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Bike build project (part 4): Buying the bits

Bike build project (part 4): Buying the bits

I have now reached the point in my bike build project where I have (almost) bought all the new parts I need. When I was first given the frameset of a 2009 Genesis Croix de Fer, there were a few other bits in the box. However, having been measured up (see Part 1), I found that some of these parts weren’t the right size for me, i.e., the stem and handlebars. So I knew I was going to have to buy a lot of things. I didn’t set myself a budget, as I didn’t have a sum of money set aside, I just bought the parts piecemeal when had some money. This is one of the reasons why this project has taken so long. As the actually build part of the project is due to start sometime in next couple of weeks, I thought it was time to have a quick review of the buying of the bits.

I wanted to get all the parts as cheaply as I could, having also decided that I wanted to use the highest spec components I could afford. My first thought was to try and wangle as many bits as I could at trade rates, using some contacts in the bike biz. This didn’t quite work out, although I was made a very generous offer of 20% off all components bought from a major distributor (Madison), thanks John. However, when I started searching around on-line, I found that I could get everything I wanted at more than 20% off the RRP, so I thought I would add a few tips here for others.

First off, Google is your friend, just ignore the ads and the “shopping results” and be prepared to go through several pages of results. You also learn to avoid the price aggregation sites, which are useless for the most part.

Another thing, Shimano parts (and possibly other parts) are often far cheaper on German web sites such as starbike.com and bike-components.de, even though you have to pay VAT at 19%. However, unless you are putting in a large order, the delivery charges of 10-15 € can be very off putting.

Closer to home, these were the web sites that I used the most:

  • Chain Reaction Cycles: often have some of the best prices, but don’t tell you when their stock levels are low. So if there is a good bargain, don’t wait until after the weekend. Delivery is free. You get your own account and can track orders. However, if you accidentally order an item that is out of stock, they don’t tell you when they will deliver. If you need to return an item, they give a refund straight away.
  • Parker International: do have some good prices, but don’t tell you when their stock levels are low. So if there is a good bargain, don’t wait until after the weekend. Delivery is free. You get your own account and can track orders. If you accidentally order an item that is out of stock, they will contact you to let you know and give you the option of cancelling the order. If you need to return an item, they may need prompting to give a refund, but they do so without quibbling.
  • Planet-X Bikes: their general prices are not the lowest, but some of their clearance bargains are spectacular, I have found parts reduced by over 70%. Delivery is free. You get your own account and can track orders. I have not accidentally ordered an item that is out of stock or returned an item to them, so I can’t say what they are like in these situations.
  • Probikekit: they do have some good general prices and some of their clearance bargains are also spectacular, I have found parts reduced by over 80%. Delivery is free. You don’t get your own account and tracking orders can be more problematic. I have not accidentally ordered an item that is out of stock or returned an item to them, so I can’t say what they are like in these situations.

Then there is fleabay ebay, which can be a good source of parts, but it can be hit and miss. You may need to consider buying from overseas sellers, which can make for slow delivery. I bought a Shimano Ultegra crankset from an ebay seller in Austria in July which has yet to arrive, but then he is not charging for delivery and has offered to fit it ,when he arrives next week. 😉

I do feel a wee bit guilty about not making more use of local bike shops, so far the things I have bought locally are the rims and spokes of the wheels I had built, but then I have just been around three of my local bike shops looking for tyres. Nothing special, just a pair of 28mm Conti Gatorskins, one of the most popular commuting tyres in the UK, but do any of my local shops stock them? No, so it is little wonder I shop on-line. However, shopping locally has started to become something of a sport, I have tried several times to buy a saddle from my nearest bike shop (the Tri Centre), but Hugh is always trying to convince me that I don’t really want to buy one, although his brother Stuart has lent me a couple of test saddles to try out.

Next: Bike build project (part 5): Putting it all together.

New biking toys

New biking toys

I got a few new toys for the bike just recently.

Firstly a pair of Shimano A530 SPD pedals to replace the old M505 which came with the bike. The old pedals had SM-PD22 clip-on platform adapters, pretty ugly, but handy before I went clipless. I know there are purists out there who will tell you that once you go clipless you never go back, but find that I like having the choice of being clipped in or not, especially in town when there are a lot traffic lights. Anyway I really like the A530s they feel very smooth, and although they need a wee bit more force to clip in, when it comes to clipping out I find them much easier (I am still using the same old cleats). Overall I am really pleased with them.

Secondly and probably more exciting I have bought some more lights, oh yes more lights. Back before Christmas DiNotte had the 400L Road Rider’s experience on sale at what looked like a bargain price and in a moment of weakness I decided to go for it. The price was good as it was, but would have been even better six months ago when the pound (£) was worth $2, even at an exchange rate of $1.49=£1 it still looked a good deal. The bit I forgot is that the exchange rate the credit card company charges is never as good as the official exchange rate. The ordering process was very straightforward and I was sent the url of a page to track the progress of my lights in shipping. They crossed the Atlantic in good time, cleared UK customs and made their way to the local delivery office. Then it show delivery attempted, but as I had had them sent to my work address I knew it hadn’t been, what was going on?? After a couple of days of being told that my parcel hadn’t arrived yet every time I passed reception, I received a letter from Parcelforce (much to the relief of our receptionist) telling me that I had to pay VAT and Duty before they would deliver. Now VAT I had expected, I had forgotten about Duty, but I wasn’t expecting an extra charge (of £13.50) from Parcelforce for collecting the VAT and Duty. Oh well that is just one of the joys of buying stuff from abroad over the internet.

Anyway now that I have the lights, what are they like? Well the first impression as you open the box is, wow there is a lot of stuff in here! It is not just the two lights (front and rear) and two 2 cell batteries, there is a Worldwide smart charger, a helmet mount, numerous other mounts to mount the lights on handlebar, seatpost, rack, seatstay, chainstay or any other location you can think of, also a headband (for those like me who regard helmets as pointless), then there is the cabling and straps, and last but not least a lens kit is also included to add some beam pattern flexibility for the front light. The only thing that was missing was a word of warning, which should read: DO NOT be tempted to look at the lens as you turn on the lights for the first time. By the time you switch them on for the second time, you know why. If you were tempted then the thought of lying in a darkened room for several hours waiting for your eye sight to come back again is enough to put you off doing it again. Yes, these lights are SERIOUSLY bright.

Having got them home and played around with them for a wee while, the batteries started to go flat, so time to recharge. Now on the DiNotte web site it says the lights come with a “Worldwide smart charger (just add your country’s plug)”, from that I expected a laptop style inline power brick, instead it is a mobile phone type charger with a moulded in two pin American plug. So I set about digging out a travel adaptor, only to find that all our travel adaptors were to plug a British three pin plug into a foreign socket and not the other way round. Not to be beaten, I took it into the bathroom and plugged it into the shaver socket, and within a short time the red light on the charger turned to green telling me that the battery was fully charged. NB the batteries are only partly charged on delivery, so don’t expect to get the full run time straight out of the box.

Next puzzle, which of the ten brackets supplied to use to mount the lights on my bike? The range of options is wide, or on the back would be if I wasn’t using a Trek pannier rack and Karrimor EH20 Global panniers which limits the options to the seat post. Even so, I still had a choice of vertical or horizontal. At the front end, after trying a range of different configurations, I opted to use the headband for the first outing.

Ok, so what are they like on the road I hear you asking. Well, for the first test I only used the rear light, as I was cycling to work and it was just before sunrise and I didn’t need a light to see by (I did have my collection of old lights to be seen by). As I wasn’t sure how long the battery would last and wasn’t going to be able to recharge it at work, I set the light to flashing mode. Cycling through the rush hour traffic, I found that I was getting more space than I was used to, this has to be a good thing. On the return journey it was fully dark, so I deployed the front light. Having it on the headband is very handy when trying to unlock the bike and re-attach the battery for the rear light in a semi darkened bike shed. Getting on the bike, I found that I had set the angle of the light too low (adjusting the angle of the light needs a screwdriver) and had to tilt my head up a wee bit more than I would usually do when looking straight down the road, but this was only a minor issue.

I set off with the light on full blast, and cycling out past the Vet School where the street lights stop I found that I could now easily see the hedges on both sides of the road. Before the new lights I had had to slow down to avoid riding into the hedge on my side as the road curved. Even better, I saw the loom of the lights of an oncoming car dip before the car came round the corner! Normally they just come flying round in the middle of the road, but this time it had slowed down and was on its own side of the road, which was much safer. When I reached the street lit road again, I turned the light down to its lowest setting, as I didn’t feel I needed as much light, and still found I had plenty. I also noticed that car drivers turning out of side roads were far more aware of my presence, they all looked at least twice and none tried to cut out in front of me. As for the rear light, this time I had set it to high and constant. As with my morning ride, I found that drivers were giving me more room than I would normally expect to get, and none of them tried a last minute overtake or a close pass. Great result.

Having gotten home safely, I wanted to check to see what the battery levels were like, my commute is about 30 minutes out and 20 minutes home (not including time in the bike shed). So I followed the instruction manual (one sheet of A4) which came with the lights and found that the rear light was reporting 50-75% battery power and the front 75-100% battery power. Want to see them in action? See here!

Ps.
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