Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bear Bones guide to the Rig7 ... part 1.

It's much easier to set a tarp up badly than it is to set one up well ... which might explain why so many people aren't actually that happy about spending the night under one. Lets be honest, (flat) tarps are fairly basic things. If you assume that they're all pretty similar, then to a degree you'd be right but because there isn't really that much to them, it's the smallest of details that make the biggest difference ... AlpKits Rig7 is a great example.

Don't get me wrong, it won't put itself up. If you don't know what you're doing then you're going to be in for pretty unpleasant night in the not so great outdoors! Take a bit of time, add a little thinking and use the well thought out design details on the Rig7 and the outdoors will remain great for another night.

Okay, before we start on the road to silnylon folding nirvana, we need a few bits and pieces. As with any tarp, on it's own your Rig7 is pretty limited but if we add pegs and lines it instantly becomes a potential shelter.


Don't skimp on pegs. Tarps tend to see far greater peg loadings than tents. This is due mainly to the large flat panels most configurations create and the fact that your tarp doesn't have any internal supporting structure. If these big flat surfaces are facing the wind, they will act like very convincing sails. Your tiny 1g 'tooth pick pegs' will be off before you can swear loudly ... you'll still be able to swear but not loudly because the tarp on your face will muffle anything you say. 

This doesn't mean that you need to carry 16 pegs you could pin a marque down with but a selection of pegs really is a good idea. My 'pick n mix' recommendation would be - 10" stakes x 2, 8" pegs x 4 and 6" pegs x 6. I prefer round section pegs but there's no reason not to use V or Y section ones.                                                 It doesn't take long to work out where the greatest forces are for any given pitch and also where the critical pegging points are ... these are the ones that your tarp is actually relying on to stay upright. Use your biggest / most secure pegs at these points and use your lighter pegs for the less critical areas ... see, just a little thinking.


Although your tarp has plenty of pegging points around the edge and dotted over the entire tarp in the case of the Rig7, without a selection of lines all your tarping is going to be carried out at a very low level! One of the benefits of using a tarp is the versatility it offers, carrying a set of lines that can be easily swapped between different points on the tarp, helps make the most of this versatility and keeps your pitching options wide open ... and the extra guy points on the Rig7 aid this massively.

The simplest lines are fixed length, they don't employ any type of tensioner and rely on you pulling them taught when you peg them out. I'd suggest that you make 8 lines for the Rig7 - 2m x 4 and 1m x 4, 2mm, 3mm nylon cord is ideal. Cut your line to length but add an extra 12cm to the length of each one. Now you need a loop in both ends of each line, any knot should suffice but a bowline is ideal, it's easy to tie, won't slip and can be untied if need be. When you need to attach a line, just thread one end (a) of the line through the tarp, then pass the other end (b) through the loop in end (a). Pull the line tight and that's it, on and off in a couple of seconds.

Bowline ... dead simple.

Line attachment.

While it's true, poles aren't actually required to set a tarp up, it's also true to say that they'll make a massive difference to what's possible, even just a single pole opens up what you can do. If you really don't want to use poles to help support your tarp, then your options are: trees, sticks, walls, fences or your bike. All these things will work but they all have drawbacks and limitations.

My personal preference is for a pair of poles 1m - 120cm, with a pointed tip at one end and a smooth dome at the other, this allows them to be used either way round. The domed end can be placed against the tarp without damaging the material, the pointed tip can be inserted into the holes in the Rig7 reinforcement points and it'll also hold a line securely by simply wrapping the line round the tip 2 or 3 times.

Pointed tip, 3 turns and the line's secure.
So, that's everything we need taken care of. Obviously adding the pegs, lines and possibly poles has increased weight and cost over the base £50 and 500g of the Rig7 ... but even with the extras accounted for, you've got a 2 person shelter that weighs less than 750g, cost under £80 and can be put up to best suit the conditions within minutes ... I don't think that's bad.

We'll be back next week to show some of the different pitching options and explain how to rig them up ... how thoroughly exciting.

Part 2

Saturday, July 19, 2014

New Bear Bones jersey.

The design for the new Bear Bones jerseys has just been finalised ... and here it is.

The jerseys feature a full length concealed zip, 3 rear pockets and will be available in a full range of sizes from tiny to whopper. You'll also have the option to add your name (or someone elses if you like) on the back.

Pre-orders should open within the next few days but be warned, this is a one-off ... once the pre-order period is up that'll be it and you won't get another chance.

More details very soon.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sneaky look - the Monkii cage Gorilla.

18 months ago we introduced you to the Monkii cage and it found its way onto many a bike, some people just use them to hold a bottle but others carry cooking kit, shelters and no doubt the odd bottle of wine along the way. Although the Monkii cage was and in my opinion, still is a great product I always wanted a bigger one. I mentioned a larger version to Miles Hutchings who imports Monkii products into the UK. Miles promised to talk to the Monkii manufactures about it ... and that was that.

Fast forward 18 months .... and out of the blue guess what falls through my letterbox? No, not dog poo wrapped in newspaper but a big brown jiffy bag containing a prototype Gorilla cage (like a Monkii but bigger).

Standard Monkii and Gorilla ... quite a size difference.

The Gorilla uses the same quick release fittings (Monkii nuts / clips) as its smaller primate cousin but rather than 2 attachment points there's 3. The mount spacing is the same as Salsa use for Anything cages but it can also be mounted using just 2 points, so can be made to fit just about anywhere. The version in the picture could be described as a final prototype, there may be a few tweaks before full production but any that do take place will be minor.

13L - possible but not recommended

Sadly, I can't give you an eta at present but I can say that hopefully they'll come in at less than £20 ... I'll let you know more when I do.

The Shindig Weekend ... bikepacking in Scotland.

The urban dictionary defines 'shindig' as a social, low key party or gathering that doesn't quite reach full scale ...Welcome to the Shindig.

On the weekend of Sep 13th/14th The Shindig is taking place north of the border. It's a relaxed bikepacking event with the emphasis on a sociable ride through some beautiful scenery and singletrack without having to turn yourself inside out (unless you really want to !). There are multiple route options so you can pick and choose how hard or easy you want it to be although you do need to be capable of riding 80 miles off road over two days. The route will start in Milngavie and pass through the Loch Lomond National Park before heading east to Aberfoyle with the option of a northern loop taking in Glen Ample and Stank Glen before turning back to Glasgow via either the Rob Roy and West Highland way or the cycle path to Buchlyvie then Killearn and in via Strathblane.

Luckily not all Lochs have monsters.

The route(s)

We will provide GPX files as a suggested route. Broadly speaking the route will follow the West Highland Way till Inversnaid. Some of this is quite technical singletrack so you may feel that you want to bypass Conich Hill or some of the bays between Balmaha and Inversnaid – we’re cool with this – it’s up to you to pick your route. After Rowardennan we go North to Inversnaid Hotel and then pick up the road past Inversnaid Bunkhouse before picking up forestry track and fire road to Abefoyle. Here you have the option of either doing a 50 mile loop through Callander, Glen Ample and Stank Glen before returning to Aberfoyle along some of the Rob Roy Way or heading south to Milngavie again. There’s good cycle path to Buchlyvie (flat) or forest road along the Rob Roy Way (hilly) back to Drymen. If you take the path to Buchlyvie then there’ll be some road between there and Killearn before going off-road again to Strathblane.

Details of local amenities will sent out along with the gpx files ... we wouldn't want you going hungry.

Them's proper mountains in the background.


There's no entry fee but there will be a maximum of 50 riders given the nature of the route.
If you'd like to come along, then simply send an email to Bryan and express your interest. Remember, the emphasis is on fun and everyone's welcome.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Eco-gel ... trying it so you don't have to.

I love meths, so when I came across Ethanol gel I couldn't resist having a play to see whether there were any benefits to be gained by using it. It's marketed as being safer because you can't spill it ... it's also marketed as 'eco' which is a bit misleading really seeing as meths is also an 'eco' fuel but no one makes a song and dance about it.

200ml of gel and 200ml of meths - one's heavier.

The gel's packaged in a pouch which contains 200ml of fuel so the first thing I did was measure out 200ml of meths and weighed them both. I was slightly surprised to discover that even though the meths was in a fairly substantial bottle it still weighed 24g less than the gel pouch ... bottle 197g v pouch 221g. Lesson 1 - Gel is heavier than meths.

I was a little concerned that the gel would actually be too thick to use in a double walled stove like an 8g, Trangia or Evernew. However, seeing as it's sold as a meths alternative and the instructions contain such phrases as 'filling your stove' I gave it a go. After 10 minutes I gave up, on a couple of occasions I briefly thought we were onto something only to be let down shortly afterwards. Lesson 2 - Gel won't work in a double walled stove or at least not the ones I tried.

Initial flames - gel on the left.

A quick rummage round the workshop resulted in a matching pair of simple, single wall stoves. I poured 15ml of fuel into each stove and lit it. Both stoves lit easily but the flames were quite different. The meths was doing what I expected and producing a large yellow flame ... a sure sign that without the restriction of a pot there was too much fuel for the available air. The flame produced by the gel was all together different, it was smaller and much bluer in colour ... uhm.

I waited 40 seconds which is generally enough time for the fuel to heat up to a point where a pot can be placed on the stove without extinguishing the flame. I popped 2 identical mugs on the stoves and once again the stove containing meths did exactly what I knew it would ... a moments delay followed by flames from the jets which grew over a few seconds before settling down. The stove with the gel didn't follow the expected pattern, instead the flames that appeared from the jets were tiny. Rather than getting bigger they gradually reduced in size until all that was visible was a tiny blue glow from the inside of the stove. I lifted the pot off and the flame gradually grew in size, after 30 seconds I placed the pot back on top and nothing. I played this game a few more times thinking that the fuel wasn't hot enough but each time the result was the same.

Wait 40 seconds, add pots and this happens.

The water in the 'meths pot' was now boiling away quite happily so I removed it and instantly the big yellow flame returned. I did the same with the gel mug and while it was still burning, it was pretty uninspiring ... there was no jumping back into life just a slightly pathetic blue flickering.

Pots removed. Righthand stove's already boiled 350ml of water.

I allowed both stoves to burn themselves out and was surprised to see that there was quite a large amount of residue left in the bottom of the gel stove ... I suppose in reality that's possibly the least of its worries!

Guess which stove had the gel in?

So, after wasting half an hour of my life I'm really struggling to find anything positive to say about the gel. I could easily live with the extra weight or the sticky residue IF it worked but unless I'm missing something fundamental then I really can't see a use for it. Judging by the flame produced it's possible that it could be used as a substitute for solid fuel tablets (maybe that's actually the intended use?) but seeing as you can't spill them either, why would you bother?

If you like carrying more weight than necessary, enjoy scraping sticky stuff off your stove, prefer luke warm tea and are really, really clumsy then maybe you should try it ... if not, then I wouldn't bother.

BB 200 ... whatever gets you through the night.

If you've never ridden a long distance ITT before and are considering entering the BB 200, you'll need to be prepared to ascend a very steep and often painful learning curve ... to help get you through the night here's a selection of tips from previous finishers.

Training, do some! I’d done a 10 & 24hr Solo and the SDW in a day in the run up to BB200, it was far harder than those!

Johnny Storm

If you're a slowpoke, make sure you have both the gear & the food to be out for a long time -  the fast guys will/can carry waaaay less, so don't rely on their kit lists!
Roy Brooks

Training and fitness will only get you so far, a large proportion of it is in your head.
Chris Reeves

Remember, you'll soon forget the suffering required to finish but you'll have your BB200 badge forever.

If you’re riding with mates make sure you agree what your expectations and arrangements will be if you find yourselves riding at a different pace or someone has to drop out.

Johnny Storm

Ride in shoes that are also good to push in - you'll be doing a lot of walking (probably in wet shoes & a packed bike is going to be way heavier than when you normally ride it too!).
Roy Brooks

Your body is capable of far more than you think it is. You will have low moments be it feeling tired, your knees hurting or your wrists aching. The important thing is to keep your head from doubting your body. The low point will pass so just keep peddling as you WILL get through it.
Neil Cocklin

A cocktail of paracetamol, Ibuprofen and Pro-plus will get you through most things and can be used as a food supplement!

The thought in the final 5 hours was that it's easier to just keep riding following the gps arrow blindly rather than try to work out how to bail - especially when you're brain isn't working.
Chris Reeves

Take a small bottle of chain lube. 20 hrs of a squeaky chain might drive you insane.

Johnny Storm

Eat if hungry, eat if not; just make sure you eat at least once an hour.
Neil Cocklin

Whatever your time expectations, add 20% to be realistic.
Gabriel Mak

Learn how to fix your bike, then learn how to fix it at 3.00am in the rain on a mountain side when all you want to do is go to sleep or be sick!

Combine stopping activates as much as possible. Opening gates, refilling water, getting some food out, checking a map, putting waterproof on... taking it off. Never do one thing, do several together so you stop less often.   
Neil Cocklin

Do use a GPS - it is a time trial & faffing with maps slows you down.
Roy Brooks

It's often just as quick to walk a really steep climb as try to grind a granny gear. You can give your peddling legs a rest and it's often a more efficient use of energy.
Neil Cocklin

Expect it to be bloody hard.
Gabriel Mak

Set your gps to display your average speed including stops if you’re aiming for a particular finish time.

Johnny Storm

Carry a backup light.
Roy Brooks

If you're a newbie to the event (like I was), I found that a ridiculous amount of planning the ride helped me, from hours of sunset/sunrise, hours of battery needed for GPS and lights, backup maps etc. etc. and having a full size route plan drawn up with likely pace and water/food points if required. Whilst anything can happen on the actual ride, knowing that I'd done as much prep as possible meant I could not worry about it on the ride and just get on with it - I let the plans change then.
Chris Reeves

Expect wet feet (merino socks and fast draining shoes are good).
Gabriel Mak

Think about resupply, what’s the last shop you’ll pass during opening hours?
Johnny Storm

Bringing high calorie food is good, but remember salts/electrolytes. I didn’t last year, and would have failed if it weren’t for a fellow rider having marmite cashews.
Gabriel Mak

To finish first ... first you have to finish. Start at a comfortable pace and keep going. No point blowing up after 5 hours.

Do at least one night ride before you do a BB 200.
Roy Brooks

Take plenty of easily accessed snacks, if they’re a faff to get hold of you’ll not bother and run on empty.

Johnny Storm

Check the map twice, turn once. Don't waste time/energy getting lost.

That rock in the middle of the track at 3am is likely to be a cow.

Johnny Storm

If you want to finish faster, stop less. Sounds obvious, but these 5 mins here and there soon add up to an hour or so.

If you can't pedal, push...  It's still moving forward.
Simon Darby

Don't be tempted to stop at the pub, keep riding. Its warm and they have beer but your legs won't thank you for it afterwards. 

Keep pedalling, keep pedalling...  Every turn of the cranks is progress... You are always reducing the distance to the finish.
Simon Darby

If you want to finish in under 24 hours make sure that stopping will be as uncomfortable as possible ... take a summer sleeping bag and no sleeping mat.

You don't have to have all the "gear" to take part. The most important piece of equipment is your attitude. I entered BB200 2013 having only done the WRT before. I had no idea if I could ride over 100 miles in 24 hours (or at all)! Fact is, I did it, and did it better than I ever thought I would or could ... Have a go you might surprise yourself.
Simon Darby

And the last words of wisdom go to Greenmug ... although I would advise a little caution if you don't think you're the fastest of riders ;o)

I was a newbie last year and I arrived at this bike-packing event expecting an overnight camp and equipped with enough food and water to see me through the course. It turns out my camping equipment weighed more than some people's whole bike setup. I carried and returned to the car over 1KG of food. So my advise is to carry only what is absolutely necessary. Mandtory kit, things that will keep you alive and food that you know you will eat after 20 hours of hard effort. If you can survive without it, you probably don't need to pack it. Think of the BB200 as a bike-not-packing event.

Ian Nightingale

A big thank you to everyone who took the time and trouble to submit their tips ... I'm sorry you had to relive it all over again! 

Mike Davis has written an article about last years BB 200 ... you can find it in the June (issue 30) issue of Outdoor Fitness Magazine.

Dirty deeds done dirt cheap.

Having lots of nice kit is great but it's also expensive and the desire to have the latest, lightest or smallest whatever, is something many of us could seek counseling for! 

I sometimes wonder whether anyone looking to dip a toe in the murky waters of bikepacking could be put off by the seemingly infinite amount of cash that can (and often is)  spent in the pursuit of riding a bicycle for a few days without going home. To try and help redress the balance I'm going to see what can be achieved without resorting to your flexible friend or selling your offspring ... first up, shelter.

Just over a fiver buys you all this.

An expedition to the 'big city' netted me everything required, tarps x 2, 50m of nylon line and some aluminium tent pegs ... I went out with a tenner and returned with £4.53. There's a couple of reasons I ended up with 2 tarps, firstly I didn't think the biggest would be big enough in anything but ideal conditions and secondly, I thought the smaller one might make a decent groundsheet.

Obviously, at less than a pound each you shouldn't be expecting a 'tarp for life' but you might be pleasantly surprised. The green tarp measures 180cm x 170cm, packs down to less than 1L and weighs 240g or 273g with lines attached. There's just enough eyelets around the edge to make various pitches possible without resorting to tarp-clips, etc.

Maybe just not big enough?

The first thing I set-up was the simplest of all things, a lean-to. You'd have to be pretty compact to get full coverage but it would keep the worst of the weather at bay and if you slept with your legs towards the high end it could easily accommodate 2 big 'uns.

It doesn't stretch so pitches like Cuben!

I dismantled the lean-to, shortened my eco tarp poles and set it up as an 'A' frame ... many peoples default tarp configuration. Once again, it would keep 80% of you dry but it's just a little too short to prevent the remaining 20% from getting wet.

Lean-to with added 'veranda'.

What I really needed was a bigger tarp but I didn't have was a bigger tarp ... but I did have  a second tarp. Combining the 2 suddenly opens up many more options and greatly increases your chances of remaining dry. Added to the lean-to, it creates a decent 'veranda' and transforms your shelter into something which will happily sleep 2.

'A' frame and modest car-port.

I set up the 'A' frame once again and set about extending it. The first thing I added might best be described as a car-port and while it doesn't appear to offer a vast increase in space it actually makes a real difference. Now rather than sleeping length ways with either your head or feet poking out, you can sleep cross-ways with your entire person undercover.

Don't forget to put the blue one under the green.

If you add the small tarp to the front rather than the side you can form a porch, sadly it's only a porch on one side but it does now allow you to now lie length ways and provides a decent area to stash your gear.

Usually a sticky-out bit would be called a beak - we'll say porch.

The reality is that while I'd happily sleep under these set-ups in reasonable conditions, I'd be a little reluctant in heavy rain or high winds. I've no doubt that the material is fully waterproof but the quality of manufacture would always be a concern, particularly the eyelets. With a little MYOG type magic you could easily add some cross-grain loops and do away with the suspect eyelets altogether but are you then entering a world where buying a 'proper' tarp is the more sensible option? ... I suppose you have to make that choice for yourself.

There's no denying that if you're short of cash, don't like doing things the easy way or just enjoying playing about with stuff, a cheap tarp (or maybe 2) could well be worth the investment.

Available from Poundland, Pound -Stretcher and most other discount shops nationwide.