Sunshine.

9 06 2018

The sun has been out for a few weeks now. A run of high pressure and stable weather systems usually has me making efforts to get further up north and trying for longer loops. My head hasn’t been in the right place for that and I hope I don’t rue the missed opportunities later in the year.

Still, I have made it up some local hills and that’s not bad.

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The latest run of DeWidgets in stock at Backcountry.scot…

16 05 2018

But, they are selling fast.

The sun has been in the sky for a few days now and the HTR 550 is coming up. The South Lakes 100 (aka Jennride) and the Welsh Ride Thing have just finished.

Basically, it’s bikepacking season. But even if it is just a local ride long enough to need a few snacks and a tube, a DeWidget combines with a Gas Tank top tube bag, keeping things super snug when a velcro strap wrapped around that on-point stubby stem leads to annoying slop and flop.

Go to backcountry.scot and grab one now before stock runs out. More will probably be made but why wait?





Marji Gesick featured in Cranked Magazine.

12 05 2018

Last year, I went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to complete the Marji Gesick. It is a beautifully brutal event. With a DNF rate of ~70% last year, completing was not all that far away from a personal sort of winning. Some day, I will go back, armed with knowledge I might take an hour or two off my time, but I doubt I will ever get a belt buckle.

I was very proud to have an article I wrote about the experience printed in issue 13 of Cranked Magazine. This is one of the best – if not *the best* mtb magazine available. I cannot recommend picking up a subscription more.

The trails, people and town of Marquette are well worth visiting even if you do not ride the Marji. Awesome trails for days…





Chainline versus cinch.

9 05 2018

A few years ago, I started running Race Face Next SL, SIXC and then Turbine cranks. The weight and low ‘Q’ factor of the Next are pretty awesome, but I (like others) have had a crank axle insert come loose. Others have had pedal inserts come loose: but, I do have 3 sets on the go which have been fine so far. I am always messing around with things and the shared axle crank interface between Cannondale Hollowgram and Race Face Cinch has had my attention recently. The Hollowgram SI are within grams of the Next SL and may be a reasonable alternative whilst retaining the unbelievable versatility of the Cinch.

A case in point.

The Turbine has a few millimetres greater ‘arm’ offset than the Next SL and I had a use for this. My 44 Bikes ~TNT~ had a Saint crank. The reason was the 83mm BSA shell (mated to a 150mmx10mm thru QR rear hub). There were only so many cranks that were available in this width and this width works well to get short stays and good ring clearance with 3″ tyres. It is a sturdy crank to say the least and the arms are quite bulky. I had been getting some medial knee pain on riding the 44 and I had isolated it to the crank.

On my Vertigo Cycles Kraken, Sean machined a SIXC 83mm crank axle so that the Next SL cranks would fit and work with the 177mm rear end. This used a flipped ring and thus gets a great chainline despite the ‘snow bike’ width rear hub.

A quick note – most geared bike set ups are biased to the smaller rear cogs. This is essentially to get stay/ring/tyre clearances in the manageable bracket. However, there is an argument that the ring should be more inboard at the front for todays gear spreads. Some manufacturers had started to address this when 1x systems became popular, offering aftermarket rings that were spaced to be slightly more inboard than usual.

Then, of course, rear hubs started getting wider and ‘boost’ then ‘super boost’ happened. Sean has been guiding me for years on this sort of thing and the bikes he has built for himself, others and me have often used 150 mm DH rear hubs with either flipped rings on 73mm shells, or ‘normal’ ring position on 83mm shells and as time has progressed and ‘plus’ tyres happened, moved even wider with flipped rings on the 83mm shell equivalent widths and 177mm rear hubs.

Phew.

I had been wondering about converting the 44 to the Cinch system. Interestingly, Race Face – perhaps due to the proliferation of 157mm “super boost” rear hub selection by several manufacturers (very sensibly, I might add – I have been advocate since 2010) – had quietly released a 143.5mm crank axle and also a 149.5mm axle for Next SL. The latter is equivalent to an 83mm BSA shell – the usual standard for a 150/157mm rear end – and had previously only been available in the DH orientated SIXC. The ring would normally be mounted in the inboard biased traditional position.

But you will know that often, direct mount rings can be flipped, if they are round, and there are different offsets of rings. The ‘normal’ is 5 ish mm towards the bike midline. Flipped, it is 5 ish mm outwards Why ‘ish’ ? well, different brands – a list would take too long – use a different offset – from Race Face’s 4.5mm to Absolute Black, Wolftooth and IIRC One Up using 6mm. There are others, but these are probably the major players.

Then there is Boost offset – usually around 3mm less. Soooooo….

If I took the BSA 83mm shell, which utilises the three 2.5mm spacer rings, which normally uses a 149.5mm axle equivalent, bought a 143.5mm axle (designed, most likely, for 148mm rear hubs?), removed 2 of the spacers (take away 5mm of the 6mm difference) and fitted BSA 30mm bb cups, a boost ring (add 2mm back to the chainline which with the shorter axle was 1mm more inboard) and the larger offset Turbines, I reckoned I would get great chainline and get the stay clearance and a slimmer, lighter and therefore more flexible crank on the bike.

In short, it worked.

This stuff is a minefield. I have another bike I want to do something somewhat similar with – my Vertigo Maul. It has a normal 73mm BSA shell, and I am going to use Cannondale Hollowgram cranks with (I hope at least!) a Wolftooth FAT CAAD (listed as -1mm but it seems to be more like +1mm) CAMO spider so that again, I can get a great chainline biased more inboard for the 150mm rear end on the bike.

I have been collecting data on all the different spiders and DM rings around, but the listed offsets are often either hard to find or seem wrong on measuring and thrown together with the different ring mount positions on different brands of cranks, different crank arm offsets and requirement for spacers etc, you need an obsessional trait to try and make it work. My advice? have the bits in hand, measure and then work out if it will fit. The downside is simple – cost.

But, with all the interplay between Cinch kit, Hollowgram and SRAM cranks (which have even more standards for where the ring mounts) you can make an ├╝ber sweet, bespoke crank work on most bikes and get great chainline.

The bummer is giving myself a reason to pull King BB’s out of frames. Chris King deserve an award for making a bb that is seemingly impervious to scottish weather – no small feat!

Ok – this was probably as hard to type as it was to read and digest. If I have made any mistakes, I will correct them and fire away with questions if you are interested.





Ground Truth.

6 05 2018

A few days ago, with no rain forecast, I took off for Loch Lomond, rode out through the woods at Mugdock and took the West highland Way (which was starting to get busy with walkers) northwards.

The plan was to ride to Ben Lomond, climb it then descend the Ptarmigan ridge and come back.

Either I was being slow, or I had mistaken how long it would take because around 3 hours in, I realised I didn’t have time to complete the ride and get back in time to pick up my daughter.

No worries. I opened up Gaia on my phone and scanned around for alternatives. One option stuck out – there are old logging roads on the side of Beinn Bhreac and if I climbed up and then headed south east, there were two wiggly lines down to the Loch Side – one at Cashell Glen and the other at the March Burn.

They both looked promising. The woods at the lower section of both are beautiful and I hoped they would provide some fun before turning for home.

After an initial incredibly steep climb up on a muddy, slithery singletrack, I completed the ascent on forest track. The sun was beating down and the going was rough, but not unenjoyable. The views over the Loch satisfied my desire for remote country and it felt good to do something other than blat around in the woods.

At the end of the forest track, the March Burn was supposed to pass from left to right and Gaia showed the tail starting and immediately descending.

Well, it did, but it took a while to find it. The bush was overgrown and a high deer fence had been built seemingly on the line of the trail. It was hard going in the sphagnum and brambles so eventually I climbed the deer fence and surveyed my options.

There was a deer trail descending but the fact I was fenced in gave me pause for thought – I wondered what the exit would be like lower down and eventually I decided to climb back up to the forest track and take the Cashell descent.

The bushwhack was brutal. fallen trees, brambles, bog and very, very steep ground but eventually, with much effort and dragging the bike through thick, spiky undergrowth, I made it.

The initial part of the Cashell descent was on rough, man made trail, probably as another access to a fenced in area, but it diverged from the route shown on Gaia and the ground became increasingly broken. I crossed a burn and into the trees where the vestiges of a trail seemed to exist but was criss-crossed with fallen trees and so it was not rideable.

Another burn crossed and I was back on the trail, again, it was a mess of bog and brambles. However, this time I was not going to retreat. With the loss of a lot of skin and blood I fought my way down to the Loch side and licked my wounds. It was a brutal path to follow and I won’t be going anywhere near those two heinous trails again.

Map work is one thing, but ground truth another entirely.





Vulnerability.

15 04 2018

The plan was to ride from Old Bridge of Tilt, north until the Gaick pass, follow this to Aviemore via the north part of Glen Feshie, head east to Glenmore Lodge and climb past Ryvoan and find a kip spot in Abernethy Forest. Next morning, wake up, head past Dorback, cross the river, hopscotch up Burn o’ Brown to Tomintoul and then follow the Avon to Loch Builg, and then head west to Glen Quoich, before either popping out in Glen Derry or taking the Slugain trail down to Deeside and taking Glen Tilt back to the start.

The weather looked good, though low snow was a possibility and the river crossings could be interesting, but all the info for the larger, close rivers from the SEPA folk suggested they would be average for season.

Park in Blair Atholl, like I have done many times before and start to get the bike ready. A local resident then came over and (short version) asked me to move or she would consider phoning the Police. I was a little taken aback. She said that was her parking space on the street and I could park further up the road or find another car park somewhere (none of which permit overnight parking).

Ok then.

Rather than cause a conflict, I moved. After just over an hour of pedaling, I was about to go past the point at which I could easily turn around. Normally, that is just a little mental step and on you go. However, the encounter with the local lady had me swathed in doubt. Was where I parked going to inconvenience or anger someone else? did I miss a sign suggesting it was resident parking only? Round my head it went.

I sat for a while, pointlessly trying to pick up a mobile network so I could phone and try and settle my head but it was to no avail. Stark choice: go on and potentially worry about it all the time, or turn around, go back, and sort something out.

I knew sleep would be fragile at best anyway and suspected that the additional, though un-objctive worry about what the outcome would be of my chosen parking spot seemed to have fractured my confidence.

Perhaps the map work, GPS based calculation and environment condition work had left me in a state of high alert and this was just a small negative occurrence that tipped me out of being able to go on, or perhaps there was some underlying reason that I have not identified.

Whatever, I bailed. By the time I got back to Blair Atholl, tried to find somewhere I felt sure would be ok, enough time had slipped by that my route was going to be additionally iffy.

It was like dominos falling over and I pulled the plug on the whole escapade.

I did head up to Aviemore with a view to a much shorter loop bookended by a bivi, but by the time I’d looped the lower lying areas, my mojo was completely blown and I came home late at night.

It feels like a waste. The weather window was there. The route is a good one. The bike was dialled. For some reason, my head wasn’t.





Finishing the job.

2 04 2018

A few weeks ago, I tried to get to Inchconnachan Island, by bike and packraft. Read about it here.

Last weekend, I tried again – this time successfully.

It taught me a lot. At times, I was a long way from the shores of Loch Lomond and I also had to cross the main ‘waterway’ for want of a better word. There are big tourist tour boats that chug up and down the Loch and there are fishing vessels and speedboats too. The wake caused by these bigger and faster boats had me a wee bit freaked out when I was a long way from land. Nevertheless, with a bit of common sense, I was able to aim the bow into the incoming waves and ride it out.

Disembarking was a bit of a mess, as well. I pulled into a rusty, messed up micro-pier and immediately whacked my (carbon) forks onto a corroded and broken old metal girder. I was concerned there would be catastrophic damage, but I got away with a couple of scrapes. Lessons need to be learned and one is ‘detailed’ manoeuvring so I can get in to tighter circumstances with less chance of damage.

Some of the islands on the Loch seem to be primed for camp outs. The isolation is nice and I can see myself heading there for a S24O if the by-laws allow. Someone was already set up on Inchconnachan, in a sheltered wee spot. We’ll see.

I did jump out on Inchconnachan, though I didn’t see any wallabies. What I did see was a depressing amount of rubbish – broken bottles and the like. I guess that is the unwelcome cost of this area being arguably Scotland’s most visited outdoor area.

It is also a long way – around 7km where I crossed – and this is hard work if you are not used to the paddling. In all I spent around 2 hours in the raft and 5 and a half pedaling. I was pretty worked over by the time I got home – remembering that I had some cheese buried in my Gas Tank (secured with a DeWidget, I might add….) was a life saver!