don’t want to know or couldn’t care less but I’m a bit of nerd that way…

Wear and Tear:

As you ride and change gears, the chain, chainrings, cogs and derailleur wheels pull and rub on each other. You’re advised to apply lubricant to act as a barrier between these parts as they rub off each other but between washing and weather (rain washes it away and sun evaporates it away) metal-on-metal contact will happen (don’t blame yourself 🙂 ) When this happens, tiny shards of metal get stripped away and the parts get worn down and deformed out of their original shape. Grit flung up from the road also adds to wear. Think of the steps of an old building getting more and more worn with the pitter patter of footsteps over and over and over again.

How to Know When to Replace the Chain?

The chain is the most common part of the drivetrain to wear out and need replacing. You can buy a chain checker tool online or in most bike shops.

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If the chain has stretched and is elongated past the recommended point, it is advised that you get a new chain and cassette (and potentially chain rings too) at the same time. If your drivetrain is noisy, hard to pedal, and, on derailleur systems, difficult to change between gears, then replacing these parts will invariably fix your problems.

Which to Buy?

The bike mechanic I spoke to recently recommended Sram chains and told me in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t even consider using any other chains as they’re just not good enough. Sram chains are compatible with Shimano cassettes so don’t fret, you don’t have to replace your entire drivetrain.

What you need to keep in mind when buying a new chain is that chains come in different “speeds” which have to match the cassette, ie an 11 speed cassette will need an 11 speed chain. Why? The distance in between the sprockets varies depending on whether there are 9, 10 or 11 of them. The gap will be wider on a 9 speed cassette than on an 11 speed one. Chains designed to fit a 9 speed bike are therefore wider in width and 11 speed chains are narrower.

Sram Red 22 – 45 euro – What Sram say… This chain features more heavily chamfered outer plates for improved shifting and quieter running. It boasts strength, incredible shifting efficiency, and light weight. It uses Sram’s PowerLock connector pin and weights in at 242g. Other features include a nickel silver finish on the inner and outer plates.

Sram Force 22 – 43.70 euro – Like, the Red 22 chain, this one also features nickel plated plates on inside as well as the outside. Weighs ever so slightly more at 256g.

Sram PC 1170 – 43 euro – Nickel silver outer and grey metal inner plates. Weighs 256g. Narrower chain.

Sram PC 1130 – 23 euro – This chain is recommended for use with Sram’s Rival groupset. It weighs 259g.

What’s the Difference Between them All? 

Apart from the price… not a lot. The Red 22 and Force 22 chains have nickel plating on both sides of the plates which will help prevent corrosion and look prettier. The PC 1170 and 1130 chains do not have the inner nickel plating meaning they’re more susceptible to corrosion and likely to ware out quicker. There’s negligible difference in price between the Red 22 and Force 22 Vs. 1170 so I don’t know why you wouldn’t just go for the Red 22 or Force 22.

I researched these chains to death on the internet trying to find detailed information on any of them and what the differences are but I found hardly any information out there. Just people churning out the same blurb that Sram do about the “more heavily chamfered outer plates for improved shiftin….” blah blah blah. Not very helpful folks. What would be great would be if Sram could spell out the features and differences so buyers can understand. Or maybe that’s the idea – there are practically no differences but they don’t want you to know that and you being a twit buy the more expensive one because you assume it must be better. God damn it marketing. I am the worst offender here, for sure.

I think if you live in a wet area, like Ireland, you’re probably better off to go with the Red 22 or Force 22. It’s worth noting that you can usually buy these chains online at a significant discount on sites like wiggle or chain reaction cycles so why not go for them over the cheaper 1130 if you can get a bit longer out of them?

SRAM Spare Connecting Pin
Sram’s powerlock – this pin joins one end of your chain to the other, making a circle – stronger and more reliable than traditional connector or “cotter” pins

I hope you enjoyed that little lesson in bike basics and chains. Next up, I’ll be looking at cassettes – differences between them and which ones to buy.

All prices are intended as a guide and are approximate only -they will vary depending on where you buy them.