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.