31 05 2015

In certain circumstances, the floatation provided by a fat tyre bike (I’m talking about ~4″ wide tyres here) allows forward progress where a ‘normal’ bike tyre would come unstuck. This is as true for packed snow as for boggy, waterlogged ground.

In addition, I have found fat tyres ‘smear’ on densely rocky trails. I am thinking here of Highland passes such as the Lairig an Laoigh. The low pressure, flexible sidewalls and ability to deform around the low amplitude but high frequency (if you will) trail, again, allows forward progress.

As time has passed I have gone to wider, lighter rims and, with this most recent wheel build, I think I might have my mucky paws on the best there is, thanks to the recent release of the DT Swiss 350 197mm Big Ride hub (with thanks to lacemine29).

The rims are HED Big Deal rims, from Tim, at Sideways Cycles. They are 85mm wide, weigh a frankly astonishing ~450g and build really well. I would never have considered these rims previously: then I rode my friend’s fat bike.

Sean has Industry 9 hubs built to HEDs on his bike. Dropping 250g or so over an aluminium rim makes a noticeable and welcome difference and they feel solid.

I got the usual extremely good advice from Jon at Justridingalong for the spokes. I wanted something durable but on the lighter end of the spectrum. In this instance, Jon recommended D-lights from Sapim. These spokes have very short 2.0 sections with an unusual 1.65mm centre section. This makes them less prone to wind up commonly found when building with DT Revolutions or Sapim Lasers, which are 1.5mm in the middle. Of course, bladed spokes can be used with a holder to stop windup altogether, but the advantages of a bladed spoke are otherwise negligible on an mtb (though DT claim they are the most fatigue resistant spokes they make) and the cost is high.

I was impressed with the spokes.

Nipples are DT Swiss aluminium Pro Lock and I used Sapim round washers for the nipple at the rim (as recommended by HED) from DCR Wheels. A normal washer would be fine, though heavier and HED now have some washers with some sort of rubber or neoprene coating to aid tubeless set up.

Of course, building a single wall rim with aluminium nipples means getting the spoke length absolutely bang on as you need to fill the nipple at least to the bottom of the nipple slot, but I did not want to end up using a dremel on protruding spoke and risk damaging the rim. Advice here is measure, measure measure. I would highly recommend paying attention to published ERD but *always* measure it yourself. In this case, I found the ERD to be 566.5mm with 4.5mm left and right spoke hole offset. This means, with the DT Swiss Big Ride hub, I would need 279mm left and 277mm right for the rear wheel. I used freespoke for the calculations.

I converted my Centrimaster recently (to allow 300mm OLD hubs if needed!) with the fat hub kit and I used a new spoke key, from P&K Lie. This is compact, with a wide flat thumb paddle and a spot on interface for the spokes. I think it is very good, though quite light in the hand.

They built smoothly and easily, to a very balanced 85kgf on the ‘high’ side with less than 0.1mm of lateral and radial irregularity. The rear weighs around 900g. Sweet as.

Bikepacking – Trossachs to Perthshire.

27 05 2015

A couple of weeks back, the rain cleared for long enough to head out the door on the bike with overnight kit packed in the bags and just roll.

The aim was to stay off the higher elevation trails as snow and hail was still a very recent memory. Indeed, less than 45 minutes from home I was treated to a flurry of hail as I navigated the ever increasing number of walkers on the West Highland Way.

From here, I took a route through Queen Elizabeth Forest Park (the Trossachs, more or less) and then followed the trail to Callendar. There is a good off road track from here north, following an old railway line in Glen Ogle, where I decided to follow the River Dochart and then Loch Tay. The weather had been threatening and I was chased by a very dense, grey cloud suggesting a down pour as it dropped off Ben Lawers. I was lucky though, making it to the Kenmore Hotel for an extremely high quality beef burger and pint of Thrappledouser.

Following quiet roads east, I turned south at Ballinluig, looking for a suitable spot to make camp and before too long I pitched the tent next to the Rock Pool, a fishing spot north of Dunkeld.

The burger kept me full and after a nibble of salami milano and a nugget of cheese washed down with a Sierra Nevada Torpedo, I turned in. It had become quite cold and I had to wear all the clothes I had, except my riding shorts (including wool longs, R1 hoody and a nano puff jacket). It proved a fitful night, with me waking up numerous times shivering and I awoke early in the morning with a lot of condensation on the inner of the tent. The pole had shifted in the night due to the sandy soil and the tent was draped in part across my bag.

There would be no relaxing in the sleeping bag on that morning, so I broke camp and got warmed up by pedaling. I took the road over to Crieff, not anticipating it being such a frosty morning. Maybe I was short of calories, but I could not stay warm at all. Shivering and cursing I climbed and climbed, before eventually dropping to a turn off near the town and heading round past Monzie and the Famous Grouse Experience, before taking the road to Comrie and then the singletrack road south of Loch Earn.

Before too long, despite the mizzle, I was climbing away from Lochearnhead and then dropping down the cycle trail and back to Callendar. Here, a fine bacon roll (ok, two) got the energy levels back up and the sun coming out was a bonus. Climbing over the old trail from Loch Venacher to Braeval, I encountered some slop, before taking the same route I took outwards bound back home to a well deserved pizza, beer and a sleep.

Day 1: 100 miles or so in 9 and a half hours.
Day 2: 90 miles or so in just under 9 hours.

Fuel: pork pies, salami milano, M&S egg and ham and beef and onion mayo sandwiches. A granola bar or two, a packet of olives and some Oddities – salt and vinegar if memory serves. A handful of Mike n’ Ikes and that delicious burger.

Next up, a more strenous but shorter Cairngorm route.

Everyday carry.

11 05 2015


Everyday carry is, I guess, a meme. It is an interesting concept. I got to thinking about it while I was preparing to head off for a short bikepack the other day. What is the essential everyday carry ? how does this sit beside what would provide a slightly more comfortable existence on a short bicycle tour? everyday-plus, if you will?

So, I decided to have a closer look at what I carried on a ‘heavy’ trip and perhaps dwell on the contents a little. Heavy is in inverted commas because I wouldn’t necessarily class the contents of my bags as heavy per se. But I most certainly brought some non-essential items (depending on your point of view. of course!).

So, here we go.

Let’s see, starting at the front, a Revelate small front pocket for a Sweet Roll. Inside, essentials I might need to grab at short notice or, perhaps, when it is getting dark.

Opinel, ti tent pegs (2 sorts for different ground conditions), Sinewave Revolution – an amazing gadget covering all my charging needs from the Son front hub, Steripen freedom, notebook, Snow peak ti spork, a dyneema cord with cord lock, fire steel and spare lithium batteries for the Etrex. Not pictured, a few notes and a bank card and my keys.

Under this, of course, is my Sweetroll (not pictured). In this, I have my tent (a Mountain Laurel Designs Cricket), a Patagonia nano puff, and a spare inner tube (varied with which bike I am riding – in this case a Bonty 2.5-2.8 26″) and a Z-packs UL carbon fibre tent pole (that folds down into a short 40.5cm packed size). Often, CF poles can be flimsy and if broken can pierce tents. In this case, the joins are reinforced with tyvek tape. It’s been solid.

Behind the bars, I use 2 Revelate feedbags.

In the right one, I carry food. Mike n’ Ikes, cheese, pork pies, clif bars, granola squares etc, whatever I pick up along the way.

In the left, I carry my cooking kit and some sundries in the outer pockets, in this case my toothbrush, paste and chamois cream.

The cooking kit consists of a ti mug from MSR and an MSR gas canister (for the MSR Pocketrocket I keep in the Wingnut lumbar pack). I use an MSR Mugmate for coffee – works extremely well. I also store TP and a few sheets of kitchen roll in bags to a) stop rattling and b) use.

Next, is the Gas Tank – again, food.

Lower down, on my 44 bikes fork, I have 2 water bottle cages.

The Steripen needs a hard water bottle for use, I tend to take at least 2 and in the other cage I use a Specialized Keg. This doesn’t contain beer, but it is a useful little ‘hard’ storage for (in this case) my Niterider head light, extender cable, some wipes (one thing that is distressing is the number of wipes I see discarded by the trails. They don’t biodegrade fast at all and this is making a huge mess in some well travelled areas) and cotton wool/vaseline for fires, if needed.

Next and also unpictured, is my Viscacha seat bag. In here, my sleeping bag (PHD), Thermarest Neoair, wool longs and a R1 fleece with hood.

Lastly, I have my Wingnut.

In this, I carry a 2 litre camelbak bladder, which I try to use minimally – basically to lessen weight on my back. I also carry my MSR Pocketrocket, Gerber essential utility knife, Lezyne mini pump, another tube, coffee, Patagonia Houdini, Niterider battery, camera stand, some whisky (in this case A’bunadh) and a midge head net. I usually take a freeze dried meal of some sort. The little, old Timbuk 2 bag is my tool kit.

In this, levers, folding chain tool and quick links, 7075 Paragon hanger, Stahlwille 12 point drive socket and driver for the ti bolts on the Paragon sliders, Genuine Innovations CO2 head and cartridge and also a tubeless repair ‘worm’ kit. In the ziploc bag I carry assorted bolts and a home made tyre-boot set – with sticky stuff and sail cloth and also quick patches. I also carry a small bottle of Squirt chain lube. Some of this is extraneous, but I tend to leave it as-is so I can grab and go no matter which bike I am riding.

Various items are stored in some MLD cuben bags.

For the real nerds, the weights (bag + contents, food items to use for 2-3 days included, water not included):

Viscacha – 2kg
Sweetroll – 1.55kg
Cooking Feedbag – 0.5kg
Gas Tank – 0.35kg
Food Feedbag – 0.6kg
Front Pocket – 0.85kg
Wingnut – 3.5kg

Total weight – 9.35kg.

It seems heavy, when toted up like this, but a lot can be pared away if I am prepared to have fewer creature comforts. The bike rides extremely well with this set up.


4 05 2015

Picking up components. I have a fascination with new stuff, it’s true. Admittedly, sometimes my fascination is morbid. Other times it is an appreciation for a finely balanced marriage of form and function.

For me, next comes thinking. Consideration. How will it all work together? No. How will it all work together *best*? When I am 10 hours into the day, in the middle of beautiful no-where, what will make my day more difficult? what will make my day better? (note to self: remember better ≠ easier).

So I read. Dwell. Cogitate. Measure. Measure again. Write. Scheme. Plan. Finally, hopefully, I commit. Then it is time to use tools to make great components come together to make a near-perfect whole.

After that, well, It’s time to ride.

On the bench: xtr 9000 & 785, go and stop, with some Race Face next SL. Syntace and Selle San Marco for perches, with Jeff Jones on the Loop. DT Swiss 197mm mixed with HED Big Deals. Lets see how this all goes together…