The Angus Glens – part 1.

25 03 2017

The Angus Glens, running like the fingers of a giant hand reaching down from the Cairngorm, are festooned with a network of famous trails. The Kilbo Path, Jock’s Road, The Minister’s Path, Streak of Lightning (aka Streak of Pish), Glas-alt Shiel descent, Capel Mounth and more. The options are almost unlimited and the scenery spectacular.

For this year’s ‘proper’ F.B.R.O.T.Y, we made a plan to ride from the bunkhouse in Glen Clova. I had some time off work and had been planning to bike pack, so meeting up, then riding, a few beers and a spraff with the boys seemed ideal.

A fraught week of weather watching was a little depressing. The route I had hoped to complete was looking a little messy, weather wise. I wanted to take the train to somewhere on the A9 corridor, then ride up Glen Tilt, pop over the Deeside via the Geldie Burn and head east past Linn of Dee, Braemar then ascend the lower slopes near Lochnagar and drop to Loch Muick, before climbing and dropping into Glen Clova via the Capel Mounth.

Heavy snow, lots of rain and high winds followed by much milder but still wet weather meant I was deeply concerned about crossing the Geldie Burn. Last year, later in March, I crossed the burn in much better conditions and it was mid thigh deep and running strong. It is a serious and relatively remote river crossing and if you don’t ford, there are zero options for moving east.

Of course, bivi-ing wet and cold, then riding a full day the next day could be, well, harsh.

After deliberation, I felt the sensible option was to simply head to Glen Clova and try and ride some of the fantastic trails there before heading out with friends the next day. So I pedaled up Glen Clova, to the start of Jock’s Road. Famous for the dispute between the drovers – who would drive sheep over the high Tolmounth pass from Braemar – and the land owner of the time, who wanted to close the path.

I have ridden Jock’s Road several times and knew it to be a classic. Out and back rides are less inspiring than loops, to my mind, but without committing to a long route, or the questionable trail around Loch Esk, and out and back was required.

At around 700m of elevation, the snow started to deepen and at Davy’s Bourach, the accumulations were enough to make riding – even with fat tyres – tricky. This tardis-like howff was built by the eponymous Davy Glen in response (if memory serves) to some walkers getting trapped high on the trail in bad weather and losing their lives.

Nevertheless, the return was ace.

After a brief stop due to my camera taking a roll down a rocky outcrop, I reached the bottom and went after the second target for the day – Corrie Fee.

This area of Special Scientific Interest – and nature reserve – is a classic coire, carved out by glaciers and with large moraine piles, forcing the stream to meander as it crosses the flat base of the cirque. The high, shear cliffs form a dramatic environment, that was made more profound by the low cloud and gloom.

A surprising amount of riding was possible as I climbed toward the waterfall, scything down from the cliffs above. Eventually, H.A.B was the rule with some thick plates of ice keeping things interesting. I stopped around 50m from the top, with the trail becoming scree. I had no intention of going cross country as I wanted to descend into Glen Clova from Corrie Fee, but it would have been interesting to see if a trail existed (see part 2) from the rim, although nothing was marked on the map.

It is a great trail in a fantastic environment and with care, can be ridden without leading to any significant wear and tear of this special environment.

Funkeld and the F.B(ish).R.O.T.Y

20 02 2017

As I sit watching the rain come down, I reflect on a February that has provided some pretty reasonable riding.

A few weeks ago, I took a spin around Dunkeld. It is no secret that there are some super fun – technical and steep, that is – trails in Dunkeld. Indeed, it is often referred to as Funkeld.

Although it was very cold, I had a blast on B.A, searching out ribbons of singletrack, snaking over rock and root between the varied trees of this beautiful area.

In sharp contrast to many friends, I do not generally find dropper posts the be-all and end-all of bicycle componentry. However, in Dunkeld, they would probably be described as mandatory.

After broadening my smile with some fun riding, the next ride was all about miles in the bank. From Balmaha, climb through Queen Elizabeth forest, Loch Lomondside (including the new upper section except for the short part I rode a little while ago – just too little time for that) and back. Why big-ish?

There was a lot of snow on some sections of the Queen Elizabeth forest tracks, so eventually I popped out on the road, just before Loch Chon and missed a few km of off-road while thawing out on the way to Inversnaid. The road is a lot easier than the trail, so I deduct some points for overall achievement.

Compared to a year ago, I am firing on a lot more cylinders. I am still curious as to why I had such a physical collapse last year, Lyme crossed my mind, though I don’t often get tick bites.

Who knows? I am just glad to be building fitness and strength again. Though the kettle bells and rowing still hurts.

Here’s to March and the glimmer of Spring…

Optimisation, part 2: Tooling up.

11 02 2017

What to carry when you ride. It’s a balance, isn’t it? on the one, hand you don’t want to be too encumbered with un-needed stuff, but on the other, a mechanical that can’t be fixed means a walk out.

Perhaps a long one.

The other key thing to keep in mind – the tools you carry *must* be effective. If you cant reach that essential 4mm hex bolt with your super-dooper, wee multi tool, it is useless.

Over the years, I have whittled down what I carry and made changes to the tools themselves in the interests of balancing utility with minimisation.

One relatively recent change has been the use of Backcountry Research Aweseme Straps and it’s various stable mates. These at-first-glance simple webbing straps have gone through several iterations to produce what I consider to be essential items. The Tülbag, courtesy of the inimitable Team Dicky is also well thought out – a good size, zip puller and grippy coated material make it an excellent jersey pocket take-along.

In it, I have a 5, 6 and 8mm PB Swiss hex key. These are coloured so they are more difficult to lose in grass and are made to exacting tolerances. There is a magnetic bit holder that allows me to use a PH2, slotted 5.5mm, T25, 2, 2.5, 3, and 4mm bits as needed.

I used to use the PB Swiss bike tool. This has most of the above tools, but also 2 integrated tyre levers and the subtle difference was down to me adding a 8mm bit. In use though, anything that requires an 8mm bit required enough torque that it damaged the magnetic bit holder over time, rendering it, eventually, useless.

I also never use tyre levers. All my tyre and rim combinations can be remounted by simple thumb pressure. It just takes practice.

What else? a Park tools folding chain tool and 10 or 11 speed quick link.

I also carry a Race Face 8 to 16mm adaptor. This is used to tighten their next SL and sixc cranks. essential if seldom (never? – so far!) required.

Occasionally, I add a ‘specialist’ tool… like this Bentley Components carbo loading tool – light and effective.

Optimisation, part 1: Taking a Stand.

28 01 2017

“A long, long, long, long time ago
Before the wind, before the snow
Lived a man, lived a man I know
Lived a freak of nature named Sir Psycho”

Many years ago, I was a hospital doctor in Manchester. I worked for 6 months on a busy general medical team and spent the week looking after the sick and dying. We worked ‘1 in 4’ which meant that on top of a monday to friday, 8.30 until 6pm, we covered every 4th night and every 4th weekend (saturday to monday evening) on call. On call meant we were up for the majority of, if not all, the night.

Ward rounds were ‘post take’, when we received any medical patients coming in via A&E, which was roughly every 3rd day. If we were on call, we saw the patients in A&E and if not, we had to learn all about them the next day, ideally prior to the ward round (which actually covered many wards).

The ward round would go on for around 8 hours, during which time we would be given instruction by the registrars or consultants and after the ward round we would hustle to carry out all these tasks before repeating the process the next day.

That was how it was and how it had been for years. You fell into the rut and hopefully emerged 6 months later, pale, worn down and blinking into the meagre daylight before taking the next job – which sometimes started the same day, immediately after the last one ended.

It was an incredibly busy, challenging time and it cemented, for me, that I had no intention of spending my life working in hospitals. Of course, things are a little different now after the introduction of the European Working Time Directive – although, post-Brexit, this may well change again. Gone are those 128 hour weeks and the purest form of exhaustion they cause.

I am a reactive person. I find it hard to sit still and carry on as others have before me and, probably born of laziness, I like to find the easiest path to achieve the greatest outcome. Ok, to be fair, in my medical jobs, maybe not the greatest. Maybe ‘adequate+’.

It soon dawned on me that if I brought a selection of forms and phone numbers, blood taking kit and tools for minor investigations in a satchel and a large clipboard on which I could write while on the ward round I could carry out the bulk of my work without the need to stay for many hours after an already long day.

The team soon noticed and the increase in efficiency was clear. After I left the team, I was charged with passing on the details of the admittedly simple but incredibly effective sea-change in how juniors would approach the ward round.

This gave me a little confidence at a formative time. The historical way of doing things really was not necessarily the best and with some thought, trial and error, improvements could be realised.

I carry this forward into many aspects of my life and I do not know if I have ever been 100% satisfied with any one thing. There always seem to be every-decreasing, incremental steps to improvements in form or function.

Time to quit rambling and get to the point?

I use an Efficient Velo Tools Right Hand Clamp to work on bikes. Once you have used said repair clamp, any other seems poorly conceived. From the bushing or bearing that makes for a beautiful feel in effecting *just* the right pressure on a frame tube or seat post, to the leather pads, to the offset of the clamp and easy, balanced rotation, it makes working on the bike a joy.

As space becomes ever more precious, I was looking to move my work area and as my back grows ever more stiff I was keen to have some vertical adjustment for the stand. In a perfect world I would like one of EVT’s E-Z lift repair stands, but I do not have enough space for this.

It struck me that if I purchased the Adjustable Height Wall Mount repair stand part and plugged in my Right Hand Clamp, then mounted this to a large steel box section pipe that I attached to the leg of my Benchmaster heavy duty work bench, I could get close to the ideal work station set-up I had in my minds eye.

I would like to thank Andy McKerrow at Efficient Velo for being so approachable and helpful. Within a few weeks, the Adjustable Height Mount arrived and I poured over it – the quality of EVT’s work is so easily apparent and you can’t help but admire the attention to detail.

After some simple calculations regarding bending and load, a trip to the local steel merchant saw me with a 2m by 70x70x3mm mild steel ‘upright’. I had to find a way to attach it to the ‘L’ section legs of my (very heavy) work bench. This was made for me to a height of 94cm, so that when I am standing and working, I do not need to bend over even slightly. This meant that once spaced away from the leg, the top 106cm of the upright would leave plenty of space for the right hand clamp to give me a huge range of work positions, right next to my bench and thus my tools.

Initially, I had intended to drill holes in the work bench leg in order to clamp the upright directly to it, but decided that 2 or 3 10-11mm holes in the 50x50mm legs would lead to a not insignificant stress point and instead decided to make 2 heavy duty clamps from aluminium 50x8mm flat bar I had. These would then clamp the upright to a 50x50x2.5mm box section pipe I had cut to length, ‘filling in’ the L of the work bench leg and giving more surface area to clamp. I would make 2 ‘tabs’ to take this up to the exact depth of the upright and mean no wobble is possible when reefing something with full sausage in the stand.

My day-to-day life seems to afford only 30 minute blocks of time to get busy on personal tasks, so it seemed to take weeks to get the aluminium cut, de-burred, drilled and the upright mounted with 10mm threaded rod and nylock nuts.

I learned that Park cutting fluid makes a mess with aluminium and iso-propyl alcohol is a much cleaner lubricant allowing my basic pillar drill to make short work of the holes for the clamps.

Then it was time to drill the holes for the Adjustable Height Wall Mount. I wanted to have the holes in just one face of the upright to give a cleaner look and less of a weak point at what in essence is the fulcrum of the upright in terms of bending. However, it was a witch to get the shortened bolt through a hole ~90cm inside the tube. I had to tape an adjustable spanner (which has a flat run from handle to jaws) to a long pole, then tape the bolt into the jaws with *just* enough gorilla tape so that I could ease it through the hole, but get it off when pulled without dislodging it. Unfortunately, as I juggled the stand and the upright – which together are quite heavy – the bolt would work its way out from the jaws of the adjustable making tightening the nut in place frustratingly difficult. After an hour or so of turning the air blue with all sorts and combinations of swear words, I snugged the nut up tight, swung the upright into place and clamped this to the bench and marvelled at the smooth fit as the Right Hand Clamp slid into place.

Is it optimal?

If it isn’t its *damn* close…


For more on EVT, go here.

Impossible back on the menu.

19 01 2017

HED rim repair.

15 01 2017

Just over a year ago, I blogged about my HED Big Deal rim breaking and my disappointment with the company’s lack of customer care. Actually, I would probably just class it as straight up bad manners.


I have continued to ride the wheel, occasionally, but I also built up new wheels for the frame.  This allowed me to experiment with different wheel and tyre combinations and also removed the nagging worry that my wheel would suddenly implode while out in the hills.

I had purchased some carbon sheet, UD and 3K, release film and laminating resin with a mind to repair the rim myself, but after researching the process more fully, it seemed that compression of the repair would be important to make it strong. My initial thought was to make some wood forms and use clamps to achieve the compression, but I’ll admit to a degree of inertia with the project.


As winter 2016/17 rolled around, I began to wonder about having the rim professionally repaired. With very little messing around, I emailed Carbon Bike Technics and sent a few pictures of the area on the edge of the rim that had been damaged and sent the wheel in. A few weeks later, I received the rim back with two areas repaired (I had only been aware of one section of damage). One thing I had been concerned about, was the loss of tubeless potential. With carbon repair, you obviously need to add layers of carbon sheet in order to reinforce the damaged area. Although CBT had not been able to promise this would not be affected, on inspection I was confident that they had repaired the surface without interrupting the tubeless interface.


I mounted the tyre, pressurised the Airshot, and bam! I had the rear wheel good to go, tubeless for the first time (I damaged the rim on it’s first ride, when I still had tubes in situ).

I have no misconceptions about the rim’s longevity, but I am more confident in the integrity of the rear rim for riding further afield now.

In short, Carbon Bike Technics did a stellar job in repairing the HED Big Deal rim – I would highly recommend their services if you are in the unfortunate situation to need them.


On a side note: wordpress seem to have changed in a way that means I cant seem to link to my flickr account where I have full sized images. Apologies for the inconvenience if you are trying to look closely. Here is a link to my flickr.


A Thin White Line.

11 01 2017

Many years ago now, when it was first made, I bought this film on DVD. I had it shipped from the USA and watched it once. Why once? because the regional set up is different and it would cause my computer problems with playing European DVDs if I watched it more than once or twice.

Today, I learned that it is available on Vimeo and enjoyed my second viewing more than the first. I throughly recommend sitting and taking the time to take in the athletic achievement of the racers, the stunning scenery and the amazing film making.