Meet Bob

So it all started when a good friend and ‘fellow velo’ bought me a copy of ‘The Golden Age of Handbuilt Cycles’ – a large-format photographic tribute to French bike constructeurs and a book that has found permanent residence on my work desk at home.

This tome mainly confines its scope to the randonneur machines of Alex Singer and Rene Herse, bikes that tick many boxes for me in terms of cycle aesthetic. The more I leafed lovingly through its pages, the more I wanted to attempt my own incarnation of this venerable, long-haul cycle.

Ideally, I would have caught the Eurostar to France, got a cab to Victor Hugo Street just outside Paris’s Boulevard Périphérique and talked to the folk at Alex Singer direct – hoping my clumsy French would suffice. Linguistically I may have been onto a winner, but my wallet couldn’t support such a venture.

The same was true of commissioning a bespoke frame. For this project, my focus had to be a wee bit more modest so I settled on a Bob Jackson World Tour – my early French affair taking a distinct Anglophile turn.

Bob jackson World Tour in a whopping 26.5
Bob Jackson World Tour in a whopping 26.5″ size

This is an ‘off the peg’ frameset which essentially fixes the frame’s angles. You can specify quite expansively around this template, though, which gave me welcome licence to order a larger size than ‘stock’ and add a proper headbadge. The rest of the spec was very standard.

Sizing, as ever, was a key consideration. After a bit of email tennis with the helpful folk at Jacksons, I settled on a 26.5-inch version in standard oversize Reynolds 631 tubes, which manage to retain a traditional look on such a large frame and should improve the ride. The oversize set was complemented by beefed up stays compared to my French reference machines.

Offering this traditional geometry up against my custom Woodrup confirmed the decision on sizing. The Bob has relaxed head and seat tubes compared to the semi-compact Sportivo but is slightly longer in the ‘effective’ top tube. This should allow me to get a (nearly) like-for-like position, although with the bars a little higher for a more upright ride.

If you are interested, the seat tube is 67.3cm in new money, with a 61 cm top tube. The headtube is 24cm.

Bob Jackson optional headbadge on the World Tour
Bob Jackson optional headbadge on the World Tour

The frame is painted a simple Oxford Blue enamel to show off the shiny components that will ultimately grace it. In that vein, I opted against lug lining to keep the canvas as blank as possible (although it may have been a good idea to request just one set of builder decals in retrospect). Unbeknown to me, Jacksons took the liberty of lining their makers initials at the top of the seat stays in white. These ‘BJs’ will no doubt elicit the odd titter for some!

Bob Jackson's 'BJ' marking on top of the seat stays - titter ye not!
Bob Jackson’s ‘BJ’ marking on top of the seat stays – titter ye not!

Other nice touches on the frame include braze-on cable routing under the bottom bracket shell (something I wish I’d have specified on my Woodrup) and a chain hook on the rear stay. I decided to keep the guides for STI cables on the headtube in case my plan to fit downtube shifters proves a wildly romantic nod to the past.

On the subject of components, I have been caught in a tussle between form and function. It’s very tempting to think of freewheels, first generation Campagnolo Rally rear mechs, Simplex shifters, ‘New Old Stock’ etc etc. Tempting, that is, until you see some of the prices this kit now commands on eBay, a market charged by the crop of l’Eroica events around the globe.

My component set will be a bit more modest but will resolutely avoid carbon and black anodising. This means looking to Taiwan, the USA and Italy for the shiny and some fun experimentation with mongrel drivetrains… More of that soon.

Bob Jackson World Tour rear adjustable drop outs
Bob Jackson World Tour rear adjustable drop outs

Cycle Touring Northern England – Berwick on Tweed to Glossop

Bike touring normally means a welcome escape from technology and being ‘connected’. On this trip, I’d never been far from my mobile phone as it served as my navigation device via OS maps and the excellent Viewranger. Perched on my Jones bars using a handy Rixen and Kaul Klikfix mount, it had successfully negated the need to carry numerous paper map sheets and guide books.

ECR on the Sandstone Way bikepack
Great riding on the Sandstone Way near Ingram

The technology came into its own yet again securing digs in Berwick. A quick search on late rooms and Google Maps was directing me to the Rob Roy Inn and a comfortable room. The ECR had a comfortable lodging for the night, too – the games room.

After last night’s extravagant meal, my dinner that night was far more modest. Two course for eight quid – mushrooms with dips and a very good pie and chips. I demolished it with guilt-free relish. Continue reading

Cycle touring Scotland – Aviemore to the border

My arrival in Aviemore may have been heralded by soggy conditions, but the following morning was stellar. I woke early and rode the lovely trails of the Rothiemurchus for a while, drinking in my favourite forest. I’ve waxed lyrical (tried to) about this place before and you can still find a quiet spot early in the day to ‘listen to it breathe’.

Leaving the Rothiemurchus
Leaving the Rothiemurchus

I pointed the ECR south, now bent on a new plan I’d formulated over a potent and prodigious curry the previous night. Checking the weather carefully, it appeared the grim conditions to the west were now chasing me east and south. This system’s southerly course would last for the next week or so, with conditions filling in behind the front.

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Bikepacking Scotland – the Great Glen Way

Three soggy days on the West Highland Way had taken their toll. My kit was damp, I’d started to stink a bit while the lens on my trusty Olympus camera was fogged and its operation sporadic. I needed to dry out and clean up.

The camera problems – experienced last time when I cycle toured Iceland – meant I had to shift to the phone for pictures so apologies for the poor quality of the some of the resulting shots.

I bagged a luxury pitch next to the river at the Lochy Holiday Park  just north of Fort William. Such heavily groomed, holiday housing estates are generally not my overnight stop of choice on bike tours but the facilities are normally excellent, and so they proved to be here.

Lochy Holiday park campsite... it rained and rained and rained
Lochy Holiday park campsite… it rained and rained and rained

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Bikepacking the West Highland Way

I shared the train journey to Glasgow with two coast-to-coast road riders who alighted at Carlisle. Their interest – and that of the train steward – in the ECR and it’s ‘ridiculous’ tyres set a tone that would resonate for the whole trip.

Unable to find anything that palatable on the Trans Pennine Express service save for a questionable cup of coffee, I carb loaded at Glasgow station on croissants while consulting Viewranger for a suitable escape route.

I’d walked out of this fine city before using the satisfactory Kelvin and Allander walkways. These seemed fair game for the bike too although I was soon distracted by blue signs drawing me to alternative bikeways.

ECR on the slight detour from the West Highland Way after Mudgock Wood
ECR on the slight detour from the West Highland Way after Mudgock Wood

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Scotland bikepacking – with rather a lot of England thrown in too

Two weeks pedalling the Surly ECR along track, trail, byway and bike route proved a blissful escape from my common routine.

The simple pleasure of riding for maybe eight hours a day and having the time to linger and follow my nose allowed me to break from tyranny of schedule while the physical challenge served as a deliciously singular focus.

Stories to come but you’ll note from the title of this post that I didn’t spend all my time in Scotland. The weather proved to be very challenging in the west and, with little prospect of improvement, I decided to head east instead and, ultimately, pedalled all the way to my front door.

I battled along a good chunk of the West Highland Way, tackled the surprisingly tough Great Glen Way before hitting Inverness and heading to Aviemore. A mixture of NCN routes and bridle paths conveyed me home through the lovely Borders, superb Northumberland and North Yorkshire, giving access to an unfamiliar yet wonderful section of the Pennine Bridleway north of Settle.

In all, I cycled 1,300 km and climbed 13,500 metres.

In addition to rain, hail and snow in Scotland, I enjoyed at least one warm day, mostly headwinds, endured a number of minor mechanical issues and was chased by one dog. More to come…

Surly ECR on the West Highland Way
Surly ECR on the West Highland Way

Packing for bike touring – lightening the load

OldSkool? - Touring Iceland on a Surly Troll with 30kg of kit across four panniersa dn a drybag
OldSkool? – Touring Iceland on a Surly Troll with 30kg+ of kit across four panniers and a drybag

I’ve been experimenting with packing for my trip to Scotland later this month. Given I’ll be riding off road as much as weather conditions allow the traditional pannier set up has been ditched and I’ve been forced to re-evaluate my packing routine.

Adios panniers

A traditional cycle touring set up where the load is split across four panniers, bar bag and, maybe, a drybag on the rear rack offers the rider the chance to bring the kitchen sink – literally. For me, this results in luxuries such as books, a (relatively) large tent, hipflasks of whisky and bottles of ale, numerous electronic gizmos, extended camera kit, at least one full change of clothes including ‘evening wear’ for nights in the pub… you get the picture. Continue reading