New fangled.

30 06 2013

After the XT hub imploded on the Krampus, I decided to change the drive chain on the bike at the same time as re-building the rear wheel. I had one of the new-fangled thick/thin chainrings from Works Components, which I had pre-ordered out of curiosity rather than need. The ring is nice though, with reassuring thickness, well profiled teeth and neat relief. It is made from 7075T6 aluminium, which has seemed durable in the conditions I encounter. I was also curious about how an 11-36 cluster would feel. For the last couple of years, I have been happy with the range a 34 tooth ring with an 11-34 cassette gives me. On Maul, I even have a 35 tooth ring as that bike is aimed at going quickly. The engine sometimes lacks horsepower though, so it may be reduced to a 34 soon!

If you look closely, the tooth counts on a 11-34 cassette are 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 26, 30, 34. An 11-36 is a little different in the lowest four gears. The gears I probably use the most, those in the middle, are the same, so I felt that I may well gain from the increased range when things get really steep. Having spent so many years on singlespeeds, I am undaunted by grunting up climbs or walking if needs be, but particularly when loaded with bikepacking kit, The Krampus takes a wee bit more effort as you ascend than my other bikes.

So, the tooth counts of the 11-36 are 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 24, 28, 32, 36. In going to 10 speeds, I needed to replace the rear derailleur and shifter as well. I have also been curious about the thick/thin ring’s ability to retain the chain, along with a clutch style mech. So I decided to fit a Zee rear derailleur. This is not only a lot less expensive than a Saint rear derailleur, it is designed to cover the 11-36 cassette – a whopping 25 tooth range. Most short cage derailleurs will only work with a reduced range, as the length of the jockey wheel cage is too short to take up the slack in the chain required for wide range cassettes. I am unclear if the B tension range is different, or if the geometry of the upper jockey wheel placement is different as well. The Saint, depending on where you look, seems to work with 11-36, but Shimano officially rate it to a maximum of 34 teeth. I don’t want to find out that it causes undue stress or damage on the derailleur in the middle of no-where so the Zee seemed to be a good option, though I fear I will miss the Saint’s added robustness and bash ‘rail’ that runs next to the parallelogram to protect it. In parts, the Zee uses stamped, formed metal sheet rather than (presumably) forged aluminium pieces as well. It will be interesting to see how the function is affected by this over time, or whether it is purely for weight and aesthetic appearance.

The rear wheel build was, well, awkward. Maybe because the rim is singlewalled and it had already been built? there was also a small flat spot on the rim, not noticeable to the naked eye, but the Centrimaster showed about a 0.3mm sharp, dip that could not be trued out – a clear sign of a dent in the rim. I don’t really know why, but the tension range in the wheel is broader than I would normally like – around 15% difference – but otherwise the near symmetrical spoke angle and tension led to a wheel build I am relatively confident will be durable. Of note, the ERD at 617mm and use of 298mm disc side, 300mm drive side led to perfectly full nipples and only some very minor Dremeling in order to remove protruding spoke. Again, I used freespoke for the calculations.

The drive chain parts went on very easily indeed and removing the Paul chain keeper felt speculative to say the least. However, on a quick ride around the block, bumping into curbs, jumping and hopping, the system was quiet and there was no indication I might lose the chain.

I will be interested to see how this system copes with Scottish conditions and probably more pertinently, wear of the ring. The chain line is pretty good on the Krampus, so I don’t think there will be undue wear on the wide teeth on the ring, but over time, the chain will no doubt become more rattly on the ring and I am curious to know whether it will have a reasonable service life or not. Obviously, as SRAM may take legal action, at least in the USA, the after market thick/thin ring market may well change soon as well…

Blue dot junkie.

23 06 2013

I am sure that some of youse guys will know what the term in the title of this post refers to: the Tour Divide.

Over the years, I have followed the Tour Divide and Great Divide Race, usually on MTB Cast and Sometimes with all-hours-of-the-day obsession (when Jenn or Ollie were riding, for example), sometimes with a slightly more distant, but no less interested, perspective.

I have no interest in doing this route as a time trial myself: there are far too many areas with excellent riding I would bypass, close by as I turned miles over on relatively less interesting trail. It could easily form the back bone of a superb tour, though.

This year, I am again following more closely. Mike Hall, round the world record breaker, who has some fascinating gear info on his site, is in the lead – and on record pace – and a friend, James Olsen, bike designer and fellow Jones aficionado, is in 4th, making amazing progress.

It is also very interesting to see some of the bike set ups. Steve Puerzer kindly posted a gallery of bike images, here. Fascinating for a gear geek like myself.

So (dee dah dadeedadidda, dee dah dadeedadidda) I’ll be watching. Will you?


22 06 2013

A few days ago, I decided to explore an area close to home. In order to make a day of it, I planned to ride out through Mugdock, poke around the triangle of uncharted territory in question and then follow the West Highland Way further until I could join a trail that used to be an old railway line. This leads to Croftamie, a small village west of Glasgow, where I could ride alongside a meandering burn I have always been curious about.

It was a beautiful day, with a brisk wind that kept the midge at bay, which was most welcome when I took the narrow trail through dense foliage between Strathblane and Glengoyne distillery. The trail is also on an old rail line and has a very steady grade, but it has grown in, no doubt due to the heavily used WHW being routed close by.

All in all, it was an interesting diversion. For a while, I followed the WHW, then turned, took a narrow bridge across a river and climbed up towards Croftamie. Another, higher, bridge offered fine views of the mountains and some gorgeous clouds. There was no rush, so I stopped to have a sandwich and watch as the little fluffy clouds rolled by.

The trail from Croftamie was short, but sweet. It popped out at Dalnair House, an old baronial mansion that later became a nursing home and has now fallen out of use. It is a beautiful building and as I watched a deer bound past a dilapidated tennis court I wondered what would become of it.

From here, I took the road up to Queens View and the Whangie, then back into Mugdock and home.

It is interesting to look more closely at what is under your nose. You may not always discover a gem, but it is always enlightening.

During the ride, the rear hub on the Krampus became considerably noisier than I have been used to. It slipped several times, which it has done on occasion since new, but this was worse. A few nights later, as I pedaled out on a group ride, it gave a loud crunch on a rocky climb and from this point on it refused to freewheel consistently. I needed to bail on the ride and by the time I got home I had to pedal continuously in order to avoid jamming the chain because the cogs would not allow me to coast. When I first got it, I was unsure what I would think about the Krampus, so I didn’t want to sink too much money on componentry. However, I recall feeling uneasy about using the M785 XT hub. I had heard rumours of problems with other recent XT hubs, but assumed it had been ironed out.

On inspection, the freehub body mechanism was toast, I was in no doubt that the pawls had shattered. With replacement of the freehub body being around the same cost as a new hub, and with no indication that Shimano has changed the design to remedy the part. I decided to invest in a better quality hub. A Hope Pro II evo will be built into the Rabbit Hole soon. Again, spoke length is causing me a bit of a headache, ideally the non-drive side would have 299mm spokes. I will perhaps go into this in more detail soon.

The situation is, of course, disappointing. The wheel has been in use for 3 months and I would not expect to have to rebuild a wheel within 2 years usually. It is a waste of money in terms of replacing spokes as well. XT level componentry is usually bomber and it looks like Shimano dropped the ball on this one, which is (fortunately) rare.

Along with rebuilding the rear Krampus wheel, I will be building a geared rear wheel for my ‘cross bike. The Iron Maiden lies unused for much of the year, a situation I want to change. It is a singlespeed specific frame, but I intend to use a 10mm thru axle rear hub (built on to a No Tubes Iron Cross rim) with an old Saint M800 rear derailleur, a Dura Ace bar end shifter, a 9 speed cluster (11-34) and a 48 tooth front ring. This will give me a broad enough range to tackle steep-ish climbs off road, but allow a good turn of pace on the tarmac. Hopefully, along with file tread 35mm tyres, this will make for a versatile set up.

More as it happens.

The Xtracycle has been in almost constant use. There is no doubt as to it’s versatility – dropping off Daisy and hauling stuff – but it can feel a little heavy up hill. No matter! you will grow strong, pedaling this sort of bike!

Lastly, I used Continental Revo sealant and a 2.2 Mountain King II Protection to go tubless on the back of Maul. It has been several years since I used a tubeless set up. Once I get some miles in, I will decide whether it will stay or not.


9 06 2013

A solid week of sunshine in Scotland means one thing. Well, ok, admittedly it means more than one thing, but for *me* it means one thing – big rides on trails that are less than welcoming when the ground is wet. I have a penchant for big loops that tack together great trails, provide stunning views and, importantly, give a sense of wilderness. I have never truly reflected on my need for isolation, silence and solitude. Previously, I have explored several loops through the Cairngorm – probably my preferred part of Scotland.

Link back to some old entires: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Anyway. The plan was relatively simple and for once there were various sensible options. Start at Old Bridge of Tilt, head out on cycle route 7 north, past Bruar to Dalnacardoch and cross the A9 at the turn off for Trinafour and head through the Gaick Pass to Insh. From there, I could roll through Inshriach to Inverdruie with the possibility to deal with any issues in Aviemore, a refuelling stop meaning I could carry slightly less stuff – a note on this later. From here, I would have several options: 1) turn around and head down Glen Feshie, which was likely to be at it’s most rideable due to the prolonged dry spell. 2) go over Ben Macdui, drop down past Loch Etchachan and then into Glen Derry. 3) take the Lairig an Laoigh, past the fords of Avon and, again, down to Glen Derry.

The return was simple – from the Geldie Burn, I would follow the Allt an t-Seilich, then the Allt Garbh Buidhe to the Falls of Tarf and into Glen Tilt.

The other thing to consider was whether to close the loop in one go or take kit for a quick bivi. I can move faster if I am lighter, but my current fitness is questionable at best – I had never attempted this particular configuration. Estimating how long it would take me was tricky because there were some sections I had not ridden, for example from the Geldie to the Falls of Tarf, and I could not predict how strong I would feel.

In the end, taking advantage of our latitude and thus prolonged day light, I decided to bite it off in one go. Ideally, I would cross Macdui, but I wanted to see it with my own eyes to try and predict the possibility of difficulty due to snow. Although it has been sunny, the cornice overhanging the descent to Etchachan has a habit of persisting well past spring.

I awoke at 5.30am and got the last few bits of kit ready, filled the water bottles and took off. Soon, I was parked, chatted to some riders about to head off to do the classic Tilt loop, and made north. The climb to the moraine holding back Loch an Duin went very quickly. There was just enough wind to ground the midge and it was beautifully warm. The singletrack on the west side of the loch kept the interest level up and soon enough I was passing Gaick Lodge and onwards to Glen Tromie and after 3 short hours and change I popped out at Insh.

Given how quickly I was covering ground, and the fact I felt pretty good, I began to seriously consider Macdui. At this stage, you can ‘cut the corner’ and drop into Feshie, but that would have precluded a stop at Inshriach plant nursery and cake shop – which provided a welcome raspberry and blueberry calorie boost and some much needed extra water. From here, I took the typical Loch an Eilein/Piccadilly/Loch Morlich route to the bottom of the Ski access road. looking up gave me pause for thought: there was still a hell of a lot of snow on the east facing slopes of the corries. That raised the possibility of a significant amount of snow up top and that would mean a turn around after a brutal, several-hour climb, which would force a stop on the Aviemore side. Not really an option. I stopped for a few minutes, unwrapped a sandwich and did what any itinerant solitudinarian would do: I phoned my wife.

After a quick google search, she pulled up some info suggesting that as little as two weeks ago, it was all but impassable to the summit due to high snow volume. Even given the temperature of the last few days, I felt it was extremely unlikely to have melted enough to allow free passage.

Hmmm. So: Lairig an Laoigh or back to Feshie. As much as I like dropping into Glen Derry, the trail down to the Fords of Avon, and for the first wee bit after, sucks. Battering, slow going, on/off rocky mess. Fine if it is a means to an end, but seeing as the real gem in this area is the Etchachan descent, I would be doing the Laoigh simply as an alternative to Feshie, that I rarely enter due to its extreme bogginess in parts. No doubt, the first part of Feshie is extremely beautiful and it is a pleasure to pass the old trees and meander along side the river.

The weather meant this might be passable with minimum fuss and it had the advantage of avoiding high ground, around which some grey cloud was beginning to build. Decision made, I reversed and was soon rolling down towards Auchlean, around six and a half hours in.

Although it was as dry as I have ever seen it, progress slowed markedly after the Eidart bridge. No matter, my arse was beginning to feel pretty tender, so there was some satisfaction in getting off every now and again to yomp through the watershed, dried out sphagnum moss, peat, rocks and all. No doubt the Skittles sours helped the morale and the energy levels. Once you start, though, there is no stopping!

As I reached the ruin of Geldie Lodge, the trail improves to Land Rover track and the speed picked up again. I can’t quite remember exactly, I think because my attention was diverted to the huge rolls of grey cloud and precipitation moving over the hill tops to the west of my position, but I think I had been moving for around nine hours at this point. Apart from a wobbly hour or so in upper Feshie, stomach cramps and low energy, I was feeling surprisingly good.

One thing that you will encounter on the route is river fording. I had brought extra socks with me, but left them in the car. This forced barefoot scrambles over the river. I don’t know if I have particularly soft feet, but I find this very painful. Anyway, this time, I was careful not to lose my sock as I had one time in the Abhainn Rath, forcing a prolonged hop scotch on the wet rocks.

Soon enough, I was enjoying the narrow, steep singletrack on the descent down towards the Falls of Tarf. It was clear that there had been some pretty heavy precipitation and I was glad to still be dry. The rock was in places slippery and it was hard at times to let caution rule but I was tired and knew that it would be a bad time to take a digger.

On reaching the Falls of Tarf, I let out a deep breath that I suspect I had been holding for many hours. Barring a weird mechanical or a significant, random, event, I would be back at the car soon. Maul rewarded my exuberance with easy velocity – I sped down Glen Tilt and the end of an epic ride.

Some facts and thoughts.

The ride took 11 hours and 10 minutes in total. I took ~1.5 hours to get from Inverdruie to the ski hill, eat, be informed and turn around. I have no idea of the distance.

I rode Maul, my cross country bike. It is light, capable, comfortable and reliable. I did develop a creak from the rear of the bike. I will investigate.

I carried a Mountain Feedbag and a medium Wingnut. I had a water bottle with filter and a 3 litre bladder. In the end, I did not need the filter. My bag was too heavy – my back was unhappy and it was cumbersome, I should have strapped more weight to the bike. I could easily have used a second Feedbag, and I could have mounted a bottle cage under the downtube and perhaps a third on the steerer, courtesy of a King top cap bottle cage mount. That would have taken over a kilogram off my back.

I wore a patagonia capilene t shirt, endura equipe shorts, the chamois is second to none – important given I have not ridden for this long in recent times and an icebreaker mtb top. I took a buff, endura roubaix knee warmers, a 200g icebreaker long sleeve and a patagonia houdini jacket (perhaps the most valuable bit of kit I own!) as spares. I felt this was pretty light, but likely to see me through.

I ran tubes – 27psi rear, 24psi front. I was concerned about pinching on the rocks at various point on the loop. As soon as the Protection Contis are available, they will be fitted and I will return to lower pressures. The bike was a rocket, but I was rattled around and this would help a lot.

This loop would lend itself to a bivi stop and a lower overall velocity. There are so many beautiful places to bed down and it would offer an alternative, more relaxing, ride.

Ben Macdui could be easily (!) added into this loop. Or you could extend, taking in Tomintoul, much as the classic Cairngorm Tour loop that is in all the mtb guidebooks suggests.

My fitness is poor, but at about hour 8 I grasped hold of some strength I used to have. It was extremely gratifying to remember how empowering it is to move well in the mountains.


3 06 2013

I am packed up and ready. Food fights, splashing and laughter and Daisy is in bed, so I jump in to the car, still-warm pizza wrapped in foil on the seat beside me. A cold beer is in a box with some other essentials. Fast forward and I am in Aviemore again. Pop the beer, drag the bike out of the back of the car and imbibe as I cinch everything down and start pedaling.

The rain has just stopped but the warm air holds onto the humidity. It is 11pm and the last of the sunlight is retreating accross the hills and away from the greedy embrace of the early summer leaves. Into the woods I pass, silent. I know where I am going, no light needed.

My nervousness is apparent in the care I take setting my bivi. I know I may suffer overnight: I am trying a different approach with my gear. The sleeping bag is barely there – an old down liner, sub-400g all in. Hoodless. Primaloft jacket and wool longs with a Patagonia R1 hoody in between. My aim is to extract more versatility from the separate pieces of gear, less packed volume and the ability to ride tighter, rougher trail with less compromise. If it goes well I will apply it to more isolating rides.

The dew point is important if insulation is minimal. Every feather counts, so the bivi is left open, just the netting tonight. There is no real wind to speak of, so I hope that I will stay cosy enough to sleep well. The grass and pine duff underneath should help and the NeoAir is in a slight hollow, but higher than the river I am camped next to. The riverbed will act as a sump for the coldest air.

1am. I open my eyes, shivering. With grim resignation I partially close the bivi sack and cinch the bag tighter around my shoulders. Again at 4.45am, cold, I surface. At 6.45am I vaguely awaken but drift off aware the sun is warming my site and there is a good chance I might catch up on some much needed rest.

As the hot coffee hits the spot, the Revelate gear swallows my seemingly meagre load. I have brought much more food than needed, again, as a trial of sorts. With 2 days worth of food, but not including water, my gear adds 6.8kg/15lbs to the bike. There is some redundancy – kettle *and* cup, water bladder rather than purifier. But as I take in some glorious sinewy trail, I know I can handle this load in demanding terrain.

I ponder between the fun sections. There is some lingering doubt over insulation at night – a quilt? primaloft trousers? add in a superlight synthetic bag? I’m not sure I will ever stop asking questions. Partly, I accept with a half smile, this is why I enjoy bike packing so much. Deliberation, cogitation, application, fulfilment.