Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tyres, Gravel, Gnarmac, Grinduro, Grrrrrrr

The rise and rise of the 'adventure/gravel/bikepacking bike' has been well observed and truth is for a lot of the riding that takes place casually it's probably a great choice of bike style. I jumped on the bandwagon with the purchase of a deeply uncool Raleigh Maverick Comp last year as it ticked all the boxes for me, and was on sale, and I got discount thanks to British Cycling. Being a tinkerer I couldn't leave it be and so of the original bike, all that's left is the Reynolds 631 frame and cromoly forks, shifters, cables, front and rear derailleurs and cassette, and brake calipers. Oh and the bar tape although that has begun to delaminate so I'll likely change that soon too.
To the real point of this post though. Tyres. I love tyres. I mean I really love them. I have around 15-20 pairs in the shed at least, loose or mounted. Tyres for all wheel sizes I own and all bikes, and some I no longer own. I try not to think about how much money is tied up in them. With the growth of the market mentioned in the opening line, there has been a revival/corresponding growth in the tyre market to suit.
On of the main reasons I plumped for the Raleigh was the very good tyre clearances on the frame and forks. Why is this important? Well bigger tyres means higher volumes means more grip and more comfort. All good things.
My first foray into the larger tyres was with a second hand pair of Compass Barlow Pass in 700x38c size. Skin/gum/tan wall of course.

Here they are on the stock Raleigh wheels during a christmas day ride. Great tyres, very supple and grippy but a bit fragile off the road and on the chippings and loose seal that makes up some of the towpaths, sorry gravel, around here. I had a new set of wheels built by the excellent Ryan Builds Wheels over the water in Bristol around an SP dynamo front hub, and a Hope Pro4 rear hub with DT Swiss XM421 tubeless rims and the Barlow Pass wouldn't stay up happily tubeless. As a note, they're not supposed to be, but sometimes tyres will work.

With some trips coming up I was searching for some tyres with more grip for off road, and that would work tubeless. I had narrowed it down to the Bruce Gordon Rock n Road 700x43c, the Soma Cazadero 700x42c and the Panaracer Gravelking SK (small knob, teehee) 700x40c. All built on/by Panaracer in Japan. Being precious and vain I wanted tan/skin/gum walls which meant pre-ordering the Gravelking SK's from Winstanley's Bikes who were very helpful, and ordering a pair of the Rock n Roads from Bruce Gordon himself, shipped to my friends in Canada who we were visiting a few weeks later in early March. This being mid-February and me being the sort of person who can't get an idea out of their head unless it's acted upon. My trip was in April...

Long story short, the Rock n Roads were/are excellent off road on the dry and loose surfaces I rode and slightly draggy but not terrible on road. Which you would have guessed from the tread pattern.
On the 25mm wide rims, they came up slightly oversize


They cleared the frame just fine, and were a lot of fun in use.

I didn't weigh them, but stated weight was 560g each. I would guess they would be around that. They went up and stayed up tubeless and worked well at around 40psi with camping gear laden up.
The Gravelking SKs arrived last Friday and as I wasn't going to be doing some KGnarr-shredding I swapped them over from the RnRs. They have a coloured wall over a black carcass, as opposed to the RnRs and Barlow Pass's which are black over a tan carcass. Just an observation. The other observation was that the carcass felt markedly stiffer than the other two tyres. Maybe twice as stiff as the Barlow Pass's.
Straight up tubeless and a little oversize, again on the 25mm wide rims so to be expected.
Riding on them on- and off-road they really do roll very well and there was even a lot of grip in the dry. I ran 50psi to begin with as I was expecting a little air loss from the first tubeless inflation. I think they could be dropped to 40/45psi with no problems. I really am rather happy with them. Weight was 490g, and they came up at 498g. Strangely they felt heavier in my hands than the RnRs.
I am waiting on delivery of a pair of the Snoqualmie Pass 700x44c tyres again from Compass for winter road use, this post will be updated.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Of plans, ideas and notions.

I can't remember the exact date or programme I was watching but sometime last year I caught a snippet on television about the Wayland's Smithy and the folklore attached to it. Now I'm a superstitious pagan at heart, and the the thought of being able to plan a trip around this location; and the village of Avebury somewhere else I had long wanted to head to, excited me.
I booked a chunk of leave off work many months in advance and began to plan.
It made sense to make use of the Ridgeway* to travel between the sites and as I was doing it by bicycle I might as well see how far along the Ridgeway I could get as well. After all, April was normally nice and warm wasn't it?

Last week was certainly warm, but with an unerring inevitability that comes with trips being planned this week marked a turn in the weather toward the rather fresh side. Still the forecast (ha ha) looked manageable for cycle touring. The last comparable trip had been in September with my friend Dave with whom I explored the southernmost bothy in Wales on my cyclocross bike. This time I had a new bike; my hefty Raleigh Maverick which has an all-up weight heavy enough to plough furrows.

Loaded up with seat pack containing sleeping bag, tipi flysheet and gas canister, frame bag containing tipi pole and pegs, flapjacks, wash kit, loo roll and other ephemera, and bar bag containing sleeping mat and mess tins I rounded off with a small Acre Hauser backpack containing some spare clothes, super noodles and maps. I was carrying my water on the bike this time instead of on my back and that helped a lot. I still took too much and I think each trip is an exercise at thinning down. What would be beneficial would be fork mounted bags or a larger bar bag or porteur rack so I could ditch the backpack all together. I digress.

Setting off from my Mum's just outside Chippenham I headed cross country toward Avebury. I was using the frankly excellent Polaris map trap to keep ahold of the maps and it made life so much easier. As a note, OS maps fold just right to fit into a large Ziploc bag. Instant waterproof map! My step-dad had kindly given me the map of the local area as it was one I was lacking, and he provided the details for the first leg to Avebury.

The first sighting I had of something really exciting was the white horse at Cherhill and set me in good mood for carrying on toward Avebury.

A gentle trundle along the A4 and soon I reached the chance to leave the main road and head along the byway taking the more traditional route into the village. This meant passing by the two long stones, Adam and Eve, the only two left standing from that direction.
Leaving them the gentle byway took me right into the village with only a pause to stop by the community shop for postcards, and not bother looking in the commercial gift shop next door.

Postcards written and posted it was time for a pint and some lunch in the pub. Mixed affair but still it filled a hole. I had a quick look at the other stones around the village and chatted to another cyclist before pressing on.

The village was nice enough but still lots of signs of erosion around the stones and the National Trust doing a lot of work to keep things in order. Granted I was a tourist too but it was a quiet Monday afternoon and there were enough people milling about to keep it busy. Out of Avebury and to West Kennett where the recent iteration of the Ridgeway begins. The photo at the top was taken by the initial fingerpost. The conditions were dry and the ground firm with plenty of washboard and ruts to bounce across. I'll be honest I didn't feel too much hope about enjoying it at this stage as my arms and legs took a pounding from the rigid bike and surface.
Gradually it smoothed off, as the distance from the car park grew and soon it was quite pleasurable to ride.
I wasn't sure when to expect surface changes but with each rise and fall of the landscape the underlying geology revealed itself where the grass or crops were worn away. The views from Barbury Castle were quite spectacular and it took me a while to realise that the large grey/purple/blue patches weren't lavender (too early) or water (too neat) but solar farms.
Heading on from the tops I paused to chat to a chap riding the other direction and who it turned out lived locally. As I asked a few questions about directions and conditions he told me that the Ridgeway as a route had many iterations and most points could be reached by several of them. I stuck to the main trail as marked on my map, and supported by the fingerposts but it was interesting to know. I caught up with a couple of walkers further along and rode alongside chatting for a while. The common denominator was we were both carrying whisky. I said I was stopping to make a brew further along the route toward Liddington and would maybe see them there.
At an intersection of 3 ways I had a pause and look back to see from where I had come and to see if I could spot the walkers.
I couldn't so I pressed on toward the hill fort at Liddington and a chance to find somewhere out of the wind to brew up. Whilst the view from where I had come was pleasant enough

The spot I was brewing in was rather less salubrious!
Still, it was out of the wind and a chance to rest up.
As I packed away the skies darkened and the wind began to pick up in gusts; bending the trees above me and really whistling around the pillbox I was sheltered by. I paused a moment to consider waiting out the ensuing rain in the pillbox but it was just too scuzzy so I donned my rain jacket, tugged the peak of my cap down and pressed on. I was only in the rain for about half an hour but with the wind chill it was enough to have me considering options for tea and warming up. My back was twinging and the thought of somewhere warm was appealing. At another byway intersection I slowed to speak to two ladies in a pony and trap and ask their advice about local pubs. With a couple of names in my ears I carried on until I found a water stop at Ridgeway farm and then another chance to drop off the Ridgeway down into Ashbury. I noted wryly that the descent down carried a warning sign of 10% gradient. Wryly as I knew to rejoin the trail I'd be riding back up it!
With the kitchens just opening and some tasty pie on the way I soon settled in.
If you're ever passing, I can heartily recommend the Rose and Crown in Ashbury.
The problem I now had was that I was warming up, comfortable and with a few hours of daylight left, contemplating my next move. My inner monkey was twitching to head back to my Mum's 30 miles away by road but I knew I wanted to get to the Smithy which wasn't too much further up the trail. After a coffee to spur me on I departed the comfort of the pub and climbed back up that hill.
It was worth it.
Utterly worth it.
My goosebumps had begun from the moment I turned off the trail to get to the Smithy and they tingled strongly the whole time I was there walking around the barrow.

It really is quite impressive. With a tot of whisky poured and supped I moved on.
Next up was the White Horse at Uffington and the ground began to reveal the bone-white underlying chalk as I rode.
With the time passing and the sun beginning to set as I wandered around the hill fort I saw the horse from an odd angle

with Dragon hill just below and the hill fort behind me it was a commanding view of the landscape.
I made the call to stay the night instead of taking the stupid option of riding back. After all that was the underlying reason I had come this far and carried all the kit. I found somewhere out of sight and set up the tipi before turning in for the night as the cold came. I was so cold I put every item of clothing I had on. Predictably it was about an hour later when I woke in sweat absolutely baking. Removing all the extra layers and just down to my base layer and ron hills I was settling back down to sleep when I cold hear a rustling outside. Peering out of the fly and I was bemused; was it the wind just being amplified by the tipi? A moment of silence was broken by rustling and the shadows of rabbits moving about. Phew, it wasn't the smithy come to get me, or ancient horses.

Woken at just after 4am by a skylark my grump at being awake was tempered by the beauty that is birdsong. I was warm and cosy in the sleeping bag but a peek outside revealed that the temperature had dropped enough to frost any damp areas. With more layers donned I set up a brew for breakfast, cursing the lack of a windbreak.

The backpack helped a bit and once the coffee was made I dropped the tipi and packed everything up. Coffee drunk and the recalcitrant sleeping mat squeezed into the bar bag on the second attempt with numb fingers I double checked my surroundings and pedalled off.
I had decided that I didn't have enough warm cycling gear to continue further along the Ridgeway, and this was reinforced as I rode out to head back towards my beginning. Again despite having all the clothing I had with me on, I was shivering. I rolled along the lanes instead of along the top to try and find warmth out of the wind but it was no good. The weather was bitter. Surprisingly I passed several other cyclists though all with far more clothing on than I! A brief pause at a village shop for a Snickers, my long-standing favourite snack of choice and a phone call from a friend and I was away again. The change from riding along the Ridgeway to passing through the villages beneath meant I was spending time checking my route on the map a lot more instead of being able to roll freely. I should have stuck to the top and gritted it out. A lesson learned.

By around 9 I was feeling somewhat jaded and my hummingbird metabolism was kicking in. Time for second breakfast. It was to consist of the same as the first but still it would be welcome.

I sat for 20 minutes whilst the water boiled and I subsequently supped the coffee and munched the flapjack. I was about an hour from finishing and felt satisfied with what I had done. No great mileage but certainly a challenge and an opportunity to see new old sights. My final few miles took me alongside the Maud Heath Causeway and despite the road being dry at this time I felt the need to make use of the monument.
Within a quarter of an hour I was back at my car and able to change and warm up. It was almost 22 hours since I had set off yet it seemed like so much more time. The stats, dull as they are; were 78 miles ridden, 4,800ft climbed, average speed 12 mph. I really learned a few more things about bikepacking and how best to do it, I'm sure these will be refined further. I've not finished with the Ridgeway yet. I also learned more about my anxiety and how to deal with it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The trick is to keep trying and to remind myself to keep trying.

*I found the National Trail website very useful in detailing where the route went, and water points as well as additional info regarding the leniency on trail-side camping; leave no sign of doing so and be considerate AKA don't be a dick. Good rule for life.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Almost a year of allotmenting.

Not actually a year but 9 months to date. It's been a real time for learning.
I took a plot on that had been heavily planted with potatoes for several years. Not only that but it was in the shade of adjoining trees. Not an ideal plot, but a plot nonetheless and for the princely sum of £14 for the year.


With an idea to plant and grow the vegetables that are both tasty to eat and also work out expensive in the shop I had a short list of the following:
Broad beans
Peas
Romanesco Cauliflower
Cavolo Nero
Purple Sprouting Broccolli
Artichokes
Courgettes
Squash
Strawberries

I had friends help me dismantle, carry and then erect a shed

I put a basket on my bike to make the trips to and from the allotment and carry my goods

And I did grow some good lettuce

In truth I made the mistake this year of not looking after the soil enough. Although I dug in manure and phosphates I don't think the ground had been replenished enough from growing so many years of spuds. Some of the crops flourished; my broad beans were fantastic and the courgettes cropped well.
The Cavolo Nero has done well, and I had some intermittent peas, otherwise I made another mistake of not thinning the brassicas hard enough. This meant they all strived for the same light and consequently I ended up with tall plants that weren't particularly fruitful. The artichokes really suffered with the shade but are looking to be getting stronger as the year has gone on. I'm hopeful that next year they will come into their own and crop well.

So what to grow and do next year? Well I have a love of chilli peppers and am outgrowing my greenhouse at home. I'd like to put a polytunnel up down there, as well as try for better results with tomatoes and peas. There will have to be some serious digging done over the next few months but I think it's possible.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hurrah! Bikepacking! Actually doing a thing!

I'm a dreamer, a romantic and I love to make plans and jot ideas down. Very rarely those ideas come to fruition, or those plans are realised, but sometimes they do.
A spurious text sent to my friend Dave asking if he fancied some cyclocross bikepacking to a bothy was met with the response; Hmm...interesting...
Not long after there was confirmation of a couple of available dates; a friday off work was booked and that was the beginning.
The nearest bothy to me is in the Black Mountains, up at the end of Grwyne Fawr reservoir and after poring over an OS map of the area I began to put a route together that would take the two of us from home, to the bothy for an overnight stay, and then back home the next day, avoiding main roads, or indeed roads at all where possible.
Neither of us had used a bothy before and although I'd done a bit of touring previously that had either been supported or solo but always on road. There was no way of booking obviously so it was felt best to plan for a worse case scenario; that the bothy was occupied, and to take kit to ensure we would be dry and warm should we end up under canvas (or lightweight si-nylon.).
I was keen to take food and a stove, so Dave offered to carry the tipi outer and pole and we both had bivi bags to go over the sleeping bags. After a couple of practice packs and a shakedown run I was pretty pleased with my set up, even though I lost a rear light on the shakedown run.
Friday arrived, and later in the afternoon so did Dave ad we began to assemble the bikes and gear. Dave has known me for some time and I can get a little hangry so I noted with pleasure he was packing enough cereal bars to keep a school field trip fed.

Away then.

First stop was towards Abergavenny to timecheck and contemplate whether to stop for tea at a pub.

We take the lanes and soon come to the Crown at Pantygelli. Sadly food isn't served until 7pm which may make us rather later than hoped getting to the bothy. Still, always time for a pint...
 The other bit of good news was that we were still on the right track. Heading from the pub we came to a crossroads and were somewhat surprised to find a sign pointing us towards the ACTUAL place we wanted to be. This threw us as we should have taken a smaller lane off to the left instead of following the sign.
 The reason being the route had been planned to take in bridleways and forest tracks and the signed route along a singletrack road skirted the edge of the woods and followed the river, which was nice but not planned. At the end of the road was this sign.
 You will notice it is dark. Time had passed and we both agreed that despite there being a couple of opportunities to head off into the woods to ride a bit of bridleway we wouldn't gain anything by doing so. The road was quiet and other than bats we saw a courting couple in a car and a resident in the hour we were on it.
I don't have any pictures for the next hour suffice to say it was interesting and I believe the route at times could best be described as cheeky. We managed to find a way across the river, and then following what appeared to be the marked track we found ourselves steadily coming down to the shore of the reservoir. Not ideal but it would deliver us to the bothy, we placated ourselves with. The grassy track got slimmer and soon we were pushing the bikes along the rocky shore with very little room to be. Eventually that too ran out and we scrambled up the steep valley side through the bracken and found a stock fence. Seemingly we had chosen the wrong side from the outset. Over the fence and along a larger track until we came to where the bothy should be. Our lamps picked it out to the left and down the valley. The other side of the fence. Huh.
Another fence hop and a downhill scramble trying to avoid stumbling down holes and rocks. Then, finally we were at the bothy. One of the positive aspects of not being able to see it from the track, meant that it was unoccupied. In we went, and candles lit.
 I then got the stove lit and tea cooking, whilst getting a fire going in the woodburner. Dave set up sleeping quarters in the roof space above. One all sorted we settled down to a candlelit supper of curry and rice by the fire. With rum.
Halfway through the rum there was a sound not unlike that of someone sharpening a knife near the door. Dave and I looked at each other and there was a moment when each of us had the thought above. Dave shone his light around and staring back was a mouse. In our defence the mouse was stood next to the axe and on the shovel and the scraping had been it's feet on the metal.
The mouse gave no heed to us and carried on it's mousey business. More later.
With time passing it was time to hit the sack. Up the ladder and into the sleeping bags.
 Around mid-morning; 3am, there was the sound of rattling down stairs so down I went. There was the mouse staring back at me and quite happily munching on some bourbon biscuits. The mouse cleared off and I tidied up.
 Next morning we awoke a few hours later than planned and while Dave packed I got the washing up done from the night before and then got a brew on for us to enjoy with our flapjack breakfast.
 Once all done, the bothy was cleaned and the bikes were laden. After another scramble up the sides we hit the trail again, somewhat easier to spot in the daylight. A beautiful day it was too.
 View from the bothy door.
 There was a fair breeze blowing in but thankfully it was dry. We picked our way along the top with a mix of walking and riding as the rocky surface and our narrow tyres were not a happy mix.
 After what seemed like rather a long time (6.2mph average) we reached the end of the flat section and the descent of Y Das to come off the top. This may have been rideable on the mountain bike at home in the shed, but wasn't so great on the cyclocross bikes laden with luggage.
 Soon enough the track levelled out and became a gentler descent as promised by the widening contour lines on the map. Back on the bikes and down we went. Pausing and dismounting for the odd section with drainage blocks in.
The final roll out was a hummocky grass section. Wheeeeeee....
Joining a tiny road again we picked up the pace and kept rolling along nicely. We came to the junction where straight ahead was onto a bridleway and chatted a while with a checkpoint crew of a fell race, they kindly gave us a bottle of water each and then we were away onto the almost-hard clay surface of the bridleway.

This traced around the bottom of Pen Twyn Glas and dropped us back onto another tertiary road. Deciding to take a final bridleway before Cwmdu we encountered lots of tiny rocks, nettles and brambles, along with the odd fallen tree. Such a shame the NERC act came into place and these routes aren't kept clear through use.
Back on the main roads again and they felt somewhat alien as we headed into Crickhowell for a cooked breakfast at the fine Courtroom Cafe. We made the time cut off by a minute. How's that for timing.
From Crickhowell it was a few more roads and then onto the canal towpath at Govilon to have a flat and quiet run back home. Total mileage for the two days was 63.7miles and 4,780ft of climbing.
Kit:
Planet X XLS cyclocross bike, my race bike. 1x10 gearing with 34T chainring and 11-32 cassette.
Challenge Baby Limus open tubs, latex tubes. Four4th Genesis lamp.
Alpkit Koala seat pack containing Snugpak Softie Elite sleeping bag, Khyam bivi bag and gas canister.
Apidura small bar pack containing Exped synmat, trek mates titanium cookset.
Acre Hauser 14l backpack containing everything else-
The pillow didn't make the cut. Yes I did use the trowel. Responsibly. Also had 2.5 litres of water in the pack.
I wore my faithful Rapha brevet jersey, merino armwarmers for Friday evening and Saturday morning, Morvelo stormshield 3/4 knickers, bolle safety specs and some DMT Lynx SPD shoes.
Fantastic fun.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Do you wake up proud?

Too much of the time I think is caught up in processes.
Processes of the time to do habitual things.
How often do we challenge ourselves?
There's a new challenge on the way for me.
I'm not sure if I'm ready but even failures are learning experiences.
Disruption does not have to be destructive.
Damaged film photo of falls in Iceland

Friday, January 1, 2016

Out with the old, in with the new.

Ticked two jobs off the list today by making the most of the cold snap and pruning the apple trees then going on and pruning/managing the twisted willow tree. I had feared it was getting too large for the area it was in, and the wind was whipping it about a lot. Turns out that the wind had indeed been busy and one of the larger boughs was split longitudinally.

It makes me smile that we brought it back as a sapling in the back of Michelle's A4 and now it stands the same height as the lamppost. The tree was spurred into three from the base when we put it in and the first of the three spurs was cut off some years ago and was about 2" diameter I remember and I took it off with a tenon saw. Today required hatcheting off small branches, then bow-sawing off larger ones before firing up the chainsaw to take the last main part off, which was 5-6" diameter.

Next up was processing all the wood. I worked progressively and first of all thinned back the canopy branches into wood for pea-poles, wood for kindling and then the thinner canopy twigs. The twigs were then baled up with Michelle's help to dry before being used for either kindling or for fencing/windblocks.

Using a piece of sycamore trunk as a chopping block I was able to go through the small stuff quite quickly with the Granfsors Bruks hatchet. Finally it was a case of firing the chainsaw up and logging the main spur for firewood.

A satisfying day.