Bikepacking, Homemade Gear, Trails

Welsh Ride Thing

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The weekend of the Welsh Ride Thing still brings me out in a grin when I think about it.
Packed with memories of rain, wilderness, bothies, open fires, whisky, sunshine, singletrack, fireroad, river crossings and socialising with thirty odd like-minded riders who got together for a weekend of exploring the Big Welsh Wilderness.

Saturday’s rain wasn’t particularly heavy, but quite persistent. My choice of 32:20 gearing wasn’t quite as light as I would have liked, but any lower and the flat sections would have been tedious. My progress was slower than I had planned, a combination of weather, riding a loaded bike and hard (but enjoyable) trails. I chose to trim my route a little and headed for Claerddu – a remote bothy I’d not been to before.To my surprise, I was the only one there when I pulled up at 8pm. It concluded a 40 mile ride, which had taken in some great tracks, though not in the best conditions. I had enough time and light to get the fire going and cook up some food. Another WRT rider arrived at about 9pm, and we shared tales of the days riding.

Sunday dawned with patchy cloud and warm sunshine – a welcome change from the day before. I headed NE along Monks Trod, a route I am familiar with from previous exploits and one that can be either magnificent or miserable depending on the weather and/or the choice of line. Today, though, it was magnificent. An hour and half since leaving the bothy, I was back on the mountain road. A stiff climb lead me to Nant Rhys Bothy, before a long forest descent took me back into the valley to the north. Hafren Forest lay the other side a long winding climb through a broad valley bathed in sunshine. Hafren Forest was a delight to ride through. I seemed to miss all the singletrack, not really knowing the area, but instead stumbled upon a fantastic waterfall and the above pictured quarry with its iron tinged wall.

I rolled back into Pennant with another 40 miles ridden to conclude an excellent two days of riding. New trails, new people, new places and new inspiration to head out into the Welsh Wilderness some time soon. The whole weekend was a great departure from the normal riding I do, and a world apart from my previous racing endeavours. Check out all the pictures I took over the two days here.


Rock and Roll

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Thursday, 20th May 2010

5:00am – I awoke to the sound of birds singing. The alarm wasn’t set to go off for another hour, but there was no chance of me getting back to sleep – my mind was on one thing: I had a mountain to climb today, literally. Snowdon.

I had breakfast and within half an hour was out on the bike. I was staying in a cottage near Rhostryfan, which left me an hour riding to get to the bottom of Snowdon.

6:19am – I’d ridden over the top from Waunfawr. On the way down towards Llanberis, I caught my first sight of the summit. Snowdon was clear of cloud, so I might be in the chance of good view from the top.

Snowdon summit from Waunfawr track

6:40am – I’d reached the gate at bottom of the Llanberis path in just over an hour, with 500m of climbing done already. And it was all uphill and off road from here.

The start of the climb, proper

7:41am – Clogwyn Station. The easy bit of the Llanberis path was now behind me, but not before an 600m carry up the steep slope past Clogwyn D’ur Arddu. The riding had been good, bathed for the most part in early morning sunshine. The trail was predictably rocky, but one of my goals was to commit to riding as much as possible. The section beyond the Station was too steep to ride too, so I was faced with a further push/carry.

Elidir Fawr and Y Garn from Clogwyn Station

8:00am – Back on the bike and pedalling. I could now see the beginning of my descent, the Snowdon Ranger, picking its way across a broad shoulder below the mountain railway and into the cloud below.

First glimpse of my descent...

8:10am – At the saddle between Carnedd Ugain and Snowdon, I got my first look down into the valley below. Filled with clound, the view was awesome. The summit clear as crystal above, I hadn’t got far to go now.

Nearly there...

8:15am – The Summit. 1 hour 35 mins and 786m of ascent from the Llanberis Path gate. The view was brilliant. The cloud seemed to lap against the steep faces of Lliwedd and Crib Goch like the sea against the cliffs.  I chilled out here for a few minutes, took some photos and ate some food. I was the only one here. The whole mountain to myself. Never mind the thousands of people who’d been here before me, I was the first person that day. I reflected briefly on the amount of the Llanberis Path I’d actually ridden – probably 75-80% by distance, which I was pleased with.

Lliwedd pokes above the clouds

8:23am – I started my descent on the Snowdon Ranger. The upper part was a reversal of the granite steps I’d climbed to summit cairn. With these out of the way, I could cross the mountain railway track, I take the trail I’d seen on the way up. It was fast and loose, resembling fine scree. Changes in direct were better made from the rear of the bike rather trying to guide the front. As the trail steepened, the fine scree seemed to get progressively larger until the trail began to wind between increasingly large rocks. Each meter descended needed to be met with greater conviction and commitment.

8:35am – At the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think of the consequences of even a moderate crash, injury or mechanical. Consequently, I did back off a bit, and when I did stop to look back up at the summit, I could see the severity of the trail I’d descended so far. There were to follow a few bits by far too severe for me to ride, which considerably exceeded my skill level. I gracefully carried a these sections fairly pleased with what I’d ridden further up.

Really quite rocky...

The trail opened out further down the valley, and I was able to open things up again and weave a line through the rocks and roll over the undulating grassy sections. Finally, I reached the turn uphill for “Telegraph Valley”. A grassy push lead to a gate and short climb past that took me over a small saddle and begin a real blast of a descent back down to Llanberis.

9:31am – Pete’s Eats. Henry and Beth were there to greet me too, and have a cup of tea and a bacon and egg roll ready and waiting.

"Daddy's bike!"

The perfect end to a great morning’s ride. All the photo’s from the ride are on my flickr site.


Full Circle

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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.

Middleburn RS8

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.


Fed up now…

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So, I went to the doctors for the first time in over two years last month to get some antibiotics for a sinus infection. Things were looking up and by the end of the following week – sinus infection gone and only the remains (so I thought) of a normal cold virus.

Six weeks later, the remains of my cold has turned into a cough that I haven’t been able to shift for over three weeks. Sure, being ill is no-one’s idea of fun, but this happens to coincide with a run of spectacular weather that will probably be hailed later in August, amidst steady rain, as having been our “summer”, which makes it somewhat annoying.

My plan was to ride SSEC this weekend, but I’d struggle to ride to the post box at the end of the road without coughing at the moment, never mind blast round lovely Forest of Dean singletrack with one gear. Which brings me round to the need for me to be doing something that resembles training, in advance of Mountain Mayhem in the middle of June.

On the up side, I’ve had my entry confirmed with the second Welsh Ride Thing at the end of next month, so at least I have something to look forward to.

Not Bikes


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Haven’t had a change of theme here for a long time now, and thought this provided a nice clean look.

When I think “monochrome”, I think of Ansel Adams, so here’s a quick example:

Half Dome, Yosemite

Hope you like it 🙂

Bikepacking, Homemade Gear

Portable Power

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A while ago I did some research on recharging devices that charge via a USB connection (i.e. 5V DC) using the power from other batteries. Not having done  any electronics since school, a simple approach was required that wouldn’t be too difficult to build. My first effort was based around a linear 5V regulator and a 9V PP3 battery. It worked, sort of… The problem was that it wasn’t very efficient. I would get about half a full charge from one battery, and the effects of reducing 9V to 5V produced a fair bit of heat. Most of these shortcomings stemmed from the limitations of the PP3 battery.

After further research, I found a neat device called the MintyBoost which was designed to boost two AA batteries (~3V) up to 5V. The capacities of AA batteries are much better than PP3 (less internal resistance and much higher mAh rating). At $20 for a DIY kit it looked a good solution to the problem and a bit of fun to build it.

On the left: this is what you get in the packet. The image in the middle is the result of 20 minutes work with a soldering iron, no swearing, burns to self or marks to the dining room table. On the right with all soldering complete, it fits neatly into a tubeless tyre repair kit box and gives me enough room for charging lead too.

So this kit will give me about two charges for my GPS from 2 AA alkaline batteries. It’s perfect for the short touring rides I have planned, or seeing as I can pick up AA’s in most small shops, it would be of use for much longer trips. It only weighs 87g too, so no serious weight penalty either.



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It’s quite a long time since Beth and I went for a ride together. With Henry out for the day with the Grandparents, the weather yesterday was perfect for a run down to Afan Forest Park.

Beth riding the "Dead Sheep Gully" section of Penhydd

The Wall route was closed for felling, so we did Penhydd instead. In many respects, this trail is oft overlooked in favour of the burlier or longer routes up at Glyncorrwg. I rode it last August on the 29er (singlespeed) for the first time in years, literally. It was great fun, and I figured a good way for Beth to ease her way back into some real mountain biking (i.e. not the local canal towpath).

Turns out, Beth didn’t take much easing; instead she delighted in passing about 6 blokes on the way round and made a tidy job of riding the Hidden Valley and Sidewinder descents. Given she’d not been on a MTB properly since November 2008, I thought was good going.


Faster and Lighter

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As soon as I heard that Singular Cycles were doing a titanium version of their excellent Swift frameset, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist. There’s no escaping the expense of a quality handmade titanium frame, so after a quick evaluation of the type of riding I prefer, it was time to sell the road bike to make way for something I knew would last me a long time and provide greater enjoyment.

Singular Pegasus

I’ve done a few rides on it now (read as: I’ve ridden nothing else since it arrived…), and continue to be impressed by it. The handling seems sharper than the already swift Swift, and the combination of titanium frame and carbon fork give it a suppleness that belies its otherwise rigid set up. The extra traction that 29″ wheels offer over 26″ wheels makes it great for climbing, yet even when the going gets a bit technical, the spring in the frame and the capacity for the bike to maintain its line makes it very capable of clearing some challenging ascents, provided the rider can keep turning the gear over…

The build quality of the frame is superb, as you might expect, but finished off with the “photo-engraved” Singular on the downtube go give it an extra bit of class. The Phil Wood half-link EBB makes it easy to adjust the chain tension, but I can still drop the rear wheel out easily if I need to. Most importantly though is the weight. It a full 600g lighter than the Swift, which is certainly noticeable when riding. I’ve not built it to be light, per se, but sensible choices like Hope hubs, No Tubes 355 29er rims, Middleburn cranks, USE seatpost and so on contribute to a solid build without any weight penalties.

Oh, and the bars. Everyone says “those a funny looking bars…”. Well, maybe, but they do make a lot of sense. They’re inverted On-One Mary’s, which suit the higher front end of 29er frames. They also give you a very comfortable hand position/ wrist angle, with enough width not to adversely affect handling or control. I’ve tried other bar combinations, but keep coming back to these – they’re ace.

Bikepacking, Bikes

On Tour


So, they cancelled Spring Polaris, again. Disappointed 😦

Putting my (now not so) new tent to some use seems to be cursed, at least in the context of using it for an event. Still, with all the time I’ve spent sorting out bits and pieces of kit to keep me warm, dry and adequately fed for an overnight excursion, it’s high time I got out there and put it to proper use. I used to do a bit of bike camping (or bikepacking as they call it) many years ago, and while I’m not racing seriously just now I’m looking forward to getting out into the hills again with the tent.

Singular Pegasus kitted out for bikepacking

The compression bag under the bar contains the sleeping bag. In the frame bag is a tent, sleeping mat, stove, fuel for three days, pan, torch, first aid kit, survival bag, waterproof jacket and trousers, and food for two days. The seat pack contains tools to fix just about anything on the bike. I’d also carry a small rucksack with water, and a few light essentials. Beth made the frame bag up for me, and now that we’ve learnt a thing or two from it, the second version should be a lot better.

Still, I’m pretty pleased so far – touring (albeit singlespeed) with a total set up weight of only 30lbs. Now all I need to do is plan me a nice two day route into Mid Wales 🙂

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.