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 1

17 04 2017

With a couple of days to spend riding, an overnighter long overdue and some mixed weather a route presented itself that would follow some of the most well known and beautiful rivers in the southern Cairngorm area.

The train delivered me to Pitlochry on Thursday afternoon and despite some anxiety regarding how much and what sort of precipitation I would encounter, I was happy to start pedaling alongside the River Tummel, past Loch Faskally and the gorgeous singletrack at Killiecrankie.

The sun still had some warmth as I turned north at Blair Atholl to follow the River Tilt and I enjoyed the light on the hills enclosing the ever deepening glen as I climbed towards the waterfall where the River Tarf joins the Tilt.

Unfortunately, my luck with the weather was beginning to erode and some very cold rain had me head down and shivering.

It soon passed and the sublime track through upper Glen Tilt, which has been improved to drain some of the peat bog and offer a clearer, more ridable line, was awesome as the sun began to dip towards the horizon.

I was still anxious about crossing the Geldie Burn, but had noted how low the Tilt was and I hoped that it would not offer a significant barrier. Past the ruin of Bynack Lodge, I found the fording of the smaller Bynack Burn to be rideable and on reaching the Geldie, was stoked to find it also rideable. I have crossed this river a number of times and I have never seen it as low – even in mid summer. Incredible.

With barely damp toes, my concern for a very cold night were lessened slightly. The rain was holding off and the forecast for possible snow seemed remote though the predicted overnight high winds were clearly beginning to drive cloud over the Cairngorm Plateau at a significant clip.

Fortune was with me and the wind offered a helping hand as I sped along side the River Dee, through Mar Lodge and then into the regenerated Caledonian pine forest just east of Braemar.

The sun finally dropped fully behind the mountains and with it the temperature plummeted. My tent and sleeping kit set up was swift, with me shivering in my puff jacket. A warm meal and a couple of beers saw me asleep with a great days ride behind me.

Tomorrow would be some known and some unknown as I aimed to reach the sea on the east coast.





4 years ago.

8 10 2016

Four years ago, I hatched a plan to bike pack a slightly ambitious route. Up Ben Macdui, bivi, then descend to Loch Etchachan (a trail that often generates wistful looks and knowing nods between the cognoscenti), then on down to Glen Derry to meet the crew who were intent on Beinn a’Bhuird then Ben Avon and after, I would return by dropping down to the river Avon and follow this to Tomintoul, cross to Dorback Lodge and the Braes of Abernethy to Aviemore.

It didn’t happen and I had quite a gnarly experience up Macdui. The Big Grey Man was calling my name.

I returned with this route in my mind numerous times over the subsequent years, but it wasn’t until last weekend that I finally managed to get it done – more or less.

Why less? well, I did not ascend Beinn a’Bhuird or Avon, instead I headed to the south side of the River Dee and ascended from Crathie, on the road, until Corgarff Castle where I took estate tracks to rejoin the River Avon at Inchrory Lodge, before heading north to Tomintoul and completing the route aforementioned.

I had been weather-watching intently because I had a 3 day window and needed 2 days to do the route. As the wet weather of recent weeks subsided, I knew that some of the boggier ground on my original route (including the classic section to Loch Builg) would probably be a bit miserable, but having ridden various alternatives in the past, it was easy to re-route and I felt that I had minimised any needless misery, but kept all the fun stuff in.

I overnighted near Loch Morlich with a view to an early start. The sun was shining and the azure of the sky brought a broad smile to my face when I finally made it out of my kipsack. Gear was stowed and checked a final time and I rode out the logger’s trail to Glenmore Lodge then up to the ski hill and on up Coire Cas.

Having fitted an 11-46 cassette recently, I was able to pedal the lion’s share of the climb and once up top the views opened out and I took a deep breath and drank the majesty of the Cairngorm in.

It really is an otherworldly environment and I always feel I have transcended my everyday life as soon as I am up there. I had hoped to ride the bulk of the descent from Cairn Gorm but some of the bigger rock steps foiled me as my Revelate seat pack forced my body weight to stay high and forward.

Scott at Porcelain Rocket is working on a dropper friendly bikepacking set up and I’ll be very interested to see how this progresses. Most often, one tends to avoid the more technical routes on a bikepacking mission, but there are occasions where it could prove indispensable.

Back to the trails….

I carried and rode over Stob Coire an t’Sneachda, enjoying the rocky, steppy trail, then dropped to the saddle before Cairn Lochan, filled the water bottle with the icy cold, clear water from the Allt Coire Domhain and continued south west to join the trail to Macdui.

A beautiful, clear view over to Braeriach and Cairn Toul was reward for the hard work and after a relatively brief carry over the rocky section, I took to the summit cone of Macdui, where I met Jamie Pierce, whose pictures of riding in various locations around Scotland are a great inspiration. A good chat, then up to the top and after a few pictures, I dropped to Loch Etchachan.

Please click to see original and see the trail, snaking into the distance...

Please click to see original and see the trail, snaking into the distance…

The technical track is fantastic. I had some concern over how it would ride loaded, but Snow Job took it all in stride. I filled the water bottle again at the brook that feeds Loch Etchachan and took on the trail beside the Coire Etchachan Burn, down to the Hutchison Hut. At one point, I nearly ass-over-tea-kettle’d into the burn as, again, my C.O.G was thrown by the saddle bag and I high-sided after a step down and careered off to the left. Serendipity was the only thing that saved me from a painful crash down the steep side of the banks of the burn.

The ride down Glen Derry, as the day began to grow old, was relaxing. The first hard section of the loop was done and I could feel some weight coming from the shoulders. Down to Linn of Dee, then east along the river – on the north side to Mar Lodge. Unfortunately, the bridge that allows forward progress, just after the Linn of Qoich, was washed away, so I turned tail, passed Mar Lodge and took Victoria Bridge over to the road and then ducked into Morrone Birkwood National Nature Reserve, where some steep forestry tracks (which I was interested to ride as they form part of the Deeside Trail route) delivered me to Braemar, cold and admittedly a bit tired.

A pretty iffy burger and chips at the ‘the Hungry Highlander’ gave scant warmth and I headed further East, towards Invercauld and took to the trails after the Bridge of Dee on the south side of the river. I knew the woods here, where there are efforts to regenerate ‘Caledonian‘ forest, would likely give me a good spot to pitch the tent and turn in for the night.

Overnight, the rain fell and at one point, after attending to natures call, I tripped over the front dyneema cord of the tent and broke it, leading to a collapse and some rain fall wetting my sleeping bag. After scrabbling around for the peg I had pulled out with my clumsiness, I eventually got everything ship shape and retired again.

Then the grunting started.

I suspect it was a stag and at one point it came very close to my tent. I was curious to see if it would come into sight but after about 30 minutes or so it must have wandered off somewhere.

Due to the broken nature of my sleep, I arose late and so it was 8.30am before I got going. Another reason for my lassitude was the rain, which had continued into the early part of the morning and I was loathe to get going until it stopped. It did and the smell of the woodland as I neared Balmoral was beautiful and invigorating.

The low cloud was beginning to rise and, taking to the steep road after Crathie, I climbed north, feeling that getting to Corgarff Castle represented the 3/4 point of the ride. It was interesting to see the estate track heading back west towards Loch Builg off the B976 and I nearly took it, but figured I would stick to my planned route. At Corgarff, I turned off the road and dropped to Inchrory Lodge and then sped north, beside the mighty River Avon, with cloud and rain at my heels. At Tomintoul, I bought a couple of sandwiches at the post office, answered some surprised locals questions about the fat tyres I was running, and made the turn to the west where the hop scotch down the Burn of Brown was considerably easier than in previous times due to the fat tyres.

Climbing over to Dorback Lodge gave an opportunity to refuel and I considered my strategy for crossing the Dorback Burn. At times, this can run quite fast and deep, but at lower Drum, I found the ford which has been created there to be rideable. Unfortunately, the rain had finally caught me and soon I was both cold and wet.

Unfortunately, the trail after the ford dead ended ~500m away from the trail to Eag Mhor. At this exact point the rain became considerably heavier. It is difficult to explain how hard the ground between the ford and the Eag Mhor path is to cross. Deep water filled clefts between Sphagnum moss clumps and huge tussocks of grass. Still, before too long I made it to what I consider the exit of the Eag Mhor, at which point the rain stopped and I climbed into Abernethy Forest, taking a stallar singletrack that wound through the trees and popped out at the Lodge, where I made the turn for Ryvoan, it’s famous bothie and the completion of the route.

A block of cheese and a handful of Mike-n-Ikes saved me from a bonk and I dropped to Glenmore Lodge with relief to have covered the ground and having enjoyed some classic trails, superb views and another rewarding Cairngorm loop.





A different tack.

20 06 2016

A little while ago, I tried to do the Highland Trail Race. Tried and failed. I still have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. This year, with stellar weather, I enjoyed following the blue dots and admit to a pang of (for want of a better word) jealousy.

Let me explain: you cant really be that jealous of folk turning themselves inside out, over tough terrain, with precious little kit and big miles to cover in each ~14 hour+ day in the saddle. It is a tough race.

Anyway, as detailed in the old post linked above, I got to thinking after failing to even start the HTR 550, that I wanted to *enjoy* what I was doing on the bike. In other words, I was keen to try a route or two that did not invite too much hardship in terms of daily miles or trail conditions. So, recently I decided to try an ‘easy’ bikepacking route.

I would jump on the train in Glasgow, head to Perth, alight and cycle off into the evening along the easy cycle route up to Dunkeld and from there, head west to Amulree and take the gravel road up Glen Quaich, popping out at Kenmore, where I planned to enjoy some food at the Kenmore hotel.

My plans after that were fluid: I would find a spot to bivi and make my way back down to Glasgow.

I had not done a lot of research and I was under the impression that Glen Quaich had a dirt road, rather than a gravel/partly sealed road. No matter. Despite being on my fat bike, it all went well and the sun shone as I spun along the idyllic pass from near the geographical centre of Scotland, past Loch Freuchie, towards the mighty Tay.

After a fine meal in the Kenmore Hotel, the evening was still young, so I pedaled off west, beside Loch Tay, and had a pint in Killin where the fine views of the Falls of Dochart were somewhat spoiled by the incessant midge.

My plan was to bivi somewhere on the route over to Glen Ogle, in the pine forest northwest of Lochearnhead. I eventually found a reasonable spot, and unrolled my Mountain Laurel Designs FKT (Fastest Known Time) bivi – a recent purchase – for it’s inaugural use. Because of the material selection, this bivi is extremely light, has an essential-for-Scotland midge net and packs very small. As a result, I had opted for the size large, to give me plenty of wriggling room, as I am a restless sleeper.

I had a great nights sleep, although waking to a cloud of midge in front of the netting was off putting and I had a fair amount of condensation inside the bag. This happens with bivi sacks. In the fading light, I had failed to notice that the ground was not just grass as I had thought, but was a mix of sphagnum moss. This holds collosal amounts of moisture and the cool, breezeless night, heavy dew and low cloud meant condensation was a given. In terms of volume and comfort, this bag and I are going to be friends! at less than half the weight of my old Rab bivi, the drop in encumbrance is welcome too.

Dancing around in the morning to avoid the worst of the breakfast club of midge, I got rolling and slowly the cloud level rose and as I left Lochearnhead, to head into Glen Ample for a bit of old school Scottish mtb action, I was able to strip off some layers.

From here, it was a quick descent to Callander, with the now obligatory 2 bacon rolls at ‘Taste of the Trossachs’ before climbing over to Aberfolye and then on to Garadbhan and the WHW back to base.

Reflections:

It was quite an easy route – somewhere in the vicinity of 50 miles each day and it was nice to have a solid destination planned for food in the evening. The fat bike was fine despite the reasonably high road percentage. It was slower than a normal mtb would have been, but that was kind of the point. I also learned that my knees and hips were fine with the wide bb over this sort of distance. Good to know.

In retrospect, I wish I had given myself a bit more to do. I was enjoying the riding in the warm sunshine and it seemed over a little too soon. I also would have liked to have been a little more remote – bikepacking is a great way to get stuck in to the best terrain in Scotland without having to do mega miles or use complicated arrangements of transport and being ‘away’ from it all is a big draw for me.

So: I have learned several things – it’s all good.





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.





Once more around the sun.

30 11 2014

I turned 41 a few days ago. For me, There is always a degree of introspection around birthdays. I never feel entirely happy or settled as I consider another lap around the sun. Combine this with the relentlessly shortening days of winter and I’ll admit to a little despondency. The whys and wherefores are not subject material for a web log, but it has helped to look back over the year and remember some of the high points.

Mind cast back: early September. If memory serves, I had been a bit under the weather – one of the benefits of being surrounded by ill folk all the time, I guess – and had taken some time off work with one thing in mind: riding! Time on the bike had been minimised for a little while prior in order to try and let my knee settle. It had been plaguing me for some months but I had come to the conclusion it was a soft tissue strain rather than anything serious.

My love of the Cairngorm runs deep. It seemed the perfect destination as the weather in the region was stable and I decided to use a well established route – the Cairngorms Loop.

I knew it would be a long shot to shoot for an ITT on the loop, but on the other hand, why the hell not?

Starting early, around 7 am, gave me a long daylight window to get as far around the loop as possible. The whole route is 186 miles – the record, set by Aidan Harding, is 22 hours 30 minutes. The average seems to be around 30-33 hours. My plan was simply to get round if possible, whilst enjoying myself.

It is almost transgressive to set targets in the backcountry, however, I had a vague goal of getting around to Glen Feshie for a bivi. I had my Mountain Laurel Designs Cricket with me and optimistically hoped for enough time to sit and enjoy a dram next to the river before settling down for the night.

The initial part of the loop passed under tyre easily. Moving through the Gaick and past the lodge before emerging near Aviemore. All was going well, my mind and body working as one and the weather was pleasant.

The climb up the shoulder of Bynack More was steady after a hearty bacon roll by the side of Loch Morlich. I felt that the initial parts of the Lairig an Laoigh were more rideable than in previous missions – there has been significant amounts of work to improve the trail. In saying that, the section after the Hutchy hut was still pretty rough and the descent down Glen Derry was eroded beyond belief – several sections wiped out by land lides.

As I cursed and dragged my way across rough ground and through streams, it became clear my knee was beginning to tweak again. I had felt some aching in the upper, portage parts of the Lairig, but while pedaling it had been ok. As I came down to the point of no return at the Geldie Burn, a decision needed to be made. On the one hand I was about 10 and a bit hours in, with a likely bog trot through at least a portion of Feshie, until I would bed down. I had plenty of light, but I could tell I was damaging my knee. So: go on and ride a further 90 odd miles the next day, with a bit of walking before Tomintoul and another section on the climb up after Loch Builig to Deeside, most likely, or turn south and down Glen Tilt, back to base, and consider my options once my wounds were licked.

In the end, I knew that I might pay dearly for carrying on and giving myself a big task the next day – the possibility of several more months of knee disfunction was the crux. I backed down.

It felt hard to give up on a route yet again, even though I had tried to convince myself I was out there to have fun – not to chase times and achievements. Nevertheless, it was a very good loop – 95 miles or so in 12 and a half hours.

The next day I spent a pleasant time pootling around Loch Garten and trying to keep my stiff knee from seizing entirely. Following a brief stay at the Nethybridge Hotel, I cut north and decided on a route out to Sandalwood bay.


The mountains of Assynt were as improbable as ever and the weather was calm.

I am not generally a beach person, unless I have a kite with me, but Sandalwood is reputedly the most beautiful beach in the UK. I think those from the Outer Hebrides might argue the point, but it was stunning. An inital thought had been to bivi by the dunes, listening to the sound of the breakers rushing onto the shore, but in the end I took off south again, back towards civilisation.

The light is fading on the year, although it is incredibly mild for November. I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot of experiences from this year that will keep me going through the dark and busy period we are about to enter. Next year, once more around the sun, what will it bring?

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As a brief aside – I will write more on this again – the Cricket is an amazing tent. Design, execution and materials are all top notch. Recommended.





Two trips to Aviemore.

7 09 2014

Ugh! where does all the time go, eh? I have a huge backlog of things to say, from trips, rides and messing around with various bike parts to a review of the Mountain Laurel Design Cricket tent. I try to keep things in chronological order and no doubt as the skies darken and the winds and rains come, there will be plenty of time for blogging. Now, however, the sky is blue, the sun is still warm and I am enjoying being outside as much as possible – solo and with my family. All good.

A while ago now I had two different trips to Aviemore. For the first, I had a plan to clover leaf several rides from a base at the Rothiemurchas campsite. After arriving in the middle of the day, I wanted to take advantage of the warm sun and long day to head north on the Dava Way, essentially heading through the Ryvoan pass, then following (for the most part) an old rail line, to the coast at Forres. A blog I follow, Topofests, had described some sweet looking singletrack along side the river Findhorn. Unfortunately, I left too late in the day to cover the distance and see this. Another time.

My hombre Chris joined me for the next couple of rides. After the initial climb of the Burma road, we had a great time taking in this classic loop, but threw a curve in at the end and headed out to Burnside, railing some of the tight, woodsy singletrack. Awesome!

That left a classic Morlich/Badaguish loop for the last day – those trails always deliver a broad grin and are as challenging as you want them to be.

The next trip to Aviemore, a few weeks later, was with intentions of an evening preamble to find a decent camp, somewhere in the trees, followed by a big mountain ride the next day. The bags were packed and strapped to the bike, but the weather refused to play ball. The rain was sheeting down. Hardly conducive. Fortunately, I found a space at the Old Bridge Inn bunkhouse and planned a loop for the next day, up towards Ben Macdui, then round to Cairn Gorm and studied the topography of the various ridges and potential ways down over a fine meal and a dram.

The initial climb across Coire an Lochain and up onto the shoulder of Cairn Lochain started in fine weather, but became punctuated by squalls of rain and low cloud. It was clear the wind was strong but once I was up onto the plateau, 60kph sustained wind made the sleety rain sting and a ride around the cliffs edge towards Cairn Gorm a perilous proposition. With tail tucked firmly between my legs, I enjoyed the descent and the weather was far better below cloud level. I headed over to Abernethy forest instead, revelling in the warmth amongst the caledonian pine forest.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained – but sometime soon, I’d like to get that loop done.