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.

ogre-manchester
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.

ogre-lakes

Bob Jackson World Tour – Old skool packing for the road

bob-at-Beninbrough-hall
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

20170423_183557

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

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

wow-bw

Velo Orange Porteur and Constructeur Racks

vo-bob-1

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.

vo-bob-3

vo-bob-2

It’s all gone quiet over there…

Err, yes. It has hasn’t it? I blame real life… its twists and turns and how it had an uncanny knack of kicking me squarely between the legs in 2016 for one reason or another.

So, a New Year, a new start and new plans.

Usually at this time of year, when the rain is lashing against my office window, I’m daydreaming about trips on foot and bike. I have a little notebook full of ‘adventure ideas’. It was a gift from someone very dear to me who, tragically, is sadly no longer with us… last year’s most horrible event.

She was well aware of my ability to stare out of the window and escape and, always a fan of a list, bought me the book in the hope that some of these mental voyages would become a reality.

I was leafing though its pages just after the New Year celebrations and found some notes on two trips in the Alps – a place I’d never really visited save for a rather gloomy school skiing trip in my teens.

The first adventure – on the bike – detailed a trip from the South of France to the north taking on the Route des Grande Alpes in reverse before plotting a route through the Jura and, even, taking on the notorious pavé. A personal Tour de France if you will but at a more sedate pace on a touring bike. The trip was all about good food, good wine, incredibly scenery and very, very testing climbs.

The second – on foot – revisited the Alps for a tour of Mont Blanc, the classic multi-day hike linking mountain refuges. This, again, involved some serious ascent but promised a feast of Alpine scenery.

On a dingy train home last week I chewed over these options again and couldn’t really decide between them… so I settled on both. I’ve selected June for the bike trip and September for the walking tour. In doing so, I aim to avoid the busier periods and, potentially, enjoy more stable weather.

Training has now started in earnest… ish.

Riding a bike at this time of year requires a special kind of masochism. Hail is my favourite. Still, the hard yards now will hopefully soften the blow of, say, the Col de l’Iseran and Bonette.

Hopefully.

Bob Jackson World Tour

Peak District wildcamping bikepack

An opportunity arose at the weekend to get out. I say ‘opportunity’, but this bikepack in the Dark Peak was complicated by my current state of moving house. Bike bags had been packed, sleeping bags and bivvy bags were neatly stowed in marked cardboard boxes, camp stove fuel and water bladder were stored God-knows-where.

An hour or so crashing around in the workshop later and I cobbled together some kit for the trip. With the weather sultry in Glossopdale, I opted for a tarp – a first-time outing for this simple shelter.

I strapped the bags to my ECR and pushed off at 5pm. While the heat of day hung heavily in the air, the sun had started its descent to the horizon and the evening light gave the Derbyshire hills definition, perspective and texture. The trails were agreeably quiet too.

I picked up the Pennine Bridleway and headed due-Edale over Lantern Pike towards Mount Famine. Feeling a little reckless, I turned the handlebars towards Jacobs Ladder and ended up pushing most of the way – underlining the heft of my bike and my hopeless skills as mountain biker.

Edale was full of weekenders enjoying the evening. The village’s Spoonfest had swelled numbers, but campsites would have always been full in this balmy weather. As a consequence, some enterprising folk had negotiated their own impromptu campgrounds on farmers’ fields further down the valley. The atmosphere was heavy with the fug of barbecues.

I didn’t delay.

I was headed for the banks of Ladybower north of Bamford where I hoped to find a helpful spot to rig the tarp and watch night fall. Pushing along the reservoir track I found a nice ‘beach’ and the branches of low trees provided perfect anchorage for my tarp ridgeline. Despite being my first outing, the tarp was ready in a couple of minutes. I rolled out my bivvy and sorted the bed for the night. A brew soon followed and I watched the light fade and the traffic illuminating the Snake Road – a mere whisper on the far bank.

tarpacking-1

tarpacking-2

tarpacking-3

tarpacking-4

tarpacking-5

tarpacking-6

tarpacking-7

tarpacking-8

tarpacking-9

tarpacking-10

tarpacking-11

Voila! Il est Bob

In March’s post about my post-apocalyptic snow ride across the Pennines, I pointed to difficulties in ‘real life’. I’m afraid more ‘life events’ have monopolised my time and energy of late. To say things have been difficult would be an understatement. Nevertheless, life must roll on and, with a deep breath, I can now quickly post about the Bob Jackson I started to build last year.

After many a false start and component challenge, the bike I will ride at this year’s Eroica Britannia looks a bit like this…

bob-jackson-world-tour-xxl

I’ve had to make one or two compromises along the way but I’m pretty happy with the final result. I say ‘final’ but the pedals need to change to meet l’eroica specifications (clips and straps) and it needs some bottle cages. You get the idea though.

And before the purists start squealing, I know this is not really kosher… it’s not a road bike, but sourcing a pre-1987 bike in the right size (ginormous) was nigh on impossible. It apes the old French randonneur and touring bikes and is very much in that spirit, but with (hopefully) more reliable modern replica components. And besides, it’s a fair old stretch for those downtube shifters on a frame of this size. I guess they make it heroic if nothing else!

The chainset is now a triple – a simple Stronglight Impact – after supply problems from Middleburn and Velo Orange. This was not my original plan as I hoped to fit a ‘super-compact’ double. The Stronglight works well though and is aesthetically right.

stronglight-impact-triple

The brake levers are positioned a bit high too, I will adjust them ahead of the ride if I get the time.

The build is as follows:

Frame: Bob Jackson World Tour 26.5 inch, Reynolds 631 (yes, it’s a monster)
Bars: Velo Orange ‘Rando’ 46 cm
Levers: Dia Compe Gran Cru drilled
Bar tape: Brooks tan
Stem: 3ttt Status quill 130mm
Headset: Chris King threaded
Mudguards: Velo Orange 45mm hammered finish
Tyres: Panaracer Pasela Tourguard 32mm
Hubs: Dia Compe Gran Compe ENE, 36-hole
Rims: H Plus Son TB 14, Polished
Brakes: Velo Orange Zeste Cantilevers with anti squeal blocks, Dia Compe roller hangers.
Shifters: Dia Compe downtube micro-ratchet shifters
Front mech: Campagnolo Veloce
Chainset: Stronglight Comp triple 175mm, 50,40,30t
Bottom bracket: Stronglight JP 400, alloy
Rear mech: Campagnolo Comp triple
Cassette: Sram 8 spd, 11-28t
Seat post: Velo Orange Gran Cru (layback)
Saddle: Brooks Imperial
Saddlebag: Caradice zip roll

I’m riding the 100-miler on Sunday. It’s a lovely route on roads and paths I know well. I can’t wait!

ECR miles

The last couple of weekends I’ve been getting the miles in on the ECR ahead of my trip to Scotland in May. Importantly, these have been largely off road miles and with luggage to a lesser or greater degree.

Last weekend saw me out with those fine folk from Keep Pedalling and a couple of other customers, among them Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane. We bimbled around the byways of the South Pennines on our passé geared machines while our hosts chewed up the trail on single speeds. It was the workout I needed and a salutary reminder that my fitness is not quite where it should be. Read Tim’s account here. Continue reading

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. Continue reading