Kinesis IX carbon fork

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Ever since I’ve had the Kinesis FF29 (about a year now), I’ve paired the frame with a set of Kinesis IX rigid carbon forks. I originally intended to use them for long XC adventures and bike packing, and swap over to suspension at some point, to create a more all-round trail bike.

I never quite got round to making the switch. I love the direct feel of the rigid forks. I love that as I pick up pace through tricky terrain, it feels as though I am juggling daggers. Pick the right line and all is well, make a mistake and… well, it’s best not to make too many mistakes. When combined with decent volume tubeless tyres, the carbon fork also had a nice degree of compliance, meaning that trail buzz is smoothed out and the ride is actually nicely comfortable, if not plush.

Obviously, there is a tipping point. Quick, rough descents eventually become a bit tiresome – a difficult balancing act between maintaining pace, skipping across obstacles and clattering over/through stuff, scrubbing speed to maintain control. I was re-introduced to arm pump at the bottom of a few long hills.

My original forks were QR, and while being excellent, possibly suffered from being too flexible; there was a bit of “flutter” under hard braking. Nothing that couldn’t be lived with, but I was excited to see that Kinesis now have a 15mm thru-axle version of the IX. I’ve now done a couple of rides on the new fork – both a few hours long and over a variety of terrain. The new fork is noticeably stiffer. Brake flutter has disappeared, and tracking over rough ground feels even more precise. Theoretically this should mean that the fork is less comfortable as well, but I’m not sure if it actually is. The ride quality feels just as good (although I haven’t done a back to back test to be able to say with any confidence).

I can’t see the FF29 getting suspension forks any time soon. I love the bike as it is. I love the light weight, love the single gear, love that it is ultimately compromised for much of the riding I do. The whole package though means that it excels at the niche I’ve built it for. And when I take it out of that comfort zone, it is all the more fun (at least until my forearms begin to burn).

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Roots

Second breakfast

Shortly after getting off the train in Hebden Bridge, I pass through landscapes that mean “mountain biking” to me as much as any bike. These are the bridleways that I did my first rides on, aged 13 with my Dad as company at first, then by myself during long summer holidays. They are etched into my memory, to the extent that it feels like the ridges and furrows of my brain map the contours of the landscape.

The distances have becomes shorter now. As a reasonably fit 34 year old, I am quicker and more experienced than the not particularly sporty teenager. Horizons feel shorter, less daunting. Of course, it helps that my significantly stronger legs and lungs now only have to propel a sub-20lb aluminium and carbon 29er, rather than the hi-tensile steel 33lb Giant (both branded and in terms of size – I think it was a 22in frame!) that was my first mountain bike. The FF29 is beyond comparison to that Giant, in every conceivable way. But, the real, truly important things haven’t changed at all. I still get that same sense of freedom when I’m out riding. I still smile as much. I still reach the top of a hill breathless. I still play with the limits of my skill and the bike’s capability. I still become utterly absorbed in the act of riding.

Sunday was the first sunny day that I can remember. The ground still bore the reminders of the soaking wet winter that we’ve had so far, but blue skies stretched out above me. They widened as I swung the FF29 from side-to-side, turning its single gear with all my body, lolloping up the steep sided valley walls. Hup-hup. Onwards. Headwind. Hup-hup.

Stopping on the dam of Widdop Reservoir, I stare up at the rock climbing routes that inspired me for a while, before I returned to the biking fold. A group of other riders joined me, each on lovely multi-thousand pound machines, each curious to see the scalpel-like Kinesis, bereft of suspension or gears. We share route plans and bike appreciation, but before long I am by myself once more. I love riding with other people: friends, family, strangers; today, though I want to be by myself. I want no distractions, no external influences on my relationship with the land.

Reservoir

Cobbles

I drop into Lancashire, but only briefly. Tarmac swiftly transports me back to Calderdale. Traversing the valley, I slot between dry-stone walls. Tight confines despite being out in the open. Despite being mid-February, the sun brings with it real warmth. I shed layers when I am in its direct glare, only to have to readjust as drop down into the winter shadows. More climbing, this time on tarmac, staying on top of the 34-18 gear, ignoring rasping breaths and accelerating, knowing that the pain is short lived.

Windmills

Home

I turn east, maintaining my height for a while, before I eventually, lazily slice contours until I’m in the valley bottom, swapping between canal towpath and groomed Sustrans tracks. I’m in no hurry to finish riding, but I’ve got a late lunch date back at the home which was the base for so many of my early rides. A cup of tea in the family kitchen is a fitting end to the ride, my bike propped up in the flag-stoned yard that I first circled on two wheels.

Let the train take the strain

Welcome back

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It has now been over two months since I last rode a mountain bike. Not just any two months either. It has felt like every day has dawned brightly, skies have permanently been blue, the weather always mild. My mind has fizzed with frustration, gradually eased by running, and more recentlyriding on the road (even if I did get carried away immediately take the Kinesis Pro 6 off into the woods). The reality of summer in Leeds so far hasn’t been quite so stunning, although we do seem to have faired better than recent years.

My shoulder never really hurt, at least not after the initial aches of the surgery. I have felt it get stronger by the week. This has fed my frustration, as I have had to deliberately avoid my bike, make the conscious decision not to ride, rather than be physically limited. It is still technically too soon. I have another x-ray tomorrow, and will hope for good news.

I was in the Yorkshire Dales, camping in Grinton, next to the brilliant Dales Bike Centre. Jenn was racing the ‘Ard Rock Enduro, so I thought I’d keep her company, but do my own thing while she raced. I was willing to take a calculated risk and have my first mountain bike ride. I think racing a gravity enduro would have been somewhat foolish, even if the FF29 wasn’t in rigid mile-munching mode. I must be getting sensible in my old age. Garage Bikes team mate Joe Roberts was there though, and bagged a very respectable 7th in his age group.

The FF29 was looking in fine fettle. I’d fitted some lovely new Kinesis Strut bars – the crash was heavy on my USE bars, and while I probably trusted them, they have always been a little too narrow for my taste, especially when hauling on the singlespeed. The Struts add an extra cm each end… not a huge amount, but noticeable. While fettling, I also added a nice new Charge Scoop saddle to test for Singletrack (I’ve always been a fan of the Spoon, so I have high hopes for this) and swapped my 32t front ring for a 34t Renthal offering (thanks Garage Bikes). Maybe not the best timing, as my legs aren’t exactly full of miles after the recent lay-off, but the FF29 is so light the previous 32-18 ratio always felt a bit spinny. The added benefit of a “magic ratio” and doing away with the tension was a bit of aesthetic win.

Swaledale has some impressively steep climbs, made even harder by the gale that was now blowing through the valley. Much of the morning seemed to involve cranking out of the saddle, with my nose glued down to the stem, sofa-softened legs getting a harsh wake up. The gradient/terrain never got so hard that walking was necessary, but I slowed to a trackstand in places, before finally turning over the pedals and recovering a mite of forward motion. It felt odd to be by myself having been in the company of hundreds less than an hour ago, but it felt right for the day. I think I’ve missed the solitude.

Climbing into the wind had its pay offs, as I whipped down wide grassy carpet-like descents at warp speed, trying not to think about the consequences of a hidden dip or gust of wind. Singletrack was a rarity, but the little of it that I discovered was superb. Dry, twisting, flowing, exaggerating the sensation of speed, rewarding the conservation of momentum. The FF29 revels in conditions like this. The carbon fork has enough twang to take away the immediate sting of small vibrations, it tracks well as the tight rear triangle transfers power brilliantly. Short stabs of power are rewarded with quick acceleration, belying the usual 29er criticisms.

This was a day for one-more-hill-ism. While the wind was ever present, the sun had burned through morning grey. I linked up familiar trails with new ones, found new views across known landscapes. It was the kind of mountain bike ride that I have done since I first ventured out. Bridleways, tracks, distance. Little technically challenging, or adrenaline fuelled, but just out there. It felt good, and I lost myself in riding, checking the map, and riding some more. As the ride came close to its natural conclusion I eked out one last climb/descent and rolled back into the garden at DBC, where Stu had a barbeque on the go, local beer was being served, and riders were sunbathing, full of excited tales of their day.

I wasn’t quite ready for the crowds, and could have happily turned round and headed out again. The smell of burgers cooking, and smiling friends convinced me otherwise though…

Welcome back mountain biking. How I’ve missed you.

Made in Yorkshire

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It’s now a month to go until Highland Trail. How the hell did time go so quickly? Something that has been in the distance for well over half a year is now approaching at pace. Time is becoming compressed. I’ve still got plenty to do before then… a few long rides, a 12 hour race, preparing final kit choices, maybe a few summer series CX races, and a wedding to go to.

I’ve now made all my big purchases, and while there is always something else to tempt me, I’m confident I can rely on my current gear. There is just one final piece to the bike packing jigsaw – a framebag. I’ve done without so far, but for a ride of this duration, I really want to get all the weight off my back.

There are a few companies out there now specialising in this kind of gear; Wildcat, Revelate Designs and Alpkit amongst others. In the end I decided to go down a slightly different route though. Restrap are a Leeds based company, who initially started life making foot retention systems for fixed wheel riding. They have started to diversify into messenger bags and rucksacks, and I wondered whether they’d be interested in knock me up something custom for the Kinesis FF29.

A quick email to Nathan was all it took to set up a meeting at Restrap HQ. I brought along the bike, and Nathan got to it, measuring and taking notes. We talked about a few different set-ups and the pros and cons of each. While no bikepacker, Nathan has got a real feel for what I will need, and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to constructing this kind of stuff. The final product will be tailored to my preferences, and fit the bike perfectly. In the end I went for a framebag, and a gas-tank style bag for easy access to food and similar items.

And that is where I left it for now. We are meeting up in a week or so to run through the initial designs, giving us time for any final tweaks before the big event. In the age of the internet and online shopping, it is a pleasure to deal with real people, and a local company. So, alongside Garage, I now count myself really lucky to have the support of a two great Yorkshire businesses.

I’ll be updating the blog with pictures from the design/build process, so watch this space…

Grizedale Duathlon Race Report

Run, bike, run.

The commas are important. In a duathlon, these represented the transitions. The briefest of pauses to swap shoes, to grab/replace bike, and probably not much else. Each of my stops were around 90 seconds. The quickest people were nearer 30 seconds per stop. Where did two entire minutes go? Those two minutes were the difference between a top 10 overall and my 15th place. There is no way I could have shaved off two minutes from my run. I may have been able to on the bike, but more on that in a bit. Two entire minutes?

The Grizedale Duathlon took place on a bitterly cold morning, starting from the Forestry Commission trail centre. We arrived early (Jenn was meeting her brother to go and have their own epic adventure on Coniston Old Man), and wandered through the huge complex of trail centre buildings to find registration. There has been a fair bit of development since I was last here (which, to be fair, was probably 15 years ago). Modern buildings sit within the forest, complementing the landscape really well. I can imagine lolling around on the grass after a summers bike ride, drinking tea and eating cake.

The transition area was small, cramped maybe. But, it was early, so I had a choice of where to rack up my bike. I went for as close to the exit as possible. I laid my MTB shoes out neatly, open and ready to be stepped into. I placed my helmet on top of them. I hung my gilet on my bike, aware that while I would be more than warm enough running, I could well cool down while on the bike. I sipped flat coke, I felt nervous. A different kind of nerves to what I have experienced previously. I had no doubt that I would finish it, no doubt that I would do reasonably well. No fear of the total exhaustion that 12hrs+ of racing brings. I did have fear of the intensity, fear of the pain, fear of the taste of blood at the back of my throat, fear of cramp. Fear of not finishing the race having given everything. Fear of wishing I had pushed harder, fear of what could have been.

I did my best to empty my mind of those thoughts. Matt Brown, @singlespeedmatt from twitter recognised my kit and bike and came to say hello. It was reassuring to see that someone else was stupid enough to attempt this on a singlespeed. Unfortunately, Matt is seriously fit, a good rider, and a good runner. He also works for Inov-8 and was sporting some spanky new shoes.

Time stretches and compresses before the start of the race. The hours before seem to drag, nerves mean watching checking on a regular basis. All I want to do is start. Then, at about 30 minutes to go, everything seems to change. I am focussed on last minute fettling. I am focussed. I am. I am taking of my warm layer. I am standing on the line. Near the front. I want to get away fast, I don’t want anyone in my way. I am.

Minutes to go, and they hang in the air, like a wave waiting to crash down. Seconds span hours of thought. Go. Run, a line through chaos. In front of chaos, clear. Passing runners in front of me, gradient increasing. My system hasn’t yet caught up with what I am asking it to do. The beauty of the first few hundred metres. Pain receptors start firing. My lungs start to try and wrestle control of my deliberate breathing pattern. Legs already want to slow down. Ignore it all. Just keep running.

I can’t keep this up.

Just keep running.

At the top of a dirt road, there is a sign pointing to the right. Straight up. I can’t keep this up. And I can’t. My pace drops, but so does everyone’s. The climb gets steeper. We burst through, and back onto fire road. Flat. Quick, again, then back into a jumble of rock and mud. Steep. Upwards. Top out, and drop like a stone. Legs full with blood and lactic struggle to move fluidly and react to the technical, rocky descent. I don’t flow, but I progress. I stay conservative, no wild jumps and leaps, just safe foot placements, and progress. Until, after an age, I pop out on to the farm track back to transition.

Kick running shoes off. Put helmet on. Pull cycling shoes on and try to do up ratchets. They won’t grab. The plastic teeth are so worn, there is no purchase left. Finally I get both shoes secure, grab my bike and pass through on to the bike course. CX style remount and start riding. As I set off, I see Matt arriving into transition. I was expecting him to pass me on the run, but give him a cheer, and wait to be passed later. The climbing starts immediately. Jelly legs push my singlespeed gear. This feels wrong, but the gradient is ok, the track smooth, I keep pushing, ignoring the alien feeling in my legs. I turn on to singletrack climb. Steeper, rockier and requiring strong pushes and attention to maintain momentum. It would have been a pleasure if I was fresher. Grit teeth. Keep going. Why, oh, why did I decided to do this on the singlespeed? I struggle to stay on top of the gear. The trail joins fireroad, and my legs are able turn at a faster pace. I drink, take on a gel, spin my legs as fast as they will go, get passed by people cruising by. Where I can, I tuck in and grab their wheel for a while. At some stage, I am aware that my seatpost is slipping. My legs are becoming more and more cramped, unable to stretch to an efficient pedalling position. Stop, get passed. Re-adjust. Go!

Often, when the trail turns rougher, and back into the rocky singletrack, I am able to catch and pass people again, the higher gear forcing me to maintain momentum. Dig in. The Kinesis FF29 is so fantastically capable. Despite the tiredness, despite my mind being focussed on the race, it affords me moments of pure joy as I carve a corner, or manual through a rock section. It feels like a precision instrument. A scalpel cutting through the trail, rather than a chainsaw chewing it up.

After a long descent, the trail points straight up. The path, cut into the woods is steep, and unmade. In the interests of energy conservation and keeping cramp at bay, I dismount and push up, running where I can. My legs scream. I continue. I’m passed. I continue. Back down. Traversing. Descent. I sense the end. Another gel. Keep riding. Christ it is cold. I can’t feel my hands.

I run through the transition process in my mind. Park bike. Remove shoes. Replace running shoes. Leave. Quick.

Park bike. Remove shoes. I can’t feel the buckles, but no problem. Replace running shoes. Jam left foot in. Try and wriggle the heel cup up. I can’t feel anything, I can see my fingers are where they should be though, and eventually the shoes slides into place. Repeat the tortuous process on my right foot. Ignore the pangs of cramp in my abdominal muscles. Just try and relax. Stand up. Breathe. Go. I know what is to come. I hit the first climb, like a slow motion replay of my first lap. Gravity has grown stronger over the course of the last 90 minutes. My legs no longer have the power to push onwards. I simply move one in front of the other. Despite this, I am making up places. Onto the proper steep stuff. I can no longer maintain a run. Quick, long strides replace my shuffle, and still I progress. I can hear myself breathing. Gone is the controlled two breaths in, one breath out. It is replaced by a ragged sucking in of any available oxygen molecules in my vicinity. Groan.

Despite slower progress than the first lap, the climb seems to pass more quickly. I start descending, cautiously initially, but keen to keep those behind me at bay, and aware that others are not far in front of me. I will have nothing left when I cross the line. Powerful strides, quick paces, jumbled legs. This is no game of chess; I am not plotting a line, just the best place to plant my next foot strike. Reactive. Switch off head. I can hear the person in front of me. I am faster than him. I am gaining. I am running out of time. I will have nothing left when I cross the line.

I am a projectile shot out of the bottom of the trail, on to the track. He is in front of me. I can only hear my breathing. I’m sprinting. Not like at the start. There is no semblance of control, no reserve of energy. This is my last gasp. I’m alongside him. 20 metres to go. I accelerate.

I have nothing left when I cross the line.

It turns out I was racing for 15th place. This isn’t the glory of the podium. I’m not even that bothered that I came 15th instead of 16th. But, I absolutely had to feel like I had given everything. I would not have been satisfied if I sat up. I’d like to think that I would have sprinted as hard if there was no one in front. I had to give it everything. In the end I held Matt off – he finished about 6 minutes after me, after an over-the-bars on the bike stage robbed him some time. Still a strong effort, especially given a super-stiff gearing choice.

So, a few days down the line, I look back. I can pick points that I would like to have gone better. Yes, my transitions could have been a bit smoother. No, singlespeeding was not the fastest option. Yes, if I’d have checked my bike more thoroughly I might have noticed that my seatpost clamp wasn’t as tight as it should be. But, most importantly, I have learnt to give it everything in a shorter race. My ability to work at an intense level for a “short” (I know 2.5hrs isn’t short) length of time is improving. Ironically, I won’t be doing many short races for the rest of the year. But, it is nice to know I can.

Thank you as always to Kinesis for giving me a superb bike to race, and Garage Bikes for making sure it works and never let’s me down (and giving me the most visible kit on the start line!)

Kinesis FF29 – first ride impressions

What do I say about a bike/frame that I’ve been given to ride? What if I hate it? What if I just don’t get on with it. It just doesn’t feel right?

I did wonder that when I stood in my kitchen at 23:15 on Friday night, sipping a tumbler of Bowmore and admiring my handy work. A phone call from Al over at Garage at around 15:00 had me diving out of the office as early as I could get away with. Unpacking the frame, the bright “sick” green shone out from the cardboard, despite the opaque bubblewrap protection. It certainly isn’t subtle. Luckily, I don’t really do subtle.

Back home, after getting the bottom bracket expertly faced by Al, and the fork steerer trimmed while he was at it, I took my time assembling the bike. 6Music on in the background, a mug or two of tea, mostly new or as-new parts. Methodical, calming, fun. Brain occupied enough to forget work, yet not taxed enough to stop me daydreaming about riding on Saturday. A big group of mates, a trail centre blast, a fun-per-miles quotient maximising social ride. The weather turned out not to be ideal… Sleet, rain and the kind of grey, penetrating cold that I have grown bored of this winter. Luckily the bike made up for the disappointing conditions. First impressions don’t always mean a great deal when riding bikes. Some take a bit of getting used to, or setting up to get the most out of them. Others just seem “right” immediately. It was nice to find out that the FF29 fell into the latter description. So far, my thoughts have been:

-wow, it’s light. The full build as pictured is 19lbs.
-that lightness translates into a fantastic bike for climbing on.
-after a winter of riding 26in wheels, I’d forgotten how well 29in roll over small lumps and bumps in the trail
-this is so much more than a cross country race bike. A rigid bike, this light has no right to be so confidence inspiring and composed over quick, rough ground
-it is the most nimble 29er I’ve ridden, capable of quick changes in direction, with little effort
-it might look out of place on a the build, but the dropper seat post is a great addition. Getting the saddle out of the way really let me throw the bike around a little more, extracting as much speed and fun out as possible of every situation. I only fitted it as a stop gap while I waited for a new post to be delivered, but I’ll leave it on for for the time being
-I currently have 710mm bars fitted – wider than I anything I used until a few years ago, but times have changes. They are now the narrowest bars I own, and I miss the greater leverage of an extra few mm either side. Again, for pure xc duties, this is not an issue, but as an all-rounder, I think I want to go wider. The Kinesis Strut bars have caught my eye, and will allow me to gain the extra width without sacrificing low weight.

All in all, I’m a happy boy at the moment. I’m looking forward to a few longer rides, and some serious time in the saddle, but things have got off to a great start…

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Nice news

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The kind of news that has made me feel excitable for a few days.

Kinesis Bikes are kindly giving me a FF29 to race/ride/play on this year. The FF29 is their first foray into the world of big wheels, but looking at the reviews it has received so far, they took their time to make sure they got things right.

Bike Radar
Quest Adventure
Singletrack

I will be building the frame up with Kinesis’ own IX carbon forks initially, although I may swap between them and some suspension forks as and when I feel like it. Other parts will be an eclectic mix of stuff that I already own and a few new bits and pieces. Can’t beat shiny new kit. I’ve decided to keep things super-simple to start, and run the bike single speed. Again, I’ve got a full complement of 2×10 gears to fit should the mood take me. And for some of the events, like the Highland Trail, I’m not sure if one gear will be a compromise too far for me. Riding all day on an SS is ok. Riding all day for days on end might be a bit much. We shall wait and see. Plenty of time to make up my mind on that front.

So, the next few days will be a matter of waiting for the odd parcel to arrive, doing a bit of preparatory fettling, and trying not to get too giddy while I wait for the good stuff to make its way up to Leeds.

Oh, and on a final note, the frame will be “sick green” (Kinesis’ description, not mine). I love the colour. (Un)fortunately, it will clash amazingly with my Garage Bikes race kit. I’m going to spend a year looking like a two wheeled tic-tac. I actually quite like this 🙂

Huge thank you to Dom at Kinesis for the frame. I just hope to do it justice, and have fun while I do so 🙂

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