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John's blog: VeloViewer tile-bagging, Abus lock cleverness, lockrings & more

A few things that have floated across our editor-at-large's brain lately

Tile-bagging with VeloViewer

John's square
My VeloViewer square. The blue line is a recent morning ride complete with tiny final detour to get that southernmost tile

In the last couple of months I’ve turned into a tile-bagging fewl, seeking out obscure lanes, dirt roads and trails in order to increase the size of my VeloViewer square and max cluster. “WTF are you on about, Stevenson?” I hear you ask. I’ll explain.

Counting the number of map squares aka tiles you’ve ridden through is a function of nifty Strava data-visualisation site VeloViewer. VeloViewer uses OpenStreetMaps to show you where you’ve been and a tile is a square on an OSM map at zoom level 14. The size varies depending where you are in the world because Mercator projection, but in the UK a tile is roughly 1.5km on a side. Upload your rides to Strava and link your Strava account with VeloViewer and you get a nice representation of how extensively you’ve explored your local patch.

As well as being marvellously nerdy, this is a great excuse to go out an explore. I’ve found tiny lanes and just-about-ridable dirt roads that I’d probably never have explored without the incentive of bagging a particular tile. I’ve also slogged along dubious muddy trails, had to clamber over stiles and sneak up the odd obscure farm track to get to the tiles I wanted to reach. I’ve yet to encounter a cry of ‘Get orf moi land!’ but I’m hoping when I do the explanation of why I’m there will convince the farmer that I’m a harmless lunatic best allowed to go on his way.

To import all your Strava activities into VeloViewer you need the Pro version, which costs ten quid a year, but you can get a flavour of how it works with the free version. There’s a VeloViewer browser extension that overlays your bagged and unbagged tiles on Strava’s route-planner so you can look at a tiny road into an unbagged tile, think “I wonder if that’s actually rideable” and then go and find out.

VeloViewer users have racked up some properly amazing achievements on their way to riding huge squares and max clusters. The UK leader, Londoner Jonathan France, has covered a 101-by-101 tile square that covers most of the south-east of England and beyond, though further expansion seems to have been stymied by the Thames estuary and patches of military land. Even so, only Jürgen Knupe of Dachau Germany has covered a bigger square than Jonathan with a zone that’s an amazing 106 tiles on a side and still growing.

The website rideeverytile has more, including national leaderboards and discussion of 'impossible' tiles.

Abus lock codes and key-alike — did everyone know this?

Key 2 - Caro's Bordo 04

It’s a tenet of cycling’s received wisdom: if you want your bike to be as safe as it can be when it’s parked on the street you lock it with an Abus Granit X-Plus D-lock. In the process of getting a couple of new locks, I found out that Abus have a couple more tricks up their sleeves aside from the Granit X-Plus’s resistance to a wide range of attacks.

When you order more than one X-Plus lock, you can get them keyed alike. In fact, even if you’re just ordering one, you can get its key made to be compatible with the lock you already own. If you’re a multi-bike, multi-lock household, this is very handy: no more trying to keep rack of which key fits which lock.

But what if you’ve lost the card with the key’s code number or have several locks and several key codes but don’t know which is which? Turns out, the clever folks at Abus have you covered there too. Abus’s bloke in the UK, Roger Seal, explained to me that the numbers in the code correspond to the angle of the cut on the key: “6 is flat i.e. no cut/same as key shaft. 1 is 90° cut to key shaft. 2-5 are the angles in between.”

That means if you send Abus a nice clear photo of your key, they can figure out the code number and supply a replacement, though it’s better to send the actual key — but either way having lost the code card isn’t a blocker on getting a spare or replacement key.

Is your cassette lockring tight enough?

Tighten the lockring.JPG

I’ve always thought that the recommended torque for cassette lockrings (up to 50 Nm depending on the manufacturer) was a bit excessive. After all, surely all you need to do is keep the sprockets in place and that doesn’t need anywhere near that much oomph.

Not so, according to wheelbuilder Malcolm Borg at the Cycle Clinic, whose blog post on the topic I happened to stumble across while looking for something else, like you do. The ‘excess’ torque preloads the sprockets so they are less likely to move and dig notches into your aluminium freehub body.

On his blog, Malcolm writes: “Most of my wheels have aluminium alloy freehub bodies. Some people worry about cassette sprocket notching. This concern is misplaced. Notching occurs for very specific and avoidable reasons.

“Notching can only occur if the cassette lockring does not provide enough preload to the cassette. The preload stops the sprocket slipping and notching the freehub.”

Malcolm also mentions that it’s not about how powerful a rider you are either. “Regardless of how strong you think you are you can't notch a freehub that has a properly installed lockring.” So there.

Further on in the posting, Malcolm comes across as a bit sceptical about the use of torque wrenches, which I think is misplaced. Yes, very skilled and experienced mechanics may develop a “feel” for how tight things need to be, but for the rest of us a torque wrench is invaluable both to prevent us over-tightening things, and to make sure we get things like cassette lockrings tight enough. A fiver says that if you asked 10 random riders to tighten a lockring to 50Nm by feel no more than two of them would get it anywhere near tight enough.

The endless helmet war

I see we’ve had another skirmish in the endless war between people who think cycling is an activity so unusually dangerous that it requires head protection and those who, well, don’t think that. Against my better judgement I may have gotten a bit involved, and then, as usual, got fed up with it. But I can never resist this comment from Jim Moss, a member of the US ASTM committee on helmet standards.

One of these days I’ll get round to writing a long and extremely tedious piece about why I don’t wear a helmet except to deflect low-level branches when I’m mountain biking, but Jim’s revelation about the standards is a big part of it.

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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alfh | 3 years ago

The site also have ways of viewing the tiles. It is using the same tiles as veloviewer, but some of the visualizations are informative / nice.

And there is the plugin for statshunter, for both Chrome and Firefox, or, that allows you to plan the ride on and see which tiles you have covered already and will be covering on a planned route.

Lozcan | 3 years ago
1 like

Recently had a rear wheel sounding like a concrete mixer, replaced bearings etc, went to remove cassette couldn't, with the help of friend with a massive compressor and air gun , we unbudged it! Reassembled with correct force on the locking, the wheel is silent, and rolling smooth and buttery

jayinjapants | 3 years ago

I haven't used veloviewer but am using I guess it's a similar idea but instead of tiles it maps the roads you ride and awards points for new places been. It has leader boards for pretty much everywhere. Totally pointless really but, like so much pointless stuff, fun once you get into it.

Organon | 3 years ago
1 like

Recently I have built out my square from 14x14 to 17x17, with three 40+km rides. However it is slightly dispiriting to see how far I need to go to improve this. [Not sure that taking the train is allowed.] The UK must be a hotspot because according to my puny square would be enough for nearly every other country in the world, except here you need 50x50 to even appear on the leaderboard. I lost heart and have plenty of other acheivements to be trying for.

imajez replied to Organon | 2 years ago
1 like

Don't worry about the leaderboard.  Do it because it's fun and you always ride new places by definition. 
I doubt you'd stop riding your bike because you have zero chance of an Olympic medal.

wtjs | 3 years ago

I've never previously heard of this 'tiling' stuff, which sounds comparable to the craze of yore (I assume it's died the death it deserves) geocaching in which mentallists think following GPS to a message in a bottle at a specific location is a worthwhile activity- it obviously isn't but it's better than mugging old ladies. It occurs to me that accumulating these tiles would be suitable for ebikers, and could well be commended to them.

Global Nomad | 3 years ago

the standards may aim for preventing 'minor scalp wounds' but having had my head hit the ground hard a couple of times its clear they do much more than that - yes first time i was knocked out and with concussion..but not having one would have been worse, second time a month ago with a stone embedded in helmet from a road in london that would/may have been in my head....but certainly again a much more serious injury was prevented. both times i ended up in an ambulance.

People can do what they like - know the risks and examples and  just dont evangalise about it one way or the other. 

Nepomucene | 3 years ago

The keyed alike thing is brilliant. The whole family here has locks that open with the same key.

only drawback for me is that they do not (yet?) have a X-Plus frame lock for the shopping/town bike...

Rich_cb replied to Nepomucene | 3 years ago
1 like

Keyed alike is really useful.

I have all the Euro cylinder locks in my house keyed alike and also a padlock. The padlock lives on my bike chain at work ensuring I never forget that key.

I'd love to see a D lock manufacturer incorporate a euro-cylinder in to their lock so I can get that running off the same key as well.

OnYerBike | 3 years ago
1 like

I was vaguely aware that Abus did keyed-alike locks - can you provide more detail on exactly how one orders them?

Good to know about the casette lockrings - I went and tightened mine yesterday evening. I had avoided doing them up super-tight in the past because I have struggled to get them off before (far harder than pedals... ). However, what torque wrench do you recommend that goes up to 50Nm!? Mine goes up to 16Nm and none of the recommended ones go much higher!

Nick in Bilbao replied to OnYerBike | 3 years ago
1 like

Park make a ratchet one (they stopped making the I-bar type). The high torque are much bigger (30cm+) I'm sure a automotive one would work as well.

hawkinspeter replied to OnYerBike | 3 years ago

I got mine second hand from FleaBay - have a search for "Beam torque wrench" and there should be loads available for less than 20 quid. As far as I know, they're more or less indestructible (as opposed to non-beam torque wrenches that should be kept wrapped in cotton-wool and re-calibrated every other day) so even an abused one should be good enough - just bend it enough so that it's pointing at zero if it's not.

mikewood | 3 years ago

I too have got into Veloviewr tiling over the last year. Has taken me to some beautiful place as well as some I'd rather not visit again! I've used a road bike in places that I didn't think were possible to get to and got very wet and dirty when my talent ran out (or grip!)

The "problem" I have now is that my max square is up to 66x66 so I have to ride nearly 40 miles there and 40 back to get a new tile so I've been letting the train take the strain now it's safe to.

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