27 05 2013

A recent family holiday presented me with a stepping stone for a ride in the highlands. I took off, early, towards Lochnagar, south east of the Cairngorm. I have had mixed luck riding in this area, with changeable weather leading to some memorable times. I wrote about it, briefly, on my old blog,
here, and took a different approach here. The White Mounth holds some spectacularly good trail riding and the views are often breath taking. Coire Chash, the descent to Loch Muick, Jocks’s Road, Capel Mounth and the Kilbo Path are all spoken of in revered tones.

I was keen to try a loop riding north from the Glen Clova hotel, to Bachnagairn, up the steep trail to the pony hut at the start of the Loch Muick descent, but then take the trail up onto Broad Cairn, traverse the rocky summit, dropping to the high saddle then taking in various hill tops en route to Cairn Bannoch, before turning south, over Fafernie, down the knaps of Fafernie, before picking up Jock’s Road taking me back to Glen Doll. Not particularly ambitious, but I didn’t have the strength to be out in the hills all day having just recovered form a gastric bug. The weather was a concern, too, with MWIS highlighting gale force north-westerly gusts and the chance of wintery showers (i.e snow!) intermitently through the day.

Well, as I started out, the gusts seemed to have coalesced into a persistent, gale-force head wind. Progress to Bachnagairn was slow to say the least, but as soon as I reached the steeper, rockier section of trail, the mountains diverted the worst of the howling wind. My concern over how things would be up high was mitigated by the sunny warmth and blue skies. It would be worth while fighting the wind, because when I turned at Fafernie, it would be behind me, more or less.

The climb went quickly, despite my slightly weakened state, and as I scampered up the side of Broad Cairn, I was only slightly perturbed to see a dense grey front envelop Lochnagar. It seemed to be moving well to the north and east of me, so I thought my luck was holding fast.

The decision to make the scramble to the top of the munro, rather than taking the circular path to the west of the summit, was thus made. However, once on top the full power of the wind was unleashed. Standing was near impossible and the enforced carrying of the bike only made things worse. Twice I was blown off my feet on the sharp rock and many times I lost my footing and slid down boulder faces, desperately trying to avoid losing my grip on the bike. Blood flowed from cuts on my legs. I roared as I fought to avoid being blown backwards into the un-welcoming embrace of the jumble of rock. It was then that I saw the front approaching rapidly, denser, lower and more malevolent than I thought possible on an otherwise blue bird day.

I crossed a small snow field and tried to move closer to the relative shelter offered by Cairn Bannoch, but within seconds a fearsome snow and hail shower left me snatching breath from the air and cowering, low to the ground. Two options: wait it out or turn tail and at least put the wind to my back.

After the fact, I learned that wind speeds approached 80mph and the snow and poor conditions led to the closure of ski access roads close by. I think I made the correct, albeit disappointing, decision to turn tail but the circular route around Broad Cairn – with an estimated 3 meters of visibility, in a screaming wind and snow – was harsh. Eventually, I decided I could take enough shelter behind a rock outcrop to get my waterproof gloves and jacket out of my bag (impossible due to the likelihood of the wind taking them until this point), and found a well formed orange sized snow ball had formed in the pocket of my riding shorts.

The front passed after I made the scramble from the summit ‘cone’ of the hill and I was left wondering if I should go back up in order to finish the route. In the end, I elected to descend, then climb up the trail known as ‘Glittering Skellies’ that would take me out onto Jock’s Road at a point close to where I was hoping to have joined. This would afford me clear navigation if the weather deteriorated again, and mean the day was not lost to the weather.

As I finally made it to Davy’s Bourach (a shelter constructed by Davy Glen, many years ago, as a response to the death of several hikers in 1959 in adverse weather in Glen Doll) I smiled as I saw the descent stretch out in front of me.

Victory in the hills is a nebulous concept, but I felt I had definitely snatched something from the jaws of defeat.

Launch control.

13 05 2013

The weather (do I even have to mention it?) has been less than ideal for riding recently. Ho Hum. No bad weather, just bad clothing choices, right? Well, I donned the Endura windtex jacket (all but a vapour barrier, and ideal for inclement weather when you won’t be out *too* long, in *too* harsh weather), 3/4’s, cosy socks and hit the slippery, muddy trails.

I’ve been messing with a Knard 29×3″ on the front of the Jones, courtesy of an old Uma 29, 47mm rim I had built years ago onto a Paul whub. The Krampus front wheel won’t fit my Jones because it is the 135mm fork. It works fine.

Initial impressions: I’m not sure I gain much by going to the Knard on the front, but I prefer it to 26×4″ set ups I have used. The overall diameter being greater than a ‘normal’ 29″er wheel suits the geometry of the Jones better IMO than the slightly sub 29″ diameter 26×4″ wheels. The weight can be felt – I’m used to my Jones being 20lbs on the nose, so I’m adding a couple of pounds easily. It does suck up chatter really well and it floats over wet ground mo’ bettah than the normal 2.4 Mt King II. But, I need more time on it to see if it will be my go-to set up.


12 05 2013

I am a relative new comer to hydraulic brakes. I used to rely on Avid BB7’s or even rim brakes. It would be fair to say the reason I did not embrace hydraulic power earlier was my deep appreciation for Pual Components Love Levers. I first saw set of these beautiful, svelte brake levers in Kenwood Cyclery, Minneapolis, more years ago than I care to remember. They were mounted to a very simple Tom Teesdale singlespeed. It was a beautiful machine.

Anyway, when we were spec’ing BA, my ‘all mountain’ 29er hardtail (does that term even exist now? or has it been swallowed whole by ‘enduro’?) a set of Saint hydraulics were put in place. I figured going to a long travel (for the time) fork, with gears, on a burly frame, with geometry set for the steeper, nastier end of the spectrum would have my speeds reaching near-supersonic levels. Of course, my balls proved to be of a slightly lesser dimension, but suffice to say I used every iota of braking power.

I don’t think I will ever forget getting on my Jones (equipped with BB7’s and steel ‘hard-lines’ for ultimate cable operated power) for the first time after acquainting myself with BA and trying to stop for an oncoming car at the end of my street. I was flabbergasted to keep on rolling for about 3 meters beyond where I expected to stop. With that, cable brakes were over.

Move on a few years and I am getting better at maintaining Hydro’s, but I have been frustrated by using push on tubing on the bleed nipples. It just isn’t a solid enough system. It was time to change things…

Drivechain messin’

6 05 2013

I’m in the process of re-purposing some bikes. My Brooklyn Machine Works Gangsta II is going to become a bona fide track bike. That means my old Voodoo Dambala had to be made into a town bike. This allows me to use 40c ish tyres as well: useful when the roads are still suffering after a couple of harsh winters and in poor repair.

I like my town bike having a fixed gear, but achieving this on the Dambala with a fairly large chainring isn’t straightforward. Chainstay/ring contact was an issue, which meant I had to put the ring on the outer tabs of an mtb crank. So, I pulled the crank from the Krampus which left me in need of another set of cranks for the big green machine.

I ended up getting hold of an XT m785 2 ring crank – it is much more aesthetically pleasing than the triple for a single ring set up. The problem is the chainline: at 48.8mm (which is the midpoint between the 2 rings), using a 34 tooth ring puts the chainring around 52mm out from centre, giving crappy chainline with a 9 speed cluster. The chainline on the middle of a triple HTII shimano crank is 50mm. So, I used some spacers to push the ring more inboard.

Of course, ideally, I would like the ring even further inboard. The actual real world chainline for a 9 speed shimano cluster on a 135mm OLD hub is ~45mm, but there is not enough clearance to move the ring in more than another 1mm or so without it getting eye wateringly close to the chainstay yoke. So, not ideal but better looking (in my eyes at least) and it works acceptably well.

Impossible trail.

1 05 2013

Recently, the trails we have been riding have moved up a notch. They tend to be low velocity, but the ‘moves’ come thick and fast. You have to pay attention 100% of the time: lots of upper body action. I have even got to the stage of practising trials-type moves (track stand to log hop is a classic) in order to clean the more difficult ones.

The latest trail is called ‘Impossible Trail’. It ain’t easy. I rode it for the first time a few days ago – it is very fresh indeed, requiring some bedding-in in parts, but it is *beautiful*. From the initial climb off the main access, the insinuation of your bike and body between trees, over rocks and then an immensely satisfying 3/4 meter drop onto a sweet transition, with a hard right and a rock hop before you get to the business end of the trail leaves you aching for more.

The next section needs inch-perfect tyre placement. I had 2 or 3 attempts on the Krampus, making it without dismounting, but with a dab each time. The trail is scratched across a steep slope between rocks and trees, with slippery, moss covered soil and as we exited and moved on, I knew I was smitten.

A few days later, when I realised I couldn’t get it out of my head, the Jones came out and I pedaled up to the start. The wind was strong, pushing heavy grey clouds across the claustrophobic sky. There were no passers by and no birds or forrest machinery to break the expectant silence.

The drop onto the transition filled me with joy, there is nothing like being airborne for a split second and having no impact as the tyres kiss a well angled down slope. From there, I simply kept my pace up. I knew I was probably thinking about it too much. I *really* wanted to clean it and my heart beat was palpable as I made my way to the crux point.

Over the sharp, slimy rocks, avoiding the slick, root-knot. Then hard effort, up over slippery roots, only to duck down and then hard again to the right onto a 3″ wide section of dirt packed into the crevice left by a long, thick fallen branch that holds back the slope. A super slippery climb over clay soil, moss and sharp, mobile rocks, all off camber next. The only section to have foiled me on the trail the few days previously was a pinch point between a tree and some roots escaping up hill, all whilst climbing and balancing and holding one’s breath. The move seemed to involve pedaling into it, stopping, letting the tyre slide down the roots and at the same time turning it slightly down hill then a sudden thrust up and around to make it into the first of 3 bowls (all off camber) on the final grunt out of the trail.

It went so smoothly I immediately pedaled back to the start and did it again, no dabs.

Of course, then I was on a roll, so the next 6 or 10 failed attempts were hard to swallow. But these really are the best trails. Next time, me and ‘Impossible’ are going to have a few words….