Monday, August 30, 2010

Rolling the dice...

I'm off work this week. Really need it. Havent had a break in ages...Of course theres quite a bit on the to-do i decided to try and get a big -ish ride in early in the week and recover sufficiently to give the Kielder 100 a proper go. Looking at the weather, sunday and monday were going to be ok pretty much country wide. I've had an urge to ride the east rim of the Lairig Ghru then drop down to Derry Cairngorm since dan suggested it to me a few weeks ago. The Vertigo was dusted off, a sensible range of clothing packed and i set off for the Cairngorm early sunday morning. The weather looked like it should be breezy up top, with strong gusts, and a chance of rain at around 1-2pm ish. I was anticipating being out 10 hours at least, so an hour or so of rain wasnt terribly worrying.

On the way up the weather came in, but it was the Drumochter pass so i didnt get too upset. 5 minutes later, things went south. There was *a lot* of motorcycle traffic: it was Thunder in the Glens - the Harley meet in the highlands. As the weather deteriorated, the mix of rubbish drivers on the A9 and lots of motorcyclists doing what motorcyclists do meant one thing. As i descended to Dalwhinnie, the traffic slowed suddenly. In the middle of the road was a car with 4 people trapped in it and the bonnet smooshed in. Another car was off to the side and a motor cycle, or what was left of it, was spread over the road. it looked like the front wheel had imploded. Off to the side the motor cyclist was lying in a heap, roughly covered with a blanket. There was no doubt in my mind he was dead. Several motocyclists were directing traffic via a slip road, and the 4 passengers in the car were all talking and moving, they just couldnt get out. There was nothing for me to do, so i drove on. Needless to say the emergency services came tearing down the road and yet again, it was a nightmare as freaked out drivers were pushed to the limit of their meagre abilities to control their cars on the road. I dunno, maybe drivers need to be assessed more regularly or something, but there was very nearly several further accidents as panic set in.

Regardless, i made it to Aviemore with a need to get out into the hills. Life needed to be lived. The rain hadnt stopped, but it wasnt heavy, so i stuck to my plan and quickly readied to get out into the hills. I aimed up the Coire Cas path but by the time i reached the ski centre i had to take shelter. The wind was battering the hillside and the rain was thick and heavy. I was well into cloud and there was no way of knowing if this was just a front, or it was time to head down and go home, tail between my legs.

Regular readers may well be aware im pretty fucked off with the weather. Its sort of pointless, as it is not something that can be controlled, but the fact remains. I stood under the eaves of the ski centre and looked at the map and waited, hoping that the weather might let up. There wasnt really any sort of viable alternative from where i was, other than to retrace my steps and go down. After 15 minutes or so, i convinced myself the weather was improving and decided to head upwards anyways. How bad could it be?

There was some riding and a lot of carrying as i ascended around 400m across the face of Cairn Lochan. All the time i was in cloud, and the gusts of wind nearly knocked me over. As i gained the shoulder of Cairn Lochan it started hailing. Hard. If i got cold enough now, i was in trouble, so i sheltered as best i could in a cleft rock. After 5 minutes, it was decision time. Mountain craft is an interesting term. I suspect really it means the mix of common sense (which, of course, isnt) and experience. I knew heading up was isolating me in big mountains in big weather in cycling shorts and a windtex jacket. But i couldnt wait any longer: there was no way i could tolerate being as cold as i was. I had to move either upwards in the hope the weather settled, or downwards and admit defeat. Upwards it was.

Part of my decision was that the combo of strong wind and hail meant facing into the weather (ie heading downwards) was going to be painful. After about another 50m or so vertical gain, i found myself on the east edge of the Lairig Ghru. the weather was being deflected by Creag An Leth-choin and though visibility was little over 5m i decided to push on. The path was great fun to ride. Rocky, lite-technical, absorbing riding. As i started to descend down to a saddle before the bulk of Ben Macdui, i realised that i needed to turn back. There was no way the weather was good enough to descend down to Derry Cairngorm, with any chance of making it back out. Therefore, i needed to turn around post haste and deal with the headwind and rain/hail.

When i Stopped for 2 minutes to cover my face in a makeshift balaclava (thank you buff) i was almost immediately cold. Shit. This was not good. Back to the edge of Coire An Lochain i coped, mainly because i didnt have to use my fingers. But the descent down to the ski hill was steep and aggressive riding. As soon as i stuck a finger on the brake lever it froze and became as useful as a stick of wood. 3 times i went over the bars on the way down that trail. But i needed to ride to drop fast. At a degree for every 100 feet or so i was in dire need of lower altitude. As i got to the Ski centre the rain upped the ante and i was soaked in seconds, but i was more sheltered and after a quick massage i began to get feeling back into at least some of my digits. My toes were gone, and my little and ring fingers were still useless.

I headed off down to Glenmore, with white noise in my head. Another bastard of a day. Then i remembered the path via the Chalamain Gap up to the top of the Lairing Ghru, which would allow me to take the Vertigo down one of the premier descents in this part of the world. A handful of skittles, peanut m&m's and honey roasted macadamias as the sun finally came out and the world didnt seem such a dark and violent place. A climb past a herd of reindeer (with an albino amongst them) got me to the bottom of the Chalamain Gap in good order. Initially rideable, the gap is primarily a scramble. The rocks are large and loose. Lots of movement under foot, so i was cautious.

No one wants to break an ankle or worse up here. The other side was very, very boggy, but afforded a beautiful view into the Lairig Ghru. A couple of bedraggled walkers were making their way out of the pass, all talking of the hideous hail they had endured. Water flowed freely down the level section of the Lairig Ghru, but as i reached the descent down to Piccaddily everything clicked for a brief 5 minutes. The Vertigo sailed the roots and ripped the corners on the singletrack high above Allt Druidh. Several times the Panaracer Rampage was outgunned by the slick roots and i whipped sideways, but the bike just dug in. It was a truly sweet descent.

It was a foreshortened day with only 6 hours in the hills but the bad weather left me happy to find the car. Yet again i found myself cursing that i wasnt handed a meteorological break. I will gladly sell this slightly used soul to whichever deity controls the Scottish weather.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Of sliding and smiling.

Was out riding yesterday with the boys. Missed one ride on saturday, as i was putting the 5 speed system together for the Jones. It is a temporary affair, mainly for the Kielder 100 which is creeping up pretty fast. The word on the street is that there is a fair old amount of fireroad, as there surely would be in any 100 mle off road race in the UK.

(thanks to bike love for the chainstay protector! carl had slipped one into the last bag of team kit.)

I didnt do last year because i was doing the Shenandoah 100 which was on the same day - during which i cracked pretty horrifically and was about an hour slower than i wanted to be. A lot of the reason for that was i used a smaller gear than i had previously. On singlespeed at SM100, you either have a very smooth spin and use a small gear to get up the climbs, or you use a bigger gear that allows you to motor the fire road and accept walking some or most of the climbs. Previously i was in the latter camp, but last year i spent several months spinning to try and learn to go as fast on the smaller gear. Problem was i was out of shape and pretty exhausted from work and SM100 was right at the beginning of the trip so i had no time to get myself together. Needless to say i sucked hard. But it was an experience.

I'm kind of getting over my need to do everything-all-the-time on a singlespeed. The vertigo has taight me the joys of not only using gears, but also having suspension. Theres a new project in the works from Sean which i'm really looking forward to. I've been compromising BA to use for some more xc orientated trail and i'd rather keep him meaty, beaty big and bouncy. Anyways, more on that later.

So once i got the 5 speed together i snuck out -despite the mizzle- to try it out. It functions well, but i underestimated the gear for what i need and am going to use a 36 tooth ring. Setting up the e13 xcx in the correct orientation was a witch. I think because i use a king bb which has less material proud of the plate for the chain guide, meaning the tool has very little purchase. Still, got there in the end. the 17-19-21-23-25 sprocket block is a dura ace cassette that i cut and filed down to fit better on the DT singlespeed freehub. If i was very careful i probably could cut some material off the back side and maybe -maybe!- squeeze a 15 tooth king cog on the outer section to get 6 speeds, but its really pretty usable with the 17 and an aforementioned 35 tooth e13 g ring. I dont need the low end as low, so a 36 should make it pretty good.

As mentioned this is a stop gap. The new beast will be a 1x9 (option to 1x10) and will have an even better spread.

I've also become increasingly interested in photography. I've previously only used a Canon elph, which is a pretty basic but tough compact. I decided to invest in a Canon s95 which came into the shops this weekend after playing with Chipps' s90 and getting good advice from him and Mr Makin about what i needed in a camera. The initial results are on my flickr. I was using the bracketing feature to check out the capabilities of catching riders in low light on an ISO limited to 400. It worked pretty well, though the bracketing meant i got some odd shots. I have a LOT to learn, but having a bit more manual control is useful. Its also very useful having a wife who is into photography and can explain some of the principals in words simple enough for a caveman-point-and-shooter like me.

(Hambo at speed - as ever clicky to make biggy and CRITICISE! - i need to learn!)

So far i've been impressed with the results - the camera is capable, i just need to be able to use it consistently.

Ok. Monday. Its raining everywhere. I want to be in the hills. So it goes.

When light isn't light enough.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The calm after the storm.

Post SSUK'10. Reportage will be on VC Moulin. Meanwhile i've got a bit of a clear up op. to do. G Funk was here, and we set about building his first wheels. He picked it up pretty quick and easy and made a sweet new wheel.

Then straight into a trying few days at work. Dont know whether its the economic downturn biting home, or just a couple of butterfly wing flaps on the other side of the world, or maybe its just me, but everything is just misery at the moment.

On returning home, I realised that the cat had made a home in the tent that has been airing since i came back up from Cymru. All the cycling kit i didnt use (all will be explained) was strewn across the floor and my sleeping bag was stinking up the place too. Under all that was the pile of dirty cycling kit i needed to wash, and all the stuff i needed to send out as thank yous and quid pro quos for the Outcast (issue 24 of which is out now). Bam.

I need an admin evening. So of course i longed for the trails and under the excuse of trying to work out if the cross bike this year will have drops or jones bars i headed out to the local spot and got a couple of hours in.

Although i started in rain (you guessed it!) i got a peep of sunshine for the last hour. All good. And it will have jones bars. Probably.

Talking of the jones. In an odd turn of events, after SSUK, i pretty much decided i wnt to run gears on it for the Kielder 100. A wee bit of thinkering and i purchased a Dura Ace road cassette (12-25, of which the top 5 are on alloy carriers), an xtr 9 speed multi-release/multi-shift trigger shifter and an ultegra short cage mech.

The concept here is 5 speed, with 17-19-21-23-25 at the rear and either a 33 or 34 at the front. That gives me quick shifts of 1 or 2 cogs and a pretty usable gear range around the gear i will use most. We'll see how it goes. Up front will be an e13 xcx chain guide to keep things right. The Dura Ace cogs are lighter than light (being ti) and the mech shouldnt need too much adjusting due to it being a close and small cassette. We'll see. Ideally the cassette needs a little material off one side of the carriers to make it a little flusher with the freehub. Should be 5 mins work

More as it happens.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Packaged in a protective environment.

There has just been too many things to do. Fortunately, the weather is still crap, so it's not as if i'm out riding all the time. Precious little infact....should make the SSUK'10 pretty legs and a big beer belly to haul around....ah well. It will be a innocuous return to the ssuk scene after a 2 year hiatus.


So instead, i've decided to try and clear out some of the crap that has built up in my life. I'm not talking about emotional baggage either. It would be fair to say i'm a hoarder. The suspicious would have worked that out by now, i've no doubt, but hoarding has its uses. Need a Paul v brake that will let a 700c wheel work in a 26" frame? yep got that. An old Brodie brake booster for your just-so-retro-project-timebomb? yep. You get the picture. A few years ago i was particularly impressed after a conversation with Mr Furry Knuckle, who had written of his 'imaginary house fires'. The idea is: imagine a fire is consuming your home. You have, say, 15 minutes to throw stuff out the windows/drag stuff out the garage, but you have to chose the few things you want to keep. All the rest is burned up. What could you truly live without? Of course i was deeply suspicious that anyone could actually *do* that.

I was impressed because Mr Furry Knuckle left me in no doubt he did do it and infact found the process a genuinely cathartic experience. A weight lifted from the shoulders. It also probably made it a hell of a lot easier to find stuff instead of wading through seas of old bike crap, sinking ever deeper into a miasma of strained, cnc'd aluminium parts that should never have seen the light of day.

So, i decided i needed to try and sell some parts. The thing that stops you, unless you need to pay off some fines or have some sort of Dickensian dislike of the third sin, is that a) you spent a lot of money on things in the first place, little of which you will recoup (unless you liked coloured Ringle parts or old Yetis but had a germanic resistance to actually using them) and b) you might need them some day.

Piffle! it is time to move stuff on. without further a do i moved all compromising substances out of the front room. Armed only with a powerful tequila and orange juice, i set to work cleaning and packaging parts into old padded envelopes, in a protective atmosphere of pure heavy metal and under the watchful gaze of Persephone the cat.

Within a short burst of time i have made numerous items ready to live out a new and functional life. And you know what? It feels damn good.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

5 minutes until beyond...

This thing is going to be all over the internet within about 5 minutes. Infact, its quite likely y'all have seen it already. I dont care.

If this bike ever got made, id buy it without even thinking. An incredible mix of rat rod, post apocalyptic mad max styling, metal as the realisation of concept. It is RAD and is further evidence of how far Trek have come over recent years.

See more at Bicycle Design.

(clicky make biggy)

They even created a background comic about the imaginary rider, Max Malco. Awesome.

More detail...

Monday, August 02, 2010

North East.

We spent some time up around Glen Clova. 2 days, 2 routes. Big mountains, amazing views, wasp stings and smiling with friends.

Theres a whole heap of good riding up there....and, yes!, the weather played ball, at least for some of the time....

More on this when i've had time to cogitate

Sunday, August 01, 2010