Sunday, September 09, 2012

A roadie, i am not.

I am too heavy to climb well and i mash the cranks rather than dance on the pedals. I'm too scared of descending on rough roads on 25c tyres on a 17lb bike to be fast. I can roll along but i get fed up if there is too much of a head wind.

So it goes.

But sometimes, if the trails are too soggy or i need to burn some miles into the legs, i grab the Spooky and head out on the asphalt.

So it was today.

Fat, slow and unfit, with the Tour de Ben coming up, i needed to at least pretend i can gain some form. Hmmmm...

Sometimes, if i hit a good gradient and move at a decent clip in a highish gear, i end up smiling anyway. So it was round Carron valley reservoir. A slight tail wind earned by a drop off the Tak ma doon road and i got to Killearn with an average speed of 18mph. Thats ok given my fitness, i s'pose. Home after 44 miles in 2 hours 30 min.

Heres the map of where i was and what i did. 2 hours and 30 minutes of grovelling. A good wee bit of computer route planning geekery.

Friday, September 07, 2012


Yesterday the rain stopped and I immediately grabbed the Jones and headed for the local trails. I’m sure you can imagine the conditions given that it has been the wettest ‘summer’ for a hundred years here: of the 90 days of summer, it has rained for 60. I would add that I certainly can’t remember there being 30 days without rain, but I don’t mean to quibble.

 With blue skies, warmth in the air and a gentle breeze it took me 10 minutes to get to a spot I really like. The ground was hard going, but it was still good fun. The bridges were slightly drier and as such, didn’t cause the front wheel to skate off alarmingly if approached at any angle other than perfectly upright and perpendicular. I could throw some shapes which felt good.

 Still the stoke was missing.

Soon enough, with a window of a little over an hour possible, I turned tail and headed home. On the way, there is a small section of trail behind a wide, all-conditions path that is typically pretty muddy in several spots. For some reason I decided to give it a go despite the fact I might have ended up hub deep. It winds, dives, ducks and rattles over complexes of slick, grasping roots. Rhododendrons and gnarly old trees are close to you and there are several tree stumps that need to be avoided. It feels like an obstacle course in a corridor of greenery.

In order to make it through any potential deep mud baths I decided to absolutely batter into the trail, full steam ahead. In doing so, I came to realise how seldom I let it all hang out and give the trail everything I have. The risk of crashing is too great I suspect. But for that 50 odd meters of trail I gave it some proper sausage.

 Near the exit point back onto the wider trail there is a sharp left straight into a hard right hand carve around a tree stump before exiting over some roots and taking a far right line around a mud pit and over some more roots. The move feels kind of like a slingshot. As I made the transition from the initial left hand into the carve around the stump it became apparent that I was leaning so far over and the tyres were sliding out to the degree that my knee was going to impact the stump. I adjusted, unclipped and stamped on the stump with my right foot before careening into the mud pit section and at the last split second hauling the bars up and slamming the bike into the roots and then onwards. The Jones responds to these inputs ridiculously well. The harder you go the more it excels. As I joined the main path I did indeed whoop. Stoke achieved. Mission accomplished.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Long Way Round.

I have always been fascinated with joining the dots in the highlands. Routing several amazing sections of trail into a big loop can be deeply satisfying as well as a significant challenge. The challenge comes from the mapwork, the altitude lost and gained, the qualities of the terrain covered and the sheer distance.

 This time i decided to loop to the east of the Cairngorm. Aviemore-Ryvoan-Larig an Laoigh-Linn of Dee-Mar-Invercauld-Loch Builg-Tomintoul-Dorback and the Braes of Abernethy.

And back. Hopefully.

 It is a long way, not so much in terms of absolute distance, more that the trails can be tough and the climbs relatively big. Maul was the steed of choice. This pure xc rig is such a profound pleasure to ride and it just eats up miles.

I had planned to leave late, bivi somewhere near the start of the loop and hit the trails early. However, the weather once again decided to throw a curve ball. The deluge that spread up from the south was moving north at a rate that would have me arrive in rain, spend an uncomfortable night hoping i didnt body-bag down a water run off and resurface no doubt sodden and sleepless. That would be if i made the A9 after a long day and in bad conditions.

Hmmm. Decision made: i stalled and left early the next day, which went well, but it meant my ride started at nearly 11am. My calculations and hairy eyeballing of the map led me to believe i would be looking at 10 and a half to 11 hours of riding. If the weather was ok. At about hour 7, i realised i had made a mistake. I had followed dubious sign posting from Invercauld, rather than my out of date map and my nose and what i could see didnt marry up to the mental image i had from the map. After looking at the map and not really recognising the terrain and repeating this several times over a solid half hour i accepted that i had a problem.

I was lost.

The trails i was on were not on my map and if i spent any serious time trying to look at said map i was literally being digested where i squatted by midge. No good. No good at all. So i made the call. The call i had hoped i would never make.

I like to think that my mountain craft is reasonable. If that doesnt get me through, i'm pretty damn pertinacious. This time however, i had at least 3 hours to go, 2 hours of daylight max, a small head torch and 'issues' with stopping to route find. When i came into a mobile phone window i called trina and let her know that i was lost, my last known location was Auchtaven and although i pretty much knew where i was i couldnt find the link to the drove road to Loch Builg i wanted to take. As such, i wasnt going to be home any time soon, but i was in one piece, had food, warm clothing and....

....then the signal went. Trina has known me forever and is very sensible. I knew she wouldnt worry, but i still disliked the fact i had felt the need to call and cause some anxiety. Midge be damned, i stopped, orientated my map properly and worked out that i needed to cross some farm land to join the trail i needed. So be it. In my mind, i scanned backwards and realised that a signpost i had followed had not been a right of way path sign to Loch Builg, but an estate walking route sign. This had flipped me through 45 degrees and led to me going east of a hill, rather than west and as the miles went by the size of the error magnified. This had been compounded because my map was old and didnt have these trails marked. This resulted in my thinking i was on the correct route until i was a good way off course. Ah well.

I had plenty of time to ponder the mistake as i struggled up the trail on the flank of Carn Liath. Right after i sped out of Tomintoul and joined the trail to Dorback Lodge, the night fell. I had some trails to find to get back to Ryvoan and then onto Aviemore. However, my willingness to stop and be ravaged by the noseeums had gone. I was literally breathing the midge in if i dropped my pace and any error of route finding would have caused a serious tantrum.

I bailed and took the road towards Nethy Bridge and then back via Coylumbridge. The estimated 20 ish miles of road in the dark after a long day in the saddle was harsh, but closing the loop and finishing a great day in the hills was worth it.

Photos: i struggled with camera settings. The light was flat and the day overcast. However, i did escape any precipitation. The trail down the Larig an Laoigh was washed out - a great trail diminished. The bike got a shoeing. The grit is phenomenal in that area and as it built up it wore a notch in the back of the fork - small but annoying. The drive chain needs a full strip and clean. But overall it was a potent machine to travel on. If i had time id mess around with these photos and try to bring out some of the fine views, but i'm not even sure i have the skills to salvage anything. Still, enjoy and dream of big days in open, wild land.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Going your own way/not going your own way.

This is my 1000th post. Who knew this would go on (+ on...) so long.

Early start. Glenmore lodge. Lairig an Laoigh. Linn of Dee. Mar, Invercauld then Loch Builg. Tomintoul. Dorback. A story there, but for when i have time. Back to Aviemore.

Eleven and a half hours and this ride *did* go to eleven.

More shortly.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Perfect timing.

Sort of.

I'm sitting in the kitchen, looking out the window at the tail end of a passing front that is creeping over Scotland from south west to north east. It is moving at roughly 40 kph i'd estimate. Today i packed various bits and bobs into the car and was going to leave for Aviemore area about 30 minutes ago. The idea was a bivi or rough camp, up early and hit the trails. come back late thursday.

As i was about to get in the car the skies literally opened and anything wet that was up there fell through. Hmm. Quick look at MWIS and met office. Estimate timescales. I'd hit Aviemore right before the front did. That would mean i'd have to get into a bivi sack wet and spend the night sweating as the humidity is high plus plus. Probably not such a comfortable way to spend the night. So, needelss to say, the weather wins again; i'm grounded. Boosh. It's been challenging to keep my sense of humour with this 'summer', it really has.

So: perfect timing to reflect on a trip (in sunshine, mostly, no less) into the hills a wee while ago. Torridon.

Odd how things cluster, right? Recently some friends, some magazines and some videos have popped up displaying this highland area's ample attractions. Big mountains, stunning lochs, ferocious midge and the rest.

I've never spent much time there, afterall it is a whole hell of a long way from anywhere. But with a couple of days off work i hit the road. Itinerary: Glen Affric in the afternoon, head round the classic loop, but lollipop it out to Alltbeithe YHA hut and see what the trail out to the back of the five sisters of Kintail would be like for a possible bike packing mission. Glen Affric was a little disappointing. Easy trail, heavy rain, clegg bites a-plenty. But the trail to Alltbeithe was good and would be no problem lightly loaded. Hmmm. My off road path to Plockton plan gathers steam.

I headed back to the car and then past a very exposed Cluanie dam to Plockton, where i spent a very pleasant evening with Plockton Brewery's Starboard ale and devouring an amazing smoked seafood platter at the Plockton Inn.

After a later night than planned, on account of the outstanding local musicicians, i made an early start and drove up to Achnashellach Station. The route from here had been born of pouring over the maps the night before and a wee bit of beta from guide books and forums.

I rode down to Coulags and took the trail up to Loch Fionnaraich, to Bealach na Lice, sped down the nearly peerless descent to Annat, pedaled up the tarmac to Loch Claire, under the watchful gaze of Beinn Eighe and took the forest track to Coulin. At a split, i ascended amazing singletrack to the shoulder of Beinn Liath Mhor and Coire Lair. It was too much to gaze upon this glorious ribbon of trail, so despite tired legs i climbed to the Bealach Ban and turned tail dropping what i think IS peerless trail all the way to Achnashellach.

On the way home i stopped off for a loop of the Badaguish trail we used for the Singlespeed worlds. It still rocks. then i came home spent but a deeply satisfied man. Here are some photos.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Mocked up. Thanks to Jason Plum who has been much help with sorting out clearances etc.

Pretty much everything here will be changed except the basic xtracycle frame and Kelly frame, but this gives me the rough outline and i have more clearance at the rear than i thought i might. This is good!....

Ok. Marty and Sue are getting married, which is making me very happy indeed...more after the celebrations.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Doing sums....

So: rumour is a 35c 700c tyre will work in the rear of an Xtracycle...thats about 692mm overall diameter.  But 35c is no good for rough roads and a load. So what to do? On the one hand 26" is strongest (of the viable alternatives). But, 650b rolls betterer and gives me better gears with the cassettes  i can use (this build will be last issue Saint mech and 1x9).

I have cross tyres that are nominally 35c as well that go about 695mm diameter on Stans 355 rims. I have a quasi moto on an arch that is 697mm diameter and a neo moto on a P35 that is 699mm diameter.

At present the build is: old school Kelly RoShamBo with a Moonlander fork, Xtracycle, GMG Yepp seat for the bairn, and a rear DT 350 centrelock/DT comp/DT prolock/Pacenti DL31 rim and quasimoto wheel build...front is going to be a Paul Comp rear hub, and i'll probably pull the A317 rim in favour of something beefier.....we'll see.

I will (of course) report back. Should be good.

1x9, old style saint mech and an old man huffing and puffing his daughter to nursery....

On a side note, once you get looking at bikes that are there to do more than just be fun to ride, you could get pretty hooked. Check this out:

Core 77 coverage of Oregon Manifest.

Monday, August 06, 2012


I have become one of them.

(pic pinched from xtracycle blog) I've been struggling with how to commute by bike with Daisy and get supplies and deal with the rubbish condition of roads, poor or aggressive driving and the possibility to take the path less travelled. I'll report back once it is together. At present, we will be moonlander forked in order to run a wide ub for strength and stiffness. I'll run race kings on 700c rims and will use gears and disc brakes. I may fit a front rack. I may not. The beard *is* longer and fuller.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


Ok. Desperate weather calls for desperate measures: i went to the gym.

We joined so we could take Daisy swimming. Really...i'm not a closet bicep curler. Daisy has chicken pox, but is cheery despite the itch. Tough wee chick.

 I went for a 50 mile spin on the road bike the other day and suffered like a dog. Two and a half hours of pain, anguish and self loathing. Well, maybe not *that* bad, but not good either.

I need to face up to the fact that i am not at all fit and the only way to deal with that (as Ice Cube would say) is to hit the ergo. So, a quick warm up with some 16 kg kettle bells - swings, presses, punching and press ups - and i got down to business. I usually combine distance (say 5 or 10k) with some intervals if i'm using an ergo, but it has been a loooong time. Today i kept it simple: 5 sets of 1.40 minute 500 meter rows with 1.40 minute recovery inbetween. I made it through just under the times, but damn, i hurt.

My hands have the tell tale red areas just at the base of my fingers that will become callouses before too long and the quads and lower back are feeling it. This is good though. You dont change your physical condition without some pain. Bring it on.

What else? Bradley Wiggins. So impressed.

Parts being messed around with: Saint clutch rear mech. Initial impression: RAD.

King Cage top cap bottle cage holder. Initial impression: useful if awkward looking.

Chris King greasing and fitting tools for the bottom bracket. Initial impression: work a treat. Super smooth servicing for the first and better fit than a Pedro's cup tool for the latter.

Ok: my dad's 70th today. Happy Birthday dad!