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.

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

nothing compares 2 u

 

3020_71527479862_5268368_nAs time goes by, new people come into your life; some stay for a while, others only for a fleeting moment. A precious few (for me, at least) stick around forever.

The same (again, for me, at least) is true of bikes. Just like the various people I’ve come across have taught me a lot about life, love and loathing, the bikes I’ve owned have taught me so much about being fat, being fit and going fast.

Interestingly, I don’t remember my first love… she might’ve had brown hair… maybe… was she the one with a VW Beetle? Were we happy together? Did we have plans for the future? I honestly couldn’t tell you… for one reason or another, I’ve blocked out those memories or they simply weren’t important enough for me to retain.

3020_71527364862_6393263_n 3020_71527369862_3687761_nAsk me about my first bike build and I can tell you everything you want to know! She was an orange Specialized Hardrock with Marzocchi MZ Comp suspension forks, a 27 speed Shimano Deore drivetrain and Avid Single Digit v-brakes. Followed quite closely by my second love, ‘the Race Face bike’, also with Marzocchi forks, Shimano XT drivetrain, Avid BBDB disc brakes, Race Face cranks, saddle, seatpost, stem and bars. It had Odyssey Sharkbite pedals, Halo Knobbler tyres and was just an awesome machine.

The Race Face bike eventually got broken down and largely sold off in parts (you’ll recognise the cranks on my current Surly Troll) but I kept the orange Hardrock for many years as a spare bike for my friend to ride around whenever he came to visit.

33932_444266934862_5527787_n I forget exactly why but I ended up getting rid of the original Marzocchi fork at some point and rebuilt the bike with… another Marzocchi fork! But, this time, it was also sporting a whiter than white Charge x Wiggle Spoon saddle and matching handlebar grips which stayed white for at least 10 seconds. In this guise, my fondest memory is watching it pull a spectacular 6 foot long, 2 wheel drift across a frozen wooden bridge on an equally frozen winter’s morning, deep in the woods of Cannock Chase on a deserted trail in the hands of my good friend.

6770_115343424862_5312862_nIn the meantime, I had a foray into the weird world of single speeding and built up the Hardrock with a rigid Onza Lite Guy fork, 26 x 1″ Specialized All Condition slicks and flat bars. That was fun!

Why am I boring you with this orange tinted nostalgia? Well, unlike whatshername, I was decidedly reluctant to part with my beloved Hardrock. She taught me so much and gave me so many miles of happiness… and yet, today I boxed her up, taped the lid down and sent her off for new adventures somewhere unpronounceable in Aberdeenshire.

It broke my heart to see her go and the PayPal boost I received in return only eased the pain a little… at least up there she’ll get to see some great countryside and I’m sure she’ll make some Scotchman very happy indeed.

Sigh… time for a new MTB build, I think.

two tribes

 

Steady, steady… control yoursleves… Hey! No pushing at the back!

Yes! YES! It’s Thursday again which can mean only one thing: it’s time for ‘random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’… I know, right?

Just like last week, there have been definite themes presenting themselves:

  • Originally, I was going to explore such marvels as:197736_10150987697709863_1220920617_n
    • “cycle route hadfield” – yes, it’s a little thing know as the Trans Pennine Trail.
    • “springfield close hadfield transpennine trail” – yes, it looks like there’s a path at the end of the road to access said trail
    • “longdale cycle track hadfield uk” – actually, it’s Longdendale trail.
    • “woodhead pass” – uh huh, that can be found at the end of the Longdendale trail, best of luck.
    • “trans pennine way in 3 days” – them’s fightin’ words… No, wait. It’s a walking trail across another part of t’ Pennines, never mind.

The Longdendale trail being a rather lovely, relaxed gravel path, we were going to enjoy ‘Gravel Pit’ by Wu Tang Clan but the lyrics are just far too rude!

  • So, instead, we’ll have a brief look into:182314_10151327133014863_677955864_n
    • “long haul trucker troll heavier” – yes, the Troll is much heavier than the Long Haul Trucker; at least my Troll is much heavier than my friend’s LHT.
    • “surly troll vs lht”
      • Now, that’s a good question! We’ve only done maybe 100 miles together on these two so a direct comparison will have to wait until later on this year when we take them on some kind of coast to coast tour (haven’t decided which route to take yet) but for now consider this:
        • They’re both touring bikes,
        • They both have rigid forks,
        • They’ll both handle a certain amount of off roading,
        • They’re both made by Surly so you know they’re awesome and highly versatile; you could do worse than own either of them (or both!).

Oh, I almost forgot! Somebody has asked us this week “can you ride a brompton bicycle off road?” – I have NO idea but I’m excited to find out! So, if you’re a Brompton owner and you read this blog (ahem, I’m looking at you, Northern Walker), please please please take it off road and let us know how it performs!

blue

Happy Thursday everyone! It’s time for our weekly instalment of ‘random things people were searching for when they landed here trivia’.

  • Our first contestant this week “can’t fit mudguard to rigid fork”
    • Oh dear, that’s not good… I wish I could give you some specific advice but it very much depends on why you can’t fit your mudguards; it certainly can be a tricky job, particularly if you’ve never done it before and it’s certainly hampered in many cases if you use disc brakes and / or a front pannier rack. Really, the best advice I can give you is to take your bike and the errant mudguards to your local friendly independent bike shop (no, Halfords doesn’t count) and ask them to help you out.
  • Our next special guest this week tells me “my brake lever won’t fit my bullhorn bars fixie”
    • Firstly, don’t call me fixie. Now, the reason your brake lever doesn’t fit your bars is either 1) the internal diameter of your bars simply isn’t big enough; this is rare but it tends to happen with chopped and flipped vintage road bars and modern bar end brake levers – a practice I simply cannot condone. Or, 2) you’re trying to fit a flat bar style brake lever to your bullhorn bars; there are several reasons why this won’t work which are discussed here.
  • Finally this week, we have the somewhat obscure “surly blue ortlieb orange”
    • I can only assume you are considering putting orange Ortlieb panniers on a blue Surly. Please, I beg of you, do not do this. I don’t think I can think of a worse colour combination! Having said that, it would certainly be a unique combination and my opinions should be no barrier to you putting those two opposite colours together… *shudder*

Well, that’s all we have time for this week, dear readers; tune in next week for more of the same!

 

one headlight

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things I love about the battery pack:

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

Things I hate about the battery pack:

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

 

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

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

Stay safe out there.

 

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…

somebody that I used to know

 

If I had my way, I’d have a huge barn out in the countryside. Inside, I’d have a couple of old leather couches, an antique fridge full of excellent beer and one of those funky old jukeboxes with lots of chrome and big chunky buttons.

The walls would be adorned with old tin advertising plates and maybe even the odd picture of a scantily clad girl or two. In the corner, there would be my Park Tool workstand, a nice long wooden workbench and my beloved old Snap On tool chest with all my tools carefully organised into their respective drawers.

The rest of the barn would be laid out with row after row of bike stands, displaying all the bikes I’ve ever owned and, because I’m uber rich in my fantasy barn, I would’ve owned an awful lot more bikes by now than I actually have.

There’s just one minor snag… I’m not rich.

Harumph.

Oh well. For now, I’ll just have to do without the beer fridge and jukebox and settle for putting the couple of old advertising signs I have up in the Man Cave. On the plus side, I do own a beautiful old Snap On tool chest but I must confess it’s not nearly as carefully organised as it should be.

Now, as much as it pains me to admit that Karen’s always right… well, she is always right. In this particular instance, she’s been at me recently telling me I just can’t keep my entire collection of bikes; and so, the time has come to clear a few out which has got me all nostalgic about some of my favourite rides:

Way back when, I was the proud owner of a Raleigh Pioneer Trial hybrid which was my first ‘proper’ bike. With flat bars and bar ends, 700c wheels, 21 gears and an all steel frameset with plenty of rake on the fork (Tim will no doubt like this one), this remains one of my all time favourite bikes.

As I started doing more and more miles, I started learning about bikes and bike parts and my faithful old Raleigh was more than happy to go along with my experimentation. Here she is with American Classic wheels, Shimano Deore 27 speed drivetrain, the first of many Charge Spoon saddles I’ve owned and my friend’s Bumper Transporter twin wheel trailer in tow. Eventually, I ended selling the Raleigh to a nice Lithuanian guy who is hopefully still commuting around the Midlands on it.

Before long, I’d built up enough knowledge to have a go at building my own bike and, following a rather steep learning curve, I put together my first mountain bike with my first set of Halo Twin Rail tyres, disc brakes and Marzocchi suspension forks. Man, I loved that bike! And man, was I fat in this picture! I still have some of these parts knocking around but the frame ended up getting sold once I realised it was actually a couple of sizes too small for me (more of that learning curve business).

A short while and quite a lot of saving up later and I put together my beloved Graham Weigh cyclocross bike which taught me so much about road riding, touring and the importance of having the right gearing on your bike. Starting out life with Shimano Tiagra STIs (that’s the flappy paddle style brake / gear levers you see on many road bikes with drop bars – it stands for Shimano Total Integration, by the way), this bike went through various incarnations including aero bars, pannier racks and my introduction to bar end shifters. Here you see it in my favourite setup with full wrap mudguards and matching brown saddle and bar tape. Once I’d built the Troll, there just wasn’t any place for it anymore so again, the frameset got sold off but many of the parts are still knocking around in various boxes that Karen thinks are empty…

In preparation for moving to Manchester, I had to part with my mountain bike. This was another of my all time favourites; the keen eyed observers will recognise the Marzocchi forks and handlebars etc. from my previous MTB and the Race Face chainset from the current Troll build.

The most recent eBay casualty of my collection is my faithful of old Merida. Another much experimented upon bike, I’ve used drop, flat and even butterfly bars on this bike and it really broke my heart to sell it. But, taking the money off the guy certainly helped to numb the pain!

Anyway, with only the Troll in current active service, I am officially a one bike man again… *shudder*

the king of wishful thinking

 

Every year about this time, Geordie and I normally take a couple of weeks off work, load up the bikes with camping gear and disappear off into the countryside; looking to escape real life for a while.

This year, Geordie finds himself in Rome nomming pasta and (no doubt) drinking the region dry of fine wine which leaves me back in England with a week off work and nothing to do…

Inspired by a fellow blogger and Surly Troll owner who’d recently been on a solo bike tour around the Hebrides, I thought it was high time I took my Troll out for its inaugural tour.

I’ve always wanted to do a coast to coast ride and this seemed like the perfect opportunity, what with the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) being on my doorstep and all. But, with pesky real life limiting the spare time I had available, my week long trip gradually got trimmed down to 5, then 4, 3 and, eventually, 2 days.

Needing only a fresh jersey for day 2, a change of clothes for the evening, my camera and a few munchies, I decided against taking the Yak and instead opted for just a set of Ortlieb Back Roller Classic panniers in orange and black. I very nearly bought a matching set of front bags but, as I wouldn’t need them for this trip, decided to save my money. For now, at least.

Jumping onto the Trans Pennine Trail at Hadfield, my journey started out on the Longdendale Trail which forms part of NCN Route 62. The trail from here all the way to the Woodhead Pass is really well signposted and the surface (being an old railway bed) is largely flat, wide and hardpacked earth with a little gravel here and there; ideal for a relaxed ride without any sudden surprises. Being a Tuesday morning, I had the trail almost completely to myself with the exception of a few dog walkers and the occasional mountain biker. As with much of the trail, walkers and cyclists share the main portion of the path with a separate, parallel route on much softer ground for horseriders. In the main, the few pedestrians and their canines gladly moved to one side upon hearing my crunching along the trail or my friendly “Hello!” as I approached them.

You’ll notice I don’t have a bell on my bike… Never have, never will. I think there’s something quite arrogant about ringing a bell at people to get them out of your way… It almost assumes cyclists have the right of way when, actually, the TPT etiquette dictates cyclists should slow down (and stop, if required) for pedestrians. Having ridden with others who do favour a bell, I can say with some authority, my friendly greeting is always more easily heard and better received than that awful ding ding ding noise some people insist upon.

All that said, I did get the occasional scowl from some people as I rode past… Why, I don’t know. I wasn’t going fast, I wasn’t too close, I didn’t run over the dog or splash through a muddy puddle. Maybe it was wind.

Anyway, back to the trail… 8 miles of nice easy riding down and I’m approaching the Woodhead Pass. By now, the trail is starting to get a little rougher and, thanks to the recent heavy rain, there are some sections suffering from localised flooding and, somehow, this small tree has been felled and lies across almost all of the trail.

That said, this still remains a really nice section as it runs past Bottoms, Valehouse, Rhodeswood, Torside and eventually Woodhead reservoirs.  With plenty of car parks along the route (most with public toilets) and not a hill in sight, this is a perfect location for anyone wanting to get into cycling or just rack up a few more miles without the need to ride anywhere near the traffic.

At the end of the Longdendale Trail, things start to change quite dramatically. The former Woodhead Railway would’ve entered a large tunnel which is now closed so the TPT ramps up and heads directly east over the Woodhead Pass. The surface changes too; whilst this might be a short climb, it’s all of 20% (possibly more in places) and the surface is rutted, loose, sandy, rocky and downright difficult to ride up. Putting it in the little ring and staying in the saddle, I somehow managed to keep my Halo Twin Rail tyres gripping onto something and I made it to the first switchback with one eye on the awesome scenery and the other eye on the sheep defiantly lying across the path.

Perhaps I was distracted by the sheep. Perhaps I was in too high a gear. Perhaps I’d got my balance wrong or perhaps Halo Twin Rails at 80psi just aren’t designed to grip on loose gravel, slippery mud or wet grass on an absurd incline. Whatever it was, I managed to fall off twice on this little section of the trail which is the final push to the summit.

Around the corner, the path widens out somewhat and, whilst it’s badly rutted with lots of deep puddles and exposed rocks, at least it’s mostly flat again. Wreaking my revenge on the unruly sheep, I chased them and their bovine comrades off the path all the way to Salter’s Brook.

Pretty and historical as it may be here at Salter’s Brook Bridge, the trail is a cycle lane only insofar as it’s signposted as part of NCN Route 62. The surface is the worst I experienced on the trip; sandy, deeply rutted, frequently interrupted by gates and blighted by 2 crossings of the uber dangerous Woodhead Pass road. In direct contrast to the Longdendale Trail a mere mile or so away, this stretch is suitable for only the most experienced and / or brave (stupid) riders. What little luggage I was carrying became quite the hinderance too, I can only image what it’d be like trying to get through here with a fully laden bike and the idea of dragging the Yak over the Woodhead Pass is an idea that fills me with dread.

In all I had to cross the Woodhead Pass road 3 times. Being the main route across the Pennines, it is unsurprisingly a rat run for HGVs and just about every other piece of traffic wanting to get from one side t’ t’other. Frightening, truly frightening.

Anyway, providing you survive the crossing, all of the recent unpleasantness is forgiven and you’re rewarded with an awesome downhill section after the highest point on the Trans Pennine Trail at Dunford Bridge.

Providing your brakes can stop you in time, there’s an opportunity here to turn off onto NCN Route 68 and the Pennine Cycleway which heads north past Winscar Reservoir (I’ll save that route for another day).

Brake discs (203mm front and 160mm rear) scorching, I slowed from what was probably close to 40mph to a stop in an astonishingly short distance as I spotted the sign for the Upper Don Trail looming to my right. Crunching through the gravel car park, I was pleased to see a sign telling me I’d rejoined the old railway bed and even more pleased to see a really wide, flat trail stretching off into the distance.

From here all the way to Oxspring, the trail is mostly a simple muddy track through the countryside. Again, it’s mostly flat but thanks to the bad weather, it was quite slippery almost all the way. I put the hammer down and enjoyed drifting the bike through the curves, catching more than a few 2 wheel drifts.

At Oxspring, the trail splits and there is a road route and and off road route… Naturally, I opted for the latter and soon found myself picking my way along an ancient packhorse trail (according to the signs).

Once more, this is not a place for the inexperienced cyclist or anyone of a nervous disposition; the ridiculous climbs on slippery mud and narrow trails make an unwelcome return but those willing to stick it out are rewarded by many more easy miles along the Dove Valley Trail. Once more I dropped the hammer and, before I knew it, I was rolling into the Dearne Valley where I turned off the trail at Barnburgh and headed off to my hotel in High Melton.

Day 2 and I’d half planned to push on further into Yorkshire before getting the train home from Selby. With bad weather planned, however, I decided over my rather delicious steak & ale pie at the Cadeby Inn to head back the way I came and explore the alternative route of NCN Route 67 via the Elsecar Greenway and Timberland Trail. The Troll, however, had other ideas.

On day 1, I’d twisted my knee on the climb over the Woodhead Pass; something which became much more apparent on day 2 as it gave way when I got out of the saddle on the mildest of inclines.

Almost at the exact same moment, I felt a clunk somewhere on the front end of the bike; to my horror, my front wheel had somehow come loose. With that sorted, my front brake started making the kind of noise only metal rubbing on metal makes.

More horror as I find my brake caliper had also shaken itself loose and the bolts are rubbing against the brake disc… That fixed and another mile down the trail, my front mudguard was pointing at a very strange angle… Yes, you’ve guessed it, the securing bolts had rattled themselves loose.

With the front of the bike rebuilt, my knee gave way once again only minutes before a large shard of glass went straight through my front tyre, making a complete mockery of the normally legendary puncture protection.

Something was trying to tell me riding back over the Woodhead Pass was a bad idea… Reluctantly, I broke out the maps and came away from the main trail, heading for Barnsley and the train home.

So, with my trip cut short, what are my conclusions?

  • The trail is great! It’s certainly diverse with its mixture of on and off road sections. Well mapped and signposted, there’s a little bit of something for everyone from the crazy ass mountain biker to the virgin cyclist.
  • Ortlieb panniers easily live up to their reputation and are easily worth every single penny. Waterproof and rugged, they’ll save your bike from any serious damage when you drop it atop the Woodhead Pass and, should you (repeatedly) catch them on metal gates, they won’t tear easily.
  • The Surly Troll comes alive when loaded up with luggage and my *ahem* Ragley rear rack (exact copy of the Surly rack) holds everything firmly in place no matter how rough the going gets.
  • Halo Twin Rail tyres are simply awesome! Yes, we knew this already but it’s always worth reminding ourselves! I’ll admit that 80psi is far too much for off road use (Halo recommend a maximum of 65psi) but they still handled everything other than the wet grass and loose gravel on that climb really well.
  • Riding a rigid fork off road means you are badass. Period.
  • Riding drop bars off road means you are badass. Period.
  • Riding with bar end shifters off road means you are badass. Period.
  • I might be badass but… it hurts! That rigid steel fork and the steel frame do take a lot of the harshness out of the ride but with such high tyre pressures and such rough terrain, I’m still aching days after the ride… Now, I am shopping for a suspension fork with lockout.

Get out there and enjoy!

lollipop

 

“Cheap rubber is not necessarily good rubber” was the advice I gave to a friend recently looking to buy new tyres for her hybrid; I suspect the same applies to spotty adolescents nervously buying condoms in the chemist too.

When you think about it, you can spend hours and hours mooching around bike shops, trying to figure out which bike is best for you: mountain bike, road bike, hybrid, BMX, cruiser, cyclocross, tourer, folder, singlespeed, fixie or hack…. And, there are probably some more. Then, you’ll probably spend as much time trying to settle on the colour of said bike and you’ll try on every helmet and pair of gloves in the shop but, and be honest, just how much attention do you pay to the tyres? I’ll wager it’s perhaps not as much as it could / should be.

Now, there is a lot of talk about how you shouldn’t ride a mountain bike on the road and you shouldn’t ride a road bike on the trails and you shouldn’t ride a Brompton at all; whilst I agree that Bromptons (in fact all folding bikes) should be banned for all eternity, I must say I conform more to the idea that you can ride whatever you like, wherever you like.

I ride a Merida Matts mountain bike from the 1990s with a rigid steel fork on the road… In fact, I ride it on road, off road and everything in between. Also, I ride a cyclocross bike with a rigid carbon fork (which is essentially a road bike with clearance for mud) off road so, it’s really not an exact science; very basically, the various types of bike will give you very different riding positions so it’s more about finding one that works for you.

The thing that really matters is the 2 small contact patches connecting you to whatever surface you happen to be rolling over and this is where the science really does make a difference; so, here are some basics to help you out:

  • Tarmac – The smoother and thinner the tyre, the smoother it’ll ride on the smooth surface; the same is true with tyre pressures, the higher the pressure, the smoother it’ll roll. Beware, however, that the narrower and higher pressure the tyre gets, the less it’ll deform over lumps and bumps so the ride will be less comfortable but much more efficient.
  • Mud – If you want to get down and dirty, it’s quite the opposite; you want something wide and knobbly to grab hold of whatever it can in the squishy stuff. Equally, a lower pressure will help the tyre to deform under load and assist with the grabbiong onto stuff, giving you more traction than you thought was even possible.
  • Gravel – Now, I hate to break this to you but nothing, nothing actually grips on gravel surfaces but there are some semi-slick / semi-knobbly type tyres that help move some of the gravel out of the way and grip the hardpack underneath. Choosing something with a smooth central section and knobbly ‘shoulders’ run at a mid range pressure and spending some time working on your riding style will give you the confidence you need to safely navigate the loose stuff. There’s absolutely no shame in slowing down; it’s much more fun than face surfing!
  • Snow – Again, very little will provide much in the way of real grip here but a good quality knobbly tyre suited to deep, wet mud will work great on fresh, soft snow. There are also specialist snow tyres with metal studs that will bite into hard packed ice but these are very expensive and not for the average cyclist, in my humble opinion.
  • Sand – Now, I can’t say I’ve ever actually ridden on sand but, as I understand it, the only way to go is with the widest, lowest pressure tyre you can lay your hands on. Surly and Salsa are now building ‘fat bikes’ specifically for this klind of riding; very cool indeed but again, very specialist kit.

So, what do I ride? Well, on my go-everywhere-do-everything Merida, I run 26 x 2.00″ Schwalbe Kojak slicks at 70 – 80psi which give me an incredibly comfortable, stable, predictable ride.

I love my Kojaks so much, I had a custom wheel built for my BOB Yak and bought a 16 x 1.25″ version which has significantly reduced the rolling resistance over the awful knobbly tyre that came with it as stock.

What I simply can’t explain with science (or anything else) is the awesome grip level these tyres give in all conditions. I’ve ridden them on really hot days when they seem to almost stick to the road, freezing cold, icy days when they seem to… well, they almost stick to the road and, because I live in Manchester, I’ve ridden them in just about every type of rain there is from the annoying fine stuff that makes the roads greasy right through to full on monsoon rain and, you’ve guessed it, they just stick to the road! I suspect it’s the larger than average contact patch but they’re as predictable in cold and wet conditions as they are in hot and dry ones.

With Schwalbe’s excellent Raceguard puncture protection, they’re also bombproof and mine have reflective tyre labels so they give me the much needed side on visibility I need for commuting in the dark without a full on reflective sidewall – very cool indeed.

With a little skill and an awful lot of courage, they’re also great on gravel paths and they’ll even handle hardpack dirt without any problems. They suck like a $2 whore in any kind of mud, though. You have been warned.