the freshmen

 

Early spring in Northern England. April 24, to be precise.

Around that time a couple of years ago, my good friend Matt had invited me along for a quick overnight bike trip. We rode bikes, we talked, we drank coffee and ate cake, we rode some more, we camped, we drank beer until the small hours, and we desperately tried to sleep in the freezing overnight conditions.

It was a blast.

16142407_10155794050854863_2098317652403036742_nThe need to escape was once again growing strong in both of us, our respective lives dispensing their usual frustrations. However, my first world problems were mere trifles in comparison to the truly hellish couple of years Matt was going through.

Although, we did have fun selling stuff at the cycle jumble in January.

If I remember correctly, he let that brand new SP dynamo hub go for £25, despite my clearly thorough advice on how to price it.

Being the crazy fool he is, my lanky friend here is training for some pretty impressive trips this year. Something about a solo, unsupported bike ride across the Alps (camping), and an equally silly hike in the same part of the world (again camping). Me? I hadn’t been on the bike since… November or something. Needless to say, I was horribly out of shape.

18057781_10155210077467930_8340944974660531391_n18157077_10155210077352930_3943389049730249283_nA coast to coast ride has been on my list for a number of years now, so of course I jumped at the chance when Matt suggested we ride the Way of the Roses.

It was just the excuse I needed to get back on the bike. To shed some weight. To improve my declining mental state.

So, I started training. In the early days, I could barely ride 10 miles around the local country park; by mid-April, I was boring my Facebook friends with pictures from the 20, 30, 40 mile rides I was doing night after night. I was riding my Surly Ogre over terrain it simply wasn’t set up for. I was pushing myself. I was chasing the sunset every night. It was all coming back to me. I was feeling strong. I was eating better, drinking less, and losing weight. I was feeling happier. I was forgetting my worries.

The weeks preceeding our trip were bathed in glorious sunlight, and unseasonally high temperatures. I pulled my Surly Troll off the hook I’d hung it on so long ago, and fitted a set of flared drop bars, with TRP HY/RD hydraulic brakes, and bar end shifters. I treated myself to a reassuringly expensive hydrophobic down filled sleeping bag (more about that later), and packed up my gear. It was time to go. An indeterminate number of days lay ahead of us. We planned to camp every night, and we’d make choices about when / where to stop en route. We were going to take it easy. No worries. No rush.

On the train from Manchester to the start line at Morecambe Bay, we remarked on the angry cold front which was rolling in from the North with a vengeance. The forecast gales, rain, and snow seemed determined to ruin our trip. We tried to stay positive, but we couldn’t help letting our moods slump a little.

Looking across to the beautiful hills of Cumbria, we warmed our faces in what we were certain was the last of the sunshine. We took the obligatory cheesy start line photos and pushed off towards Lancaster.

18157070_10155210076772930_3056265565961236169_n18157418_10155210077147930_8077545131865518900_nThe route started with great promise, taking us out of Morecambe on a traffic-free path through the woods where we exchanged pleasantries with the other trail users.

Before long, we were drinking in the views afforded by the River Lune, and I was explaining the very specific purpose of each of the 5 pairs of gloves I’d brought along. In the end, I used only 3 pairs, but I still say the peace of mind was worth the extra grams.

Turning onto quiet country lanes, we saw signs for a ‘Scarecrow Festival’ in a nearby village. Our attention was soon drawn to a new distraction, however, as we pondered the ins and outs of a such a thing. It wasn’t until we rounded the corner proper that we saw the third T in this sign.

Cruel and unusual.

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As it turned out, the route would take us directly through Wray, the village hosting the Scarecrow Festival. A kind of eerie quiet held the village, with oversized characters outside almost every dwelling, shop, and pub staring back at us from their straw-filled heads. Everything was represented; from Donald Trump to Donald Duck, The 3 Little Pigs, Death Himself, and even a woman doing Pilates.

Behind each of the increasingly creepy creations lay a tale, which it seemed would be told by the property owner at set times. Sadly, we’d arrived too late, or too early for storytime.

18118862_10155210076637930_1543058072753888808_n18119486_10155209719927930_6196627986041348467_nThe lure of the ‘open for refreshments sign’ was undeniable. Inside the hall, I was delighted to find plastic tablecloths, hot soup, sandwiches, and homemade cakes; all available for tuppence ha’penny, and served up with great humour by the good people of the village. We filled our bellies, and took it as a good sign that we hadn’t burst into flames upon stepping foot into what turned out to be part of the church.

With fear of damnation fading, we purchased rice crispie cakes for the road, and made our polite exit. The bikes we hadn’t bothered to lock up outside were, predictably, unmolested; save for a brusque Cumbrian gent who quizzed Matt about our trip.

We pushed on towards Settle, the caramel from the rice crispie cakes giving us a much needed boost as the sharp climbs continued to come and go. We were both feeling unusually fresh, and our spirits were high from the freedom of the road. The sun continued to shine, and we were grateful for every minute of it.

We coined a new phrase or two on this trip, my favourite of which is a new verb: ‘Contador’. To get out of the saddle, to dance on the pedals with pure contempt for the incline.

“They Contadored their way up that climb.”

And so we did. We Contadored our way up every single one of those climbs on day 1. Almost in sync, we’d shun dropping a cog, grab the hoods, climb out of the saddle, and loudly compliment each other on the chosen gear ratio. Alberto would be so proud.

I knew then, I wasn’t in anything like the shape I used to be, but I knew I was fresh. I knew it was going to be a good trip. And on roads like this, who was I to complain about a little bit of climbing?

17991848_10155209719547930_8556752752530210050_n

Travelling as we were West to East, the stiff Northerly was a biting crosswind, often testing our resolve, and occasionally, testing our bike handling skills.

18119098_10155210076477930_8720194309273788286_nIn Settle, we stopped for a warming cuppa, and made the decision not to camp that night. I could tell Matt was disappointed, as was I.

Picking hail out of my beard, I pointed at the huge black cloud that had been chasing us all afternoon, and Matt promptly booked us into the youth hostel in nearby Malham.

I popped into the local bike shop and had a rather confusing chat about energy drinks. Eventually, they understood what I was looking for, and overcharged me for some horrid lemon flavour powders. When I checked later on, the expiry date was mere weeks away, so I guess there must not be much call for such things in Settle.

18118630_10155210076332930_751002594572818983_nBeyond the Forest of Bowland, we entered the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and the scenery just kept getting better. More Contadoring followed until we reached a plateau promising a spectacular descent into Malham.

As we approached, Matt told me about a natural stone amphitheatre near Malham; and, wouldn’t you know it, our route took us right alongside it.

I tipped my front wheel over the top of the descent, looked back at Matt with a wry smile on my face, and said:

“Be safe, my friend. I’ll see you at the bottom.”

You see, Matt is a lettuce. A great wet lettuce. Or, perhaps, he has a more healthy fear of death than I do. Either way, I like to descend. And I like to descend as fast as possible. Sometimes, that’s too fast. As my Garmin flashed up 41.4 miles per hour, I thought perhaps, here on this single lane road with its stone walls and blind turns, perhaps this is one of those times.

Reluctantly, I pulled on the brakes, and the TRP HY/RD calipers grabbed my brake discs, slowing me down better than I ever imagined they would; especially in these conditions, especially with so much weight on the bike. My confidence only increased, and I continued descending at a frightening pace, braking hard and late into the corners. Until…

18156968_10155210075982930_3863702613662900924_n“What’s that burning smell?” I asked myself.

Taking my eyes off the road for a second, I looked down at my front disc which was getting severely warped by the abuse I was giving it. On the next corner, I pulled the brakes, and nothing happened. My pads had overheated, and I had to plough into a field gate to stop myself.

When a pale-faced Matt joined me some time later, my discs had cooled off, and (almost) straightened out again.

“What’s that burning smell?” He asked me.

The remainder of the descent was, shall we say, interesting? I was using the brakes as little as possible, looking over the walls for oncoming traffic, and apexing every turn, getting as close to the walls as I dared. My brakes were juddering now, sending horrible vibrations through the forks. But, we made it down into Malham without further incident.

Checking into the excellent YHA, we were both taken aback by how they’ve changed since we were young uns. I tell you, I’ve stayed in worse hotels, and paid a whole lot more money. We’d somehow managed to bag an ensuite room to ourselves, in which we argued over who got the bunk bed.

The bikes spent the night securely locked away in a dedicated bike shed, and we headed for the pub. Much hilarity followed, along with more beer, an excellent meal, and a piece of pork pie for dessert. What? I was hongry.

By the time we headed for bed, the outside temperature had dropped to close to freezing, and there had been some small snow flurries. I was glad of our indoor digs, but was eager to camp. I unrolled my sleeping bag onto the lower bunk and slept like a log.

Maybe the weather would be kinder to us the next day…

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All photographs courtesy of Northern Walker.

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getting away with murder

I’ve got a list of jobs to do as long as my arm. And, I’ve got long arms.

So, when an exhausted Karen fell asleep on the couch this Saturday I was faced with a dilemma: do I risk waking her up by getting the vacuum out or by putting the washing machine on?

Being the problem solver I am, I decided to let her get some much needed rest, tiptoed out to the garage and snuck off on the bike for a bit of coffeeneuring.

I expect my ‘Boyfriend of the year’ award is in the post.

  1. coffeeneuring5 surly troll jubilee parkWhere I went: For coffeeneuring ride #5, I went with another coffee shop sans walls in the shape of Jubilee Park in Middleton, North Manchester.
  2. Date I went there: Saturday 27th October 2014.
  3. What I drank: Nothing terribly exciting, just a small flask of strong, sweet coffee. Oh, and I grabbed a KitKat on my way out.
  4. coffeeneuring5 coffee kitkatA detail or two about my coffeeneuring ride: So far, almost all of my coffeeneuring rides have followed a theme of having no predetermined destination and no sense of direction. This weekend’s ride was no exception. I went down the road to drop off a parcel, turned around, rode up the hill a bit, changed my mind, turned left, changed my mind again, explored a trail I’ve been meaning to ride down for months, found it went nowhere, turned around, rode through the park a bit, changed my mind, rode around the park a bit more, rode down the river for a few miles, rode into the city centre (on a Saturday evening!), rode along the canal for about an hour and then finally settled on a spot in a surprisingly nice little park. I found myself a good spot where I could lean the bike, sit on the wall, drink my coffee, eat my KitKat and wonder why nobody else was out enjoying the park.
  5. Bike friendliness of the locale: Well, like all public places in the UK, there was the usual lack of ANYTHING to lock one’s bike to and, as I rode down the hill out of the park, I was surprised by the lack of smooth ramps – naturally, I just rode down the steps.
  6. Mileage: *shrug* 25 maybe?
  7. Must visit: Yes. Well, it’s not necessary for you to visit Jubilee Park (although you can if you wish), but I am highly recommending you head out to your local park and just sit, enjoying a coffee and the quiet… until your phone rings and you have to sheepishly explain where you’ve escaped to.

Oh, by the way, I’ve recently been testing out my awesome new Luxos front light… more on that soon.coffeeneuring5 Surly Troll Luxos front light

little lies

 

10363963_10152688171339863_19144140860253414_nRolling through the delightfully named village of Upperthong, I couldn’t resist stopping to document the warning of headless children and their headless parents.

I’m reliably informed there is also a Lowerthong and even a Neverthong although I suspect the latter is more life advice than a place name…

Moments later (still childishly sniggering at ‘Upperthong’), I was hurtling downhill, pushing 40mph and leaning into a corner as I saw the bonnet of a car pulling out of a side road.

Instinctively, I pulled on the brakes and attempted to steer to safety. The rear tyre squealed for mercy as it let go of the tarmac, taking the bike into a superbike-esque sideways skid leaving the front brake to do all the work while I did everything in my power to stop it locking up.

Some time later, at the bottom of the hill my riding companion gave me that familiar ashen-faced look, revealing just how close that shave must’ve been.

Scout Tunnel Huddersfield Narrow Canal Surly TrollThis was just one of many crazy moments, the likes of which I seem to come across quite often… earlier in the ride I was fumbling around in the dark, slipping on slimy cobbles as water dripped down my neck (courtesy of the very long, very damp and VERY DARK Scout Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, near Stalybridge).

Later, I found myself being chased along the Woodhead Pass section of the Trans Pennine Trail by an extremely frisky and very vocal Spring lamb. We couldn’t decide whether he was excited to see us, annoyed we were disturbing his otherwise peaceful afternoon napping in the sunshine or just plain crazy but what must’ve been the lamb’s mother eventually came wearily trotting over and called him back after he nearly went under our wheels for the 3rd time. She had that “…he does this EVERY time a cyclist comes by…” look on her face.

Huh. Sheep do have expressions on their faces. Who knew?

Salter's Brook 2x Surly Troll Salter's Brook BridgeJust before our run in with the sheep, we’d stopped for a photo opportunity at Salter’s Brook Bridge. It’s all historical and interesting here, there’s a (now ruined) shelter which used to be a haven from the elements back when people transported salt across t’ Pennines by way of long-suffering packhorse. The keen-eyed observers amongst you may have spotted some similarities between our two long-suffering packhorses… Yep, what we have here is the rare sight of 2 original orange Surly Trolls basking in the sunshine in their natural habitat.

Surly Troll Greenfield 1This one is, of course, mine and I suppose these days it’s technically a Surl Troll since the ‘Y’ fell off. These days it’s back in what has become know as “heavy ass utility mode” with rigid fork, Jeff Jones Loop Bars, front & rear racks and Halo Twin Rail tyres.

Surly Troll Greenfield 2T’other Troll (the gigantic one) is owned by our freakishly tall friend of Northern Walker fame. Ever since we rode together with Shona & Rich from Keep Pedalling, Tyler & Trevor from Surly Bikes and a bunch of other like minded crazy folks, the Northern Walker Cyclist and I have been negotiating with our respective other halves for a free pass so we can go out and play on our bikes. And, one beautiful day in mid-May, that’s exactly what we did.

Behold: Trollfest #1.

2x Surly Troll GreenfieldOK, OK… I know all of 2 bikes hardly qualifies as a ‘fest’ but the next one promises to be much better attended. In fact, we’re hoping to double the number of attendees to a semi-impressive… um, 4.

These Surly Troll things are a bit rare, you know.

Now, he’s a lovely bloke that Northern Walker but he does have a dark side…

He lies.

And he likes to torment fat blokes (or, at least this fat bloke).

Our route started in Manchester City Centre at the bike shop, picked up the Ashton Canal which took us out to Stalybridge where we marvelled at all the people clammering to get into Tesco’s while the trails were blissfully quiet. We continued on to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal which included the slippery walk through Scout Tunnel, an emergency banana stop and a number of missed photo opportunities.

Surly Troll Greenfield 3We pushed on through Mossley and started the serious climbing as we hit Greenfield. With the promise of imminent cake, I dug deep and did everything I could to keep up as we climbed yet further into Diggle.

More photo opportunities passed us by as I rode down some surprisingly familiar trails which form part of the challenging Diggle Jiggle I rode sometime last year.

Dying a thousand deaths, I was again promised cake. We pushed on with stomachs rumbling and the sun climbing higher in the sky.

“Just a little further”, he said.

The Northern Walker’s bike computer topped out at just over 61kph but I was still accelerating as I got down into the elusive beard-resting-on-the-bars aero position, moved out into the centre of the road and just let the bike go as fast as it wanted to.

As it turned out, “as fast as the bike wanted to go” was “faster than I felt safe going” so I pulled the brakes on and started the gradual process of slowing to a stop. The combination of the momentum I’d built up, the weight of the bike and the fat bloke tearing it down a long ass hill was enough to leave the brake discs scorched and the pads fading… it stopped me, but if I’d needed to slow down in an emergency, I would’ve been out of luck. It was spectacular fun.

Eventually, we rolled into Marsden and I missed yet another photo opportunity as we leaned the bikes against the window at the rather excellent Crumbals on the Corner.

FINALLY. Cake.

We gorged ourselves on tea, sandwiches and a huge slice of cake, basked in the sun, swapped cycling stories and lingered longer than we probably should have.

Dragging ourselves away from the deliciousness, we hopped back on the bikes and headed for the aforementioned Upperthong via Meltham, regretting ordering (and nomming) such a large slice of cake on top of a large sandwich.

As we dug into our food at Crumbals, I was warned about “the climb out of Holmfirth” but was reassured that, while it’s “sharp”, it’s also “short”. Uh huh. Yeah. Like, “yeah, we’ll have cake soon”…

The warnings about the upcoming climb continued as we again hared downhill on the way out of Upperthong (this is where the near-death experience occured, as I recall).

We stopped at Holmfirth and, as the roadies whizzed by in every direction, we saw the NCN route 68 sign gleefully pointing up a very sharp climb which curved to the left past some houses.

“Like I said, it’s sharp but it ends just around that corner”

With those words of encouragement ringing in my ears, I approached the climb, dropped it into the granny ring and said “Right, let’s go and get laughed at by the roadies…”

If I was going up that hill, I was going up it hard. Instantly, as the ridiculous incline started, I lost all momentum and instinctively stood on the pedals. As the Trollhoff clicked down next to me, I arrogantly clicked up a few gears and rode by my friend with the blind determination of a bloody fool.

I rounded the corner and the “short, sharp climb” only got longer and sharper. I made some kind of guttural noise and pushed on even harder thinking that maybe it starts to even out after the second curve… Mockingly, the incline increased and I was forced to sit down and drop into the lowest of the low gears. Before long, I had to admit defeat and get off and walk.

To add insult to injury, I was soon passed by the Rohloff-turning long-legged liar who, whilst once a friend of mine, was now some git I’d once met.

By now, the sun was high in the crystal clear sky and, as they say, only Mad Dogs and Englishmen venture out in the mid-day sun. I’d refilled my bidons back at Crumbals but as we took a wrong turn on the approach to Winscar reservoir, we were both running dangerously low on fluids and the salt we’d lost through sweat was all too apparent in the crystalline white patches on our jerseys and shorts.

“Welcome to Barnsley” the sign said.

“Barnsley?”

“BARNSLEY???”

“WHAT THE <bleep> ARE WE DOING IN BARNSLEY???” I said.

“I must’ve missed a turn somewhere…” the git said.

10390431_10152688171039863_2646682817147008200_nChecking the GPS, we found this ‘road’ heading in roughly the right direction. As we hit the surface (a mixture of deep sand, large sandstone boulders, loose hardcore and patches of lingering wet mud, we revelled in the unstoppable capablity of our rides. In their own way, they were very different machines – 1 with derailleurs, the other with (probably) the most expensive (and reportedly the best) internal gear hub in the world; 1 extra large, the other regular sized; 1 with uber-expensive Jones bars, the other with el-cheapo riser bars; 1 with now-super-hard-to-find Schwalbe Marathon Extreme tyres and the other with get-’em-anywhere Halo Twin Rails; but despite all the subtleties, these two machines had transported us across smooth tarmac at high speed, climbed obscene hills off road, descended obscene hills on and off road and handled just about every type of terrain you could fit into one day and, what’s more, they’d done it without missing a beat.

Surly Troll Clif Shot BlocksWe were almost completely out of fluids by this point and we were both drawing on what little remained of our emergency energy reserves.

This packet of Clif Shot Blocks and the remaining contents of our bidons was the only thing that dragged us up the climb from Winscar reservior to Dunford Bridge.

It was my turn to lie as I said “this isn’t a long climb”; which it probably isn’t but by that point, it sure as hell felt like it.

When I eventually caught up at the highest point on the Trans Pennine Trail, the Northern Walker revealed the secret to his dehydrated-hill-climbing success: “Yeah, I just had to have a word with myself…”

Soon after, we legged it across the Woodhead Pass, missed more photo opportunities, hung out at Salter’s Brook and survived ‘the lamb incident’.

Woodhead pass to Longdendale TrailFrom here, I knew it was all downhill (or at least flat) all the way back to Manchester so we paused briefly atop the Woodhead Pass before belting downhill to the Longdendale Trail which we despatched in record time, dropping the hammer and not relenting until we rolled into Hadfield.

The phone rang. We had already been out for over 7 hours. We were a good 2 hours beyond our curfew. There must’ve been something in the gravelly voice that meant the boss let us stay out just that little bit longer.

Instinctively, we fell into the pub and ordered 2 pints of the coldest, most delicious beer in the world. I also ordered a glass of iced soda water and asked for it to be poured right away. The barmaid, bless her, stopped everything she was doing and instantly poured us 2 ice-cold glasses of bubbling nectar which lasted a good… 10 seconds.

The beer lasted about 10 minutes.

We parted ways and I hopped on the train back to Manchester, the Northern Walker (now my friend again thanks to the miracle of beer) headed for home over t’ hills. The 6ish miles from the station back to home were a blissful blur, my dusty bike steering its own way, my legs somehow keeping the cranks turning as my frazzled brain recounted the day’s highs and lows.

Best. Day. Ever. (since the last one and until the next one)

Surly Troll bridleway

see my vest

 

OK, this whole errandonneering thing is just plain fun! Not only does it force me out on my bike but it also forces me to blog more often. And, with blogging more often comes yet another challenge: finding appropriate song titles for each blog post – this stuff doesn’t happen by accident, you know.

Today, I will admit to a rather tenuous link to the song title and I’m not quite sure it qualifies as a song per se but it’s brilliant none the less. It’s a real shame the actual clip from The Simpsons isn’t available because it’s one of my favourite bits of TV, ever.

“Seeeee my vest, see my vest…”

Huh? What? Oh, sorry, I got a little distracted there for a moment.

Before we go any further, I think it’s about time we had a quick roundup of my errandonneering activities so far:

  1. karma police | errand: commute to / from work | category: work | miles: 16 | thing I learned / observed: cycling in the city sucks but cycling in the ‘burbs is great | bonus: completed after dark
  2. two out of three ain’t bad (also covers errands 3 & 4) | errand: getting cash from the cashpoint | category: personal care and health | miles: 25 (combined for errands 2-4) | thing I learned / observed: working a cashpoint with winter cycling gloves isn’t easy
  3. errand: collecting my cycling jacket from the tailor | category: any store that is not the grocery store | thing I learned / observed: I’ll never, EVER be using that place again
  4. errand: picking up new parts from the bike shop | category: bike shop | thing I learned / observed: squirrels are mischievous
  5. not what I wanted | errand: buying an emergency shirt for work | category: any store that isn’t the grocery store | miles: 6 | thing I leaned / observed: it’s best to check what you’re buying before you pay for it

So, with 5 days to go, I’ve completed 5 of my required 12 errands, covered 47 miles which already exceeds the required 30 miles, done 1 of the 2 recommended ‘after dark’ errands and used 4 of the 7 required different categories.

Phew. And I thought this was going to be easy!

1896726_10152497900819863_1541368638_nErrand #6 is really a re-run of errand #3 as I couldn’t collect my jacket first time around but, as I’ve already used the ‘any store that isn’t the grocery store’ category the maximum permissible 2 times, we’ll have to put this one down in the ‘wild card’ category.

And, here’s some proof. It cost me a mahoosive £35 to have a new zip fitted to my Gore Phantom II soft shell jacket after the last one finally gave way after years of loyal service.

1911975_10152497900984863_349481395_nZip go up.

Zip go down.

Zip go up.

Zip go down.

Why would I go the trouble (and expense) of having a new zip fitted? Because, other than that, the jacket is still in near perfect condition depsite having been worn for just about every ride I’ve been on over the last few years. In the winter, it keeps me warm. In the rain, it keeps me dry. In the cool spring & summer months, I unzip the sleeves and wear it as a gillet. The pockets are plenty big enough for my wallet, phone, keys & a banana or two and there’s enough reflective material to make me visible to other road users and not a inch of flourescent yellow in sight.

Here’s a gratuitous shot of me wearing it with the sleeves removed, for no particular reason.

Me & GC @ Ashbourne TunnelErrand #6: picking up my cycling jacket from the tailor (again) | category: wild card | miles: 20 (I went for a pootle in the woods on the way back) | thing I learned / observed: not all squirrels are mischievous.

You see, after picking up my jacket, I took my Surly Troll out for a shakedown ride to test the new parts I’d picked up in errand #4.

Errand #7: taking the Troll out for a shakedown ride | category: wild card | miles: 20 (combined with errand #6) | thing I learned / observed: my mountain biking skills are as rusty as a 30 year old Volkswagen but my new off road tyres [given to me for free by my friends in the bike shop] are brilliant!

Here’s a gratuitous shot of my Surly Troll avec non-mischievous squirrel, this one didn’t mind posing for a photo at all.

1966682_10152494672014863_1843677791_n

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!

you owe me nothing in return

 

A little something from Alanis this evening to a) delight the legions of Portuguese fans of lifeinthecyclelane who are forever demanding plinky plunky music videos with subtitles and b) make my Canadian reader hang his head in shame.

In fact, the interweb tells me Alanis is half American so you guys can all feel bad too.

Incidentally, on behalf of the UK, I hereby sincerly apologise for The Spice Girls. *slow, sad headshake*

Anyhoo, it’s been all kinds of exciting here at lifeinthecyclelane HQ recently; you’ve probably read the news reports about a crazy-eyed, hairy-faced man abandoning his unfortunate and all-too-patient girlfriend at various marketplaces around Manchester while he goes off cycling in the wilderness with…

<insert dramatic music here>

…another girl.

Salsa Mukluk 2A filthy girl.

1456671_10152219705564863_2054789501_nA filthy girl who likes going down.

1465350_10152219705879863_535419075_nA filthy girl who likes going down and let me taste her pussy.

1451350_10152219704934863_255121575_nYou can make up your own jokes.

But seriously, Canadian-American regret and hideously inappropriate innuendo aside, this is after all a cycling blog so it’s about time I reported on something at least a little bit cycling related.

Ahem. You at the back! Stop sniggering. This is a serious blog.

 

This year, I’ve largely been switching back and forth between my Surly Troll and Kinesis Crosslight for commuting duties. During the summer, the Kinesis was also my evening & weekend ride of choice for exploring the local lanes and bridleways.

As the days started to get shorter and the weather started to get crappier, I set the Troll up in its now familiar mountain biking guise and the Kinesis became my foul weather commuter.

It’s time to talk about rubber.

Hey! No sniggering.

709111_183LrgAfter countless miles over tarmac, gravel, hardpack dirt and (some) mud in blazing heat, freezing cold, pouring rain and (a little) ice, it’s finally time to hang up what has to be one of the best sets of tyres I’ve ever owned. The Vittoria Randonneur Cross Pro with its semi-slick, semi-knobbly tread, reflective sidewalls, sticky compound and excellent puncture protection has been absolutely flawless.

Mine are now looking almost completely slick, the reflective stip is starting to peel away and the combined abuse from Birmingham & Manchester’s roads and trails over the last few years has left them beaten, battered and scarred. And yet, through it all, I never had a single puncture.

Of course, one simply can’t abandon one’s girlfriend without the universe handing out some kind of cruel and unusual karmic punishment. My punishment came in the form of a 2 inch galvanised steel nail that somehow found its way into my rear tyre, directly through the tread, out through the sidewall and CLATTER CLATTER CLATTER into my rear mudguard; albeit mercifully just around the corner from the office.

Now, as a rule, when your tyre sidewall gets damaged, your tyre is toast. This is normally bad news. Especially when said tyres cost a small fortune. But, given the seemingly endless mileage they’ve given me, I really can’t complain; I’ve more than had my money’s worth.

1471784_10152222999774863_1520757008_n

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…