you can leave your hat on

11051210_10153755754774863_7064167489370996479_n

 

Dried fruit, mixed nuts, M&M’s and a whole lot of determination.

This is what was required to get me and my good friend Matt through the hellish and seemingly never-ending climbs offered up by the route we picked from Manchester city centre out to our campsite at Monsal Head.

It was an early spring day, the sun was shining and we pedalled off without a care in the world. That wonderful realisation that I was only getting further away with every pedal stroke washed over me and I revelled in the knowledge I’d be under canvas that evening.

As is the way of things, we took a rather indirect route that promised the least traffic and the best scenery. And we took our time about it. We rolled along, chatting about everything and nothing. We stopped for coffee. We went the wrong way. We didn’t have a care in the world.

11023_10153755754624863_6693537081560443662_n“HILLS ARE OUR FRIENDS!!!” cried an over-enthusiastic roadie (with a mountain cassette & rear mech, I might add) as he crested the climb we’d just ground up on our loaded Surly Trolls. We quietly returned our gazes to the view and had another handful of Matt’s Special Trailmix.

Soon we found ourselves crunching down the Monsal Trail, marvelling at the scenery and scaring the bejesus out of wildlife inhabiting the trailside hedges. “You’re not exactly sure where the campsite is…?” I asked Matt as we examined several questionable looking side trails.

Naturally, we turned down the wrong one and soon found ourselves faced with a decision: ford the obviously-deeper-and-faster-flowing-than-it-looked river or somehow portage the bikes & luggage over an extremely narrow concrete bridge. Forming the least efficient two-man chain in history, we took option B and passed bag after bag to each other before we took turns hoisting our heavy steeds over our heads in some kind of obscure strong man competition.

Safely on the other side of the river, I turned right up a slightly sketchy looking bit of single track which very quickly ramped up to at least a 10% off-camber incline through the bracken as the trailside drop to the river grew ever deeper.

Defeated by all that nature and gravity threw at us, we pushed the bikes the final few yards to the top of a much better manicured trail that would’ve brought us to exactly the same spot without the ridiculous river crossing. Dammit.

10 minutes later, we were parting with altogether too little cash for a pitch in a beautiful secluded campsite we had almost completely to ourselves.

In the local pub, we demolished an excellent plate of belly pork, mash & gravy and sampled a couple of pints of local ale. In the interests of science, you understand.

Wandering back to our campsite, our bellies full and the inevitable cold snap settling in, we spotted another pub. Well, it’d be rude not to…

Continuing my scientific experimentation, we sampled several more pints of local ale and (here’s the ‘genius’ part) shunned the siren call of the open fire, preferring instead to drink our beers outside. In early spring. In North Derbyshire. Atop a hill. “To acclimatise ourselves”, I said. Matt shivered, unconvinced, but stuck it out all the same as we put the world to rights like only 2 drunk men can.

Dressed in every scrap of clothing I’d carried with me (including wooly hat and gloves), I crawled into my sleeping bag and spent the night desperately (and unsuccessfully) willing my body to sleep. Dang, that was COLD.

11023_10153755754069863_33251468225833244_nThe next morning, we shared an odd breakfast comprised mainly of questionable malt loaf, squeezy cheese and the most incredible cup of tea I think I’ve ever had.

We packed up and made our way into Buxton where we descended upon an unsuspecting cafe for a very leisurely second breakfast. Man, that was good.

The cruelly named ‘Long Hill’ out of Buxton mocked us and, by the time we reached the Pennine Bridleway, Matt was starting to regret that extra piece of fried bread.

In my defence, I did try to warn him, in between mouthfuls of extra black pudding.

Sufficiently warmed up again, our usual childish ways came to the fore as we tore up the trails, jumping the bikes over everything we could find on the way home.

11173365_10153755754224863_3323704571003065546_nIt was a fine weekend. A fine weekend indeed.

boss of me

It’s been a busy few months here at lifeinthecyclelane HQ with the various things that come with being a grown up (something I never signed up for, incidentally).

If you tuned in for my last post, just before chrimbo, you’ll recall I was childishly giggling over my plans to finally get my grubby hands on the Surly Krampus I’ve been longing after for ages. Unfortunately, being a grown up has ruined all those plans for the short term at least.

But hey, it’s not all bad news. It’s winter here which means it’s time once again for the annual Chasing Mailboxes Errandonnee Challenge! 12 errands by bike in 12 days with a total of (at least) 30 miles covered. The rules are slightly revised this year and there are even some new categories including my favourite: You carried WHAT on your bike?!

And what better place to start than there?

errandonnee1 chocolate cakeErrand #1: Dropping off an 8.5kg parcel | Date: 5 March 2015 | Category: You carried WHAT on your bike? | Miles: 7 | Thing I noticed: Some drivers are so stupid they’ll still drive directly at you, regardless of how big and ridiculous your bike setup is | Bonus: Carrying a baked good.

The chocolate cakes I took into work actually survived the journey completely unscathed but I didn’t get chance to take an ‘after’ picture because people started tucking into them as soon as I opened the box.

errandonnee1 Surly Troll BoB Yakerrandonnee2 shower gelErrand #2: Commute to the office | Date: 6 March 2015 | Category: Work or volunteering | Miles: 6 | Thing I noticed: It’s probably time to recycle all my used shower gel bottles.

Ever since I started work in my current office, I’ve just thrown every bottle of shower gel back into my locker when it’s empty. It’s a little odd, but it almost feels like a collection of sorts now so part of me is reluctant to drop them all in the recycling…

errandonnee3 Surly Troll Keep PedallingErrand #3: Popped out for a ride and swung by the bike shop to say hi | Date: 9 March 2015 | Category: Personal care (preventing myself from being a couch potato) | Miles: 15 | Thing I noticed: Overwhelming police presence due to some kind of political parade.

I’m off work this week (taking care of yet more grown up type things) but I found some time to escape for a quick ride and decided to swing by the bike shop whilst I was out. As is the way of things, I ended up ordering a bunch of new shiny but this still goes down as personal care because I originally set out just to ride, just to clear my head, just to hear the tyres on tarmac.

As I neared the city centre, I noticed an unusually large number of closed roads (even for Manchester) and an equally large number of police officers lining the streets. Soon enough I got caught behind a pair of officers on horseback creating a rolling (trotting?) roadblock on one of the busiest streets in town… they waved me by and I came face to face with another pair of horses as I pulled up outside the bike shop and 3 helicopters buzzed around overhead.

It turns out the English Defence League were marching / protesting / something and, I’m told, another parade / demonstration of some kind was also taking place. With a decidedly uncomfortable feeling descending, I decided to get out of there and let the police do what they do best.

On the way home, I saw at least 20 riot vans lined up…

errandonnee3 Surly Troll police vansSo, the 2015 Errandonnee is well underway and (political issues aside) I’m having a great time! As MG says “Hey winter, you’re not the boss of me”.

closing time

We’ve all been there, the dreaded last orders bell ringing and the bar staff impatiently looking at the full pint of beer in your hand, wanting to clean up and go home. And, all you want is for the night to never end.

And so it has been with the 2014 Chasing Mailboxes Coffeeneuring Challenge.

Somehow, it’s already weekend 7 of 7, MG is ringing the bell for last orders and all I want is for the challenge to never end.

This is the first time I’ve taken part in the coffeeneuring challenge and I must admit, after the first ride, I wasn’t really getting it… It felt weird to just go for a short, slow ride and randomly stop somewhere for a cup of coffee. But, as the challenge went on and I found myself visiting some great local places (and one not so great place), I started to appreciate the simple pleasures of enjoying others’ company and the different perspective you get on your local area when you actually take the time to stop and smell the flowers.

Whilst the challenge may be over, my coffeeneuring adventures are only just beginning. Hell, I’ve even decided to keep my Surly Ogre in its current cafe racer style as my dedicated coffeeneuring steed.

  1. coffeeneuring7 mocha creation cafeWhere I went: Once again, I joined forces with fellow blogger and part-time coffeneurer, the Northern Walker. We met up at the bike shop before heading over to Creation Cafe, 1 St. Phillips Place, Salford, M3 6FA.
  2. Date I went there: Saturday 15th November 2014.
  3. What I drank: I had a large mocha which was great and some kind of crunchy cereal bar which was rubbish. Matt had a large black coffee which was reportedly excellent. We both loved the mugs!
  4. coffeeneuring7 creation cafeA detail or two about my coffeeneuring ride: The A-board on the street advertised Creation Cafe as “open ’til late” so, as we arrived around 15:30, we were somewhat confused to find the place completely empty (and blurry in this picture) and, as much as we were welcomed, I got the distinct impression that the guy wanted to close up and go home… which we were preventing him from doing. Matt didn’t seem bothered by this but I must say I was slightly put off by it.
  5. coffeeneuring7 creation cafe bike racks Surly TrollBike friendliness of the locale: I’m most pleased to report that there are actual public bicycle racks right outside the cafe so which we shackled our pair of Surly Trolls. You can’t see the bikes when you’re inside the place though so if you’re particularly paranoid, you might feel uncomfortable about leaving it unattended out there.
  6. Mileage: A short one today – by this point, I’d only ridden about 8 miles (Matt had been out all morning) but I went on to ride about another 20 afterwards.
  7. Must visit: This is a tricky one… the place is nice, the coffee is good (and fairly priced) but I can’t shake the negative feeling I got from the luke-warm welcome and empty cake display. I’ll probably go back again but I expect something better next time.

no pressure over cappuccino

Week #6 of the 2014 Chasing Mailboxes Coffeeneuring Challenge is upon us and I’m right on schedule, having bagged a very wet ride #6 this Saturday.

I was once again joined by our friend of Northern Walker fame and, given the unmitigated disaster that was his choice of coffee shop on our last ride together, he insisted I choose the location this time.

“No pressure, then…?” I joked.

We met at our favourite bike shop, Keep Pedalling in Manchester (other inferior bike shops are available) where we spent some time nattering about bikes and drooling over a brand new Tangerine Dream Surly Crosscheck being picked up. Whilst I was there, they recommended a new coffee place that has recently opened up on the other side of the city; we set out riding in no particular direction as the first few spots of rain landed on the lenses of my glasses.

coffeeneuring6 surly troll ecr grindsmith manchesterWe rode north on NCN route 66 along the Rochdale canal until we reached Middleton then looped through Heaton Park into Prestwich and down towards Pendelbury before heading back into the city along the banks of the River Irwell – if you know the area, this can be a pleasant route but it was pouring rain for the entire ride and, by the time we reached Greengate Square in Salford, every single item of clothing we had on was soaked through.

  1. Where I went: Grindsmith Espresso & Brewbar, Greengate Square, Victoria Bridge Street, Manchester, UK, M3 5AS.
  2. Date I went there: Saturday 8th November 2014.
  3. coffeeneuring6 grindsmith manchester bakewell cappuccinoWhat I drank: Standing there, dripping on the floor with my glasses steaming up, I asked what they might recommend for a freezing cold, soaking wet cyclist, especially as I couldn’t read the menu. “Cappuccino” was the response and, despite me not really liking any cappuccino I’ve had in the past, I went with it anyway.
    The friendly staff invited us to take a seat in the nice warm interior which, whilst incredibly tempting, would’ve resulted in us getting mud all over everything so we declined, deciding to sit outside as the rain had finally eased off.
  4. A detail or two about my coffeeneuring ride: Along with my cappuccino I ordered a bakewell slice which was lovingly presented to me on a custom made wooden plank – fancy, eh?
    Despite my previous forays into the world of cappuccino drinking, I’m pleased to say what I had was really quite pleasant; it’ll never be my favourite coffee but it was nice all the same. The bakewell slice was ooey-gooey and easily lived up to its billing as being “spectacular”.
  5. coffeeneuring6 grindsmith manchester bike racksBike friendliness of the locale: Finally, FINALLY! A place with bike racks! As per bleeding usual, there wasn’t a single public bike rack anywhere in sight but the good folks at Grindsmith had solved this problem by simply bolting one to the side of the place! There’s even a vintage chopper there to reinforce the hipster vibe (happily, there’s no requirement to wear tight trousers and a checked shirt or have a carefully trimmed beard).
  6. Mileage: As usual, we didn’t keep track but it was probably somewhere between 30 and 40. In. The. Pouring. Rain.
  7. Must visit: As I say, there’s a definite hipster vibe here, what with the old cable reels and wooden crates to sit on, the trendy people coming and going, extravagantly swiping their iPhones (other, non-knobbish mobile phones ARE available) and, with 2 coffees and 2 small pieces of cake costing over a tenner, it’s hardly cheap but the surroundings are lovely, the staff are friendly and welcoming and the quality of the product commands the price tag. Oh, and we didn’t feel out of place at all, despite my dishevelled appearance of which I am so proud.

We enjoyed our coffees as we sat watching the strangely relaxing fountains dance.

Later on, we childishly zig-zagged our way through the fountains on our bikes, much to our own soggy amusement.

coffeeneuring6 grindsmith manchester bakewell cappuccino fountains

bat out of hell

 

This stuff doesn’t happen by accident, you know. The hours minutes of dedication that go into thinking up an appropriate song title, drafting a blog entry, taking amateur photographs… Yes, yes, I know it’s harder work to read this rubbish but still.

Choosing the right song for today’s post started out as they all do. I was pedalling along, letting my mind wander and hoping some kind of inspiration would strike. Alas, it did not.

Oddly enough, despite being in the saddle for all of 10 hours, I didn’t even get a song stuck in my head (another excellent method). Yep, I was starting to get worried. And then, a few miles from home, my riding companion came alongside complaining that his day-long earworm had been Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell.

Now, I happen to love that song but poor old Matt hates it.

Naturally, it was the perfect… nay, the only choice.

Behold, dear readers. BEHOLD…

TROLLFEST, THE THIRD

Surly Troll York town wall gateOh, I should point out: Trollfest, the third was an 80ish mile ride from York to Hadfield on the Trans Pennine Trail, about 80% of which is off-road. And, of course, we were doing it on a pair of Surly Trolls. And, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, we decided to do it in one day. All of this didn’t leave us much time for photographs, let alone good quality ones.

It was still dark as we boarded the train from Manchester, clutching our coffees and nervously joking about “what could possibly go wrong”. Shortly after arriving in York just before 08:30, we took the obligatory dodgy start line photo and immediately set off in what turned out to be the wrong direction.

Luckily enough, this was about the worst thing that happened all day.

Percy Pig sweets 1Apart from some of the food we took with us…

Once again Matt had been sent with a bag of dodgy looking jelly sweets, this time in the shape of ‘Percy Pig’. My initial reaction was polite yet abject horror, which didn’t stop me nomming one.

Percy Pig sweets 2As I feared, it was a weird bubblegum crossed with cheap sofabed foam kind of chewy textured mouthful of instantly regrettable sweetness with a flavour unlike anything occurring in nature… which didn’t stop me nomming the rest of my handful with the enthusiasm of a one-eyed starving dog let loose in a meat factory.

I disappeared into the woods to …ahem… water the flowers while Matt polished off almost the rest of the delicious, delicious bag.

2x Surly Troll Aldham Trans Pennine Trail TPTIt wasn’t until we reached Aldham near Barnsley that we allowed ourselves a brief photo opportunity and a moment to drop the pace a little. Since leaving York, we’d been maintaining a ridiculous pace, not stopping for anything (especially the crazy women on horseback who referred to us as “Boys… BOYS!” as we rode past).

At Selby, the plan was to come off NCN route 65 and onto route 62 (or the other way around, I forget which) but both trails were randomly closed and diverted around the back of a factory straight out of The X-Files (or so we thought)… It took us a few miles and quite a bit of backtracking to realise we (and another pair of cyclists) were hopelessly heading in the wrong direction.

We got back on track and continued tearing through some beautiful roads and trails in North Yorkshire, scaring the bejesus out of small animals, children and roadies on their oh-so-shiny carbon bikes.

“Was. That. A. Fat. Bloke. Time. Trialling. On. A. Surly. Troll?”

Yes, yes it was.

Maybe it was the 5am start. Maybe it was the extra pressure of the unplanned diversion on our already tight schedule. Maybe it was just my desire to change body position on the bike. Who knows what it was but something just told me to trust myself, kick it into the highest gear I could find, rest my forearms on the bars, dangle my hands over the front of the bike in that frighteningly unsafe way you see the pros doing it on Le Tour.

With the wind whipping through my beard, I glanced back and saw the gap increasing. Looking up again, I was greeted with a mixture of respect, revulsion and bewilderment from the lycra louts heading in the opposite direction.

Matt later remarked he wished he’d been able to get a picture of it. I wish he had too.

Surly Open Bars Carradice bag hydration packOh, I almost forgot! If you’re planning to go time trollin’ yourself, you’re going to want a Heath Robinson solution to your hydration needs.

Who says you can’t fit a water bladder into a small Carradice bag? Probably the same people who say you can’t go time trialling on a cargo bike without time trial bars, that’s who.

Anyhoo… with over 50 miles taken care of in about 4 hours, spirits were high but I was starting to feel the effects and my lingering knee problems were starting to flare up.

Also, the climb out from the end of the Dove Valley Trail past Winscar Reservoir up to Dunford Bridge at the highest point on the Trans Pennine Trail was looming ever closer. Or so I thought.

My mind was about 30 miles further into the ride than my body was. The miles through Silkstone Common, Penistone and Oxspring were awful.

To add insult to injury, as we neared the bottom of the climb we’d been dreading all day and we were at the very lowest of our lowest ebb, the heavens opened and the hail came down.

Cowering in a random bus shelter, we layered up and ate almost every piece of food we had left between us. All too soon there was nothing left to do but attempt the climb. At least the rain had eased off a little.

I’d already resigned myself to the fact I’d be walking at some point, I was staggered to find myself out of the saddle, dancing on the pedals for the initial steep section. As the incline eased slightly, I sat back down, found a sweet spot in the gearing and just enjoyed the climb. Glancing back, I saw Matt gazing off into the distance as he too found his rhythm.

All too soon we were punching the air, whooping in delight and sliding the bikes sideways on the slippery tarmac of the Woodhead Pass road.

Hepped up on a cocktail of adrenaline and whatever energy products we’d eaten, we stormed across the Woodhead Pass trail, worrying the sheep and taking celebratory pictures. I believe one of these is what the Young People call ‘a selfie’.

Surly Troll Woodhead Pass 2 2 Surly Troll Woodhead Pass purple heather Woodhead Pass Trollfest 3 Woodhead Pass selfieFrom here, it was all wild downhill with more whooping until we hit the Longdendale Trail which I attacked like a Bat out of Hell (see what I did there?).

More time trollin’ ensued and we simply didn’t relent until we piled into the pub.

Total mileage for the day: probably close to 90 – by far the biggest ride I’ve ever done in a single day.

Spectacular.

Beer & peanuts

down by the sea

 

Sometimes when I’m out cycling, I get a song stuck in my head. More often than not, it’s one of those hideously annoying songs I somehow know all the words to but will never freely admit to recognizing and would certainly never buy a CD of, not in a million years.

My most recent earworm was the unfortunately apt Ferry cross the Mersey.

Surly Troll Mersey Silver Jubilee bridgeWhy was this song going through my mind over and over and OVER AND OVER? Well, it just so happens I was cycling along the banks of the River Mersey and, like a bleeding tourist, stopping to take photographs like these ones of the Silver Jubilee Bridge in the Mersey Estuary.

2 Surly Troll Mersey Estuary Silver Jubilee BridgeWhat was I doing in Merseyside being a bleeding tourist? Well, I was making my way back to Manchester via the starting point of the Trans Pennine Trail at Southport.

BEHOLD: Trollfest #2:

2 Surly Troll Southport TPT Trans Pennine Trail startYes, the Northern Walker and I had somehow managed to convince our respective other halves to let us escape for the day so we hopped on a train at Manchester Piccadilly to the somewhat underwhelming start point at Southport. We decided not to dip our wheels in the sea (what with it being about 5 miles out), much to the relief of the RNLI guy who looked like he’d had to rescue far too many cyclists from the mudflats.

Instead, we set off into a relentless headwind on the exposed coastline which, coupled with the dull route, made the initial part of the ride a bit of a chore.

Trans Pennine Trail Liverpool Loop Line blockedEventually, we turned slighty inland and enjoyed miles of deserted trails and country lanes as the early morning sun started peeking through the grey clouds overhead… until we reached the start of the Liverpool Loop Line which was closed apparently due to asbestos being removed from a bridge.

994460_10152927169679863_3908862782886263258_nWe were not amused. Not least because the diversion was poorly signed but when we could navigate our way through it, we increasingly found ourselves riding through some of the worst neighbourhoods and decrepit industrial estates in Liverpool.

Just when we were at our grumpiest, we happened across a HUGE supply of the plumpest, sweetest wild blackberries which we scrumped until our bellies were full and our moods improved.

2 Surly Troll Liverpool Loop LineBack on track and after a couple of unplanned diversions (thanks to whoever turned the sign around), we eventually made our way onto the Liverpool Loop Line proper which is an old railway bed carved directly out of the sandstone. Purty.

We paused for an apple and some questionable yet strangely morish jelly sweets and discussed the pros and cons of Surly Open Bars vs Jeff Jones Loop Bars.

Last time we rode, Matt’s Troll was sporting some el cheapo riser bars and I had a set of Jones. This time, Matt had a brand new set of the Loop Bars and I’d switched to the Open Bars.

Surly Troll Open Bars Carradice bagWhich is better? Well, I still love the Jones bars but, boy are they expensive. Sure, I got a killer deal on my Surly bars but even at full price they’re considerably cheaper and I still have plenty of hand positions. Plus, a small Carradice bag sits neatly underneath, giving me ample room to stash a spare tube, some tools and whatever strange munchies I can lay my hands on.

We pushed on through Merseyside, wondering if we’d ever make it Warrington and starting to question the advertised mileage on the map as time marched on and our curfew approached.

The bullet holes in the TPT signs in Halewood helped motivate us to pick up the speed until the thatched cottages in the beautiful Hale Village almost stopped us in our tracks. The wild plums I found at the roadside were enough to stop us completely for a few delicious minutes.

Apple scrumpingWe finally made it to Warrington, now convinced the mileage on the maps was pure fantasy so we stopped for that oh-so-traditional cycling nutrition: beer & peanuts.

A little further on and I spotted yet more trail side foraging and set about grabbing myself an apple.

Matt wasn’t convinced they’d be ripe just yet.

Apple scrumping 2Matt was right.

We neared home via the Bollin Valley Way, stopping only to avoid mowing down small children, double check the route and eat a huge slice of fruit cake.

At Sale, we decided to skip off the TPT in favour of the Bridgewater Way which I knew would take us home to yet more cake. What I didn’t know was that just about everyone else had the same idea which meant the trail was uber busy, hampering our progress.

Even worse, the trail was blocked in places and rough all the way which slowed us down even more. At Salford we realised just how late it had gotten and agreed it was better to part ways than face the inevitable “where are you?” phone calls from the bosses.

I checked the mileage when I got home, almost 70 miles total for the day. The maps suggested it’d be a little over 50 miles… Ah well, at least we know why it took so long!

2 Surly Troll TPT Trans Pennine Trail Bollin Valley

hallelujah

river irwell 1

 

The final rays of the evening sun shone through the treetops.

The snow white tail of a wild rabbit disappeared into the undergrowth.

Overhead, a Heron flapped his awkward way down the river.

I reached down, grabbed another gear and tore through the woods without a care in the world.

Sweat dripping down my face, beard resting on the loop of my Jeff Jones bars and my 8 speed Shimano Alfine hub making that odd clickclickclickclickclick sound, I found myself wondering how something so apparently insignificant can make such a dramatic difference.

Surly Ogre Alfine 8 Jtek bar end shifterYou see, as fond as I was of my Surly Ogre with drop bars and a Jtek bar end shifter, I’ve been having shifting issues ever since I fitted it. For reasons that escape me and two bike shop mechanics, the gear cable tension would inexplicably go out of alignment every now and again even though I know for a fact the wheel wasn’t moving in the dropouts (thanks to a Surly Tuggnut) and there was no issue with the cable or shifter. Meh, blame it on Gremlins.

Unfortunately, Shimano only make one shifter for their Alfine hubs and it’s the trigger shifter type you find on most flat bar bikes (thank the lord it’s not a hideous twist-grip).

Surly Ogre Jones Loop bars Shimano Alfine 8 shifterSo, my only alternative to the Jtek was to take the drop bars off the Ogre and replace them with something a little more conventional… I peered around the garage and spotted the Jones bars on my Troll. A new set of brake levers, a fresh set of cables and a half an hour later and the Ogre was transformed.

All of a sudden, the gear alignment was perfect and the hub was running smoother and quieter than ever before.

There’s just nothing like riding down a perfect trail in perfect weather with the bike underneath you running, well, perfectly.

Surly Ogre cobbles disused canalAnd what of the Troll? Well, I happened to pop into the bike shop and they just happened to have a set of original Surly Open bars lying around… what was I going to do, not buy them???

Surly Troll Open bars

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

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.

10258968_10152573483604863_3776863221452996315_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!