It was at Bespoked Bristol Bike Show in 2013 that I first met Steven Shand, owner of Shand Cycles. Wildcat Gear supplied Steven with some bags to display at the show, and that marked the beginning of the two companies working together to unite Shand’s superbly crafted frames with the high quality bikepacking luggage creations from Wildcat Gear.
When I first looked at the bikes in their range at the show, two things stood out to me; thoughtful, elegant design that instantly portrayed the true purpose behind each frames intended use and, secondly, a level of craftsmanship in the brazing and quality in the final finish that is best seen in the metal to be fully appreciated. Continue reading
Fat bikes seem to shout “get me loaded”… And “take me on an expedition”. We only have to follow our hearts, the call of mother nature and the call of our fat bikes.
– Gian Liesch
Now that I’ve been riding around on the Singular Puffin for a couple of months, I thought it was high time for a review. I have been blessed with an amazing playground upon which to give the bike a really good test – from high level rocky routes and wet moorland tracks to man-made rock-strewn built trails in the South Wales valleys. It’s fair to say that the Puffin has stood up easily to everything I’ve thrown it at and any limitations in ability have usually been with the rider.
I was lucky enough to get a ride on a prototype Singular Puffin when I hooked up with Aidan Harding for a ride in the Brecon Beacons recently. My first proper go on a fat bike. The ride was amazing. I was hooked. Then I heard that Sam had just one frame left from his small consignment of prototypes.
I knew just the place for it.
The week following my last ‘cross race, I was invited to join some mates on a Bothy weekend at the end of November, and a Bivvy trip at the beginning of December. Exciting.
Equally exciting was the large box that arrived from Alaska just when we got back from holiday. It was fork: steel, black and wide. Specifically, 135mm wide. It was to go with a special wheel I’d precured from Singletrack World classified the previous month. A 135mm custom Phil Wood hub laces to a Speedway Cycles Uma II 70mm wide rim and shod with a Surly Larry 3.8″ tyre.
Welcome to the world of FAT
After an evening in the garage the fork was on and ready for its first ride on the Bothy trip. We rode out from Rhayader early evening on Saturday and took a winding route around the dams to Cwmystwyth before turing steeply up hill towards the forest and the Nant Rhys bothy. Despite the loaded bike and the singlespeed (32:20) the bike didn’t seem all that hard to pedal. Rolling resistance wasn’t that significant and while the extra weight in the front wheel was noticeable it didn’t detract from the ride.
Ready to ride on Sunday
Sunday’s ride was a fairly easy, if slightly longer than planned fire road based ride designed to link the bothies of Nant Rhys and Nant Syddion. The “it must be this way” strategy to navigation failed amongst the various junction options within the windfarm above Nant Rhys. All was not lost, if you excuse the pun, as we happened to hit upon an excellent fire road descent to the north of the forest. This is where the Larry tyre started to show its benefits: all the smaller rocks and stones didn’t really feature as trail features with the tyre just soaking them up. In the corners, the large tyre footprint yielded so much more traction than I expected that allowed me to carry my speed through the corners very effectively.
Finally, with nearly 35 miles ridden, I was at the top of the Golf Links descent: the final descent back into Rhayader and the final initial test for the fat tyre. Considering I was on a singlespeed with all my Bothy gear strapped to the bike, I found I was able to ride at a much faster pace than with a normal rigid fork and tyre. The Larry tyre functioned as a sort of passive suspension system soaking up the smaller stuff and not being thrown off line with the bigger stuff, and it stuck to off-camber sections of exposed rock.
It was a really eye-opening ride and I got much more from the bike than I expected. Looking forward to the rest of the winter with this set up.
When I think back, I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it was that was “wrong” with square taper cranks. Whatever it was, I was sure that ISIS would deliver the improvement I was looking for. Unfortunately, this revised crank/ bottom bracket interface came at the price of bearing longevity, or rather lack of…
It was a good job then that someone came up with the intergrated crank. Outboard bearings, large axle, improved stiffness and so on. These were the cranks I needed to solve the problems I was having with ISIS. A few years later though, with many miles ridden, my integrated cranks lie worn out on the workbench with play in the spline that makes them unrideable. Looking at the current offerings from various manufacturers, I can’t say I was overly impressed with cost, weight or appearance.
So, I go back to the tried, tested, trusted and British Middleburn RS8 square taper crank. Its forged profile maximises strength, yet its slender form gives it a very purposeful and attractive appearance. Not only that, once I’d fitted them to the bike with a UN73, they spin much more freely then my ISIS or integrated cranks ever did. It’s taken me over 10 years, countless hours in the garage replacing or greasing equally countless sets of bearings to come to the conclusion that a square peg in a square (tapered) hole is the way to go for cranks. You could say that crank development has gone full circle.