How embarrassing. It’s nearly six months since I posted something here.
You will, perhaps, be pleased to see that I’m still alive and if you cast your eyes rightwards towards to the twitter feed, things have indeed been happening. Finding the time to write more than 140 characters has been more of a challenge, and even up to 140 has been a stretch at times.
I do sometimes lack the inspiration to write something interesting, and try not to blog for the sake of blogging, but Taylor said he was getting tired of looking at that stove review, so it’s time for something else.
I’ve found myself doing a bit of bikepacking lately, and there are four trips that have yet to grace these pages. Running beside all that are some little make-you-own-gear (MYOG) projects that I want to share, and of course some pictures. I like pictures.
So, anyway, this post is something of a trailer for the tales of high endeavour and excitement to follow soon:
braving deep snow with a half-fat Pegasus in November
braving minus 10 degrees Celsius in a bivi bag in December
braving driving Welsh rain and high winds under a tarp in February
making a cool and effective wind shield during the cold, dark evenings
Curiosity got the better of me in the end. I’ve had a Vargo Triad for a while now and used it on several bikepacking trips. A Whitebox stove is a variation on the same theme: an ultralight meths stove. I was intrigued to actually see if the Whitebox was better or not, so the only way to find out was to buy one and test it against the Triad. (more…)
When I sat down to think about making a tarp, my train of thought went something like this:
Keep it as light weight as possible >> Using as little fabric as possible would help achieve this >> Using less fabric would keep the cost down >> If I use less fabric the packed volume will be less for any given fabric >> I should utilise the bike as a frame to pitch the tarp over to allow use in open areas if no tree cover available.
I came across some fabric that was silicon coated on both sides, was cheap and dark green. Having looked at numerous tarp set ups including some that used a bike as a frame, I worked out that I could use the wheels at either end of the tarp would use least fabric. I lay down to work out how much horizontal room I needed if I lay full length between each wheel. Being of average height, 2m was enough. I then figured that a 50cm flap over the wheel to a guy point would probably be sufficient.
I ordered 3m of fabric, 1.5m wide. When I arrived, it measured 3.10m by 1.57m, which was a bit of a bonus in both directions I thought. It was soft, handled quite well and wasn’t particularly noisy when you flapped it about, like some spinnakers are. The fabric weighed 398g, which converted to a weight of 2.4 ounces per square yard. This gave me a comparison to other fabrics like ultrasil/ silnylon, which are typically 1.1-1.3 oz/sq.yd.
The next step was to determine the shape the fabric needed to be when stretched over a wheel. With more time and a lot of thought, we could have gone to the trouble of stitching in tapered sections to allow a better fit over the wheel, but we decided against this in order to keep it simple. The obvious areas of excess fabric were going to the back corners, away from the front edge where the wheel was. We cut off two triangular pieces about 50cm by 75cm which gave us some extra fabric to reinforce the guy points. All the edge seams were folded over twice and double stitched. Some sections that were going to be under greatest tension were also reinforced with some gross-grain tape into the hem, with small loops at the ends to tie the guys to. We also stitched in a line of gross-grain between the front and back guy points, in line with the wheels for extra strength and added durability over an obvious contact point (the wheel).
The finished product seems quite good. Though it’s not been out of the back garden yet, it was easy to erect and easy to get a good even tension. There are eight guy points which go out to six (titanium) peg locations. I’ve got 2.1m between each of the wheels, taking the extra 10cm of material supplied to give me more internal space.
The rear tapered section where we took a triangle of fabric off didn’t work as envisaged, but instead allowed a sort of drop down at the back which would be more effective at keeping weather from coming under the edges. The fabric does go over the wheel quite well and does appear to have equalised the tension in the fabric very well without a lot of very tight or very slack areas of fabric.
The guy lines were 1.5mm dyneema (15m, total) which is nice and light, easy to handle and knot. For further ease of tensioning, I’ve used mini line-loks which are hugely effective and weigh hardly anything. The whole lot stuffed easily into a Size 1 Granite Gear air bag to tip the scales at just over 480g, with six titanium pegs. Now I just need to find an occasion to test it out for real 😉
… or at least it will be with a bit of work with the sewing machine.
Material is 80g/m2 ripstop nylon silicon coated both sides, just over £4.00/m. I’ve also got 15 metres of 1.5mm dyneema and a packet of mini line-loks to go with it. It’s going to be a solo bike specific tarp using the wheels as a frame for a cost of less than £30. More to follow next week…
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.
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.
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.
My enthusiasm towards the cyclocross racing that resulted from the Crickhowell race was well and truly extinguished with the rain at Round 2 of the series at Risca. It was raining really hard in Brecon when we left and it didn’t ease off much all the way down. The course was, predictably, a mud-fest. My choice of gearing (32:17) wouldn’t have been too bad for the course in good conditions, but with the mud and wet it was all wrong. My sense of humour and enjoyment had failed me by lap four, despite encouraging words from Beth at the end of lap three.
By complete contrast, Round 3 followed a period of virtually nil rain. The course was an open flattish route around well kept grass fields on a farm. There was one long climb, but otherwise it was a fast course. Too fast for my gearing anyway. I rode as hard as a could for nearly an hour, got lapped twice and came well down the ranks considering the effort I’d put in.
It’s probably no surprise to the casual reader that a singlespeed isn’t going to cut it in a race with road-race hardened ‘cross riders on fast and generally non-technical courses. Fair enough, I didn’t expect it to. My principle objective was to have fun, and while Crickhowell was a real hoot, the singelspeed strategy (and to an extent my fitness) took the edge of the fun element in the rounds that followed. Still, there’s always next year. Perhaps Singular will have their Kite in production by then 😉
The playing fields of Crickhowell High School were criss-crossed in an intricate fashion with plastic tape. It weaved in and out of trees, up and down steep slopes and through the sand box of the long jump to form a convoluted race course. I stood on the start line of my first ever cyclocross race surrounded by hardened roadies “fresh” from a summer of road events and criterium races.
Standing astride a my 29er MTB with 32mm tyres and one gear at the back I was clearly in a minority of one. Crossing my fingers, I hoped that 32:18 was the right gear for the course. Without anymore time to contemplate the implications of the choice of set-up, the whistle went and we were off. Carnage ensued before the first corner: a bottleneck in the course caused a momentary hold-up, but once it was clear the pace soon opened up to the leg burning, lung bursting and heart pounding pace that characterises cyclocross racing.
The first half of the race was a bit of a procession, wheel to wheel with other riders while trying to pick them off on the tight turns or on approach to the technical sections. The 32:18 gear seemed about right for powering out of the hair-pins, and the technical sections favoured my MTB background. I settled into more of a rhythm after about 20 minutes, and with the thinning out of the other riders, I could concentrate on keeping my lines smooth and trying to gain some ground on the few riders I could see ahead of me. I was lapped by the leaders on lap six I think. I finished 19th of 31 seniors in the end, plus one lap on the leaders. Overall, it was a good event and an interesting introduction for me to cyclocross.
While the rains pours down outside, it seems like a good opportunity to sit down inside and plan my next overnight excursion. Whilst looking for nice two day routes from Brecon, it is also an opportunity to review the gear I took with me for the Welsh Ride Thing. So, for the benefit of the curious:
Sleeping bag – Rab Quantum 200, stuffed into a POD compression drybag, with homemade handlebar strapping system. I was really pleased with how well this worked. Everything stayed nice and tight after a few adjustments early on, and the dry bag did its job despite some poor weather.
Tent – Terra Nova Laser Photon stuffed into a Granite Gear No. 1 stuff sack.
Sleeping mat – Thermarest Neolite short. A comfy, if slightly noisy, compact and lightweight mat.
Stove – Vargo Triad – titanium meths stove; 100ml of methylated spirit (enough for two days), homemade stove base and wind shield. This worked well, easily boiling the water for me to re-hydrate my Expedition Food meals.
Pan – Tibetan Titanium 550ml pan with wire handle. Capacity to hold enough water for a meal or large drink, small enough to fit nicely over the end of the tent.
Misc – Black Diamond Ion head torch, first aid kit, survival bag, waterproof trousers.
Food – Expedition Foods dehydrated meals, some flapjack bars, small bar of chocolate and some chocolate coated coffee beans. Do apricot flapjacks count towards one of your five a day?
The frame bag is lovingly stitched together by Beth from 2oz denier coated fabric, with a waterproof zip, good thread and 2in wide velcro to keep it snug within the main triangle and sealed with seam grip to keep out as much water as possible. Overall cost about £15. Weighs only 87g. This is the second version Beth has made, with a few improvements over the first version in terms of width, zip design and stitching the straps in with the main seams. The fabric, whilst light, is not likely to be as durable as a 4oz fabric, so a third version is likely to be required at some point.
In terms of somewhere to go, I’m inclined towards the area around Llyn Brianne, via Mynydd Eppynt. I’ve not ridden Doethie Valley at all this year, which is one of my favourite pieces of trail in those parts.
I could see rain clouds in every direction from the house, except for overhead and the direction I wanted to go riding, where the sky was clear and sunny. I thought:
It’ll only be a short ride, I’ll leave the rain jacket at home.
Jumping onto the Pegasus, I headed for Mynydd Illtyd, an area of common about 4 miles from Brecon with some great open singletrack and few sharp climbs to really test the legs. As I got to the common, sun still shining overhead, the view west over to Fforest Fawr was black: a wall of cloud and driving rain about two miles into the distance.
The trouble with parts of the Brecon Beacons is they have their own climate. Parts can be sunny, while others are drenched in rain, with little inbetween. Keeping the right side of the weather boundary is a mix of good judgement and sheer luck.
You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk?
I pressed on towards the rain with increased urgency. Just as I approached my return point, the wind on my face was laced with fine rain. I peeled off the main track and kicked the pedals hard along a gradually climbing grassy singletrack path. Even after I turned my back to the wind and could no longer see the black ominous clouds behind me, the race is on to finish the ride and not get wet.
Finding a level of strength and determination that has evaded me lately, I hammered round the rest of the loop at a blistering pace. The steep climbs were all dispatched with maximum commitment, and just as I rounded the top of the last climb, I decided on a small detour to a trig-point. It was a bit further and steeper than I expected. With legs burning, lungs bursting, heart pounding and with the sun still shining I got to the top of the trig point to stand victorious and dry in front of black clouds and distant rain. In nearly every direction I could see rain falling, yet overhead the sun still shone.
I don’t think the ride would have been half as exciting if I’d actually taken my rain jacket.