This year’s adventure and a change of plan

rannoch moorI had planned to head to France for this year’s bike tour and tackle the Grande Traversée du Massif Central, a 700km mountain bike route from Clermont Ferrard to Montpellier.

I bought the guidebook and had (nearly) sorted my slightly awkward logistics flying outbound and grabbing the Bike Europe Express coach service home. Naturally, I wanted to take the Surly ECR on this trip although this bike’s massive proportions would cause problems on both modes of travel. If you’re interested, Bike Europe Express will take fat bikes – be they half or full fat – classing them as ‘unconventional solos’. However, I think it’s a good idea to call them first if you fancy taking your monster truck.

Other factors have now conspired against France, however, focusing my attention back to Google Earth and my daydreams. Not for long though…

Each year we drive up to Scotland I snatch a glance along lonely glens and see stony tracks disappearing into massive landscapes. Each time I promise I will return with a bike, some lightweight camping gear and with a vow to simply spend some time. This year, in May, I’ll make good on that promise.

Previous experiences in the Highlands are feeding this ambition too.  I walked the West Highland Way a few years back and wondered then what sections would be like on a bike (although not the stretch north of Rowardenan; that’s cycling sadomasochism to make you weep).

Poring over maps a route is starting to take shape, although I am keeping things purposefully loose. If there is a narrative to this journey, it’s to ride the old ways such as General Wade’s military roads, drove roads, thieves’ roads… routes that have provided passage through this wonderful, fearsome landscape for hundreds of years.

I’ve plotted a roughly circular route from Glasgow that takes in the superb riding in and around the Rothiemurchus forest, the Great Glen, Glen Affric and, perhaps, an island or two I’m yet to visit. As I say, keep it loose.

The ECR will  be the ride of choice here too. Now equipped with a Rohloff hub and ‘bikepacking’ luggage, its impressive hoops should handle what will be tricky ground at times. I want to keep hike-a-bike to a minimum and yet will probably have to push on more occasions than any sane person would want. I’m not burdening my planning with this baggage, though.

I’m in similar denial about the weather. May has been very good to me on previous jaunts ‘north of the wall’ so I’m due some payback. We’ll see.

For the next few months, then, my daydreams will be filled with sunsets, lofty peaks, cobbled roads and singletrack, and wild camps near energetic burns. The weather will be set fair and the midges docile.

All hail the blissfully ignorant romantic.

Posted in Cycling, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The best of weekends in Lakeland

It’s been over a year since I’ve visited the Cumbrian fells. My last trip – for the other half’s 40th birthday – was a wonderful week of friends, campfires, canoes, great food and liberal imbibing.

During that trip I managed to squeeze in a couple of classic Lakeland walks – the Coldedale Round and Blencathra via Sharp Edge – although the card on my camera corrupted so those excursions didn’t make the pages of this blog sadly.

Last week we returned. A number of motivational factors aligned: we needed an escape, we had a new tent to ‘test’ and the forecast looked OK. I booked the Friday off work and we trundled up the M6 amid seemingly endless road works to Keswick.

Our destination was the campsite at Braithwaite (although we generally prefer a ‘wilder’ camping experience, the loos are top notch). Our home was a Vango Force 10 Mk5 Classic – a voyage into the ‘Old Skool’. More thoughts on this venerable shelter in a later post.

The clear highlight of the weekend was Saturday’s walk in stunning conditions, though. We’d planned to tackle the Coledale Round again, but compacted snow and ice on some slopes forced a rethink given our lack of walking spikes or crampons. Half an hour kicking steps for my walking partner to follow might have been a contributory factor too.

We consoled ourselves skipping along the ridge of Scar Crags and Causey Pike before scrambling and bum shunting off its rocky knuckle of a summit. A relatively gentle descent delivered us back at camp.

It was sublime.

Our Vango Force 10 at Scotsdale - Classic indeed

Our Vango Force 10 at Scotsdale – Classic indeed

Signs of the coming Spring

Signs of the coming Spring

Looking back to Braithwaite

Looking back to Braithwaite

Admiring the Coledale Round

Admiring the Coledale Round

The path leading to Stile End

The path leading to Stile End

The other follows my steps in the ice - all a bit hairy in places

The other half followed my steps on sketchy bits – all a bit hairy at times and a day for the spikes

Enjoying the Snow leading to Causey Pike

Enjoying the snow leading to Causey Pike

Descending from Causey Pike

Descending from Causey Pike

Looking to Newlands and tracing routes taken in the past

Looking to Newlands and tracing routes taken in the past

Posted in Walking | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Birthday wander – Lantern Pike

New mills signNotwithstanding my rather sombre introduction to the year, I recaptured a sense of the restorative effect of one foot ahead of the other on my birthday.

The plan had been to head to the Derwent Valley and kick trails through the snow on its edges. Overnight flurries conspired against us however and the Snake was closed.

A local ramble on Glossopdale was presented as an option only to be rejected by the other half, favouring the familiar territory of Lantern Pike from Hayfield. The snow would offer an alternative take on this agreeable ramble.

This being a Thursday the car park at the countryside centre was empty. Donning hefty footwear, we ambled along the Pennine Bridleway before heading to the slopes and higher ground. The summit maker was soon reached and we celebrated my 41st year with coffee and chocolate cake.

Our descent took us ‘behind’ the Pike and to Birch Vale where we enjoyed tea at the excellent Sett Valley Café, a sure-fire stop for summer bike rides both on and off road. From here, we simply retraced our steps to the car.

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Reflections

This time last year there was an overwhelming sense of a need for change. This wasn’t the superficial, ephemeral tokenism of New Year resolutions but driven by a dissatisfaction with the course life was taking.

The early manifestations of change were functional and pragmatic. I emptied the contents of my loft onto eBay and reinvested the resultant funds into experiences or tools that would facilitate these experiences – namely bikes(!)

Lightened both spiritually and materially after clearing this consumer flotsam, I managed to sell my house and thus remove a set of irons that had shackled me to a financial commitment disproportionate to any benefits home ownership delivered. That’s not to say I don’t wish to buy another home – I do – but not one that becomes such an inflexible burden.

Moving house is a stressful business of course. However, in common with many, 2014 presented other challenges and these are yet to fully play out. The latter half of the year has been particularly difficult, accounting for the sporadic activity on these pages focusing on the simple escape of riding and building bikes or (not) hitting the hills.

In all honesty, the hills haven’t provided solace during these difficult times and I have found comfort elsewhere on the windswept roads near home, where the physical effort of cycling has allowed me to fully disengage. Turning the pedals has become the tonic to turning over problems in my head. Walking and wild camping, by contrast, just seemed to feed an unhelpful introspection.

Conceding this saddens me. The hills have always provided an effective counterpoint to the day to day and it has been odd to find them so lacking in the lustre which has, in the past, been so nourishing. I hope to reclaim this feeling soon; like the best of friends, they will always be there.

Reflecting on the last 12 months I have the sense of a job half done. The dilapidated rental cottage on the edge of the Peak District we now call home will serve us in the interim, but that overwhelming sense of change felt so strongly a year ago continues to be a major motivation and one that I can draw strength from in dealing with the other challenges currently faced.

For now then, may I wish you and yours the very best for 2015.

Surly-troll-rohloff

Posted in Cycling, Walking | 16 Comments

Should you buy a custom bike frame? Some thoughts

I’ve had a quite a few emails from readers since I posted about my Woodrup Sportivo asking about the process of specifying a custom frame.

Now I have few hundred miles under my belt on this lovely machine, I feel it’s time to offer some thoughts on going custom which may be of help if you are considering a similar project.

Why do you want a custom frame?

Woodrup SportivoThis is an important question and one that requires some thought. In my case, my height, back trouble and aesthetic considerations were key factors in opting for a custom frame.

Your requirements may be different… Continue reading

Posted in Cycling, Gear | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Woodrup 853 Sportivo: done

Woodrup SportivoHere are some pics and build specs on my Woodrup. Assuming I can sell some more stuff, I hope to add an upgraded wheel set at some point but the hoops off the Thorn will do for now.

Frame: Woordup Sportivo 853 oversize tubing, custom.
Wheels: DRC rims on XT. Gatorskin 28mm tyes.
Mudguards: SKS
Brakes: Shimano Ultegra 57mm drop.
Pedals: Shimano Ultegra
Drivetrain: Sram Rival 20 spd, 50/34 crankset and WiFli rear mech. 11-32 rear cluster. 10spd Sram PC1051 chain. Chris King BB.
Bars: Pro Lt
Stem: Cinelli
Headset: Chris King
Seat post: Deda RSX 02
Saddle: Brooks B17
Accessories: King Cages, stainless steel. Carradice Zipped Roll.

Posted in Cycling, Gear | Tagged | 5 Comments

Mountain Warehouse Extreme Brisk Mountain Jacket – a few miles down the trail

Mountain Warehouse Extreme Brisk JacketI’ve been wearing the Mountain Warehouse Extreme Brisk Mountain Jacket for a few months now in a range of conditions and it high time I offer some thoughts.

In common with the Adrenaline cycle jacket, which I posted about a while back, this jacket is manufactured from IsoDry, although a better performing version of the fabric according to the swing ticket.

The Brisk uses 10,000mm IsoDry, which has a claimed moisture vapour transfer (MVT) rate of 5,000g/24hrs/m2. Stats aside, the fabric of this jacket is considerable softer than that used for the Adrenaline and the jacket feels more comfortable as a result on the hill.

Features

The Brisk Extreme features a contrast, full-length water resistant zip, 2 zip fastening zide pockets, a chest pocket and an internal map pocket, which just about takes an OS map – just. It has a comfortable micro-fleece lined collar, Velcro cuffs, a draw cord hem and a draw cord hood, though no wired peak. Ventilation zips are located at the armpits.

In common with the Adrenaline, the jacket features a mesh liner to help manage moisture with full lining below the waist and on the arms.

Fit

The Brisk in a size large fitted me pretty well. The arms were plenty long enough and the jacket not too baggy so a fleece sits nicely underneath. I didn’t miss the lack of a waist draw cord as I find the pack waist belt does this job well enough in use. It may be a little short for some users, but I prefer a jacket of this length.

Performance

The Brisk has been used in a variety of conditions from wet summer tramps across Peak bog to a (very) wet three-day backpack from Glenfinnan to Inverie. It performed pretty well. However, while it keeps water out, breathability is poor compared to other (more expensive) fabrics.

This shortcoming was brought into sharp focus on my Scotland walk. In typical fashion, conditions ranged from sublime to pretty rank. Being summer, though, the ambient temperature was generally high and I sweated heavily at times. These very damp conditions, both inside and out, would have tested any mountain jacket, but the Brisk really struggled.

Even with pit zips open, I was constantly damp, particularly on the descent into Inverie when this dampness degenerated into a chill, which saw me shivering by the time I reached the Old Forge. The chest pocket leaked too, sadly, although the full-length zip seemed up to the job as far as I could tell. The hood was of a decent size and comfortable but would have benefited considerably from a wire peak.

Another unpleasant characteristic of the jacket in these conditions is that it smells. At first, I thought this was me. However, my merino base layer and fleece were reassuringly ‘fresh’ after three days backpacking while the shoulders and waist areas of the jacket where it contacted my pack hummed.

I’ve washed it since according to the manufacturer’s instructions and the nasty niff remains when used in tough conditions.

Conclusion

The Extreme Brisk Jacket is well designed and well made, but sadly let down by the IsoDry fabric. As a general waterproof for ambles and country walks it does a fine job but I don’t feel confident using it in the mountains. I note this jacket is currently unavailable in the MW range, although I think the quoted ‘discounted’ retail price was £69.99. This represents fairly good value if you bear in mind its limitations.

Posted in Gear, Walking | Tagged | 3 Comments

Woodrup Sportivo 853

After nearly three years thinking about purchasing a custom frame I have, at last, taken the plunge. I took delivery of a Sportivo this week from Woodrup Cycles in Leeds, built with care and enthusiasm by Kevin Sayles.

woodrup-sportivo-8While three years may seem like a long time, I’m glad I deliberated. Trips to Bespoked Bristol planted the idea of a custom frame while also highlighting the challenges of building in steel a frame that would be big enough and satisfy my eye aesthetically.

This latter point was very important. I spoke to many builders who could deliver a frame that would fit but didn’t necessarily understand the ‘look’ I was after. I reviewed examples of large frames and, frankly, some looked like gates. I became despondent and rejected the whole project. This was not helped by personal financial ‘challenges’.

Then I visited Kevin at his workshop in Leeds armed with my Thorn Audax and we had a lengthy and fruitful chat about fit and form. Kevin is a real cycling enthusiast and has been building for more than 40 years. He used to work for Thorn and was pretty certain he’d set my Audax up.

While I had pretty fixed idea as to what I wanted, he suggested the 853 oversized tubeset which resulted in him having to fabricate a seat cluster lug (the frame had to have lugs!). The geometry was tweaked to accommodate my penchant for Brooks saddles and their relatively short rails. Other features included stainless strips for cable rub and a ‘proper’ head badge. A Chris King headset and bottom bracket completed the order.

I am delighted with the result. Not gate like to my eye, although remember I am 6’6″ with a 37.5″ cycle inseam. Can’t wait to get it built :-)

 

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Thorn Audax Mk3 size 600 frame set for sale (NOW SOLD)

Note: this frame has now been sold

My size 600 Thorn Audax Mk3 frame set in lovely cobalt pearl blue is for sale. Includes Cane Creek headset, Thorn 100mm 17 deg ahead stem, frame prep and stainless bolts throughout, Thorn seat pin and Shimano Tiagra bottom bracket.

Price £260. Buyer to pay shipping charges and I would prefer not to ship overseas.

This steel frame is extremely comfortable and would make a perfect century bike or winter trainer. It has braze ons for front and rear racks and direct fit mudguards.

While it has been very well cared for, there is the odd chip on the chain stay although not to the bare metal.

Full specs can be found on the Thorn website. Any questions, please email me.

Posted in Cycling, Gear | Tagged | 1 Comment

First look – MPOWERD Luci inflatable solar lantern

Just before I headed to Scotland I had an email from a company in the United States asking about distributors for their inflatable solar lantern. I duly responded and the company sent me a sample to try.

MPowered Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern
The MPOWERD Luci inflatable lantern is intended for outdoor leisure users including hikers, campers, anglers, kayakers, cyclists… you get the picture. It is constructed from soft clear transparent plastic, is waterproof and features a square solar panel in the base charging a slim 3.7V DC lithium polymer battery. This is sealed in the base with no facility for replacement.

Light is provided by 10 led lights arranged in a circle in the base providing a maximum of 65 lumens. In the top of the cylindrical lantern is a flexible reflective disc that helps distribute the light to a claimed area of a square metre. The top disc also features a mouthpiece with stop valve for inflation/deflation while plastic handles are located at the top and base allowing the lantern to be suspended.

A switch at the centre of the solar panel toggles the lantern between ‘bright’, ‘super bright’, and ‘flashing/beacon’ settings and powers the unit down.

The manufacturers claim 12 hours on the bright setting and this seems plausible in summer temperatures. I left the unit on all night on the hearth and it was still emitting good light in the morning after nine hours. Charge time is eight hours and the unit will still provide four hours of light if not used for a year from full charge.

Inflation and deflation can be a little tricky, though. The mouthpiece features a stiff valve making it quite difficult to inflate by blowing straight from the lungs (as if you were inflating a Thermarest). Musicians familiar with the embouchure technique will have an advantage!

I found it easier to inflate the lantern by opening it gently like an accordion (forgive the musical references) while holding the valve open with the point of a pencil or other pointed (but not sharp) implement. The lantern can then be topped up by blowing air in the mouthpiece.

This is a well-designed and well-made lantern that performs well based on early use. It may be a luxury for lightweight backpackers given that it weighs a little over 110g but I will find room for it in my cycle panniers as it illuminates the inner of my Vaude Hogan XT perfectly. It has particular practical benefits for anglers fishing at night and those who love messing around in boats.

If you are interested in finding out more check our MPOWERD’s website. Interested retailers should contact sales@mpowerd.com

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