Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Lapierre Tour of the Black Country Sportive

The lure of the dark side

I have been riding my road bike a lot of late and loving every minute too. So I thought it was high time I dipped my toe into the Sportive arena. It's probably the mtbr in me that the one day spring classics, especially the Belgian cobbled classics and the daddy of them all  the Ronde Van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) is my favourite.  It's one of the Five Monuments of cycling and will be on any self respecting sportive riders bucket list and was my initial target but due to issues at work meant I had to change my plans.

My disappointment was tempered when I came across The Lapierre Tour of the Black Country Sportive . I couldn't believe my luck that a sportive with it's inspiration from one of the toughest of the one day races was only 45 min drive away in Wolverhampton. The main inspiration for this sportive is the Paris-Roubaix , otherwise known as the Hell of the North, it even has the finish in a velodrome like the Paris-Roubaix does. The organisers have linked sections of farm tracks,bridleways and have even  given a nod to the Ronde with the inclusion of a monster cobbled climb. Walton Hill or affectionately known as The Waltonberg, with ramps of near 25% gradient near the top and coming after 2 miles of steady climbing at an average 7% and at roughly the halfway point of the 93 km's of the full route provides a stern test for tiring legs. It's not paved with your usual cobbles either as it's basically paved with a mix of cobbles, old bricks,rubble and full of pot holes so you'll need to count on good technical skills and picking a good line if you want to reach the top without putting a foot down because if you do you're not going to get going again.

The ride organisers Cycle Classics have two other Sportives inspired by the one day classics with the Cheshire Cobbled Classic which uses the tough cobbled climbs including the insanely steep corkscrew at 45% found on the eastern edge of the county with the Peak District which takes the Ronde van Vlaanderan for it's inspiration.

Italy and the white Tuscan roads of the Strade Bianche one day classic is the inspiration for the White Roads Classic and uses the similar white gravel lanes found on the Wiltshire Ridgeway .

These three Sportives will become classics in there own right with UK sportive riders and will give anyone looking to go over to the continent to do the big cyclosportives a good realistic taster to what awaits them.

So I had about 4 weeks to prepare myself and the bike. I ramped up my weekly mileage and made plans for a recce. The route runs about 15km's southwest of Wolverhampton and then makes a loop of 65km's before following roughly the same 15km route with a final couple of the 19 off road sectors back to Wolverhampton to finish at the Velodrome. For my recce I decided to just have a look at the big loop as it had most of the off road sectors and the infamous Waltonberg climb.
I didn't bother to change my bike set-up for the recce as it had Cinelli gel cork bar tape for a bit of extra cushion and I run a Shimano RS-610 tubeless wheelset shod with 25mm Schwalbe Ultremo ZX Tubeless from Starbike.com in Germany which I was hoping would give me just enough of a cushion on the off road sectors.

The Recce


At the bottom of the Waltonberg on the recce

The Trig Point at the top of Walton Hill
From the the recce it became clear that the organisers had put together a great route but at times I was questioning whether a road bike was a good idea and pondered using my On One Pompino single speed cross for the ride. The off road sectors all had different surfaces, from compacted dirt bridleways to gravel farm tracks and the Waltonberg climb was a beast where just as the climb ramps up the steepest the surface deteriorated to just rubble and potholes. I'm not ashamed to say it, and the 22% incline got the better of me and I had to walk the last bit to the top. I finished the ride of about 65km's feeling pretty fatigued and was starting to feel a little worried as it was now only a week away. Fingers crossed it wouldn't rain because I couldn't imagine what riding a road bike on these surfaces would be like after any prolonged rain spells.


I was going to need to make the bike more comfortable on the off road sections. My 25mm tyres had been ok but I needed all the help I could get if I was to get round the course in  a reasonable time. Also fatter tyres would help with the fatigue that I felt after the recce. I'd been looking for an excuse to try the new Schwalbe One Tubeless in 28mm width which had been used in this years Paris-Roubaix by the Pro Tour team AG2R LA MONDIALE  so was going to be just the ticket for a sportive that had been it's inspiration. Once again Starbike.com came up trumps with a price for the pair not much more than the rrp for one tyre. I was a little worried they wouldn't arrive in time with just a week to go but I needn't have as with typical German efficiency the tyres arrived in 4 working days, excellent service. My hands can start to go numb on long rides so I went for a double wrap of Cinelli Gel Cork Bar tape which I've stuck with since as I like the bigger grip as it gives me more control in the rough stuff. The other area of the bike where the pro's make changes for the cobbled races are the carbon bottle cages which are swapped for metal/aloy ones which can be bent to grip the bottles tighter to stop them bouncing out. The Planet X Carbon Bottle Cage that are on the bike held my bottles just fine so they stayed. I think that they were the matt finish version probably helped with the grip.  The day before the bike was stripped,cleaned,lubed and rebuilt.The new tyres were fitted which were a real pig to get on the rim but you know you won't have any problems getting them to inflate when they're tight to get on and there was just enough clearance in the frame which I just took for granted that they would fit so I got lucky there as there isn't much clearence. A bit of carbo loading the night before and I was good to go.

The bike taken after the ride with fat tyres & double wrap bar tape

The Big Day


It is only just under hours drive to the velodrome at the Aldersley stadium in Wolverhampton with the ride starting from between 8.30-9.30 am meant the alarm was set for 5.30. I'm not too good with early starts but today I got the help and support of my better half Deb's.  I'm very grateful and lucky to have her as she got up before me to get the coffee pot on and sort some breakfast out so all I had to do was get myself dressed and load the car up, she's a star. I had tried to talk her into doing the ride but she doesn't seem to enjoy riding skinny road tyres off road ? Can't think why ?

When we got there it was obvious this was a popular event as there were cars parked everywhere. We parked on a grass bank. There were about 600 riders on the day and you were supposed to get your number and start time when you signed on but before we arrived there had been a problem with the organisers being locked out of the sports centre.  They had to make some changes to the plans and instead of you getting a start time you just had to line up at the start where they were letting groups of about 20 riders go every 10 Min's which for those turning up later like me was fine but it must of been a bit of a faff for the early birds, but I never heard anyone complaining . The organisers are changing things next year so the same thing doesn't happen again.

My plan was to go off with the last bunch that way I could go at my own pace and not get carried away trying to hold wheels all the time as faster riders would inevitably come past. There were about 25 of us in the last bunch and a few were obviously together by the shouts and hand signals every 5 seconds and knew how to ride in a group. As this was my first time riding in a group I decided to hang at the back so I could suss things out and hopefully I would get an opportunity to move up as I grew in confidence. The pace was fast and in no time about 5 riders me included became detached at the back. I was feeling good so I moved to the front of this small bunch and then I made the jump to bridge the gap with the faster bunch before we lost contact all together. I was just making contact with the back of the fast bunch when we hit Gorse lane west the first of the 19 off road sectors.

The sectors are given a star rating based on length and technical difficulty and this one was a 3 star so in the middle for difficulty but it still completely shattered our little peleton with a couple of the riders puncturing. This was my opportunity to move up with the help of my 28mm Schwalbe One Tubeless tyres and I hope my 25 years of mtbing gave me some small technical abilities to enable me to just put the hammer down through this first off road sector. I was now riding on my own and couldn't wait to hit the next sector. I was caught and passed by a few of the fast bunch by the time we hit the second sector but here again there were more riders puncturing and I able to pass more riders.



The best bit of off road for me in the first half was The Hyde which had a steep loose and rutted downhill followed by a narrow rutted track which I flew down bunny hopping & chain slapping past dismounted riders and thought to myself that they must be thinking that "that guy thinks he's on a bloody mtb" . There is something addictive about riding a bike totally unsuitable and being rattled to the bone and thinking that your bike is about to fall apart underneath you at any moment.

Sectors

19     (11km)Gorse Lane West1300m  * * *
18     (19km)Enville Common1400m  * * *
17     (23km)The Hyde1700m * * * *
16     (34km)Churchill1600m  * * *
15     (37km)Broome1100m    *
FEED  1  (40km)The Queens, Belbroughton
14     (46km)Waltonberg  (22%)600m* * * * *
13     (47km)Walton Hill1300m  * * *
12     (53km)The Field House600m   * *
11     (58km)Trehern’s Farm1200m * * * *
10     (59km)Burys Hill1000m * * * *
9       (63km)Roman Road1200m  * * *
8       (64km)Whittington Farm1800m * * * *
      (69km)Prestwood Drive1600m * * * *
6       (72km)Gothersberg1600m* * * * *
FEED  2  (78km)The Navigation Inn, Greensforge
5       (83km)Gorse Lane East1300m  * * *
4       (88km)Furnace Grange1100m  * * *
3       (90km)Trescott Ford100m    *
2       (91km)Pool Hall1100m  * * *
1       (94km)Aldersley300m    *
FINISH Velodrome


Walton Hill aka The Waltonberg


As Walton Hill approached I was mindful that as I said before the climbing starts 2 miles out and averages 7%  so I needed to just peg it back a little because as my confidence was growing with each off road sector so was my pace. On the recce I had reached the foot of the Waltonberg already blown and had to get off halfway up so I sat up now and cruised my way to the timing strip start line at the bottom of the climb It wasn't easy holding back as riders came flying past me and I had to fight the urge to jump on their wheels but there was no chance of a tow as these guys were motoring.



As I crossed the timing strip I was already passing riders pushing their bikes and my legs were feeling good, I was spinning a good cadence and picking my line and was confident I could top it out. I passed the halfway mark and then the spot where I climbed off the week before then I hit the steepest  25%  gradient, I dropped it into my bottom gear and started to zigzag and with my lungs bursting I stopped and climbed off about 20 meters from the top. I had given it my best shot though I'm just not quite good enough to clear a climb like this yet.

Walton Hill aka "The Waltonberg"


Me struggling near the top but just about to blow and climb off

My time for the climb was an average 2 Min's 51 secs. Under 3 Min's isn't a bad time with under 2 Min's considered quick.

The track down off Walton hill is steep with ruts,drop offs and would give you something to think about if you were on a mtb let alone a road bike. I was in my eliment. The next bit of road is the fastest stretch on the whole route and had me pushing 70kmh and knowing the worst was behind me and that I was feeling strong I put the hammer down. I was going past riders and anticipating the next off road sector when all of a sudden I was struck with excruciating cramp in both my thighs.

I managed to stop safely before my legs locked up and tried to stretch my legs out but I couldn't it was to painful. This was new to me I had never been hit with cramp before whilst riding. The week before when I had been on the recce I got cramp in my thighs but it was when I was in the car after the hours drive home. I'm pretty sure it wasn't due to not drinking enough because I had made sure I had hydrated properly starting the day before. I have drank far less before and never had issues with cramp. In hindsight I put it down to a combination of the cramp the week before and the fact that I had not got out of the saddle much to conserve energy for the Waltonberg which meant I hadn't stretched my muscles out much .

I was now in a bit of a panic as I was in that much pain I couldn't see how I could carry on as I was only halfway through and still had about 45km's left to ride. I was distraught, I had been feeling really good with worst behind me and now I was looking at a "DNF" and a trip back in broom waggon. I started to walk which helped and after 10 Min's I climbed back on.. But as soon as I tried to put the power down I would cramp up again and would have to walk it off. There were still a few small climbs left and a couple of the off road sectors were on a slight up hill incline which was big enough for me to be unable to ride. I was gutted watching as riders passed me with wide grins on their faces from the buzz of riding their skinny tyres on dirt. Even the sectors I was able to ride I had to take it easy which was harder as it's better to just these off road sectors as hard as you can.

I was still making forward albeit slow progress though,. and having to walk less and less. I was able to gingerly ride the last 20km's without getting off.  I rode into the Aldersley Velodrome with a sense of relief,satisfaction and I have to say a little disappointed too . I did my lap of velodrome and crossed the line in 3hr 55 min which wasn't too bad and before the ride I would of been happy to finish in under 4 hrs but knowing what had happened just made me feel even more disappointed at what I could of done has I not got cramp
.
I got my plastic flute of champagne and a hug and kiss from Debs and that was that my first sportive was over.




Although the day hadn't quite gone to plan on the whole it was a great ride and after I'd got over the initial disappointment I was able to look back on what was a great event and I will definitely be going back next year and probably sooner because, as they would say in the Black Country it's a "bostin" area for cycling. 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Bikepack 100 - An Alpkit Bikepacking Luggage test in the Peak District


Since buying a set of alpkit's bikepacking luggage I'd been itching to give it a good test and to see how it performed on a multi-day adventure. From my previous post you can see I had done a couple of overnights and the luggage performed as expected but I really wanted to see how it and myself would fare on a multi-day epic.

I had been planning on doing the Trans Cambrian Trail before winter set in but due to work commitments I was unable to pull it off, although I did make an attempt, but unforeseen circumstances made me very late leaving home,and meant it was nearly 14.00 pm when I left the train station car park in Knighton.  I was determined to at least have a go but I was unable to get the 50 km to Rhayader done before it got dark, with still nearly 20 km left which meant I would have to do at least 80 km the next day. I wild camped that night and knew that it was not going to happen this time.

With half term holidays approaching my partner and I, Debs , had a few days holidays booked off work and wanted a bit of an adventure.  Debs started a new job lately so she hadn't  been able to get out on her bikes as much as she would of liked and was worried her lack of fitness would hold her/us back.  My fitness had also slipped a bit  lately so another crack at the Trans Cambrian was out of the question which meant looking for a challenge a bit closer to home and I knew just where to look .

Peak District Bikepack 150




The map above shows a route I have had planned for quite a while but just never got round to doing. It is a 154 km loop from home up into the Peak District using National Cycle Network   rail trails & canals to get us into the Peaks using as little road possible. Then it hooks up with the Pennine Bridleway to head south and on to more rail trails in the form of the Manifold Valley from where we head over to the Churnet Valley and get on the Caldon Canal which takes us right back in to Stoke on Trent and home.

So we had now got our route we now just needed to get a plan and get our gear setup's sorted.

My Gear List

Bikepacking Luggage

We would be both carrying our gear in bags strapped to our bikes and wearing back packs for extra gear/food & hydration bladders. I would be using a full set of Alpkit Bikepacking Luggage consisting of -
Stem-Cell stem mounted bag

I would need to use a lightweight backpack in the shape of my well loved OMM 32L Classic backpack which is a bit of a legend in ultra mountain marathon circles and has served me well for a few years now and is in my opinion the best pack for this job. I would be carrying a bladder in it for hydration and all the bulky items plus what else I couldn't get to fit in the bike bags.

Debs Setup

Debs would be making do with a more simple but no less effective DIY approach with a matching in fluro yellow 13 L airlock-Xtra drybag strapped to her handlebar, and one of alpkits new tapered airlock-xtra drybags ,which has been designed to fit in seatpacks but can be used on it's own as a lightweight & very cheap option with the supplied straps and the very useful webbing ladder that's stitched on the bag. Using the drybags on their own is a great way to get yourself started if your just getting into bikepacking as like I said alpkit supply the drybags with straps so your good to go for not a lot of money, as it can start to get a bit pricey for a full set of bikepacking luggage, especially some of the USA made setups.

Debs would be using an Osprey Valkyrie 9 hydration pack for her water, carrying personal items, spares, waterproof jacket and food.

Camping & Sleeping Set-up 

We would be using a Terra Nova Laser Comp 1 which is a one man tent, but at a squeeze will take two and believe me it is a squeeze with Debs & I stuffed in it even though she is only 5 ft tall . The main reason for using this tent though is that it's one of the lightest you can get and when it first came out it was the lightest in the world at just under a kilo. It has the option of going even lighter if you just use the fly but we used it with the inner.


Sleeping Setup

Both Debs & I would be using 1 season synthetic sleeping bags, mine is a cheap Vango one and Debs  an even cheaper one from Hi-Gear. The reason for using these was that it was what we had and also they pack down smallish, though for their size are not that light. I am currently researching for a good lightweight probably down 3 season sleeping bag for my bikepacking trips . We backed up the sleeping bags with Snugpack TS1 sleeping bag thermal liners which we found to be really warm liners and felt lovely & cosy in them. Also if needed we would be carrying our  Alpkit Filo Down jackets to help keep the cold at bay but luckily for us the night time temp only dropped to about +3 C.

For sleeping mats I would be using my Klymit Static V Sleeping mat which Klymit have designed with side sleeping in mind using their Body Mapping system . I have used a few different mats from basic old school foam mats, self inflating mats and inflatable's and I can say that this is hands down the most comfortable sleeping mat I have used, and is by far the quickest to inflate with no more than about 20 breadths needed to inflate it. There are lighter mats and Klymit  have them in their range but I will stick with the Static V but cut it down in size to reduce the weight a bit as it's easily done by hot ironing along the seams and then just cutting off the excess. If you have been wondering what the weight is it's about 500g which is quite a bit more than a Neo Air but these are wider and if you shorten the pad it wouldn't be far off the weight of the Neo Air.

Debs used an old mat of mine in the shape of an Alpkit Numo Inflatable , about the same weight as the Static V but this is only a 3/4 length,  but as Debs is only 5ft tall it is full length for her size . I never really got on with the pad myself but Debs is ok with it which is probably down to her smaller size & lighter weight and an ability to sleep on a clothes line if she had too.

Cooking Set-up

For cooking we would be turning to Alpkit yet again with a Mytimug & Mytipot for cooking in and eating out off. We used a plunger out of a caffitierre which fits nicely in the mytimug for a much needed fix of fresh coffee in the morning. Our stove was an Alpkit Kraku micro titanium canister stove  with a solid fuel Esbit Ti folding stove for back up . We packed porridge oats for breakfast & for our evening meals we packed Look What We Found Staffordshire Chicken Tikka packet curry's and some fresh nambreads from our local nambread shop. This isn't a very light option as the curry's are in a wet sauce but worth carrying the extra grams  for a meal this tasty when you're out in the sticks and was something to look forward to at the end of a hard day .  


Time for the off

Day One

With our gear set-ups sorted it was time to keep a check on the weather for the days we had booked off and with about 5 days to go it looked like we would get a weather window of 2-3 days of dry weather and mild temps during the week we had booked off, so we committed & readied ourselves .

The first day didn't start as planned and we didn't get going until gone midday as usual , but as most of the first day was going to be flat I was optimistic we could get into the Peak District before it got dark.
We headed north east along the Caldon Canal for a few km's and then picked up Route 55 of the NCN (National Cycle Network to head north to Congleton. Although this is a disused rail trail it surprised us how much steady climbing we were doing as it was basically uphill all the way to Congleton. On the way we passed by the old Chatterley Whitfield Colliery with it's Wheel tower and a lot of the 19th Century buildings still intact . It opens on certain days for tours and at one time was a working museum but sadly like a lot of things these days had to stop due to lack of funding. Just after the mine the track surface changes from tarmac to dirt and quite muddy in places due to all the rain of late. It was obvious that this stretch past Biddulph got a lot of horse traffic and because of this the going was getting quite heavy especially with the weight we were carrying. Even though this is a NCN trail it is amazing the dirty looks we got from walker's,  especially ones with dog's when you have to inconvenience them with having to bring their animals under control to let you pass safely.

As we came into the outskirts of Congleton the track passes under the Macclesfield Canal which was going to be our next leg on our journey. It was a tough scramble to get the bikes up the high embankment onto the canal towpath. The GPS was playing games trying to send us in the wrong direction but after riding a short way in the right direction towards Macclesfield it righted itself and was now pointing us the right way. There wasn't much of a towpath and it was deep mud in places which made our pace a lot slower than I'd expected it to be on this stretch so I decided to jump off at the next road bridge and join the road to Macclesfield to make up some time as we only had a couple of more hrs of daylight left. We picked up the canal again just outside Macclesfield as the towpath had improved. As we meandered round the town thoughts started to turn to where we were going to camp and we needed to stock up on some water for cooking and a few more provisions. We ended up coming off the route to find a shop which wasted about 1/2 hr. North of Macclesfield we picked up route 55 NCN rail trail again and put the hammer down to try and put some distance between us and Macclesfield. It was starting to get a bit stressful as it got darker because we were intending on wild camping but suitable spots were proving to be difficult to come by as there were just to many houses about . Just as daylight had almost gone I spotted a small field of over grown grass surrounded by trees to give us a bit of shelter and provide a bit of stealth too. It meant we had to clamber 15 ft down the embankment from the trail and then climb over a barbed wire fence, this wasn't ideal but we had little choice. We quickly put the tent up and got settled down. We got the coffee sorted and then filled our belly's with the Look What We Found chicken curry's and Nan breads we had bought freshly baked from our local Nan bread shop . We were both asleep by 9 pm which meant it was going to be a long night in our tiny Terra Nova Tent . I never get what you would call a good night's sleep in a tent but this was one of the better ones with me waking up briefly every 2-3 hrs. Debs could sleep on a cloth's line and this night was no different with her only waking when I disturbed her whilst trying to pee in my pee bottle. Sounds cosy doesn't it !

Day One distance covered 50.5 km 3 hrs moving time 1-2 hrs pushing/stopped, 229 m elevation gain


This was where we camped the first night we were in such a hurry to pack up we almost forgot to get a picture hence why we're packed up and ready to roll


Day Two


After coffee & porridge we sluggishly packed up and hit the trail again but as usual we were already behind schedule with the time already past 11 am. We put the hammer down with the incentive of a nice pub lunch in Hayfield. We reached the end of the Middlewood Way section of Route 55 NCN at Marple where we headed east through the town to pick up the bridleway path that follows the River Goyt along the valley bottom. This was proper mtbing now as the path went from rocky double track to even rockier singletrack that climbed & fell as the path followed the river up stream.

The Goyt Valley
The route now would take us on a very steep climb out of the valley up a bridleway on to and across the hill tops and then dropping down into New Mills where we would join another rail trail to Hayfield . We were now in the heart of the Peak District and were quite chuffed we had made it this far on our bikes and to think Debs had doubt's that she could ride her bike this far with all her gear. We stopped for a steak & ale pie in one of the pubs in Hayfield before we hit the Pennine Bridleway .

Refreshed we started the long & steep push out of Hayfield up the Highgate road which hits 20% in places, as we passed some cottages near the top I glanced to my left to see a guy pushing a wheelbarrow, we both said hello and then I thought I recognise that face. He pushed the wheelbarrow inside then quickly came back out as he seemed interested in  us, It was then that I realised it was the former pro road & track 3 time Olympic medallist & World Champion  and now BBC & British Eurosport commentator Rob Hayles . The situation became a bit embarrassing as for the life of me I couldn't remember Rob's surname so I just said to him hi' it's Rob isn't it and to which he said yes and to which I said to Deb's who by now was thinking he was somebody I knew, you know who this is don't you ?  She said no she didn't. So now I'm saying to her you do you do whilst trying to remember his surname. I said to her you have seen him loads of times when we're watching the cycling ? It was a bit of an embarrassing moment as she hadn't a clue what I was on about, anyway Rob said who he was to Deb's and she still said she hadn't a clue ! He made a few nice comments about Debs bike being pretty but by now I just wanted to crawl under a rock & die and couldn't get out of there quick enough and luckily there was a shout for Rob from inside the house so we said bye and pushed on. I was still trying to jog Debs mind about who Rob Hayles was because I knew she knew who he was especially as it was only a week or so before I had been reading an article about Rob's best mate Mark Cavendish in Rouleur Magazine in which Rob had been in and I had explained to her at the the time who he was ? Frustratingly I now remembered his surname and the penny dropped with Deb's on who he was. It was a shame because it would of been nice to get a couple of pics with him. It turned out that it was his cottage that he is renovating which explained why he was pushing the wheelbarrow.

All the fuss over who Rob Hayles was a good distraction from how brutal the push up Highgate rd had been. The effects of  a couple of days hard riding with loaded mtbs on top of that push were now starting to bite and we were begining  to worry about making Rowter Farm, our planned camp spot for the night before it got dark, especially as we were now facing the most technical piece of trail on the whole route. We took a left turn onto a rocky sunken bridleway and skirted round Mount famine hill and onto the the famous/infamous Roych Clough , a track open to 4x4's which descends & climbs steeply with big stone slab drop offs and baby head size rocks everywhere. To say this stretch pushed us to our limits as we pushed and carried our bikes up & at times down would be a huge understatement. To make matters worse it was getting darker by the minute and Debs was now seriously questioning my judgement on tackling this segment and if we should have taken the road to Rowter farm. We were now at the highest point on the ride and our bodies were feeling the strain from the effort .I was starting to scout for spots to wild camp but it wasn't looking good, there were a couple of old drystone walled sheep pens where the track crosses the stream at the bottom of Roych Clough that Debs was happy with for pitching our tent, but I was pretty sure if we dug in for one last big effort we could make Rowter farm in less than an hour and just before sunset.

The climb out of the Roych was an absolute brutal slog. We pushed,carried and cursed up every drop off and we were both struggling mentally now and the doubts were creeping in but I just reminded ourselves that we wanted a challenge and this was THE challenge.

We were both very glad and relieved to reach the end of this section and join the road for a bit of smooth  tarmac riding to Rowter Farm . We have camped at the farm before and if your looking for a campsite to base yourself in the Peak District for mtbing or any other outdoor stuff that the Peaks offer then I doubt you'll find a better location than Rowter Farm. Its basic but that's it's charm as you get the full camping experience but with a few conveniences and it's only £5 p.p.p.n.

We pitched the tent in the dark but it only took a few minuites and we had everything setup and the stove on. After getting some grub into us It didn't take long before we were both falling asleep  helped by watching a bit of the bikepacking film Reveal The Path on my mobile phone.

We knew day 2 was going to be tough and it didn't disappoint it was one of the toughest days I have had on a bike and it really pushed me physically and at times was on the rivet but how was Debs coping ?
Well she was coping like a trooper and for someone who hadn't done much riding in the run up to the ride and who only started riding 12 months prior was becoming a bit of an inspiration for me. I just couldn't believe that someone who is only 5' tall and weighs next to nothing can drag herself & her loaded bike up hill & down dale for mile after mile and come back for more and put me to shame at times as I was struggling but she was just soldiering on and was offering to drag my bike up the steep sided valleys. I just want to take this chance to say thanks to my Debs who was the real Mighty Atom on this ride, I am really proud of her and contrary to what she thought was really glad she came on this ride. I have to say this because Debs always worrys  that she will be slowing me down and holding me back. Far from it, towards the end she was the one leading from the front so Chapeau Debs in my eyes you are the real deal, a proper mtb bikepacker !






Day Three


Day three started the same way as the previous 2 days with a late start. We had a short ride along the farm tracks heading south from Rowter Farm to pick up the Pennine Bridleway again.

The Peak District is famous for having two distinct parts with the Dark Peak in the north and the White peak to the south. We were now leaving the high moorland Gritstone plateaus of the Dark Peak and moving into the Limestone Dales that the White Peak is famous for. We were going to have to descend and then climb back out of a series of deep, steep sided dales/gorges which was going to be another tough test for our aching bodies. First up was Monks dale which we descended into by road but half up the other side we had to go through a gate and then climb the rest of the way out of the dale by scrambling/pushing a long rutted sheep tracks. By the time we topped out we were both gasping for our breath and were not looking forward to having to do it all again on the next one which quickly followed, to bloody quickly for me.

Monks Dale



Wye Dale
Wye Dale was next, which is more like a deep gorge than a valley. The steep singletrack decent with really tight,technical switchbacks gets the blood pumping as it's a long way down if you cock up here. There's a narrow footbridge across the river Wye and a little cafe/hut which would be a nice place to stop for refreshments but there were quite a lot of day trippers queueing outside and we were already behind schedule due to the late start so we pushed right passed the crowd and straight into the long and torturous push up the steep valley side . We got some looks of sympathy and bewilderment and some comments about it being more fun going the other way which we didn't argue with. The push out of Wye Dale took us nearly half an hour and we were really feeling the effects of our adventure now with Debs asking how far now every 5 km with me replying not far now which was obviously a lie.

The Plan for the day had been to make it to Hartington for a late lunch as there are a couple of nice pubs there and it was half way between the  High Peak/Tissington Trails and the Manifold Valley which was our next leg home and from there we would use a few road sections to take us into the Churnet Valley and the Caldon Canal and back to Stoke.

I was caught out by how long it was taking us, I had got the timing wrong badly and this coupled with the late start meant it was 16.30 hrs by the time we hit Hartington. The only thing that had kept us going the last couple of hrs was the thought of a nice pub lunch but the pubs stopped serving food at 15.00 pm  and it was now raining. Given that we were both at the end of our physical tethers, it was now dark, it was raining quite heavy, we couldn't refuel our bodies properly and there was probably another 4 hrs of riding left and some of it was going to be along a canal in the dark oh and the battery in the GPS had ran out, this was looking like a DNF. We decided to have a drink in the pub to get warm & dry off a little and weigh up our options. The more we warmed up in front of the fire the less appealing going out in the cold & rain on our bikes again became. We were both quite worried at this point as to how we would be able to get home. I suggested to Deb that the best option now was to try and get a taxi which at first she wasn't happy with because she didn't want to DNF the ride but neither did I but I had now resigned myself to the fact that the ride was over. After sitting in front of the fire & watching the rain for a bit longer Debs came to that conclusion too.

It wasn't a given though that we could get a taxi especially one that would take us and the bikes at night but we managed to get a minibus from Leek that could take us and the muddy bikes.

It was two very tired & weary and relieved bikers that unloaded the minibus when we got home and although we were disappointed to DNF we knew we made the right choice to pack it in at Hartington.
We slept like the proverbial babies that night and the following day we reflected on our little trip.
We had wanted to have an adventure and for the ride to be testing but not for it to be a death march.
We also wanted to test our equipment and to see what gear we needed to take/not take and what in our gear needed to be upgraded to better/lighter for future planned trips and hopefully bikepacking races like the Bearbones events. For  the most part I think the trip was a success even if we didn't finish it. It lived up to our expectations for an adventure, it certainly tested us and we learnt a lot about the limitations of our gear and also our own physical limitations.

So all in all it was a great little trip which as only whetted our appetites for more of the same and just remember this little adventure started right from our front doorstep. What can be better than that ?



List of things I'll change for next time

To really enjoy a trip like this you need to be really fit - need to train more

Make my set-up light as possible

Better lighter sleeping bag

The two people in the one man Terra Nova tent for three nights is pushing it - need new two man tent

Full frame bag

Need a Revelate type bar harness so I can use bar mounted lights

The route as endless possibilities, it could be reversed/shortened/lengthened easily

Be more organised and get earlier starts 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Shakedown ride with Alpkit's Bike Luggage

Alpkit Bike Luggage

I first started bikepacking back in 2010/11.  It was reading articles in Singletrack Magazine and online a couple of years before that about the exploits of the grand daddy of endurance/extreme mtbing  John Stamstad , and thinking this is it, this is what a mtb is for and knew straight away that it was something that I was going to love doing. I had always thought that the mountain bike would be great for long distance offroad touring but the pannier system of carrying your gear that was then available was designed for touring on pavement and as such it limited the offroad capabilities of the mtb. Likewise using a backpack although an improvement wasn't ideal. You can ride more technical terrain with a backpack but it can be hard on the body riding multiple day's carrying a loaded backpack on a bike, also on steep technical descents its difficult to get your weight back and your head down to look down the trail.

New innovation's in ultra lightweight gear and materials in backpacking and alpine mountaineering opened up the possibility for the mtb to reach it's full potential as an offroad touring vehicle . Fast forward a few years and now there is whole new cottage industry in making bikepacking gear/luggage.
When I first started out there were only one or two companies in the US making dedicated mtb bike bags/luggage , and they are called Carousel Design Works and Epic designs , but after a legal battle with Specialized Epic had to change their name to Revelatedesigns.com. Revelate and Carousel are regarded has being the best & most innovative and  have really good product lines.

It was hard trying to get hold of the bags in the UK as they were/are quite expensive and due the demand had long waiting times for bags to be made. So it was a case of seeing what could be done with what was easily available and didn't cost a fortune and here in the UK that was alpkit dry bags strapped to your bike.


My inbred before it was stolen with my early bikepacking setup

Alpkit were instrumental in spreading the whole bikepacking idea to the UK, and me especially, through trialing prototype gear with sponsored riders and sharing their story's through their daring deeds column.

Alpkit's early products weren't designed especially for bikepacking but had clearly been designed with bikepacking in mind and with a little bit ingenuity you could have a decent set up using straps & a lightweight seatpost rack for very little money and for anyone who is just starting out it is still a good way of dipping your toes into the sport.

When some of Alpkit's sponsored riders starting appearing with proper Alpkit branded bike luggage it was only going to be a matter of time before they had a full range of affordable bike luggage.
It seemed like a long wait for the release but it was worth it. For the price of a bar role or seatpost bag from some of the US bikepacking company's you could have a complete set of bags . The first production run sold out in a few days but I managed to get a set in the steel grey colour. 

The Lurcher fully loaded with Alpkit's bike luggage


So my first outing wasn't a major trip and it was also my girlfriends first time bivvying with a tarp & bivvy bags. I didn't want it to be a sufferfest so I chose a great little wild camp spot near Hollinsclough on the Staffs/Derby border with just a short ride in which made up for what it lacked in length with it's technicality.


The bike luggage performed well as I expected and first impression are good but it will take me a few more rides to get it dialled in right and which way is best to pack it.

I'm planning on doing the Trans Cambrian Trail in the next few weeks and this will no doubt give me and Alpkit's bike luggage a good chance to work out how to get the best out of it and I'm looking forward to reporting on how I and the luggage get on.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

On One Inbred to On One PinKbred

Pretty in pink

Since my lovely girlfriend Debs got bitten by the cycling bug last year and bought her beloved On One Inbred, we have been constantly upgrading it to make it her own and something that she is going to WANT to ride. Right from the start she wanted pink components & parts which I know is a love/hate thing with a lot of people in mtbing. Well it's her bike and has it happens I love to see pink on bikes too. 

We had added all the pink components & parts over the last 12 month's but Deb's never really got on with the budget Sram groupset & Avid brakes, particularly the front shifter. So we upgraded the group to a 2x10 Shimano XT with an SLX brakeset. We ordered some pink Jagwire hydraulic brake hose to match the pink gear outers. As the bike now needed stripping to fit the new groupset we decided it was the time to get the frame resprayed which was something we had always wanted to do. We decided against spraying the frame pink as we thought this might over do the pink theme, so plumbed for keeping the frame white but get the frame decals done in pink. Whilst searching for places where we could get the decals done we became aware that it was possible to get the Stans rim decals & the Rock Shox Sid fork decals done too so that's what we did and ordered the custom decals from Slik Graphics based in Sweden.

SLIK GRAPHICS DECAL SHEET

The whole set came to £50, which considering the quality of the vinyl and the printing and the fact that we had ordered a custom colour not on their base colour selection,  is a bit of a bargain. We were really pleased with the set but we had a slight problem the decals getting creased in the post which I don't blame Slik for and which they replaced no questions asked. You can't ask for more than that.  I totally recommend them to anyone looking to do a respray on their frame.





The respray was done by a mate from work. I work at a VW dealership and my mate does the paint touch up's and the alu wheel buffing. I had wanted to use a professional frame painter but the frame isn't an expensive one so I think that it's a fair compromise in the circumstances and saved us a chunk of money.
He did a good job for his first bike frame and the paint is a lot thicker than the original and looks really nice & lush. The decals went on a lot easier than I expected and I managed to get them on without any bubbling, even the wheel decals went on easy peasy for a lovely finished job.
Because Debs is a wee little thing, even with the small 14" frame size she has to have a 35% rise stem flipped negatively to get the bars low enough to get a good position on the bike. The only stem we have been able to find is a Richey one but it was black and now spoilt the look of the bike so my mate sprayed the stem too in the same white, it came out really well and has put the finishing touch to what I think is a great looking  bike.

The new Shimano groupset & brakes has shaved quite a bit of weight off too and the bike now weighs about 22-23 lbs.

There are a couple of things still left to do like changing the wheel skewers for some nice pink Token skewers also some bar end bungs and a new bottle cage, and I would like to get the forks custom tuned so debs can get the best performance from them, but that's it now time to give my bikes some attention which are probably feeling a little bit neglected by now.

List of pink parts

Hope hubs on Stans rims which Hope specially built as for some reason they don't normally do wheel builds with pink hubs but the bike shop where we ordered from were offering them so Hope honoured the deal but said it was a one off.

Chris King sotto voce headset

Alligator Aries disc rotors

Answer Pro Taper bar

Aerozine XP 1.0 seatpost

Salsa Fliplock seatpost collar

A2Z wheel skewers

Bkackspire 24t inner chainring

Token chainring bolts

Token Tiramic jockey wheels

Token valve caps

Token bottle cage bolts

Clarks gear cable outers

Jagwire Hydraulic hose

Oury lock on grips

Selle Italia SLR Lady gel flow id match saddle

cable ties