Sunday, September 09, 2012

A roadie, i am not.

I am too heavy to climb well and i mash the cranks rather than dance on the pedals. I'm too scared of descending on rough roads on 25c tyres on a 17lb bike to be fast. I can roll along but i get fed up if there is too much of a head wind.

So it goes.

But sometimes, if the trails are too soggy or i need to burn some miles into the legs, i grab the Spooky and head out on the asphalt.

So it was today.

Fat, slow and unfit, with the Tour de Ben coming up, i needed to at least pretend i can gain some form. Hmmmm...

Sometimes, if i hit a good gradient and move at a decent clip in a highish gear, i end up smiling anyway. So it was round Carron valley reservoir. A slight tail wind earned by a drop off the Tak ma doon road and i got to Killearn with an average speed of 18mph. Thats ok given my fitness, i s'pose. Home after 44 miles in 2 hours 30 min.

Heres the map of where i was and what i did. 2 hours and 30 minutes of grovelling. A good wee bit of computer route planning geekery.

Friday, September 07, 2012


Yesterday the rain stopped and I immediately grabbed the Jones and headed for the local trails. I’m sure you can imagine the conditions given that it has been the wettest ‘summer’ for a hundred years here: of the 90 days of summer, it has rained for 60. I would add that I certainly can’t remember there being 30 days without rain, but I don’t mean to quibble.

 With blue skies, warmth in the air and a gentle breeze it took me 10 minutes to get to a spot I really like. The ground was hard going, but it was still good fun. The bridges were slightly drier and as such, didn’t cause the front wheel to skate off alarmingly if approached at any angle other than perfectly upright and perpendicular. I could throw some shapes which felt good.

 Still the stoke was missing.

Soon enough, with a window of a little over an hour possible, I turned tail and headed home. On the way, there is a small section of trail behind a wide, all-conditions path that is typically pretty muddy in several spots. For some reason I decided to give it a go despite the fact I might have ended up hub deep. It winds, dives, ducks and rattles over complexes of slick, grasping roots. Rhododendrons and gnarly old trees are close to you and there are several tree stumps that need to be avoided. It feels like an obstacle course in a corridor of greenery.

In order to make it through any potential deep mud baths I decided to absolutely batter into the trail, full steam ahead. In doing so, I came to realise how seldom I let it all hang out and give the trail everything I have. The risk of crashing is too great I suspect. But for that 50 odd meters of trail I gave it some proper sausage.

 Near the exit point back onto the wider trail there is a sharp left straight into a hard right hand carve around a tree stump before exiting over some roots and taking a far right line around a mud pit and over some more roots. The move feels kind of like a slingshot. As I made the transition from the initial left hand into the carve around the stump it became apparent that I was leaning so far over and the tyres were sliding out to the degree that my knee was going to impact the stump. I adjusted, unclipped and stamped on the stump with my right foot before careening into the mud pit section and at the last split second hauling the bars up and slamming the bike into the roots and then onwards. The Jones responds to these inputs ridiculously well. The harder you go the more it excels. As I joined the main path I did indeed whoop. Stoke achieved. Mission accomplished.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Long Way Round.

I have always been fascinated with joining the dots in the highlands. Routing several amazing sections of trail into a big loop can be deeply satisfying as well as a significant challenge. The challenge comes from the mapwork, the altitude lost and gained, the qualities of the terrain covered and the sheer distance.

 This time i decided to loop to the east of the Cairngorm. Aviemore-Ryvoan-Larig an Laoigh-Linn of Dee-Mar-Invercauld-Loch Builg-Tomintoul-Dorback and the Braes of Abernethy.

And back. Hopefully.

 It is a long way, not so much in terms of absolute distance, more that the trails can be tough and the climbs relatively big. Maul was the steed of choice. This pure xc rig is such a profound pleasure to ride and it just eats up miles.

I had planned to leave late, bivi somewhere near the start of the loop and hit the trails early. However, the weather once again decided to throw a curve ball. The deluge that spread up from the south was moving north at a rate that would have me arrive in rain, spend an uncomfortable night hoping i didnt body-bag down a water run off and resurface no doubt sodden and sleepless. That would be if i made the A9 after a long day and in bad conditions.

Hmmm. Decision made: i stalled and left early the next day, which went well, but it meant my ride started at nearly 11am. My calculations and hairy eyeballing of the map led me to believe i would be looking at 10 and a half to 11 hours of riding. If the weather was ok. At about hour 7, i realised i had made a mistake. I had followed dubious sign posting from Invercauld, rather than my out of date map and my nose and what i could see didnt marry up to the mental image i had from the map. After looking at the map and not really recognising the terrain and repeating this several times over a solid half hour i accepted that i had a problem.

I was lost.

The trails i was on were not on my map and if i spent any serious time trying to look at said map i was literally being digested where i squatted by midge. No good. No good at all. So i made the call. The call i had hoped i would never make.

I like to think that my mountain craft is reasonable. If that doesnt get me through, i'm pretty damn pertinacious. This time however, i had at least 3 hours to go, 2 hours of daylight max, a small head torch and 'issues' with stopping to route find. When i came into a mobile phone window i called trina and let her know that i was lost, my last known location was Auchtaven and although i pretty much knew where i was i couldnt find the link to the drove road to Loch Builg i wanted to take. As such, i wasnt going to be home any time soon, but i was in one piece, had food, warm clothing and....

....then the signal went. Trina has known me forever and is very sensible. I knew she wouldnt worry, but i still disliked the fact i had felt the need to call and cause some anxiety. Midge be damned, i stopped, orientated my map properly and worked out that i needed to cross some farm land to join the trail i needed. So be it. In my mind, i scanned backwards and realised that a signpost i had followed had not been a right of way path sign to Loch Builg, but an estate walking route sign. This had flipped me through 45 degrees and led to me going east of a hill, rather than west and as the miles went by the size of the error magnified. This had been compounded because my map was old and didnt have these trails marked. This resulted in my thinking i was on the correct route until i was a good way off course. Ah well.

I had plenty of time to ponder the mistake as i struggled up the trail on the flank of Carn Liath. Right after i sped out of Tomintoul and joined the trail to Dorback Lodge, the night fell. I had some trails to find to get back to Ryvoan and then onto Aviemore. However, my willingness to stop and be ravaged by the noseeums had gone. I was literally breathing the midge in if i dropped my pace and any error of route finding would have caused a serious tantrum.

I bailed and took the road towards Nethy Bridge and then back via Coylumbridge. The estimated 20 ish miles of road in the dark after a long day in the saddle was harsh, but closing the loop and finishing a great day in the hills was worth it.

Photos: i struggled with camera settings. The light was flat and the day overcast. However, i did escape any precipitation. The trail down the Larig an Laoigh was washed out - a great trail diminished. The bike got a shoeing. The grit is phenomenal in that area and as it built up it wore a notch in the back of the fork - small but annoying. The drive chain needs a full strip and clean. But overall it was a potent machine to travel on. If i had time id mess around with these photos and try to bring out some of the fine views, but i'm not even sure i have the skills to salvage anything. Still, enjoy and dream of big days in open, wild land.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Going your own way/not going your own way.

This is my 1000th post. Who knew this would go on (+ on...) so long.

Early start. Glenmore lodge. Lairig an Laoigh. Linn of Dee. Mar, Invercauld then Loch Builg. Tomintoul. Dorback. A story there, but for when i have time. Back to Aviemore.

Eleven and a half hours and this ride *did* go to eleven.

More shortly.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Perfect timing.

Sort of.

I'm sitting in the kitchen, looking out the window at the tail end of a passing front that is creeping over Scotland from south west to north east. It is moving at roughly 40 kph i'd estimate. Today i packed various bits and bobs into the car and was going to leave for Aviemore area about 30 minutes ago. The idea was a bivi or rough camp, up early and hit the trails. come back late thursday.

As i was about to get in the car the skies literally opened and anything wet that was up there fell through. Hmm. Quick look at MWIS and met office. Estimate timescales. I'd hit Aviemore right before the front did. That would mean i'd have to get into a bivi sack wet and spend the night sweating as the humidity is high plus plus. Probably not such a comfortable way to spend the night. So, needelss to say, the weather wins again; i'm grounded. Boosh. It's been challenging to keep my sense of humour with this 'summer', it really has.

So: perfect timing to reflect on a trip (in sunshine, mostly, no less) into the hills a wee while ago. Torridon.

Odd how things cluster, right? Recently some friends, some magazines and some videos have popped up displaying this highland area's ample attractions. Big mountains, stunning lochs, ferocious midge and the rest.

I've never spent much time there, afterall it is a whole hell of a long way from anywhere. But with a couple of days off work i hit the road. Itinerary: Glen Affric in the afternoon, head round the classic loop, but lollipop it out to Alltbeithe YHA hut and see what the trail out to the back of the five sisters of Kintail would be like for a possible bike packing mission. Glen Affric was a little disappointing. Easy trail, heavy rain, clegg bites a-plenty. But the trail to Alltbeithe was good and would be no problem lightly loaded. Hmmm. My off road path to Plockton plan gathers steam.

I headed back to the car and then past a very exposed Cluanie dam to Plockton, where i spent a very pleasant evening with Plockton Brewery's Starboard ale and devouring an amazing smoked seafood platter at the Plockton Inn.

After a later night than planned, on account of the outstanding local musicicians, i made an early start and drove up to Achnashellach Station. The route from here had been born of pouring over the maps the night before and a wee bit of beta from guide books and forums.

I rode down to Coulags and took the trail up to Loch Fionnaraich, to Bealach na Lice, sped down the nearly peerless descent to Annat, pedaled up the tarmac to Loch Claire, under the watchful gaze of Beinn Eighe and took the forest track to Coulin. At a split, i ascended amazing singletrack to the shoulder of Beinn Liath Mhor and Coire Lair. It was too much to gaze upon this glorious ribbon of trail, so despite tired legs i climbed to the Bealach Ban and turned tail dropping what i think IS peerless trail all the way to Achnashellach.

On the way home i stopped off for a loop of the Badaguish trail we used for the Singlespeed worlds. It still rocks. then i came home spent but a deeply satisfied man. Here are some photos.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Mocked up. Thanks to Jason Plum who has been much help with sorting out clearances etc.

Pretty much everything here will be changed except the basic xtracycle frame and Kelly frame, but this gives me the rough outline and i have more clearance at the rear than i thought i might. This is good!....

Ok. Marty and Sue are getting married, which is making me very happy indeed...more after the celebrations.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Doing sums....

So: rumour is a 35c 700c tyre will work in the rear of an Xtracycle...thats about 692mm overall diameter.  But 35c is no good for rough roads and a load. So what to do? On the one hand 26" is strongest (of the viable alternatives). But, 650b rolls betterer and gives me better gears with the cassettes  i can use (this build will be last issue Saint mech and 1x9).

I have cross tyres that are nominally 35c as well that go about 695mm diameter on Stans 355 rims. I have a quasi moto on an arch that is 697mm diameter and a neo moto on a P35 that is 699mm diameter.

At present the build is: old school Kelly RoShamBo with a Moonlander fork, Xtracycle, GMG Yepp seat for the bairn, and a rear DT 350 centrelock/DT comp/DT prolock/Pacenti DL31 rim and quasimoto wheel build...front is going to be a Paul Comp rear hub, and i'll probably pull the A317 rim in favour of something beefier.....we'll see.

I will (of course) report back. Should be good.

1x9, old style saint mech and an old man huffing and puffing his daughter to nursery....

On a side note, once you get looking at bikes that are there to do more than just be fun to ride, you could get pretty hooked. Check this out:

Core 77 coverage of Oregon Manifest.

Monday, August 06, 2012


I have become one of them.

(pic pinched from xtracycle blog) I've been struggling with how to commute by bike with Daisy and get supplies and deal with the rubbish condition of roads, poor or aggressive driving and the possibility to take the path less travelled. I'll report back once it is together. At present, we will be moonlander forked in order to run a wide ub for strength and stiffness. I'll run race kings on 700c rims and will use gears and disc brakes. I may fit a front rack. I may not. The beard *is* longer and fuller.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


Ok. Desperate weather calls for desperate measures: i went to the gym.

We joined so we could take Daisy swimming. Really...i'm not a closet bicep curler. Daisy has chicken pox, but is cheery despite the itch. Tough wee chick.

 I went for a 50 mile spin on the road bike the other day and suffered like a dog. Two and a half hours of pain, anguish and self loathing. Well, maybe not *that* bad, but not good either.

I need to face up to the fact that i am not at all fit and the only way to deal with that (as Ice Cube would say) is to hit the ergo. So, a quick warm up with some 16 kg kettle bells - swings, presses, punching and press ups - and i got down to business. I usually combine distance (say 5 or 10k) with some intervals if i'm using an ergo, but it has been a loooong time. Today i kept it simple: 5 sets of 1.40 minute 500 meter rows with 1.40 minute recovery inbetween. I made it through just under the times, but damn, i hurt.

My hands have the tell tale red areas just at the base of my fingers that will become callouses before too long and the quads and lower back are feeling it. This is good though. You dont change your physical condition without some pain. Bring it on.

What else? Bradley Wiggins. So impressed.

Parts being messed around with: Saint clutch rear mech. Initial impression: RAD.

King Cage top cap bottle cage holder. Initial impression: useful if awkward looking.

Chris King greasing and fitting tools for the bottom bracket. Initial impression: work a treat. Super smooth servicing for the first and better fit than a Pedro's cup tool for the latter.

Ok: my dad's 70th today. Happy Birthday dad!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


In a world where everyone seems to be trying to make the same carbon 29er look different to their competitors, Surly are living large and innovating.

Awesome. And it's been too long since i had a beer with the surly lot.

Is 29+ for me....maybe we'll see. The fact they just released 2 very knobbly 4.8 tyres is kinda interesting too as the Nate is a beast.

What else?

Back from a wee road trip. When i have time i'll get a write up done. It was *so* good.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Map time.

Plans are afoot. I have taken some time from work and a path north is burnt into my frontal lobes. I need to see the mountains. Rain be damned. Two days, maybe three. At the moment that will include Glen Affric then Torridon. We'll see if the legs will let me do more.
In between will be Seafood and beer and most likely chips.
I have had a lot of help with route planning. It's all good.

94 minus 27 percent.

A 27 percent decrease in humidity is a good thing when there is water sloshing around your flip flops and your flip flops are in your house not on the beach. So it goes.

Edinburgh has had a rumoured one and a half hours of sunshine. In June. As in the last 12 days. (This was originally typed 4 days ago. Again, so it goes).

Summer. Again.

Not been riding much. Not been doing much of anything except mopping and drying, but i know friends who are dealing with much larger volumes of flood water in their lives so no more on that.

Instead i've been reflecting, sorting through things. Thinking and scheming. There has been a little trail building and overall i'm pleased with the results. A master plan calls for some more. We'll see.

Been messing around in a non-serious fashion with less swept bars. The things that strike me at this early stage are:

1) you get crossed up pretty easily in slow speed, high body english scenarios. i think this is because of 2).

2) you ride with elbows locked out (or semi locked out, absorbtion coming from the shoulders) far more.

3) you cant move your weight as easily to and fro - you *can* do it, but not as easy.

4) they do look more normal.

5) you can brace against impacts more - sort of pushing the bars away from you as they rush inwards. I'm not sure if this is good or bad.

6) you can resist high speed trail inputs on the steering more easily i think.

7) your arms are bent through bigger ranges of motion with your wrists at odds with your elbows. Hard to explain...but it feels awkward when you come to lower your body mass over the bike.

In short, for higher speed/short ride/DH type applications i think wider, flatter bars are probably a good thing. For low speed, woodsy riding where you are moving all over the bike, i think there is something to be gained with high sweep bars.

BUT... More work needs done.

I have been following the introduction of the XX1 group with interest. There is a lot to like there, for me at least. I'm skeptical that no front chain guide is needed SRAM claim the alternating thick/thin teeth profiles on the chainring should keep everything ship shape, but particularly for suspension systems that lead to a lot of 'chain growth' i'm not so sure. The clutch mech will mitigate some bounce and the 'only-horizontally' movement should mean less system noise from terrain, but I'd be for belt and braces. CEN also seems to require a guide for sale of bikes in europe so we'll see how that goes. But overall, larger range cassettes are a pretty good idea.

I'm also interested in the 'new' path of movement of the rear derailleur. What i have not read about is whether this is allowed due to limited chain length variation (because there is no front derailleur) or necessary because of the geometry of the enlarged cassette. Would it be useful for all derailleur based systems?

Image is Steph's: apologies for previous lack of credit.

It will also be interesting to see Shimano's response - if any. The above cassette body is the DT swiss version. Not sure it will fit capreo (unmodified). I would not use SRAM gears: Shimano have always been better in my experience, function and longevity and im fine with my 34 or 35 - 11-34 at the moment, in the UK at least. But Shimano already has Capreo (as i mentioned in a previous post) and various folk are offering disc hubs or in the case of Canfield Bros, options to run the group as a 10 speed system.

We'll see.

2013 bikes are beginning to crop up. Refinement is the name of the game, but 650b/27.5 is throwing a spanner in the works: some companies (Scott) are not offering 26" in some models anymore. A bold move for sure but one that in my opinion will pay dividends - i cant see any reason to keep 26" wheels except for DH. Even then, if wider bracing angles could offset the inherent weakness of a bigger rim, i think it would be worth the slight increase in diameter.

I also made myself a new tool. It works very well indeed and will save a few moments of frustration every time i fit a new chain.

That's it for now. Singletrack weekender this (last...) weekend. Hoping for blue skies for it all to go down as it should.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


"INFORMATION: the facts and the evidence".

Name that tune?

Anyway, stuff thats been going through my mind. The Jones needs a little messing with. The ebb is currently run in pretty much the lowest position. Bottom bracket height is 290mm. Low. Great for stability and cornering. As i have become used to riding the Vertigo-s i've become used to a slightly higher bb. In addition, riding Jones-uk-man biff's 69er (which has a higher bb) reminded me that de-stabilising handling can be a lot of fun in the woods. So, a 420mm Eriksen post is on the way. Bushnell ebb's have a maximum 12.7mm throw, and as i am at curent maximum height on a 400mm Eriksen seat post (not due to the post - it has a minimum insertion of 70mm - but to get below the large diameter top tube, it needs to be more like 95mm)  i need a bit more post. Should be interesting to try - iirc i've been riding the Jones in this configuration for at least 3 years....the thing i'm not sure about is how the weight distribution change will affect where i want the bars (at the moment i have the loop bars flipped, so i get the 13mm drop and run a 100mm -6 dgeree stem. Flipping the stem will raise me about 16mm, or i could flip the bars? we'll see...). Taking some measurements of the front centre, centre axle to centre bar at stem etc reveal some surprising results that i'm not sure how to interpret in terms of how they affect handling. There is only so much number crunching before you need to try it out. I will maintain my saddle tip/bb distance of 83mm not raising the bars will give me a little more reach...but one of the beautiful things about the Jones handling is the ability to weight or unweight the front wheel when you need control or to minimise shock transmission. i'd kind of like to try a slightly shorter (90mm zero rise) stem on there...

What else? more new tyers on the way. Rubber Queen 29x2.2 to be exact. Rubber Queens are the burly big sister of the Mountain king II i'm running at present. Rumor is that a 2.4 will be along soon enough, but if the 29er tyres follow the sizing regimen of the 26" tyre, the RQ 2.2 will be considerably bigger than the 2.2 of the old mountain king. We'll see.

Meanwhile a quick review: Continental Mountain King II 2.4. Absolutely the best tyre for all off road conditions i have used it in. Short and sweet, eh? At 780g it isnt going to win any light weight awards. It is a big tyre, wide and tall. The high volume and square profile mean getting clearance on some frames may be an issue, but if you can and aren't a gram counter above all else, it rolls superbly, is durable, offers amazing cornering grip, excellent braking and dependable traction. The sidewalls are supportive of low pressures. I haven't used it in clay soil yet. I'll update if i do, but so far i'm extremely happy. These were the tyres i was waiting for.

I received a 710mm 20 degree bend flat bar from Seven recently. The aim is to re-examine what bar i prefer. I've been messing with a 30 degree Watson cycles parkarino as well, but this will be the least swept bar i have used for many years. It is on BA at present, the thought being that low sweep bars are probably more useful in the type of riding that this bike is aimed at. I'll need to give it some time so that i can get used to it - the immediate feeling is of having my elbows stuck out at very odd angles...but perseverance is required!...i would never like to consider myself as a blinkered zealot. An open mind and informed choice is key. Oddly, some others are looking at very similar things...

At some point i need to get round to doing a comparo of 'then and now' bikepacking kit. I was looking through some old photos recently and cannot believe how much stuff i used to take along. No doubt as confidence grows you can take less. Also some of the kit i have now is considerably better and smaller than previously - i'm mostly thinking of the full length thermarest neoAir xlite that replaced the old 3/4 length prolite and is smaller and lighter and warmer and more comfortable. Hmm. Yes, it was more expensive. But there are other parts that have helped me minimise my packed volume.

I also have to get round to thinking about what the fat bike i have in the pipeline is going to be like. At present i have no real thoughts other than i want to be able to ride on mushy ground (winter in scotland). Will this be a full-on expedition bike? shorter stays and livelier handling - more like the Maul with fat wheels? Surly have something brewing with 29x3" it seems, is this worth considering?  

Dunno. But i guess i need to get the thinking cap on.

Not been riding much, but i did re-discover the old DH course at a local woods. Was kinda fun to slip, slither and thread the trees...definitely scope for some opening up i'd say, if time allows.

More shortly...