bicycle race

Heaton Park Surly Big DummyA few days ago, I read somewhere that a cyclocross race was going on in a big park not far from where I live so I made plans to head down there with a flask of something hot and watch a bit of the action.

By pure coincidence, my friends from the bike shop were also planning to go down and heckle support some of their customers who were taking part. When they mentioned they’d be bringing hot chocolate and beer, I was completely sold.

Heaton Park Surly Ogre BOB YakFor no particular reason, I hitched my BOB Yak up to the Ogre and loaded it up with little folding stools, a box of cake and a flask of tea.

“Did you really need to bring the trailer?” Rich asked me. “Of course not!”, I responded. But hey, I’ve never let common sense get in the way of having fun before and I’m certainly not going to start now!

What with it being Sunday, I thought I’d take the opportunity to squeeze in Coffeeneuring trip 2:

  1. Where I went: My first ‘coffee shop without walls’ of the challenge – Heaton Park, Manchester.
  2. Date I went there: Sunday 5th October 2014.
  3. What I drank: Well, therein lies a tale.
    Coffeeneuring2 hot chocolate and cakeFirst, I had an instant hot chocolate made by Rich on his jet boil stove with a blueberry & lemon cake made by Karen – it was a surprisingly good combo and I’m glad I resisted the repeated offers of a shot of Whisky in my hot chocolate. Some of the others were not so strong and ended up with more whiskey than hot chocolate…
    Coffeeneuring2 Duvel beerSoon enough, however, I caved and had a bottle of Duvel. IT. WAS. DELCIOUS. A little later, I caved a little more and had a bottle of Sol. IT. WAS. ALSO. DELICIOUS. All around me, people were supping assorted beers and taking swigs from the ever-present flask of whiskey. Still, I resisted.
    Coffeeneuring2 teaIn between beers, I had some of the tea I’d brought with me. It was tea. It was not especially delicious. I continued to resist the whiskey, largely because I can’t abide the taste of the stuff but mostly because I wanted to make it home in one piece.
  4. Heaton Park Surly Big DummyA detail or two about my coffeeneuring ride: My left knee started hurting during yesterday’s ride and is really quite painful today. I stopped at the supermarket on the way to buy marshmallows but they didn’t have any. The road to the park was randomly closed for resurfacing so I had to take a huge diversion. My trailer has developed an odd noise. There was a lot to be grumpy about but, do you know what? I think I’m starting to understand this whole Coffeeneuring business… When you force yourself to ride slowly and then you just spend some time hanging out with good friends, sharing the contents of your assorted panniers / trailers / frame bags in nice surroundings, soaking up what remains of the day’s warmth as you heckle those crazy enough to actually partake in the racing, there’s all of a sudden nothing at all to feel grumpy about.
  5. Bike friendliness of the locale: Well, it’s a public park with plenty of nice wide paths and some really nice scenery so it scores very well on bike friendliness initally. But, if you want to leave your bike somewhere and go for a walk in the woods or pop into the coffee shop or even just take a leak, there is absolutely NOWHERE to lock your bike up. That’s fine if you have someone to watch it or you’re a risk taker but I think it again shows how little thought goes into the needs of your average bike rider when public places in England are being put together. Is this a problem in other countries, I wonder?
  6. Mileage: Probably 10 – 15, especially with the unplanned diversion.
  7. Must visit?: Meh.

So, there you have it. 2 of my 7 coffeeneuring rides completed on the first weekend of the challenge – tune in next week for more of the same!

Oh, and because I know you love ’em and we didn’t see anyone riding one in the race, here’s a few pictures of our collection of Surly bikes.

Surly Big Dummy Surly Crosscheck Surly Steamroller single speed CrosscheckSurly just because sticker

live is life

 

Corr, they don’t make ’em like this anymore…

“Na na na na na…” I defy you to not tap your foot along to this tune. It’s just SO BAD.

So bad it’s AWESOME.

“NA NA NA NA NA…”

But I digress.

When I last reported on my progress with the Chasing Mailboxes 2014 Errandonnee Challenge, I had 8 errands in the bag and was well on track to complete the challenge with plenty of time to spare.

But, as is so often the way, stupid real life had other ideas.

1926822_10152500650639863_1903618558_nFirst up on the list of things conspiring to prevent me from spending my precious time off work cycling was a blown tyre on the car. It turns out the odd sensation I could feel when driving was a bulge where the carcass had let go. Naturally, the corresponding tyre on the other side was about to let go too so I set off in search of 2 new tyres.

But wait!

When I came to throw the spare tyre on, I realised that was also balder than my friend Geordie (his words, not mine) so I actually set of in search of 3 new tyres. Harumph.

1982055_10152502637289863_979880809_nWith my wallet considerably lighter and any prospect of escaping for a few days camping melting away, Karen took me out at the weekend to cheer me up. We had a lovely time mooching around Manchester museum followed by a quick pint of Dead Pony Club in Brew Dog and then a rather delicious Sunday lunch with cocktails. All in all, it was a great day but again, I got no errandonneering done!

The beer and cocktails helped numb the pain of buying the tyres though.

Yesterday, I’m sorry to say my own laziness and lousy weather was to blame for my lack of errandonneering. The couch was just too comfortable, Star Trek was just too watchable and the rain was just too horizontal.

Soooo…

Today, I set out on something of an errandonneering blitz (I suspect I may be stretching the rules just a little bit with some of these):

Errand #9: Training ride | category: personal care & health | miles: 33 (also covers errands #10 & #11) | thing I learned / observed: My Surly Ogre tows my BOB Yak beautifully (today was the first time I’d taken them out together)

Here’s a gratuitous shot of them both, down by the banks of Rivington reservoir:

Surly Ogre BOB Yak 21975166_10152511519219863_948438478_nWhilst I was out, I thought I’d take the opportunity to stop for a bite to eat so I parked the bike, found myself a sunny spot to nom my sanger and watched people stop to admire my bike and trailer.

Errand #10: stopping for lunch | category: breakfast or lunch | miles: 33 (combined for errands #9 – #11) | thing I learned / observed: I have an unhealthy addiction to sandwiches, particularly when they’re made with thick, soft bread.

Temporarily refuelled by said sanger, I took a gulp of energy drink and set off on the second half of my training ride. On the way, I wanted to swing by the farm shop to see what they had and, whilst there, I grabbed an emergency banana to help quell the ever-increasing build up of lactic acid in my tortured thighs.

1526096_10152511518469863_1919541855_nErrand #11: trip to the farm shop for emergency banana | category: grocery store | miles: 33 (combined for errands #9 – #11) | thing I learned / observed: bananas have actual magical powers

And so, on the final official day of the 2014 Errandonnee Challenge, I’ve come up one errand short – time will tell whether any of the previous so-called-errands I’ve claimed will be disallowed.

BUT WAIT!

Despite the fact we haven’t had a single flake of anything even remotely resembling snow at all this entire winter over here in the UK, the poor old ‘Mericans have been suffering and just this week Washington D.C. had something of a deluge so Errandonnee Challenge organiser MG declared a snow day and extended the deadline to tomorrow! It appears I have one last chance to shoe-horn one last errand in…

In celebration, here’s a gratuitous shot of my Surly Ogre avec BOB Yak outside the farm shop:

Surly Ogre BOB Yak 1

something inside so strong

 

Whilst I was away, suffering from a bad case of real life syndrome and, more recently, a horrible respiratory infection, I had quite literally millio… no, thousan… hundre… OK, so I had one person contact me demanding an update to my blog. Clearly, over a month without a new instalment of Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia! was just too much to bear.

You may even recall me promising a special month long special edition… and, here it is! Please, try to control your excitement.

 

You asked for it, I promised to do it.

You asked for it again, I promised to do it again.

You kept asking for it, I kept promising to do it.

At some time in the last month, you asked for it yet again; so, without further ado, by popular demand, you-kept-asking-for-it-so-I’m-finally-doing-it… yes, yes, it’s finally time for a “Keep Pedalling wheel build review”.

32421_10151271550494863_43233265_nYou may recall I originally built my Surly Troll with an old Sun Rims Ditch Witch wheelset I had lying around the garage. Super wide disc specific rims with a matt black finish, I loved them and I quite literally rode them into the ground; relenting only when the hubs were making so much noise I was worried I wouldn’t make it all the way home (hence the boxes of brand new shiny in my trailer).

206696_10151327132799863_2024200714_nHere’s the finished article being used in anger atop the Hill of Death. For the wheel building nerds out there, here are the specs:

Halo Aerowarrior 26″ disc specific rims in white, Shimano Deore XT 36 hole quick release 6 bolt disc hubs in black and regular, bust-one-and-you-can-get-it-fixed-just-about-anywhere round stainless steel spokes in silver; none of your fancy black bladed [read expensive and almost never in stock] spokes here.

Of course, these wheels were hand built by Rich at Keep Pedalling in Manchester. Interestingly enough, he was actually recommending a cheaper, more sensible, touring bike rim but hey, what’s rock ‘n’ roll about that? So, I splurged the extra cash and went with the Halos.

They’ve been on the bike now for a little over 6 months and have done somewhere between 2000 and 3000 miles (I really haven’t been keeping count) on road, off road, through rain, snow, mud, sand… you name it.

The XT hubs are super smooth and super quiet and will be treated to a service in another 6 months’ time. The rims are as perfectly straight as the day I picked them up and, despite the daily abuse I give the bike, I’m yet to break a single spoke (of course, I fully expect to break several tomorrow now I’ve jinxed it!).

So, how do I rate the quality of Keep Pedalling’s wheel building service? Well, I’m currently saving up to have another one done. What does that tell you?

Oh, I almost forgot! My favourite search term from the last month? Well, it just has to be:

“Olive at Keep Pedalling”

Olive

pour some sugar on me

I love it when a post comes together.

This week’s foray into the murky world of ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’ is quite literally a little bit interesting… It’s almost as though the search engine gods had some kind of master plan when they gave us such gems as:

“schwalbe kojak brompton pressure”

and

“bob yak lowrider”

Regular visitors will of course be familiar with me and my Yak and the nightmares fun we have together.

31696_433159445659_539585659_6272016_296285_nIrregular visitors [see what I did there?] may even be familiar with the saga of the wheel… you see, all that time ago when I spent all that money on all that trailer I was thoroughly disappointed to find the stock wheel & tyre supplied with my BOB Yak had clearly been pinched from the nearest kid’s bike and thrown in my box.

A lot of time, a heap of internet research and more visits to various bike shops than even I think was appropriate and I was all kinds of familiar with the different versions of 16″ wheels and 16″ tyres, none, NONE of which are interchangeable.

Originally, I bought a stock Brompton front wheel and a 349c 16″ Schwalbe Kojak slick tyre (tyre pressure is between 60ish and 120ish, as I recall) but it turned out the axle length on Brompton wheels is considerably narrower than the 100mm (standard front axle) width the Yak required; so, replacement wheel #1 was promptly sold.

150030_465165489862_6224409_nReplacement wheel #2 was a 305c 16″ lowrider wheel complete with 16 x 1.75″ white wall tyre; essentially the same wheel & tyre size as the original but with extra bling bling, 17 million spokes and a couple of extra pounds weight. Cool eh?

Cool, heavy and blinging aside, that wheel really isn’t much better than the stock kid’s bike one I started with and, although the tyre would accept a little more pressure (and therefore drag less on the road), it really wasn’t the solution I was looking for.

270547_10150255310509863_784234862_7043533_3617116_nCue replacement wheel #3: a custom built 349c Brompton rim laced to a standard 100mm wide quick release road hub, all wrapped in a brand new 16 x 1″ Schwalbe Kojak tyre – sweet. I can run this with high or low pressure (dependent on how much weight I have in the trailer), it’s super light, nice and strong, the tyre’s super sticky and it comes with awesome puncture protection and reflective tyre labels.

It’s amazing the difference it makes to the feel and handling of the trailer. In those bad old early days with the crappy original, I remember dragging the damned thing up and down hideous climbs and I distinctly remember the crappy tyre buzzing on the tarmac, sidewalls pathetically flexing under load and generally ruining my life.

These days, I fit the trailer to the back of the bike and just forget it’s there! No matter how much weight I have in it, the larger rolling diameter, slick tread, higher pressures and more resilient sidewalls just keep the trailer well planted and make sure it’s not ruining my life any more than it should.

Which all leads rather nicely to my favourite search term from this week’s selection:

“kendal mint cake cycling”

Now, I happen to lurve Kendal Mint Cake and on more than one occasion it’s saved me from certain bonk atop a ridiculous climb in equally ridiculous heat… I mean, come on, 4 different kinds of sugar all melted down, given a minty fresh zing, (sometimes) wrapped in chocolate and sold in gift shops everywhere… what’s not to like?

Yes, it’s true they climbed Mount Everest on it. Yes, it’s true I’ve had a bar of it in my cupboard for ever. Yes, it’s true I sometimes take it with me when I’m cycling but no, it’s not true that it’s a good cycling food.

Kendal Mint Cake, as awesomely tasty, minty and sugary as it may be, is really not much more than a block of pure sugar. Now, sugar’s great for picking you up when you’re down and a bar of the white stuff (I prefer the brown, personally) will certainly beat off the worst bonk but it won’t last for long.

Your body burns sugar really quickly and, before you know it, you’ll be back to bonking again and it’s only going to be worse because you’ll also be crashing from your sugar high.

So, by all means, grab a bar or two from the gift shop and stick it in your pockets but rely on it in small bites at a time as only the last of last resorts – you’d do much better to get plenty of slow release energy into you prior to the ride with some Clif Bars and / or bananas in your pockets.

Other high quality energy bars and fruit are available.

sexy boy

It’s OK. You can all breathe again. No need to sit on the edge of your seats anymore. I know you’ve probably all got the shakes from missing out on a whole week’s instalment of ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’ but worry ye not, dear readers, lifeinthecyclelane is still alive and kicking; we’re just broadcasting to you from a new undisclosed location somewhere to the West of Manchester.

So, with the madness of the move out of the way, whatever passes for normal service around here has resumed.

The usual suspects have been out in force this week…

…all of which is very interesting, I’m sure you’ll agree but the one which really caught my eye was:

“Route 54 porn”

One can only assume this person was referring to National Cycle Network Route 54 which is well known for being quite literally littered with por… no, wait. That’d be weird…

Well, whatever they happened to be searching for, it kinda got me to thinking about the time I spent on NCN Route 54 and, more specifically, the off road stretch of it known as the White Peak Loop – you can read a quick report here.

Route 54 sceneryHome to some of Derbyshire’s finest scenery which, on the day in question, was bathed in glorious sunshine, it’s fair to say the White Peak Loop is a beautiful place to be and you could certainly do worse than spend an afternoon there with a nice picnic and a loved one (or two, if you’re lucky). As per my initial report though, you are hereby officially warned against heading there with heavily laden touring bikes.

Whim AlesHead just off the trail and you’ll (eventually) stumble across Whim Ales; a very small brewery at the top of a very large hill. As we were on ‘The Brewery Tour’, visiting as many breweries as possible (and bagging as much free booze as possible), we stuck our heads around the door and were given an impromptu tour by the poor unsuspecting folks we met inside. Considering they’re not open to the public, don’t do tastings or sales and we were filthy, sweaty and wild-eyed, we received a warm welcome and a cold wine bottle full of one of their beers (for free). It almost made the hideous climb all worth it. Almost.

HartleburyHead off the trail again (free beer safely stashed in the trailer) and you’ll find yourself feeding the ducks in the delightful little village of Hartington.

OK, so there weren’t actually any ducks but the duck pond itself was very pretty and it made for a lovely little lunch spot. Oh, don’t be deceived by this rare patch of flat road, by the way; being Derbyshire, you’re never far from some kind of climb and / or descent… there’s one just down there around the corner as it goes.

TissingtonSo, head just down there around the corner and climb the hill (it’s a beautiful road cut into the hillside) and you’ll soon find yourself turning onto the traffic free (mostly) flat and extremely pretty (so pretty I didn’t take any pictures of it) Tissington Trail; so named because it runs through the equally pretty little village of Tissington which just happens to be an excellent spot to stop and nom some malt loaf.

Me & GC @ Ashbourne TunnelFollow it all the way to the Southern tip like we did and you’ll find yourself posing in front of the Ashbourne Tunnel for a rather questionable picture in your rather questionable shorts.

What’s not to like?

where i sleep

32421_10151271550494863_43233265_n 230364_10150182409499863_784234862_6525550_7502398_n 6770_119490954862_2238006_n

There’s a definite theme to this week’s ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’… funny how that happens.

Yes, this week we’ve had some gems as:

  • BOB Nutz Surly
  • twin wheel transporter trailer weight empty
  • BOB trailer with horizontal dropouts
  • I’m starting to live in my cargo trailer (my personal favourite)

Yes, this week it’s all about the humble cargo trailer and the somewhat eccentric people who own and love them… it almost feels like I should be narrating a late night TV show on Channel 4.

As you can see, I’m no stranger to bicycle trailers and I’ve put my time in with both of the main types; single wheel and twin wheel. I’ve ridden with them on road, off road, along dedicated cycle routes and through busy city traffic. I’ve had them loaded up with everything from scrumped apples to camping gear & clothes to a new wheelset to a vintage bike.

I’ve towed a trailer in relentless heat, freezing cold, pouring rain and strong winds. I’ve towed on the flat, up hills and down dales. Heck, I’ve even been known to take my trailer to work on my morning commute.

So, which is best? Well, very much like my thoughts on DMR Moto vs Halo Twin Rail tyres, I think it really comes down to the kind of riding you want to do:

  • Find yourself mainly cycling on nice, flat surfaces with plenty of room around you? Not too worried about the contents of your trailer coming into contact with the elements? No obstacles too narrow to navigate on your ride?
    • If you’ve answered “yes” to most of these, chances are you’re a fairly relaxed cyclist and you use your trailer mainly for pootling down to the supermarket or taking a picnic to the park.
    • For you, I am recommending the twin wheel type trailer. This is because they’re relatively cheap, don’t require any particularly complex hardware to fit to your bike and really don’t affect the handling of the bike too much.
    • There are some cons, however; by way of their design, they are naturally wider than your bike which means you need to take care when navigating narrow passages etc. Also, the trailer will want to cut in when you turn so a little extra turning circle is required.
    • Oh, and the one I used was just about as waterproof as your average colander so you’ll need to be OK with your belongings getting wet should it rain.
  • After a trailer to use on a regular basis, be it for your business, touring around the world, or just carrying stuff and things from here to there?
    • If so, I’m recommending for you the single wheel type trailer, like my BOB Yak.
    • Thanks to their design, most single wheel trailers are not much (if any) wider than the bike you’re towing them with. Mounting hardware normally comes in the shape of a replacement quick release skewer or axle nuts so fitting really shouldn’t be too difficult.
    • The major benefits for me are the aerodynamic advantage you get from the trailer hiding behind the bike (a huge advantage over panniers too, by the way) and the fact the trailer simply follows the bike in an arc so you don’t need to worry about your turning circle at all.
    • There are cons, of course. This type of trailer is not cheap… mine came in around the £350 mark but it did come with all the fittings I needed, a waterproof sack and the peace of mind that it’ll hold its value should I ever decide to sell it on.

There are plenty of other considerations too… riding off road really sucks with a twin wheel trailer and, because the single wheel ones mount from both sides of the rear axle, they do tend to have a steering effect on the bike.

Also, there’s the push-me-pull-you that comes with having any kind of weight hanging off the back of the bike and what we shall refer to today simply as ‘The Redditch Incident’… more on that another time.

This year, I’ll be touring not with my trailer but front & rear panniers so keep your eyes peeled for a direct comparison of the 2 options; in the meantime, I think this picture best explains the love / hate relationship I have with my Yak.

31696_433159445659_539585659_6272016_296285_n

girls, girls, girls

 

Being the lazy, no good civil servant I am, I haven’t been at work since some time back in late December; even then, I wasn’t really working… In any event, I’ve completely lost track of who I am and what day it is but those in the know tell me it’s Thursday today which can mean only one thing!

Yes, it’s time for yet another round of:

Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!

Please, try to contain your excitement.

As ever, I’ve been inundated with questions and keywords this week and here are my favourites:

  • “will a washer stop axle sliding in horizontal dropouts?”
  • “can you fit a BOB Yak to a bike with disc brakes?”
  • “do bullhorn bars fit any fixie?”
  • “Schwalbe Kojak tyre pressure”
  • “Surly Troll image”
  • “leather girl on bike porn”
    • Wait. What?
  • “spandex bodysuit see through wet messy”
    • Dude, you’re clearly looking in the wrong place.

A fairly obscure selection this week, I’m sure you’ll agree! Perhaps it’s high time I went back to work…

In other news, keep your eyes peeled over the next few days for a review of my custom wheelset I had built by the good people over at Keep Pedalling, Manchester.

how bizarre

 

People give me strange looks from time to time… sometimes, children point and say things. I suppose I should be offended but there’s something I quite like about being quirky, enigmatic and just a little bit unhinged. Maybe when I get old, I’ll live in a ramshackle old house and yell at the neighbourhood kids for playing on my lawn…

Anyway, I’ve always put these odd looks down to my homeless guy beard, my patented so-long-and-messy-it’s-not-actually-messy hairstyle and my rock hard body (OK, I made that last one up) but recently I’ve been getting more looks and pointing children than is normal, even for me.

And the cause of this fascination? Well, I live in (but am not originally from) Manchester so maybe the local wildlife is trying to figure out why I’m not dressed in a tracksuit, don’t look like a member of Oasis and haven’t got a ‘retro’ vinyl Lonsdale sports bag permanently slung over my shoulder. But no, I suspect it’s something much simpler than that.

Powder coated in a shade of bright orange any Manc would be kill to have a tracksuit made in, my Surly Troll and its matching bright orange Ortlieb panniers is the kind of thing that stops people in their tracks and makes them say things like “Maaate, look at them tyres”, “F**k me, he means business” and the suchlike… I don’t know, maybe they’re only used to seeing bikes right before they cut the locks off.

Attach my BOB Yak to the Troll and even the traffic stops to gawp. This has its benefits of course, primary amongst which is the extra room you’re given on the road but it’s certainly not the kind of thing you want to do if you’re self concious.

This week, I realised the bearings in my wheel hubs had reached the end of their usable lives and were slowly but surely eating themselves resulting in the kind of noise that forced me into the bike shop (yeah, right, I need to be forced to go there) and further forced me to determine that buying a brand spangley new wheelset would make more financial sense than having the current hubs rebuilt; my girlfriend was not quite so easily convinced.

A few days later and my new wheels are built! You’ll have to wait for pictures of them fitted to the bike (that’s a job for this weekend) but for now, imagine this:

  • Halo Aerowarrior 26″ rims in white
  • Shimano XT quick release disc hubs in black
  • 28 strong, stainless steel spokes per wheel in shiny silver

Yep, as if it wasn’t already a head turner, those white rims are only going to make it stand out more!

So this morning I attached my BOB Yak single wheel cargo trailer to the Troll using the dedicated BOB Nutz I spent so long fitting to the frame and dragged it into work so I could pick up my new wheels on the way home. It’s a fairly odd experience pulling an empty trailer behind the bike and it certainly provokes more than a few odd looks; it also has a disturbing tendency to spring into the air if you crash it through a big enough pothole – you have been warned.

Loaded up with a bit of weight however, the Yak starts making all kinds of sense; it stays planted thanks to the really low centre of gravity and, because it mounts from both sides of the frame and has a single wheel at the back, it leans with the bike, flows through corners in a perfect curve with the bike and comes with almost no aero drag because it’s no wider than the bike. It really is genius.

The Troll too is weird. The geometry of the frame is all kinds of bizarre, no matter which way you slice it; stick drop bars on like I have and it just gets stranger… But again, start weighing it down with stuff & things and it all makes perfect sense.

The awesome people over at Keep Pedalling in Manchester (yes, it’s a shameless plug – go there and spend money!) have been really good to me, offering to take in a delivery of the afore mentioned stuff & things this week which I picked up today with my wheels – I’d got the Troll & the Yak… what could possibly go wrong?

Well, nothing as it turns out! It has to be said, I wasn’t quite expecting so many stuff & things to be there but I somehow managed to stuff it all into my panniers, strap it onto my front & rear racks and load it into the trailer. With all that bulk and weight, lesser bikes could certainly become unsettled on the road but my On One Midge ‘dirt drop’ bars provide me with a really wide, comfortable riding position which helps to keep the overall centre of gravity low and the whole load nice and stable.

Sure, a lot of people gawped at me on the ride home and several children pointed and said things I’m sure they thought were funny but hey, this is why I spent all that money on the bike and trailer:

somebody that I used to know

 

If I had my way, I’d have a huge barn out in the countryside. Inside, I’d have a couple of old leather couches, an antique fridge full of excellent beer and one of those funky old jukeboxes with lots of chrome and big chunky buttons.

The walls would be adorned with old tin advertising plates and maybe even the odd picture of a scantily clad girl or two. In the corner, there would be my Park Tool workstand, a nice long wooden workbench and my beloved old Snap On tool chest with all my tools carefully organised into their respective drawers.

The rest of the barn would be laid out with row after row of bike stands, displaying all the bikes I’ve ever owned and, because I’m uber rich in my fantasy barn, I would’ve owned an awful lot more bikes by now than I actually have.

There’s just one minor snag… I’m not rich.

Harumph.

Oh well. For now, I’ll just have to do without the beer fridge and jukebox and settle for putting the couple of old advertising signs I have up in the Man Cave. On the plus side, I do own a beautiful old Snap On tool chest but I must confess it’s not nearly as carefully organised as it should be.

Now, as much as it pains me to admit that Karen’s always right… well, she is always right. In this particular instance, she’s been at me recently telling me I just can’t keep my entire collection of bikes; and so, the time has come to clear a few out which has got me all nostalgic about some of my favourite rides:

Way back when, I was the proud owner of a Raleigh Pioneer Trial hybrid which was my first ‘proper’ bike. With flat bars and bar ends, 700c wheels, 21 gears and an all steel frameset with plenty of rake on the fork (Tim will no doubt like this one), this remains one of my all time favourite bikes.

As I started doing more and more miles, I started learning about bikes and bike parts and my faithful old Raleigh was more than happy to go along with my experimentation. Here she is with American Classic wheels, Shimano Deore 27 speed drivetrain, the first of many Charge Spoon saddles I’ve owned and my friend’s Bumper Transporter twin wheel trailer in tow. Eventually, I ended selling the Raleigh to a nice Lithuanian guy who is hopefully still commuting around the Midlands on it.

Before long, I’d built up enough knowledge to have a go at building my own bike and, following a rather steep learning curve, I put together my first mountain bike with my first set of Halo Twin Rail tyres, disc brakes and Marzocchi suspension forks. Man, I loved that bike! And man, was I fat in this picture! I still have some of these parts knocking around but the frame ended up getting sold once I realised it was actually a couple of sizes too small for me (more of that learning curve business).

A short while and quite a lot of saving up later and I put together my beloved Graham Weigh cyclocross bike which taught me so much about road riding, touring and the importance of having the right gearing on your bike. Starting out life with Shimano Tiagra STIs (that’s the flappy paddle style brake / gear levers you see on many road bikes with drop bars – it stands for Shimano Total Integration, by the way), this bike went through various incarnations including aero bars, pannier racks and my introduction to bar end shifters. Here you see it in my favourite setup with full wrap mudguards and matching brown saddle and bar tape. Once I’d built the Troll, there just wasn’t any place for it anymore so again, the frameset got sold off but many of the parts are still knocking around in various boxes that Karen thinks are empty…

In preparation for moving to Manchester, I had to part with my mountain bike. This was another of my all time favourites; the keen eyed observers will recognise the Marzocchi forks and handlebars etc. from my previous MTB and the Race Face chainset from the current Troll build.

The most recent eBay casualty of my collection is my faithful of old Merida. Another much experimented upon bike, I’ve used drop, flat and even butterfly bars on this bike and it really broke my heart to sell it. But, taking the money off the guy certainly helped to numb the pain!

Anyway, with only the Troll in current active service, I am officially a one bike man again… *shudder*

the king of wishful thinking

 

Every year about this time, Geordie and I normally take a couple of weeks off work, load up the bikes with camping gear and disappear off into the countryside; looking to escape real life for a while.

This year, Geordie finds himself in Rome nomming pasta and (no doubt) drinking the region dry of fine wine which leaves me back in England with a week off work and nothing to do…

Inspired by a fellow blogger and Surly Troll owner who’d recently been on a solo bike tour around the Hebrides, I thought it was high time I took my Troll out for its inaugural tour.

I’ve always wanted to do a coast to coast ride and this seemed like the perfect opportunity, what with the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) being on my doorstep and all. But, with pesky real life limiting the spare time I had available, my week long trip gradually got trimmed down to 5, then 4, 3 and, eventually, 2 days.

Needing only a fresh jersey for day 2, a change of clothes for the evening, my camera and a few munchies, I decided against taking the Yak and instead opted for just a set of Ortlieb Back Roller Classic panniers in orange and black. I very nearly bought a matching set of front bags but, as I wouldn’t need them for this trip, decided to save my money. For now, at least.

Jumping onto the Trans Pennine Trail at Hadfield, my journey started out on the Longdendale Trail which forms part of NCN Route 62. The trail from here all the way to the Woodhead Pass is really well signposted and the surface (being an old railway bed) is largely flat, wide and hardpacked earth with a little gravel here and there; ideal for a relaxed ride without any sudden surprises. Being a Tuesday morning, I had the trail almost completely to myself with the exception of a few dog walkers and the occasional mountain biker. As with much of the trail, walkers and cyclists share the main portion of the path with a separate, parallel route on much softer ground for horseriders. In the main, the few pedestrians and their canines gladly moved to one side upon hearing my crunching along the trail or my friendly “Hello!” as I approached them.

You’ll notice I don’t have a bell on my bike… Never have, never will. I think there’s something quite arrogant about ringing a bell at people to get them out of your way… It almost assumes cyclists have the right of way when, actually, the TPT etiquette dictates cyclists should slow down (and stop, if required) for pedestrians. Having ridden with others who do favour a bell, I can say with some authority, my friendly greeting is always more easily heard and better received than that awful ding ding ding noise some people insist upon.

All that said, I did get the occasional scowl from some people as I rode past… Why, I don’t know. I wasn’t going fast, I wasn’t too close, I didn’t run over the dog or splash through a muddy puddle. Maybe it was wind.

Anyway, back to the trail… 8 miles of nice easy riding down and I’m approaching the Woodhead Pass. By now, the trail is starting to get a little rougher and, thanks to the recent heavy rain, there are some sections suffering from localised flooding and, somehow, this small tree has been felled and lies across almost all of the trail.

That said, this still remains a really nice section as it runs past Bottoms, Valehouse, Rhodeswood, Torside and eventually Woodhead reservoirs.  With plenty of car parks along the route (most with public toilets) and not a hill in sight, this is a perfect location for anyone wanting to get into cycling or just rack up a few more miles without the need to ride anywhere near the traffic.

At the end of the Longdendale Trail, things start to change quite dramatically. The former Woodhead Railway would’ve entered a large tunnel which is now closed so the TPT ramps up and heads directly east over the Woodhead Pass. The surface changes too; whilst this might be a short climb, it’s all of 20% (possibly more in places) and the surface is rutted, loose, sandy, rocky and downright difficult to ride up. Putting it in the little ring and staying in the saddle, I somehow managed to keep my Halo Twin Rail tyres gripping onto something and I made it to the first switchback with one eye on the awesome scenery and the other eye on the sheep defiantly lying across the path.

Perhaps I was distracted by the sheep. Perhaps I was in too high a gear. Perhaps I’d got my balance wrong or perhaps Halo Twin Rails at 80psi just aren’t designed to grip on loose gravel, slippery mud or wet grass on an absurd incline. Whatever it was, I managed to fall off twice on this little section of the trail which is the final push to the summit.

Around the corner, the path widens out somewhat and, whilst it’s badly rutted with lots of deep puddles and exposed rocks, at least it’s mostly flat again. Wreaking my revenge on the unruly sheep, I chased them and their bovine comrades off the path all the way to Salter’s Brook.

Pretty and historical as it may be here at Salter’s Brook Bridge, the trail is a cycle lane only insofar as it’s signposted as part of NCN Route 62. The surface is the worst I experienced on the trip; sandy, deeply rutted, frequently interrupted by gates and blighted by 2 crossings of the uber dangerous Woodhead Pass road. In direct contrast to the Longdendale Trail a mere mile or so away, this stretch is suitable for only the most experienced and / or brave (stupid) riders. What little luggage I was carrying became quite the hinderance too, I can only image what it’d be like trying to get through here with a fully laden bike and the idea of dragging the Yak over the Woodhead Pass is an idea that fills me with dread.

In all I had to cross the Woodhead Pass road 3 times. Being the main route across the Pennines, it is unsurprisingly a rat run for HGVs and just about every other piece of traffic wanting to get from one side t’ t’other. Frightening, truly frightening.

Anyway, providing you survive the crossing, all of the recent unpleasantness is forgiven and you’re rewarded with an awesome downhill section after the highest point on the Trans Pennine Trail at Dunford Bridge.

Providing your brakes can stop you in time, there’s an opportunity here to turn off onto NCN Route 68 and the Pennine Cycleway which heads north past Winscar Reservoir (I’ll save that route for another day).

Brake discs (203mm front and 160mm rear) scorching, I slowed from what was probably close to 40mph to a stop in an astonishingly short distance as I spotted the sign for the Upper Don Trail looming to my right. Crunching through the gravel car park, I was pleased to see a sign telling me I’d rejoined the old railway bed and even more pleased to see a really wide, flat trail stretching off into the distance.

From here all the way to Oxspring, the trail is mostly a simple muddy track through the countryside. Again, it’s mostly flat but thanks to the bad weather, it was quite slippery almost all the way. I put the hammer down and enjoyed drifting the bike through the curves, catching more than a few 2 wheel drifts.

At Oxspring, the trail splits and there is a road route and and off road route… Naturally, I opted for the latter and soon found myself picking my way along an ancient packhorse trail (according to the signs).

Once more, this is not a place for the inexperienced cyclist or anyone of a nervous disposition; the ridiculous climbs on slippery mud and narrow trails make an unwelcome return but those willing to stick it out are rewarded by many more easy miles along the Dove Valley Trail. Once more I dropped the hammer and, before I knew it, I was rolling into the Dearne Valley where I turned off the trail at Barnburgh and headed off to my hotel in High Melton.

Day 2 and I’d half planned to push on further into Yorkshire before getting the train home from Selby. With bad weather planned, however, I decided over my rather delicious steak & ale pie at the Cadeby Inn to head back the way I came and explore the alternative route of NCN Route 67 via the Elsecar Greenway and Timberland Trail. The Troll, however, had other ideas.

On day 1, I’d twisted my knee on the climb over the Woodhead Pass; something which became much more apparent on day 2 as it gave way when I got out of the saddle on the mildest of inclines.

Almost at the exact same moment, I felt a clunk somewhere on the front end of the bike; to my horror, my front wheel had somehow come loose. With that sorted, my front brake started making the kind of noise only metal rubbing on metal makes.

More horror as I find my brake caliper had also shaken itself loose and the bolts are rubbing against the brake disc… That fixed and another mile down the trail, my front mudguard was pointing at a very strange angle… Yes, you’ve guessed it, the securing bolts had rattled themselves loose.

With the front of the bike rebuilt, my knee gave way once again only minutes before a large shard of glass went straight through my front tyre, making a complete mockery of the normally legendary puncture protection.

Something was trying to tell me riding back over the Woodhead Pass was a bad idea… Reluctantly, I broke out the maps and came away from the main trail, heading for Barnsley and the train home.

So, with my trip cut short, what are my conclusions?

  • The trail is great! It’s certainly diverse with its mixture of on and off road sections. Well mapped and signposted, there’s a little bit of something for everyone from the crazy ass mountain biker to the virgin cyclist.
  • Ortlieb panniers easily live up to their reputation and are easily worth every single penny. Waterproof and rugged, they’ll save your bike from any serious damage when you drop it atop the Woodhead Pass and, should you (repeatedly) catch them on metal gates, they won’t tear easily.
  • The Surly Troll comes alive when loaded up with luggage and my *ahem* Ragley rear rack (exact copy of the Surly rack) holds everything firmly in place no matter how rough the going gets.
  • Halo Twin Rail tyres are simply awesome! Yes, we knew this already but it’s always worth reminding ourselves! I’ll admit that 80psi is far too much for off road use (Halo recommend a maximum of 65psi) but they still handled everything other than the wet grass and loose gravel on that climb really well.
  • Riding a rigid fork off road means you are badass. Period.
  • Riding drop bars off road means you are badass. Period.
  • Riding with bar end shifters off road means you are badass. Period.
  • I might be badass but… it hurts! That rigid steel fork and the steel frame do take a lot of the harshness out of the ride but with such high tyre pressures and such rough terrain, I’m still aching days after the ride… Now, I am shopping for a suspension fork with lockout.

Get out there and enjoy!