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…

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Bit of a catch up

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on here. Same old excuses… busy doing other things, etc. But mainly, I haven’t felt in the mood to write much.

A quick run down of the past month or so:

Mountain Mayhem memories

  • Mud
  • Mud
  • Mud
  • Laughs
  • The gazebo of dreams
  • Wonderful friends
  • General silliness
  • Laughs
  • Mud

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon

  • Wasdale always takes longer than you think to get to
  • Despite being one of the wettest places in the UK, we avoided the rain while the rest of the country was drowning
  • I’d forgotten how much I dislike contouring on steep ground. With tussocks. And bog.
  • I’m lucky that I can share time outdoors, and racing with my family. It was great to catch up with my uncle over a weekend.
  • I met Joss Naylor. On the fells! A lovely man, and it was an honour to share 5 minutes chatting about the mountains.

I’m really excited about the coming four weeks

The Cairngorms

  • Can’t wait to return to the home of my favourite ever adventure.
  • Just a long weekend, but will be taking my Dad along some of the same trails. It will be a pleasure to sit up and take my time in the scenery

Settle to Carlisle

  • I’ve got a week off work. An entire week.
  • Rather than a long trip, I’m planning a few micro adventures. One of which will be riding from Settle to Carlisle in a day, then getting the train home.

Sleepless in the Saddle

  • Mayhem was great fun. I loved the friendly atmosphere. I loved having a lot of friends around.
  • I wanted to ride more though
  • Back to 24 hour solo. But there will be lots of friends around, both supporting, and out on course.
  • Best of both worlds!

Out there

Saturday morning. 6am. Ouch. Dry mouth. Pain behind my eyes. Groggy. Whisky night. A monthly gathering of mates, which starts as a relatively reserved catch up, with food and sampling some of Scotland’s finest single malts. Inevitably it descends into bad jokes, wild plans and “just one more dram”. Brilliant.

I get up. Empty out the cold, damp grinds from the Moka pot and refill with fresh. Listen to the click, click, roar of the gas hob lighting. Carrying enough espresso to wake a heavy-sleeper from a coma, I sit down in the armchair. Look at the new bike, directly opposite me. Look at the smoothness of the satin finish on the carbon. Immaculate. It will never be this clean again. I imagine myself riding. Stretched out, big-ringing along wide bridleways. Powering up climbs, hands on bar-ends (bar-ends! I’ve not had those since the 90s!).

The pre-ride faffing process is longer than normal. It looks very cold out. Most of my bike kit ends up on the bed. Much of it is left there, to be put away when I get home. That Helly Hansen that is so old it has horizontal stripes on the sleeves (none of that “modern” diagonal business) is left. As is the thick softshell that is perfect for sub-zero road rides, but always too warm on the mountain bike. Decisions made, I leave the front door. The car will stay outside the house today. I’m aware that it is very cold. The retained warmth inside my jacket and cap doesn’t take long to begin to fade. I swing a leg over the bike and pedal down the road. I stop after 10metres. Move the seatpost up by a few mm. And set off. The sun is still low in the sky, but is bright. There isn’t a cloud to be seen.

10 minutes later I’m in Leeds city centre. Shit. I’ve left my ipod at home. The ever present company on solo rides. I could go back, but today, I’ll be absolutely by myself. Another 10 minutes later and I have a coffee in my hand and am walking towards the train along a quiet platform.

The journey is broken up by chatting to a guy who is off to Rochdale to collect a van. He’s travelled up from Ipswich this morning. And then two young lads with stunt-scooter things. We compared notes. How much? Is it any good? Can you do wheelies? How long are you going to be out for? How far can you ride? How many bikes have you got? Can I have a go?

We disembark at Hebden Bridge and I pedal up and out, towards Peckett Well. Turning pedals feels great. Warmth creeps through my body, despite cold air filling my lungs. I notice a glossy finish to the stone walls. Literally as though someone had varnished everywhere… ice.

The first descent proves interesting. That’s interesting as in sheet ice and slippery as hell. Slip. Bruised forearm.

I climb Midgehole Rd. Ice. Slip. No crash, but all of a sudden I’m pointing back down the hill. How did that happen? Walk.

I get to Widdop reservoir. Inch thick ice across the top of the dam. The reservoir itself is frozen. I’m using the studs at the front of my SPDs as crampon front-points. Kick, step. Kick, step. Things only get worse as I start to climb out on the Pennine Bridleway. It’s a good job this new bike is light.

None of this matters. I’m in my own world. Absorbing the environment. No thought in my actions, just moving forward. The sky has changed. No longer is it blue. It has the milky nature of an artist’s jam-jar.

Push, push. Straddle bike. Ride. Slip, wiggle snake hips, stay upright. I’m absolutely aware of every miniscule change in gradient across the trail. I drift to the lowest point as tyres slide down, like a bowling ball dropping into the gully at the side of the lane. Slip, wiggle snake hips, stay upright. SLAM. Bruised hip. Up. Slip, wiggle snake hips, stay upright. SLAM. Bruised palm.

Discretion is the better part of valor, I think is the saying. Time to head home. More slipping, more tumbles. Then a road descent to chill me to my core. The waiting room at Hebden Bridge station warms me, and I share tales with a group of pensioners who were equally enthused by their epic day out on the icy hills. “We slid down the steps on our bottoms!”

I do like being out there.

Soul riding

Sometimes, it isn’t the length of the ride. Sometimes, it isn’t the weather. Sometimes, it isn’t the speed. Sometimes, it isn’t the technical challenge. Sometimes, it isn’t the view.

Sometimes, it is riding with the right person. Sometimes, it is talking. Sometimes, it is sharing a view. Sometimes, it is sharing a pint. Sometimes, it is riding, quietly, comfortable in each other’s company.

Sometimes you experience a perfect ride. Thanks Si.

Thinking about bikes

I do quite a lot of that. Not just about riding bikes, but about the physical object. The bike.

Its form. Its function. Its intended purpose. Each individual component. The entire package. Aesthetic. Practical. Finding a balance.

So, there is a space in my collection. I need to fill it soon. It’s all very well entering all these endurance races, but I don’t have a bike that is particularly suitable for the chosen task. My current mountain bikes are focussed on fun, playful riding, rather than covering miles as quickly and as efficiently as I can. I’ve had big days out on both, but pop them in a race situation and they will always be compromised.

So. What to do? I’ve got a pretty limited budget. I simply don’t have £4000+ to throw at a top of the range bike. If I did, I’m not sure I could justify it at the moment. I have probably a quarter of that budget. Luckily there are a few great value options out there at the moment. But, first of all, what makes a perfect endurance race bike? Well, in my mind there are a few criteria that I’ve set:

  • relatively light weight
  • reliable
  • comfortable
In reality this means:
  • suspension. Probably just on the front though, given my budget
  • 29 inch wheels. Better rolling, marginally more comfortable?
The Options

Pros:

  • I like On-Ones. My 456 has been superb, and my go-to bike for the last two years.
  • It is available now
  • I can even go and pick it up from the Rotherham store
Cons:
  • I need to pay an extra £100 to get suspension forks
  • It is SRAM geared. I prefer Shimano.
Pros:
  • Shimano gearing
  • Suspension fork included in the price
  • Formula brakes
  • Possibly better looking?
Cons:
  • I need to wait until March before they are available

On balance, I think the Canyon will be worth waiting for. Either way…. thinking about bikes is always fun. Thinking about a new bike is exciting.

A 24 hour adventure. Planning.

Work. Pretty important all in all. It keeps me in bike parts, if nothing else. It’s been a hectic few weeks though, with some big deadlines looming. There will be a something of a lull next week, all being well, so I’m taking the opportunity to take a day off and have myself a little adventure.

The plan:

  • Drive up Tuesday night/very early Wednesday morning
  • Park up at Kinlochleven
  • Ride a yet to be planned loop of some of the East side of the Mamores, ticking off at least one Munro
  • Stop at the Clachaig Inn on the way home
  • Drive into the night
  • Sleep for a few hours
  • Return to work on Thursday, physically tired, but with the all important adventure bank back in credit

So tonight, I’ll be having fun with OS Explorer 392, and a beer and a highlighter pen. Perfect.

INTO THIN AIR

I like watching films about cycling. It has been a very long time since I’ve seen one that has grabbed me by the heart like this one does. I can almost taste the thin, dry mountain air. It instills a deep longing within me to want to be there. Share their experience. Brilliant.