Ready, set… Morocco

The weekend saw me clocking up some miles on the Troll ahead of flying to Morocco tomorrow.

The bike is in fine fettle. Now sporting some bigger boots in the shape of some increasingly rare folding Schwalbe Marathon Extremes 2.25″, the ride has softened appreciably which will help if we do venture off road. The mudguards have been removed for this trip, primarily to easing packing in my Evoc bike bag. However, in contrast to UK riding, I don’t think this act will have any negative effect on the weather. I expect it to be dry and, at times, pretty durn hot.

Surly Troll 'stripped down' for Morocco

Surly Troll ‘stripped down’ for Morocco

I have also hooked up a Lightcharge USB charger to the SP dynamo hub. I’m hoping this is going to serve me well. I was riding for five hours on Saturday and my Powergen battery back was registering charge throughout. My Samsung Galaxy pings agreeably when the charger delivers juice too.

Lightcharge USB charger for dynamo hubs

Lightcharge USB charger for dynamo hubs

Other changes include an Alpkit Possum framebag and a Toppeak Modula extra large bottle holder. The theory goes that I will be buying large bottles of l’eau minerale … not sure how robust this cage will be but we’ll give a go anyhow. I’ll dispense with the rather fiddly and poorly design top rubber strap and use an Alpkit dry bag strap instead.

SP dynamo connected with heat shrink tube to keep things tidy

SP dynamo connected with heat shrink tube to keep things tidy

That said, the Troll’s congested bottle cage mounts and lack of under downtube bosses means I will clamp another cage to the frame. I tried jubilee clipping two cages to the forks but couldn’t achieve the fit and positioning I was after. It all felt a bit vulnerable too… Perhaps I had the wrong clips? This is a shame as it would have been handy getting some weight on the front wheels.

The set up is completed with my ever-faithful (if heavy) Caradice Super C panniers on the rear Tubus rack along with a dry bag.

As ever, I am trying to strike the right balance between weight in the bike bag and weight in my carry on bag. I am flying EasyJet to Marrakech and their new policy on bikes means I have 32kg to play with. Big bikes (particularly bikes with Rohloff hubs) equal big weights so I’ll no doubt carry more into the cabin than I bargained for.

Surly Troll packed in the Evoc bike bag

Surly Troll packed in the Evoc bike bag

A fairly accurate kit list… items subject to change:

Surly ‘Trolloff’, 22″ with Tubus rack
Go Lite Shangrila with inner
MEC Merlin Down sleeping bag
Thermarest Neo Air mat
Thermarest chair
Exped Pillow
Caradice Super C Panniers
Alpkit Possum
Exped Drybag
BPL Honey Stove
Trangia Burner
Trangia Fuel Bottle
Fire Steel
Titanium Cook Pot and Mug
MSR Mugmate
Trowel (for alfresco you-know-what)
First aid kit
Water bladder
Clamp on cage
Sun cream
Soap flakes


Endura cycling undershorts x2
Rohan Outrider Sorts
Smartwool merino tops
T-shirt (Star Wars?)
Rohan Bags
Rohan Overland shirt
Merino Boxers x2
Rab Microlight Vest (for travel and the mountains)
Montane Velo Jacket
Endura Mitts
Specialized knee warners (more of a barrier against the sun)
Buffs x3
Walz Cap
Endura Mullet glasses
SPD riding shoes


Park Tool Multi Tool
Torx T20 (for Rohloff)
Spare brake pads
Spare bolts
Spare Tubes
Spare tyre
Puncture kit
Adjustable spanner
Duck Tape
Cable Ties


Samsung Galaxy S2
Powergen battery pack
X Mini II speaker
Sennheiser in-ear headphones
Olympus Epl1
Lumix 14mm f2.8 pancake lens
Hoya filters
Gorilla pod.


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Keep Pedalling’s Third Birthday Ride

So this week has been a little different…

Rather than spending Wednesday up to my armpits in the usual heady mix of meetings and miscellanea in the Smoke, I boarded a Routemaster bus armed with my ECR alongside a bunch of like-minded folks with a plethora of impressive steeds.

The reason? Manchester’s best bike shop (now official) Keep Pedalling celebrated its third birthday. Naturally, the only way to mark this occasion was to go for a ride and follow it with a party in the shop… with beer, pizza and a fantastic cake courtesy of The Baking Room.

A couple of those very fine folk from Surly also came along… great company they were too.

The Routemaster was a very novel touch and provided the perfect entrée to a day of mud plugging in the Pennines. Despite my lowly off road skills, I didn’t crash… my only misdemeanour was losing my bottles when I got the beefy ECR airborne.

Riding bikes in the sunshine = happy days. Thanks so much Keep Pedalling for the invite, your advice and my two rather excellent Surlys. Here’s to your continued success.

More pics from the day can be found here courtesy of Steve Makin. Read Tim’s always entertaining account on Life in the Cycle Lane.

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Maggie’s Monster Bike and Hike

The guys behind Maggie’s Monster Bike and Hike got in touch a couple of weeks back wondering if I would help promote their event.

The Monster Bike + Hike is a 24-hour event where teams of two to six people bike 31 miles and hike 9, 23 or 31 miles to the bronze, silver and gold finishes. Last year from the 850 participants, 680 people made it to the gold finish line and the course record is an impressive 9 hours and 34 minutes.

The fundraiser takes place on 3 – 4 May in Scotland’s Great Glen and raises money for charity Maggie’s, which provides free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends, following the ideas about cancer care originally laid out by Maggie Keswick Jencks.

Built in the grounds of NHS cancer hospitals, Maggie’s Centres are places with professional staff on hand to offer the support people need.

For more information, check out their website. You just have time to benefit from a discounted registration fee if you sign up by Monday 31st March.

Posted in Cycling, Scotland, Walking | Tagged | Leave a comment

Surly ECR XXL – listen up tall folks

Got my Surly ECR yesterday. It’s a massive Humvee of a bike. While it’s too early to give an impression of the ride, let’s just say… so far, so ruddy marvelous.

The sizing of this bike caused a bit of head scratching but I am glad I went for the largest model. I feel I am sitting ‘in’ this bike rather than ‘on’ it.

I’m 6’6″ with a 37 1/2 cycle inseam and wanted an upright position. The result seems perfect for throwing my sizeable weight backwards on descents while the ‘aero’ position on the Jeff Jones loop bars is  comfortably within reach.

It’s early days, but I’ve found a bike that feels ‘right’ and inspires confidence off road.

Anyway, you’re probably not interested in my babble. Here are a spec list and some pics, including one of me on it for scale…

Frame: Surly ECR. size 24”
Rims: Velocity Dually, 32 spoke
Tyres: Surly Knard folding, 29×3”, 120 tpi (running inner tubes for now)
Front hub: Hope Evo, black, 32 hole
Rear hub: Shimano Alfine 8 speed black, 23 tooth sprocket, Surly Tugnut
Brakes: Avid BB7, front rotor 180mm, rear 160mm
Brake levers: Avid FR-5
Grips: Ergon GP-1
Bars: Jeff Jones H bar, 660mm
Shifter: Shimano Alfine trigger
Stem: Salsa Pro Moto, 90mm, 25 deg rise
Headset: Hope, black
Bottom bracket: Hope stainless, black
Crankset: Middleburn RS-8 X-type, 32 tooth ring, hardcoat
Seatpost: Thomson Elite layback, black
Saddle: Brooks B17
Pedals: Shimano Saint
Rack: Caradice Bagman Expedition
Bag: Nelson Longflap

Posted in Cycling, Gear | Tagged | 9 Comments

Cycle touring Morocco… the plan

Within hours of touching down on UK soil after my two weeks pedalling around Iceland last year, I started thinking about this year’s tour.

I needed somewhere that would challenge me physically, was beautiful, and take me out of my comfort zone. I also wanted to go somewhere where there’d be a chance of some sunshine, softy that I am.

After poring over travel guides, web forums and countless photos, I’ve settled on Morocco – specifically a tour from Marrakesh to the desert… and back again.

I hope the trip will include at least one, if not two, major passes or cols through the Atlas Mountains. Assuming I can carry enough water, I also hope to point the bike off road and tackle a couple of pistes or tracks. Decisions, decisions.

I’ve already booked a beautiful riad in Marrakesh for our first and last couple of nights, leaving bike bags and other surplus stuff at our digs.

The use of the plural rather than the singular in that last sentence betrays the fact that I’ll have a partner in crime on this trip. This is a bit of a departure from the norm but I’m delighted to have some company. My fellow velo is quite a bit younger than me, too,  so will probably leave me for dead.

More details to come…

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Approaching shelter enlightenment: The GoLite Shangri La 3 and Ookworks BigNest

I’ve had my GoLite Shangri La 3 for a couple of years and, when I bought it, I thought I’d reached the end of my search for a spacious, lightweight yet weatherproof shelter.

Camp near Pike o Blisco

Camp near Pike o Blisco

My height is a real disadvantage when it comes to tents. Many lightweight backpacking tents are too short and, given I like to sleep in my back, my feet or head are normally squashed into the ends of the shelter inner, forcing the fabric onto the outer where it becomes damp overnight.

My Hilleberg Akto is a solution of sorts. However, while the tent is long enough for my 6’6″ frame, its pitiful headroom is a real pain (literally) on longer trips

Continue reading

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Birthday bimble in the Dark Peak

To mark my 40th birthday this week it seemed appropriate to go for a wander at the weekend. In the interests of blogging symmetry, I opted for another long-ish walk home from Edale. The weather was pretty grim and I had some real trouble with the boots I was wearing. I’ll have a grumble about these along with other kit observations at a later date. For now, here are some pics…

Leaving Edale and the rain stopped, for five minutes.


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Northern Walker’s 2013

Tongue Gill at the end of a lovely  Lake District backpack

Tongue Gill at the end of a lovely Lake District backpack

A seasoned work colleague once told me that the older you get, the quicker the years seem to pass. He offered this sage observation 18 years ago, the inference being that you should not waste a second of the limited time you have on the planet. I’ll be 40 in a couple of weeks and, for the last five years or so, the passage of time has seemingly accelerated as per his prediction.

2013 has been good to me in many ways and, heeding this advice, I’ve tried to make the most of the free time I’ve had. My two-week tour of Iceland was superb and I’ve enjoyed some magic moments in the hills.

However, regretfully, not all of the latter made the pages of the blog. Many of the trips were notable, but the pressures of work in the latter half of the year have left me spent… struggling to find adequate words without resorting to cumbersome clichés.

I realise I’ve become mute on other social channels too. I’ll endeavour to kick start these in the New Year.

More positively, and in common with 2012, I’ve enjoyed some great conversations with cycle tourers and outdoors folk across the globe. I note from the WordPress review of the year that while the UK audience continues to grow, the site is now well read in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Learning from others remains my prime motivation.

In common with previous years, I’ll give a quick rundown on the top posts from the last twelve months. All the best for the New Year and thanks for your continued support.

Pingvellir camping

Camping in Iceland after another great day on the road

The top five

1 Choosing the best touring bicycle (updated January 2013)

2 Choosing the best bike touring wheels

3 Fjällräven Nils Trousers – first look

4 The ‘best’ touring bike tyres – now it’s personal

5 Touring bicycle sizing and fit


1 Bicycle touring the Hebrides, Scotland

2 Iceland by bicycle days seven and eight – Kjolur

3 Notes from Camusrory – Walking with Mac

4 Photo post: Lake District Backpack, Ambleside to Keswick

5 A perfect Peak District wild camp – Going up west

Posted in Cycling, Gear, Scotland, Walking | 4 Comments

ECR inspiration and festive best

All good things... The Surly ECR (Pic: Surly)

All good things… The Surly ECR (Pic: Surly)

It’ll be some time until I get my paws on my new Surly ECR. Time, then, to carry on thinking about specs and where I can get it muddy in the New Year.

I can also take some inspiration from riders who’ve built up steeds from the first batch of frames.

If you are similarly ECR-afflicted, you can read about them here:

Pedaling Nowhere

Visit this excellent blog to read about an ECR build and follow a great adventure in South Africa.

Gypsy by Trade

Another inspirational blog and a perfect tonic for those dark Manchester evenings… Here you’ll find an excellent, objective review of the ECR sporting a Krampus-esque paint job.

Run Out, Off Route

One of the first to post about the ECR in detail, read about some early impressions on the trail.

For those wondering if I’ll ever go walking again and stop posting about ruddy bikes, I hope to get out in the hills between Christmas and the New Year so there might be a post before year-end :-)

Until then, may I wish you and yours a restful festive break.



Posted in Cycling, Gear | Tagged | 4 Comments

November: Working like a dawg, Rohloff miles, shipping bikes overseas and cake

Seems I blinked and missed November.

Given the lack of activity on these pages, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’d gone into hibernation. Not true, although the hours I’ve spent nose pressed to computer screen for the day job have monopolised my thoughts (and senses) somewhat. There’s been little room for much else – a hibernation of sorts, then.

I’m not complaining as it’s been rewarding work, but time for activity worthy of addition to the Northern Walker back catalogue has been limited. There are a few things of note, however.

Early thoughts on a Rohloff hub

rohloff-speedhub-surly-trollEvery conceivable characteristic of the Rohloff Speedhub has been covered elsewhere in magazines, blogs and forums. I’m not going to add too much to this exhaustive reading list although I’m pleased to report that after about 300 miles on my Surly Troll, the hub is starting to settle down.

As others have reported, there is noise in gears 1-7 and seven is a pepper grinder. Gears 8-14 are silent on the flat, with a little noise under load.

There is a minor sensation of vibration through the cranks under load too, but this getting less pronounced with use it seems.

The hub will not freewheel like a derailleur and probably never will – aggressive seals and internal gubbins are to blame here. I have followed Rohloff’s advice and dropped a little oil behind the rear sprocket has this has helped free things up a little. More miles will help too.

I also concur with other users who have complained about the shift in weight distribution due to the hub and how this can deaden the rear end of the bike. When I first built my Troll I found it surprisingly sprightly despite its heft and much of that character has now gone. This is not a problem, as the bike feels far more stable and more suited to touring, but it’s something to bear in mind of you’re thinking of fitting the hub to a mountain bike or monster crosser.

While the potential negatives are readily apparent from these early rides, so are the positives. I really appreciate the clean drivetrain, the ability to change gear while stationary, the evenly spaced ratios, the overall positive feel of the hub and the lack of fettling.

I also have the confidence that minor niggles with the hub are likely to get better with age.

Saying farewell to the Green Goddess

Thorn Club Tour boxed and ready for shipping

Thorn Club Tour boxed and ready for shipping

I put my Thorn Club Tour up for sale a few weeks ago. I had a few enquiries from prospective buyers in the States and Australia would you believe, while others wanted my to break the bike down and sell off the components separately. Another thought it a bit too old school (!)

Eventually I had an email from a rider in the Netherlands who was in the market for a lighter touring rig. We agreed a price and I got to work trying to find a suitable shipping carrier.

This proved to be difficult. I didn’t want to break the bike down too much to prevent squashed dropouts but most couriers’ package restrictions would not accommodate a large bicycle in a box. I asked the ever helpful folk at my LBS Keep Pedalling and they suggested some good courier options, only the price wasn’t right.

Then I came cross Direct Courier Solutions, a broker that has secured favourable rates from mainstream couriers for larger items. A bike to Netherlands would cost £70 (plus £7.50 for optional insurance cover of up to £1000). This was half the price of other quotes I’d received.

Save for a missed collection on my initial booked day, the bike shipped by Fedex in five days. Online tracking was excellent.

I’m pleased to say that the Club reached its new owner in fine condition (although I did spend an age packing it) and he seems very happy with his new ride. The whole process has given me a great deal of satisfaction, topped by the fact that this bike and its new owner will be going on plenty of adventures in the New Year…

Cycle touring the Ardnamurchan

Let me eat cake

I’ve had a few chats over the Interweb with the author of the blog Life in the Cycle Lane. We share a similar taste in bikes (not Bromptons!) and bike shops, and had the opportunity to meet a couple of times over the last few weeks.

Tim, the gent in question, is a fine fellow with a far finer beard than mine and, when not in the cycle lane, spends many a weekend selling cake with his other half Karen.

Not only would I commend his blog to those of a pedalling disposition, I’d also recommend The Baking Room, the source of said cake.

I am a fan of the Parkin and the delicious gluten-free marmalade cake, but I really must fess up my addiction to their excellent Guinness-ginger-dark chocolate bites. These flavoursome nuggets are a marriage made in heaven and highly recommended.

Check out The Baking Room here.

Posted in Cycling, Gear | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments