Monday, July 17

My new bike, a Koga Traveller, mixte version.

Finally, after a long wait, I have a new bicycle! And here it is....

I'll give the details in a minute, but first a brief look back at last year, when  I bought a step through touring bike from Oxford Bike Works. After a month or so I returned it and had a refund as I thought it just did not fit. I felt it was too small, and wondered if I had in fact been given a smaller size than I had originally been measured up for. This was the bike -

To add an update to that story, just before going to buy the above bike, I thought to myself that the OBW bike really had been a nice bike - it was just such a shame that it didn't fit me. And then I happened to look again at the original quote for it, which believe me I had gone over and over when I got the bike and wasn't happy with it. And then, for the first time, I saw, literally writ large....... the letter "L". I had been pretty sure that I had originally been fitted up for a size Large (I got a Medium) but thought I hadn't got any proof, but here was the proof, which for some reason I hadn't seen before. When I read that I felt so cross with myself for not having seen it, and also rather sad because I had, essentially, liked the OBW bikes very much.

That was September, and I knew that it would be sensible to wait until the spring of this year to do anything definite about getting another bike, as we had another grandchild on the way, due in January, and I had promised to go down to Devon to help look after daughter and baby while Marines husband was away soon after the birth. I did however spend time looking at my options. To cut a long story short, there aren't that many options in the UK if you want a step through, or mixte, touring bike. So I had whittled it down to two choices - either a German VSF Fahrradmanufaktur or a Dutch Koga, both mixte frames.

I should say here that it was another blogger, Brenda, at Cycling in the Sixth Decade who had first put me on to Kogas. She also put me on to  Cyclesense in Tadcaster who are one of the only three Koga dealers in the UK. I rang them and had a good chat to Dave there about aluminium, steel, sizing and other things. That's another thing about the Kogas - the bike I originally would have gone for was their steel Randonneur, but by the time of my phone call they had stopped making them, so if I bought a Koga it would be aluminium. I'd been convinced by everything I'd read that steel was not only real but better, but I was prepared to listen to other opinions....

On the question of size, Dave reckoned that going by my height of 5' 6 1/2" (I've since discovered that I've shrunk half an inch since I last measured myself, so am actually only 5' 6"!!) I would need the 50cm frame.

I couldn't make my mind up without actually seeing, and hopefully riding, these bikes. Given that the VSF bikes were much cheaper than the Kogas, the sensible side of me thought that it would be money well spent if I went to the only shop in the country that has a stock of these to try one out. That shop is in Cambridge, two or three hours by car from here or a bit of a trek by train. But I quite like treks, and I had been given a Senior Railcard for my birthday so off I went, having rung the shop first to see exactly which models and which sizes they had in stock. They didn't have any of the exact models I'd have bought in stock in my size  but I still thought it was worth going. Again they reckoned I'd need a 50cm.

Pause a minute to discuss size of bike - my inside leg measurement is 31", plus I know I've got long arms. Both shops had thought I'd need a 50 cm (that's the seat tube measurement by the way) but my instinct, plus what I'd read up about sizing, told me that I'd need a bigger size than this. This was partly based on one of the most useful things I've read about frame size, on the Wiggle website, where they say that if you are between two sizes, then measure your armspan. If it is greater than your height then go for the larger size, if it's smaller, then go for the smaller size. That seemed to explain my feeling that I needed a bigger size, as my arm span, though not greater than my height, is equal to it.

Well, my present bike seems to fit me pretty well. The seat tube, by my measurement, is 508mm (the frame is actually a 20") so a little more than the 50cm I was being recommended, and I knew I could probably quite easily handle a little more "reach", so all in all I had feeling I could do with bigger than 50cm. I know it is said that a small bike can be made bigger but a big one can't really be made smaller, but I somehow think I just tend to prefer a bigger bike.

Back to the Cambridge shop - I saw the 50cm but knew even before riding it that it would be too small, and it was. Another model in 52cm fitted much better, but they only do this size in a man's, which I didn't want. Actually they don't do women's frames any bigger than 50 cm which seems a bit daft to me. The mixte frame only comes in 55 cm, which could well have been too big, but the shop wasn't prepared to order one in for me to try unless I was going to definitely buy it.

The bikes themselves were fine, but somehow I wasn't as impressed as I had thought I might be. I was also slightly put off by the fact that the owner was thinking of shutting up shop for the winter!

So, back into Cambridge I walked, got on the train and later walked back across busy London, wondering why on earth people want to drink outside at the side of  busy Marylebone Road. Not far away there is one of those pollution monitoring things!

So, Koga it was. But by the time I rang Cyclesense to ask them to order me in a Traveller in the mixte ("Women's Sport Model") version, they had all sold out! However I decided that having waited all this time, I might as well sit back and wait a bit longer for the 2018 models to come in. However, I got some good news not long after, which was that Koga had built a few more Travellers. Cyclesense sent me the details and I jumped at the chance.

So a couple of weeks later Husband and I were on our way to Tadcaster for what turned out to be a very nice three day break. In the days beforehand my nerves had been quite wracked by thinking - have I made the right decision here? I didn't really want to go all that way and then find the bike wasn't what I wanted. I had asked them to order in a 53cm - was I right about that? What if it really was too big? And how was I going to get it home? On the train? That would have meant riding it to York, not far away but I haven't put a bike on the train for many a long year and I didn't really fancy doing so for the first time in decades with this new bike. However, Cyclesense are used to sending bikes and this was what we arranged would happen if I bought it. One problem ticked off the list. Things also worked out well as Husband had a few days off and we decided to go up together for three days.

On day two there we visited Cyclesense and I had a decent length ride on the bike round Tadcaster. Here I will point out that if you look at the Koga website and then at the Traveller (which they're not doing any more so why is it still there????!!) you'll see that my bike is not the same as the women's version, which is because, and this is where even I get confused and it's my bike - !! - what happened was that Koga took a Signature frame and built a Traveller......... I I've got a better frame than I would have got but it cost a bit more.

I knew I had been right about the frame size, and the bike was beautifully smooth to ride, but was it "the one"? Was it perfect? How can you tell without riding at least, say, 20 miles? My back felt slightly uncomfortable as I rode - a bad sign? I had read enough about the make to be convinced that they made very good bikes, and in the end I was convinced enough to buy this one. But I still wondered if I'd made the right decision! When it arrived the next week I took it for a very short ride. A few days later I took it for an 8 mile ride and thought - "Am I going to make it home?" as I was so uncomfortable! But I knew it was just the saddle...... I swapped the saddle for the Bontrager one on my Trek and that was tons better, partly because the rails were longer and so I could get it further back, which I needed to. We also altered the trekking/butterfly handlebar position until it felt about right. I wasn't at all convinced about these bars, and actually rigged up a wire coat hanger into roughly the same shape as the Thorn Comfort bars on my Trek and placed it in position on the Koga, to get an idea of what it would be like with those bars. But I decided to be sensible and patient and give them a decent trial before changing them, which would be more expense.

Regarding saddles, I would love to try a leather one again, either a different Brooks (i.e. not the B17 that the OBW bike had on it originally at my request) or the Selle AnAtomica Titanico reviewed on Lovely Bicycle and elsewhere, but for the moment funds won't allow, so I decided to be very sensible and patient (again!) and simply get another Bontrager. I have had mine for several years and am 95% happy with it.  The 5% bit is mainly "I wish it were leather!" It is the Bontrage Nebula Plus Womens in the 180mm size (I'd been measured up for the first one on the shop's ingenious tool for measuring sit bone size)  and I paid £40 for it in my local bike shop, Ridgeway Cycles. Once I had put that on I thought - "Right, that's all the tweaking that needs doing for now - time for a decent ride!"

So that weekend I took it out on a 43 mile ride, on a familiar and fairly flat route so that I could just concentrate on how the bike felt and not have to worry about the route. After about 9 miles I began to feel some discomfort in my rear end and also in my right thigh, but I thought I'd just take it easy, stop now and again, and see how things went. I stopped after about another 3 miles in Bampton and had a look in their art gallery, and after this break the discomfort seemed to have gone. I then cycled on another mile or so to Aston, where I had coffee at the Pottery there - they have a lovely indoor cafe with delicious food and also a big seating area outside, where there is room enough to take your bike if you want to have it within sight. An Americano (and it was a good one)  in one of their lovely mugs was £2 - that is cheap for Oxfordshire!

After that the bike was feeling good, so having set out thinking I'd probably do 30 miles or so, I felt confident to do 40. I got more used to the handlebars, and was glad I had given them a chance, although having said that I'm not 100% convinced about them. I find the main position at the front rather too narrow and straight, and it feels like I have less control (less stability) than with my wider riser Thorn Comfort Bars. The other positions are useful, but then it seems to me that you need them because of the inadequacies of the main position. Personally I'd rather have bars with fewer positions but where the main one is more comfortable. I know that Thorn says of its Comfort bars "There are two positions - cycling and not cycling!" I think that once funds allow I will probably change them.

One thing I do find incredibly good about them though is the leather and padding - it was very comfortable to hold,  and it was also a hot day but my hands didn't get sweaty at all. The synthetic grips on my Trek have done me well, and are still going strong after 20 odd years, but I did find on a recent trip in May in VERY hot weather that by the end of the day my hands were black and tacky, although that's the first time that's happened. So that's a preference now for leather grips.

Despite reassurances from Cyclesense that the good quality aluminium Koga uses would give me as comfortable a ride as steel, I had still been concerned that it wouldn't. Whether the bike sails over the bumps in the UK roads as comfortably as a high quality steel bike, I really can't say. But I can say that I am happy with it, and certainly think it is as comfortable in this respect as my steel Trek.

The forecast for the next few days is good. I've just been given a big sewing job but that can wait! The bike is calling.......


PS 19.7.17 Forgot to add that Husband did a video of the bike and put it on his YouTube channel. Click here to watch it.