29 09 2012

The aim of the most recent mission was reconnaissance. I have spent a little time riding in the south eastern Cairngorm/Lochnagar area which has made me keen to try and find a reasonable way to push through from Braemar south east. This in turn allows me to come from Aviemore, or even further afield and drop down to Perthshire, through the mountains rather than by road.

The other reason i am interested in loops in this area is that it is truly stunning. High craggy mountains, steep sided glens and beautiful forests, all tacked together with some fast draining, narrow gauge trails.

So: having parked in Braemar, i pedaled B.A back along the road to the Small car park at Glen Callater and up the glen. This trail is called ‘Jock’s road’ after a certain John Winter who was instrumental in creating Scotland’s famed rights of way. You can read about it here. Anyway, the beta suggested that there is a pretty gruesome portage at the south east end of Loch Callater which i was keen to avoid. A friend had suggested that this may be possible by taking some of the estate tracks up the munros that are situated west of the route and which form part of the imposing side of Glen Clunie, where Glen Shee ski area is situated. After a fair amount of climbing it became clear that i wasn’t going to get off lightly. For starters, the track is in places very steep and the wind was rather blustery. Like 93kmph gusts blustery. This brought fronts of light rain over regularly but also acted as a rather loud soundtrack to the climb. The OS explorer series maps do not show the extent of the trail that leads up towards Carn an Tuirc. The dead end on the map is erroneous. Infact, the trail continues up Cairn of Claise (the first munro of the day, not that i’m counting!). As i began to drop, it was clear that Dan’s observations were indeed correct. A good trail leads east towards the saddle between Tolmount and Tom Buidhe, another couple of munros.

Unfortunately as i descended, the weather decided to worsen and the cloud level dropped. The gusts were becoming sustained and although i was glad to have them at my back, it still made covering ground very difficult. The trail veered south towards the top of Tom Buidhe, which i ascended in the hopes that i would find a trail that would take me down into the glen below Crow Craigies. At this point, i hoped to pick up the Jock’s road and descend the fantastic trail to Glen Doll, from there making my way via Loch Muick over the shoulder of the Lochnagar massif and picking up Glen Gelder to drop me out near Braemar.

Not so much.

The ground was tussocky and steep. I had a 100m drop and a steep 100m+ carry up the other side of the glen. Not so bad, but on the tough terrain it would be slow and the daylight was beginning to slip away. Hmmm.

I turned tail and climbed back over the top of Tom Buidhe, optimistic i would find a trail up Tolmount. It was insane how strong the wind was: I don’t think i have ever been out in stronger. As i dropped to the boggy saddle i eyed the climb up Tolmount which was steep, vague and most likely slow going too, then i would have to find a short link if there wasn’t an obvious one to the Jock’s road. I knew as i stood there that time was tight and as another dark mass of cloud was rushing towards me the promised deterioration in weather looked like it was coming early. Time to bail.

Back up to the Cairn of Claise and returned by whence i came. When i started this loop, i gave myself about a 50% chance of completing it today. I was late getting there and the weather window meant i would have a reasonable chance of having to tuck tail and turn regardless of how good the trail and my speed was. However, what i have proven to myself is that this loop is doable. I don’t know how bad the portage up Jock’s Road is, but this is certainly a viable option: thanks Dan!

Another curious thing: the whole day, from the second i got on my bike, until i was enjoying a shot of Skittle sours as i descended to Braemar, i had an intense feeling of dread. I don’t know why, it has never happened in the hills before. I was frightened that the weather might turn. I was scared of being caught in bad weather, isolated and high, particularly as i was having to read the map in terrible wind, which made it difficult to be sure of my navigation. But it was more emotional than that. It reminds me in some ways of the myth of the Grey man of Macdhui: he is supposed to make you feel some sort of portent of doom when near.

Maybe it is haunted up there too?



Fat bikes.

20 09 2012

Despite the 27.5″/650b rush (which i think is nothing but a good thing) it would seem that fat bikes are going to be the real hit at interbike this year. With Surly’s Krampus redefining 29″ers, and new rear spacing courtesy of 9zero7 (186mm, allowing 4.8″ tyres to be run with symmetrical rear wheel builds and offset 2×10 gears), there is plenty of things to look at. i would recommend fat-bike.com‘s coverage…

I had spoken to Sean at Vertigo cycles a little while ago about a fat bike and i guess it is getting close to the time where i need to define what i want this bike to do. You see, when i first started playing around with fat/snow wheels on the front of hardtails, there were few standards and little choice when it came to complete fat bikes. Basically, you used what ever you could to get the job done. I had ridden a Pugsley and was very close to buying a first generation 9zero7 frame, but something always held me back. I think it was because the bikes were optimised for wilderness/snow trails. At the time, i was moving towards 29″ers with short back ends and more ‘playful’ geometry. In the end, i had a fat-ish P35 650b rear wheel with Nate front wheel using a 50mm Jones/uma rim. It is fantastic when trails get sloppy. Unbelievable grip and floatation.

In the meantime, a friend who probably had a pretty similar view point to me ended up with a beautiful ti fat frame from Sean and things started clicking into place for me. You can see some photos of that frame on Sean’s flickr and more if you google ‘Vertigo cycles fat bike’.

Then the tyres got fatter (Surly’s Bud and Lou) and the ’29+’ Krampus appeared. Drive chains seem to be settling on 100mm bb’s and 170mm rear ends for the less-fat end of the market with offset cranks and perhaps even wider rear OLD spacing for the über fat snow/beach bikes.

Ideas started to swirl around in my head. With a Nate on a 50mm rim being within 1cm diameter of a 29″er wheel, how bad would it be to push things out 20mm in order to fit a Knard on a Rabbit hole rim (the Krampus’ 29+ wheels) ? or allow the use of the über fat Bud or Lou tyres ? could i use an ebb or sliding drops to offset the geometry changes ?

The truth is that fat bikes have splintered to such a degree that you need to commit to one type of platform in order to get the best out of it. There probably will be a 29+ wheeled bike in my future – it just looks such a giggle. I doubt i will ever race or ride through the Alaskan snows and beach riding doesn’t appeal at all. What i want, is a fun bike that will allow me to take to the hills when it gets boggy and winter bites. So the new fat bike will be Nate/50mm rim/short back end type of fat bike. It will be awesome.

Now i have that worked out….suspension fork corrected (yes, there are…) ? singlespeed or 1×7, or 9 or 10 ? EBB ? sliders ? and what fork spacing? thoughts to keep me occupied….

Saint Shadow Plus.

20 09 2012

Ok, i’ve been running the new Saint Clutch rear derailleur for a little while now. At present, i am running this with an xtr ispec shifter and a 11-34 xt cassette.

How is it? if it wasn’t for the recent xtr shadow plus mech, i would call it revolutionary. As it is, i’d say it is the best derailleur on the market for 1×10 drivechains. The spooky part is how quiet everything becomes. No chain clatter on rough ground. Combine that with a solid release, slick upshift and a durable body that if the old Saint is anything to go by will outlast the rest of the bike. I’d say it is a winner.

I have another to go on a burlier hardtail with an m820 ispec shifter. That bike is currently running a slightly modified e13 LG1+ guide, but i will be removing the lower roller portion when i fit the Saint derailleur. I’m not expecting any dropped chains.


The xtra cycle

10 09 2012

Regardless, now it is together, it works beautifully. The xtra cycle bolts into the drop outs of most frames. You can use spacers for frames other than 135mm OLD and to adapt to thin (stamped) drop outs if needs be. The frame I used (an old Kelly RoShamBo) has horizontal dropouts. These are cowled and required filing in order to allow the xtra cycle to be fitted as far forward as possible. Why did I want to do this?

A) I felt that with more surface area for the ‘french bolts’ and sockets to grab onto I would have a more secure system.

B) it allowed the 2 plates that sandwich the chainstays on frames that don’t have a bridge to get the best purchase.

One thing I didn’t consider prior to using a 29er frame as a donor was that the increased bb drop would mean the front of the xtra cycle would come into the chainstay plates at quite an angle. To combat this I used 2 sets of male/female conical washers.  It is far from perfect, but as I torqued the system together, the plates bent. It happened so easily, I can only assume it is supposed to occur, but obviously I will be keeping an eye for any cracks. In time, I can see the frame being modified with a bridge that is slotted to accept a bolt directly.

As I was always going to be mounting a child seat for Daisy, I needed to lock the uprights of the xtrra cycle in place. Xtra cycle make little clamps akin to seat post binders, to do this. Doing so means the seat cant ‘bounce’ out at an inopportune moment. Of course, once you lock the uprights in place getting access to the gear and brake adjustment is a little more fiddly. Should have done that bit first.

Using a 650b rear wheel pushes the clearance of the xtra cycle pretty far. In the end though, the only issue is removal of an inflated wheel. I cant see this being that much of a detriment in practice. Theoretically, a 650b rear wheel is less robust, due to decreased triangulation, so I used quality components I have good history with, 3 cross spoking and brass nipples. The Pacenti DL 31 rim (from Just Riding Along) deserves special mention for building beautifully and having a super high quality feel. It would be an excellent choice for a 650b, or 29er, AM wheel set up. The front wheel ended up being a Paul ‘word’ rear hub which is built into a mavic A317 currently. I aim to change this to a fatter, stronger rim soon. Why a rear hub? I’m using a Surly moonlander fork that uses rear hub disc offset/front brake adaptors. I wanted to use a Paul wHub as it has enormous flange width and this builds a super durable wheel but couldn’t find a fork long enough to get the geometry where I wanted it without going custom or carbon that uses this set up. Using a rear hub it gets a touch narrower and heavier, but no big deal.

The BB7’s work surprisingly well with 180 front shimano and 203mm rear shimano rotors. I had to use older style slx rotors to get the alloy centre section that means you warp discs less easily, but retain clearance for the bb7 mechanisms. I had wanted to fit hydros, but struggled to find hose for the older style xt brakes in 2m+ lengths. Actually, as these work well and allow me to use Paul love levers (my all time favourite feeling lever blade) i’m happy. An old 10, degree rise 125mm steelman stem, with wide 20 degree sweep ti bars and an old ritchey 2 bolt seatpost and magmaa saddle. Slx cranks, Aluminium chainring bolts (never had an issue with these using purple loctite and care), a 36 tooth e13 ring, 2 xtr chains, a saint rear mech, xtr 11-34 block and xtr trigger shifter (all pre-used and donated from other bikes).

So, what do I have? Well, it is a beast. Heavy, long and it yaws when loaded – I guess the way the xtra cycle attaches in a single plane, which is also low on the bike, will do that, but after a few rides, you compensate. Pleasingly, the shifting is good and doesn’t exhibit too much rub when the whole is flexing around. I used an e13 seat tube guide that helps keep the chain on, but I may add some form of guide to the front section of the xtra cycle. We’ll see. .

Daisy loves it and riding this beast is already putting some strength into my thighs. All good.

Thanks go to Practical cycles for their help and attentiveness. Good people.