Thursday, March 20, 2014

Highland Trail 550 ... From the inside.

At 10.00am on May 24th, riders from both the UK and abroad will line up on a nondescript stretch of gravel road in the Scottish village of Tyndrum. Their goal is to return to the very same point as quickly as possible ... there's just the small issue of 560 miles of Scotland's most wild and remote terrain to deal with first.

We've asked three of this years riders a handful of questions, each one has a slightly different perspective on the race ... firstly there's Alan Goldsmith, racer and the man behind the HT550. Next, Steve Large, certainly no stranger to long days in the saddle but a rookie on the HT550 and lastly, Ian Barrington who came home in second place in last years event.

Alan Goldsmith

1/ How long did it take you to devise the route and was this years extension always planned?

I've been going to the Highlands for a week of mountain bike touring every year since 2004 so I guess the route had been eight years in the planning stage before I put some of the best bits together in 2012 for a pre CTR training ride. The idea of the Highland Trail didn't occur until after the success of the Cairngorms Loop that year and luckily I got two early adopters to come with me on a reconnaissance tour. They were very enthusiastic about the route which encouraged me to put it out as a group start in 2013. The northern extension was always planned to be part of it but I thought it might be a bit too far for the first year.

2/ There's over 60 names on the start list ... how many do you foresee making it to the start on May 24th?

I'm fairly sure that around 35% will drop out before the start so that would leave about 40 riders. I don't really want many more than this.

3/ SPOT trackers are mandatory, is that purely about safety or to keep the 'blue dot junkies' happy?

Both but primarily for safety. There was an accident last year involving one of only two riders that never carried a SPOT. Luckily he was near enough to civilization that he was able to get himself to help. Accidents can still happen of course but the SPOT will offer some peace of mind for me and I think most riders, their friends and family will appreciate this. If people don't want to use a SPOT and wish to ride it "pure" they can go at any other time. 

4/ Were you surprised at the finish times of the front runners last year?

I seem to remember I thought somebody might get round in about three days but I was surprised that it was a singlespeeder that came closest and that there were three singlespeeders in the top four.

5/ You've raced both the CTR and the HT550, how do you think they compare?

If it were just based on the trails I think the Highland Trail would be tougher but when you factor in all the additional challenges I think the CTR is much harder. The major reason the CTR is so difficult is the altitude, it is often above 3000m for long stretches and tops out at around 4000m. Then there is the remoteness of it, in Colorado you can be over two days from any services, in the Highlands you are rarely much more than two hours away from safety. The CTR has the threat of violent lightning storms, usually they roll in just as you get to the start of a massive treeless ridge line! For me this is the worst thing about the route and it can be very stressful. Also water can be very scarce along some sections and it can get uncomfortably hot, these things are unlikely to be problems in Scotland!


Steve Large

1/ You're no stranger to long distance and endurance events but what makes the HT550 so appealing?

It's the multi day adventure aspect. I have wanted to do a multi day race for years (looked at the Transalp many times), but there have always been good reasons why it can't happen (have to be in a team - it's difficult to find people who I could train with, have similar outlook/attitude, and a good speed match; or they are 3000 miles away, or cost £1000 to enter). This event is low key (tick), cheap to enter (tick - although I will not disclose how much I have invested in bikes/kit!), relatively close (tick) and can be done solo (tick). Also, it is in the wilds of Scotland - a place I have ridden through once on the road, but never been really off the beaten track, so this is a massive tick. There is also the competitive element - which I enjoy (but I am under no illusion with this race that the competition is of a high standard (Hall, Headings, Sheldon, Barrington, Goldsmith etc etc make this a tough one).

2/ How light are you packing, just the absolute minimum are are you taking comfort into account given the distance and terrain involved?

This is an area I (and many others I am sure) will be thinking about a lot. My plan is that I have a light bike (9kg), plus light kit. But I need to take enough kit to be OK if the weather turns. I am thinking of the basic essentials (tools, 1st aid kit, food for 1 day plus a bit, GPS, lights, sleeping bag (my trusty Rab Top Bag), bivvy (Borah cuben that I haven't received yet), then there's the optional stuff - clothing, tarp, etc which is really weather dependant. Currently though I am going to err on the side of caution as it's easy to get caught out. Waterproof, insulated jacket, spare base layer, spare socks, buff and possibly overshoes is my list so far. I am planning on stopping only for food and sleep, so keeping warm is reliant on keeping eating and moving. Not sure if this strategy will work yet over a multi-dayer - I am putting it to the test in April! 
I wasn't thinking of much comfort - after reading Aidan's report from last year the comfort thing seems to be overrated!

3/ What are you riding ... something tried and tested or have you put something special together?

At the start of the year I built up a 29er carbon hardtail for racing - I will be using this as it is light, fast and fun. It has gears as well, which for me is a requirement. Just had a framebag made for it which might mean I don't need a seatpack (I don't mind having a seatpack but I find it gets covered in crap which means anything in it (typically sleeping gear) is at risk of getting wet. Which is bad. I will be using a bar bag (sleeping stuff and clothes), framebag (tools and food) and small camelback (valuables and water/odds and sods). A seatpack may be an overflow for extra clothing if the forecast is bad. 

4/ I assume you've studied the route to some degree, so which section are you most looking forward to ... or dreading?

This might sound strange, but I try not to over-analyse the route/map. My studying so far has been to print the map off as A4 sheets, and mark all the bothy and food stops. Then I have been making sure I know where the real tough bits might be (a bit of a worry at the moment is the river crossing near Fisherfield - what do I do if I can't get through??). But the rest of it I can't change, and if I know it's coming I will only worry about it or dread it. It's almost a case of sorting it out when I get there (as most of the race is going to be a mental challenge, which physical fitness is just going to make a bit easier). I need to know how far it is to the next food stop or bothy so I can plan food and sleep, but apart from that memorising place names or how many hills is just going to add a load of stuff to my worry list. There are too many hills to remember (I am thinking that there is a shedload of hills - after the first 20 or so everyone's legs will be shot, so then it becomes a mental thing - why bother to remember where they all are and what they are called - it's going to be a case of "if the track goes up it, then go up it, if the track goes down it, then go down it". There's no shortcuts!

5/ Would you care to speculate on the time of the first finisher?

Yes - 1st rider home will be 3 days 5 hours. We will class him as a nutter.
Finishers 2, 3, 4 will be under 4 days. We will class them as "quite fast with nutterish tendencies"
Finishers 5-12 will be under 5 days. These are more normal people.


Ian Barrington

1/ How much (if any) of an advantage do you think last years finishers have over those lining up for the first time in May?

The first Highland Trail was a venture into the unknown for me. Long distance, multiple days of hard riding over severe terrain. It tested me a lot more than I thought it would, and I've obviously learnt a lot from the experience. I think knowledge of self rather than the specifics of the route will be an advantage.

2/ Have you done any 'specific' training based on your experiences from last year?

I've spent a lot of the winter either riding the Singular Puffin (fat bike), or the Singular Pegasus loaded to increase my strength and fitness. All my riding has been quite specific to the type I'd expect on the HTR, even down to deliberately planning routes with hike-a-bike in them, so I can build strength in that area too.

3/ You've got a bit of a reputation for not carrying very much ... will you be lighter this year than last?

A lot still depends on the weather closer to the race, but the main planned change in kit selection this year is to go with just a bivvy bag over a tarp/ bivvy combo last year. I've swapped one or two other bits too which should leave me about a pound lighter than last year. A lot of the other changes are refinements that aid speed and comfort, but not necessarily weight. I'll also be running a Wildcat Gear frame bag cut around two bottles this year so I don't need to stop so often for water.

4/ Have you planned any strategy for stopping / sleeping or is it just a case of riding for as long as you're able?

I do have a strategy, based a lot on how far I discovered I could push my body despite lack of sleep. The race is longer this year though, so it remains to be seen if my strategy works. 

5/ Feel free to gloss over this one but ... you were in second place last year, do you intend to better that?

I was surprised to finish second last year, but who knows? There are a lot of good names on the list again this year, but as last year proved, getting to the finish with bike and body in one piece will be quite a challenge for everyone. 

Thanks to Alan, Steve and Ian for taking the time to answer. The HT550 starts at 10.00am on May 24th and you can follow everyones progress via the Trackleaders website once the race starts. More details about the HT550 can be found HERE

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Stooge Cycles ... 29" Punk Rock.

Stooge Cycles probably isn't a name you'll be familiar with but given the bikepacking worlds love of steel 29ers, I think that situation may soon change. Just like Mr King, Andrew Stevenson had a dream and that dream is about to become reality ... his own bike company.

I fired 10 questions over to Andrew hoping for a little insight into his ideas and the Stooge ethos. He didn't disappoint ... Put the kettle on, break out the digestives and enjoy.

1/ Stooge, where did the name come from?
Coming up with a name for my bikes was probably the hardest part of the whole process. I've been dreaming of this for many years, but it was only after I'd designed the bike that I actually started thinking about potential names, none of which I'll embarrass myself with by mentioning here. One evening I was sitting in my lounge listening to the Stooges (the most kick-ass rock and roll band in the world ever), looking at a Stooges poster on my wall, and it slowly dawned on me that the answer had been staring at me for while. Stooge Cycles. Rolls of the tongue, looks great, and I now also love some of the definitions of the word - the straight guy in a comedy partnership, someone who feeds lines. I like the idea of my Stooge feeding me lines while I laugh out loud, seems like a perfect image.

2/ Tea, coffee or other?
Coffee, about 8 times a day.

3/ Any thoughts on 650b ... the ideal wheel size or a gimmick?
Okay, first things first, I've worked in the bike trade for a long time and I've seen a lot of trends come and go.  Being cynical, MTBs had pretty much reached the end of the line as far as developments go, suspension was and is as good as its likely to get, and certainly in the shop I worked in we saw a levelling off as far as new high-end bike sales went. So what do you do if you want to give people a reason to buy again? You get together with all the other bike companies and agree to market a new wheel size. The magazines agree to go mad for it and the customers follow suit. Suddenly everyone needs a new bike! Job done, until the next time.
As an aside, I remember Haro were pushing 650 wheels back in about 2007. They were publicly ridiculed and pretty much opted out of the quality bike scene thereafter. Turns out they were merely ahead of the game ... but here's the big BUT. If I were designing a suspension bike today I'd no doubt use 650 wheels, they just look so right. As for hardtails, it's 29er all the way. It really is the only size that works so well in all areas.  I work in a trail centre by day and it amazes me how media led the punters are. The myths surrounding 29ers are still alive and kicking and healthier than ever - the handling's shit, they don't go around tight corners, it's cheating etc etc. None of these people will ever swing a leg over a 29er, let alone a bike like the Stooge, but they'll allow themselves to be sold a 650 hook line and sinker. Interestingly, we couldn't give away 26" wheeled bikes right now. Incredibly sad when you stop and think about it, and a prime example of successful hype in action.

Man and machine - far away.

4/ What's the main driving force behind your designs, do you simply design what you want to ride and hope others will too?
I used to race BMX back in the early eighties, and when that scene died, luckily the first MTBs made their way into the shops and filled the bike shaped hole in my life. My first mountain bike was a Muddy Fox, fully rigid with a 140mm stem and brakes that didn't work. I rode that bike solidly for a year through the Welsh mountains, multi coloured headband stretched over my forehead. I loved it, but what I could never understand was why MTBs were so obviously based on road bikes, both in geometry and construction. I imagined a bike based more on BMX technology and then promptly went drinking for about ten years.
Years later I embraced the whole suspension bike scene. Lots of Specialized Enduros and Big Hits, an Ellsworth Joker, and then I traded that in for a Gary Fisher Ferrous 29er back in 2007. The geometry was awful, but I loved that bike. That was traded in for a Sawyer as the idea of riding a fully rigid bike was starting to appeal, however, the bike was so flawed for me, and this was when I started hatching my plans. For me it made sense that on a rigid bike the front end should be substantially higher to reduce the pain and improve control. The slacker head angle also really lightens the front end, makes it stable at speed, less twitchy, all of which you need when you're arms are your springs. 
The end result was the Stooge. I've always loved twin top tubes from my bmx days, but dislike the fact they are only ever used in retro designs. My design is based more on a childhood BMX dream than anything. The Stooge has turned out to be incredibly comfortable, and I'm sure some of that has to be down to the twin tubes. Aesthetically they tick all the boxes for me. I always wanted the Stooge to stand out in a crowd and I think I've achieved that. I liken it to a Hot Rod in a car park full of Audis.

5/ Do you think riders have become a bit obsessed with 'technology' whether it be perceived or real?
Technology is the new religion! Our society is completely and utterly obsessed by it - the latest phones and tablets, social networking sites, STRAVA!  And of course, the march of technology is what keeps the world moving. Modern cars are better than old cars. Modern bikes are better than old bikes. Everything is better than it used to be. AS far as MTBing is concerned, it certainly drives the industry forward, but the thing is, I feel sorry for young kids wanting to get into the sport who don't have rich parents. A reasonable suspension bike will set you back a minimum of 2K, for a very decent one you're looking at 3.5K. This in itself is rubbish. Back in the day there was a level playing field, in that all the bikes were shit, no matter how much you paid for them. Mountain biking is fast on the way to becoming a wealthy mans' sport, and with wealth comes an obsessive desire to own the best kit and, dare I say it, spend the most money. This is why I love the subcultures within mountain biking - the single speeders, the fat bikers. It's not that they're anti-technology, more that they're in touch with the idea of simplicity being good, a simple bike built to take the knocks that requires genuine skill to master, that's what it's about. It's the same with Adventure cycling - it's more about the experience than the machine, and that to me is closer to the true heart of what mountain biking should be about, the ability to get one with the wilderness on a bike. Mountain biking now comes prepacked - buy expensive suspension bike and Thule bike rack, take expensive mountain bike to trail centre once or twice a week to ride safe, sanitized trail for 2 hours, drink coffee at the cafĂ© after the ride, talk to similar like minded people, go home. No more long day rides discovering trails that are new to you, witnessing views that are new to you, embracing the solitude that such adventures can bring. 

Adorning 29ers near you soon.

6/ Where's your ultimate riding destination?
This is simple, I've spent over twenty years riding the hills around Llangollen. I could spend every day of the rest of my life doing just that. This is where the Stooge was born, a mutant offspring that crawled from the rainy moors.

7/ Where would you like Stooge Cycles to be in 5 years?
Still going, hopefully. I have plans for a number of framesets (an adventure frame, a super hardknock frame, maybe a touring frame), but it all comes down to how my first model is received. I don't want to set the world on fire, just want to be able to make a living selling bikes that stand out in a  crowd and ride like a dream. This a lifelong dream for me so I'd love for it to work out, but having said that, if I only ever sell a hundred frames at least I'll have made a statement and left my mark. I'll end my days pretending to be someone else and running the Stooge owners forum, a bizarre place that'll be more like a religious cult for the dispossessed.

29+ fans rejoice.

8/ You've called in the pub after a long ride, what's on the menu?
I can tell you this one from experience. A couple of years ago I'd not had a chance to ride much (new baby etc) so decided, on a hot August day, to head over to Bala, no great shakes in itself. a hundred miles later I found myself pushing my bike downhill in a state of delirium. I found a hotel, and although I was only ten miles away from home, I booked a room. Within an hour I'd drank four pints of ice cold lager, the best I'd ever tasted. I ate rump steak for dinner, followed by three more pints. At about half past eight I staggered to my room and passed out. There's a moral to that story but I have no idea what it is. 

9/ Are green bikes unlucky?
No, they're lucky. I had a green Salsa Fargo once, it was a fantastic bike. Having said that, I very nearly cracked my skull open when I failed to make a corner on it.

10/ Anything in the pipeline you think we might be interested in?
My first batch of frames is due to arrive some time in April, so at the moment I have a list as long as my arm of things that need to be done. Then it's all systems go, heading to events, riding as much as I can in as many different places o get my bike out there. I'm pretty keen to get Adventure Stooge up and rolling asap, it'll be much like the original but with lots of mounts and a slightly taller headtube so you can run drop bars if you so wish. Put it this way, if this all works out, there'll be a lot more heading into the world under the Stooge banner.

The stooge website is due to go live anytime but for the moment you can find out more here

Production frames land shortly.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Titanium Goat Kestrel bivvy bag ... First look.

Bivvy (bivy, bivi) bags come in numerous flavours. You can have something fully waterproof or nearly waterproof. Something with a fully enclosed hood or would a simple drawcord suit better? How about arm holes? Midge netting perhaps? Different material top and bottom maybe? ... choices, choices.

Once you've decided to embrace the 'way of the bag' you've also (often unwittingly) embraced a certain level of compromise ... no bivvy bag can offer everything, there will always be certain trade -offs and it's down to you to choose where you're going to make them.

Years of sleeping rough in odd places, led me to discover where my compromises could be made. I usually use a tarp so don't really need something that's 100% waterproof. My inner geek demands that weight and pack size be taken into account, while the tiny amount of me that's sensible requires value for money ... and the bit of me which is a big girl, would like something that stops midges biting my nose, keeps ants out of my ears and slugs out of my mouth!

Your window on the world - double zip pulls.

The Kestrel bivvy bag from Titanium Goat fits the criteria perfectly. The base is made from 30d silnylon so is fully waterproof and is mated to a 20d water resistant nylon top. The floor is a bathtub construction which besides keeping any water at bay, also provides some room for bag loft.

Tie loop sewn to zip rather than netting makes things stronger.

There's a net window to keep the winged terrors at bay, it can be tied off to something overhead to keep the bag off your face and provide a little more room too.

Getting in and out should be simple.

Anyone who's ever tried to fight their way into a bivvy bag with a simple drawcord hood will appreciate the Kestrels zip arrangement which runs from one shoulder, across the chest and down to the knees. The zip is also double ended so you can decide at which point the zip pullers are ... makes them much easier to find in the dark.

185g and will compress to half this size.

The Kestrel keeps my geeky side happy too, tipping the Bear Bones 'scales of truth' at 185g inc' the stuffsack and compressing down to ... not very much at all. 

Titanium Goat produce 3 different models of bag (plus a bug bivvy) with the Kestrel being the cheapest at $85 (roughly £55). First outing is later this week ... I have high hopes.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thermartex Bedding Blanket - First look.

Staying warm is easy ... staying warm while carrying as little as possible isn't quite so simple!

The Thermartex blanket is a new product that will hopefully help in the endless quest for warmth without weight or bulk. The first thing to remember is that the blanket is designed for sleeping under, one thing it's not is a glorified space or emergency blanket ... okay?

The blanket's made from rip-stop nylon, one side is plain and the other side is coated (the silver side) ... the manufactures say the coating can reflect up to 65% of body heat lost through radiation and can reduce your total heat loss by as much as 40%. Both sides of the blanket feel soft, it's not stiff or crinkly like a foil blanket, so should happily drape over you rather than sticking out a weird angles and poking you in the eye! 

Just in case you missed the important bit.

At 1.5m x 2m it offers plenty of coverage even for the bigger boned amongst us and certainly won't weigh you down at 125g. There's no concerns about pack size either ... it'll easily fit in your pocket.

Silver side up = more warmth.

If it does everything promised, then it opens up a few options for us weight obsessed folk. Obviously it might allow the use of a lighter sleeping bag than would usually be suitable for the conditions ... maybe even no sleeping bag in summer. It might also take the place of a 'sleeping bag cover' when you're under a tarp. I say sleeping bag cover rather than bivvy bag because the blanket isn't waterproof but the fact it's made from nylon means that it's water resistant to some degree, much like many ultralight bivvy bags. It's also very breathable so hopefully there'll be no condensation issues.

I'll report back after initial testing ... wish me luck, it's frosty out.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mini Review - Terra Nova Hot Bags.

Preventing cold hands while riding is actually pretty easy to achieve ... but preventing your hands getting cold once you've stopped can sometimes prove trickier. You could carry round a pair of woolly gloves knitted by your gran, chances are they'll keep your hands reasonably warm but they do have limitations. Firstly they're not windproof, secondly they absorb water and lastly they're not really that warm.

These Hot Bag mitts are pretty much the polar opposite of your woolly gloves ... the shell material is windproof and water resistant, although not waterproof. The insulation is provided by Primaloft One which is amongst one of the most efficient synthetic fills available and they weigh a feathery 85g the pair.

There's a lightly elasticated cuff with an additional drawcord as back up. To help with fit (the downfall of mitts) there's also a velcro adjuster strap that sits over your wrist ... I imagine this also adds a second line of defence against draughts too. 

85g of instant warmth.
While these mitts will keep your hands toasty and warm, it's easy to imagine that you won't be able to do anything while wearing them. To a degree that's a fair point and you certainly don't have full use of your hands and fingers but you can still function ... You can grip a zip puller, hold a mug, use a spoon and eat. If you need to do anything more complicated like  tie a knot, you will need to remove at least one mitt ... for something really taxing you might need to remove both! 

If you suffer with cold digits these come highly recommended, prices seem to vary wildly so as ever, shop around.

Project 'Proper Shopper' ... Finished.

So here we are ... 5 weeks, a little head scratching and gallons of tea have gone into turning a 40-something year old Raleigh 20 Shopper into a slightly shinier 40-something year old Raleigh 20 Shopper! The first post about this project was entitled 'An exercise in pointless' and I'm sure for many, that may still hold true, however if it brings a smile to someones face (me included) or makes someone question their perceptions, then it's served its purpose well.

You could ride it but it wasn't pleasant.
Last time we looked, the frame alterations had been completed and the frame was awaiting blasting. It would have been easy to get the frame powder coated (especially when you consider that the blasters also do powder coating) but I thought that was too easy. Instead I decided to paint the thing and paint it the way most people would be forced too ... with aerosols. It's been a while since I bought any spray cans, so I was a little shocked at the price, if I had to pay £6 a can then painting rather than coating would turn out to be a really stupid and expensive option. As luck would have it, a roam around Charlies Discount store turned up just the thing, colours were limited but at £1.99 a can, I'm happy to live with Canary yellow. I won't bore you with the details but I will say that there's 20+ coats of paint on there, it was rubbed down after every second coat before finally been 'polished off' once it had fully hardened ... if you don't possess large quantities of patience, have yours powder coated!

A slightly more pleasant riding experience.

With the frame all sorted it was time to start bolting bits back on. I mentioned the forks previously and aside from having to grind 1.6mm from the inner diameter of the crown race, they slotted into place as they should. Rather than shorten the steerer tube (which might have meant an even longer stem) I decided to leave it full length and made a spacer to cover it and the quill to aheadset adaptor. Obviously nothing's straightforward, so it did mean shortening the top headset retaining nut too but I think it was worthwhile. 

After going to the trouble of shortening and re-threading the bottom bracket I thought I'd treat the frame to a pair new cranks rather than using some old tat from the bowels of the workshop. A square taper Deore triple was acquired, stripped of its rings and a modified 42t singlespeed ring was persuaded to fit in the middle ring position. The 'yes, I'm going to ride it off road' theme was then enhanced by the addition of an e13 bashguard that was hiding under my workbench ... if anyone really cares, a 68mm x 107mm bottom bracket was required to achieve a perfect chainline.

Carbon Fibre stand ... just because.

I'd made the decision early on to stick with the slightly obscure 451 20" rims rather than switching to the much more common 406 variety. This caused me 2 issues ... no one makes rims and no one makes tyres! Actually that's a lie, people do produce both items but they're much harder to come by and of course usually much more expensive, but if you look in the right places and take full advantage of the internet, it's surprising what you can turn up. In this case it was a pair of Alienation Ankle Biter rims and Tioga Comp X tyres ... it turns out that certain classes of BMX still use the size and there are still deals to be had if you take the time to look. Why didn't I just use the smaller 20" rims? Well, keeping the standard size rims retains the already modest ground clearance and negates the use of very, very long drop brake calipers. Maybe I'll try some 46mm wide, drilled 406 rims next time for a 'fat shopper' look!

Sturmey Thumbie ... updated retro chic.

The rims were duly sent on their holidays to visit Shona and Rich at Keep Pedalling in Manchester. The original Sturmey Archer hubs, although grubby were actually serviceable but they were steel shelled and stupidly heavy. I toyed with the idea of going 7 speed by using a screw-on freewheel hub or keeping it as minimal as possible by following the singlespeed route but the lure of new aluminium bodied SA hubs was too much to resist ... the decision was made even easier when Shona gave me the hub prices! The SRC3 rear hub shares a lot of DNA with the SA 3 speed hubs of old. The gear ratios are identical, it's spaced at 118mm and still uses that little chain to change gear, just like your Grifter had. Another reason for choosing this hub over another, was the coaster rear brake. I'm fully aware that this may yet prove to be a poor choice but for the moment all is well, it keeps the rear end free of clutter, doesn't require any adjustment and is a little quirky ... which I like. If it does prove an unwise choice then I can remove the carbon planking plate from the seat stay bridge and bolt on a second rear brake in about 5 minutes ... a bike with 3 brakes, even more novel.

Couldn't resist the chain ... sorry.

Trying to achieve some kind of 'normal' riding position without using high rise bars is always going to require a few compromises. You're going to either require a steerer tube in the region of 400mm, which in reality doesn't exist or you need a very long, very angled stem. I had a steerer of just over 300mm, so guess what? That's right, I've fitted the steering stem equivalent of the forth bridge on there. Bar choice was largely dictated by what I had sat about. Salsa Woodchippers were high on the list but there really wasn't enough height to make them workable, so after trying various 'normal' bars and not 'feeling it' I settled on a pair of Titec Jones copies. Next time I'd seriously consider extending the headtube and machining up a new, extra long steerer ... it's a lot of work but would make the whole bike less awkward looking.

Internal cable routing's nothing new.

Everything else on there is pretty much what you'd expect, nothing fancy or expensive just whatever cropped up cheap or was already in the workshop.

Angle of the new headtube brace is nearly spot on.

The original bike was anything but svelte. Just picking it up to put it on the scales let you know that steel rather than aluminium was the main manufacturing ingredient. 38.5lb is a lot of weight, any bike weighing that much isn't going to climb well ... 20" wheels and a 3 speed hub gear were only going to compound the fact. Happily, besides a make-over the Shopper also embarked on a diet and the results are quite impressive. It now weighs 25lb up and dressed, that's 13.5lb less than it did 5 weeks ago. I'm hoping that decrease in weight will have a real effect on the actual usability of the thing.

More thin rather than fat bike.

To earn it's status as something suitable for bikepacking, a bike needs the capability to carry a certain amount of gear. A rear harness is no problem, it's got a saddle and a seatpost but a front harness is a little trickier given the relationship between the bars and the fork crown. The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed a boss welded to the front of the headtube, this is threaded and accepts a bar that contains a spherical bearing. The straps of the harness fit round the bar (taking the place of the fork crown) and the bar pivots as you steer ... hard to explain but obvious when you see it.

How about a frame bag? It's on the cards but again given the shape of the frame and the lack of toptube, it'll be a little different from the norm.

Seatstay bridge + carbon blanking plate = light mount.

The real test as to whether it's been an exercise in pointless or not will be a multi-day trip or 2. I'm planning a couple of things at the moment which will hopefully prove or maybe disprove the theory that you can ride anything ... wish me luck.

Big thank you to Shona and Rich at Keep pedalling

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Mini Review ... Loksak pouches.

There's certain bits of kit that you really want to keep dry. Soggy money, damp cameras and moist phones won't usually serve you very well. 

The faithful nylon dry bag is 1 solution to keeping your bits dry but for some items, even a tiny 1 litre dry bag's a lot bigger that you actually need. Okay then, how about a ziploc plastic bag? Yeah, they're small enough and light but they're not exactly robust ... 2 nights and a bit of rough treatment can leave them a lot less waterproof than you'd like.

Say hello to Loksak pouches ... they're guaranteed fully waterproof to a depth of 200ft (by which point you won't care anymore), are tough enough to be continually used for months on end, weigh next to nothing and are certainly much cheaper than a new camera.

It says, you'll have already drowned before this leaks!

The closure is a very simple affair, similar to what you'd find on a freezer bag but the seal is much stronger ... you definitely won't be left wondering whether it's sealed or not. There's no additional fold over flaps or velro fastenings ... just slide you fingertips across the seal and that's it, ready for action. Whatever's inside is now hermetically sealed from whatever's outside but your touchscreen will still work, you can still take photographs and you can make and receive phone calls too.

Ideal for phones, cash and invisible pixies.

The pouches come in a variety of sizes from 3" x 6" up to a foot square, which is ideal if you're carrying 3 grand in used twenties. I've been using them for the last 8 months and while they're starting to bear the scars of use, they haven't leaked, punctured, become brittle or fallen apart.

Prices start at £9.50 for 3 bags and I bought mine HERE