Contrast.

12 06 2017

The early part of the Spring-Summer period was stellar. Sunny, warm, dry and no midge. June has been moist to say the least. I had plans to get a big ride in yesterday – getting miles in the legs is becoming important. But after descending from Beinn a’Bhuird from low cloud, into 35-40mph winds on exposed, trackless ground and portaging down a loose, slippery steep slope to the Allt a’ Coire an t Slugain, then getting absolutely drenched in an hour long downpour, I called it after 5 hours.

It isn’t long enough, though I was heartened by my progress: I rode the entire climb and from the south to the north top with 2 dismounts for stone steps on the track.

The contrast to a few weeks ago on Carn a’Chlamain is sharp. As I sit looking out at the incessant downpour again this morning, I can only hope that things clear a little soon.

They must, right?





Project next.

4 06 2017

It’s on my mind a lot. Entry is in. Flights booked. Coach, put me in the game.

Here’s another, for good measure…





Kit notes.

13 05 2017

The ride from Blair Atholl to Montrose was the first bikepack I have done without a ruck sack. I usually would take a wingnut of some size. This time, I rode with just a hip pack.

There were several considerations in order to achieve this: one, I had less water carrying capacity and two, I had less room for kit on my person.

It was absolutely fantastic to not have a pack on my back. Even the smallest wingnuts give you that sweaty back, encumbered feeling. My normal set up is Sweetroll, small or medium, either a Gas Tank, or some Feedbags and a saddle bag – sizes varying with how much I need to bring. Lastly, I have a wingnut.

The trade off to lose the back pack was use of my old Revelate Designs ‘Tangle’ partial frame bag. My worry here was river crossings, as I tend to grab under the seat tube end of the top tube to portage. In the end, I had no deep crossings, so it was a none issue. I brought a thin climbing sling that I planned to loop around the bottom bracket tube and act as a handle.

On disembarking the train, I tried to arrange my kit for the initial ride. I had a couple of cans of Dale’s Pale ale and I chose to just stuff these in either end of my (small) Sweetroll. The effect on the steering was immediately noticeable. Normally, I stuff my sleeping bag in the Sweetroll and perhaps my sleeping wools. The added weight of the beer was detrimental to steering. This is not a revelation – various sites advise minimising the weight and indeed width of a bar roll as much as possible. In order to do so, you need space elsewhere. My cuben Ermine seat pack is not huge, I have a Viscahca that is bigger, but I tend to use the smaller pack if I can.

In the framebag, I carried my tent poles, cooking kit, food, an inner tube and the seat pack took a puff jacket, shelter and inner tube.

The front pocket had tent pegs, the sling, my Steripen, hip flask and a dyneema guy rope. Also stuffed in there was a Voile strap and my mini Petzl headtorch. Oh and on this trip, I brought a wee lock – soon to be replaced with an Ottolock, when it arrives.

I carry large cuben stuff sacks, used to stow my lid and pack and maybe even shoes if it is inclement overnight.

I use Z packs carbon tent poles and this trip allowed me to try the new, 80cm pole for the front of the MLD cricket. Previously, I have used my handlebars, sticks or tied it to a tree. The shelter requires this to tension the ‘tarp’ outer. The inner midge net hangs from the outer and is given shape by pegs.

I had made a pole jack as I felt that the long 132cm Z packs centre pole could do with being a wee bit longer. In this case I made the pole 2.5cm longer with the jack and it was great. The question is if I now order an MLD custom pole the correct length: they can be made multi section in order to fold very short.

I also rode with a Wolftooth, reverse dish oval ring. It feels a little like you are hurrying through your pedal stroke but I liked it a lot. It did not remind me of when I used biopace rings way back in the day, interestingly enough. Overall, a keeper.

The most enlightening thing, after I had repacked in the am, was how much better the bike felt with less weight in the roll and saddle pack. Generally, over the last few years, I have avoided using a frame pack because I can get everything I need into a roll and seat bag, meaning I dont have to carry the extra weight of a third, big bag. But – the weight distribution in using the thrid bag made it entirely worth it! As a result, I have sold some old bags and invested in a newer Tangle Pika and a full Ranger frame bag to move towards this new packing method.

The Gas Tank had food, and I used various Backcountry Research straps to attach tubes and whatnot to the bike. I also use their Tülbag for tools. These things absolutely rock – if you are thinking about getting some, I would thoroughly recommend pulling the trigger. Cylorise int he Uk stocks them.

Ok, I think that covers things. Any questions, fire away.





Anatomy of a trail.

3 05 2017

It is short, but quite perfect. Primo conditions. Coach, put me in the game.





Bentley Components ‘dwidget’.

30 04 2017

It is a bit precious of me, but as much as I like using ‘gas tank’ style bags for food and stuff, I have always had issues with the strap around the steerer bit.

The straps cannot be tight enough on several of my bikes due to the lack of steerer space under the stem, or truss fork clamps. The strap is also a source of wear and I have several King top caps with missing bits of material and anodising due to this.

One idea I had explored was a top tube mounted bottle or Many Thing cage. After discussion with Sean regarding my next bike, the use of midline bolt holes and heat from welding meant it was a possible weakness in a critical position, so I went back to the idea of a bag.

Mark, at Bentley Components, makes beautiful and functional things, including carb loading devices. After a brief discussion, an envelope sketch was produced and Mark made the concept a reality.

This is a proto made out of delrin. This should be a great material for this part, but it may be that aluminium is a possibility. We’re not sure where it is going, but I can tell you it makes for a super solid gas tank mount that cannot cause any wear or interference with the stem in any way.

It is just over 10mm in height so it takes up minimal space and still allows headset pre-loading if required. It can mount above or below the stem. More in time, but if you might be interested in one, leave a comment so I can gauge interest.

It goes without saying, that I am hugely indebted to Mark Bentley for his help with this. Thank you!





Optimisation, part 3: no Garmin, no rules.

29 04 2017

As much as I have come to believe in the ethos of ‘no Garmin, no rules‘ provocation, there is no doubt that in certain circumstances they are worth their weight in gold.

A long time ago, I chose to buy an eTrex 20, which has the benefit of being able to run on lithium AA batteries. These last for ages and in a pinch can be replaced with normal alkaline batteries ‘in the field’.

Mounting hardware for GPS units has moved on over the years and is now elegant, functional and ergonomic. Except for the eTrrex series.

With these, you are stuck with a large, ungainly, zip-tied on plastic unit that can be mounted to stems or top tubes or bars, but never seems to be in the *right* place, no matter where you put it.

They also break, take up large amounts of real estate and are fugly when not in use.

I wanted an ‘out front’ style mount, to optimise the position of the screen. Because I use Jones bars, this is a touch more difficult, as the unit needs to sit within the ‘loop’ of the bars.

I mainly use them bikepacking, so I did not want it to interfere with a bar harness set up and as I sometimes use feedbags, I needed it to allow me to mount these close to the stem, in order to avoid my knees when out-of-the-saddle climbing.

The initial idea came from Ricky Feather – who posted this image to his instagram account.

I also need to give a nod to K Lite mounts, who also posted an inspiring instagram image.

The breakthrough was finding a Japanese based mount seller – Rec Mounts – who make various eTrex compatible mounts, the GoPro one being the most important for me.

I then utilised a Raceware GoPro bar mount and the missing piece was supplied by Kevin at Pacifier in the USA, who custom machined me a small aluminium slab with a longer base in order to mount the Rec Mounts piece.

Rather than use the two M4 bolts for combining these parts, I bought an imperial 20tpi bolt so that it would be a little sturdier (the Rec Mounts part has a camera tripod fitting as well, which I measured to find the thread pitch).

In the end, I used an aluminium M4 bolt from ProBolt, as the stainless 20tpi bolt takes the load, so it is only there to stop rotation.

The Pacifier mount was drilled, de-burred and then fitted to the RaceWare bar mount. Unfortunately, the RaceWare mounts seem to use a interface that has a *slightly* different tolerance than the aluminium GoPro stuff so a little judicious filing was required to make everything fit well. I filed the Pacifier part, as I wanted to have the option to mount the RaceWare 31.8 ‘tube’ mount which can also be used for my Niterider light – a much better position than on top of the bars.

The drilling went well and was accurate. In saying that, I wish I had used a spotting drill bit, as my pillar drill is not a precision tool and in truth I would have liked to thread the holes and connect things a bit differently. I now have a spotting drill bit – thanks to Sean for his advice!

In use, the bar mount has been excellent. Good position, further forward and improves screen visibility.

The RaceWare bar loop is very clean, narrow and thanks to the material used and the rubber ‘pad’ integrated in the clamp section, it is carbon bar friendly and does not slip, even in the roughest terrain.

Lastly, it allows use of a bar roll bag or harness with no issues whatsoever. Questions? fire away…





Following rivers to the sea: part 2

23 04 2017

The night brought high winds that whip-cracked my tarp about my head as I fought to sleep, cocooned in my kip sack. I was experimenting with a new pole set up for my Mountain Laurel Designs Cricket tarp and I was a little nervous that it would not hold up, but I had no need to worry – it was bomber.

The morning was cold. Very cold. Getting into damp wool was pretty nasty but I was stoked about my Endura PrimaLoft gilet, a new product from the masters of Scotland-ready cycling kit, that allowed me to warm up with a bit of jigging and jumping as I packed up my kit.

I had around 112km to ride until I reached my destination, Montrose, on the coast of the North Sea. Normally, I do not have any time anxieties, but in this instance I had been required to book myself on a specific train to return home, to the south of Scotland. I knew the trains following the one I had booked had no space for bikes, so my target was fixed. That meant working backwards from this end point and estimating how long the ride wold take me.

I had planned the trip in a kind of disaster style: in other words, I had quickly looked at the map online and gone point to point on a macro scale, leading me to believe that I had around 90km to ride. I gave myself an arbitrary amount of time to make it, based loosely on a vague and unverified report of another’s adventure. Twenty km is not a huge difference and in my defence I allowed two extra hours for the journey, but it was a mistake that was going to make life interesting for me.

The major obstacle for the day was Mount Keen, Scotland’s most easterly Munro. This is accessed from the north by Glen Tanar. I knew the trails alongside the River Dee and love the impressive scenery and remnant Caledonian pine forest along side the gorgeous river corridor.

The Deeside Way allowed rapid progress in the morning once I had packed up and powered by bacon rolls from a cozy cafe in Ballater, I made quick work of the first section of the journey.

As I turned south into Glen Tanar, following one of the region’s premier spring salmon fishing rivers, I enjoyed the company of the winding, babbling, crystal clear water as I climbed the gentle grades, past the Half Way Hut and out of the tree line towards the great lump of Mount Keen.

I have never climbed this mountain and had no idea how rideable the trail would be. From the south, Glen Mark, it is well known as one of the most rideable Munro trails. However, it was clear that the gradient on the North side would make riding very difficult.

Indeed, as I got closer and closer, the trail deteriorated into broken rock garden that required prolonged hike-a-bike.

I had mixed feelings about going over the top. Geograph had shown me a singletrack that circled the summit ‘cone’ and rejoined the trail on the south side of the peak and given the terrible surface on the ascent I settled on finding this rather than continuing to the top: no Munro bagging on this day! The Mounth Road I was following is a historical droving route: I am amazed anyone would try and get over it with animals in tow.

Carrying water is always a balancing act when bike-packing. In Scotland, there are any number of water sources – often straight from the ground – that offer clear, clean water to refill the bottles without having to resort to sterilisation. I do carry a SteriPen and occasionally use it if I am concerned about contamination from animals. This was my first bike-pack where I had completely eschewed a back pack or bladder. As a result, I only had the option of refilling my two bottles. Perhaps because of the morning’s cold temperatures, I had not filled them when I could in Glen Tanar, but had concluded that Mount Keen would offer streams or perhaps even snow to recharge them. No such luck! By the time I finished the steep descent I was parched and stopped to drink several bottles of water from the Ladder Burn.

As I sat beside the Water of Mark, admiring the water falls and shear faces of Craig of Doune, it became clear to me that I was pushing it time wise. The tiny screen of my eTrex does not help judging terrain over large distances but I knew I had a fair old ride to get to Montrose and the hours were ticking by.

The report I had vaguely read of riding the Phil McKane coast to coast route, which I had joined at Braemar, suggested that the section I was doing that day took just over seven hours. There was no way I was going to make it in that time.

I sped down Glen Mark then around the Monument Hill of Rowan with a welcome tail wind, but after another stop to see if any detours would afford me a little advantage in attaining my goal with less chance of missing the train, I realised I had to start shifting a bit faster. Unfortunately, the route up the Clash of Wirren initially gave me more poor track then steep climbing.

The descent to Tillybardine, as described by Phil McKane in his guide to the c-2-c, is a singletrack classic. It starts thusly, but as it continues, it is a fairly broken sheep track – requiring some dismounting to clear some particularly broken, tussocky and boggy sections. I refilled again with water at a small stream and admit to being a bit dejected. I was pretty sure I was going to miss my train and that meant some complications to return home.

Soon after this point, the route becomes primarily sealed road – albeit narrow and pleasant. Fat bike tyres don’t roll with ease on tarmac, though, and I had to push very hard indeed in order to make it in time. The Mike n’ Ikes yet again saved the day, offering a boost of energy at the critical moment, seeing me into Montrose and the bitterly cold on-shore wind. I made the train and finally could let myself relax fully. The legs were shot – but the route had been a good one.

Whether I would bookend a bike-pack with train journeys again is a contentious point, but it had allowed me to do a point to point route along side the southern Cairngorm’s waterways and experience a diverse and beautiful landscape.