little lies

 

10363963_10152688171339863_19144140860253414_nRolling through the delightfully named village of Upperthong, I couldn’t resist stopping to document the warning of headless children and their headless parents.

I’m reliably informed there is also a Lowerthong and even a Neverthong although I suspect the latter is more life advice than a place name…

Moments later (still childishly sniggering at ‘Upperthong’), I was hurtling downhill, pushing 40mph and leaning into a corner as I saw the bonnet of a car pulling out of a side road.

Instinctively, I pulled on the brakes and attempted to steer to safety. The rear tyre squealed for mercy as it let go of the tarmac, taking the bike into a superbike-esque sideways skid leaving the front brake to do all the work while I did everything in my power to stop it locking up.

Some time later, at the bottom of the hill my riding companion gave me that familiar ashen-faced look, revealing just how close that shave must’ve been.

Scout Tunnel Huddersfield Narrow Canal Surly TrollThis was just one of many crazy moments, the likes of which I seem to come across quite often… earlier in the ride I was fumbling around in the dark, slipping on slimy cobbles as water dripped down my neck (courtesy of the very long, very damp and VERY DARK Scout Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, near Stalybridge).

Later, I found myself being chased along the Woodhead Pass section of the Trans Pennine Trail by an extremely frisky and very vocal Spring lamb. We couldn’t decide whether he was excited to see us, annoyed we were disturbing his otherwise peaceful afternoon napping in the sunshine or just plain crazy but what must’ve been the lamb’s mother eventually came wearily trotting over and called him back after he nearly went under our wheels for the 3rd time. She had that “…he does this EVERY time a cyclist comes by…” look on her face.

Huh. Sheep do have expressions on their faces. Who knew?

Salter's Brook 2x Surly Troll Salter's Brook BridgeJust before our run in with the sheep, we’d stopped for a photo opportunity at Salter’s Brook Bridge. It’s all historical and interesting here, there’s a (now ruined) shelter which used to be a haven from the elements back when people transported salt across t’ Pennines by way of long-suffering packhorse. The keen-eyed observers amongst you may have spotted some similarities between our two long-suffering packhorses… Yep, what we have here is the rare sight of 2 original orange Surly Trolls basking in the sunshine in their natural habitat.

Surly Troll Greenfield 1This one is, of course, mine and I suppose these days it’s technically a Surl Troll since the ‘Y’ fell off. These days it’s back in what has become know as “heavy ass utility mode” with rigid fork, Jeff Jones Loop Bars, front & rear racks and Halo Twin Rail tyres.

Surly Troll Greenfield 2T’other Troll (the gigantic one) is owned by our freakishly tall friend of Northern Walker fame. Ever since we rode together with Shona & Rich from Keep Pedalling, Tyler & Trevor from Surly Bikes and a bunch of other like minded crazy folks, the Northern Walker Cyclist and I have been negotiating with our respective other halves for a free pass so we can go out and play on our bikes. And, one beautiful day in mid-May, that’s exactly what we did.

Behold: Trollfest #1.

2x Surly Troll GreenfieldOK, OK… I know all of 2 bikes hardly qualifies as a ‘fest’ but the next one promises to be much better attended. In fact, we’re hoping to double the number of attendees to a semi-impressive… um, 4.

These Surly Troll things are a bit rare, you know.

Now, he’s a lovely bloke that Northern Walker but he does have a dark side…

He lies.

And he likes to torment fat blokes (or, at least this fat bloke).

Our route started in Manchester City Centre at the bike shop, picked up the Ashton Canal which took us out to Stalybridge where we marvelled at all the people clammering to get into Tesco’s while the trails were blissfully quiet. We continued on to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal which included the slippery walk through Scout Tunnel, an emergency banana stop and a number of missed photo opportunities.

Surly Troll Greenfield 3We pushed on through Mossley and started the serious climbing as we hit Greenfield. With the promise of imminent cake, I dug deep and did everything I could to keep up as we climbed yet further into Diggle.

More photo opportunities passed us by as I rode down some surprisingly familiar trails which form part of the challenging Diggle Jiggle I rode sometime last year.

Dying a thousand deaths, I was again promised cake. We pushed on with stomachs rumbling and the sun climbing higher in the sky.

“Just a little further”, he said.

The Northern Walker’s bike computer topped out at just over 61kph but I was still accelerating as I got down into the elusive beard-resting-on-the-bars aero position, moved out into the centre of the road and just let the bike go as fast as it wanted to.

As it turned out, “as fast as the bike wanted to go” was “faster than I felt safe going” so I pulled the brakes on and started the gradual process of slowing to a stop. The combination of the momentum I’d built up, the weight of the bike and the fat bloke tearing it down a long ass hill was enough to leave the brake discs scorched and the pads fading… it stopped me, but if I’d needed to slow down in an emergency, I would’ve been out of luck. It was spectacular fun.

Eventually, we rolled into Marsden and I missed yet another photo opportunity as we leaned the bikes against the window at the rather excellent Crumbals on the Corner.

FINALLY. Cake.

We gorged ourselves on tea, sandwiches and a huge slice of cake, basked in the sun, swapped cycling stories and lingered longer than we probably should have.

Dragging ourselves away from the deliciousness, we hopped back on the bikes and headed for the aforementioned Upperthong via Meltham, regretting ordering (and nomming) such a large slice of cake on top of a large sandwich.

As we dug into our food at Crumbals, I was warned about “the climb out of Holmfirth” but was reassured that, while it’s “sharp”, it’s also “short”. Uh huh. Yeah. Like, “yeah, we’ll have cake soon”…

The warnings about the upcoming climb continued as we again hared downhill on the way out of Upperthong (this is where the near-death experience occured, as I recall).

We stopped at Holmfirth and, as the roadies whizzed by in every direction, we saw the NCN route 68 sign gleefully pointing up a very sharp climb which curved to the left past some houses.

“Like I said, it’s sharp but it ends just around that corner”

With those words of encouragement ringing in my ears, I approached the climb, dropped it into the granny ring and said “Right, let’s go and get laughed at by the roadies…”

If I was going up that hill, I was going up it hard. Instantly, as the ridiculous incline started, I lost all momentum and instinctively stood on the pedals. As the Trollhoff clicked down next to me, I arrogantly clicked up a few gears and rode by my friend with the blind determination of a bloody fool.

I rounded the corner and the “short, sharp climb” only got longer and sharper. I made some kind of guttural noise and pushed on even harder thinking that maybe it starts to even out after the second curve… Mockingly, the incline increased and I was forced to sit down and drop into the lowest of the low gears. Before long, I had to admit defeat and get off and walk.

To add insult to injury, I was soon passed by the Rohloff-turning long-legged liar who, whilst once a friend of mine, was now some git I’d once met.

By now, the sun was high in the crystal clear sky and, as they say, only Mad Dogs and Englishmen venture out in the mid-day sun. I’d refilled my bidons back at Crumbals but as we took a wrong turn on the approach to Winscar reservoir, we were both running dangerously low on fluids and the salt we’d lost through sweat was all too apparent in the crystalline white patches on our jerseys and shorts.

“Welcome to Barnsley” the sign said.

“Barnsley?”

“BARNSLEY???”

“WHAT THE <bleep> ARE WE DOING IN BARNSLEY???” I said.

“I must’ve missed a turn somewhere…” the git said.

10390431_10152688171039863_2646682817147008200_nChecking the GPS, we found this ‘road’ heading in roughly the right direction. As we hit the surface (a mixture of deep sand, large sandstone boulders, loose hardcore and patches of lingering wet mud, we revelled in the unstoppable capablity of our rides. In their own way, they were very different machines – 1 with derailleurs, the other with (probably) the most expensive (and reportedly the best) internal gear hub in the world; 1 extra large, the other regular sized; 1 with uber-expensive Jones bars, the other with el-cheapo riser bars; 1 with now-super-hard-to-find Schwalbe Marathon Extreme tyres and the other with get-’em-anywhere Halo Twin Rails; but despite all the subtleties, these two machines had transported us across smooth tarmac at high speed, climbed obscene hills off road, descended obscene hills on and off road and handled just about every type of terrain you could fit into one day and, what’s more, they’d done it without missing a beat.

Surly Troll Clif Shot BlocksWe were almost completely out of fluids by this point and we were both drawing on what little remained of our emergency energy reserves.

This packet of Clif Shot Blocks and the remaining contents of our bidons was the only thing that dragged us up the climb from Winscar reservior to Dunford Bridge.

It was my turn to lie as I said “this isn’t a long climb”; which it probably isn’t but by that point, it sure as hell felt like it.

When I eventually caught up at the highest point on the Trans Pennine Trail, the Northern Walker revealed the secret to his dehydrated-hill-climbing success: “Yeah, I just had to have a word with myself…”

Soon after, we legged it across the Woodhead Pass, missed more photo opportunities, hung out at Salter’s Brook and survived ‘the lamb incident’.

Woodhead pass to Longdendale TrailFrom here, I knew it was all downhill (or at least flat) all the way back to Manchester so we paused briefly atop the Woodhead Pass before belting downhill to the Longdendale Trail which we despatched in record time, dropping the hammer and not relenting until we rolled into Hadfield.

The phone rang. We had already been out for over 7 hours. We were a good 2 hours beyond our curfew. There must’ve been something in the gravelly voice that meant the boss let us stay out just that little bit longer.

Instinctively, we fell into the pub and ordered 2 pints of the coldest, most delicious beer in the world. I also ordered a glass of iced soda water and asked for it to be poured right away. The barmaid, bless her, stopped everything she was doing and instantly poured us 2 ice-cold glasses of bubbling nectar which lasted a good… 10 seconds.

The beer lasted about 10 minutes.

We parted ways and I hopped on the train back to Manchester, the Northern Walker (now my friend again thanks to the miracle of beer) headed for home over t’ hills. The 6ish miles from the station back to home were a blissful blur, my dusty bike steering its own way, my legs somehow keeping the cranks turning as my frazzled brain recounted the day’s highs and lows.

Best. Day. Ever. (since the last one and until the next one)

Surly Troll bridleway

Advertisements

lightning crashes

 

Sometimes, I write about products that work well (like the Surly Tuggnut or Schwalbe Kojak tyres).

Sometimes, I write about things that go wrong (like when I dropped my Troll before it was even built).

Sometimes, I write about bike rides I’ve been on; some have been great (like the Diggle Jiggle) and some have been not so great (like the White Peak Loop).

Sometimes, I just get a man in to do the pesky writing for me.

In any event, I’ve always tried to stay away from controversy and I hope I don’t ever come across with a holier-than-thou attitude. After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion (no matter how wrong they may be). There is, however, one area of cycling life where I am fiercly opinionated and that is safety.

You may recall I was recently quite shook up by a near miss a good friend had on the road; his bike was completely toast but happily, he suffered nothing worse than a badly cut face and badly bruised pride. The cause of said crash isn’t completely clear but the fault certainly lies with the cyclist on this occasion.

So yes, we do make mistakes. And yes, we admit to them.

Listening to the radio one morning this week as I snaffled my eggs, I was horrified to hear that the sideburn wearing British Cycling legend that is Bradley Wiggins wouldn’t be appearing as Chris Evans’s guest as he’d been knocked off his bike the day before. With little information other than he was recovering in hospital with minor injuries ringing in my ears, I threw my leg over the Troll and took off for my daily 7.5 mile (each way) commute into Manchester.

Ask any regular cyclist and they’ll no doubt regale you with 1) tales of incident free rides, 2) near misses with idiotic homicidal drivers and 3) (not all will admit to this last one) self inflicted crashes brought about by a moment of stupidity or simple lapse in concentration; I’m sorry to report that my ride in to work that very same day was brought to you by option 2.

About a mile out of Manchester City Centre on the dual carriageway A62 Oldham Road, I was in the middle of the inside lane blowing through some traffic lights (yes, they were on green) with an articulated lorry shadowing me in the lane to my right. Parked in a bus stop to the left (and the reason I was in the middle of the lane) was a large white van displaying learner driver plates.

Thinking nothing much of it, I changed up a gear and pushed on pacing the truck at around 25mph. At the very moment I’d satisfied myself the truck driver had seen me and was going to stay in his lane, I saw the driver of the large van drop the hammer and, without looking or indicating, pull out into my lane.

I don’t think I managed to form any real words but whatever noise I was making was loud enough to make the van driver look out of his window just in time to see me getting squeezed closer and closer to the truck and the trailer wheels which were about to make me into a Troll kebab.

Somehow, I managed to stay upright and a few hundred metres down the road, I pulled up to have a quiet chat with the van driver who was suspiciously hanging well back. Eventually, he decided I wasn’t going away and, with the fear of god in his eyes, rolled down the window. And that’s when I saw it.

Carefully embroided on the chest of what was unmistakably a stab vest was “Greater Manchester Police”.

“What the hell was that?”, I asked.

“WELL?”

“I… I… have no comment I wish to make at this time…”

Addressing a less shellshocked officer in the passenger seat I rhetorically asked “This is a Police vehicle? Under instruction? Are you being serious?”; the slow, resigned nods from the instructor told me this young officer’s professional driving career was already over so I decided not to press the issue any further save for a few choice parting phrases including “astonished” and “disappointed”.

That evening, even closer to work, I was nearly t-boned by a woman in a van to whom checking her hair in the mirror was more important than checking the road she was pulling into. Unlike the young officer, she was more than happy to comment with several choice phrases I shan’t repeat here and several finger gestures you can no doubt imagine.

So, she nearly kills me but I’m in the wrong for telling her to look where she’s going… Seriously?

The next day and I’m almost all the way home; literally within 200m of my house with all 700 lumens of my front lights shining into the face of another driver who decided it was perfectly acceptable to pull out in front of me.

What astonished me most about this one was the sheer impossibility that he couldn’t have seen me. Unless, like our blonde haired friend from earlier, he was too f-ing busy looking at something else to even bother checking for other road users.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, I wasn’t feeling in the least bit charitable so I gave him all kinds of hell despite the pathetic ‘sorry mate, I didn’t see you’ look he painted on his face. Lucky he drove away when I told him to really; I’m not sure what would’ve happened if he’d tried arguing he was in the right…

 

Now, Wiggo and Co. have undoubtedly done the sport and recreation of cycling a great service this year with so much success in the Olympics, the Tour de France and other events with the resulting publicity. There are certainly more people enjoying cycling and organisations such as Sky, British Cycling and Sustrans are certainly playing a big part in making that happen.

I read today that the woman who allegedly knocked Wiggo off his bike voluntarily went to the police who promptly reported her for summons although there is an ongoing investigation into the crash. Naturally, I wait for the full details to come out but it would in itially appear that the driver was at least partially at fault.

The silver lining I’m hoping for here is that Wiggo can do cycling another great service as a result of this crash. Will this raise awareness amongst cyclists and drivers alike that accidents are all too easy to cause (on both sides) and oh so easy to avoid? Will the courts decide to make an example of this case? Will Wiggo come out and openly criticise the driver’s actions? Or, is the story not as it first appears and was Wiggo at fault? Are we to listen to the tabloids and believe the crash was caused by the shaving off of the world’s most famous sideburns?

Whatever happens, the few of you I’m able to reach (whether you’re a cyclist, a driver or both), please please please remember:

Open your eyes and look, open your ears and listen.

one headlight

 

Almost 6 months has passed since I built my latest bike and in that time, we’ve covered a couple of thousand miles together over various types of terrain so I reckon it’s high time I gave an initial report on life in (and out of) the cycle lane with a Surly Troll.

Regular readers will remember the trials and tribulations of the build but if you missed it, you can relive the excitement packed stage 1, the agony filled stage 2, the despair ridden stage 3 and the triumphant I-finally-get-to-ride-it-up-the-hill-of-death stage 4.

Those of you eagerly waiting for a report on how it works as a tourer will just have to wait until next Spring or Summer but you can see how we got on when I decided to take the Troll quite literally over the Pennines on a 2 day mini-tour with rigid fork, rear panniers and road tyres here.

What’s that you say, “How does the Troll perform off road with a suspension fork and knobbly tyres?”… well, wonder no more and read my report on the ridonculous Diggle Jiggle. Nettles… so many nettles…

Today, dear reader, I would like to give you an update on how the Troll has been performing in its main intended use; as a daily commuter in and around rainy and miserable Manchester:

The geometry of the Troll is… well, downright weird; somewhere between a tourer and a mountain bike, it’s sort of upright but sort of racy whilst sort of relaxed and kind of nimble. Now, bike sizing is one of those highly subjective things and is going to be affected by your height, leg length, torso length, riding style, saddle, stem and handlebar choice. To be quite honest, it’s all witchcraft to me so my advice would definitely be to get yourself down to your local friendly bike shop and get some advice. The good people over at Keep Pedalling, Manchester set me up with an 18″ frameset which happens to fit me just perfectly, even if Geordie constantly tells me I have “a lot of seatpost showing”… yeah, well, he has a lot of bald showing. So there, nyah.

Thanks to the odd geometry, I’ve had an annoyance ever since building the bike with the 800ml water bottles I use hitting the frame every time I take them out of the Lezyne Power bottle cages I bought on a whim. I mean, it’s not like they were doing any damage or I couldn’t get them out at all but it was annoying enough to make me want to replace the cages.

And replace them I have; after much research, I splurged on a pair of Cube HPA-S side loading cages which look like they’re going to work out great. Sure, I’ve had to relocate my pump from the seat tube to the downtube but, if anything, I think it looks cooler! Time will tell how well the cages work out in the long run but it’s certain I won’t be hitting the frame each time I take a slurp.

There are many other things to report on including racks, panniers, tyres, mudguards, handlebars, brakes… the list goes on. But I think they each deserve a post of their own so I’ll be reviewing them over the coming months.

As the clocks go back, the mornings get darker, the days shorter and cycling home in daylight becomes a distant memory, it’s time to talk about lights. For a long time, I’ve used inexpensive (less than £10 a unit) battery operated LED front lights on my bikes and I suppose they’ve served their purpose well; I remember having a pair of Electron 1 watt single LED lamps which really impressed me but, whilst the units were cheap enough, they ate their way through batteries like I do sandwiches.

This year, I decided it was time to step up and invest in something a little more expensive that I could rely on day in, day out and not have to replace every year. And so, after lots of research, I came across a set of Niterider Minewt 700 lamps for a ‘mere’ £150. What’s somewhat disturbing, dear reader, is that £150 is something of a bargain for an entry level ‘serious’ commuter light… what with me being a serious commuter these days, it was a bit of a no-brainer to pull the trigger and spend the money.

One thing I really love about these lights is that the lamp units are really small; you can see here how they mount nicely out of the way on the bars with a simple quick release rubber band thingy – bike parking at my office is nice and secure but if you were worried about them going missing, they’re a snap to take off.

One thing you may dislike (it doesn’t really bother me) is the size of the remote battery pack; it contains 4 Li-ion cells and is connected to the lamps with a really nice, waterproof splitter cable which can be used to power just one lamp or both. The unit itself is big and has a fair amount of weight to it so you’ll need to strap it to the frame somewhere; I chose to go with the top tube to keep it out of the way of the water bottles etc. elsewhere.

Things I love about the battery pack:

  1. It delivers up to 700 lumens (that’s a lot) of power up to those tiny little lamps and, it helps keep them tiny, of course.
  2. The single button on the unit cycles through the 3 light modes (bright, very bright and uber bright) and, if you hold it down for 5 seconds, switches on the epilepsy inducing ‘daylight running’ flashing mode; simply hold it down for 3 seconds and darkness is restored.
  3. Said button is big, waterproof and easy to operate even with chunky winter gloves on and has a cool blue glow to let you know it’s on; it turns red when it’s time to recharge too so you can switch to a lower setting until you reach home / the office.
  4. The bottom of the battery pack has a nice rubbery finish so it won’t wriggle around or mark your frame.

Things I hate about the battery pack:

  1. The stupid velcro straps provided in the box are easily twice as long as they need to be and the stupid little plastic buckles they come with will snap at the stupid drop of a stupid hat.

 

To prevent my battery pack flying off and smashing into a million pieces, I replaced the rubbish velcro with the only thing I had lying around which just happened to be a couple of faux leather toe straps! I think they look pretty cool.

So yes, despite the stupid straps, it’s fair to say I really like my new lights and, so far at least, I’ve been more than visible to other road users.

Stay safe out there.

 

epic

 

Ever since I moved up to Manchester from Birmingham, I’ve been on the lookout for some decent cycling routes. Back in the Midlands, I had hundreds of miles of country lanes around Warwickshire at my fingertips and, should the mood take me, I could even jump on a train over to the Black Country and enjoy the surprisingly good trails on offer at Cannock Chase.

And no, Birmingham and the Black Country are NOT the same place. Don’t ask again.

Anyway. Up here in t’ North there are actually quite a lot of mountain bike trails and, now the Troll has a suspension fork, I shall be doing my best to explore as many of them as possible. First up: the delightfully named Diggle Jiggle.

Just 11 miles long, the Diggle Jiggle seemed to be the perfect opportunity to give the Troll its first proper off road test, dust off some off my much underused mountain bike skills and work off Saturday night’s indulgences on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon. Opting to let the train take a little of the strain, I cycled into Manchester Victoria and jumped off at Greenfield station which dropped me onto the trail about half way round the suggested route map.

Described as a “mountain bike ride” and “…suitable for most mountain bikers…”, I was somewhat surprised to come out of the station and instantly head up a very steep climb on a very busy road. At first, I figured it was just a short tarmac section joining 2 sections of off road trail but, as the miles ticked by, the ‘trail’ just kept on climbing on roads… Roads? Hardly mountain bike country.

Eventually, the tarmac finally gave way to a bona fide mountain bike trail and boy, it wasn’t messing around. The seemingly relentless incline remained and the surface went from smooth tarmac to soft, uneven sand and large, loose rocks; quite the challenge for both Trolls.

I’d printed the map out before heading out this morning and, because the Diggle Jiggle itself isn’t signposted in any way and comprises sections of several other trails, it was my constant companion throughout the ride; sometimes in my pocket, sometimes in my bag but more often than not, gripped between my fingers or, when I needed both hands firmly on the bars, between my clenched teeth.

For the most part, providing you follow the description of the route carefully, you really can’t put a wheel wrong thanks to the attention to detail shown by the authors. There is one glaring error, however which will take you in completely the wrong direction up a very sketchy climb to nowhere – the very first words at point A in the description, too! Where it tells you to come out of the car park, turn right and head over the railway bridge, don’t. Just head straight down the hill from the car park (with the hotel directly behind you) and head straight up the steep climb; from there, the map is otherwise flawless.

After all the climbing, there is a lovely section atop the ridge of the hillside (sure, the surface sucks and I ended up axle deep in a flooded section but it was beautiful!) before a blink-and-you-miss-it left hander onto an incredibly sketchy downhill.

Check out that view – almost enough to make you ride into the hedge.

Almost.

The tyres making all this possible are both 26 x 2.4″; the rear is a Maxxis Holy Roller which provides incredible traction, stability and accelleration without dragging too much on the harder stuff. The front is a DMR Moto R/T with a more directional tread to aid cornering and mud clearance when it really matters most. They’re both designed for road and trail, rather than mud but I found them more than capable; I’m sure they won’t last too long what with the rubber compound being so soft but I’m willing to sacrifice a little longevity for increased performance.

Next challenge up is yet another descent on what is described in the map as “often very wet”. The reason for this routine moistness is that this really isn’t a trail, or even a path; nope, what this is ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is a stream. A stream with a bed of loose, slippery rocks and a quagmire off to the side all ready to catch out anyone stupid enough to put a foot down.

At the entrance to said stream, I lost my balance and before I could get my feet out my pedals, I fell ass first into a bed of stinging nettles with the Troll clinging onto my shoes for dear life.

Stop sniggering! Being stung all over your body is just not fun!

Anyway, back to the trail and it was lunchtime. Unfortunately, I’d brought nothing more than an expired Science in Sport Go! chocolate and orange energy bar with me so I took a quick break to nom it while I watched the foals playing in the field next to me; the sheep were doing nothing of any interest.

With only a few more miles to go, I stopped at the Diggle Hotel for a £2.20 glass of ice cold Pepsi to take in some much needed caffeine and headed back to the station via yet another stinging climb on the tarmac.

And so, my verdict on the Diggle Jiggle? Well, it’s a lot of fun in places and I found it quite the challenge in places. One thing is for certain, despite all the tarmac, this really is mountain bike country and a suspension fork is an absolute must. Also, even on a nice dry day like today, I was very much in need of wide, knobbly tyres; I feel certain thay my Halos would’ve let me down on several ocassions.

So, despite its rather jolly name, the Diggle Jiggle is not for the faint hearted.