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


Saturday, 2 August 2014

Mtbing & Camping in the Peak District with the Vango Omega 350

VANGO OMEGA 350

A few weekends ago Debs & I were able to get off on the short drive to the Peak district for a couple of nights camping with our new tent the Vango Omega 350 .


Since Debs picked up my dirty habit of mtbing (luckily for her the only dirty habit) last year we have been using my old 2 man Blacks Storm Shield tent, which has served me well but is a little on the small side of 2 man tents. We had been on the lookout for something with a decent sized vestibule to get all the bikes & gear in and also somewhere to do the cooking if the weather is crap ! We didn't want a massive tent, though it had to be reasonably portable but we weren't going to be carrying it on the bikes so it didn't have to be super lightweight as I have a Terra Nova Laser Competition for bikepacking adventures.

So after some scouting on the web I came across the Vango Omega 350 from Go Outdoors for a knock down price of a £130, £90 less than the RRP which ticked all our boxes.
It's a 3 man and is part of Vango's Expedition range of tent's and is aimed at young adventurer's doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. It has a roomy main tent for sleeping in which would probably sleep 4 without to much pushing & shoving but the big plus from our list of priorities is the large vestibule that doubles the size of tent and easily fits our bike's + gear and leaves plenty of room for cooking. It has a clip in ground sheet so if you had some guest's over you'd be able to put them up for the night without any bother.
The tent pitches fly first so if it's raining you keep the inner dry, which easily clips in to place in a few min's the first time you pitch it, then you leave it in place so it pitches together thereafter and the whole thing pitches in about 10 mins.


We had to pick the tent up from the Manchester Go Outdoors store about 1hr drive from us on the Bank Holiday weekend, and then drove straight into the Peak District from there for our first couple of nights in our new mobile home and to sample some of the great mtb trails that the Peak District is famous for.

We were heading to a great campsite at a farm just outside the village of Castleton called Rowter Farm , which is a favourite with pot hole caver's, rock climbers,para gliders and cyclist's and your proper camper type's. It has everything you need for a great weekend's camping and longer but it is at the basic end of the scale, but all perfectly adequate. If your a bit of a "Glamper" then it's probably not your cup of tea. Deb's & I love it though and at £5 pp per night £ 3 for kids it is hard not to love it. It is a working farm so sometimes you have the company of some of the farms inhabitants in the form of sheep who wander among the tents and even provide you with an alarm clock by bleating outside your tent in the morning, one of the joys of camping on a working farm.

THE RIDE


From the farm you get a good view of Mam Tor and Rushup Edge which were going to form part of our loop for the following days ride. This part of the Peak District is known as Dark Peak and to the south is the White Peak and both provide very different riding with the Dark Peak considered to have the better riding than it's White Peak neighbour but it is still provides plenty of good riding. To the south you get Limestone gorges,quarry's and farm tracks and to the north you get Gritstone ridges,moorland and highly technical rock strewn,lung busting single/doubletrack climbs/descents, and if want a big day out you can link the two half's of the Peak District to get the best of both worlds which our loop was going to do.

The beauty of staying at Rowter farm  is that you're right in the middle of the of the best network of trails in the Dark peak. Debs has only been riding for 12 months but has come a long way in that short time, even though she has trouble believing that sometimes. So with her in mind I wanted to pick a route that sampled some of the best trails to keep me happy but wouldn't be too technical that it would faze her from the start.

I had planned a route of about 45 km which was probably a bit ambitious but do-able if we got an early enough start but both Debs & I are hopeless at getting early starts and that's how it panned out. We didn't get going till nearly midday. The route took us straight out the farm gate on to a farm track that we followed to get to the rutted single/double track that was part of the loop and was taking us towards Rushup Edge, the first big offroad challenge of the day. But before that we had to climb up to the Edge via a 15% + road climb which was a killer on legs still not warmed up yet !  Rushup Edge is a bit of a right of passage with mtbers in the Peak District and for the whole of the UK for that matter as it is a seat of the pants, rock strewn, 3-4 ft drop offs technical decent along the top of the ridge in one direction, and a hard mtb trials test of climbing, slog/push/carry in the other direction. I had chosen the latter direction for us and it was with envious eyes as we watched mtb'r after mtb'r thundering down past us with looks of utter exhilaration & concentration on there faces as we crawled up past them on towards the shivering mountain of Mam Tor.

We skirted round the summit of Mam Tor and stopped for a short while to enjoy the views, take a few pics and recharge for the steep technical decent down into the Hope Valley.
Debs on Mam Tor

The route now followed the road along the valley bottom for a couple of miles towards the next trail head at Nether Booth where another technical rock strewn track climbs up towards Hope Cross and on to the old Roman road at the top of the ridge. The Roman road is now just a load of deep rutts along the top of the ridge where at the end there are multiple choices of tracks to take, and is where even with a GPS I managed to take a wrong turn. But not all wrong turns turn out bad as time was now getting on and we were both starting to feel the effects of the constant battle to gain and loose altitude.

One of the smoother tracks

The wrong turn took about 15 km of the planned route and had us drop down into Hope village for a short stop for some refreshments. We followed the road to a little village called Smalldale and on to another Roman road called Batham Gate and up the savage little road climb at the end to get the altitude back that was lost dropping down in to Hope. We were on the home straight now as the road skirts a big quarry to take us on to another well known track called Dirtlow Rake, which then climbs a little to the gated farm road that would take us back to Rowter Farm.

All in all it was a great ride and a great weekend in our new tent that will be our home from home for all our cycling adventures from now on, the Vango Omega 350 , and anyone who is looking for something similar wouldn't go far wrong with this tent.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Planet X Pro Carbon Updates & Upgrades

This is my first post for quite a while as due to starting a new job and a move of house have conspired against me and have led me to have to neglect my blog .

Just to get the ball rolling again I'm going to write an update on the Planet X Pro Carbon road bike.


It's had a bit of a make over in the shape of a Token Bling kit in red.
The kit contains a couple of cnc'd jockey wheels, aloy cable adjusters which are a lot nicer than the stock plastic Shimano one's the bike came with. Some stem spacers and a stem cap with a nice red bolt which finishes it off nice and a nice aloy cassette lockring which isn't the most obvious bit of bling but it does shave a bit of weight over the steel stock lockring which plays to the weight weenie in me.  I also added a Token chain catcher, a great simple device to stop you dropping your chain.


I know some people will think what's the point but ever since the purple anodised heydays of late eighties early nineties mtbing I've been a sucker for a bit of anodised aluminium and if done tastefully I think can add a bit individual style to what otherwise could be a pretty dull looking bike, especially these days when it's black everything.


The red kcnc cable ferrules I had left over from the Lurcher build also found a new home with some white Clarks cables which will be changed for Shimano one's at some point as they don't seem to work as well with the Ultegra 6700 shifters as the black Shimano one's I replaced.


The wheel skewers were swapped out for some nice and light Mt Zoom Ti one's shaving more weight.


I liked the black, white & red look of the Deda Quatro stem that I specked when I bought the bike but after replacing the heavy and stiff aloy Deda rs seatpost with a lovely,  beautifully crafted Deda Drittissimo inline Carbon seatpost which just transformed the ride comfort, I decided that the stem didn't do it justice so replaced it with the equally lovely & beautifully crafted Deda servizio corse zero 100 stem and finished the Deda theme with the 46cm wide Zero 100 RHM semi compact bar which is triple butted to provide great comfort from road chatter and compliments the lightweight build. I finished this off with a red Cinelli gel cork bar tape and some white Shimano lever hoods.


Well I think that is about it for the upgrades for now and just leaves me to just ride the damb thing which is what I have been doing all be it while not being able to really push it as I'm riding it with a small crack in the drive side chainstay after the mech hanger snapped, so it's a good job that the upgrading has finished for now as it won't be cheap if it turns out to a proper break !






Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Shimano WH-RS61 Tubeless wheelset & Schwalbe Ultremo ZX Tubeless Tyres

Shimano WH-RS61 Tubeless Wheelset

When I recently took the plunge into the dark side with my Planet X Pro Carbon road bike I knew It wouldn't be long before my terrible affliction "upgrade-itis" would strike. Their stock wheels are decent everyday wheels but as anybody who knows anything about cycling if you want to unleash your bike's true potential you need a good set of wheels and that's where my affliction struck first. I had been lusting some Planet X 50mm carbon clincher wheels until I came across the Shimano RS61 Tubeless wheelset from Merlin  . The retail for these wheels is £299 which is a good deal in itself but Merlin will let you have these wheels for £180 ! An incredible price and an unbelievable bargain and one the girlfriend and I both took advantage off . 
WH-RS61
I'm a big tubeless convert & fan since first going tubeless with my Goldtec/Stans Alpha 340 single speed wheelset for my single speed Pompino Cross, and then with my Hope/Stans Crest 29" wheelset for the Lurcher, and then with a Hope/Stans Crest 26" build for my girlfriend Debs Inbred. I have had zero issues and zero puncture's in the 18 months since first going tubeless and just love the added control & speed you get with a tubeless system . I was eager to see if the WH-RS61 was as easy to get set up and running as my Stans wheelsets, and I'm pleased to say they were a doddle just like the Stans were with the tyres inflating with ease. There are loads of horror stories filling cycling forums all over the net from the early days of tubeless with exploding tyres, sealant all over the place and tyres coming of their rims, but these days with better rim technology and better offerings from tyre manufacturers you shouldn't really have any problems at all with getting your tyres inflated with just a standard track pump, and the tyres staying on their rims.

As I said before the wheelset is a true bargain as your getting top spec features for an entry level price. The RS stands for "Road Sports" which is Shimano's entry/mid level category but your getting a lot of the same features you get with higher priced wheels. In keeping with the latest research in aerodynamics you get wider profile rims, 21mm & 24mm front & rear respectively while also giving you a bigger contact patch when used with the ever more popular wider 23mm & 25mm tyres. The hubs feature angular contact ball bearings and extra wide flanges for stiffness and long life and like all Shimano hubs are the easy serviceable cup & cone variety. The spokes are stainless steel, bladed, double butted and radially laced for maximum stiffness and durability.

Shimano's aim with these wheels were to bring race day wheel performance to your everyday wheelset. I can't say what a real top end race day wheelset performs like but I can say that with these wheels fitted I was able to run much lower pressure's giving me a more stable,comfortable,confident,good control and therefore faster ride than with the stock Shimano wheels, which granted are only a stock wheelset but when sold separately retail for not much less than the WH-RS61 especially if you get them at a reduced price as I did. 

At the moment the only issue with road tubeless is the lack of tyre choice with only Hutchinson initially pushing the technology, but now as more tubeless wheelsets are coming on to the market most of the manufacturers have at least one tubeless tyre in there range and are really starting to push the technology, especially Schwalbe, which I'm really glad to say as they make my favourite tyres. I love the balance of lightweight & performance that Schwalbe manage to produce in there tyres. I have used all the different wheel sizes with  Rocket Rons & Racing Ralphs for cyclocross with the 700x35 TLR and  mtb with both 26"& 29"  wheel size's and 26" Nobby Nics for mtb too all tubeless ready, and as such in my opinion I think Schwalbe produce some of the best offroad tubeless tyres on the market. So when I needed a road tubeless tyre I knew I couldn't go far wrong in trying Schwalbe's road tubeless offering, the Ultremo ZX.

Schwalbe Ultremo ZX Tubeless

Ultremo ZX Tubeless
I'm no expert when it comes to road bike tyres with this being my first road bike so this won't be an in depth review about the different characteristics of tubular v clincher v tubeless, so I shall just say write a few words about how much they cost & where I bought them from and my initial impression against the tyre that was on the stock wheelset when I first bought the bike. 

The tyres were bought from Starbike.com from Germany for just under £70 for the set including postage which is another great bargain as they retail for £120. The box set comes with everything you need to set them up tubeless, with a 60mil bottle of Schwalbe Doc Blue sealant, 30mil for each tyre, which is licensed from Stans, and a bottle of Easy fit mounting solution that has a little sponge on the end for running round the rim to make inflating the tyres easier.

The tyres were quite a tight fit and take a bit more effort than a standard clincher to get on the rim but nothing a bit of patience and perseverance can't sort out. The tyre's went up easily with a few swift pumps of a track pump. With the standard Planet X Rage K Folding Kevlar Bead 23mm Clincher tyre fitted I was running 105&110 psi front & rear and to be fair it's a decent tyre which I think can hold it's own against the big boys and it really isn't fair to compare it to a tubeless but that's all I have had to compare it too. If anything in my opinion the difference between tubeless & none tubeless is more noticeable in a road tyre than a mtb tyre.
The extra cornering grip,comfort,confidence and control from being able to run 80&85 psi front & rear was for me a massive improvement and soon had me searching out anywhere I could find some cobbles, even riding the back alleys so I could experience a bit of what it's like to ride the Spring classics. Just riding on the flat with the standard clincher was a painful teeth chattering escapade but with tubeless the cobbles were a lot of fun and had me imagining I was trying to chase down the likes of Boonen & Cancellara, and all the time I didn't have to worry about punctures.

Until the weight of the tubeless wheelset can be made as light as a Tubular I dont think the Pro's will be using them on race day but for everybody else the Tubeless wheelset is the best upgrade you can make for your road bike and you wouldn't go far wrong if you decided to use this combination from Shimano & Schwalbe. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Dark&White MTB Orienteering Winter Series Rnd 3 Buxton




After last month's debacle where Deb & I had not really gave it our best efforts by being a bit complacent
and not organising ourselves better, also as we drove through Bakewell they were shutting the roads for the Remembrance Sunday Parade which meant us having to detour through all the surrounding villages to get to the start in Matlock, which ended up with us arriving half an hour after the 10.30 starting cut off time and by the time we had got ourselves and the bikes ready we were starting an hour late, so we made sure we arrived in plenty of time this time.

The control HQ for round 3 in Buxton was at the Derbyshire University site at Harpur Hill on the south western fringe of the town. This is a bit closer to us from where we live than the first two rounds which were deeper into the Peak District National Park, about 45 min-1 hr, so no excuses this time. One of the tips for this orienteering malarkey is to start as late as possible so you can use the other riders to help you with your navigation, not to follow the other riders mind you but just to give you clue's as to your direction of travel, so turning up a bit late is to your advantage and a tactic that as novice's Deb & I are happy to employ.

After finding a place to park we wasted no time and unloaded the bikes and fitted the wheels and got ourselves togged up. At the HQ you sign in, get your dibbers, little plastic keys that go round your wrist for clocking in to the little electronic clocking device's at the checkpoint's, and make your way outside where you collect your maps and control clue's and dib you dibbers. From then on the clock's ticking, so you have quickly try and come up with a route that isn't going to be beyond your capabilities. I like to think that I'm OK at navigation/map reading which I have been doing since I learnt the basics in my teens whilst in the Army Cadets and so far we haven't gone too far wrong with our plan of going for the nearest to the start and then the nearest to that one and so on, then when we have an hour left we start to head back and if we can pick any up on the way then it's a bonus.

I decided to try and stay away from the Hollinsclough area where some of the bridleway tracks are serious descent's/climbs strewn with baby's head sized and bigger rocks making them unrideable unless you possess the skills of Danny Macaskill. Also to the north west of Buxton towards Three Shires Head it's pretty much the same so we headed South, and judging by how many riders that we were coming across at gates and crossing points we weren't the only ones.

We managed to get 8 controls which was 2 more than we got on round one and would give us 110 points, and covered 30 km and nearly 600m of elevation gain so we were did OK, but we made a stupid rookie mistake at the start and didn't make note of what time we started so we had to best guess what our start time was. I made a couple of wrong turns but quickly realised and backtracked, but these couple of little errors and not knowing the exact time we started had us arriving 3:10:9 after we started meaning we were 11 Min's late and cost us 20 points.

In hindsight I would of done the route the opposite way round as we had a 28 min uphill slog from our last control to the finish which was at the top of a hill, so we would of been climbing whatever way we came back but it would of been a bit more gentle. Deb would of probably managed without it but I gave her little helping push some of the way up the climb, but I was amazed and really proud of her the way she dug in and pulled herself inside out to try and get back in time, chapeau to Debs because if it wasn't for the way she gave her all we would of ended up losing all our points as I was close to throwing  the towel in on that last climb. Also we wasted far too much time again as our Strava's showed a moving time of 2:25 which we could of maybe got another two but at least one more control.

It was a bit gutting to know we could of avoided losing the points but all in all it was a successful day for us and thoroughly enjoyed by us and everybody there judging by all the smiling but flushed faces at the finish, my heart goes out to the unlucky few who lost all their points for lateness penalty's and some had high scores too so must of covered some serious ground, hope they were philosophical about it which is how I would hope to be.

Bring on round four in the New Year.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Planet X SL Pro carbon new arrival to the family

Planet X SL Pro

Planet X SL Pro Carbon

Any followers or anybody that's read my blog before will know that I'm a big fan of the online bike retailer Planet X/On One, with me owning 5 of their bikes, starting with a 26" Inbred steel hardtail that was stolen.  I replaced it with a single speed Pompino and set it up for riding cyclocross which is a cracking bike and I absolutely love it. Then I bought a Macinato frame & fork going cheap in one of their many sales and built it up as cheap as I could but still tried to make it a nice build and was meant for something to just knock about on but sadly hasn't had much use. Up next was my first carbon bike and first mtb since the Inbred was stolen and is the Lurcher 29er  and yet another great bike from On One and getting the most use.

I have been lusting a road bike for a few years now especially the Planet X SL Pro carbon so the time had finally come and  with the girlfriend we took the plunge. You get a lot of bike for the money, I don't know of any other company's offering full carbon bikes with a full 2x10 compact Shimano Ultegra including the chainset and brakes for a penny under a grand .

This is my first road bike so I'm no expert but on my first impressions it's a lovely bike and unless I'm expecting to turn pro anytime soon I can't see me needing any more than this.

When I specked it I chose Deda for the stem & seatpost purely because I liked the look of them but the seatpost is quite heavy and stiff, so I tried the carbon seatpost from my Lurcher, and this transformed the ride feel making it much more comfortable and makes more sense to me to use a carbon post with a carbon frame to get the stiff but compliant characteristics you get from a carbon frame, so I will replace the Deda as soon as the funds allow.

The quiver is steadily growing. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Dark & White MTB Orienteering rnd 2 Matlock, Derbyshire

Round 2 Round Up

After a pretty good start to our first foray into MTB Orienteering at the first rnd at Hayfield last month where we came second in our age category mixed pairs finishing with a 105 pts which isn't anything special but we were really pleased to get a great finishing time of 2 hrs58mins leaving us 2 Min's before you start losing points. So Deb & I were really looking forward to rnd two in Matlock and even went for a recce ride in the area in shit weather and doing the last hr in the dark up some real tetchy tracks. But because of Deb's commitments with her uni studies she had only had one little road ride in the fortnight up to the Sunday of the event which isn't ideal as Deb's is still trying to build her fitness but I have to give her credit for even taking on these rides as I'm finding them tuff and I have way more miles in my legs than she does. 

We weren't very organised and paid for it by running a bit late and cutting it fine and sods law intervened when we hit Bakewell which was closed when we got there,  another 5 mins and we would have missed it but it was closed to traffic for the Remembrance Sunday parade which meant a detour round the outlying villages to get to Matlock. By the time we were saddled up and ready to go with maps and dibbers we were an hr late from the 10.30 cutoff  so we were leaving a bit stressed and didn't study the map properly and we just went for the checkpoints not too far away from the start. We picked up a couple of easy ones in about 30 Min's but after that all the others meant we were going up hill and the climbs were brutal and even had me worried Deb was going to have an asthma attack at one point, I was a bit hard on her too and not very sympathetic which wasn't fair at all considering she hadn't ridden much up too the event. It can be very difficult finding the right balance when the team is so miss matched in terms of skill & fitness but that is my responsibility to try a manage it so i don't make her feel like she is holding me back or letting me down which she has said that's how she feels sometimes which makes me feel like a right shit because that's the last thing iIwant because i'm really proud of the way she has taken to the sport and showing a real & genuine interest in all the aspects of cycling and I feel really lucky to have her riding with me and can''t wait to see her progress & gain her confidence.

We managed to get 5 checkpoints worth 10 points each in the 1,40 Min's we were on the course and one bonus was we finished a lot cleaner than the rest of the contestants and remarkably we didn't come last which was a nice surprise finishing 124th from 128 with somebody not getting any points in over 3 hrs and another team only getting 70 points after 3hrs so it wasn't all bad and like i said to Deb you learn from your mistakes.

The next round is Buxton which is a bit closer to us and is an area i have ridden quite a bit but also it got some of the most rocky technical descents int he peak District so i have told deb if we are going to improve on our first round we have got to get some serious training sessions in and to help her with her times constraints with uni & kids I have got her a turbo trainer so she can get the miles in, I have some rollers and I love em because half hr on them can smash you to bits but I think they scare the living daylights out of her so a trainer will do the job.

So The goal for next month is to get a bigger points tally than rnd one which should be possible if we get off our backsides and put in the saddle time  .

Monday, 4 November 2013

British cycling MTB level 2 Leader Award

Living the Dream

I have been riding mtb's since the late 80's so I would like to think I have absorbed a lot of cycling information, some of it useful and some of it less so and since then my passion for cycling has grown to what some people who know me might think of as a bit of an obsession or put it another way an addiction. It's not just mtb's any more either as I ride a road bike, a single speed cross and also an urban fixie for knocking about town on, and if I'm not riding my bikes I'm reading books about cycling or trawling the interweb to glean as much info as I can, be that about riding skills or mechanics or whatever, as long as it's to do with cycling, it's all good in my book and I can't get enough of it.

I'm always being told by friends and family that I ought to get a job as a mechanic as I build all my own bike's and do all my own wrenching, and it's something that I would like to do and no doubt would enjoy and it's something that I have looked at and tried to do a few times in the past, but it isn't as easy as you might think. For starters there aren't a lot of bike shops around and the ones that are like to employ youngsters and train them up.  
The best bet is to get yourself on a Cytech course but your looking at well in excess of a £1000 to gain the basic qualification and then your in the lap of the gods on whether it will lead to employment.

For anyone who loves cycling a job riding your bike is the dream and it's always been mine. I have looked at being a bike courier but there just aren't any courier company's in Stoke on Trent/Newcastle u Lyme that use cycle's ? If anyone reading this knows of any please let me know ?


Another way for you to get to ride your bike and get paid for it is as a mtb guide but when I have read about it in magazines I got the feeling that I wouldn't be anywhere near good enough but that has changed since my brilliant and lovely girlfriend Debs started mtbing with me. I have been coaching her and leading her on rides and it's made me realise that over the years I have learnt a quite a bit afterall and that I could, with a bit of training, become a mtb leader.  We got talking to a British Cycling rep at the Thornbridge Outdoors festival a couple of months ago and he gave me a leaflet on the new British Cycling MTB Leadership  course that has merged with and is replacing from 2014 the SMBLA (Scottish Mountain bike Leadership) which is well regarded as the gold standard mtb leadership course in the UK. After looking at the BC website I thought if I was ever going to live the dream then this was it so I took up membership with BC, which is a course requirement and have taken delivery of the course handbook which tells you everything you need to know and learn about to become a leader. I have to keep a diary of my rides as you need to prove you have the experience in mountainous terrain & in all weathers and you need to have a minimum of 11 2-3 hr rides & 4 4+ hr rides before you attend the 2 day training course which will make sure you are able to plan & deliver rides, your leading techniques, map reading & navigation skills, management of accidents & emergency's, equipment set-up & trail side repairs and core mtb techniques. You also have to pass an online course on child protection and have a two day outdoors first aid certificate before you take your final assessment upon which if your successful you are qualified and insured to lead a group of up to 8 riders in mountainous terrain from spring until the end of autumn in the  UK & Europe. 

There are a few places that you can take the 2 day training course throughout the year and one is at Cannock Chase which is not far from where I live and would be cheaper but I'm going to take the course at the Plas y Brenin National Mountain Sports Centre which means me boarding for a couple of days and costing a little more but I think its worth the extra to have had the training in the Mountains and provided by the experts at the PYB NMSC .

I'm now trying to plan some big rides to make sure I can turn up with the confidence that I have the necessary experience, the Dark & White Orienteering should help with this and with the navigation skills as Debs & I plan to do every round, so fingers & toes crossed this time next year I will be writing about one of my first group rides as a MTB Leader. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

ENDURA - PROBABLY THE BEST COMPANY IN CYCLING

ENDURA WINDCHILL 2
The picture above is the new mark II version of a very good winter jacket. I had had the mark one version for about 4 winters and it had been my go to jacket for when the temps start hitting single figures Celsius . It is a bit too warm for me with just a short sleeve base layer above +5 C but the beauty of this jacket is it can be worn with a good layer system down to about minus 15 C and be warm enough which I have tested so it's a very versatile jacket. It's as waterproof as anything else I've ever worn with it's Softshell front and Thermal Roubaix fabric on the underarms,side and back. It has pit zips to help regulate your temps when your working hard, it has a useful chest pocket with a little hole for your headphones and three rear pockets with a little waterproof zipped pocket too. The fit is good too and the sizing seems spot on. 

If your on the lookout for a good value, hard wearing jacket you won't go too far wrong with the ENDURA WINDCHILL II but here's the clincher, I mentioned I had had the previous version for about 4 winters but some of the stitching around the cuffs, chest pocket and rear pockets had started to come away, so I emailed ENDURA to ask if they could repair it which they replied they could and to send it to them with the returns code they give me.

A week later I was amazed to find they had sent me back a brand new mark II version which is in my book the best customer service bar none and has guaranteed my loyalty for many years to come and if I was you reading this it would certainly make me think I need to give them a try. 

ENDURA - PROBABLY THE BEST COMPANY IN CYCLING

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Dark & White MTB Orienteering, Hayfield, Peak District, Derbyshire, 13/10/13

Last Sunday I enjoyed my first foray into MTB orienteering and what fun it was too. Along with my girlfriend Deb, we entered as a mixed couple in the vets category in the first of six rounds of the winter series organised by Dark & White under the umbrella of the BMBO (British Mountain Bike Orienteering) who's membership you need to have to be able to take part.  So for a paltry some of £6 for an annual membership we were in and for a couple of weeks prior we eagerly kept tabs on the weather.  We had been enjoying quite a prolonged dry spell with the weather but our luck ran out when strong winds & rain were forecasted for the weekend.

Deb's dipping her dibber

Sunday morning arrived and the forecast was right, the weather was 'stinkingly foul' but we were both committed and there was no way we were going to be put off by a bit of bad weather, after all if you want to be a mtber in the UK then you had better not mind getting a soaking now and again.

That would be me checking the map on the homemade map board

It was an early start for us being about an hour and half's drive from the Scout Hut in Hayfield that was being used as the HQ for the event. The event was scheduled for 3hrs with a start time anytime between 9.00am & 10.30. We arrived about 9.30 and there were already plenty of mtbers, some very professional looking,  flying off in all directions undeterred by the monsoon like conditions.

My own little mighty atom - the indomitable Deb's

It was with a little nervous trepidation that we unloaded the bikes and got saddled up for the short ride from where we parked to the event HQ to pick up our maps and our electronic dibbers for checking in at the checkpoints.  I had been scouring the BMBO website for tips on what to do and about strategy and timing and as I have been able to use a map & compass since my army cadet days in my early teens, I was reasonably confident we would do ok or at least not get lost.

Muddy bums

So with our dibbers dibbed we were off and within minutes we were literally off and walking as we were in the bottom of a valley and as everybody knows when you're in the bottom of a valley all roads lead up and this valley was no different and with stiff cold legs it was just a bit too much too early and had us both wondering what we had got ourselves in to ?

We still managed a smile despite the weather

We huffed & puffed to our first checkpoint and with our first one in the bag we now took a little time to study the map for some semblance of  of a route. After all the effort it took gaining our elevation we decided to go after all the checkpoints that could be reached at our height. This turned out to be a good plan in the end as they were high value points.

The checkpoints are awarded points values dependent on how difficult they are to attain, be that in distance or elevation or if it's a particularly difficult track, which in the Peak District means very rocky paths and tracks.

We were plodding along nicely picking up a checkpoint every 20 mins or so which when considering the weather was getting worse by the minute we  weren't doing too badly for our first attempt.

I've got to give Deb a mention here because she really surprised me with how well she was coping with the technical nature of the course, as we were either bouncing down very rocky trails with rivers flowing down them or ploughing through deep rut's & puddles, which considering she has only been riding a few months and had been really struggling with her confidence of late after having a few falls, was quite amazing.

With an hour left we decided to head back and see if we could pick up a couple more checkpoints on the way back,  which we managed to do and finish within 2 mins of the 3 hr cut off time where you start to lose the points you've gained with every minute your late, and if you're half hour late you lose all your point's !

So all in all I think our first little foray into MTB orienteering was a success, we even made onto the leaders board finishing second in our category with 105 points which we got quite excited about until we realised that there were only two couples in our age category ! Oh well we'll at least we'll have a chance to finish first next time.

We have definitely got a taste for it now and I don't think the weather could be any worse for the next round in Matlock unless it snows,  so I think we can really go for it and see if we can do better.  We're both really looking forward to it.

Roll on round 2 !

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Debby's On One Inbred

I love my girlfriend's bike


On One Inbred -Debby's pride & joy


Pink Hope Pro 2'S

My girlfriends Inbred has taken a big step towards being the pink-tastic bike of her dreams recently with the addition of some cracking upgrades.

First up was a pink Chris King sotte voce headset which need no explanation because if you're looking to add some colour co-ordination and bling to your bike Chris King is an easy if a little expensive choice. It really sets the pink theme off.

Next came the Salsa fliplock seatpost quick release binder.  This is another quality bit of kit and has a really positive feel to it when locking it down, a much nicer feel to the similar offering from Hope. I wanted Deb to have the simpler seatpost collar with just the Allen key bolt as it's a bit more pleasing to the eye,  but I'm glad she has stuck to her gun's and gone for the quick release option really so she can drop her seat easier to give her a bit more confidence when the trail starts to point downwards.

The pink gear cabling was up next. I wasn't too sure about this thinking it might be a step too far in the co-ordination stakes but Debs had been wanting them for a while so on went the Clark's cabling. Like my Lurcher the Inbred runs full outers so I like to add a couple of Middleburn cable oilers to help keep the cables running smooth.
These little aluminium thingies fit on the cables and have a rubber o-ring that pop's off to reveal a little hole that fits the red pipe you get with cans of wd40 or GT85 so you can just squirt in the lube to keep the cables running free. They also double as frame protectors as a bonus. I would just like to add I think they look great after my initial reservations and would even like to see the brake hoses going pink too when Deb's upgrades the brakeset.

Last but certainly not least is the new  Stans Crest/pink Hope hubs wheelset.
Debs was really lusting after some pink hubs to finish the look of her bike but I was more concerned about shedding some weight off the bike and everyone knows that the wheels is the best place to do that.  I have the 29er Stans Crest / Hope Pro 2'S wheelset on my Lurcher and Stans Alpha 340 rims on Goldtec hubs on my Pompino and I can't think of one negative thing to say about Stans tubeless rims. They build into inexpensive light weight wheelset's and with Hope Pro 2'S they are probably in my view the best value for money upgrade you can make for your bike and are one of a very few genuine bargains to be had in mtbing and will give instant performance enhancements to your bike like no other. So when we did a search and found out that Hope had started a limited run of their pink hubs we were chuffed. I emailed Hope to ask if they offered the pink hub option in their wheel builds because it wasn't available on the website and was puzzled when the reply said they didn't do the wheel builds with the pink hubs. Strange. Anyway after much searching we found On Yer Bike were offering a Stans Crest / pink Hope Pro 2'S wheelset build and that was that we thought. Deb's was buzzing with anticipation for her new wheels, but we hadn't heard anything back after a week so I contacted On Yer Bike who explained that it would take a bit longer for the wheels to arrive as Hope as a rule don't make the wheels with the pink hubs, like the email to me from Hope had said. But after a day of phone calls between Hope and On Yer Bike, Hope agreed to make the wheels as a one off only because On Yer Bike were a Hopetech centre.  On Yer Bike had mistakenly been offering the pink hubs in the wheel builds on their website luckily for us. Full marks must go to On Yer Bike for going the extra mile for us to get Hope to build the wheels for us though, I bet there are a few shops out there who would of just turned round and told us they couldn't be done.  Deb's likes to think she now has a custom set of wheels  which I suppose in a way she has. Thanks again to On Yer Bike.

Deb's hasn't had much chance to put her new wheels to test yet apart from a few hours on a core skills course at the Alpkit-Big shakeout festival but what she has done she has been able to feel the benefit of a good lightweight tubeless wheelset that the Stans/Hope combination gives you.

The groupset is in the firing line next with the low end elixir brakes and clunky & stiff Sram gears being replaced with a lot nicer female friendly lighter action Shimano SLX groupo.

The poor girl has well and truly been infected with my affliction for mtb upgrade-itis.

Sorry Debs I hope you can forgive me.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

ALPKIT-BIGSHAKEOUT FESTIVAL 2013

ALPKIT-BIGSHAKEOUT FESTIVAL 2013

I'm really exited at the moment as along with my girlfriend Debs we have been accepted as  Alpkit Shaker Makers at Alpkit's Bigshakeout Festival 2013 which is a celebration of getting out into and enjoying the Great Outdoors.

Alpkit are a fantastic online outdoors retailer based in the UK selling some of the best value for money outdoor gear money can buy.  I own quite a few bits and pieces myself like their Hunka bivvy bag,My-TiPot,MytiMug and Numo sleeping mat and in winter I practically live in their Filet Down gilet which they have stopped making for the time being. One of the most versatile products is their Airlock XTra dry bags which are brilliant for strapping to your bike for bikepacking trips, something that I love doing and it's fair to say that Alpkit were instrumental in me getting the bug for bikepacking in the first place through the Daring deeds Spotlight sections of their website. Alpkit are making a big move into bikepacking at the moment with their bikepacking range of goods, especially the brilliant & affordable bikepacking luggage which is set to smash the UK market.

Daring Deeds highlight's the exploits & adventures of people using Alpkit products, from Mountain climbing expeditions, kayaking & bikepacking to adventure racing and a whole lot of other outdoor activities & adventures. The Spotlight section shows you how you can best utilise the Alpkit products for the various activities that they have been designed for which helps you to get the most out of their equipment.

As a Shaker Maker we will be "hopefully" helping the Alpkit staff to make the event  run smoothly and for that you get a free weekend pass & a place on one of the half day School of Adventure courses that are running throughout the weekend.

Here's a list of just some of the courses over the weekend

Navigation skills
Girls only navigation skills
MTB Core skills
Girls only MTB core skills
Bouldering
Lead climbing
Belaying
Canoeing & Kayaking

There will be talks & Q&A sessions with adventurer Alastair Humphreys which is going to be really interesting and which I'm particularly looking forward to.

There's going to be live music on the Saturday night which will help give the weekend that festival feel along with all sorts of other activities all weekend from cooking to photography and plenty more that are too many to mention.

So if this is your kind of thing and you think you would like to come along too, follow the links and get booking your tickets but be quick because they are selling like the proverbial "hotcakes" .

Hope to see you there...

Monday, 2 September 2013

Another Lurcher Update

The Lurcher has had some of the planned upgrades in the shape of the Blackspire Super Pro chain rings and the uber light hollow pin & slotted plate black & red KMC x10sl DLC (Diamond Like Coating) chain that comes in a nice box, and so it should for a £60 chain.  I replaced the FHM mixer headset which was showing signs of rust in the cups already, with a beautiful Chris King Inset 1.8-1.5 headset which I don't think I need to worry about rust after 3 months.

nice jewelry box for the chain

kmc black&red x10sl dlc
The KMC chain retails for about £89.99 rrp and by sourcing from Taiwan I managed to get it for £56 posted which is a bit of a bargain if you ask me. Now I'm sure there are plenty of people thinking I must be mad to pay that much for a chain let alone think it's a bargain but I did a lot of researching before I bought it. I don't think you could use anymore acronyms to describe a chain but KMC have certainly packed a lot of technology into it. The pins are riveted  with "Lat step" processing, which supposedly uses 350kg of force to seal the plates together making what is claimed to be the strongest chain connection on the market. Both the inner & outer plates are slotted to reduce weight with the outer plate using X-Bridge technology and due to X-SP friction reducing coating and the precise manufacturing tolerances gives it a longer life.

What makes the X10SL DLC differ from the rest of the X10SL chains is the Diamond Like Coating which is a process KMC uses to get a coating of carbon on to the chains to make them harder/smoother making the chains more resistant to wear which causes chain stretch and causes the wear to the rest of your drive train. So what seems like an expensive initial outlay could save you money in the long run and at least prolong the inevitable of replacing chain rings & cassettes.

Blackspire Super Pro
I have used Blackspire Super Pro chain rings before and know how good they are, and that they shift every bit as good as Shimano, they even improved the shifting of the Truvativ chain rings on my girlfriend's Deb's Inbred, but what they do best is give your bike a nice bit of colour and bling. But with my groupset being the new Dynasys with a directional chain which I have to say is definitely the smoothest shifting I've ever used I wondered is it worth sacrificing that smooth shifting for the sake of trying to make the bike as nice looking as I could.

I took the gamble in the name of bling and I'm glad to say I didn't need to worry, everything is just a smooth and crisp shifting, but possibly a little bit noisier but that's negligible . I have stuck with the 38t middle and 26t inner size's that the XT crankset came with. I had already experimented with a DIY 2x10 setup on my old Inbred and found that it made more sense for me and my XC riding , but these new dedicated 2x10 systems have taken it to a whole new level with the big range cassettes.  The new drivetrain with the red aluminium kcnc jockey wheels,red Blackspire chain rings and the black & red KMC chain in is looking pretty cool, even if I do say so myself.

Chris King Inset 1.8-1.5 mixer


As you can see in the pic above I leave a lot of steerer above the stem for which I get quite a lot of stupid remarks when I've posted pics on forums before especially Singletrackworld about taking my eye out with it and about being careful with my manhood. Ascetically a tall steerer doesn't bother me as it seems to a lot of other people but the main reasons I like to leave it tall is that if ever I want to swap the forks out on another frame I shouldn't have any problems and if I ever want to sell it it makes it a lot easier with a longer steerer. I've never understood why you would want to take what is an expensive item and chop it down to make it probably useless to use with any other frame ?

A Lurcher in it's natural enviorement 
There have been a couple of more changes to the original build but they have been because I haven't been happy with them, the first is the ESI Chunky grips which I just couldn't get on with, they were an absolute pig to get on the bars but in use they were a big let down. I had read that they were comfy & shock absorbing, well for me they weren't, they gave me wrist ache and I just couldn't get used to them so they have been replaced with a pair of Oury Lock On's in white. I had these on my old Inbred a few years ago when they only came in black and they are much comfier, soft & sticky and were my first choice but after reading all the hype about the ESI's I chose them, a lesson learnt, stick with what you know works for you where comfort is the issue!

The second of the changes as been the most disappointing and is the Look S-Track pedals. I'm a big fan of the Look Quartz pedals, I had them on my stolen Inbred and have them on my Pompino and really like the amount of float you get with them and how easy they are to engage/disengage when setup right,but I know a lot of people have struggled with this as you have to use wedges to get the cleat height right but I have always had no problems and the bearings last forever so for me they have been great.

The S-Track is the new model so I was expecting good things especially as the tension of the retention bars is adjustable  but I just haven't been able to get them set up right. It seems I have had the problems with these that I had read about other people having with the Quartz. I would struggle with getting clipped in and out which as been a nightmare at times because Deb and I have been riding a lot of very rocky trails and I have had a couple close calls clipping out just in time. I'm sure they are good pedals if you can get them set up right but I have had to go back to the Quartz and have been much happier with the positive feel I get with them so I shall be sticking with the Quartz.

I'm just starting to really gel with the Lurcher and it's 29" wheels, it definitely gives you more confidence and makes up for any lack of skill a lot better than a 26" wheel bike does and I certainly feel faster than I did on my 26" . I find it better for riding up hill too as you just roll over stuff that would stall you on a 26" and downhill those big wheels give you more grip. It felt weird at first almost as if you are sitting on horse but I'm really starting to feel like I'm part of the bike now and getting a good feel for how far it can be pushed, which is a lot further than my skills can take it I'm sure.

I've been asked if I'm a 29er convert ? I think I have to say I am and long may it continue,  bigger wheeled bikes are definitely the future for me.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Bikepacking Fright-night

I took the chance this week to give Deb her first taste of bikepacking with a trip up to a great little wild camp spot near Luds church/chasm, Gradbach in the Staffordshire Moorlands. Luds chasm or church as it is sometimes known is a deep gorge that is carved into the landscape at the back end of ridge line of rocky outcrops. There are many tales & story's going back to prehistoric times, it's been used as a meeting place by persecuted religious groups hence church being used in it's name, smugglers, and is also thought to be the location for the story of Sir Gawain and the Green knight. It is a very atmospheric place and has got an other worldly feel to it.




It's quite a trek up to Luds church in day light and not somewhere you would want to go looking for at night but I will come back to that .

Deb & I had planned to ride up to the bivvy spot from where we live which is about 30km and something I've done a few times, but time was against us and with this being Debs first foray into the world of bikepacking, I didn't want to make it some kind of a suffer fest to get there before dark and put her off,
.So we decided to drive up with the intention of getting in some riding the following day. From the car park it's a short rocky decent to a small stream crossing and then a steep rocky push up to the bivvy spot.
The bivvy spot from an earlier trip
As you can see from the pic above it's a great spot for a bivvy. We pitched the tent just before it got dark and the only thing bothering us were the midges, but this is the moorlands in summer so there's no escaping them but it had warmed up the last couple of days so they were out in force, but once zipped up we were nice and cosy and happy. We settled down for an early night. At about 1.30 am we were woken by voices, and by the kind of talk they were using we could tell they were not the type of people you would find around this neck of the woods, they were talking like they were in some kind of gangsta rap video and obviously drunk or off their heads and as we had a few grands worth of bikes outside we were a bit concerned. The next thing we know they've shaken the tent and screamed/shouted really loud over the tent frightening us both to bloody death, at that point I've jumped out the tent as quick as I could expecting a confrontation but they were hiding in the trees making stupid noises, obviously thinking they were scaring us which I'm man enough to say they were but I wasn't going let them know that. I was shouting at them to man up and show themselves instead off hiding and that I was with my girlfriend who they were frightening (in hindsight probably not a good idea). After warning them I was going to call the Police if they didn't show themselves, I did when they didn't respond. After a few minutes a black guy came out from the trees and walked towards me obviously worse for the ware holding out his hand and flashing a torch in my face killing my vision saying he was sorry and wanting to shake my hand.  I was very wary, had he got a knife ? It was very dark with the tree cover and with my night vision gone I couldn't tell. I told him where he could stick his hand and a few choice other words too. Then another fella appeared this time an Asian guy so now it's two against one so now I was even more wary but things were about to take a turn for the surreal. Things calmed down after they apologised and I could see that they were just a pair of drunken idiots, not what you expect to find in this neck of the woods. It turns out these two guys who said they were from Birmingham had seen a program on BBC 2 a few nights before about Luds church and had driven up see it for themselves. They were adamant on seeing it but I warned them that it was very dangerous to go up there in the dark but being drunk they wouldn't listen, I warned them that I had called the Police but they weren't bothered so I pointed them in the direction of Luds church and fully expected to be reading the papers in a few days time about two body's found at the bottom of the gorge. The Police called back and I explained the situation and that we would be ok  and not to send anybody out to us.

About an hour later we had a phone call from the Police who were making there way up to us anyway to make sure we were ok, and just when they found us the two comedians appeared and were promptly searched and questioned. After speaking to them the Police informed us that these to guys were known to the Police in the Birmingham area for various things and that they would be a lot happier if we could pack up and escort us back to our car, I said we would be ok but they really weren't happy about leaving us so that was that. We packed up and had to scramble back down to the car park in the dark just using the torch light from the Police, nearly coming a croper a few times on the way down.

Debs first foray into bikepacking will certainly be a memorable one but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons thanks to a couple of numb nuts from Birmingham, I just hope it hasn't put her off ?

Monday, 12 August 2013

Carneddau Mountains camp & ride

Deb & I had the chance to get away for a couple of days last week so we decided to go to North Wales for some camping and an epic ride or two. I love North Wales and Snowdonia but don't get to go there nowhere near enough,  especially as it's only just a couple of hrs drive away. Snowdonia has got some of the best riding in the UK, road & offroad, but it was the offroad flavour Deb & I were after. We decided we didn't want to do the forest trail centre's but instead search out some adventure in the high mountains. With the summertime voluntary ban on cycles on Snowdon, Wales & England's highest mountain, which asks cyclists to not ride on the mountain between 9am & 5pm, we decided to do one of the hardest, remote and most technical rides in the Wales mtb guide book. The ride is in the Carneddau mountain range situated between the Snowdon mountain range and the Clwydian mountains to the east.

Llyn Colwyd Reservoir



Double track from the campsite in the Ogwyn Valley

Debs trophy shot after carrying her bike 300m up through the pass behind her

Somewhere up there is a pass



As you can see from the photo's the Carneddau is a beautiful place to ride which made up for the ride being anything but, in short the ride was brutal but the guide did warn us so we're not complaining as it was quite an adventure which was what we wanted and it was certainly what we got.

The ride started with a steep double track climb up from the campsite to a gate that was locked, so we threw our self's & bikes over and then for the next hour and half it was a case of pushing and carrying over marshes where there was no obvious trail which meant we went a bit off course and had to double back on ourselves which cost us about an hour.  This was also mentioned in the guide book so we stayed philosophical and trudged on, crossing streams and bridges made from big stone megalithic slabs. It was a relief when we finally got to the top of the hillside and the view of the Llyn Colwyd Reservoir opened up before us. After stopping for some photos & refreshments we pushed on, it would be rocky technical singletrack all the way alongside the reservoir but we didn't realise just how technical, with big drop offs,  step ups and loose jagged rocks just waiting to rip your tyres & legs to shreds. I must admit this was pushing the boundaries of my skills but poor Deb, who's confidence had been shaken recently by a couple of nasty falls was visibly nervous to say the least, and after all she is still a novice and this was graded a black route so she deserves a lot of credit for just being there.  I didn't want Deb trying to follow me and hurting herself especially as this was as remote as you can get in North Wales so I decided it was best to just walk the really tricky bits and ride where we could safely.

After the reservoir we had to climb what is probably one of the steepest road climbs I've ever seen and I'm proud to say I rode all the way to the top. The views from here were magnificent, it was just a shame our batteries on our phones were now running low so we couldn't take any photos.  The houses down in the valley looked tiny, it was like looking down from an airplane , in fact an RAF Herculies transport plane flew by in the valley and we were looking down on it, pretty cool stuff.  After the steep climb came an even steeper decent which took a good half hour with countless switchbacks and two stops to let my brakes cool after they started to fade.

A nice steady climb followed up to the Llyn Crafnant and a quick stop for some scones at the lakeside cafe.

It was a good time to refuel because what was to come can only be described as full on mountaineering or scrambling at least to reach a pass through the mountains.  I've got to say a few words about my amazing girlfriend here as I was blown away how she managed to push & carry her bike which is heavier than mine up the steep climbs, I wanted to push it for her but most of the time she wouldn't let me, she really is a tough little cookie. I was knackered by this point and she is tiny compared to me so I really want to give a big shout out to my mtb goddess of a girlfriend,  Chapeau Debs !

I just want to give Debs a plug, she has started a blog about her slide into cycling obsession that I've saddled her with, sorry Deb,and no pun intended either, anyway her blog is called Gearly Bird . It's a new blog so there isn't a lot of posts yet but she would love a follower or two so please be kind and follow.

When we got through the pass we were hoping the trail would be more rideable but if anything it was even more rocky and technical. We rode where we could and carried & pushed where we couldn't but we were on the last leg and it was now all downhill into Capel Curig. We were rewarded with a nice steady double track ride back to the campsite.

The guide book said 4-5hrs for fit & experienced riders, we came in at 7 1/2 hrs totally spent which is what we had wanted to be and isn't too shabby as we had quite a few stops along the way. Debs has said she wants to go back and do it again when she has mastered a few more skills and built some more confidence.

I can't wait.