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).

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.

Clean

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***written on Wednesday, so a little bit out of date now***

Last night, I cleaned my bike.

I always perform this chore in the same order. Frame in stand, top to bottom, plenty of soapy water. Remove the wheels. Get the toothbrush out for the chain and derailleurs, maybe resort to using some degreaser if things are getting clogged up. Clean the wheels, working my way round each side, quickly wiping each spoke. Scrub the cassette. Replace wheels, rinse. Air dry. Lube.

I quietly did this on the lawn. Snatched pieces of conversation drifted over from the radio in the kitchen. Dandelion seeds, carried in the gentle breeze stuck to the wet frame of my bike. The young birds that have had the garden almost to themselves for the last few weeks watched from a cautious distance.

The bike didn’t really need washing. Everything was functional, it wasn’t even dirty. There was a layer of household dust on the parts, a hint of dry salt on the top tube. The bike hasn’t been a bike for six weeks. I have sat on it, and pedalled, but it has taken me nowhere, other than away from distant mental storm clouds. Even then, the turbo will only ever be alcohol free beer, decaffeinated coffee, methadone.

The bike didn’t really need washing. This was a ritual. A clean start.

Six weeks ago, summer finally came, the memories of late snow, cold mornings and wet rides started to fade. Evening rides became something to be savoured and enjoyed, something to look forward to. Singletrack that was a joyless, muddy slog just a month beforehand was now riding perfection. Smooth, dry, fast. Buff. Each ride allowed me to lean over one more degree through bends, clip a little more foliage, carry another mph of momentum. Rides were a mix of enjoyment of the here and now, and optimism for what more was to come.

Six weeks ago, at the end of one of these rides, as we were well on our way home, I pushed my luck one too many times. Nothing crazy or stupid. Nothing I wouldn’t do again. Nothing. Except it wasn’t nothing. I fell, and as is usually the case when one falls, I landed. Quite awkwardly. On my shoulder. While lying on the floor, my mind was already racing… quantifying and calculating scenarios and consequences.

I stood up. The crack that I heard on landing was as I had feared. My left arm was hanging limply. I cupped the elbow without consciously thinking about it, concentrating on the taste of dust in my mouth, rather than letting my mind run away with the possibility that I would miss races and events that I have been planning for for the last 12 months. There was virtually no pain, just discomfort and a hollow, empty feeling.

Accident and Emergency. Pastel coloured walls. Waiting.

X-ray. Compound fracture. A trip down the road to LGI. “Major Trauma” ward. Surgery. Real pain. Helplessness.

Home. Concentrating on the day-by-day. Short scale horizons.

Walking to work, a short spin on the turbo, freedom from the sling. A short run, a longer run, an off-road run. Physio, core work. Daring to peek into the longer term. Six week isn’t long. I could have broken a leg, or my back or neck. I was lucky.

Today I took my clean bike, rolled down the road to the woods in the valley near my house. The trails were still dry and dusty. The smell of wild garlic was less pungent, but still there. I was off road for all of ten minutes, before returning to tarmac and carrying on into work. It was the best ten minute ride I have had for a very long time.

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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…

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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