Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of kit

Earin wireless headphones

I’ve been ill for a few weeks – a dose of man-flu and a lingering cough so my time on the bike has been nil. It means there’s nothing cycling related to write about really as it’s all feeling a bit depressing. So on that note a review of a recent Kickstarter I received.

Earin are a set of wireless bluetooth headphones. Not unique but well done.

The two earbuds are rechargable and fit snugly into the ear with some expanding, grippy foam ends. What is nice is that when not in use they live in a machined aluminium capsule, that recharges them. Putting them into the capsule turns them off and a small LED indicates when they are charging and when finished.Earin boxed

Taking the buds out turns them on and reconnects the bluetooth to the phone/device it was paired to.

Sound quality is above average in my view and the isolation provided by the foam ends makes for a pleasant listening experience. They work by the left bud connecting to the phone (in my case) and the right bud connecting to the left. This may make it easier and increase battery life (?) but it does result in some occasional drop outs in the right ear. Hard to say why this is as the earbuds are always at the same distance and orientation to each other. Having drop outs from both, or if the left one loses sight of the phone would be understandable but the left seems stable. It’s a minor thing though and during a dozen or so listens in the past few weeks it happens once or twice an hour, sometimes never.

Earin recently published an app which works a treat. It connects to the left bud and allows tweaking of the balance and provides a Bass Boost option. It also shows the battery level of each ear bud which is handy to know how much charge is left. Battery time is quoted as 2hrs 50 stereo and 11hrs mono but I’ve never had them run out.

Earin capsuleUsing the buds in winter in great, hood up in the rain and no wires makes it very comfortable. They are quite discrete and haven’t snagged on the hood/hats. But the best part is the capsule, a lovely machined item that has a magnetic click to the fully open and closed extends of the inner bud container. A micro USB allows it’s internal battery to be charged  and it’s a lovely ‘thing’

Overall I’d give them an 8/10. The dropout issue isn’t big but it does annoy when it happens. I got an early bird  so they were affordable but they will be probably too expensive to make the skipping and drop outs worth it.

Squeo Review

I back a lot of things on Kickstarter, possibly too much, and thought I might was well review those that deliver. I tend to back in cycles – have a browse or read a social media post or website news item, then I get on a bit of a roll and back a few. I tend to have 3 or 4 outstanding at any one time and so far have never been let down in the 55 I’ve backed. Some don’t get funded and a couple have pulled to re-launch later.

I tend to back cycling related projects of course, but also gadgets, clothing  and games so I’ll add reviews of all these to the site as I get time.

So onto Squeo. It’s a waterproof, lightweight, Bluetooth speaker. It interested me as it’s IPX8 waterproof and IP6X dust proof – pretty much as protected as you can get. Supposed to give 8hrs playback and has a microphone so can be a speaker phone as well.

The project was well run and they did a stretch goal of an extra device for every 2 you backed (or something like that) so I ended up with 3 – one for each of us in the family.

It was late delivering, but I tend to expect this. There were regular updates and it was due Sept 2014 and arrived August 2015 so nearly a year late. Not un-typical in my experience of backing electronic devices.

The device itself was well packaged and on unboxing was pretty much as described by the project. They are around the size of an iPhone 5s but with double the thickness. They are very light and very well finished, a quality looking and feeling product. It comes with a soft cover, a magnetic charge cable and a quality metal loop. It has a decent sized metal lined ring in the top left corner to hang it in places and works well with the supplied loop.

Pairing bluetooth devices should be easy but I often seem to have problems. Not so with the Squeo. A long hold on the power button puts it into pairing mode, it’s quickly found on the iPhone and from then on pairs quickly whenever it’s turned on. Distance-wise it’s pretty good depending on where the phone is but I’ve had no issues so far.

Sound quality is good I’d say, not brilliant but you can’t expect that from such a lightweight, small and water/dust proof device in my view. Volume can go to a decent level and the mute button is useful.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and using it in the bathroom is excellent. Phone in the bedroom charging, Squeo on the side of the bath, it just works. You can skip tracks, change the volume and not worry about getting it wet. I’ve yet to try it in the shower, or properly get it wet (it just feels wrong) but so far it’s a 5/5 kickstarter product in my eyes. They are on sale now but are quite expensive and borderline value for money in my view. Having said that it’s a product that I find hard to criticise and you do get a quality speaker for your money

Plus: Quality, ease of use
Neg: Maybe sound quality but that’s being very picky

Ramblings Rating : 5/5

 

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

Mayhem 2014 Review

Having looked at the draft posts I have I realised I never posted last years Mayhem report – oops only a year late

 

The biggest 24hr race is the first entry in my calendar every year and this year was my 7th and probably the most enjoyable. Gatcombe Park is a great venue and having learned from last years inaugural event there it was a lot better.

The weather help of course. From early morning Friday to well after the event we had glorious sunshine which led to dry fast trails, no bikes to wash, smiles all around and lots and lots of great riding.

Friday

I always take the Friday as holiday so Pete and I trekked over to Coventry to pick up a van, we loaded all the gear up and off we headed around 10.30. I took my Ti hardtail as well as the

Packed and ready to go

Packed and ready to go

Yeti ASR so I had a spare bike. We took several event shelters to make sure we had enough cover as we were camping with 3 other teams as usual. The LWB van looked big enough until we put everything in, despite us both deciding to try and pack light this year.

 

 

We marked out our area in camp site A and put up all the shelters and tents. Sun shone

Carbo loading on Friday

Carbo loading on Friday

down and with no clouds in the sky we decided to opt out a sighting lap and concentrate on carbo loading instead. With a dry short lap to ride we were all going to get lots of laps in so no need to waste energy so early on we thought.

A trip to the arena to register and check out the stands was as active as we got. Shiny bike parts were admired, nerves built, food eaten and much banter was exchanged.

All in all a very typical and enjoyable start to Mayhem.

 

Saturday

I was, by default, down to be first rider out as the others refused to run so after a relaxed breakfast and bike tinkering I headed to the start. I jogged very gently around the run course and set off at a medium pace knowing there would be hold ups at some point and plenty of time for a faster lap later so no need to get worked up at this point.

The course was, in my opinion, the best we’ve had in many years. Fun in places but not too mad for the newbie riders. Steep and challenging in places but all ridable if you had the legs. The run in through the camp site with a fast section and a bit of a jump after a path crossing made it a run run back the arena.

Sunday

The race was one of the smoothest we’ve had, aided by very good weather and fast conditions. This means, of course, that lap times were quick and more laps were there to be ridden. I managed to ride all of all my laps with no unclipping and physically I felt better than I’ve ever probably done.

Result

We managed 27 laps coming 38/80 in Sport men. I did 8 laps sneaking in a final one at the end and could have managed a double had I got back in time. Looking at the results it would have only moved us up one position.

The weather makes such a difference and the new course with trackside camping was a much needed improvement. We will of course be back next year.

Gloworm X1 review

A recent ride back from the pub a strategy meeting recently highlighted that my current AyUp lights are now indeed 5 years old, when the battery ran out after 5 minutes. Lighting has progressed quite a way since I did the research for my first set of decent off-road lights and light output and run times are now significantly higher. The top end lights still cost the same, you just get enough light to turn night into day, and the next price bracket down gives you more than enough light (and more than my AyUps) for around half the cost.

Upgrade or replace

I considered getting the AyUp LED’s and batteries updated as AyUp did and third parties do provide an upgrade service. I would have used the AyUp service to refresh them to something more powerful but it seems they no longer do this for UK customers and I don’t have the time to send them away. As the bar light has a 6hr run time, I guessed this might last for 2 hour long Mayhem lights so I decided a new helmet light would be perfect for my immediate needs.

After much research and contemplation I decided on the Gloworm X1, a pretty easy decision really as it ticked all the boxes – Lightweight – A lot of light – A decent run time – Well priced Gloworm are a New Zealand company but have a UK distributor so after a few days of pondering I put in an order. I decided on a spare battery and a bar mount while I was at it and applied my Singletrack Premier discount code and sat back and waited. 3 days later nothing, no lights, no emails, not a sign of anything. I dropped CRGMoto (the UK distributor) an email and left a voice message. A week after ordering, still nothing, and I was starting to get concerned. More messages and I finally got an email saying that they were due to ship the day after having waited for a new batch of bar mounts before shipping my complete order. So, customer communication could be improved but sure enough they arrived the next day. Since I got my lights CRGMoto are no longer the UK distributor after failing to fulfil orders and have been elusive in being contactable.

First impressions are good. The box is small and light so the light must be as well.

The light looks lovely, a CNC’d block of Aluminium on a minimalist bracket with a pair of cables coming out of the back. The light is held onto the stand by a single hex bolt (allen key provided) with rubber washers to allow it to be tight but still tweaked once secure. The bracket has slots in the base to allow it to be attached to a helmet and plenty of velcro straps are provided for this purpose. One cable provides power via one that has a weatherproof connector that attaches to the battery, the other has a sealed switch on the end, backed with velcro. This is used to turn in on/off and control the various settings that the light supports. It’s a good solution as the button can be located on the side of the helmet onto a velcro pad allowing easier access to the functions compared to reaching for the light itself. An extension cable means the battery can be located in a backpack if desired.

Attaching the light to a helmet is fiddly but not too difficult. finding an appropriate vent and routing the velcro strap takes a bit of time but it’s easy to secure and find suitable positions for the light, battery and switch.

In use the light lives up to expectations, the switch allows 4 different output levels that are easy to cycle through and I did find myself turning the output down on sections of trail that didn’t need it as it’s easy to do.

Conclusions

These lights do well in groups tests and it’s easy to see why. They are well made with good light levels and easy to use. You can program them if you want and are physically light.

I’m considering buying one it’s bigger brothers to replace the bar light but the uncertainty over distribution is making me look elsewhere. If this is sorted before I decide to buy then it sums up what I think of them nicely – by over £200.

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.

Wiggle Mountain Mayhem 2013 Report

It’s done for another year and on the forums it seems like the jury is out on whether it was a success or not.

Here is my memories, thoughts and experience of this years event – my 6th.

Lead up and Preparation

I usually travel to Mayhem with a team mate but this year he couldn’t leave until lunchtime so I planned to arrive first to reserve some space for the 5 teams that were going to camp together. I decided to pack most of the car the night before so I could get off early. Typically I’d been feeling really good until midweek when I picked up a cold so I wasn’t feeling in top form.

Gatcombe Park

It’s easy to get to and find, well signposted and I marked out a suitable area  before putting up my

Home for nearly 48hrs

Home for nearly 48hrs

own tent and sending messages to the rest of the team members on where we were. This year be brought 2 Coleman Event Shelters with us for the communal area I managed to get one up before others arrived to make the rest a bit easier. We also bought some poles to have a proper bike rack for a change so they could be inside the shelters, secure and easy to get to.

Decent Bike rack

Decent Bike rack

Friday night is one of my favourite parts of Mayhem. Excitement levels are high, the banter is flowing and everyone arrives to warm greetings.

This year we decided a sighting lap was essential t get a feel for the course so at 5 ish a group of 6 of us set of for a pootle around. Initial thoughts were that it was pretty good, quite short, fun descents and a lot of hard climbs – Would have been nice to have some more technical singletrack but it was my sort of course.

Food and beer were consumed before we retired.

Race Day

We persuaded Pete, a veteran of 10 previous Mayhems, to do the run for the first time and despite his protestations he lined up just before midday in reasonable weather.

We usually have an informal little inter-camping group competition  as to which team will do the best and this year Morgan brought some young IBM chaps in the form of ‘Team Spongecake’ to challenge the 3 Capgemini teams of ‘Lightly Lubed’, ‘Well Oiled’, and ‘Crude Oil’ and a group of ex-NHS colleagues ‘Cognoscenti’.

Pete was the last back from the run and he set off for our first lap.

I was due to ride second and while waiting for his return the heavens opened. Hard rain and a strong wind saw waiting riders pushed back into the tent at transition so avoid the freezing onslaught. I wasn’t looking much to my lap yet when Pete entered the arena, you feel a surge of adrenalin and after a quick handover I was off.

The course

Mayhem 2013 course

Mayhem 2013 course

From the arena you head out through the solo camping area into a small wooded section that leads to the Kenda Koffin descent. It’s not really that steep for anyone with a reasonable amount of experience and on the sighting lap this was fun. However, after a downpour it was very slippy and many people were not used to this sort of challenge. There was no grip to be had and it was a ‘fun’ descent with 2 or 3 sections that were steeper and needed commitment.

Next was some wooden trail, fast in the dry and hard in the rain as it turned to mud.

If I remember correctly the Wipperman climb was fine for the first part but then wasn’t ridable due to the steepness and lack of traction.

From here it was average normal double width trail with a few fast fire road descents leading to the lakeside trail. This was singletrack with a few passing places and was dry and fast all race.

Onto the Clifbar climb – a long grassy, steepish climb that was ridable when dry and if you had the strength and skills it was a place to make up a lot of time.

The FT2 dip was a tricky fast descent due to the camber which rose into a climb that was ridable if you attacked it but most people walked.

The Redbull timed section was a fun, fast section with several turns and a short steep drop with hard and easy options. Great fun to blast and no doubt saw many people over-cook the corners and come off.

The Unior climb was a long slog that I cleared once but turned to slippy cobbles after the loam was worn away. Mentally though as this was the last proper climb it wasn’t that hard as you knew you were near the end of the lap.

The Singletrack singletrack was rather short but good fun at speed followed by a fast run in to the arena.

My first lap was horrible with the mud sticking and clogging up the wheels, the lack of traction meant

Yeti after my first lap (teams second)

Yeti after my first lap (teams second)

a lot of pushing which stops the mud being flung off. Tyre choice became a headache as mud tyres might have been OK for a few sections but would have been horrible for the rest. I was glad to enter the arena to hand over to Jason.

After your first lap of Mayhem you get into a routine, well I do anyway. Get a drink, and a recovery shake then sort out the bike. The latter took quite a while and I made it ridable rather than clean.

Then it’s time for food and a rest, a bit of chat about the lap and the course and, waiting on riders to come back to see how the course is evolving. It’s common to feel very tired and that you can’t ride any more laps. Not sure why this should be as it’s not very far, nor very difficult riding but I’ve learned over the past 5 years that mentally you need to put the physical feelings behind you and commit to another lap.

Talk about muddy

Talk about muddy

Over the next couple of hours things were looking good as riders came back cleaner and cleaner in faster times so I was feeling optimistic when I went to wait for Pete. He managed a sub-hour lap and looked in decent shape as he hammered around the arena to hand over.

I set off on my second lap feeling strong and as soon as I hot the Kenda descent and saw a dry line down it I gave the lap everything I had. For the 5 years Pete has always had the fastest lap, no matter how our training had gone and I struggled to find form in the race to backup my improving fitness. This year I was determined to have a real go for the fastest lap (amongst our teams) so rode all bar one hill and kept pushing all the way.

I made it back to transition ahead of time and Jason had only just arrived. My Garmin showed I’d have done a 51 min lap which lifted my spirits and set the tone for the rest of my race.

I did a dusk lap with lights and a dark lap in the middle of the night – both of which felt great. An early morning light was a bit harder as the mud became stickier and my legs more tired.

As we hit 20 laps and worked out we might have 2 or 3 more laps to do and I set out on lap 22 with 75 mins left. I had been lapping in under an hour and no-one fancied a last lap so I had some fun. I blasted the fun sections and rode very slowly on the rest to avoid too long a wait at the end.

I managed to cross the line 15 secs after midday in milf drizzle so I was happy to not be in the

Crossing the finish line

Crossing the finish line

middle of back to back laps in the rain.

Results-wise we aim to come in the top half. We all get to train once a week usually and are never going to challenge for a top spot. We beat the IBM guys by about 30 mins to retain our record of the fastest campsite team.

We came 39th out of the 122 teams in Sport Men. A result we are thrilled with. In Vets we came 35th out of 151 – similarly chuffed.

My second lap was the fastest in our campsite and I feel that I rode pretty well – unusual for me at Mayhem where I usually feel disappointed at how I rode. Roll on 2014.
My lap times were :
1: 1:04:11
2: 0:51:34
3: 0:56:55
4: 1:00:16
5: 1:02:00
6: 1:12:30

 The Event

A new venue is always going to have teething problems but Pat and his crew had very few in my view. The venue was supposed to cope with wet weather better than Eastnor and to be honest while the campsite might have done the course didn’t. It’s difficult to think of anywhere that’s not a purpose mail trail centre that would cope well with rain and thousands of wheels without being un-ridable in places. To be fair it dried up very quickly and laps quickly got faster. Next year might be better as there will be less soil/loam on the surface to start with

We were asked not to wash our own bikes to keep oil and products off the land – fair enough. But only 6 wash bays was nowhere near enough so people did resort to doing it themselves. Most oils and cleaners these days are biodegradable so there shouldn’t be any issues but this will need addressing if the weather looks bad next year.

The atmosphere wasn’t as good as the course didn’t go through the campsite but the layout means there’s not a lot to be changed here. The campsite ended up large enough and it was better for being a lot closer to the arena.

HRH turned up to do the presentations and had I known I would have gone along but it seems it was a last minute decision on her part.

Overall I think it was a bit of a success. Highlight was the course which I think was well designed. It’s hard to get something that is enough of a challenge for decent riders and ridable for novices. It was short enough to allow lesser teams to do more laps and fast enough to challenge the speed demons

Well done Pat and his team. Fingers crossed he can get the support to keep this amazing event going strong.

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.