27 02 2015

Today, I returned to an old haunt. It has been a looong time…longer than I care to remember. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose? Not really.

I had My Vertigo Maul – intention was to do some forest road climbing and try and get some ascending in the legs. I was also curious to check out how a new, tiny, ridiculously light but functional looking carbon seat post clamp would work. So it goes.

After a stout 15 minutes climbing, I turned off the forest road onto an old boggy trail, at the end of which there used to be a wee decent that linked into an old XC race course from back in the day.

Looks like the trail faeries have been busy, because there was a veritable feast of trails linking to this access trail. The rule of the day was steep. As in STEEP. As ever, photos don’t really catch the angles, but lets say I was at my limit. The melting snow and constant dreich recently have played havoc with traction and 2 wheel drifts around steep corners was the norm. I asked a lot of Maul and he delivered in spades, though the thin, rear Maxxis Ikon was not offering a lot of bite in the fresh cut slop.

Fun and a salutary lessen in keeping an open mind about what a ride is going to entail.

And the clamp? worked like a champ.

Gif: click to make bigger…i think!


Success, of sorts.

25 02 2015

A brief break in the rain today meant I got out on the trails for the first time in days. All good. Conditions were sloppy and muddy, so the aim for today was not to get a big long ride in, but to get a fire going somewhere in the woods and warm my fingers and toes while I ate a sandwich. You see, I’ve been inspired by a couple instragram streams of morning coffee, or wednesday whiskey, enjoyed somewhere out and about, by bike.

So, this was my version.

It is fair to say I have enjoyed little success utilising found tinder and kindling to get a fire going when it has been wet for a prolonged time. Of course, this is the most useful time to be able to get the flames to rise.

Today, the initial flames came easily, but I could not get the bugger to catch properly. Everything to hand was wet and I could not create a hot enough core to the blaze to dry the twigs etc fast enough. Even the silver birch bark I could find or gather was waterlogged and struggled to take.

After 2 hours (I am nothing if not pertinacious), with blood dripping from my finger and blisters forming on my palm, I finally got a fire going with enough gusto to call it a win.

And no, Mike n’ Ikes don’t burn well.

Brutal. But, I feel I am continuing along a path – King Louie isn’t the only one with a desire for Man’s red fire.

The other issue that has had my attention is removing the stainless bearing spacer from an xtr trail pedal that broke. A batch of shimano pedals had axles that snapped, freeing the retaining nut form the end of the axle and causing the body to fall off. This is the second such pedal I have had. It is a good thing that there is a replacement axle kit that just screws in. Unfortunately, in this case, the stainless spacer is caught inside the pedal body.

Suggestions of how to remove have been many – Ez Out, big hammer, blind bearing puller, small expanding reamer, bigger hammer and, of course, a dremel. The simplest may be to drill a hole in the pedal body and drift the stainless tube out, then seal it either by tapping and inserting a small bolt, or just using epoxy. We will see. It does make me wish I had a more ‘complete’ workshop.

Semi-fat ?

16 02 2015

Plus? semi-fat? I’m not entirely clear what the nomenclature ought to be, but the ‘plus’ sized wheels are definitely here to stay.

As such, the range of useful components to build a plus wheel set is growing – rims and tyres.

After a fair amount of lurking around on forums, I decided to order up a set of Nextie hookless, semi-fat rims: 29″ front and 27.5″ rear. Both are 50mm wide and 34mm deep (if memory serves). They seem reasonably well made (more on this later) and are light for the sheer volume of the things. just above and below the 500g mark respectively.

I built them up today and mounted tyres. The weight saving was a mind boggling 300g for the front (1.3kg wheel to a 1kg wheel) and 150g (1.15kg to 1kg) for the rear. With an additional 200g for a tube on the front (albeit with 100g or so of sealant back in at both ends) the weight saving is 450g. This is at the rotating edge of the tyre so is keenly felt.

In addition to the weight loss the rear tyre ballooned. the casing on the 50mm rim is 73mm wide at 30psi and the tread sits at 61.5mm. obviously I expect the casing to shrink a little when the pressure is dropped to 10psi or so, but probably not much. Huge.

So, more on the build soon.

F.B.R.O.T.Y 15: “coach, put me back in the game!”

15 02 2015

A thoroughly enjoyable ‘first big ride of the year’ was nearly thwarted by an unexpected mechanical issue yesterday.

The call came from Marty Savalas to meet at Balmaha and commit to the ‘Mangrunt loop’ in reverse. The route was named many moons ago by Chris ‘Dark’ Savalas the first time we rode the loop on our singlespeed bikes on account of the loud grunting that accompanied our high torque/low speed ascending style. It hurt then and hurts now. Mangrunt is most often ridden early in the year, to shock our legs and lungs back into a 4+ hour ride mode. Winter takes it’s toll on our fitness and, as we get older, it seems more difficult to achieve the lean, mean fighting machine morphology required for our desired summer missions.

This year, as Dark Savalas, Marty Savalas, Davechopoptions and myself took the first tentative pedal strokes towards Conic hill, the steep sided lump on the Highland Boundary Fault, an extra difficulty was added to my efforts: my pedal fell off.

Now, in itself this was a surprise. Admittedly, the XTR trail pedals on the bike have been put to good use for many years, but I had checked them over the night before the ride and felt they were working perfectly. The reason I had checked them so throughly? another set of XTR race pedals had suffered an axle break earlier in the week.

I wasn’t so much angry as bewildered to have my FBROTY stalled by this mechanical issue.

Bidding farewell to the team, I rolled back to the car and, as the sun glinted through the trees, felt a wee bit sorry for myself. I was going to miss a good ride on a cracking day. In short order, I galvanised myself into action: I knew I had a spare set of XTR trail pedals at home – half an hours drive away- and my bike head light was charged. I picked up the spares and returned to Balmaha, whipped the old pedal off and fitted the new ones and hit the trail with an optimistic aim to try and catch the guys or at least follow the same loop. From Conic Hill, Mangrunt meanders through Queen Elizabeth Forrest Park before popping out near Stronachlachar and a return to Balmaha on Loch Lomond side. There are various iterations of the loop through the working forest, often governed by felling and the porridgy mess the trails become as a result of said commercial activity, and by utilising the most direct route, I hoped to save enough time to at least get close to catching up.

It was a humid day, not particularly cold, with the ‘frothed up’ trail adding a degree of resistance to an already substantial amount of climbing early in the ride. Marty explained the freeze/thaw cycle breaks up and raises the surface of the trail before it packs down properly again, later in spring. No doubt, the soft trail adds resistance to wheeled passage.

After an hour or so, it became clear my Thomson dropper post was slipping. I have had this issue ever since I bought the device and have used various greases and friction pastes to mitigate the frustrating, sinking feeling, but with limited success. It was a risk I took in buying Thomson even though functionally the post is very good. Resetting the saddle height and biting off a chunk of flapjack saw me on my way again and soon enough my legs settled into a rhythm. I was aware that I was using the low end of the block more than I thought I should have been and prior to exiting the forrest I was a little concerned over my ability to close the loop. There is no escape option once you have committed though, so I buried the negative thoughts and spun along the road to Inversnaid and the start of the fun trail.

As I readied to climb past the Inversnaid Falls, I was hailed by the team – who were having a break for some food on the Loch edge. Pretty stoked to be back together, we took on the rest of the singletrack along side the Loch shore with weakening legs but broad smiles. It was a good day to be out on the bike!

I think we were all pretty cooked by the time we got back to the cars. Gels were even needed to keep the heavy legs spinning in circles, but there is always a certain satisfaction at completing the first big ride of the year. Here is to the next few months of ever retreating horizons.

So, a few more (terrible) shots and a wee video.

Fire and ice.

1 02 2015

What a beautiful day! Arctic winds have kept the temperature very low since the last snow fell, so everything is crunchy with very little standing water. After a grim but brief cold, I was feeling pretty human today. Out the window, the sun was glinting off the ice covered trails and so I took off to mess around in the woods.

Recently, I have been trying to ride the singlespeed as much as possible – as a strength building exercise. I used to ride singlespeed exclusively, so I notice the lack of torque I can produce since dabbling with shifters again. Today, on account of being a snotty mess so recently, I reached for T.N.T with it’s super low ratios.

It was interesting to ride a full 29+ bike after spending the majority of the last few weeks aboard a 27.5+/fat or 29+ hybrid. I am sure in time I will come to more concrete conclusions on the whole thing. I used the opportunity to scope out some newish lines in the woods and I also took along my fire steel and knife with a view to a mid-ride fire to warm the cockles.

It escapes me if I have mentioned this previously or not, but over the last few months I have been practicing making fire with a fire steel and natural, found tinder. The purpose originally was simply to acquire a potentially useful ‘backcountry’ skill. Lighting a fire with natural tinder is pretty easy when everything is dried out, but considerably more difficult when all I can scavenge is sopping wet kindling, old man’s beard or bark. Unfortunately, this is likely to be the case when I might be most in need of a fire

Practice, practice, practice though, eh? I forget – is it 10,000 hours it takes to become an expert? Ray Mears has a unique style of presenting, but you cannot fault his ability to raise some flames when needed. I have tried and failed several times on account of wet silver birch bark and not using a stone under the tinder to stop it drawing up moisture from the ground. Toady, it lit with the 3rd strike of the fire steel and due to diligent prep with my Mora, I had plenty of kindling to keep the bugger going. warmth was welcome, today, indeed.