spaceman came travelling

 

There are certain perks in having an addiction to bikes, chief amongst which is also the simplest.

1441436_10152198917554863_2044853909_nOn a crisp, clear Sunday morning you can hop on your bike, head into the hills with good friends and just while away the hours.

This happened. And it was good.

Excused from my usual weekend cake selling duties, I abandoned Karen at the market and with the bike on the roof of the car, I picked up Spanner Monkey and novice fat bike rider Sylwia along with her super-shiny, almost-never-been-ridden Salsa Mukluk and together we headed for Hollingworth Lake where we met up with Rich & Shona before setting off in search of adventure on t’ Pennine Bridleway.

As is often the way with such things, the deceptively flat trail began rising and rising and rising. Soon enough I was in the granny ring, grinding out the relentless climb as Sylwia suffered with her mahoosive tyres and Rich & Shona made an utter mockery of us both by storming up the hill on their single speeds like it was nothing at all.

1472910_10152198917169863_51681481_nThe fleet was certainly turning heads. I was riding my Surly Troll in its usual off-road setup with suspension fork and less than ideal tyres. Sylwia was tearing up the trail with her brand spangley new burnt orange Salsa Mukluk, Shona was rocking a beautiful titanium something-or-other with flat bars, hydraulic disc brakes and well, not a lot else. And Rich? Well, despite striking a rather camp pose, Rich had brought along a steel Jeff Jones Spaceframe & Truss fork.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fatSet up ‘half fat’, the Jones was running a 29″ wheel in the rear wrapped in (I think) a Surly Knard tyre and up front was a true fat bike wheel & tyre. The awesome stopping power was delivered by Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes and minimalist Paul brake levers. The drivetrain couldn’t have been simpler: one ring up front and one at the back with a chain inbetween. And the bars? Jones Loop Bars of course.

And then it happened. As a red faced Sylwia got her breath back and I cursed my lousy tyres, Rich came over and nicked my Troll. Git.

As I watched him pedal away, tyres hopelessly skidding in the deep slimy mud, I threw my leg over the Jones and pointed it towards the horizon.

It took me a while to get used to the relatively tall front end and what I thought was a bizarre saddle angle, but a few hundred metres later and I was settling in. Maybe it wasn’t the right size frame for me but I did find the whole thing a little bit short in the top tube and for my taste, I would’ve liked a couple less spacers under the stem. That said, the Loop Bars have never made more sense; on the Troll they still feel super wide but they fit the Jones perfectly. On a short road section I could even get down into the elusive beard-resting-on-the-bars aero position.

Jeff says: A Jones is a high-performance non-suspended bicycle. The ride is both efficient and comfortable and the handling is immediate and assured. With the default choice for off-road cycling nowadays seemingly suspension before anything else it might seem odd to ride rigid but that is the last thing my bicycles are – the geometry and construction provide an extremely satisfying and direct connection between the rider, the trail and the bike. It’s pure cycling and a lot of fun.”

I tend to agree. The bike felt responsive, sharp and direct but not harsh or jarring, even on the really rough stuff. The full effort my puny thigh muscles put into the pedals was instantly delivered to the rear wheel and, even with that gigantic tyre, the front end felt precise and controllable.

Before long and we turned onto a steep gravel climb. Once again Shona & Rich took off and monstered their way to the top as Sylwia and I took turns losing traction, losing balance, running out of strength and running out of talent.

I couldn’t tell you what the gear ratio was on the Jones but for me in that moment on that climb it was just that little bit too tall. Getting out of the saddle and giving it everything I had, I managed to lumber the bike up to speed and get enough momentum together to keep going until I hit the next patch of gravel or fell into the next rut or was forced to stop for breath. Eventually Sylwia gave up and started pushing but not before singing ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe to me as I nommed half an emergency banana and gave it every little bit I had left to crest the hill.

Despite being so high, that was the low point.

After the climb came the flat. And with the flat came a narrow track on a ridge, mossy drystone wall to my left and jeebus-that’d-hurt-if-I-fell-down-it drop to my right.

“Don’t you have any proper mud tyres???” Rich complained from behind me as the Troll refused to grip anything. “I’ve got some mud tyres. I’ll give you the damn things if you promise never to lend me this bike with these tyres on again!!!”. Then, as some kind of sick punishment, I finished sniggering about the awesome mud-shedding ability of the tyres on the Jones and the front wheel snatched in a rut, throwing me and the bike towards the perilous drop.

Somehow, some way, the thick tufts of grass managed to catch the bike and break the worst of my fall. Clinging on for dear life and listening to Rich laughing at me I realised just how close I came to a really horrible accident.

Salsa Mukluk 2With that unpleasantness out of the way, we stopped for some emergency chocolate, a photo opportunity and some downright childish jumping over a mound of earth.

Seeing just how much fun Sylwia was having, I simply couldn’t resist taking her up on her offer to swap bikes. So, I handed over the Jones, watched Rich skid all over the trail and embarked on my first true fat bike ride ever.

Salsa Mukluk 1Obviously, it was a million sizes too small for me so I had to stay out of the saddle and just pedal like I was riding a kid’s BMX. In fact, that’s exactly what it felt like, the best, most fun BMX in the world. In fact, I yelled “THIS IS LIKE RIDING THE MOST FUN BMX IN THE WOR…”

…and then it happened.

Like finding a worm in your half eaten apple. Like realising there’s a spider creeping up your arm. Like a rodeo bull throwing a cowboy across the arena. For reasons that escape me, Sylwia’s Mukluk suddenly realised some big hairy guy was riding her and she threw me to the ground in spectacular style. Gracefully, the Mukluk executed a perfect landing next to me and just sat there laughing at my misfortune along with my so-called friends and the walkers on the trail.

Oddly enough, Sylwia came and rescued the Mukluk, Rich rescued the Jones and I was reunited with my Troll for the final stretch of the ride.

Bruised and battered, I gingerly made my way down the trail only to find Shona stopped and off her bike (this almost never happens); turns out the Mukluk had struck again and thrown Sylwia into some rocks. Luckily she escaped with only minor cuts and bruises but it was a healthy reminder of just how careful you need to be on unpredictable trails (no matter how big your tyres are).

We all struggled with the last section, even Rich had to put a foot down as the Jones sunk into a bog but we all made it safely back to Hollingworth Lake, heralded down the final super fast descent by Sylwia crowing like a demented cockerel. Bless.

You know when your face hurts from smiling and laughing so much? Yep, it was one of those days.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fat 2

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with arms wide open

 

“Hooning” the Young People call it, I believe.

Ey, when I were a lad, it were all fields around ‘ere and, what’s more, I’d hop on my BMX, push it to the top of the steepest hill I could find and go hooning down it with wild abandon and total disregard for my own safety. As I recall, I never wore a helmet and never hurt myself.

Now I’m a grumpy old man, I have to put quite a bit more thought into it before I go hooning anywhere. After all, I did once manage to break my collarbone when I rode head first into a gigantic steel post that’d been there forever. Another time, I inexplicably woke up on my back in a ditch, my bike up in the air still clipped onto my shoes, my ribs broken and my so-called-friend half laughing, half worried about me back up on the road.

As I reported on Monday, this week’s escape from the office was clearly earmarked for non-stop mountain biking. Of course, as is the way with such things, I ended up wasting spending 2 precious days doing work stuff and another day doing chores (there’s only so much anyone can get away with, I guess). I did manage to squeeze in a trip to the bike shop and a few miles exploring the local lanes but the excitement all happened in t’ hills around t’ Chorley about 20 miles north of t’ Manchester.

Surly Troll Rivington Pike 1 Surly Troll Rivington Pike 3 Surly Troll Rivington Pike 2 Monday was really a bit of a shakedown. My Surly Troll was devoid of its usual rigid fork, racks, luggage & road tyres and instead was sporting a Fox F100 suspension fork, 26×2.1″ Continental Speed King tyres and, well, not a lot else.

After abandoning the car somewhere in deepest, darkest Rivington, I basically spent a couple of hours getting well and truly lost, fiddling with the adjustable fork, trying to sort out the shifting issues I was having and dusting off my extremely rusty mountain biking skills.

The majority of my day was spent climbing, climbing, climbing so there was sadly no hooning to be done until right at the end of the ride. The scenery was pretty spectacular though.

When it finally came time to find my way back down to the car (it was somewhere down there by the reservoir), it seemed the perfect opportunity to give my new Jeff Jones Loop handlebars their first proper off-road test. You can check out the various hand positions they offer and the eye-watering price tags on the excellent Jeff Jones Bikes website.

Pointing the front wheel down the hill, I shifted my hands to the very outside of the bars, one finger on each brake lever (the rest firmly wrapped around the grips) and unleashed my inner BMX riding child. I shudder to think what speed I was going at but it certainly wasn’t the “safe and controlled pace” recommended in the brochure. The fork was doing everything it could to absorb the massive impact from each of the equally massive rocks it hit, my water bottles threatened to rattle loose from their cages and as I neared the bottom of the descent, I wondered whether my brakes were going to stop me in time.

The front wheel hit a particularly large rock and as I gazed down at the approaching trail, I wondered just how the ambulance would reach me. Happily, with all the extra stability and leverage the bars gave me, I stayed upright and the Troll just wanted to go faster. Moments later the front wheel dropped into a rut, caught the sides and again I was wondering how I’d look after facial reconstructive surgery.

The only thing you can do in that situation is let go of the brakes, get your weight back over the rear wheel, close your eyes and hope. “FASTER, FASTER, FASTER!!!” the Troll kept screaming and somehow we made it to the bottom in one piece.

I’d never been so happy to see a Vauxhall in all my life.

Friday morning, I was a determined man. I woke up and ate the contents of my fridge. I packed a bag with a couple of bananas, some malt loaf and a lump of Kendal Mint Cake. I grabbed a MUCH better map and set off to ride the curiously named Anglezarke Loop. All of it, this time.

Monday’s shakedown had taught me several things:

  • it might be only 30 miles but at least half of them are climbing very steep hills and almost all of them are on very rough trails
  • [this] man cannot survive on very little food
  • bigger is better

I made the decision to swap out the 26×2.1″ Contis for the only bigger tyres I had lying around the garage: a 26×2.4″ Maxxis Holy Roller for the rear and a 26×2.4″ DMR Moto RT for the front. Not exactly off road tyres but I was guaranteed good drive and sticky rubber on the rear and at least some directional knobblies to help keep the front going where I pointed it.

For reasons that escape me, I decided to ignore the “mountain bikers may find it easier to ride the route in an anti-clockwise direction” advice, parked at Anglezarke Reservoir and set off in a decidedly clockwise direction.

On the short road section, I was instantly glad of my tyre choice as, despite the increased volume, I had considerably less rolling resistance. As I hit the trails and unlocked the suspension, traction on the wet, slippery rocks was spectacular but in the deep, squelchy mud, it got a little skittery.

Anglezarke Loop 1 Jones Loop barsBefore long, the anti-clockwise advisory became clear. Heading this way, it’s uphill for what? 70 – 80% of the ride. At least that’s how it felt.

The loop is a mixture of very short tarmac road sections, bridleways, forest tracks, disused packhorse tracks and desolate moorland. This picture simply doesn’t do justice to the incline or the severity of the surface. Take one hand off the bars or one eye off the trail at your own peril. Believe it or not, this trail is actually on the map as a road. It’s got a name and everything.

Anglezarke Loop 2My Maxxis Holy Roller rear tyre was doing a truly spectacular job at finding grip on the loose, wet rocks and even the carpet of rotting leaves didn’t provoke any slippery moments. Up front, the DMR Moto RT (both tyres running at 40psi, by the way) was taking the bike exactly where I pointed it with the legendary Fox F100 fork soaking up the relentless impact from the trail. A previous rider had lost his water bottle (and cage!) when the welds finally let go under all the punishment.

Anglezarke Loop 3About half way round the 30 mile route, I made the mistake of stopping on a climb for a nature break and to nom a banana. The incline was so severe and the surface so rough, I really struggled to get back on the bike and start pedalling without losing my balance.

Once I did get going again, I shifted my weight all the way forward, grabbing the loop on the front of my Jones Bars which really helped keep the front wheel down as I ground out the remainder of the climb in the lowest gear I could find.

A few slurps of energy drink later and I was rolling onto the beautiful false flat proffered by Darwen Moor. See that big hill hiding behind the sign? Yeah, the car’s over the other side of that somewhere.

Anglezarke Loop 4I hadn’t seen another human being for over an hour and now my only company was the occassional disgruntled looking sheep. As I reached the end of the moor, I had to chase them away to keep them from escaping through the gate with me.

Another short tarmac section and I finally met some other humans. Oddly enough, all men. All just kinda hanging around on the trail. All looking a bit shifty. A few heading into the woods. A few giving me the ‘I wasn’t doing anything’ nonchalant look as I rolled by, checking my map.

Into civilisation, I rolled. Through a nice little park. Down a wrong turn into a very unfriendly looking farmyard. Quickly back down the lane. Up, up, up. Again the wrong way and this time onto open access land, flagrantly cycling on a pedestrians only footpath. Horizontal rain lashing my face as I crested an obscene climb and played with the traffic. Off in the distance I thought I saw Rivington Pike.

“Not far now, keep pushing. Not far now.” I lied to myself out loud.

Another huge slurp of energy drink and I hammered onto a bridleway I actually knew.

“COME ON! KEEP PUSHING!” I yelled to myself on the final hideous climb. Again, out loud.

With Rivington Pike at my side, I gazed down at the reservoirs, knowing the car was only a few miles away and all I had to do was survive the descent.

Anglezarke Loop 5Wild-eyed, hepped up on energy drink and malt loaf, I stuck it in the big ring, pointed it down the hill and hooned all the way down. I got out of the saddle, shifted my weight back, threw my arms as wide as they’d go on the bars and just went with it. By the time I’d made it to the bottom, the combination of rain, sand and abuse had eaten my rear brake pads, my leg muscles were screaming with lactic acid from keeping hold of the bike and I was filthy. Exhausted, exhilerated and… dammit! I’d parked in the upper car park! Those last few miles were pure agony.

And my verdict on my Jeff Jones Loop bars? Despite all this rambling hyperbole, there are only 3 words required:

Worth. Every. Penny.

slip sliding away

 

Ah Autumn (that’s Fall for those of the American persuasion). The days are getting shorter, the roads and trails are getting quieter, it’s time to break out the foul weather commuter, fit the full wrap mudguards and clip on the lights.

Largely, because I’m lazy, I’ve saved a little time this year by simply rolling out the same bike I’ve been riding all summer. It already is my foul weather commuter, it already has full wrap mudguards and I haven’t bothered to take my lights off since last year. They even still had some charge left – bonus.

Along with my lazyness comes falling leaves, mizzle, drizzle, and every other kind of rain Manchester can throw at you (that’s a lot of rain, by the way). With a lot of rain in a city with lots of painted lines and lots of manhole covers comes a lot of risk of going face surfing. This morning, I very nearly dropped my Troll several times when the front wheel slipped out on shiny metal / paint / oil spots…

Be careful out there.

under pressure

 

Good evening dear readers and happy Thursday to you all! Thanks for all the messages of concern, issuing of search parties, placards, marches and… wait, what? You hadn’t noticed I haven’t been posting much recently? Pfft.

Well, be that as it may, it is Thursday again which means it’s time once again for our uber exciting foray into the murky world of:

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

But wait! Order now using your credit card and we’ll double this offer by also including our semi-interesting, semi-regular, semi-new feature:

∞ What I’ve been reading Wednesdays
(or whatever day it happens to be when I’m writing this)

Regular readers (I continue to hold out hope I actually do have some) may remember I’ve recently been feeling like something of a lettuce; mincing about, worrying something rotten about the bike slipping out from under me, resulting in the less than pleasant experience of picking pieces of gravel out of my face.

I’ve been trying out all sorts of different things in an effort to overcome my irrational fears: knobbly v slick tyres, road bike v touring bike, short stem v long stem, heavily laden bike v stripped down speed machine, thinking v not thinking – that last one doesn’t come too highly recommended, incidentally.

But, above all things I’ve tried, one thing above all others has really made all the difference to my cycling experience. It’s changed how I think about cycling, how my bike(s) handle, how I lean into corners and how I think about the surface (whatever surface it may be) I’m rolling over. I am, of course, talking about tyre pressures.

Here at lifeinthecyclelane HQ, we get a lot of visitors searching the interwebs looking for wisdom about tyre pressures; me being me, I even tried my best to provide a little of my own experience which may or may not be of some use to this week’s search term trivia winner:

“DMR Moto RT 26 tyre pressure”

To be completely fair, I really need to strap them back onto the Troll at some point and give them a second chance… maybe my new found knowledge will change my mind about them.

Until such time, let me introduce you to a blog recommended to me by friends who own a bike shop: Guitar Ted Productions and the post in question: Musings on Tires. UK readers will have to forgive the repeated misspelling of ‘tyres’, such is life when you read US blogs.

Still with me? Full of new knowledge and ready to lower your own tyre pressures? No? Still not quite convinced yet? Need a bit more coaxing? Wondering what Surly would do?

Not for the faint of heart: Surly Bikes blog and the disturbingly ‘normal’ post: Tires (again, you’ll have to forgive all the Americanisms, bless ’em).

We should hopefully be back to more regular posting now I have a stable broadband connection and, with the Troll approaching its 1st birthday, a few tweaks are in order and it’s about time I reviewed some more kit I love and kit I hate – keep your eyes peeled!

safety dance

 

Wait. What? It’s Thursday already??? That must mean it’s time for yet another thrilling episode of ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’… please, try to contain your enthusiasm.

It’s been a fairly busy week over here at lifeinthecyclelane HQ with quite literally some visitors sent our way by various search engines, all of which are (as usual) high quality contenders for the grand prize of being immortalised on a Thursday; but, there can be only one winner this week and it’s this little gem:

“is it safe to cycle on a canal towpath when it’s icy?”

Yes, and also no.

But mostly no (for me).

It all very much depends on how much of a lettuce you are, how good your bike handling skills are, what tyres you have fitted, what the towpath surface is made of and how much you fancy the idea of potentially slipping on a patch of ice and ending up taking a swim with whatever happens to be lurking in the canal. Of course, you won’t survive too long in water that cold anyway…

And on that happy note, I’ll leave you!

Oh, I’ve been thinking about a new weekly feature to delight my beloved lifeinthecyclelane readers… or, is there something in particular you’d like to see here?

f.e.a.r.

 

Something strange has happened to me recently; I can’t quite put my finger on what’s caused it but I have most definitely turned into some kind of lettuce.

Quite possibly, it’s down to when I dropped the Troll on the ice a while back… ever since that happened, I seem to have lost all confidence in the tyres and my own ability to stay upright. Admittedly, the weather hasn’t improved much since I crashed so I’ve had good reason to be on the lookout for black ice but to say I’ve been cautious through the corners must be the understatement of the year.

I now find myself gingerly mincing around traffic islands and slowing right down for corners I’d previously have attacked at high speed… what has become of me???

406476_10151161830094863_453640121_nIn an attempt to get some peace and quiet, I decided to ride home via the canal towpath earlier this week; something I’ve done countless times before, something I felt sure would help me recover some of my confidence in the bike and myself away from the distractions of rush hour traffic. As you can probably tell, much of the canal towpath in these parts is paved with cobbles. Huge, great big slippery cobbles. Just the kind of thing you need when you’re feeling unsteady…

It seems almost clairvoyant that this week’s winning ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’ entry is:

“towpath accident”

Happily, I didn’t actually have an accident but I was utterly convinced I was going to… perhaps to the point where I’m feeling so unsure of my balance that I’m tensing up and actually increasing my risk of coming off…

It’s not good. Any advice?

halo

 

Something a little heavier than our usual musical interlude for you today… but hey, sometimes only heavy metal will do.

Play it loud or not at all.

Since my recent crash, I’ve been riding around with DMR Moto R/T 26 x 2.2″ tyres on my Surly Troll; largely this is because I was looking for something that was essentially still a road tyre but more suited to the changeable conditions and, with a little bit of luck, less likely to send me face first into the pavement at the first sign of the cold, slippery stuff.

206696_10151327132799863_2024200714_nAccording to DMR, the RT in the name stands for “road and trail” as this is a “great tyre for street riding, hard pack trails and dirt jumps”. Now, I don’t do a great deal of dirt jumping what with the Troll weighing just shy of a metric ton but I can report that thanks to the rounded profile and closely spaced yet flexible tread, these tyres do provide an extra level of stability, grip and confidence on the trails and I actually found them to be very capable in deep, wet mud. On the road however, I have to say these tyres really, really drag and the buzz you get from knobbly tyres on tarmac started getting on my nerves after a while.

Recommended maximum pressure is 60psi which I found to be perfect for the trails (I like a firm ride anyway but it still wasn’t too harsh) but on the roads I found even pushing the pressure beyond the limit and up to 70psi didn’t really help minimise the drag enough for me.

After a few weeks, I just couldn’t take it anymore; the Troll felt heavy, sluggish and really wasn’t much fun to ride. So, I went back to the tyres I had on before. The tyres I crashed on.

250942_10150987692164863_477781285_nAlso 26 x 2.2″, this isn’t the first set of Halo Twin Rail tyres I’ve owned. I used to run a set on an old mountain bike I had and I liked them so much I invested in a set for my cyclocross bike in the 700c size. These days, they make ’em in just about every size and colour you can imagine with single and dual compounds and they all come with puncture protection rivaled only by the legendary Schwalbe Kojak.

Halo decribe the Twin Rail as a “trail and street tyre” and recommend a maximum 65psi for off road use and 85psi for on road use meaning they “perform in almost all conditions”, which they do. As I’ve said, I prefer a firmer ride so I rarely let the pressure drop below 70psi and I’ve ridden through just about everything with these tyres.

They’re awesome on hardpack dirt, great on gravel, capable of dealing with everything but the deepest sticky mud and (critically for me) they’re phenomenal on the road. Unlike the DMR Moto RT which is really a trail tyre at heart, the Halo Twin Rail is a road tyre first and a trail tyre second; the name of course comes from the 2 central rails which (when the pressure is high enough) are they only things in contact with the black stuff so rolling resistance really is kept to the bare minimum. Of course, once you start to lean or you hit the trails, the smooth, rounded profile of the tyre kicks in and the recessed ‘knobbles’ (Halo call them ‘sleepers’) ensure you have plenty of grip without the tyre flexing as much as a traditional knobbler.

So, which is better? Well, that very much depends on the kind of riding you do. As different as they may appear at first glance, these tyres do deserve to be compared side by side because they both claim to be suitable for road, trail and skate park use… You’ll have to check with the local yoof which is better for dirt jumping and the like (I suspect the Halos) but for me it’s as simple as this:

  • If you ride mostly on trails (this includes gravel, grass, mud, canal towpaths and everything inbetween) and you only use tarmac to access said trails, the DMR is the clear winner.
  • If you ride mostly on the road but you want to be able to skip onto the trails or explore that bridleway on the way home, you need a set of Halos in your life.

556027_10150987707259863_1754207612_nOh, I don’t know whether this will form part of your decision making process but the DMRs don’t boast any puncture protection where the Halos do… but, nothing is totally puncture proof so you’ll want to carry a spare tube and a decent pump too (mine’s a Lezyne but that’s a story for another day).

Today’s ride was a mere 15 miles (I ran out of daylight and my lights failed so I had to get the train back) mostly on the road but with a few impromptu miles of canal towpath thrown in. It’s cold up here in t’ North this week to so there was plenty of the dreaded ice around… I’m happy to report no crashes, despite a couple of two-wheel slides which didn’t faze me.

My confidence is steadily returning and I’m back in love with the Troll now the Halos are back on. 2013 is going to be good.