Bikes, Trails

So, nine months later…

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Well, 2009 certainly went past quickly. Can’t quite believe 9 months past since the last entry here, but then a rest is no bad thing from time to time.

I managed to get a few good rides in late spring in the lead up to Mountain Mayhem, and we put in a good performance to finish 11th in the Sport Category. I changed jobs in July, having worked a very arduous and stressful 12 weeks notice. The weeks just drained away from then until the end of the year. I hadn’t really done a lot of riding, other than just occasional local weekend rides.

New Year's Day in the Beacons

At some levels, I feel the slowest I’ve been in the last ten years, but then I think it’s all relative. On a ride over The Gap late last year, I caught a few riders from a club I knew where we used to live. One chap was determined to beat me to the top. He set a quick pace, but I stuck with him without too much trouble. I concluded that I’m so much unfit, as just not race-fit. Which is fine, really. I’m just enjoying riding at the moment, without having to worry about anything else.


Fast and Simple


Casting an eye around the garage last month, I began to realise I had quite an excess spare bike bits which I could sell to a) clear some space and b) make some money. Then I uncovered all the singlespeed kit I had for the Cove last summer. So, the question was, could I raise enough money from the bits I had to sell to buy the extra bits I needed to get a singlespeed on (or off) the road?

Singular Swift

Yes, is the answer, and I have to say I’m very pleased with the result. Despite my previous foray with the larger wheel off road, the whole 29er exeprience is completely new to me, and was something of an experiment. It’s very difficult to express sometimes just what makes a bike good, but I’m very impressed with the handling of the Swift, which was an absolute blast to ride around the tricky rooty trails of Llaneglwys Forest.

For a bike with one gear, funny looking bars (which are considerably more comfortable and confidence inspiring then they look) and no suspension, I was surprised just how fast I could get the bike up to while still feeling in full control. Lots of grip, lots of control and those big wheels just eat up the rough bits I didn’t really feel rigid was a disadvantage. In terms of maintenance, there’s so little to go wrong, keeping it in good fettle should be simple. Problem I have now is not riding it to the exclusion of the Soda…

Bikes, Training

October Wrap Up

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Another month slides by gracefully. Not sure where the days have gone just lately, but looking back it’s been surprisingly busy.

A good proportion of my time was spent learning about, studying for or being assessed as part of my British Triathlon Level 1 Coaching Certificate. It was a very enjoyable course with a good crowd of people, from novices such as myself through to elite athletes including Andrea Whitcombe, pictured below, 3rd from right:

ITU Hy-Vee World Cup Triathlon
ITU Hy-Vee World Cup Triathlon

With my increased interest in triathlon and aided by a strong cycling background it will be a useful string to my bow both for teaching myself about the sport, but also sharing and developing that knowledge within our local club: Brecon Multisport.

In other news, there’s a new additional to the bike stable in the pipeline. I managed to convince Beth that if I sold a big pile of surplus bike components that were lying around in the garage, I could use the money to build up a new bike. I’ve gone for something that doesn’t compete too closely with the Soda, and is of a specification that keeps the build cost down to a minimum. More to follow once it’s built up and ridden…

The funniest thing about the month has been the weather. Early on, summer showed it’s face just to remind us what we’d been missing over the months of June through to September. A few cold nights and sharp frosts later, the leaves on the trees have turned and Autumn is in full swing – I’ve probably missed the best of the colours with the camera by now, but I may still get the chance to snap a few good pictures. By the end of October the Beacons have a coating of snow and and it’s time dig out the leg warmers and winter shoes and wrap up for winter once again.

Bikes, Polaris

Finishing Touches


Once again, I’m not quite sure where the last month has gone. My weekly pilgrimages to Llanwrtyd Wells were interrupted by a cough that just about everyone else I knew had already, so it was going to my turn eventually. The cough cleared and I was able to get back out with renewed enthusiasm to liberate yet more bits of trail for the event.


This enthusiasm was driven in part by a new bike: Cotic Soda. Though the transition to this lively hardtail from the Nicolai will take some getting used to. So far, it’s been great fun to ride and I’ve had a pretty wide grin at the bottom of some favourite descents 🙂


The rain finally eased and the sun nearly shone last weekend when Gary Tompsett came over to see how the finishing touches were going towards the event. If you’ve come here via the Polaris Newsletter, you’ll know that everything is in place for what I hope will be an excellent challenge. For me, perhaps for the first time in probably 4 months, I can finally sit back (albeit briefly) until the end of next week. Then all I have to do it put out the checkpoint boxes… See you at the event 😉


The Art of Dunking

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There’s a fine line between a perfectly soaked biccy and the ultimate dunking catastrophe. I’ve gone through a good number of mugs of tea while fitting this kitchen, and have extensively tested a variety of biscuits in the process. Rich Tea biscuits should carry a warning: Do not dunk for more than a second for risk of breakage. Fox’s crunch creams are equally dangerous, as they soak up too much tea and then collapse back into your mug under the weight. Bourbons are nice, but a bit small, and Digestives are only good in coffee. The best tea dunking biscuit has to be the McVites Ginger Nut. Excellent strength even when soaked in tea, and robust enough to retain its form even after an extended dunking of a few seconds. Seldom will the Ginger Nut have you reaching for your spoon to fish the soggy bits from the bottom of your cup.

I concluded that the quality of the a good dunking biscuit is all down to materials and composition. Which kind of brings me around (in an obscure fashion) to bikes. The last couple of weeks have seen a change in my bike shed. After the fun and excitement of the Omega Axis, I’ve decided that a ‘cross bike isn’t quite for me. The ride was superb; its lively spring weaved harmoniously into its capacity to be supremely comfortable on the roughest of roads. Soon I forgot the harshness of the aluminium frame it replaced, and extra weight of the steel one before that. Though they were all great in there own way, each successor was better. As much as I would have liked a titanium road specific bike, I couldn’t afford it. Instead, I have strayed to the Dark Side. Carbon to be precise. Propped up in the garage waiting for the rain to stop is a shiny new Scott CR1*.

When I test rode it I was amazed firstly at the weight, or lack of. I headed out of town on the smooth tarmac at a brisk pace, the bike eager to go faster. The rear end felt tight and stiff when I kicked up a few short hills out of the saddle. Yet, when I turned purposefully off onto a rough piece of road I wasn’t shaken to bits. It seems to have all the qualities you need in a bike neatly woven into one very light yet extremely robust frame. The Ginger Nut of bikes. Remarkable.

* photo to follow shortly…

Bikes, Races

Hill Climbs

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The Llangynidr hill climb featured as Round 4 of the Magic Dragon Series of time trials. The strategy was simple: stomp on the pedals as hard as possible and try not to blow up before reaching the top. With an average gradient of 8%, it climbs 280m in 3.5km. It doesn’t sound steep on paper, but believe me you know when you’ve done it. The top came after 13 minutes and 28 seconds, putting me 8th in the seniors. I was pretty pleased with my power output too – 4.74 watts/kg. The race was won by the last man up the hill – local lad, and our postie Ryan Bevis, who smashed the course record by 43 seconds with an impressive time of 11 minutes 5 seconds.

After a winter tucked away in the dry the Nicolai has been stripped down, restickered and rebuilt. After waiting for the lunchtime showers to clear, I headed out on its Inaugural Ride with a trip over The Gap. Starting in Talybont on Usk at 125m, and topping out at some 599m the route involved a climb at the other end of the scale to one I did earlier in the day. There are many variations of the Gap route, but whichever way you do it the best (and most technical) descent is off the north side back towards the Brecon. Late in the afternoon all the walkers had gone home, so I had the hills virtually to myself.

 Rebuilt Looking south from the top of the Gap Looking north down the Gap descent

The bike? Well, of course Im going to say its wonderful. No, really, it is 🙂 I’d made a tentative transition away from Pace forks (I’ve owned 6 pairs in all, since 1994). The Rock Shox Revelations that now grace the front of the bike were amazingly supple – they soaked up all the rocks I pointed them at both large and small in a smooth controlled action that I never found with my Pace’s. The brakes aren’t bedded in just yet, but I’m getting to like the new Hope Mono M4’s already – the larger rotors are quite confidence inspiring.

The route I did can be downloaded from the widget on the right. I’ll gradually add more files as time goes by.

Bikes, Not Bikes


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The sun was shining beautifully yesterday – it felt like Spring was finally here, despite last weeks attempt by Winter to hold on for a few more days. Beth and I went walking down at the Waterfalls near Ystradfellte, as we’d both decided to have a few days off work. You may well ask why weren’t we out on the bikes on such a nice day?

Well, last Saturday I went riding at Afan. I parked down at the lower carpark and got in a quick lap of Pen Hydd. The Wall was closed, so I rode up to do the Skyline trail. The return down the valley was to be via White’s Level. Everything was going nicely, and I was on my second ascent of the White’s/ Skyline climb when it all went wrong. I was riding at a brisk pace when my front wheel glanced off an inocuous looking rock on a short steep section and slammed into the bank at the edge of the trail. All 130mm of fork travel was taken up instantly as I came to a very abrupt halt. The forks rebounded, I overbalanced backwards and sideways, departed from my bike, bounced off a tree then fell onto some sharp pointy rocks and rolled some distance down the bank below. A general body check revealed a grazed arm, bashed knee and a broken rib.

Walking is a nice safe activity, and one that is generally suitable for people with broken ribs. To dispell that concept I slipped on some wet rocks and bashed my left knee quite badly.

The third thing hasn’t happened yet…



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I got my first mountain bike in 1991, before full suspension had been thought of, or suspension forks for that matter. I learnt my trail skills on a basic rigid Specialized Hardrock which gradually had its heavy inferior components upgraded to shiny lighter ones until it became an Orange E3 with Pace RC36 MXCD’s by 1996.

I embraced the concept the concept of full suspension with a Schwin Rocket 88 in 1998. The design was great, by unfortunately the execution wasn’t. After progressing through numerous other full sussers, I’ve settled on the Nicolai Helius – which I really like. However, despite that I had a little hankering to get back to my roots again with a hardtail – a Cove Handjob.

Its maiden ride was at the weekend at Afan Argoed. The grin factor after a lap of Skyline and Whites Level was large. I leanrt the joy of picking lines, of sprinting out of corners and diving into berms, and of course getting punished for the mistakes a full suspension bike lets you get away with 😉


Innovation saves the day

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I must confess to getting a little exited by things that are either exceptionally well made, or extremely innovative. Before I explain the reason for my recent excitement I need to take you back a few weeks first:

Getting the fork steerer length right on a bike is a tricky business. Trim off too much and you’re in big trouble, leave too much on and your bike looks messy with lots of spacers above and below the stem. Now, the problem I had was not cutting too much off specifically, it was more taking a fork off one bike with a short head tube and trying to fit it to a bike with a slightly longer headtube. So, there I was looking at 30mm of steerer tube protruding above the Chris King headset I’d just pressed into my Kona Leroi frame. I put the Syntace stem I had in one hand back down on the bench. A rummage around in the spares box uncovered a Truvativ stem with a single bolt which came to just below the top of the steerer. It sort of fitted, but not in way that inspired confidence.

Following a tip off the Weightweenies forum, a solution appeared in the form of a stem, from Avid, of all people. I didn’t even know Avid did stems 😕
With a sketchy description of a unique clamping system using a collet, and its three bolts placed unusually on the top of the stem, I must admit I was more than slightly intrigued. As luck would have it, there was one on Ebay, which I snapped up.


You’d think a stem is a stem is a stem. They’re been around for years, and apart from coming in different lengths, colours, rises and weights there isn’t much to separate them in terms of design. Avid have taken something which we all take for granted and redesigned it.


What I find amazing about the Avid stem is effectiveness of the design and the way its been executed. The collet fits over the top of my (short) steerer tube and is bolted to the star-fangled nut, then the stem mounted on top and the three bolts gradually compress the collet so it clamps to the steerer in much the same way the chuck of a drill works. Sure, its more complicated that a normal stem, but I’m still really impressed with it.


Olympic Rings

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I picked up my new race wheels yesterday. I say “new” but I’ve had the hubs for a good few years now. Following their recent service my Chris Kings hubs sound like new again, and the love-it-or-hate-it high freewheel sounds beautiful. The new bit is, well, the rest of the wheel – rims, spokes and nipples. Having agonised for ages over which rims to go for I opted for Stan’s NoTubes ZTR Olympics. I got them from Jon at Just Riding Along, and was particularly impressed when they both arrived with their weight of 345 grams inscribed on each rim 🙂


All laced up with Sapim Race spokes and brass nipples for durability and with the yellow spoke tape fitted, they tipped the scales at 1496g for the pair. Nice and lightweight, tubeless compatible and hopefully very fast 8)