By Penny Church. This accompanies the Petite Bike Test article.
Fourteen Go Wild in Derbyshire or: 'Chris, what time do you want us in the bike shed?'! The Petite Test from the riders' point of view.
'To test a machine you should also test yourself.' As we tentatively set off on the Sunday morning up Mam Tor in the damp drizzle, Chris's words came back to me. Sunny June when I applied for this tour (and Essex!) suddenly seemed a long way off. What had we let ourselves in for?
A week, 230 miles, and 20 thousand feet of climbing later, as we swooped downhill for the final time, we could answer that question - a most wonderful opportunity to learn more about bikes and cycling in a challenging landscape. As one participant (who must remain anonymous) said: 'I've learnt more about bikes in one week, than I have in 25 years with a male cycling club'.
On my return the most frequently asked question was: 'Wasn't it difficult riding a different bike every day and what about the saddles?' The great thing changing bikes was the chance to try out different equipment, e.g. bar end shifters, or shorter cranks. After Tony Oliver's lecture on frame geometry, it was interesting to discover for one's self the effect that different frame angles had on handling. Some bikes would steer a path through the rough stuff whilst others seemed to head of their own accord for the nearest rock. Going downhill fast was not the best of times to experience the shimmy effect of a twin lateral frame for the first time. For the record - only one saddle was universally disliked and that was designed by a woman for women!!
Chris did an excellent job with his chart matching us with bikes, though eavesdroppers in Castleton's pubs might have wondered what type of bizarre partner swapping was going on at the Youth Hostel - 'Who's getting Robert tomorrow?' 'No, I had George yesterday.' 'Can I have a go with Oliver?' However rumour has it that Chris is thinking of doing a tandem testing tour!
Now for the controversial bit. I am convinced that a large majority of women who take up cycling do not get maximum enjoyment out of it because they do not have suitable machines, or rather have downright unsuitable machines. To illustrate - when a member of the fast and fit "A" team was riding a bike that was difficult to control even she got off and walked some rough stuff, when on other bikes she'd ridden it all. Had she been with a group of men the comments might have been 'Oh that wimpy woman is holding us up again', when it wasn't the rider's lack of skill but the machine.
For many participants it was a revelation to ride a bike where you could actually put both feet on the floor when stopping, or operate the brake lever with ease using all four fingers (things I'm sure most men take for granted). The Dawes Galaxy is an excellent bicycle (for those of average proportions) however its long reach meant that it became an instrument of torture on a long ride.
Chris has analysed all the bicycles in great detail I'm sure, but again and again the main issue was not the comfort of the saddles but whether we could reach the brake levers comfortably and once reached did they work? I know Helen breathed a sigh of relief that her 'Health Warnings' about steep hills with dangerous bends were all heeded, and that we (and the bikes) were all going home in one piece. So manufacturers, at the very least, how about giving us the option of short stems and small brake levers when we buy bikes?
As well as the serious business of testing bikes we also had enormous fun, though the locals must have wondered what Chris, Tony and Gary had done to enjoy the company of so many women! So if Chris & Helen ever organise another tour for 'short cranks' and you have the chance to go, take it - you might ride higher, faster and further than you have ever done before, but you'll have great fun.
P.S. Recommendation for tired, thirsty and hungry tourists - the Barn Owl in Baslow is very cyclist friendly and has superb toffee cheesecake - Helen had real difficulty prising us out of this one!
Other pages in the Petite Bike Test: