July is here – the Countdown Begins!

Crikey crumbs, only 3 weeks to go before the off.  The Green Machine has been for a service care of Gavin at RedApe Bikes in Bishop Auckland. Gavin does a better overhaul with one arm than most manage with two (he has got two arms but one doesn’t work too well just now after an interface with the Darlington 4cross course).  Tel: 01388 662116.

Work, illness and other distractions have limited our opportunities for long test runs lately but on Sunday last we loaded up the panniers to see how they compared to the trailer.  Our route took us 22 miles to Newcastle’s Quayside, via the Lanchester Valley Walk and Derwent Walk, so nearly all off-road.   It’s a very pleasant run and once through Consett it’s largely downhill which allowed us to reach a good clip.  We arrived in Newcastle ready for something to eat so stopped at the Quayside pub, sometimes known as Lloyds’s Bar, a Wetherspoon’s establishment which was serving meals even at 4.30pm on a Sunday.  We availed ourselves of their "burger and a beer" menu which consisted of a veggie burger and chips plus a pint of Marston’s Pedigree for under a tenner for the two of us.  The chips were lukewarm but who’s complaining at that price?  As we sat outside it began to pour with rain, diluting the ale and the ketchup. Neil asked the barman to bring a cocktail umbrella for the beer but he never did.

After this delicious repast we crossed the river on the Millennium Bridge and picked up the Keelman’s Way which led indirectly, and after a few wrong turns, to the Tanfield Railway path.  This would make a good mountain bike route but was a bit of a handful on a laden tandem.  Nevertheless it shaved six miles off the return leg and is worth considering as our outward route when we come this way again to catch the ferry from North Shields (Gulp!).  Total distance was just over 40 miles.

So, how did it compare, I hear you cry? Well, the bike is very stable under load with no tendencies to shimmy about which we noticed on the Dawes in Ireland. However, there’s no doubt that the extra weight over the front wheel makes the steering slower and heavier.  Generally this isn’t a problem but it made me Neil very cautious steering a course through the many barriers and chicanes on the cycle tracks.  However, it was easier to lift the bike over obstacles than with the trailer which had to be unhitched every time.   We were very aware of the extra hammering the bike took whenever we ran over a kerb or rough track whereas it handled just like an unladen machine when towing the trailer.

Amazingly we find we can fit more gear into the four panniers and on the rack than into the trailer alone.  The two front bags contain waterproofs and cooking gear; the rear panniers are divided one each for our clothes.  The tent and a dry-bag containing our sleeping bags sit on top and the roll-mats are tied on the back, hanging over the back wheel which doesn’t matter as they weigh nothing. The handlebar box contains cameras and valuables and can be whipped off quickly when we leave the bike anywhere.

So there’s no doubt that the bike rides better with the trailer, but basically anything off the bike is much easier with the panniers.  The thought of having all our kit in one huge bag that has to be emptied and repacked to get it in and out of the trailer is the biggest deterrent and on balance it looks like we’ll plump for the time-honoured pannier set-up.

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