Glen Tilt.

20 08 2016

The route from Old Bridge of Tilt, around the great lump of the Beinn a’Ghlo mountains is somewhat of a Scottish classic. On a good day, the views, wildlife and trails deliver a microcosm of all that is best in Highland mountain biking.

The Monzie road starts the route with a stiff climb until Loch Moraig is reached. From here, land rover track takes you to Shinagag, then the Girnaig Burn must be forded. The trail has been improved and soon, access to the back of the Beinn a’Ghlo range of Munros will be fast.

For me on this day, the sun was shining, so I did not mind getting my feet wet.

Climbing through the purple heather was glorious and the singletrack trail to Glen Fernate was easy to negotiate on the fat tyres. The land rover track down to the ruin of Ruigh Chuilein, close to Loch Loch and the imposing cliffs above is fast and the low pressure tyres were welcome to tame the loose rocky terrain.

At Daldhu, climbing is the name of the game onwards and upwards to the re-known, pink, stone walls of the remotest hunting lodge in Scotland – Fealar Lodge.

On occasion, I have found rows of deer heads draining their crimson juice here, but today there were just the usual assortment of yapping dogs.

The initial portion of the singletrack descent down to Glen Tilt was boggier than usual – again, the fatties earned their keep after having been dragged up the climb before.

Soon enough, the trail dries and becomes loose and rocky down to the River Tilt and another hop-scotch on the rocks.

Descending Glen Tilt, alongside the river Tilt, is often interrupted by fast jets: they drop low in to the glen and the noise will make you jump out of your skin as they scream overhead at barely 90 meters altitude.

Despite the head wind, it was slightly disappointing to be back at the car. This loop is always beautiful and in 4 short hours, you can enjoy all the solitude the hills have to offer.

Old man strength.

8 08 2016

A write up of the Wilderness 101 is here, on the team site.

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11 07 2016

In response to my last post, today’s ride was not all about miles covered.

I headed to the Trossachs and rode past Ben Ledi, on the national cycle route 7, to Balquhidder, then on to Lochearnhead and up Glen Ogle.

So far, a little repetitive, I admit. The headwind, however, did give the ol’ gammons a good work out as I climbed on the old rail line.

Once at the Falls of Dochart, the plan was to whip round Loch Tay and climb up to Ben Lawers. I was hoping to have enough time to get up and over the top to see what the trail was like after the summit, but I was unsure if the weather would play nice, or the low cloud and mizzle would make it a little pointless. The last time I was up there, a squall of snow made life pretty interesting.

The MWIS suggested wind would be a factor as I got higher and may be strong enough to impede progress. So it goes with summer in Scotland.

I made pretty quick time up the initial climb, before turning off and hop-scotching over the rocky, eroded trail then the tight rock armoured switchbacks up Beinn Ghlas.

Sure enough, as I hit 900m above sea level or so, the wind decided it wanted to play. The cloud banks were rolling over Meall Corranaich, and up from Coire Odhar, before enveloping the top of Beinn Ghlas and presumably Ben Lawers, beyond.

With the concept of an unimpeded view unlikely and the wind making the H.A.B a bit of a pain, I turned tail and made short work of the decent, before a rotor scorching drop to Loch Tay and a return pretty much the way I came out.

It felt good to get up a proper hill and take on the rocky decent. A fine response to feeling a little stagnation!

Got to’s and want to’s…

10 07 2016

Life is full of challenges: sometimes you have to accept the got to’s rather than enjoying the want to’s.

The last few rides have been in the 70 mile or so bracket, played out under rain and grey skies.

Not the preparation I want, but it’s what I’ve got. There has not been sufficient time and the weather hasn’t played ball to allow the kind of long, dusty rides in challenging terrain, under cerulean skies.

So, I have covered the same ground repeatedly and just kept ticking over the miles. I am not confident that a NUE race is going to be pretty, but thems the breaks.


10 07 2016

Wow. The floodgates seemed to open for a bit there.

I had decided to strip out a rim, rebuild it into a different hub, with a view to using a 29+ tyre on the front of my most ‘xc’ bike.

Maul came into being some years ago, when I still used to race xc and 6 to 12 hour races. It was as close to a pure xc race bike as I will ever likely get. Light, fast and stripped down. Sean nailed the geo to provide comfort and laser fast handling.

It was built prior to ‘plus’ tyres and neither the fork nor the short rear triangle have room for the bigger meats, but recently, I have begun to struggle to ride anything else. For me, they offer more comfort, control and speed in nearly all situations.

As a result, I wanted to put a plus sized tyre on the front of Maul, in the knowledge that I like the ‘mullet’ set up, with a normal 29er in the rear.

The niner fork *just* clears a plus tyre, but it isn’t enough for muddy conditions, so I went for an Enve fork. this has 85mm or so of clearance and also has an interesting dropout ‘chip’ giving the option of 52 or 44mm of offset. Otherwise, it will keep the geometry pretty much where it needs to be with a very slight lift at the front.

I built the wheel 2x right 3x left with robust DT Swiss comp spokes (I wanted it to be stiff and opted for this pattern as the spoke lengths worked out perfectly as well) and used a minimal strip of tubeless tape before inflating a Maxxis Chronicle and dropped it into the frame.

I also needed to replace the drivechain, opting for a shimano 11-42 block to give my old-man legs some respite and realised the brakes needed new pads and a bleed as well.

While I was about it, I replaced the saddle that had been sagging a little to the left, a comfortable perch that had reached the end of the trail.

It has been a while since I needed to do so much work on a bike, but I guess it has served me well – needing precious little wrenching for many years now.

With the fork set up in the long offset, the front end is very light steering and the fat tyre soaks up the knocks. Overall, I like it a lot – but it does need more grip on the front tyre to fully take advantage of the slightly longer front centre and increased offset. Until the new crop of more aggressive 29+ tyres become available, I may put it in the shorter offset position and see how that works.

However, it is now ready for the next few years of trails and maybe even some races…

The wheel deal.

22 06 2016

Well, I thought I’d share this set of images.

This is the Bontrager Barbegazi, at 20psi, on a Nextie 65mm external rim – 27.5×4.5 (770mm diameter and 115mm casing width, a few more knob to knob).

That’s big.

Compare to a fairly normal 29×2.2 MTN King.

Now, it is next to a Bontrager Chupacabra 29×3 (765mm diameter iirc).

Perhaps most interesting…next to a 26×4.5 Flowbeist (somethign like 745mm diameter – I think! might be 750mm)

As predicted, the Vertigo cycles fatty is a hoot with a 29+ front/27.5+ rear. I actually think it might be bad for my health. Just today alone, I crashed 3 times. Not because I lost traction, more because I was tackling obstacles at a greater speed than I am used to. As a result, I was landing closer to stumps, trees and other immovable objects than I am used to. Sometimes, too close! Interesting.

My curiosity will get the better of me though – I will pull the rear Chronicle in order to mount a Hodag so the bike will be more balanced when I put that Barbegazi on the front.

Oddly, the tape I use (3M 764) failed the first time I mounted the Barbegazi. The tape is 50mm wide so I did one wrap and then dry mounted the tyre, as I usually do, before addign sealant. In this case, the bead seemed to grab the tape on both sides and drag it apart, tearing it down the middle. I re-did it with a little sealant to lube the bead’s passage up the rim into the bead socket and it was golden. Live and learn.

A different tack.

20 06 2016

A little while ago, I tried to do the Highland Trail Race. Tried and failed. I still have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. This year, with stellar weather, I enjoyed following the blue dots and admit to a pang of (for want of a better word) jealousy.

Let me explain: you cant really be that jealous of folk turning themselves inside out, over tough terrain, with precious little kit and big miles to cover in each ~14 hour+ day in the saddle. It is a tough race.

Anyway, as detailed in the old post linked above, I got to thinking after failing to even start the HTR 550, that I wanted to *enjoy* what I was doing on the bike. In other words, I was keen to try a route or two that did not invite too much hardship in terms of daily miles or trail conditions. So, recently I decided to try an ‘easy’ bikepacking route.

I would jump on the train in Glasgow, head to Perth, alight and cycle off into the evening along the easy cycle route up to Dunkeld and from there, head west to Amulree and take the gravel road up Glen Quaich, popping out at Kenmore, where I planned to enjoy some food at the Kenmore hotel.

My plans after that were fluid: I would find a spot to bivi and make my way back down to Glasgow.

I had not done a lot of research and I was under the impression that Glen Quaich had a dirt road, rather than a gravel/partly sealed road. No matter. Despite being on my fat bike, it all went well and the sun shone as I spun along the idyllic pass from near the geographical centre of Scotland, past Loch Freuchie, towards the mighty Tay.

After a fine meal in the Kenmore Hotel, the evening was still young, so I pedaled off west, beside Loch Tay, and had a pint in Killin where the fine views of the Falls of Dochart were somewhat spoiled by the incessant midge.

My plan was to bivi somewhere on the route over to Glen Ogle, in the pine forest northwest of Lochearnhead. I eventually found a reasonable spot, and unrolled my Mountain Laurel Designs FKT (Fastest Known Time) bivi – a recent purchase – for it’s inaugural use. Because of the material selection, this bivi is extremely light, has an essential-for-Scotland midge net and packs very small. As a result, I had opted for the size large, to give me plenty of wriggling room, as I am a restless sleeper.

I had a great nights sleep, although waking to a cloud of midge in front of the netting was off putting and I had a fair amount of condensation inside the bag. This happens with bivi sacks. In the fading light, I had failed to notice that the ground was not just grass as I had thought, but was a mix of sphagnum moss. This holds collosal amounts of moisture and the cool, breezeless night, heavy dew and low cloud meant condensation was a given. In terms of volume and comfort, this bag and I are going to be friends! at less than half the weight of my old Rab bivi, the drop in encumbrance is welcome too.

Dancing around in the morning to avoid the worst of the breakfast club of midge, I got rolling and slowly the cloud level rose and as I left Lochearnhead, to head into Glen Ample for a bit of old school Scottish mtb action, I was able to strip off some layers.

From here, it was a quick descent to Callander, with the now obligatory 2 bacon rolls at ‘Taste of the Trossachs’ before climbing over to Aberfolye and then on to Garadbhan and the WHW back to base.


It was quite an easy route – somewhere in the vicinity of 50 miles each day and it was nice to have a solid destination planned for food in the evening. The fat bike was fine despite the reasonably high road percentage. It was slower than a normal mtb would have been, but that was kind of the point. I also learned that my knees and hips were fine with the wide bb over this sort of distance. Good to know.

In retrospect, I wish I had given myself a bit more to do. I was enjoying the riding in the warm sunshine and it seemed over a little too soon. I also would have liked to have been a little more remote – bikepacking is a great way to get stuck in to the best terrain in Scotland without having to do mega miles or use complicated arrangements of transport and being ‘away’ from it all is a big draw for me.

So: I have learned several things – it’s all good.


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