in the army now

 

We’ve spent a lot of time recently talking about riding cool bikes, wanting to ride other cool bikes and what happens when you spend too long out with other women. I can see you all there, on the edges of your seats, holding your collective breath just waiting for an update on the much anticipated Surly Ogre build. Well, wait no more dear reader, the Ogre is finally experiencing life in the cycle lane.

Surly Ogre LHT Crumbals on the cornerSeen here enjoying a much needed break at the very excellent Crumbals on the corner in Marsden, Huddersfield, the eagle-eyed and elephant-brained regulars amongst you may well recognise the On One Midge bars, Cane Creek SCR-5 brake levers and Avid BB5 road disc brakes from early iterations of my Surly Troll.

I’ve also pinched the Brooks B17 World Traveller special edition saddle from my Troll which has started to turn a lovely orangey-brown colour which, whilst not an exact match, works extremely well with the brown Deda bar tape, brown Vavert full wrap mudguards and army green frameset.

Surly Ogre 1The Ogre shares the same horizontal track style dropouts found on the Troll which allow you to slide the rear wheel back and forth to achieve just the right position and, crucially with single speed and internal gear hub (IGH) setups, the right amount of chain tension. I’m almost embarrased to admit that mine was all floppy on chrimbo day.

You see, I was relying on the force applied by simply tightening the axle nuts to keep my rear wheel in place. What I hadn’t realised was that with all the out-the-saddle climbing I’d been doing, the force I was putting through the drivetrain was enough to cause the wheel to slip forward in the dropouts. Not much, but enough to achieve said floppyness.

There are a few potential solutions to this:

  1. Stop riding up hills
  2. Fit some kind of spring loaded chain tensioner
  3. Sling a Surly Tuggnut on

Living in t’ North as I do and given the fact I actually really enjoying climbing (despite my complaining), option 1 really isn’t an option.

Option 2 is out too because it’s nonsense to have sliding dropouts and a derailleur style chain tensioner, besides which I want to retain the clean look.

So, option 3 it is.

Surly Ogre dropout Alfine 8 non turn washerBut wait! Because of how the Alfine hub works, you need to install special non-turn washers which of course aren’t designed to work with the Surly Tuggnut (other inferior chain tensioners are also available). Punch “Surly Tuggnut Alfine” into your search engine of choice and there is plenty of discussion on the forums about how to modify your Tuggnut to work. My favourite solution and the one I ended up going with was really the simplest: just throw away one of your non turn washers.

Surly Ogre Alfine 8 Sturmey Archer crankset Blackspire chainringAs it turns out, you really only need one to do the job of holding the axle in place – taken care of by the left hand (white) one in the picture above. On the drive side of the bike, simply remove the sliver washer, fit your Surly Tuggnut as normal, snug up the thumbscrew to achieve the all important chain tension and hey presto, nothing floppy in sight and you’ve got the ability to crack open a cold one at the end of your ride thanks to the built in bottle opener. Sweet.

It’s important to note here that there are various different coloured non turn washers for the various different shaped dropouts out there and unless you have true horizontal ones like mine, this solution really isn’t for you. I dare say it’s not recommended by Shimano to run your Alfine with only one non turn washer and I’m fairly sure the good folk at Surly wouldn’t recommend any of the above with the probable exception of drinking beer.

Remember kids, read and follow the manufacturers’ instructions [sic].

Surly Ogre Alfine 8 Jtek bar end shifterShifting comes courtesy of a Jtek bar end shifter. Not the one I ordered direct from The States, waited ages for, waited a bit longer for, got tired of waiting for and cancelled, but one I bought second hand from a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who had one lying around in his parts box. With reassuringly industrial indexing at the shifter (not the hub), there is a very satisfying click every time you change gear and none of the imprecise feel I’m told you get with the Rohloff which is indexed at the hub, not the shifter.

Surly Ogre Alfine 8 Tuggnut casette jointSurly Ogre in line cable adjusterThe Alfine hub is particualrly sensitive to gear cable tension, thanks largely to the decidedly el cheapo plastic the ‘cassette joint’ is made from. Once installed, you need to shift to the lowest gear (1), attach the cable inner to the fiddly little cable clamp and pop it into place. Next, shift to gear 4 and you’ll see two little marks in a small window in the cassette joint. The game now is to get them both perfectly lined up. I’m reliably informed this is damn near impossible without the help of an in-line cable adjuster; which is why I didn’t question it and fitted one up near the shifter (it doesn’t really matter where you install it, just so long as you have one somewhere accessible).

You’re going to want to take care of all your chain tension and other rear wheel movement and get it tightened down in its final position before you go anywhere near the cable tension, incidentally. Of course, every time you whip the wheel out for a puncture, tyre change or whatever, make doubly sure to re-check your gear cable tension because I guarantee you it won’t be right (another reason for the Tuggnut – the wheel always goes back in exactly the same place).

Surly Ogre Shimano Alfine ChainsetOh, I almost forgot! Originally I’d planned to fit a Shimano Alfine chainset to match the wheelset but it turned out to be suitable only for 68mm bottom bracket shells and I have a 73mm shell on the Ogre. The solution came in the shape of a Sturmey Archer single speed chainset and traditional square taper bottom bracket – nothin’ fancy. You’ll see on the first couple of pictures on this post that it originally came with a 44t chainring and what turns out to be a nasty silver chain guard; coupled with the 18t rear cog I ended up using, this resulted in gearing that is just a bit too high for my liking.

Surly Ogre Sturmey Archer crannkset 39t Blackspire downhill chainringIn t’ hills I find myself almost exclusively out of the saddle and even hooning down a long descent with the wind behind me, I still can’t make any real use of the 2 highest gears. Not wanting to go through the hassle or expense of sourcing yet another chainset, I simply ordered a new, smaller chainring (104mm BCD for the nerds out there) and took a link out of my chain so I’m now running with a rather fancy looking Blackspire 39t Downhill chainring up front and an 18t cog in the rear. I’ll be heading out on it tomorrow to test out the new combination which will hopefully give me a good balance of high speed on the flats and relatively low gearing on the climbs.

Well, I think that’s about all there is to report for now – more in the next few weeks!

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mr. jones

 

Last Friday I was promoted at work.

Last Saturday Karen and I had a lovely time with our friends over in Glossop selling cake to the masses.

Last Sunday I went mountain biking in t’ Pennines with the good folk from Keep Pedalling, Manchester.

As weekends go, it wasn’t too bad.

As my bruises from last week’s ride turn that sickly shade of yellowish purple, I’ve reached a few decisions about the Jeff Jones Spaceframe and Truss Fork I was riding crashing:

1. It’s a hardtail, no question.

This may seem an obvious statement but apparently a lot of folks out there are comparing it with full suspension frames. The Jones website may hold some clues to why as it states A Jones is a high-performance non-suspended bicycle. The ride is both efficient and comfortable and the handling is immediate and assured. With the default choice for off-road cycling nowadays seemingly suspension before anything else it might seem odd to ride rigid but that is the last thing my bicycles are – the geometry and construction provide an extremely satisfying and direct connection between the rider, the trail and the bike. It’s pure cycling and a lot of fun.”.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fatI think the confusion comes from all the talk of suspension. What Jeff’s trying to say here is that, despite being fully ‘rigid’, his bikes don’t have a ‘rigid’ feel; equally, he’s not saying his bikes have some kind of ‘suspension effect’.

Really good steel hardtails (in my humble opinion) are the best choice for off road riding because you really do get a direct connection between you, the bike and whatever you’re riding over. With a full suspension bike, the rear end is flopping about, you’re bouncing around and by the very design of the thing, you don’t have that direct connection. For me, this eliminates most of the experience and, of course, a certain amount of the energy you’re putting into the pedals is getting soaked up by the suspension.

It’s kinda like comparing apples & bananas.

2. ‘Half fat’ is fun but it isn’t for me.

The bike I was riding had been built up with a 29er rear wheel and a 26″ fat bike wheel from our good friends over at Surly. I don’t know the exact measurements but because of the extra rubber up front, the rolling diameter of the mismatched wheels ends up being almost exactly the same. Fat tyres run at surprisingly low pressures (they were after all originally designed for riding on soft stuff like snow and sand) which provides plenty of ‘float’ and they’re generally quite squidgy. I guess that qualifies as some kind of ‘suspension effect’. But again, comparing a rigid fork with fat tyre to a suspension fork is kinda like comparing a screwdriver to a hammer… both are perfectly good tools and, used in the appropriate application, will do a fine job. However, if you need to hammer in a nail, a posi #2 isn’t really what you want.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fat 2We were riding on fairly tricky trails with a healthy mixture of deep ruts and flooded bogs. In the ruts (and this is probably my lack of talent showing), I found the front tyre a bit too wide and a bit too eager to grab hold of the sides. Worse than that (and with more lack of talent showing), on the approach to a boggy section, the front end just floated over whatever I pointed it at whilst the rear schlurped into the mud up to the axle.

This is by no means the fault of the bike. I should’ve picked my line more carefully and I certainly should’ve put more effort into trying to drive through the bog… Looking down at that front tyre, I guess I just kept forgetting I couldn’t float the rear wheel through too.

3. Single speed is also fun but also isn’t for me.

215455_10150160090194863_1113944_nI’ve built a couple of single speeds over the years and for a long time, it was my ride of choice; the thing with single speeds is you need to have enough strength in your thighs to get the thing up to speed and then maintain it. These days, my body has become conditioned to maintaining a steady cadence using the full range of the 27 speed setup I run on all my bikes and, as a result, my thigh muscles aren’t actually that strong.

At least this is my feeble excuse for not being able to monster the Jones up the hills as impressively as I would’ve liked. People who ride single speed mountain bikes are the special kind of crazy. And, I salute them for it.

4. Jones Loop Bars are awesome.

Treat yourself to a Surly Troll, a Surly Ogre or (obviously) anything from Jeff Jones and chances are it’ll come with a set of Jones Loop Bars as standard. If you’re not familiar with them, you can read all about the various incarnations of the Loop Bar here.

Surly Troll Jeff Jones loop barOriginally, I built my Surly Troll with a set of On One Midge bars so I’ve only recently been lucky enough to own a set of Jeff’s horribly expensive yet incredibly excellent bars. For several months, I used them for commuting (mostly on road), making good use of the various hand positions and enjoying the stability all that extra width gives.

More recently, I’ve been using them off road and they’re transfomed my Troll into the highly capable mountain bike I always suspected it would be. I’m still getting used to them and on occasion I still find them a little too wide but coupled to the Jones Spaceframe and Truss Fork, they make perfect sense. Just the right width, all the hand positions you could possibly need off road and as cool as hell. What’s not to like?

5. I’d rather have a Krampus.

563530_10151458835669863_576432359_nI’m lucky enough to have had a sneak preview ride of the legendary Surly Krampus before it was freely available in the UK. The one I was riding had a 1×10 drivetrain, 29er wheels, wide handlebars and a rigid fork; making it quite a fair comparator for the Jones. What’s more, I rode the Krampus and the Jones on some of the very same trails in extremely similar conditions at the same time of year with many of the same people.

To the best of my knowledge, I didn’t crash the Krampus. I remember thinking I would’ve liked one more low gear and the bars were a touch too wide for my taste but otherwise I loved everything about that bike.

It’s also considerably cheaper than the Jones which makes the unavoidable justifying-buying-it-to-your-other-half conversation so much easier.

Odd, I thought I was going to love the Jones…

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.

563530_10151458835669863_576432359_n

crazy

538264_10150964770779863_1147176664_nIf you’re a regular in these parts, you’ll be familiar with my… shall we say… less than conventional ways. And, as this week’s episode of ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’ suggests, my readers are also just a little bit craa-aazy.

This week, people have been asking some of life’s most important and intriguing questions:

  • How should bullhorn handlebars be fitted? – Properly. By someone who knows what they are doing.
  • What is the expected lifetime of SKS Commuter mudguards? – Depends on how badly you abuse them, I suppose.
  • Schwalbe Kojak or Brompton Kojak? – Pssst… it’s the same tyre! The regular one has reflective tyre labels; do you really think the reflective strip on the Brompton version is worth the extra money??? Me neither.
  • Is Carrbrook a council estate? – Used to be, yeah.
  • What year is my Coventry Eagle? – I have NO idea, 1960s or 1970s probably.
  • Who makes Transporter Bumper trailer? – Raleigh, I think. Or, whichever Far East company builds stuff for Raleigh these days.

Right, with the mysteries of the universe finally solved, it’s on to some cycling related trivia. A couple of people this week have been asking about On One Midge handlebars and, having had a set for a little over a year, it’s probably high time I did a little report on them.

205302_10151055926794863_1096110797_nSo what’s the deal? Aren’t they just weird shaped road bars? Well, yes and no.

Essentially they are based on a road style bar in that they have flat tops and then drop down in the usual hooked shape. Naturally, they only suit road style brake levers (no, you can’t run flat bar type levers on them) and the internal diameter is big enough to accommodate bar end shifters.

But here’s the weird thing… or at least the first weird thing… they come with either a 25.4mm or 31.8mm clamp size; the likes of which you normally find on mountain bike stems [although many road bike stems now come with a 31.8mm clamp].

395814_10151077628534863_270717771_nThe other weird thing… or at least another of the weird things… is that angle which the drops are splayed out at. Why, WHY would they do this? Well, what you get with wider bars is more stability and (so those better and braver off road than I am tell me) the splay makes the brake levers more accessible when riding in the drops which apparently gives you the confidence to hammer downhill offroad at eye watering speeds.

You’ll notice however, the splay also places your brake levers at a rather strange angle. For me and my Cane Creek SCR-5 levers, this results in an unusually comfortable riding position, almost akin to that you get from aero bars. I do find myself riding on the tops most of the time but more recently, I’ve been making an effort to get down in the drops; it’s a little strange with all that extra width but it does make a nice change from the somewhat upright riding position I have on the Troll.

So, would I recommend them? Well, yes and also no.

  • For your regular common or garden road bike, they are all kinds of wrong.
  • Most mountain bikes will be set up with mountain bike brakes and derailleurs so consideration needs to be given to the types of levers and shifters you’ll need to buy to make it all work.
  • Cyclocross bikes tend to come with road style bars and integrated shifters & brake levers and are designed to hit the trails anyway so it should be a simple case of switching them over (you may need a different stem, remember).
  • Touring bikes like my Surly Troll are most suited, I think. All that extra width helps to give you more stability which is helpful when you’ve got stuff hanging off the bike in bags and / or on a trailer. There’s also plenty of room for fitting cross levers, lights and handlebar bags.

557294_10151077625149863_721584113_nMy personal opinion? I love the way they look on the bike, I love the way the bar end shifters are kept well away from my knees and I LOVE the way I can change gear with my little fingers when I’m riding in the drops. For me and my Troll, they work great even if they are so wide I have to lift the whole bike over narrow gates etc. but I suspect they are not for everyone.

553743_10150987700279863_347507007_nOh, and whilst we’re on the topic of craa-aazy things, we have a new contender for ‘Best search term EVER!’ with:

“weird things on woodhead pass”

Although that has to be closely followed by:

“public toilets woodhead pass”

That would be weird in such a rugged place!

how bizarre

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

want you bad

 

Those of you who know me well also know that there are precious few things in life which make me grin like an idiot and giggle like a schoolgirl; chief amongst which is, of course, the prospect of laying my hands on some new cycling related shiny.

You see, for a while now I have been coveting another… I love my Merida dearly, it takes me just about everywhere I need / want to go; often with Kojak attached, filled with god knows what. Before that, I also loved my Graham Weigh cyclocross which is currently broken down in boxes waiting for me to decide what on earth to do with it. They’re both up for sale but I also have a very soft spot for my Coventry Eagle and Falcon Panther.

But, something has always been missing… it’s hard to explain what but there was definitely something. And so, after much research, a lot of saving up and an awful lot of time spent drooling over one in the bike shop, I am ridiculously happy to report that I shall very shortly be ordering myself a Surly Troll!

Do a quick Google Images search and you’ll see several custom builds, some of which are pretty cool and some others which are… not. A fellow blogger has done quite a good job on his Troll but I think I’m going to go in a slightly different direction.

I’m lucky enough to have an awesome bike shop at my fingertips which just happens to have a ready built Troll in stock which just happens to be exactly the right size for me so this weekend (my girlfriend has gone away for a few days) I popped into the shop, bribed them with some shortbread from the excellent Blue Daisy Cafe around the corner and took the Troll out for a spin around Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

The complete bike comes with a rather odd selection of parts including some very wide handlebars, Avid disc brakes, Kenda tyres and a rather cheap and nasty WTB saddle. The Shimano Deore 27 speed mountain bike drivetrain suits the 26″ wheels and the setup of the bike very nicely and the all steel frame and fork are surprisingly light.

The major attraction for me is the incredible versatility of the bike; it’ll take just about any drivetrain you want to fit from single speed to internally geared Rohloff hub and everything inbetween. You can run disc brakes or cantis (even v-brakes if you really must), flat bars, road bars or… any bars you like – some suggestions here. Unlike many other frames, you can also fit disc brakes, full wrap mudguards and pannier racks (front and rear) all at the same time with no interference issues and, if all that wasn’t enough, there are also dedicated mounts for Surly and BOB trailers!

What will I be running? Well, I’m glad you asked! Obviously, the frame is orange. Very orange. I’ll be going for a fairly clean and simple orange and black colour scheme with the ocassional silver / chrome accent here and there:

  • Wheels: Sun Rims 26″ disc specific wheelset
  • Tyres: Halo Twin Rail 26 x 2.2″
  • Drivetrain: 27 speed MTB specific Shimano Shadow derailleurs, Race Face chainset and Dia Compe full friction bar end shifters
  • Brakes: Avid BBDB mechanical disc brakes with Cane Creek Drop V brake levers
  • Bars: On One Midge ‘dirt drop’ bars with matching stem and seatpost

As I want my Troll to be a commuter, tourer and ocassional weekend trail runner, I’ll also be fitting full wrap mudguards (just as soon as I can find some wide enough to cover the tyres!) and front and rear pannier racks too.

Keep your eyes peeled for progress reports – I’ll be ordering the frameset and other parts tomorrow!!!