god gave rock and roll to you

 

Caution: This blog post contains graphic images and descriptions of fat bikes and beards.

10151801_10152574827414863_5552446019248003572_nAs I freewheeled down the seemingly endless descent, knobbly tyres humming on the tarmac and crosswind blowing my beard to one side I looked out at the scenery, knowing all too well that what goes down must come up (or something like that).

True enough, just around the bend as the tarmac gave way to sandy, rocky hardpack, the impressive decline gave way to an equally torturous impressive incline. The carnage was almost immediate.

AEC Routemaster & bikesEarlier in the day, I’d climbed aboard an old AEC Routemaster bus (along with my bike and 20-odd other people and their bikes) as part of Keep Pedalling‘s 3rd birthday celebrations. As the pack hit the bottom of the climb, I managed to get myself into a low, low gear, picked a clear line and started dragging myself up the tricky surface. All around me, I could hear the clicking of gears being shifted (amongst those of us who had them), expletives being uttered (by those of us who were too late trying to shift them) and shoes being unclipped from pedals (by those of us who lost our balance and / or momentum as the trail ramped up).

1503459_10152574827599863_1873135250324380089_nI looked down and to my surprise, the bike was still upright and my cranks were still turning. How? I’m not quite sure, but somehow, someway, I was grinding my way up that beast. Behind me, I heard the unmistakable sound of someone coming past me at great speed. As I watched in dismay at the single speed Jones Spaceframe tear up the climb, I lost my balance and fell into the dry stone wall lining the trail.

The only thing harder than riding up a steep, loose trail is trying to get started again after stopping on one.

It took me a few attempts, but I finally managed to regain my balance, get clipped back into the pedals and I ground my way to the top.

As the ride continued, I often found myself riding alone… not strong enough to be up front with the hard men on their steel & titanium single speeds yet not needing to get off and push like some of the fat bike riders at the back of the pack.

Titanium Jones Spaceframe Truss Fork Half fat Surly Troll suspension forkThe fleet was quite a mixture… There was everything from a single speed Surly Straggler with ‘skinny’ tyres, a Surly 1×1, my 26″ wheel Surly Troll, a Titanium Jones Spaceframe with Truss fork, a selection of fat bikes from Salsa and Surly, a Surly Krampus or two, a gigantic Surly ECR, a brand new Surly Insitgator 2.0 and, because a couple of the good folk from Surly Bikes were in town, a matching pair of their latest, greatest fat bike, the Ice Cream Truck. I think it’s fair to say my Troll was the most ‘normal’ thing out there… which didn’t stop the Jones rider making fun of my wheel size several times.

Whatever dude, it’s still just as capable as your ride. And massively cheaper. And I don’t feel the need to be a douchebag about it.

Inevitably, as is the way with certain types of party, we started swapping around… With so much awesome shiny on hand, it was difficult to choose. In hindsight, I really should’ve asked the guy riding the Instigator if I could borrow it for a while but really, there was only one other thing I had on my mind: Ice Cream.

Surly Ice Cream Truck 1With its mahoosive 4.8″ tyres, you would be forgiven for expecting the Ice Cream Truck to be heavy, cumbersome and awkward. As I pedalled it away down the trail, I was struck by just how easy it was to ride! The geometry is largely borrowed from the awesome Krampus, giving the fork more rake than any other Surly fatbike (so one of the Surly enginerds tells me) which makes it more predictable on the trails and gives you the confidence to throw it into the corners at speed.

Surly Ice Cream Truck 3Naturally, there’s the usual amount of float you’d expect from the high volume tyres and, despite the low tyre pressures, an incredibly stiff and responsive feel when accelerating, braking and cornering. This (again according to a tame Surly enginerd) is partially thanks to the new modular dropout system and bolt-through rear axle, there’s also some pretty beefy support built into the frame where it matters, keeping the main tubing relatively thin.

Surly Ice Cream Truck 2Here you can see how the 26 x 4.8″ tyre on the Ice Cream Truck compares with the 26 x 2.75″ tyre on the new Instigator. Compare that the 26 x 2.2″ tyres I was running on my Troll and you can start to see why people just aren’t riding the ‘traditional’ sizes anymore.

So, again, I’m faced with a question… Do I see a fatbike in my future?

Well, the last time I rode one, I managed to crash it in spectacular style after about 100 metres. This time, I only rode it for a few minutes on relatively flat terrain and managed not to crash it at all. I’m starting to understand the whole fatbike ‘thing’ a bit more but I still don’t think I want / need one.

Yes, I came back from my short ride with that same stupid grin everyone else had after riding it. Yes, it was heaps of fun. But no, I don’t have ready access to sand and / or snow so I’d be using it only on the trails… and, if I’m after something to ride on the trails, I can just head out to the garage and grab my Troll (with its tiny tyres).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’d much rather have a Krampus (if Karen ever lets me buy one).

1545887_10152574826579863_373672331288823537_nNow, you can’t go out riding on Ice Cream Trucks and not stop at the first ice cream truck you come across. By the way, there is just no elegant way to eat an ice cream if you’ve got a beard. I was the source of much amusement for quite some time. But hey, it was delicious.

As we approached Hollingworth lake, I heard what I thought sounded like a combination of huge tyres on tarmac, loud rock and roll and the collective tuts of all the well-heeled lake dwellers as a brash American cycled by.

True enough, I looked back to see Tyler barreling down the trail, heavy metal blasting out and an old lady giving him a disapproving look.

Man, I love Surly.

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spaceman came travelling

 

There are certain perks in having an addiction to bikes, chief amongst which is also the simplest.

1441436_10152198917554863_2044853909_nOn a crisp, clear Sunday morning you can hop on your bike, head into the hills with good friends and just while away the hours.

This happened. And it was good.

Excused from my usual weekend cake selling duties, I abandoned Karen at the market and with the bike on the roof of the car, I picked up Spanner Monkey and novice fat bike rider Sylwia along with her super-shiny, almost-never-been-ridden Salsa Mukluk and together we headed for Hollingworth Lake where we met up with Rich & Shona before setting off in search of adventure on t’ Pennine Bridleway.

As is often the way with such things, the deceptively flat trail began rising and rising and rising. Soon enough I was in the granny ring, grinding out the relentless climb as Sylwia suffered with her mahoosive tyres and Rich & Shona made an utter mockery of us both by storming up the hill on their single speeds like it was nothing at all.

1472910_10152198917169863_51681481_nThe fleet was certainly turning heads. I was riding my Surly Troll in its usual off-road setup with suspension fork and less than ideal tyres. Sylwia was tearing up the trail with her brand spangley new burnt orange Salsa Mukluk, Shona was rocking a beautiful titanium something-or-other with flat bars, hydraulic disc brakes and well, not a lot else. And Rich? Well, despite striking a rather camp pose, Rich had brought along a steel Jeff Jones Spaceframe & Truss fork.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fatSet up ‘half fat’, the Jones was running a 29″ wheel in the rear wrapped in (I think) a Surly Knard tyre and up front was a true fat bike wheel & tyre. The awesome stopping power was delivered by Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes and minimalist Paul brake levers. The drivetrain couldn’t have been simpler: one ring up front and one at the back with a chain inbetween. And the bars? Jones Loop Bars of course.

And then it happened. As a red faced Sylwia got her breath back and I cursed my lousy tyres, Rich came over and nicked my Troll. Git.

As I watched him pedal away, tyres hopelessly skidding in the deep slimy mud, I threw my leg over the Jones and pointed it towards the horizon.

It took me a while to get used to the relatively tall front end and what I thought was a bizarre saddle angle, but a few hundred metres later and I was settling in. Maybe it wasn’t the right size frame for me but I did find the whole thing a little bit short in the top tube and for my taste, I would’ve liked a couple less spacers under the stem. That said, the Loop Bars have never made more sense; on the Troll they still feel super wide but they fit the Jones perfectly. On a short road section I could even get down into the elusive beard-resting-on-the-bars aero position.

Jeff says: 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.”

I tend to agree. The bike felt responsive, sharp and direct but not harsh or jarring, even on the really rough stuff. The full effort my puny thigh muscles put into the pedals was instantly delivered to the rear wheel and, even with that gigantic tyre, the front end felt precise and controllable.

Before long and we turned onto a steep gravel climb. Once again Shona & Rich took off and monstered their way to the top as Sylwia and I took turns losing traction, losing balance, running out of strength and running out of talent.

I couldn’t tell you what the gear ratio was on the Jones but for me in that moment on that climb it was just that little bit too tall. Getting out of the saddle and giving it everything I had, I managed to lumber the bike up to speed and get enough momentum together to keep going until I hit the next patch of gravel or fell into the next rut or was forced to stop for breath. Eventually Sylwia gave up and started pushing but not before singing ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe to me as I nommed half an emergency banana and gave it every little bit I had left to crest the hill.

Despite being so high, that was the low point.

After the climb came the flat. And with the flat came a narrow track on a ridge, mossy drystone wall to my left and jeebus-that’d-hurt-if-I-fell-down-it drop to my right.

“Don’t you have any proper mud tyres???” Rich complained from behind me as the Troll refused to grip anything. “I’ve got some mud tyres. I’ll give you the damn things if you promise never to lend me this bike with these tyres on again!!!”. Then, as some kind of sick punishment, I finished sniggering about the awesome mud-shedding ability of the tyres on the Jones and the front wheel snatched in a rut, throwing me and the bike towards the perilous drop.

Somehow, some way, the thick tufts of grass managed to catch the bike and break the worst of my fall. Clinging on for dear life and listening to Rich laughing at me I realised just how close I came to a really horrible accident.

Salsa Mukluk 2With that unpleasantness out of the way, we stopped for some emergency chocolate, a photo opportunity and some downright childish jumping over a mound of earth.

Seeing just how much fun Sylwia was having, I simply couldn’t resist taking her up on her offer to swap bikes. So, I handed over the Jones, watched Rich skid all over the trail and embarked on my first true fat bike ride ever.

Salsa Mukluk 1Obviously, it was a million sizes too small for me so I had to stay out of the saddle and just pedal like I was riding a kid’s BMX. In fact, that’s exactly what it felt like, the best, most fun BMX in the world. In fact, I yelled “THIS IS LIKE RIDING THE MOST FUN BMX IN THE WOR…”

…and then it happened.

Like finding a worm in your half eaten apple. Like realising there’s a spider creeping up your arm. Like a rodeo bull throwing a cowboy across the arena. For reasons that escape me, Sylwia’s Mukluk suddenly realised some big hairy guy was riding her and she threw me to the ground in spectacular style. Gracefully, the Mukluk executed a perfect landing next to me and just sat there laughing at my misfortune along with my so-called friends and the walkers on the trail.

Oddly enough, Sylwia came and rescued the Mukluk, Rich rescued the Jones and I was reunited with my Troll for the final stretch of the ride.

Bruised and battered, I gingerly made my way down the trail only to find Shona stopped and off her bike (this almost never happens); turns out the Mukluk had struck again and thrown Sylwia into some rocks. Luckily she escaped with only minor cuts and bruises but it was a healthy reminder of just how careful you need to be on unpredictable trails (no matter how big your tyres are).

We all struggled with the last section, even Rich had to put a foot down as the Jones sunk into a bog but we all made it safely back to Hollingworth Lake, heralded down the final super fast descent by Sylwia crowing like a demented cockerel. Bless.

You know when your face hurts from smiling and laughing so much? Yep, it was one of those days.

Jeff Jones Spaceframe half fat 2

nothing else matters

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect.

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