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.

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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.





Jones carbon loop bars: a review.

16 11 2015

It is probably clear that I like loop bars, indeed, I have been using Jeff’s h-bars almost exclusively for a decade.

I have used ti loops, ti h-bars and aluminium loop bars (in the wider 710mm form) previously. They are all fantastic, if the 45 degree sweep is right for you, offering multiple hand positions, most notably fore and aft on the long grip section, meaning weight shifts on the bike can be achieved with ease. This can aid riding steep drops, steep climbs and if you are riding for a long time, by altering the position at the wrist, relieving soft tissue strain.

The bars also offer superb stowage space if using a bar roll. Here, a Revelate Designs sweet roll is locked down and absolutely solid over rough terrain.

The carbon loop bar is the newest model. It saves a chunk of weight – and this is welcome – but the main benefit is the comfort.

The bar soaks up a fair bit more buzz than the ti bars and a lot more than the aluminium bars. I would estimate it is worth 6-8 psi on an average 2.3 29er tyre. Perhaps more.

This comes into play on long rough rides in particular but can be felt at all times. It is markedly more comfortable.

Despite the light weight, I have bounced one off rocks at speed, leading to minor scuffs but no huge damage. I would say the edges are perhaps worth protecting with a substantial grip end plug – I am prone to catching them on trees and rocks.

If you can stretch to them, I would throughly recommend them. They are available in the UK from Biff at The Outcast.





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

Sorta.

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.





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.





95

20 04 2014

Sun is out, bike is built. Bags packed – not too carefully: live and learn is the name of the game.

Out through the woods. Bone dry trails – as if the last 6 months of rain never happened. My cold doesn’t seem to be slowing me down too much. Game on.

Take the well worn trail, along the West Highland Way. Too busy with walkers for the technical Conic Hill decent, around instead.

Then along the bonny banks. Not sure if I will go north or cut east. Take it as it comes.

Struggling to eat, energy is now coming hard. Llamas save the day, at least for the moment.

Snot is making me choke, still not eating. Water from a waterfall is reviving, but there are not many calories in H2O. Decide to head east, around Loch Katrine and instead of bivi’ing out, make for home to lick my wounds. My estimate makes it 100 miles by the end of the day. I’m ok with that.

In to Queen Elizabeth forest to wave at all the rough campers beside the wee lochs. Beautful day for a bbq and a beer. It just about makes my mouth water.

The dust is amazing. Forest trails slip by easily. As the sun begins to dip, the temperature does likewise.

My ‘disaster style’ packing left me with no arm or knee warmers. Shivering is on the horizon.

My Sinewave revolution has charged my light, just in case but I think I’m on for home just after sun down. Cut it close. Keep it tight, but loose.

With the sun gone, my mind flips to the negative. My left 4th toe is dead to the world again. I’m concerned about the fact it hasn’t got better over the last few weeks. My left knee feels a bit tweeked too.

I run over gear choices and thoughts. The new packing system – frame bag ditched, smaller pocket from Backcountry biking on the front of the sweet roll and two feedbags in place (cooking kit one, food in the other à la Paul Errington) – is much better and it feels lighter, but it is still heavy, in some ways. 5.5kg on the bike (bags and food included, water not).

I’m struggling to see how this can come down, although an Ermine on the way and my occasional-use-only cuben sweet roll will knock off a few hundred grams.

Home, pizza, beer. 95 miles in the end. 10 hours. Done for today.