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 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.


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


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.


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 . 
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 from Germany for just under £70 for the set including postage which is another great bargain as they retail for £120.They were delivered to me faster than most UK sellers and I would recommend them for their good service and competitive pricing. 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


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. 


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 !