Vive L’Eroica

The Eroica Britannia may have allowed me to indulge the n+1 theory of bike ownership in the form of my much-loved Bob Jackson, but it’s not all about the bike and I enjoyed my ride immensely last year.

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At the end of the lovely Eroica Britannia

I was always going to take part again but wanted to change the tenor of this year’s trundle, to move away from the rather elitist 100-mile class and pursue a more sedate pace while immersing myself in the spirit of this very British incarnation of the Italian ‘heroic’ ride.

Consequently, having ridden the longest route previously, last weekend I rode the shortest. I ditched the retro merino ‘racing’ gear for what perhaps could be described as 1950s touring wear – white shirt, retro tank top, baggy tan shorts. It all seemed to suit the Bob and my biking philosophy.

I had a companion this year, too, who helped me explore this more relaxed approach. In a last-minute bike switch, Sophie rode my Brompton hastily equipped with a wicker basket and looked very dandy in the world’s largest sunhat. Although not particularly aerodynamique, the headgear made sense as the weather was glorious… furiously hot in fact.

We set off late, nearly the last riders to make the grand depart. Within half a mile along the lovely High Peak Trail, we stopped for breakfast. Riding just 25 miles immediately changes your mindset; there was always going to be plenty of time. And with that time came a deeper appreciation of the surroundings and the nature of the event. Riding my bike, great weather, lovely company… simple but sometimes-elusive pleasures.

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On the trail

The miles passed under our wheels easily and my companion didn’t appear too encumbered by the Brompton despite her initial skepticism. Leaving the gravel, our route dropped down into Monyash where the food station was bare. Still, there was beer, soft drinks and much-needed water to give us a lift. A brass band provided the only soundtrack needed for half an hour lying on the grass in the sunshine.

Now heading back to Eroica HQ, we both started to dawdle, neither of us wanting the ride to end. To soften the blow, we formulated frankly hair-brained plans for next year. This could involve a tandem and cross dressing,.. and I will seemingly endure the greater humiliation.

In the final miles, all routes converged and we encountered the hasty progress of riders on the longer tours, their riding philosophy somewhat removed from ours. They also sped by when we came across a venerable rider seemingly slumped on his weighty trike in the fierce heat. We were concerned for our fellow velo and plied him with water and sweets. We decided to ride back to Friden Grange with him as an unofficial support crew where he was greeted with heartfelt and deserved applause upon crossing the line. Chapeau my friend.

So, a glorious ride on a glorious day. You couldn’t really ask for more.

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Variations on a successful theme – the Surly Orge

I’ve just put the finishing touches to a Surly Ogre. The massive bike – an XXL frame – uses parts from my trusty–but-too-small Surly Troll, including a Rohloff transmission.

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Surly Ogre on shopping duty in Manchester

The Ogre frameset came up by chance – a friend was offloading it – and given my height it was a chance I jumped at. Regular readers will now I am fan of the Rohloff hub for touring both on and off road. I too have been a fan of Surly’s do-everything- reasonably-well bikes. However, the Troll always felt a bit too much of a compromise. Notwithstanding the fact it was too small, I found the handling too busy for it to be a full-on load lugger.

Since dismantling the Troll before moving house last year, I’ve really missed not having a bike of this kind in the fleet. So I was keen to marry the Rohloff to a larger frame and hopefully achieve the true all-roads, all-round touring machine I was looking for.
It may well be early days, but I think I may have just found it. The Ogre is based on Karate Monkey geometry – that venerable ‘niner off-roader of the Surly line up. I wondered whether this would be ‘too mtb’ for touring, but the handling is very different to the Troll. Maybe it’s the set up, but I’m amazed at how predictable this bike is… with none of the Troll fidget. It’s far more to my taste as a touring machine but won’t be as nimble on the gnarly stuff of course.

So, tracking straight and true, the bike really inspires confidence on descents. I’m a bit lily livered when to comes to downhill, but the Ogre has me tucking in and flying. That may be something to do with the riding position. I am able to comfortably ride in the drops on this bike and the position feels quite relaxed and controlled… certainly very far removed from aggressive.

Take a look at the build kit for this bike and you’ll quickly appreciate this a belt-and-braces machine – just how I like my touring bikes to be. However I can also fully understand why some readers would find it over the top and not to their liking at all. It would be possible to build a far leaner and sprightlier version of this bike but the component choice is based on my experiences with the Troll. This bike should be able to bounce along the Kjolur in Iceland fully loaded and crawl (albeit slowly) over Alpine passes. It also needs to be burly enough to resist the determined inattention of baggage handlers (I remain ever-hopeful on this latter point).

Just don’t ask how much it weighs…

The build is as follows:

Frame: Surly Ogre, XXL (24”)
Wheels: Ryde Sputnik Rims, Shimano Deore fornt hub (36 spoke) Rohloff rear (32 spoke)
Tyres: Halo Twin Rail gum wall, 2.2 in
Racks: Tubus front and rear
Transmission: Middleburn cranks, 38T chainring. Rohloff hub, 16T sprocket. Surly tugnut.
Brakes:
Avid BB7 V discs, Tektro V brake drop levers
Bars: Genetic Flare, 46cm
Seatpost: Velo Orange layback seatpost
Stem: Salsa Guide Stem 90mm, 115 degrees
Headset: FSA Orbit XL
Extras: Thorn accessory bar for Rohloff shifter.

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Bob Jackson World Tour – Old skool packing for the road

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Stopping for coffee at Beningbrough Hall

A couple of readers have got in touch to ask about how I packed the Bob Jackson for the Way of the Roses trip. The decision to take the bike I built for Eroica was a bit last minute as a replacement frame for my trusty Surly Troll was held up for one reason or another. I now have a dedicated, heavyweight Rohloff-based tourer to replace the Troll that will accompany me to the Alps at the end of the month, although I’d be more than happy to take the Bob if needed as it handled touring duties with impressive ease.

Given this bike has to sit within the aesthetic guidelines of the Eroica events, I fitted some rather lovely replica French racks from Velo Orange before leaving for Morecambe Bay. More information can be found on the fitting process here.

They are not all-show-and-no-go either as both racks can handle reasonable weight, particularly the front Porteur rack of which I’ve become a huge fan. This design, or a more modern iteration thereof, is destined to find a home on other bikes in the fleet.

OK, so the packing list. I’ll detail the items taken by bag to give you an idea of weight distribution. Suffice to say, the bike handled beautifully with this light load and I’d be happy pedalling for weeks with this kit as long as I had opportunities to wash and dry gear on the way.

Velo Orange front Porteur Rack, in a 25 litre Exped dry bag

Thermarest Prolite seat (inflated, to prevent items rattling on the rack bed)

Go Lite Shangrila flysheet

Oookworks custom inner for the Go Lite

Mountain Co-operative Merlin Sleeping bag (XL)

Exped inflatable pillow

Thermarest Neo Air full length Xlite mattress

Alpkit Possum frame bag

Pole for Go Lite Shangrila

Thermarest chair kit

Tent pegs

Snacks

Keys

Petzl headtorch

Caradice Zipped Roll saddlebag

Abus cable lock

Rapha rain jacket

‘Tools’ – Park multi tool, tyre levers, micro leatherman, lighter.

Two spare tubes

Wallet

Caradice Universal panniers on the rear Constructeur Rack

Pocket Rocket stove and MSR titanium pot and lid

Alpkit MytiMug and MSR mugmate

1 pair of sandals

Montane wind top

Rapha merino base layer

Rapha winter gloves

North Face down jacket

Rapha classic jersey

Sherpa woollen hat (much loved!)

T-shirt

1 pair of Endura Mesh padded undershorts

Endura waterproof over shorts (worn as a last resort only!)

Spare socks

Alpkit dry bag (attached to the top of the rear rack)

Toiletries – deodorant, shower gel, toothbrush, toothpaste, Sudocrem

Fjalraven Nils trousers

Towel (when not drying on the front rack)

Spare food – when carried

Clothes worn

Rapha riding gilet

Rapha merino base layer

Brooks Eroica B1866 jersey

Buff (x2)

Walz cycling cap

Nike leggings

Rapha Randonneur shorts

Giro Terraduro shoes (ready to fall apart)

Merino socks

Castelli Mitts

Endura mesh padded undershorts

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The Way of the Roses day three and four: Ripon to Bridlington

Ripon initially challenged my opinions that evening. Our rather desperate digs were compensated for somewhat by our enthusiastic host. Then, we happened upon Moonglu, a well-stocked and friendly local bike shop where the owner gave Tim a replacement rotor our of the parts bin. Result.

Following the now stock post-pedal routine, we made a beeline for the most welcoming pub we’d seen and made merry with some excellent Timothy Taylor beers. Forgive the nerdery, but it was heartening to see the excellent Boltmaker on tap alongside some more unfamiliar brews. Beers lubricated the brain cells and the conversation turned to books, an irregular but enjoyable conversational tangent.

So far so good… but while our restaurant for the evening was nice enough and the food good, the clientele were decidedly odd. ‘Stare-y’ I guess you’d describe it. The same was true of the pub where we’d had our beers earlier. The whole place put me on edge again and I was keen to leave.

After an EU surplus breakfast in a distinctly dingy dining room, we readied our gear and pushed off into sunshine. Today was to be an easy day. We had a tailwind of sorts and the terrain would be flat – a far cry from the hills of the Dales and The Forest of Bowland. We pedalled off side by side chatting about our night. We were both glad to be leaving the town and resolved to find a more appealing place to stay that evening.

Out of hill country and you might think the Way of the Roses becomes quite bland. Au contraire. The roads are exquisite, sewing together small villages and, again, mercifully free of traffic.

We sped through a village and I slammed on the brakes while Tim kept on barrelling along. I retraced my tyre marks and stopped by two attractive women sitting outside the local pub enjoying a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Tim watched me from afar and then, with some consternation, saw me pull out my camera and take a picture of the two sunbathers. Little did he know my companions were mannequins, which obviously accounted for their lack of response to my advances… obviously.

This was very agreeable riding, helped no doubt by us becoming more accustomed to the ritual of the road. After an entertaining – and free – crossing of the Aldwark Toll Bridge we soon we turned into the grounds of Beningbrough Hall and Gardens where coffee and cake were taken in glorious surroundings.

The route then picked up a riverside path to the ever-lovely city of York. We didn’t linger, though, save for another navigation gaffe on our departure. We had designs on reaching Driffield that evening in order to give us just a handful of miles on the last day and, hopefully, an equally easy train ride home. Besides, the forecast was set to turn foul again and we didn’t fancy the drowning.

We’d followed NCN route 65 on the way into York and now route 66 continued our easterly course and we ticked off Dunnington, Stamford Bridge (not that one) and then Pocklington.

Irrational as my dislike of Ripon might have been, I had an equal and opposite response to this small market town. Maybe it was the profusion of Tour de Yorkshire banners and yellow bikes that lined the roads or the very excellent deli where we had a late lunch (more Yorkshire tapas for me I’m afraid, a rather more sensible salad for Tim), but we wanted to stay.

I shook the Internet for a B&B. Everything was busting budget sadly and I struck a conversation with the owner about potential camping options. Well, it would have been a shame to lug the gear all this way and not use it just once. We settled on a campsite to the north of the town centre. We approached a set of farm buildings that had been converted into a shop, café and a fledgling campsite. The facilities for tented folk were basic to say the least, but we warmed to the purposeful looking owner who charged us a bargain rate for the night and offered to lock our bikes in his barn.

Tent’s pitched and after a brisk shower, my liking for our host grew as he rolled out his encyclopaedic knowledge of Pocklington’s, or ‘Pocky’s’, attractions. He even finger-sketched out a map on a piece of scrap plywood lying at our feet. I joked with Tim later that I should brought the map with us.

We heeded our host’s advice on a pub and drank very decent Black Sheep ale before a very more-ish curry. It had been the right decision to stay.

The morning dawned bright but we both knew conditions would not stay that way. Tim claimed that he’d had ‘no sleep’ in his tiny single skin shelter, but that didn’t correlate with the snoring that emanated from his tent and troubled the neighbouring horses all night.

We headed back to ‘Pocky’ for breakfast and the heavens opened. We couldn’t complain, we managed to avoid the worst of the weather on our crossing so if the final day was going to be wet then, despite our misgivings yesterday, we were ready for it.

We hadn’t bargained on the climbing though. The very lovely Yorkshire Wolds presented an obstacle that needed to be crossed at the start of the day and we pushed the pedals along truly stunning quiet roads. We then lost the route and started to head north into a very nasty headwind. After far too long, I realised the mistake and rather than backtracking, we enjoyed (endured for me) a few very fast miles on the A166 to Driffield. I cursed our error under my breath as trucks unceremoniously thundered by. I put my head down and hammered out the miles – such a contrast to the start of the day.

I chomped on an energy bar at Driffield waiting for Tim to catch up. We were about to embark on the final section of our journey and I started to feel glum that it would soon be over. We then pedalled the only bland section of the Way, a shortish bimble along a main road to the delightfully named village of Nafferton. As dull stretches go, it wasn’t that bad at all again underlining just how good the Way of the Roses is.

Burton Agnes soon rolled under our wheels and we were descending to Bridlington. We caught a glimpse of the sea and pedalled through the outskirts of the town. I gestured to Tim to go ahead and finish the route first and a few metres down the ‘prom and we reached the sign. Picutres taken, and the relief evident for Tim, we sprinted to the railway station and just caught a train back to Manchester.

I sat on the train watching Yorkshire rattle by. I felt tremendously satisfied. The Way of the Roses had been challenge enough, but the company had undoubtedly made this trip. Riding bikes is a wonderful thing no doubt, but laughter is a better tonic for the soul.

 

The Way of the Roses days one and two: Morecambe to Ripon

As grand departs go, it was middling at best. The train from Manchester to Morecambe had made Tim and I a little gloomy. We were both tired – hangovers from our respective working lives – but it was more the promise of a weather front careering down the country ferried by northerly winds that caused our long faces. Wintery showers bloated the front and the sharp downpour we’d witnessed just south of Lancaster gave weight to the forecast. So much for benefiting from prevailing winds travelling from the west…

Alighting at Morecambe and our moods lifted though. The sun was shining and the wind was still pushing off the sea, just. We pedalled the short distance from the station to the official start of the Way of the Roses and had the obligatory stupid photographs taken. It was time to push off.

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Leaving major urban centres on National Cycle Network routes can be a mixed experience. Tim and I have had our fair share of ‘bandit country’ riding around the Northwest conurbation. The start of the Way is graced by a lovely off-road path, which quickly plots a course to Lancaster and spills out into a broad river valley with views extending to the hills that were to come. Within half an hour of leaving the train we’d been transported to a lush landscape of verdant fields dotted with sheep. A peace had already descended and I was blissfully happy to be touring again.

Mention had already been made about the weights of our respective steeds that morning. My Bob Jackson was fairly light given I had full camping kit. It’s fair to say Tim’s Troll weighed a Bob and a half, if not more. But then Tim had brought five pairs of gloves with and a ‘box of 500 energy bars’. I never found out how many bars he’d brought, but it was enough to set up a sportive feed station.

We left the trail and started climbing. The heavy bikes (well, Tim’s) making the inches gained all the harder. My bike may have been lighter, but it was far noisier. A discordant symphony of clicks and creaks accompanied each pedal stroke. We speculated as to the source – seat post, bottom bracket, chainring bolts and all the usual suspects. Eventually, the metallic chirp started to induce a nervous tick and I jumped off the bike at an agricultural hardware store. That panacea for all squeaking ills WD40 was liberally applied to my bike and an on looking Tim. And then, silence. Never fails.

These early climbs proved one thing for certain. I was quicker going up, but Tim was far more rapid going downhill. Always a more courageous descender than me, he also had the benefit of all that weight leveraging gravity.

We soon arrived at Wray, a pretty village that was – naturally – in the throes of its annual scarecrow festival. Each front garden had a slightly unnerving take on the theme. We stopped and admired the locals’ handiwork before ducking into the village hall for soup, tea and cake. All were fantastic.

Outside, a walker wandered over and asked in a rather stout Cumbrian accent: ‘Where have you come and where are you going to?’ More of a demand than a question. I explained the day and week’s itinerary. Seemingly satisfied, he nodded in approval and simply said ‘Enjoy’. You’ll note I’ve avoided an exclamation mark in the quote. Just doesn’t seem appropriate somehow.

We pushed on and the route left the Forest of Bowland and entered the Dales. The hills became a patchwork of fields bounded by stonewalls; old enclosure lines and ridge and furrow pointing to earlier agriculture.

The weather had been kind all day, only the cold northerly chilling us when the sun hid behind sparse cloud. With some 40 miles pedalled, we dropped down a terrific and terrifying descent into the pretty village of Malham. Earlier in the day I had been waxing lyrical about that ever-impressive limestone amphitheatre Malham Cove and our road afforded a fantastic view. Tim as ever had barrelled off ahead but drew to a halt suddenly when an alarming noise and smell, and no doubt smoke, emanated from his front disc. We admired the cove from afar as everything cooled down, including my nerves.

Having shaken the Internet to book ahead earlier, we checked into the excellent YHA and bagged a huge room for ourselves. Food and beer came courtesy the recommended Lister Arms where Tim opted for pork pie as desert… and why not?

The night was cold and clear, although some snow did fall. I peered cautiously out the window of our room to find another bright day. Happiness! Lots of coffee and eggs for breakfast and we readied the bikes for our departure on the hostel lawn. The grass crunched underfoot, brittle from the night’s frost.

A few clicks along the valley road and Tim was already concerned about the state of his front brakes after the previous evening’s hairy descent. The front rotor was making an unhealthy grinding noise and his eve faithful Surly Troll juddered to a halt under braking. We were going to need a bike shop.

We pushed on along glorious Yorkshire roads. The going was initially easy until the road reared to our left after Calton and a challenging climb ramped up before us. Rather than keeping my butt in the saddle and spinning it out, I (almost) danced on the pedals and pushed my way to the top without timid recourse for the granny gear. I surprised myself and took some comfort ahead of my Alpine adventures later in the year. I managed the whole day in similar fashion and we later dubbed the uncharacteristic show of energy ‘Contadoring’. I’m sure Alberto would (not) be proud to know this.

The climbs continued to come thick and fast(ish) and we soon we left the Dales and entered Nidderdale. A long descent dropped into Pately Bridge where our search for a bike shop was fruitless and our lunch a little underwhelming.

We decided that Ripon would be our objective for the day. This filled me with a little trepidation and I remember visiting the town before and found it a little austere. Jumping on booking.com once more, I booked us into the cheapest room I could find.

Leaving Pately Bridge the road climbed to High Moor and an intriguing landscape that reminded me of home just before we went the wrong way, deciding to head to Ripley instead of Ripon – south instead of north.

As navigational errors go it plumbed new depths. I stopped and mentioned to Tim that our course didn’t feel right. We consulted the map and realised our schoolboy error. Turning about, a squall rolled in and pelted us with hail. Hiding behind a garage wall, I had a minor tantrum trying, in vain, to get my gloves back on as the roads turned white.

The shot blasting hail soon passed and we were on our way again, slightly chastened by the weather. But the sun reappeared for our sortie into Ripon and a glorious approach it was too through Studley Roger. We entered town and approached our rather underwhelming digs for the night.

The Way of the Roses

There’s something very agreeable about a coast-to-coast route. Crossing a country and seeing two seas lends the trip a grander geographical context, even if the route itself is relatively short, the country crossed relatively small.

The Way of the Roses is by no means long – just 170 miles – but it ably meets these criteria. While it may not boast the wilds of Northumberland or Hadrian’s Wall found in more northerly crossings, it more than compensates in other ways. The route is superb and a credit to the engineers who sewed it together. There’s probably one bland section, the remainder on quite, traffic-free lanes and tracks. Maybe it was because we made our crossing early in the season, but you can achieve that wonderful sense of detachment riding this route – that the world is churning along somewhere but you’re managing to avoid it.

The route starts in either Morecambe or Bridlington. Starting in the west may give you the benefit of prevailing winds while an eastern push off saves the climbing for later in the itinerary. And be under no illusion about the climbing in the Yorkshire Dales and Forest of Bowland, those hills kick.

I rode the route with my good friend Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane. Both of us hadn’t toured in a while and felt the route was a solid objective; definitely a challenge, but one that would satisfy our somewhat voracious appetite for cake, Yorkshire Tapas (read: high-quality meat products) and ale.

We covered it in four days and rode 181 miles in total. This is a leisurely pace but we were touring not racing. Our progress was punctuated by photo stops and we spent a great deal of time riding side-by-side laughing our asses off about an encounter en route or an anecdote from one of our previous trips. It’s the way to roll on a journey like this… leave your Strava fixation at home.

Accommodation is straightforward en route. We lugged camping gear but only had cause to use it one night. That said, we were travelling off peak. The Way of the Roses is a justifiably popular and you’ll need to book ahead in the summer months.

Navigation is no chore either, particularly if armed with the excellent Sustrans route map. Still, we did manage one navigational boo-boo so keep your wits about you when looking for the waymarking signs. This part of the country is justifiably criss-crossed with numerous cycle routes and it’s possible to start following, say, the Yorkshire Wolds Cycleway, when you shouldn’t be.

Posts:

The Way of the Roses days one and two: Morecambe to Ripon

The Way of the Roses day three and four: Ripon to Bridlington

Bob Jackson World Tour – Old skool packing for the road

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Velo Orange Porteur and Constructeur Racks

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When I built my Bob Jackson World Tour last year, I had a plan to fit racks at some point. I’d considered a number of options, but given the overall aesthetic of this bike – think French Randonneur – replica parts seemed the order of the day rather than fitting more purposeful Tubus or Surly load luggers.

Although it may never have been my intention to carry camping kit on this bike, my hand has been forced by next week’s Way of the Roses ride. Frames to replace my trusty but just–too–darn-small Surly Troll are either in transit or can’t be collected until May. I’d be pedalling coast to coast on the Bob Jackson then, and I needed racks to suit.

The hunt for the right replica parts normally means Velo Orange and I’ve been chewing over options from their range for a while. I eventually settled on a minimalist but rather elegant Constructuer rear rack and the more substantial Porteur front, which provides a sizeable platform for a large bag that I hope to acquire some time in the future. (There are some rather nice options from this cottage manufacturer in the Netherlands.)

The two VO racks arrived last month and I was immediately struck but how burly the Porteur is. By contrast, the Constructeur feels somewhat under gunned with its svelte lines and thin tubing. Both are made from stainless steel and rather nicely finished, though. Reading the VO specs they should be adequate to carry my slimmed down camping kit with control.

Fitting the racks was a bit of a faff… but isn’t it always? Both allow for the option to drill mudguards (if you have ‘proper’ alloy or steel mudguards that is) and it’s worth measuring, praying and drilling for the additional stability this provides – both for the racks and the guards.

You’ll note from the pictures I’m running the Constructeur rather tight to the mudguard while the Porteur is a little higher (and there’s a stack of M5 washers helping to keep the ‘guard put). In both cases I have to cut the tabs which attach to the drop out mounts – make sure you have a quality hacksaw for this job as the metal is reassuringly hardy.

This is a huge frame and having the Porteur rack a little higher gives me the perfect distance between its platform and handlebars for the aforementioned large ‘porteur’ bag. I’ve angled the rack back slightly too so the bag will be inline with the angle of the head tube. A personal quirk that may or may not work when the bag is ultimately in place.

Initial shake down rides now done and I am a big fan of the Porteur. I’ve carried reasonable weight up front with little discernable effect on the handling. If anything, the rack has made the Bob more settled if that’s possible for this most predictable of bikes. The rack will carry a drybag next week containing tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat along with lighter clothes and food.

The Constructuer, while looking dandy, is not so practical. It will just ferry a pair of small Caradice Super C panniers with some adjustment of the hooks. The platform will take a small drybag of some description too.

I’m hoping this three-bag solution will take care of my gear. I have the option to add an Alpkit framebag to spread the load a wee bit further. The Porteur will take front panniers too if needed but I’m trying to avoid the additional weight.

I’ll report back after next week’s trundle.

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