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.

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i can see for miles

 

“You don’t happen to know where we are, do you?” I asked the wrinkly faced group of friendly old men (the only other human beings I’d seen for hours) as I feebly held out my utterly useless map of the Angelzarke Loop.

After much discussion reminiscing about the time they missed the turn, the time they stopped for a butty, the confusion over which time was which or whether indeed they stopped for a butty the same time they missed the turn, we eventually decided I was nowhere (and I mean NOWHERE) near where I thought / hoped I might be on the map.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: What am I doing talking to wrinkly old men up in t’ hills on a Monday morning when I should really be chained to my desk pretending to do doing whatever it is I do for a living. Well, despite the almost total certainty that the world will collapse without me being there, I’ve FINALLY managed to bag a week off work and (fingers crossed) I haven’t been struck down with anything!

I’m sure there is a list of chores somewhere I’m supposed to be doing but this week has been very clearly earmarked for mountain biking. At the weekend, I stripped every bit of superfluous weight from my Surly Troll, whipped out my Fox F100 suspension forks and threw on a set of veratibly skinny 26 x 2.1″ Continental Speed King off-road tyres.

This morning, I threw it in the back of the car and drove up to Rivington and set of in search of bridleways my so-called-map claimed made up the Anglezarke Loop. I should’ve known better. I should’ve learnt from all the other times I’ve been rubbish at map reading. I should’ve remembered my experience of the Diggle Jiggle where I even had turn-by-turn instructions and still got lost!

Hours passed. I climbed. I descended. I rode on sand. I rode through mud. I carried the Troll through a bog. I tiptoed over a 30ft rotten bridge with the Troll on my shoulder. I shook myself to bits hammering downhill at ridiculous speeds over horribly rocky terrain. I missed hitting that wall by an inch… I barely caught the front wheel when it snatched in a rut and threatened to hurl me down the hillside. I ignored the huge ‘No cycling’ sign (to my peril). I got lost. Hopelessly, hopelessly lost.

It was brilliant.

Later in the week, I shall go back with a better map and ride the whole thing. But for today, I am content with making it up to Rivington Pike and (perhaps more impressively) finding my way back to the car, man & Troll both unscathed.

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le voyage de pénélope

Just time for a quickie tonight folks; sit back and let the plinky plunky French randomness wash over you…

Oh, and please don’t worry; no shocking pink saddles were harmed in the production of this blog post.

994151_10151707854699863_1000163482_nWe had some friends over for dinner recently and with them they brought this old steel framed Peugeot… somethingorother.

“The gears won’t work” and a few other minor issues were on the list so I quickly threw it in the workstand and gave my friend a masterclass in setting derailleur limit screws and adjusting cable tension. With the rusty old thumshifters back doing what they should be, I turned my attention to the rusty old cantilever brakes which were also horribly adjusted. After I’d whipped out my 4th hand tool (how did I ever live without that???), I realised both wheels needing truing, all the cables needed replacing, the handlebars needed throwing out along with the ridiculous foam grips and… well, the list went on.

Since then, I’ve done a bit of work on it to at least get it rolling and took it out for a spin on Salford’s mean streets. Our good friends over at Keep Pedalling, Manchester (once they’d finished taking the mickey out of me for riding it in public) supplied me with new cables and new handlebar grips which I fitted this avo.

I had all sorts of plans to take Penelope out this evening for a good shakedown ride on the trails but, the Troll gave me that “you-never-ride-me-anymore-since-you-built-that-slinky-little-Kinesis” look so Penelope will just have to wait for another day.

Needless to say, I headed directly for the trails. Didn’t pass Go. Didn’t collect £200. I did however, get mud all over the bike, all over my self and even some in my eyes – that’ll teach me for taking the mudguards off!

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nothing else matters

 

I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about this before (although it will probably come as little surprise to regular readers) but I don’t place a lot of importance on acceptance; in fact, I have been known to shun it, favouring a simple, quiet life instead.

Having said that, and I think this is true for all cyclists, there is something quite special about the feeling you get when a fellow cyclist compliments you on your bike. When said fellow cyclist happens to work in (or even owns) a bike shop, the kudos steps up another level.

Many bike shops actually host organised rides every weekend (normally just for roadies) and, if you’re a member of the club and you ride the right bike and you can keep up, you can turn up and head out for a group ride.

I suppose being part of such a group ride means you have been accepted. You are part of the clan. You have been deemed worthy of wearing the colours. You are fast enough not to get dropped off the ‘peloton’. I suppose this also means you can no longer acknowledge other cyclists on the road because they are members of some rival clan or, shock horror, don’t belong to any clan.

I should say at this point I’ve never been part of one of these groups and I know some of you reading this either have been or currently are. It’s really not my intention to cause insult but the ones I’ve seen out on the road have always been arrogant, superior and often dangerous. I’m sure not all groups and certainly not all members are like this but that’s just my experience.

I’m reminded here of a fellow blogger who was recently told “We don’t crash” when he slipped on the ice…

Anyway, it will also come as no surprise to regular readers that I don’t frequent the kinds of shops that host group rides because, again, my experiences of the guys who work in them aren’t good.

I remember mooching all around Manchester when I first moved here, looking for a decent bike shop. I went to the likes of Evans Cycles, Harry Hall Cycles, Bicycle Boutique, Ridelow and the now sadly closed GBH Custom Hacks to mention but a few. Each of these caters to very different needs and I still pop into Ridelow and Bicycle Boutique from time to time but the others just don’t provide what I’m looking for in a bike shop.

And then, one day as I was mooching around on my lunch break, I saw a simple sign above a window saying “bike shop”. Posing unabashedly in another window was a Surly Moonlander. I climbed the stairs and was greeted with a line of bikes from the likes of Surly, Salsa, Soma, Civia (amongst others) and a cheerful “Hello!” from what turned out to be the owner.

From that moment on, whenever I’ve needed anything for any of my bikes, be it an emergency repair, a replacement brake cable, a complete frameset or just some advice, my first port of call has been the independently owned and rather excellent Keep Pedalling, Manchester.

Owned and run by Rich & Shona (two of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure to meet in my lifetime) and home to Shop Mutt Olive (one of the cutest dogs I’ve had the pleasure to cuddle in my lifetime), you’re always guaranteed a friendly greeting, heaps of knowledgeable advice and only the finest bike porn. I also happen to know nothing comes out of the workshop without being checked over by at least 2 people; you can’t say fairer than that.

644084_10151452375969863_1347449314_nIf you tuned in for this week’s instalment of ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’, you’ll know I was forced (very much against my will) into the bike shop for a chat, a cuddle with the dog and a sneak preview of the Surly Krampus a few days ago. So, I popped in, I had a chat, I had a cuddle and then the Krampus appeared and basically stopped me completely in my tracks.

I’ve been following the progress of this bike for a while now and I’ve seen heaps of pictures and even a few videos online; the slightly unhinged guys over at Surly have been riding various early prototypes around in the US and generally making me green with envy. I think this is probably why I put on my very best puppy dog eyes (rivalling even Olive’s) and asked blatantly loaded questions like “What size is that frame?”, “You say you’re out riding with it on Sunday?”, “Where are you going riding?” and “What kind of cake do you guys like best?” (my girlfriend makes cakes, incidentally).

Being the lovely people they are and having a weakness for my girfriend’s apple & cinnamon cake as they do, Rich & Shona invited me along for a ride in t’ Pennines on t’ Sunday.

That. That, dear readers, is what I call acceptance.

I’m supposed to be moving house in a couple of weeks; I was supposed to be packing. I’m exhausted this week, I was supposed to be relaxing. I’m [allegedly] getting older and wiser, I’m not supposed to be hurtling around t’ hills on t’ mountain bikes.

Bah. I’ve never been one to conform and I’m not about to start now!

45866_10151454569499863_85699737_nSo, I stripped as much superflous weight as possible (racks, lights, mudguards etc.) from the Troll, fitted my Fox F100 suspension fork and jumped on the Rochdale canal towpath heading north which just happens to be part of NCN Route 66. A little over 10 miles later and I was rolling into Littleborough, heading for Hollingworth Lake and the Pennine Bridleway.

On an unseasonably warm February day, I sat in the sun eating a banana, watched a buzzard hunt and just enjoyed the peace and quiet. The peace and quiet which was shortly to be shattered by the unmistakable sound of tyres on gravel. Large tyres. Larger than normal tyres. 29 x 3″ tyres.

“Get yourself sized up then!” Rich said as he yoinked my Troll away.

Within seconds I was tearing up the trail on the Krampus, trying to make sense of the hugely wide bars and the surprisingly nimble ride. Sure, I nearly dropped it when I leaned into a corner too quickly but I was soon throwing it around like I’d been riding it for years.

574703_10151459004474863_662423197_nWe headed for the hills. I pointed the Krampus at gravel, wet rocks, hardpack dirt, deep wet mud, up-to-the-axles flooded sections and everything in between; with a mere 10psi in the Knards, it just rolled over and through absolutely everything, smoothing out every mistake my rusty mountain biking skills caused. Eventually, reluctantly, I gave it back and hopped back on my Troll.

Whilst the Krampus had been epic, making impossible climbs seem simple and fast descents an incredible experience, my Troll felt small, sketchy and my On One Midge bars seemed narrower than ever. What’s more, my already heavily worn brake pads were fast running out of what little friction material was left. On the penultimate descent, I pulled both brake levers and… nothing happened. Sensing my impending death, I had to throw the Troll head first into the wall just to stop it from running away with me. Somehow, I managed to mince my way safely up and down the one remaining climb and rode the remaining 15 miles, feathering what was left of my front brake until finally I reached the safety of home.

It was one of those rare days… Awesome bikes to ride, awesome weather bathing awesome scenery and awesome company to enjoy it with.

Perfect.

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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.

changes

 

I’ve lived in Manchester now for nearly 11 months and, with the exception of a few hangover and / or exhaustion induced days, I’ve cycled into work every single weekday in just about all weathers.

For the first couple of months, I was taking the most direct route I could find which was a solid 6 miles along the rollercoaster that is the A664 Rochdale Road. Now, as much as it’s (largely) a nice wide road with cycle lanes and / or bus lanes and I very much enjoyed the variety of the short but sharp hill climbs & descents, in hindsight I’ve come to realise just how dangerous a route it actually is and just how lucky I was to never have an accident.

Of course, the problem with bus lanes is that they are frequented by buses. Sure, they’re useful for avoiding most of the traffic but leapfrogging loud, dirty monsters largely driven by idiots with no spatial awareness and no idea what their mirrors are for is just not fun.

A few close shaves later and and I started looking for a quieter, safer route. This came in the shape of the B6393 which runs largely parallel to the Rochdale Road, past JW Lees brewery, through an industrial estate, over the M60, past the Greater Manchester Police HQ and finally into Manchester through the usual inner-city suburbs.

Whilst this route is almost completely devoid of cycle lanes and carries only slightly less traffic, it is considerably safer. I think this is partly thanks to the much more controlled crossing of the motorway and the fact that drivers are forced to give you more space on the road when you’re sharing the same piece of tarmac.

I do have a theory about cycle lanes… I think some drivers see that white line as some kind of magical barrier which protects them and the cyclists from each other; of course, the truth is, you should give cyclists the same amount of room as you would any other road user but I find cars, buses and trucks buzzing right by me all too often whenever I’m ‘protected’ over there with the drain covers and broken glass.

But, I digress. Along with the not being killed bonus, my new road route takes my daily mileage up to 15 miles so I’m able to get a little more of a workout in every morning and afternoon too.

Of course, the Troll was built to be rugged and has already proved itself more than capable both on road and off road. With that in mind and my new road route bringing its own fair share of close shaves, I’ve been looking for some kind of off road route which has materialised in the shape of a stretch of NCN Route 66 and the Rochdale Canal towpath.

Keep your eyes peeled for a post about riding on route 66 and, while we’re at it, riding on canal towpaths in general; for today, a brief report on how the Troll has been handling this new route.

I don’t currently have a computer fitted to the bike so I’m not quite sure what the mileage is of my new route but, considering it takes me significantly away from the 2 road routes, I reckon it’s approaching 10 miles each way. Of course, it’s mostly flat but there is a gradual incline all the way home with several locks and flights of steps along the way.

The surface varies wildly from freshly laid tarmac to thickly spread granite chippings to deep mud to herringbone brickwork, most of which is in a fairly poor state of repair with several areas actually fenced off where the towpath is falling away into the canal.

The oldest sections of the canal are somehow the most solid, most likely thanks to the brilliance of Victorian engineering. Whilst this is all very nice and interesting and historical, the problem is those pesky Victorians were rather fond of using cobbles; cobbles, which you’ll know if you’ve ever ridden on them, are very rough and get VERY slippery when wet.

For the the last couple of months, I’ve been taking the safer road route into work and the canal route back home again. With the rigid fork, the journey in is effortless and generally takes about 30 minutes but the return trip can take up to 1 hour and, thanks to those cobbled sections, is a bit of a boneshaker.

And so, a new experiment! I managed to bag a set of Fox F100 air suspension forks which are actually lighter than the standard rigid steel fork that comes with the Troll. With preload and rebound adjustment and lockout within reach of the bars, they’re also suitable for every kind of terrain at only a moment’s notice. Sure, they’re silver and blue so they don’t match the original colour scheme but I’m not too worried about that.

What I am slightly worried about is the coverage provided by my new SKS Shockblade front mudguard… I went for the 28 – 29″ wheel version as it’s slightly longer than the 26″ wheel version and, despite being slightly narrower, still covers my 2.2″ Halo Twin Rails quite well.

Ugly as sin as it may be, it’s really the best option for keeping as much crap off the bike as possible when running a suspension fork; we’ll see what the coverage is like on next week’s commute. No doubt we’ll be back to rain by then; it is Manchester, after all.

I really didn’t like how the new front mudguard looked with the old full wrap one so I also invested in an SKS X-Blade rear guard. I’m still not happy with the overall look so it’ll need some tweaking but I’m willing to live with it for the comfort of a suspension fork over the dreaded cobbles.

I took it out yesterday for a quick shakedown along the canal and first impressions are very promising indeed; with the fine preload and rebound adjustment right there at my fingertips, I was able to apply just the right amount of cushion for each section of the trail and lock it all out again as soon as the path smoothed out.

Only time will tell if the fork stays on and the towpath becomes my commuter route of choice…