S24O: part 2.

23 03 2013

Do not think for a second that the irony of a 2 part blog post describing a very short, overnight bike ride is lost on me. At this rate, it will take longer to read the tale than to have participated!

Anyway. I awoke to an absolute bluebird morning. The view from the bivi bag was breathtaking.

After extricating myself from the sleeping bag’s warm embrace and jumping around a little bit to get some circulation going, I inspected the inside of the eVent fabric bivi. There was a thin layer of ice throughout, excepting the area my themarest touched. Interesting! I have had ice form on the outer surface of my bivi and tent before, but not the inside. I have no clear idea why this might have been, but I suspect it may have something to do with me being pretty cold overnight. The benefit of it being *so* cold was that nothing felt wet.

Coffee time. I use MSR stoves and have found them incredibly reliable and durable. The gas canisters admittedly struggle in very low temperatures, so I needed to shake it every now and again to get my cup of joe made. Little beats a cup of coffee made under ancient caledonian pine on a super bright, crispy morning.

After packing everything up I started rolling again. I had no planned destination. The snow conditions needed to be assessed before I could decide where to head. As I rode through the trees, snow crunched under the Krampus’ fat tyres and if my face hadn’t been so cold, I would have been wearing a broad grin.

After about 45 minutes of riding, I decided to head over to Piccadilly and see if the trail up to the Lairig Ghru looked rideable. It did, so I started climbing and rapidly warmed up. My overnight kit is far from heavy, but strapped to a somewhat beefy bike and given my state of fitness, the heart rate definitely climbed faster than I did. Nearing the top of the climb, I was post-holing. I had no intentions of going into the pass proper, but I did want to see what my options were.

Soon enough I broke out of the tree line and peered into the massive, glacial half-pipe that forms one of the passes through the Cairngorm. There is a photo on my flickr that looks like a close up of a cotton wool ball. It was approaching me *fast* and suggested that heading any further into the Lairig Ghru would prove uncomfortable. I turned the bike and so ensued a drifting, pinball, highly enjoyable descent.

I knew that I was going to be overtaken by the weather, so headed to one of my favourite spots to make a cup of coffee and shelter under the relatively dense trees. That way I could further assess the conditions and have a spot of breakfast.

Sure enough, the snow started to fall again and the wind began to rise. I hopped on the bike and pedaled on. Movement generates warmth. I climbed up into the wind and drifting snow, wondering if the path from Rothiemurchas Lodge over towards the ski area would be passable, but it was deep under powdery snow. After reflecting briefly on those tough guys who battle the Iditarod route in Alaska, I turned tail and climbed up to Badaguish, intent on riding the tight trails hidden in the trees above the outdoor centre.

The snow became deeper as I ascended and I was working hard and moving slowly, but as I dropped onto the sweet singletrack, the Krampus demonstrated that it was indeed a capable bike in the woods.

I messed around for a while. The weather was variable, but there was no doubt that going further afield would have been a push too far. There were moments where my tyres crunched fresh tracks over ground that had not been traversed in some time. It was just me, the deer and the birds. Beautiful.

With a twinge of disappointment, but looking forward to some warm food at the Mountain Cafe, I headed back to the car and closed the loop on this S24O. I felt like I had been out for days. Unforgettable.

S24O: part 1.

22 03 2013

If I remember correctly it was Aaron Teasdale, whose writing, photographs and philosophy I admire, who coined the term ‘S24O’. It means Sub 24 hour Overnight and describes a ride that includes an overnight bivi. The trick here is that the ‘micro-adventure’ (see Alastair Humphreys’) feels like a much bigger challenge.

I have managed a few, short ride/bivi/ride trips in the past and wanted to use some mid week time off well. The weather seemed to be playing ball, too. On wednesday, I spent a few hours organising my bike packing bags, locating my bivi bag and getting some food together. I taped up the rubbing points on the Krampus – the bike of choice due to the snow I would likely encounter and remembered to grind some coffee to take with me. The forecast was for it to be very cold (down to potentially -6c on the hills) overnight, but very little chance of precipitation and the morning would be bright with a strengthening wind through the day, but, again, little chance of precip.

After we put Daisy to bed, I loaded up the car and took off, heading north. The road conditions deteriorated as the hours went by and the snow started to fall in earnest as I approached Perth. Fortunately, it stopped after the Drumochter pass but the temperature gauge on the car showed the mercury falling rapidly. No matter. That is what puffer jackets and thick, down bags are for, right?

Now it is time to leave the car and perceived safety. There is a strange feeling I get as I start to pedal off into the hills at night. It is lonely, scary even. The concern is largely based on ‘what if’s: what if it gets too cold? what if I have a major mechanical? what if I have forgotten an essential item? what if I struggle to find a good spot to sleep? The questions roll on, just as I do, into the dark. Of course, the psychology of overcoming fear is fascinating in itself. The benefits to one’s confidence and ability to meet other challenges are obvious.

As I ride on, the worry settles and I become just another creature of the night. The moon is more than half full, so riding without any lights is easy in Rothiemurchas. There is very little light pollution around here and very soon I find a great spot to unroll the bivi bag, blow up the thermarest, stuff my water bottle, shoes and rucksack to the bottom of the bag and drop off to sleep.

I awaken in the wee hours needing a pee and it is bitterly cold. This, despite sleeping in wool longs, socks, a capilene T, wool top, capilene 4 top and nano-puff jacket. Oh, and a wool balaclava and wool gloves. As I make the painful decision to leave the relative warmth of my cocoon, I feel the ice that has formed on the inner surface of my bivi bag splinter off in tiny crystals. I’ve never had that before.

As I drift off again, sleeping bag hood cinched tight I wonder what the morning will bring…


18 03 2013

Well, the advice to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ should be followed when at all possible. A few weeks ago there was a glimpse of summer. The bulbous, grey clouds rolled back and the land seemed to drain of the pooled water that had plagued earlier rides. With optimism, I packed up and left for Aviemore to see what trails were free from snow and ice. In recent times, I have played high on the Cairngorm plateau and aimed for long, back country loops. That was not going to be possible this early in the season. However, I wanted some different, bigger scenery and to try out my rusty legs on some of the beautiful singletrack the area has in spades. I took the trails around Loch an Eilein, past Piccadilly and onwards to Glenmore Lodge. From here I climbed up into Glen More and past the Ryvoan bothy in order to head towards and around Loch Garten. From here, I dropped onto the Speyside Way and fought a brisk headwind back to Aviemore.

It wasn’t the longest, or toughest loop, but it was like an intravenous shot of smiles. I can tell that winter’s cold, hard grip is loosening and spring will be here soon.

Leo Sayer.

10 03 2013

I don’t have any of Leo Sayer’s material in my CD collection. As a result, per Surly’s instructions, I built my Krampus with Red Fang blaring in the background. At least for the most part. There was also some Volbeat, some AC/DC and Eric B and Rakim in there.

I am not particularly proud to say it took 6 hours to build the bike, excluding the wheel build. But if you know me, you know I like to do these things properly, once. Over the years I have collected a pretty good tool kit: despite this, and the knowledge of how to use those tools, I still managed to mess up pressing the headset in to the Krampus. I don’t know why it happened and I hope it hasn’t ovalised the head tube. I pulled the mango Inset 7 from B.A and pressed a black one in as the orange was kind of annoying me. It went in straight, no issues, using the Chris King adaptors for the top and bottom cups. But when I came to press the mango one into the Krampus, well, it didn’t work out the same way. The top part went in squint, but the bottom cup went in fine. I have previously struggled pressing in an Inset 7 when doing one cup at a time, and felt that using both of the King adaptors simultaneously left less wobble room. Will have to dwell on that.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I had been unsure how the wheels would build with the spokes I had available. In the end, I did have to dremel the ends of the some of the spokes in the rear wheel. My measuring suggests the actual ERD of the Rabbit Hole rims is 617mm.

The only other issue was having to space the rear XT caliper from the caliper adaptor with washers because with the wheel in the most forward position in the horizontal drop outs, the variable position disc mount did not offer enough clearance for the caliper on the disc.

Anyway, the bike is together and it is a smile factory, even on the 5 minute test ride I took. At present, I have WTB dh 26″ tubes in the wheels to save a little weight over the monster Surly tubes. I suspect they will be prone to thorn punctures, we’ll see. A few photos from the build.

The bike weighs 28 lbs: XT hubs, DT comp spokes, aluminium nipples, Rabbit Hole rims, 120 TPI Knards, Thomson stem and post, King bb and headset, Watson parkarino ti bars, xtr shifter, to Saint rear mech, e thirteen ring and Paul chain keeper, xtr pedals (old style).

I have been looking back at some photos of recent rides and now we have snow back, the sun and blue skies in the images are dream like. More on that soon.


6 03 2013

Well, the Krampus seems to have been remarkably popular. A few of the frameset/wheel kits came into the UK recently and initially I thought I might miss out – I probably should have been more organised! However, thanks to some very good folk (tim at Sideways Cycles and David at Bothy Bikes) I am one of the lucky few to have my mitts on one of the bass boat green frames, two Rabbit Hole rims and strips and two 29×3 Knards.

The first step was to measure the ERD of the rim: I assumed that the provided ERD of 615.5 would take into account the +/-7mm offset nipple drilling. I was correct. The ERD is ~617.5 (the accuracy of this measurement puts it between 617-617.5).

So, plug the numbers for my build (XT centre lock hubs f+r and DT comp spokes with 12mm alu nipples) into the calculators and out pops 300mm spokes for the rear wheel (built with the offset to the left side, to make the spoke tension pretty close to symmetrical) and for the front wheel I need 301mm (offset to the right, again to make it near symmetrical tension).

Of course, getting hold of 301mm spokes is not easy. If I err on the longer side with 302mm and the ERD is nearer the lower figure in the range, I might have to do a fair bit of grinding in order to stop the spoke ends piercing the rim strip. More of a concern would be the thread bottoming out in the nipple – there is 1mm to play with once the nipple is ‘full’ of spoke and for alu nipples, you want the nipple full to at least the bottom of the nipple slot, ideally all the way to the top.

So, options are:
1) build the wheel with alu nipples and 300mm spokes and see if the nipple is full enough.
2) err to the other side and use 302mm.
3) I could use 300mm spokes and brass nipples that dont need such accuracy for longevity.

I’ll probably build the rear wheel first and see how accurate my figures are as 300mm is pretty much dead on for that build and decide on the front wheel after.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 21.02.33

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 21.04.10


2 03 2013

My Gerber hand saw has served me extremely well (despite losing the plastic hinge bolt cover early on) for many years and thousands of pruning sessions. But it has finally decided to shed its teeth and thus needed to be replaced.

A quick internet search and a cheap but well respected alternative – the Bahco Laplander – was in my hands and it has already been put into service. The blade seems slightly flexible, but the cutting performance is excellent. Windfall and over growth will tremble at the ‘click’ of its locking blade.