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

unloveable

 

I should say right away, this music video is a little bit… challenging. Probably not suitable for work, certainly not suitable for children and is likely to cause offence.

But hey, it’s my blog and it’s a great song so it’s staying up.

Last time we were doing science, maths, Latin and generally making up new words. Tonight’s post contains graphic images of engineering, detailed descriptions of science and flagrant use of mathematics. Oh and that scary video. You have been warned.

BEHOLD: The Roadgre.

Surly Ogre 1Or, some of it at least. No sooner had I got the frame home from the shop and I was already throwing the wheels on to get an idea of how the finished article might look.

PDW payload pannier rackThe swoopy looking pannier rack was a bit of an impulse buy as I handed over an envelope stuffed with cash for the frameset. It’s a Portland Design Works (PDW) Payload and it comes complete with a rather fetching bamboo deck to appeal to your inner hipster. Time will tell how well it performs in the cargo carrying stakes (it’s rated to an impressive 35kg / 77lbs) and I’m most interested to see how the double-ply bamboo will stand up to Manchester’s wet and grimy back streets. In the meantime, the cool factor is off the scale and you’ll be unsurprised to learn I’ve been scouring the interwebs for matching bamboo mudguards ever since I first laid eyes on it.

The wheels are Shimano WH-S500, 700c diameter and 17mm wide; quite a bit narrower than the usual 29er offering you’ll find on most Ogres out there but still recommended for tyres up to 37c wide. Until the ice starts settling in, I’ll be running a set of Halo Twin Rail dual compound tyres (700×38) which fit perfectly. In fact, I’ll wager those skinny hoops would quite happily carry a much wider tyre without any problems. When the temperature really starts to drop, I’ll swap over to a set of Schwalbe ice spike tyres (also 700×38); I’ve never ridden with spikes before so that’ll be an interesting experiment.

The front hub comes equipped with a Shimano dynamo hub which I’ll be tying into front and rear lamps with built in standlights just as soon as I’ve settled on a pair with a good balance of features, affordability and lack of ugliness.

The rear hub is the real reason I ended up splurging on these wheels in the first place, it is of course a Shimano Alfine 8 speed internal gear hub (IGH). The IGH is by no means a new thing, in fact just about everyone (whether they cycle or not) has probably heard of the legendary Sturmey Archer 3 speed IGH. When looked after well, those old beauties will probably outlast the frames they’re attached to and even some of the people riding the bikes – it’s no surprise that even today the really good ones from the 1960s and 1970s can be found all over the world, turning out mile after mile of weather-proof, tickticktickticktickticktick commuting.

Surly Ogre Shimano Alfine 8 20t cogDo a little research and you’ll discover the woes of the 1980s and 1990s Sturmey hubs when it’s fair to say the company wasn’t exactly at the top of its game. Happily (and with considerable help from Sunrace) modern Sturmey Archer hubs are as good as, if not better than, the classic originals. Essentially, the Alfine 8 speed I settled on is cut from the same cloth; the internal gearing is based on the same basic yet horribly complicated looking principles and, unlike a traditional cassette & derailleur setup, most of the important moving parts are safely sealed away inside the hub, happily swimming around in grease, shielded from the elements.

Front and rear hubs are both compatible with Shimano’s Centrelock disc brake system which is previously unseen and untested here at lifeinthecyclelane so keep an eye out for a report on how they compare to the more common 6 bolt mounting most systems use these days.

Shimano Alfine chainsetAs with all Shimano gear, the wheels, cassette mounting kit and cog all come with excellent instructions in a variety of languages; there are even easy to follow pictures if you get tired of searching for the English section.

A word to the wise however: the neatly assembled hub you see above didn’t come about by accident. Nu-uh. First, there is mention of installing a dust cover which, as it turns out, I didn’t need to fit at all but I only realised this after far too many minutes of trying to make something fit that simply was never going to. Happily, once I’d realised the error of my ways and thrown the stupid mangled piece of plastic in the bin, the cog slipped beautifully into place and was held in place with a thumb-torturingly tight snap ring. A real pain to get seated but once it’s on, the cog is firmly snugged up against the hub body. Next comes the weird, cheap plastic feeling cassette joint which requires a little bit of lining up before a so-simple-it-seems-wrong lockring is clicked into place with whatever remains of your bleeding stumps and hey presto it’s all ready to go!

With the wheels finally put together and mounted on the frame, I turned my attention to mouting the matching Shimano Alfine S500 chainset. The external bottom bracket cups went in like a dream and, as I admired the beautiful mirrored black finish and slid the bottom bracket axle through, that horrible realisation washed over me…

Here’s an experiment for you. Head over to Google Images (other high quality search engines are available) and type in “Surly Ogre Alfine 8” and you’ll find loads of ’em out there with the same rear hub as mine. Now, try “Surly Ogre Alfine Chainset” and you won’t find a single one. I didn’t think much of it at the time but I now know why you don’t see the S500 chainset on the Ogre…

Surly Ogre Shimano Alfine ChainsetSurly Ogre Shimano Alfine Chainset Bottom BracketThe Ogre has a 73mm wide bottom bracket shell and it turns out the Alfine S500 chainset is only suitable for 68mm bottom bracket shells… that’ll explain why the chainring is about to foul the chainstay and there’s still a good 5mm of axle yet to install.

So yeah, whilst fatties might fit fine, what would appear to be a completely logical choice of chainset simply won’t.

Normally, I’d chalk this down to my not doing enough research before buying the parts but at no point in the product description or the multi-lingual instruction pamphlet does it say the chainset is only suitable for 68mm shells. What’s even more strange is that all other Shimano chainsets I’ve come across with external bottom bracket cups are suitable for both 68mm and 73mm shells, you just use or discard a 5mm spacer accordingly.

So. If you have a 68mm wide bottom bracket shell and you’re looking for a 39tooth single speed chainset, drop me a line at jimmy.phoenix@yahoo.co.uk

For now, it’s back to the drawing board for me as I try to figure out which chainset I now want to use and I’m still waiting for my Jtek bar end shifter to arrive.

In the meantime, I’m sorry to say that the surprisingly disappointing Shimano S500 single speed chainset will be the first entry into the ‘kit I hate’ section.

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.

why is your raincoat always crying?

As utterly bonkers as Simone White may be, I must confess to owning (and regularly playing) her surprisingly excellent album ‘I am the man’ which is how I came to know of this equally bonkers song. Originally, I bought the CD after falling in love with ‘The beep beep song’ made famous by this brilliant Audi advert so please feel free to listen to that instead whilst I bore you with cycling related trivia.

So why the fascination with the bonkers (albeit cute) Simone White all of a sudden? Well, regular visitors will know I like to post a song which is at least semi-related to the topic I’m boring you with writing about and today is no exception. In fact, dear readers, I have a semi-exciting new feature for you which may or may not become a regular fixture here at life in the cycle lane.

A great many of the hits my humble little blog gets are referred from various search engines around the world and, through the magic of the stats WordPress provides me with, I can even tell what people were searching for when they landed here. So, I thought it might be fun to answer some of the questions I’ve been indirectly asked this week.

First up: “what cane creek headset goes in the ogre”

Err… any one you like really; providing it has external cups of course. I use an S-1 in my Troll which looks and works great… I replaced the plastic top cap with a metal one but other than that it’s cool.

Second (and a bit more interesting): “how my cycle will go wrong on commute”

Any number of ways… Main things to watch out for are:

  • Punctures – Stop being a lettuce and spend some money on a decent set of tyres with puncture protection; they’ll pay for themselves in no time. I ride on Halo Twin Rails which are awesome as are Scwhalbe Kojaks (in fact, almost everything from Schwalbe is good for commuting).
  • Visibility – Get yourself a bright yellow jacket if you absolutely must but any decent cycling gear should have reflective bits on it which go a long way to getting you seen out on the roads. I wear a Gore Phantom II jacket almost all of the time and it has plenty of shiny for me.
  • Lights – Technically, this comes under visibility because commuter lights are really more about being seen rather than seeing (unless you ride home down a completely unlit street). Again, you have to be OK with spending a few quid here and you’ll want something with several modes (including flashing) to suit various light conditions.
  • Luggage – Dependent on how much stuff you want / need to carry, you’re going to need some decent luggage to house it if you’re serious about commuting; to carry said luggage, you’re also going to want a decent rack. I use a pair of Ortlieb Back Roller Classic rear panniers which are rugged, waterproof and downright cavernous; they hang off a Ragley rack ’em up pannier rack which is awesome. Many, many other bag & rack combinations are available and some are more suited to certain bikes than others… head down to your local bike shop and get some advice.

And finally this week: “surly troll frame weight”

It’s heavy; stop being a lettuce.

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.

jumper

 

As you know, I like quirky things; the quirkier, the better in fact!

But, quirky isn’t always enough; stuff needs to work well too. I mean, look at Boris Johnson’s hair; it’s quirky as you like but what use is it, really?

Allow me to introduce you to the Surly Tuggnut.

Of course, it’s made by Surly so you know it’s going to be really well engineered, rock solid and will no doubt satisfy even your quirkiest of desires.

Designed primarily for single speed / fixed gear bikes, the whole point of the Tuggnut is to incrementally move the rear wheel back in horizontal ‘dropouts’ to achieve the all important correct chain tension without the need for an ugly derailleur or external chain device or some kind. With 2 separate axle mounting points and uber fine adjustment available from the little thumbscrew, finding the right position for your rear wheel is a snap. And, thanks to a neat little washer type attachment, you can also run quick release wheels just as easily as solid axles.

But wait, the Troll isn’t a single speed! Look, there’s a big old shiny cassette and a rather nice Shimano Deore Shadow rear derailleur there – what on earth do you need a Tuggnut for on a geared bike?

Well, the answer is simple. Because I’m running 2.2″ wide Halo Twin Rail tyres and a triple mountain bike chainset, whenever I’m climbing some horrendous hill in the little chainring and the biggest cog on the cassette, the trailing edge of my front derailleur *just* rubs on the outer edge of the rear tyre. It’s only about a half a millimeter, but it’s more than enough to need fixing. The only real solutions available were:

  1. Replace the bottom bracket for one with a longer axle – Not gonna happen, far too much trouble and far too expensive
  2. Replace the tyres for something skinnier – Not gonna happen, far too attached to my Halos and far too manly to run skinny tyres on the Troll
  3. Buy a Surly Tuggnut – Sold!

Available around the £25 range, the Tuggnut is hardly the most expensive bit of kit out there and the best news is, you only need one for the drive side of your bike! You can see here how much I managed to move the rear wheel back; not much, but just enough to avoid any more interference issues. You can also see in this shot the beauty of those sliding disc brake mounts; nothing more complicated here than loosening the bolts, sliding the caliper back a little and retightening the bolts.

So yes, the Surly Tuggnut works extremely well. And the quirk factor? Well, that’s brought to you by the fact it also doubles as a bottle opener! Yep, at the end of a long, hard day’s trolling about, you can even crack open a cold one at the side of the trail. Sweet.

While we’re on the subject of quirky, yet functional accessories for your Surly (and I believe there are other bike manufacturers out there), you could certainly do a lot worse than get yourself one of these.

Maybe I could get Karen to knit me an orange one…

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…