Sand sofas and Bender? Sorry, I don’t understand…….

The Southbank can get pretty cold in the winter months. There’s some fairly biting winds that blow off the river but it’s still a gorgeous place to take a walk along. There’s always plenty to look at and listen to. It’s not technically allowed but you get buskers and street performers along The Southbank all year round. Needless to say I was expecting to see some cool stuff as I sauntered along it a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t expect to see something as cool as this though:

What these guys had done is craft a sofa and put most of the cast from Futurama onto it. You can see Fry relaxing with his head on a pillow, Zoidberg is buried to his neck, Leela is at the very far right of the picture getting a tan and finally The Professor is still under construction.  Bender looks like he’s passed out at the bottom. I especially liked the authentic beer can in one of Bender’s hands and a cigar in the other.

You may also have spotted the dude with a guitar, amp and microphone. You’d be correct if you guessed he was serenading all the watchers as his mates got busy with the sand art. I’d never seen anything like this on the Southbank before but the team who does the crafting (www.dirtybeach.tv) have a full photographic collection of all the pieces they created in London on February 12th.

According to their site, the guys (and gals) travel around to beaches, clear the litter up and then make some pretty amazing stuff! Brilliant idea no? They also claim to cater for parties and the like so maybe, if you have a beach and want to party on it, you should give them a call?

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The Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyre

Those of you who do read my blog will know that I undertook some slight bicycle upgrades in January (Another Cycling One). The main upgrade was my tyre. I invested in a puncture proof tyre as I was sick of the patch and repeat method of commuting to work. A lot of you won’t be in the slightest bit interested in my tyre but, cycling means a lot to me. It helps me clear my head, it saves me paying ridiculous amounts of money to the absolute twonk of a man in the Mayors office but, most of all, my bicycle rarely asks for anything in return. Man or machine, that’s something to cherish.

Anyway, it’s got to the point now where I have ridden about 120 miles on it now and reckon that’s a fair enough amount for me to provide an opinion. I’ll start at the beginning.

Fitting the Tyre

I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to fit this tyre myself. I’d read various review which stated the tyre is pretty tricky to get on and off because it’s a tight fit. This didn’t just concern me only from a fitting point of view but also from a roadside puncture aspect. You don’t want a tyre so awkward to get on and/or off that it takes you and age crouched by the side of the road and many swear words before you’re patched and on your way again.

The trickiest bit of fitting the tyre was getting both walls inside the rim. Toward the last few inches of the second wall, it was getting to be a pretty tough job. I’m pleased I has 4 tyre levers and not just 2 as I don’t think there would have been success with only 2 levers. Saying that, I didn’t require cable ties to hold the tyre or a helping house mate. I managed it, solo effort, in about 5 minutes. The thing I found more time consuming was making sure the tyre was properly aligned.

Comparing the task of alignment to my last tyre, the Marathon plus is child’s play. It has a reflective strip and a small rubber ridge which you can use as clear points of reference for proximity to the wheel rim. I ensured the reflective line was the same distance from the wheel rim around the entire circumference of each side. It’s a bit fiddly but it’s completely worth it. If you don’t get your alignment right you feel like you’re riding with a bump in your tyre. If you commute any decent distance this is something that will irritate you immensely. I used to really struggle with tyre alignment of my old tyre (known to sometimes need 3 or 4 tweaks before it rode evenly) but I got the Marathon Plus right first time.

Important Point for First Time Fitters – you may or may not have noticed, but tyres have an arrow on the sides with the word ‘Drive’ next to it. This is the direction the tyre should turn in when you pedal. Make sure you get the tyre on the right way round. I’m sure the tyre engineers spent lots of time figuring out why ‘Drive’ should go the same way as the arrow and it’s be a shame to waste their hard work now wouldn’t it.

How is the Marathon Plus on the road?

I’m about 120 miles in and (touch lots of wood) haven’t had a puncture so I can say that, thus far, the Marathon Plus’ main selling feature is working well. That isn’t the only way it’s changed my ride though.

The Marathon Plus is firm. Really firm. I like to ride at maximum tyre pressure but, for the sake of a thorough review, I took down the  pressures for a couple of days last week. I used to ride my old tyre at a lower than max inflation just because I blooming hated it and wanted one aspect of my cycle to be enjoyable (lower PSI will make your ride less ‘bumpy’) so I do have experience of riding at lower inflation. I appreciate you’re going to carry a little extra weight from a puncture proof tyre but up until my ‘low PSI’ experiment, I really hadn’t noticed it. However, knocking down the PSI really did seem to amplify the extra weight of the tyre immensely. For the 3 days I cycled on lower PSI I can honestly say I felt unfit. I didn’t enjoy the rides one bit as I arrived at work looking like I’d been in the shower with my clothes on. It was truly hideous. However, pumping it back up to 85 resulted in the return of what I can only describe as cycling joy.

I could see real issues with this tyre for riders who aren’t of ‘Max PSI’ club or who like to have more comfortable, leisurely rides on evenings/weekends. Having the Marathon plus at less than max inflation really did upset me. It made me alter the way I ride my bicycle in order to still make good time. It wasn’t my style at all. But on Max PSI, it’s everything I want out of a tyre. Smooth, reliable, grips brilliantly (as a drain cover in the rain on Romford Road will testify to) and generally provides excellent pedal effort to propulsion ratios. I don’t feel like I’m leaving most of my effort on the road behind me. It rolls really well.

In summary:

How tricky was it to fit?

A little tricky. If you have never fitted a tyre on to your bicycle before, maybe have a more experienced friend in the house with you for emergency consultation (my services are available for the princely sum of 1 brew and a decent slice of cake).

Will I be replacing my front tyre with a marathon plus when it bites the dust?

Yes I will, but I’ll only be riding it at max inflation.

Is the tyre worth the £19.99 I paid for it at http://www.evanscycles.com (I used their price match for the cheaper deal as described in ‘Another Cycling One’)

Yes, every last penny.

Would I recommend the Marathon Plus?

Yes. I think it would suit almost any cyclist who has puncture issues on their daily rides.

Out of a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being ‘Paper would be a better tyre’ and 5 being ‘Better than sex’) how would I rate the Marathon Plus?

4.

So there you go. That’s my attempt at reviewing my tyre. it’s a bit rubbish but I had a good bash! Happy cycling!!!!!!

 

 

A new word for Love………’Banjo’

The people who know me and suffer my company/conversations will know, very vividly, that I have started to learn the banjo. Actually, it’s just about the only thing I think or talk about at the moment. I have played a variety of instruments in my life including clarinet, saxophone, flute, guitar and voice. Of all of them, I have only ever truly loved singing.

It’s really difficult to explain how singing makes me feel. I don’t love singing because it sounds in tune when I do it or because people are complementary about my voice. I sing because it terrifies me. I reckon that’s why I have never been satisfied singing in the shower or at karaoke nights, it just wasn’t scary enough. There is no logic behind this. I’m scared out of my wits before any performance but the second I get in front of a crowd, I’m a different person and I like that person a lot better than I like the person who sits back down after 2 songs. It’s the same reason people jump out of aeroplanes with a bit of silk strapped to their backs I suppose. Anyway, I’ve waffled on about that because playing the banjo makes me feel exactly the same as singing does. It’s a pretty effing special feeling. It’s also odd as I haven’t composed the parts I am playing so it’s not as if I am opening my musical talents to soul level scrutiny. I’m playing off parrot style what someone else wrote. I haven’t quite worked out why it feels this brilliant yet, but I will.

In order to learn the banjo, I signed up to the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s (EFDSS) Saturday Folk Music Workshops for Banjo beginners. The terms are very reasonably priced and you can even hire instruments from the EFDSS. I hired my banjo for the princely sum of £20 per term and put down a refundable deposit of £50. It’s an open backed ‘Old Time’ style 5 sting banjo. Here it is. I have named her Delilah.

The strum style we are learning is called Claw Hammer or Frailing. I expect most people think you would strum a banjo or pick its strings individually with your fingers right? Those people would be wrong. When you play claw hammer/frailing style, you use 1 finger and your thumb. It’s totally unlike any other stringed instrument I can think of. I expected the movement to feel very awkward and alien but it actually made sense to just use 1 finger. I confuse easy so only having to think about where I’m putting 1 finger is brilliant. I still have issues with my fret hand as it doesn’t seem to do as it’s told. I’m hoping fret hand dexterity will come with time.

There isn’t just Banjo at the EFDSS workshops though, no no, they have a range of traditional instruments included in the Saturday workshops. There’s Accordion, Fiddle, Banjo and Song. There’s also a Folk Ensemble every term where the classes come together for a performance. We’ve only had one session so far. As I’ve dropped in in term 2 of the year, most of the class play much better than me already so I am definitely playing catch up. I’m putting the work in though and hope it will pay off. It does seem to be already. I’m sure I’ll keep posting about the banjo and how my playing is going because, well, it’s all I think about.