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An Epic ride

It started with a beer, maybe several beers, and the conversation ended up with a discussion about how we (Pete, my riding mate) needed to do something more than ride our local trails. We ride them most weeks and they aren’t much fun. Fields and bridle paths with bits of road to join them up. We have Cannock chase an hour away and we head to a Welsh trail centre or two twice  a year with a bunch of mates.

All good in their own way but nothing EPIC and when you’ve had a few beers doing something epic seems like a good idea.

This was about 18 months ago I think and I’d recently found out that the Grand Union canal that passes very close to my house goes all  the way to London. I’ve ridden the canal occasionally, head towards Birmingham and there is the Hatton Locks cafe and Waterman pub, a bit further Shrewley tunnel and you can do some circular routes. A couple of mates ride the canal regularly but it’s all a bit, well, boring.

But London. That’s a long way, a bit silly to think about riding there. So think about it we did and the plan was hatched.

Let’s ride to London for a beer! On the tow path. On our new rigid singlespeed bikes. The canal is largely flat anyway so how hard can it be ?

The idea brewed for a while and on talking to fellow cyclists we were met with comments about it being very difficult, so in June 2014 we did a test. On the SS’s heading towards London, 90 mins out then turn round and come back. A nice 3 hr ride to see how hard it really was.

The reality ended up being it’s quite hard. We felt broken, arms, hands, legs, back, neck. It all hurt. The canal may be flat but it’s not all maintained and a rigid bike batters your body or makes you work really hard to be out of the saddle a lot.

We did some research. We’d estimated it at 100 miles so I mapped it out in detail on Strava. It came in at 120 miles. 20% more than we’d expected. We found a few people who’d ridden the route over 2 days with a B&B break overnight. Reports talked of long unmaintained sections that were very hard work with it getting easier nearer London. This was the sensible option. So we stuck with our original plan and decided to train for it.

A year passed and we’d done no training. Not singlespeed on canal training. Bugger.

A decision had to be made. “Postpone and train”, “forget it and have a beer locally” or “have a go anyway – how hard can it be?”.

“Have a go anyway – how hard can it be?” won.

Thursday night saw a phonecall to discuss the details of out departure the next Saturday. We sensibly decided to not attempt it on the rigid SS’s but to use full suspension. It’s a long way and we would not doubt have more chance of success if we were less beat up. A departure time of 5.30 was agreed, lights would be needed and the last train home was 10.08 pm.

Departure

My alarm went off at 4am. I went back to sleep. My second alarm went off at 4.30 and I crawled out of bed. Said hello to our new puppy and sorted him out, sorted breakfast and headed out in my riding kit to the garage to to the last minute fettling that seems obligatory before any sort of ride. I’d decided to take my largest Camelbak as it had the largest bladder – 3l and it was full. A waterproof and a few tools plus a dozen or more gels, some Clif bars and a bag of peanuts were inside yet it felt really heavy.

Pete arrived at 5.30 on the dot just as I’d finished my fettling. Nervous words and laughter followed then we headed off to the canal.

The first few miles were on ‘maintained’ tow path and although we’d agreed to aim for a 10mph average we were going along at 16mph or so. We were both having the same thoughts of making good progress while we were fresh and all the dog walkers were in bed. It didn’t take long before we hit countryside where it’s grassy, bumpy and hard going. We thought the recent rain might soften it up but it was fine. We also thought the grass may be long and hard work but it wasn’t.Lovely day

We reached Braunston at around 20 miles and I was starting to feel saddle sore. Not a good feeling with 5 times that still to cover. I wondered if I was going to make it. Pete was also feeling it and I wondered if he would make it.

Proper food just after midday

Proper food just after midday

We stopped every hour for a quick 5 mins to eat, take stock and have a bit of respite from the saddle and around 12 midday and 50ish miles (I think) we decided to stop at the first pub that was open for some food. The sun was out, got an outside table, food came quickly and we were soon back on our way.

From this point on things we started ticking the miles off in 10’s. Getting to 60 was good as every mile meant we were nearer to London than home and were therefore pretty much committed to making it. Hitting 70 sounds like you’re a lot nearer with only 50 ! miles to go. 80 is two thirds of the way there and 90 is almost 100.Taking a short break

Just before 100miles and around 4.30 we decided it was second big stop time for coffee and cake. First option was The Bear on the Barge pub which didn’t have either but given we’d stopped we settled for a pint of Pepsi and a chat. Which raises an interesting point of talking during the ride was quite difficult as you’re usually single file.

By this point it was the longest we’d both ridden and we knew we would make it. Resuming however was very painful and it took a good 5 minutes for the pain to subside and the rhythm to return. The next milestone was 100 miles then the Paddington branch turn. These seemed to take forever and felt like the longest miles we rode all day. When the turn came the end  was 13.5 miles away and we encountered more people, increasingly so as we got nearer the end. All to be expected and actually a welcome relief as people mean getting out of the saddle for yet more relief.

We did it

We did it

The last stop was 5 miles from the end for a quick gel and a bit of pain relief for Pete’s knee. Then a trundle into the Paddington basin and slight disbelief that we’d reached the end and in a time that we hadn’t thought possible. Total elapsed time as just over 12hrs with around 10hrs of ride time and a 12mph average speed.

Photo’s were taken, Facebook updated and we headed to Marylebone. The sports bar and grill is next door with outside tables so we settled ourselves down, ordered some food and drank that well earned beer that was the goal of the ride. We got a train around 7.30 and I was home by 9. I don’t think we stopped smiling on the train.

These were  well earned

These were well earned

So that’s it. We weren’t that confident we could make it as it was quite a bit further than either of us had ridden but in the end it felt easier than I expected. We agreed that if we had to we could have done another 2 or 3 hours (so 30-40 miles) if we had to.

For me the biggest point I take from this trip is that we are all capable of things we’re not sure we can do, able to ride distances we don’t think we can and that giving yourself no bail out option means you put up with things you’d normally stop for. Now we need to work out the next epic challenge.

Bike racks

I recently bought a new bike rack to bring the number I own up to 3, which seems a bit excessive. I need to get rid of one but the other 2 are brilliant so I thought they deserved a write up.

The first rack I bought, several years ago now,  was a cheapish option to carry 3 bikes on the back of a saloon car. It was an adjustable rack from Hollywood that attaches onto the back with clips that go onto the edge of the metal boot and straps to keep it all tight. It works, having carried 3 bikes to the south of France and bikes to Mountain Mayhem, Enduro 6 and trail centres. It’s well made and well thought out. Once adjusted the bars can be locked with easy to use joints and the plastic coated parts are durable.

Hollywood rack

Plus points

  • It’s temporary. You fit it to take the bikes and remove it to get you car back. You don’t need to change anything on the car.
  • Cheap. I think it was £60 or so so £ per trip is very low.
  • Versatility. It can be used on many car types

Negatives

  • Ease of use. It’s a faff to use. After the initial setup of the bars to the right position you still have to attach 6 straps and tension them, one at a time, several times. Then the bikes need strapping on, and checking
  • Confidence. It’s not the most stable of racks. You can see the bikes moving and I felt the need to stop several times on long journeys to adjust and check the straps and the bikes.
  • Access while in use. Once it’s on, it’s on. The boot is out of action so you need to think ahead and make sure you have things you need inside the car.
  • Car material. For all steel cars it’s fine but when we switched cars the new one had a plastic skin to the top of the estate rear door. While the rack was re-adjusted and worked, it played on the confidence I had as it was plastic holding up several thousand pounds worth (shhh don’t tell) of bikes.
  • Security. The bikes and the rack aren’t safe and while you can lock the bikes together to make it cumbersome, all you need to do is slacken or cut the straps.

A new car (a Honda Accord estate) prompted a re-think on how to carry the bikes. We got the estate so I had more room for bike trips away family holidays and the downsides of the hollywood rack meant it had to go (it’s not gone but it will be when I get around to selling/giving it away). I just didn’t have the confidence in it when attached to the Honda as the bikes moved around too much and knowing the upper straps were hooked onto plastic rather than metal made me feel nervous putting expensive bikes on there. I’m sure it was fine but the lack of boot access as well made it difficult to use.

A lot of research led to what I consider to be the best possible bike rack – a towbar mounted one. So, I had a towbar fitted (not a Honda one, not for £600) and splashed out on an Atera Strada 3/4 bike rack from the RoofBox company. Lots of people like roof mounted racks but they require you to put a set of bars on the roof, which takes time and then lift the bikes above your head to load and unload. Not a problem with light bikes but more fiddly and difficult than a towbar mounted one. You can also keep an eye on them when they are in the rear view mirror.

The Altera Strada – this rack is superb.

Atera Strada

Plus points

Speed of fitting. The rack itself fits to the car in under a minute. It’s not light but drops onto the towbar ball and the ratchet handle secures it in a seconds. It also locks onto the towbar for added security.  It takes a little while first time out to sort out the best order of bikes and to set the wheel straps to the right position but subsequent uses take less than a minute to fit the rack and a minute each for the bikes. It’s very secure and with some pipe lagging to place on parts of frames to make sure there are no rub marks it’s fast and easy to use. Sometimes you need to remove or lower a saddle but it’s possible to get the bikes I carry on without doing this.

Confidence. It’s solid, the bikes are securely attached and are out of the wind so don’t move around too much or affect fuel consumption. All the weight is over the back of the car but it doesn’t affect things and I’m undecided on the beeping made by the indicators. Part of me likes it – a reminder that I have bikes on the back.

Access while in use. Brilliant. The rack has a feature whereby it slides away from the car allowing the boot to open allowing access to the contents while the bikes are on the rack. i’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve used it while at trail centres, travelling long distances etc.

Security. The rack locks to the towbar and the straps lock the bikes to the rack. The straps themselves are re-enforced to make cutting them more difficult. it won’t stop a determined thief but it will stop opportunists.

Build quality. I’ve had it several years and used it 30 or more times and it’s still as good as new. I grease the moving parts once a year

Negatives

You need a towbar so it can’t be used on lots of cars

Cost. It’s not cheap but you get what you pay for

Size. You need a garage to store it and it’s not the smallest rack. While it’s in use it stays on the car or can be used as a bike rack if you’re camping (another plus)

SeaSucker Talon

The most recent purchase was dictated by the purchase of a new car. A Mazda MX5 with electric hardtop. Neither of the current racks work with it. The Hollywood won’t fit, plus the boot metal feels too thin to support the straps. The car also can’t be fitted with a towbar so that limits the options.  After a lot of research there are only 2 possibilities. A Saris Bones – used by several people with soft tops  (probably the only option for them) or a Seasucker. Given that I have the retractable hardtop the Seasucker Talon was the one.

The Seasucker has it’s origins in marine applications allowing mounts to be added to boats and

Talon

Talon

other marine craft with smooth surfaces. The company has adapted the vacuum pump technology to add in mounts for bikes to allow mounting to all sorts of vehicles. The Talon consists of two parts, a front set of pads that contain a front wheel mount on a triangular set of 3 pads and a rear single pad to hold the back wheel in place.  Attaching a bike involves removal of the front wheel which needs to be stored separately. I also bought the additional flightdeck accessory that adds a front wheel mount along with a second pad for the rear.

The only concern I found when researching the rack was the use of vacuum pads and the consequence of failure. Given that the rack isn’t physically attached to the car this could be a big problem if the pads fail. I think the design and the addition of the flightdeck covers this. Each pad can hold 200lbs in weight so a bike mounted correctly (forward facing on a clean piece of bodywork) is unlikely to exceed this force. The three cups give redundancy so two could fail and

Flightdeck

Flightdeck

the bike will  remain attached. The flightdeck adds redundancy for the rear pad which after reading a review of the ear pad failing for someone (resulting in the bike sliding around the car) meant it was a necessary addition. Given the limited internal space in the MX5 it also allow the rear wheel to be stored outside on the boot as well. The rack is easy to assemble with clear instructions and a spare pad is provided as well, which was unexpected but given the cost, a good thing to include.

The rack is quite small and the pads are protected by rigid plastic covers, which are easy to remove and OK to re-fit. A bit fiddly but once on they are secure.

Using the rack is straightforward. I attach the bike to the main part on the ground then lift it onto the car. I place the rack on the floor with the protective covers still on, remove the bike front wheel and attach the bike to the rack with the QR.

I then wipe the roof with a cloth to make sure there is no grit or dirt on the roof so that a) the rack can attach properly and b) the roof doesn’t get scratched.

Seasucker on MX5 front view

Seasucker on MX5 front view

Next is to remove the pads from the front part of the rack. I tend to put the bike upside down on bars and saddle but have also done it by lifting the front with one hand and removing with the other. The main thing here is to ensure the rubber pads don’t touch the floor. I then pour a bit of water onto the pads to make sure they are moist and will make a good seal.

Then lift the bike onto the roof. With the MX5 this is easy as it’s quite low and my bikes are all quite light. I find that with the roadbike I need the pads in a different position to the mountain bikes which have a longer wheelbase. When positioned the rear wheel rests on the boot. Attaching the pads to the car is a simple matter of pumping each vacuum pump about 10 times. You press each pad to the metal and can see the rubber start to depress after 2 or 3 pumps. The pump has a white band what disappears as the vacuum is established and the pump remains depressed. For the 3 pads this takes less than a minute in total.

Yeti mounted on the Seasucker Talon

Yeti mounted on the Seasucker Talon

Next is to lift the rear wheel from the boot and place it on the flightdeck. Velcro strap it in place and attach the rear two pads in the same way. Add the front wheel to the vertical holder, quick check that there are no white stripes visible and every pad is attached and that’s it. 5 minutes at most once you’ve done it a couple of times.

The Yeti has the front pads on the largest part of the hard top, the pads are almost flat.

When in place the bike feels very secure. First time I attached it I left the bike for 20 mins on the drive to check that the pads remained at full vacuum, which they did.

Boardman roadbike on MX5 with seasucker

Boardman roadbike on MX5 with seasucker

I’ve driven 90 mins with the road bike on the car and it’s perfectly fine. The bike is quite light at 16lbs and barely moves. The car handles the same and the rear view lets you see that the bike barely moves. All the pads retained vacuum and removal is simple

To unload the bikes it’s a reversal of the loading. front wheel off, release the vacuum on the flightdeck pads (by pushing on a rubber T near the edge of the pad. This lifts the edge enough to let air in and to release the pad from the boot.

Talon closeupThe front pads sit across the folding hardtop. The front pad needs to be pushed down slightly when fitting as the roof curves but the platform is flat. An articulated joint would make this easier but would add weight and more cost.

 

 

The rear pads sit on the boot.
Flightdeck closeup Pad closeup

 

 

 

 

Pro’s

Confidence: For a lot of people on forums this seems to be the big downside and stops them buying a seasucker. I had no real choice and now I’ve actually used it I’m very confident. The additional pad on the rear means that a single pad can fail and the bike is still secure. The bike feels secure and physically moving it moves the roof – which given the way the roof attaches means it’s going nowhere.

Build Quality: This is a well made rack. The only thing I’d change is the QR which could be better. One end has a thread which would be better if it were smaller allowing the fork to rest on a solid bar rather than the thread. Time will tell how long the pads will last.

SIze: As it’s very small this is a big benefit. Once the bike is off the rack easily fits into the MX5 boot

Cons

Access while in use: Not good as the bike sits on the boot. It would be possible to release the QR, un-velcro the rear wheel and lift the bike off the boot but you just need to be prepared.

Security: Not good. The rack can be removed in seconds so you can’t leave a bike on the rack. Seasucker do sell a security clip and cable which would be good if you nip away for a coffee etc but I don’t have one so can’t comment. Not really a problem for me as I will always take the bikes off at each end of a journey and always keep them in sight when I stop.

Cost: Not a cheap rack but it is well made and you get a spare pad. Worth the money ? Probably.

The Verdict

The Seasucker Talon paired with the flight deck is a cracking bike rack. It’s innovative and well made, small, easy to fit and flexible enough to fit onto any vehicle. For a hardtop MX5 and possibly other sports cars and coupé’s it’s probably the best, if not only, choice. I feel confident enough to put a bike worth a lot of money on the top and drive down the country roads at a decent pace. You do rely on the pads remaining functional so time will tell if it remains a good buy. for me is a 9/10

Out with the old

In an attempt to sort out my garage (which was full of old boxes, bikes, camping gear and general tat and rubbish), I’ve got rid of some bikes. It’s taken me years to do this since I decided some needed to go and I think I’m halfway. 2 down and 2 to go.

The first to go was my Team Marin. My first decent mountain bike, bought back in the 90’s with Pace RC35AB elastomer suspension forks. The one I started racing seriously on, the one I rode my first Mayhem on, the one I’ve done most miles on. One I struggled to get rid of.

The decision came because I just wasn’t riding it. Hadn’t ridden it in over a year and I couldn’t see when I’d ride it again. A post on retrobikes and a local buyer saw it go in less than a week. I could have split it and sold it in bits to make more money but it was too much hassle (working away from home makes it harder) and just selling it was hard enough.
Next up was my first motorbike – a similar story – it’s been unused for years so it went a couple of weeks ago to a mate.

The Giant Escaper is next – I might give that away. My daughters outgrown her Dawes mountain bike so that will go the same way soon. Once the Giant has gone I’ll be able to justify a new road bike. The Boardman is over 5 years old and has done me very well but is showing signs of age and will end up being a winter training bike.

Then that will be it. All the bikes I will own will have a purpose and get used. It might have taken me a while to start but getting rid of stuff is now much easier and I’m on a roll and feeling ruthless.

My New Favourite Thing

Cycling has a lot of niches. Road bikes, cyclocross, hard tail full suss, hybrid, downhill, 4x and more recently fat bikes.  The list goes on and the cycling aficionados will have noticed that I missed out one obvious group. That will be because it’s my new favourite thing.

Singlespeeds.

to be more specific a fully rigid singlespeed  mountain bike.

I suspect my journey to owning a singlespeed isn’t unique. On first mention they are madness, there is no reason for them, relics of the past when you had no money, when you were a kid. Why would you choose to only have one gear, a gear that will almost always be wrong. So I dismissed them as not for me, I didn’t have the right beard to ride one, nor the legs or the need. I needed my gears to ride faster and riding as fast as I can was fun, Strava segments were there to be chased. I was KOM on several local segments !!

I recall a moment at Mountain Mayhem last year, 2013, the first one at Gatcombe Park. I was riding well, on my third lap I think when I was riding with a whippet on a rigid singlespeed 29er and on the climbs he rode away from me. I caught him on the singletrack but away he went on the next climb. I distinctly remember thinking that I would be faster if i could climb like that but then he would have been 20 years younger than me so I thought nothing more.

Then the Yeti needed a refresh. Almost 5 years of constant abuse and it needed some TLC so I got Al at Plush Hill to fit new wheels, brakes and drivechain. During a conversation I found myself saying that the spares would probably be built onto a cheap winter bike – probably a singlespeed.

So the die was cast. 3 months later and an email arrived, from Al, asking about my interest in a great deal on a frame and a few other bits. A deal too good to turn down.

Genesis iOD

 

So the photo above was what I bought – all for £99. Bargain. A good deal on some Salsa rigid forks and a RaceFace crank and I had all I needed. The old wheels and brakes plus a chain and SS kit thrown in by Al and I had a new bike for £250.

iOD

Singlespeed fun

 

So my thoughts on singlespeeds have clearly changed. My thoughts on riding to meet up for a Sunday morning ride are the same: they are mad, stupid and I should be on a bike with gears.

But this changes as I ride.

Bear with me here but they stretch out the cycling experience. The easy bits are much easier, the ok bits are the same and the hard bit are much harder. What I mean is the road sections of our usual rides are easier, you spin out so you can’t go any faster and you recover, take it easy, safe in the knowledge that you can’t go any faster. I run a 32 x 16 ratio so a lot of the flat single track is fine and it’s the same as on a full suss bike. Hills or more technical sections are much harder, you soon realise that momentum is king and so you give it all you have and keep the cadence and momentum up.

I didn’t think it was possible to ride all the local loop on it, without getting off at some point, some steep or long hills – maybe the bridge with steps we ride but I’ve done it all, and only 5  or so minutes slower than I might have done (on a 1hr 40 ride)

When I’m done I ache, my legs, shoulders, arms, hands all over…

… but satisfaction and the grin are much bigger.

As I said at the start, it’s my new favourite thing.

Riding the Headlands

Summer holidays in our household are usually a last minute decision thing with busy work lives meaning we tend to put off the sometimes drawn out process of the three of us working out where we would like to go. The past few years we have visited friends in the south of France. Having moved out there 6 or so years ago to an old farmhouse, we rarely get to see them and it’s a holiday that has something for everyone. My wife gets sun sun, culture and peace to read, my daughter gets to see her friends and engage with the animals and I get to ride my bike in the sun as often as I like (pretty much).

This year, however, we decided on our holidays back in April and I’m not quite sure how we ended up deciding on San Francisco. Ellie is now 13, so long haul is not going to be a nightmare and there is a lot of culture out there to keep my better half happy. As for myself, the headlands in Marin County, just over the Golden Gate bridge is the birth place of mountain biking.

I had hoped that I might be able to hook up with some locals, to guide me around some of the trails but a few posts later on Singletrack and a US forum shows that this seems to be a very frequent request and I got one offer from an MTB legend – repack rider or Charlie Kelly. It turned out that I didn’t get to meet him as subsequent posts and emails went unanswered.

So the plan was decided. I would sneak off for a day, hire a decent bike when I was out there and bobcat signride on my own. I’ve talked about solo riding before here, so I decided to take my Sidi shoes, some XTR SPD pedals and my RLSCC riding kit and work it out when I got there.

Bike hire was easy as there was a local Blazing Saddles right near our hotel. All you need is a credit card deposit, fill in a form and off you go. I took a town bike to the Columbus Ave branch where they kept all the decent mountain bikes and as I rode the local branch phoned ahead so they were expecting me. They had the choice of Marin bikes – very appropriate – and I decide on the 26in quad link full sus Mount Vision – about £40 for the day. Pedals were fitted, bike was checked and after a discussion on what map to take I was off.

A typical SF misty day

A typical SF misty day

The day before I had been in bed ill, so I decided to take it easy, soak in the sights and see how I felt. I’d hoped to ride up Mt Tamalpais but that was going to be pushing it after feeling like I might not feel up to any sort of riding. I bought some water and a couple of Clif bars from a local shop before I hit the Golden Gate Bridge.

Once into Marin County I was glad I bought a better map from the shop. I rode on the road up  to the start of the Coastal trail and chatted to a local roadie on the way up the hill. After a brief stop to admire the

Just before the real fun starts

Just before the real fun starts

view and sneak a photo, I was off down the singletrack, grinning ear to ear. I had told myself to take it easy as I was riding solo and hadn’t seen any other off road riders but to be honest the bike felt so good, the weather was warm and I was feeling the best I’d been in 48hrs.

 

 

I’d planned to ride the Bobcat trail but it took me ages to find the start of the trail. I took 2 or 3 wrong turns before finally getting onto it. I knew a lot of the trails were fire roads and so I wasn’t surprised to find myself slogging away for 20 mins up the trail. Just as I was starting to get hot I

The Bobcat trail

The Bobcat trail

rode into the typical San Francisco mist and was cooled down. Normally I would have pushed myself up the climb but not today so I took my time and admired the view.

 

 

Once I got towards the top of the climb I had a decision to make. Do I push on to a longer loop or ride back down the Bobcat ? I couldn’t quite work out some of the intersections and I pondered for quite a while as my heart wanted to ride on but my head said to not push things. In the end I decided to head back down the Bobcat and reverse the route I’d taken as it was approaching 3pm. We had planned to eat out and I didn’t want to get back very late.

I’d seen video clips of the original repack riders flying down the fireroads and flying off on the loose gravel on corners. I’d put this down to the bikes and over ambitious attitudes but I soon found out that coming down the trail at 25 mph into a loose fast corner that it’s not as easy as it looks. I tried to use the cornering techniques I learned with Jedi but the front kept washing out and my 2 wheel drifts made things exciting.

Looking back across the bay to San Fran, the weather had brightened up, I paused to take in the

Riding the Bobcat trail

Riding the Bobcat trail

sights before heading back across the bridge. I had a gentle pootle back along the beach, stopping for a coffee at a nice little cafe before tackling the hill on Mason street back to the hotel.

While I sipped my coffee I reflected on the days riding. I had mixed feelings.

Positives

  • I’d felt like death 24hrs earlier so I was relieved to have clocked up 30 or so miles and 300ft of climbing
  • I’d ridden in Marin county on the trails I’d read about 20 years ago.
  • The exercise was welcome after a week on holiday.
  • The views had been amazing

Negatives

  • I’d really wanted to ride further
  • I was irritated that I wasted time trying to work out where I was some of the time
  • Most of the riding was fire-roads and not as challenging as I’d have liked (but I knew it was mainly fire roads so not sure why I’m disappointed)

Overall
I had a cracking day out and it would have been nice to have spent a much longer day riding. San Francisco is such a great place that we will be going back at some point and I will be making an effort to ride a lot more when we do.

An itch, scratched

 

These days there are so many mountain bike niches that it’s hard to keep up. In fact now that I really think about it these niches themselves are now sub divided with wheel size choice.

Rather than working out whether you need your all mountain 4″ travel or the full on downhill bike for that trip to Wales , life is easier when you have fewer bikes.

I have had just 2 decent mountain bikes, a full sus and a hardtail. Each running different tubeless tyres so choosing the right bike isn’t that difficult. But I’ve just complicated the whole equation and added a niche bike that I’ve been after for ages but never been able to justify.

For many people the complexity of a mountain bike is a part of the pleasure, triple, double or single chain rings, how much travel, shock pressures, head angles – it goes on and on. I don’t really like this. I like to ride, any bike, any terrain, just ride what you have and adjust. So this new bike is right up my street. There is nothing to think about, apart from riding.

Worked it out yet? It’s either a stupid bike or a real bike. Why would you ride a fully rigid bike these days? Or a mountain bike with just one gear. So a rigid singlespeed makes either no sense or perfect sense.

It’s a bike I’ve wanted to try for ages now. The people who ride them love them, some do Mayhem solo on them – and do very well. So when the Yeti was upgraded and I had a spare pair of old wheels the cunning plan was to use them on a singlespeed. I could never justify buying a frame, forks cranks and SS kit when I don’t need another bike but when I got an email from Al at Plush hill cycles asking if I was interested in a Genesis iO ID frame with a few bits thrown in, for a stupidly low amount of money I couldn’t say no. The deal was frame, seatpost, collar, saddle, stem, spacers, bars grips and headset for way less than just the cost of the frame. I took 10 seconds to reply.

To keep costs down I bought some rigid forks and decided on a SS crank, re using the wheels and old SLX brakes from the Yeti.
Last weekend all the bits came together and I had a few enjoyable few hours fettling and building it in the garage. It all seemed to work (although the brakes have a squeal I just can’t get rid of) so 2 nights ago I took it for its first proper ride.

It was a shakedown ride so only 9 miles, and it took half that to stop myself trying to click the gear shifters. I also put flat pedals on and I’m still not convinced with that choice – although it might be that I need better shoes.

So the verdict.

Let’s get the niggles out of the way. The brakes need sorting, no power and squealing despite cleaning the rotors and having new pads. The chain isn’t quite lined up so I need to fettle the spacers by a mm. I think I’ll put on some clipless pedals but these are minor really.

The Looks
I love the simplicity. It’s a lovely deep red colour and even Ali likes it. Indeed both my girls seem to think it’s now their bike. I’m glad I went with black forks and a SS specific set of cranks. the chunky BMX chain gives it a robust look, like it will take all the power you can throw at it.

The Ride
Size-wise the medium is about right. The stem could be longer for me but Ali and Ellie can also ride it so it’s perfect. Gearing is always a compromise and I think a 32-16 is right. On the flat my usual cadence means I ride at 16-17mph which is fine and there are so few hills near home that I’ll be fine I think. It took me a while to get used to coasting when I’m at this speed and I’d normally shift up and keep the power down. It makes for a more relaxing ride in many ways as I just can’t go any faster so you relax. I’ve become stronger in the past few months and I found the hills fine – in or out of the saddle the bike responds well and it was lovely to ride.

The tyres give the only suspension and to be honest it’s enough for the ride I did. Nothing too extreme although I did get bounced off the pedals. I’m used to riding out of the saddle so it feels quite natural but I imagine someone new to mountain biking and with only FS experience would find it hard.

Read all the reviews of a SS and the key point is simplicity – you just ride, There is a focus on maintaining momentum which I got slightly but not changing gears is quite pleasant. You ride at the speed you ride at and it evens things out. My average speed was a bit slower than I’d have ridden on my other bikes but not by a lot and it’s not all about going as fast as you can. I’m going to ride a full loop on it soon so I can get a better comparison.

I’ve been thinking about when I’ll ride it and it’s likely that it’ll be mainly when I ride by myself. I’d be compromised on the road sections and we often push each other when we ride in a group. It’ll be perfect for long rides on the canal and as it has loads of clearance I can see it being the ride of choice in the winter. As it’s got slots for an Alfine hub I may well get a spare rear wheel built with an Alfine 8 at some point. It’ll be easy to attach as the cable guides use zip ties but it’ll cost about £400 to do this so it can wait.

Final thoughts.

N+1. What’s not to like about a good looking, simple, cheap new bike. Especially when it’s going to open up new ways to be a little bit mad.

The run up to Mayhem 2013

With less than 11 days to go until the 2013 Mayhem it’s the time I start to get nervous and excited.

This year it’s so long Eastnor and hello to a new venue at Gatcombe Park. After last year Pat really did have to move the venue after the course just couldn’t cope – mind you not many places that are fun to ride would have coped. Staying at Eastnor would have seen a large drop in numbers, especially given the crap weather in the run up to entries being opened. It also means a lot more unknowns as the course was always very similar. The video preview looks good and despite the usual moaning on singletrackworld it looks like a decent venue. Shame about no trackside camping  as the banter and cheering was one of the highlights.

I’ve already done a fair bit of preparation as we’ve sorted new communal area kit this year. Borrowing a tent or marquee large enough for the 5 or 6 teams that we will be housing isn’t easy, so we’ve bought 2 15ft Coleman Event shelters and are attaching them together. We have groundsheets, walls and doors and a plan to sit/cook in one of them and put a new bike rack in the other. The communal area makes such a difference to the atmopshere and fingers crossed the shelters will stand up to the weather.

Camping-wise the tent has had an outing and I’ve got to replace a mantle and get more fuel.

Training-wise I’m feeling faster and stronger than I have in the previous 5 years and recent personal bests seems to reinforce that, so if I can work out why I always seem to feel crap during the race I might do some decent lap times.

Bike-wise I’ve trained on both the Yeti and Tuareg so I’ll be taking both. I reckon the Tuareg is faster on a single lap but I take more punishment so I’ll switch to the Yeti after a couple of laps. I run Ralphs on the Tuareg which are fine on anythign up to moderate mud and Nics on the Yeti but with limited mud clearance. Both are tubeless so  I hope I don’t have to swap either.

I’ll be heading to Gatcombe early Friday to get all the tents set up and have time to do a sighting lap.

Bring it on.

 

Van Nicholas Tuareg 2010 Custom Build Review – Part 3

About time I posted this – given that I wrote most of it a year ago and, ahem, kindof forgot to post it.


So I’ve bought a frame, specified all the components, and had built, my first bike. How did I do?

The first ride was up the Long Mynd around 20 mins after the build was completed by Al at Plush Hill Cycles. The bike had weighed in at 23lbs including XTR SPD pedals so I was looking forward to a quick spin up to the top and down again.

All went well until about 15 mins into the ride when the, tubeless tyre burped out a lot of air. Could have been low pressure, the tyre not seated, I’m not sure but 10 mins of inspection and pumping got me riding again, although I was rather nervous.

Having ridden a full-suss bike for the best part of 2 years it was a great feeling to be climbing on a hardtail, push the pedals and you leap forward. The XC setup meant the bike was very responsive and the low weight meant it was a dream to climb the single track trail up to the top of the Mynd. It helped that the sun was shining.

I was expecting the descent to be more difficult than on my Yeti but suprisingly I found myslef having to reign myself back in as I flew down some sections of Minton Batch. I wasn’t bounced around in the way I’ve experienced on my (retro) Team Marin and I just felt in control and very confident.

A few days later I was heading home, left slightly earlier than I needed to and took a sneaky detour from the M6 to do a quick lap of Follow The Dog at Cannock. Helped by riding on my own so no stopping I recoreded the fastest lap I’ve done and was laughing and smiling all the way round.

A few weeks later I took the Tuareg to ride the Wiggle Enduro 6 at Catton Park and, yet again, it felt like the perfect bike for the shortish lap and the singletrack through the woods.

I’ve thought a lot about the ride and it feels like the perfect setup for the endurance races and 95% effort training rides I tend to do. You get the immediate acceleration from the low weight and lack of rear suspension, it urges you to ride faster, particularly over rougher ground where the faster you push it the better it feels. It’s hard to work out whether the lack of vibration, rear skitishness is down to the Ti frame, with its inherent flex, or the larger volume, lower pressured tubeless tyres. To be honest I don’t really care and have stopped thinking about it as it just seems to work.

So in conclusion this is one seriously quick bike. I’ve often thought the bike made little difference and it was mostly the rider, but having swapped bikes with a riding friend we  both agree that this bike is faster. It makes you ride it hard, makes you push things and is faster than my Yeti ASR. When the trails are dry and the sun is out this is the bike I tend to choose when I open the garage. Bike choice has been very difficult in the past but now that the Yeti has been upgraded and is also tubeless I now choose the bike based on the tyres I think will ride the best (Ralphs on the Tuareg, Nics on the Yeti). Both are quick, different and so much fun to ride but the Tuareg is the fastest so don’t listen to the magazines that will try and say a full suss bike is always faster – it’s a load of rubbish.

How many is enough?

The past weekend I had the unusual situation of being on my own from Friday night until 6pm Sunday as my girls went away on a girlie weekend. This had been planned for a while so I had the weekend mapped out in quite a lot of detail –  Sort out Riding kit, head over to Plush Hill Cycles to pick up the Yeti, pootle up the Mynd and a plan to do a long ride at Cannock.

Spending most of the weekend on my own lead to a lot of thinkingand one thing kept recurring which was what size group do I prefer to ride in ?

I reckon I do a moderate amoung of cycling – i don’t commute anymore, I always try and get out on a Sunday for a longish ride (family stuff permitting) and when the weather is nice I get out midweek. Actually when i write it down – once a week isn’t a lot, but it tends to be hard riding with quality to make up for the lack of quantity. A couple of times a year I manage to get away with a larger group for the weekend and on the ride up the Long Mynd on Saturday 1pm ish I started to distract myself from the pain by thinking about which I prefer.

To jump to the end , the real answer is aIl love them all, it’s all riding and riding is always good no matter what bike, loationor how many people, but there are things I really like and dislike about them all.

Solo

There is a lot to be said about riding on your own, you set of when you’re ready, ride the distance that you want at the pace you want, stopping if and when you want. I tend to take an iPod with me and listen to music or podcasts giving me either motivation to ride faster (music) or a nice distraction (podcasts) but I really enjoy my own company, being in my own thoughts and making no compromises. Everyone should have some time on their own as it makes you think, pushes back the demons and makes you appreciate the people in your life that mean a lot to you. I can only think of one downside to solo riding and it’s one that I really miss when I am on my own. The moment after an amazing descent, where you rode like a god, picking the perfect line under perfect weather giving you the biggest grin – it’s really nice to share that moment with a like mind. Someone you’ve just followed or led down the trail – you’re buzzing and it just gets better when you can share that moment.

Pair

Most of my riding the past few years has been with Pete – just the two of us. We have similar levels of fitness and skill, so we ride the same sorts of distances at the same sorts of pace and we like the same sorts of riding. Most of the riding is on the local trails which is not that exciting but there are odd times we get to Wales or Cannock together. In lots of ways this can be like solo riding as you are often on your own with time to think but there is also, time to chat and someone to share those ride memories with.

Pair riding can also be good training  as the competitive spirit forces you to either try and drop the other person or hang onto them. We’ve found over the past year or 2 that we’ve rarely ridden together when we’re both feeling on top form – one of us always seems to be struggling with a virus or cold and the laws of riding with a mate means the other must take full advantage and punish the other one on the climbs – it’s the law !

Small Group

I think small groups counts as more than 2 and less than a lot. This is often the number when we head away for a day or 2 somewhere more exciting  than Warwickshire. It’s very hard to get 4 people of similar fitness and skill level to have little waiting but when you’ve got all day it’s not really a lot of hassle and what makes up for it is the additional banter yoiu get in small groups. it’s hard to beat a small group in a pub after a great days riding – reliving the days riding through someone elses excited description of their near (or not so near) misses.

Large Group

More than a small group is your large group – 8 or more people usually foe the weekend and an exaggeration of the small group. There’s always lot’s more fettling at the start so you never get off on time. Mechanicals and punctures are much more common and the banter in the evening is much greater. In winter I prefer anything else as waiting in the wet and cold is not pleasant but in summer when it’s nice and warm I’m quite happy chilling and chatting while we wait for the stragglers to crawl up the climb.

So there we have it – I pretty much like them all and I would never not do any of them. Does that make this a pointless post ? I think not as it got me up the Long Mynd, brought back memories of some great trips away and has fuelled the mojo and got me planning the next trip away and thinking about riding is part of the fun.

Upgrade Update

The Yeti is back, serviced and rejuvenated.

Al at PHC did the work and the bike looks like new. It had the bearings replaced and a general strip down, clean and rebuild. A few minor upgrades were done and the weight is down a bit to 25llbs. Not very light but that’s never been the intention – quality, reliable bits without spending an absolute fortune was the plan and that’s what I have.

The bike was nearing 5 years old and ever since I bought the cheapest build kit I’ve had this re-fresh in mind. The chainset was upgraded to 3×10 XT, with XTR shifters. The SLX brakes were proving to be a pain requiring a lot of bleeding and squealing after a few rides so were udpated to Hope tech X2 and the Mavic wheels were replaced with Hope Pro2 Evo hubs on crest rims and shod with tubeless Nobby Nic tyres.

A quick spin up the Long Mynd was a real joy – shifting with the new XTR shifters is so light and precise, the

The Yeti on the Long Mynd

The Yeti on the Long Mynd

feel is a mile away from the old SLX but then it’ should be as it has far better internals compared to the work plastic ones in the old ones. The brakes have the race leves with less power than the trail ones but more than enough for me and the bike ran smoothly on the new wheels.

It was like riding a new bike that just felt so familiar, but then that’s what I was riding – a lot of the parts you interact with were new and more recent iterations – the shifters are top of the range Shimano  yet the frame and forks are the same I’ve been loving riding for the past 4 years.

This will be it on upgrades for the Yeti – it’s as good as I’ll ever want it and will be the choice for all day rides (and more of course)

… now what do I do with the old wheels…