2 12 2013

Run down and ill. What a way to start my 40th lap around the sun. A sore throat, cough, nausea and a painful oxter lymph node not withstanding, I spent several hours in the mountains north of Kinlochleven on Satrurday. I was weak from the beginning, but Maul flew up the hill dragging me after. The rough, rocky access road beside Loch’s Eilde Mor and Beag gave way to the patch of grass at Luibeilt. The Abhainn Rath flowed dark and cold past the ruined house.

I moved up and down the river and tried to persuade myself that crossing was a good idea.

The objective for the day had been to get up past Loch Treig and round Loch Ossian. A late start and heavy legs made that impossible. In addition, my fully charged lights were still in a zip lock bag in my car rather than my back pack. Less than ideal with only two and a half hours until sunset.

As I sat munching yoghurt covered snacks the rain started to fall as did the temperature. Crossing the river, getting cold and wet, was now sliding out of the uncomfortable zone and into the irresponsible: I had nowhere near enough energy to generate the heat-through-activity I would need to keep myself safe once I made the ford.

Somewhat reluctantly, I turned tail and endured the bitter head wind back to Kinlochleven.

This ride was supposed to add to the knowledge bank for the Highland Trail 550 – a long distance self supported race across some of the finer terrain Scotland has to offer. This is happening on May the 24th 2014 and I will be on the start line in Tyndrum. It had been several years since I had ridden around Kinlochleven other than the Tour de Ben. I had forgotten how long it took and what the ground is like as you pass east, beside the Abhainn Rath.

I didn’t learn much that day, but I did use the hours to ponder SON dynamo hubs, lights, GPS charging and which bike would be the best compromise for such a long effort.


Good stuff.

23 10 2013

Occasionally when I come to update my blog, the only things that spring to mind are domestic, work or even weather related issues. When this happens, it usually means that riding has taken a back seat for what ever reason. None of this stuff is of any interest to anyone, so the blog gets a bit neglected.

Sometimes though, there have been some intermittent points worthy of note: collected here are a few things that I have been messing about with and they may prove thought provoking to others. I know I would certainly value any opinions and input.

The bikes have all been working flawlessly. Several routine-maintenance-type updates were required, though. The Jones headset (a Cane Creek Jones ‘special’ 100) finally wore enough to begin creaking with a tiny amount of play after, what, 4 years? In this case, the angular contacts were a little worn, meaning that new bearings weren’t going to remedy the situation. After thinking options over, I decided to replace it with a dual griplocked King headset. Fitting this was very tricky indeed because the griplock system seems to grab the steerer tube under extremely minimal compression, easily done as you try to hold the truss and all the parts in the correct order, and pass the ‘floating’ steerer tube through. It is hard to explain until you try it, but eventually after splitting two of the green rubber o rings that help to fully snug up the griplock, I put a bigger chamfer into the steerer tube, which allowed it to pass through the second, lower griplock more easily.

The pewter colour is dark, but the sotto vocce graphic has been my favourite since it’s introduction. In use, smooth.

The next update was to pull the Knard/UMA snow rim/Paul Whub combo off the front of the Jones, replacing it with the original edge am rimmed wheel with a Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5/XC exo sidewall (rather than the heavy duty DH version) with dual compound tread. I have initially fitted tubes, because these rims are the older, non tubeless style, but even with a fairly beefy tube, it dropped 400g from the Knard/UMA combo. 400g! Initial impressions are that even running at 17psi, it is in no way as plush as the Knard set up, BUT the DHF has so much grip it may be worth persisting.

It is widely known now that fat bikes will take over the world and, as such, there have been a slew of carbon fibre rims shown at trade shows recently. In addition, various companies offer chinese made carbon 29er rims in various widths, including Derby, who offer a 35mm 29er rim.

In theory this would allow me to mount a Knard, whilst keeping the wheel weight down. I will wait to see how these rims perform for others over time. One concern I have is that they have drilled non-angled nipple holes, which makes them a bit tricky to build with a Whub, that has such wide flange spacing. I’m sure that before too long an even wider carbon fibre rim will be available, so I am going to keep my eyes peeled, and my mind open. 40-45mm would be ideal with the Knard I think. Meanwhile, the Rabbit Hole rims have been trouble free and once the wheels are rolling, the girth is maybe even a benefit, in a flywheel sort of way. After years spent trying to get light durable wheels, it is clear that there is a place for heavier wheels too.

Along with this on the Jones, I finally succumbed for the second time to making a bike tubeless. The Vertigo cycles Maul has the newer style enve tubless ready XC rims, which are a bit more puncture prone in the rough stuff than the AM rims, so I though it might be worhtwhile to try. I am using Conti Revo sealant, which is problem free at this early stage and a Conti MKII 2.2 bc/protection on the rear. I wanted to run a 2.4 version on the front but I couldn’t seat it with my Lezyne dirt drive, a ghetto set up, CO2 or a proper compressor. In the end I got hold of a 3C exo High Roller 2 which popped into place with minimal effort with the track pump and is superb in the mixed conditions I ride. I used to use Maxxis a few years ago exclusively and they are certainly back on the menu now. The High Roller is 900g or so and a real grippy tread and compound.

The Works Components thick-thin rings have been fantastic, finding their way onto BA and soon Maul as well. Several trouble-free months in the muck on the Krampus have been inspiring. If you need a high quality ring for a 1x build I would thoroughly recommend them. I have been researching the fitting of a 11-36 cassette with Saint 10 speed derailleur and I think I have a clear way to ascertain if this combo will strain the mech too much for these bikes. More on this in a stand alone post.

A very recent addition to a couple of bikes has been the new Jones 710mm loop bar. Basically this adds a bit (25mm iirc) to both grip ends, while keeping the looped section the same. I almost didn’t notice the difference after fitting them, which in some ways was good as I had anticipated lots of hang ups on the tight trees around here, but this has been a non-issue. However, when I look down, I do notice that my hands are around 1.5cm further back on the grips than I would normally be able to with the narrower, original bars. Overall, I like them a lot – a subtle improvement. Strangely, they are considerably better when it comes time to push the bike over very rough ground or up ├╝ber steep pitches – very few strikes on my calf with the pedal. An unexpected benefit to me, but maybe not so strange. My understanding is that the Surly guys were keen to have the additional width when offering these bars with some of their bikes and this was off the back of a few gnarly off road adventures that involved a fair amount of off bike time as well as super tough, rocky terrain. In such circumstances, a wider bar is likely to shine for multiple reasons.

Last, but not least, I’m working on something new…a short trail. It will be called ‘Fearsome’. So far, I have cleared it once. More to add, but it will be a testing addition.

Glen Tilt.

6 07 2013

It always happens like this. I spend the evening getting my kit and bike sorted, a destination in mind. By the time I turn the light off and try to get some precious sleep, I begin to wonder if I ought to strike out for somewhere new, unknown. I drift off to sleep, with trails in my dreams. Over coffee, I pull out some maps, crank up the internet and do a little research. An hour of riding time slides by and I haven’t left my home. Then 2 hours. Frustration bubbling, I finally throw everything in the car, and head to where I was going in the first place, or – if I have evaporated too much time – I just ride off with out any clear plan and a furrowed brow. So it goes.

The last time this happened, my original intention was to do the ‘classic’ Glen Tilt loop. I have no idea how many times I have ridden the route, pretty much exactly as it appears in countless guidebooks and magazines, but for some reason always (to my mind at least) in reverse: it is better anti-clockwise. It may not breed contempt, but it is so familiar it lacks excitement.

However, it is close, gives a taste of ‘out there’ and scratches the itch for solitude that I always feel. So, after messing around, looking at Glen Lyon, various other places and generally asking more questions than i answered, I decided to go with the flow and head up the A9. And, to be fair, I have not ridden the classic loop for several years, indeed the last time I was there I went over Beinn a’ghlo.

It had been relatively dry and I was optimistic that both the Allt Girnaig crossing and the peaty, heather covered ground on the other side, before the land rover tack down to Daldhu would be easily rideable.

So it was. The descent from there was very enjoyable, despite it being a wide, loose land rover track. The Maul was handling telepathically. The new rear, tubeless, set up felt superb and offered excellent traction. The whole bike just amazes me every time i ride it.

After turning at Daldhu, I realised that perhaps the reason I had been making such good time was the howling wind! Penitence was the name of the game as I crawled my way up to Fealar Lodge. Again, the recent dry weather meant the usually boggy, grassy trail down to the Falls of Tarf was in superb condition. I met another rider, doing the route clockwise, and then a few guys who were battling a broken chain before I made my way down Glen Tilt, again, screaming into the wind, back to Bridge of Tilt. Overall, completing the 54 km loop in 3 hours 45 minutes was pretty satisfying. I worked very hard down Tilt, my legs felt like they would split, but I am getting some strength back. Time to plan another big ride.

New fangled.

30 06 2013

After the XT hub imploded on the Krampus, I decided to change the drive chain on the bike at the same time as re-building the rear wheel. I had one of the new-fangled thick/thin chainrings from Works Components, which I had pre-ordered out of curiosity rather than need. The ring is nice though, with reassuring thickness, well profiled teeth and neat relief. It is made from 7075T6 aluminium, which has seemed durable in the conditions I encounter. I was also curious about how an 11-36 cluster would feel. For the last couple of years, I have been happy with the range a 34 tooth ring with an 11-34 cassette gives me. On Maul, I even have a 35 tooth ring as that bike is aimed at going quickly. The engine sometimes lacks horsepower though, so it may be reduced to a 34 soon!

If you look closely, the tooth counts on a 11-34 cassette are 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 26, 30, 34. An 11-36 is a little different in the lowest four gears. The gears I probably use the most, those in the middle, are the same, so I felt that I may well gain from the increased range when things get really steep. Having spent so many years on singlespeeds, I am undaunted by grunting up climbs or walking if needs be, but particularly when loaded with bikepacking kit, The Krampus takes a wee bit more effort as you ascend than my other bikes.

So, the tooth counts of the 11-36 are 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 24, 28, 32, 36. In going to 10 speeds, I needed to replace the rear derailleur and shifter as well. I have also been curious about the thick/thin ring’s ability to retain the chain, along with a clutch style mech. So I decided to fit a Zee rear derailleur. This is not only a lot less expensive than a Saint rear derailleur, it is designed to cover the 11-36 cassette – a whopping 25 tooth range. Most short cage derailleurs will only work with a reduced range, as the length of the jockey wheel cage is too short to take up the slack in the chain required for wide range cassettes. I am unclear if the B tension range is different, or if the geometry of the upper jockey wheel placement is different as well. The Saint, depending on where you look, seems to work with 11-36, but Shimano officially rate it to a maximum of 34 teeth. I don’t want to find out that it causes undue stress or damage on the derailleur in the middle of no-where so the Zee seemed to be a good option, though I fear I will miss the Saint’s added robustness and bash ‘rail’ that runs next to the parallelogram to protect it. In parts, the Zee uses stamped, formed metal sheet rather than (presumably) forged aluminium pieces as well. It will be interesting to see how the function is affected by this over time, or whether it is purely for weight and aesthetic appearance.

The rear wheel build was, well, awkward. Maybe because the rim is singlewalled and it had already been built? there was also a small flat spot on the rim, not noticeable to the naked eye, but the Centrimaster showed about a 0.3mm sharp, dip that could not be trued out – a clear sign of a dent in the rim. I don’t really know why, but the tension range in the wheel is broader than I would normally like – around 15% difference – but otherwise the near symmetrical spoke angle and tension led to a wheel build I am relatively confident will be durable. Of note, the ERD at 617mm and use of 298mm disc side, 300mm drive side led to perfectly full nipples and only some very minor Dremeling in order to remove protruding spoke. Again, I used freespoke for the calculations.

The drive chain parts went on very easily indeed and removing the Paul chain keeper felt speculative to say the least. However, on a quick ride around the block, bumping into curbs, jumping and hopping, the system was quiet and there was no indication I might lose the chain.

I will be interested to see how this system copes with Scottish conditions and probably more pertinently, wear of the ring. The chain line is pretty good on the Krampus, so I don’t think there will be undue wear on the wide teeth on the ring, but over time, the chain will no doubt become more rattly on the ring and I am curious to know whether it will have a reasonable service life or not. Obviously, as SRAM may take legal action, at least in the USA, the after market thick/thin ring market may well change soon as well…