Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Chronicle ... 29+ from Maxxis.

A while ago I fitted a Velocity Dually rim to the front of my Stooge. I coaxed a 2.4 X-King on and oohed and aahed at the extra volume the 45mm wide rim magically found hidden deep within the tyres carcass. I took a couple of pictures, wrote a few words and rode the thing until an appropriate 'proper' 3" tyre could be sourced ... at the time, anything other than the Surly Knard was at best speculation and at worst myth. Now, I've nothing against the Knard, I've ridden bikes fitted with them in the past and always found them okay ... however, coming from someone who usually rides Race Kings 365 days a year, that might not be the best endorsement.

Fast forward a few weeks and a Gwyn the postie arrived at Bear Bones Towers and handed me a box containing a fabled Maxxis Chronicle. For anyone who has spent the last few months locked in the cupboard under the stairs ... the Chronicle is a much anticipated 3" 29+ tyre, which on paper should deliver 'better' performance than the Knard in the kind of conditions we frequently enjoy in the UK.

I had every intention of setting the tyre up tubeless but the valve had other ideas and no amount of tea drinking or swearing could convince it to play nicely and hold air for more than an hour at a time. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I buckled here, gave in to temptation and threw a tube in ... oh, how I wish I'd never bothered. From the very first revolution I was plagued with punctures, granted everyone was thorn induced but the tyre seemed to possess some kind of magnetic property that made all thorns within 50 feet of the trail jump under the wheel and embed themselves wholeheartedly in the tyre. Maybe it's the open tread pattern or perhaps just bad luck but when you're riding with 17 other people and you're the only one outside the cafe with a rapidly deflating tyre, it kind of makes you think something's not quite right. Whatever the reason for my puncture misfortune, I can say that the Chronicle is the best advertisement for running tubeless that you're ever likely to come across ... perhaps the Exo version would be better?

Chronicle - nearly half the height of a mountain.

On a happier note, you may be pleased to hear that once you have a valve that behaves itself, the Chronicle sets up as a tubeless tyre very easily. No need for a compressor or any sophisticated bits, a non-leaky valve, a few feet of Gorilla tape and some sealant should see your tyre sat happily on the rim with just the merest whiff from the track pump.

Fast in the middle and grippier towards the edges.

Once fitted, the Chronicle produces a very nice and rounded profile ... very unlike Maxxis of old, with their 'falling off the edge of the world' square profiles. Fitted to the Dually @18psi the outside to outside width is 75mm - big but maybe still narrow enough to fit within the majority of rigid 29er forks? We should remember here that we're more interested in the volume rather than just how wide the thing is and it doesn't disappoint, there's an awful lot of trail smoothing squidge underneath that tread. Point the thing down a rocky track and it's very easy to forget that you're aboard a rigid bike, even rocks of a size that would usually have you pulling at the brake levers or searching for a more accommodating line can be taken with a surprisingly high disregard for personal safety.

They actually look bigger in real life.

Anyone who believes that Surlys Knard is a tyre only to be ridden on those 2 weeks of the year when the ground dries out, might have been hoping the Chronicles tread would resemble that of a tractor, well I'm sorry it doesn't. Actually, I'm not sorry, I'm glad. Maxxis have equipped the Chronicle with a tread that can cope with 90% of conditions, rather than producing a slow, draggy 'one trick pony' that only really makes sense for a very small percentage of the time. The centre section of the tread features directional ramped blocks to ease the burden of pushing a kilo of rubber around. These then merge into angled blocks with recessed centres (the recesses increase the number of 'cutting edges') and the outer shoulders are propped up by some far more pronounced knobs to help keep everything the right way up through the twisty bits. The tread's not steppy, there's no gaps between each tread segment just a seamless transition from upright to 'oh my God' angles of lean. It's certainly not a 'mud tyre' but the well thought out tread design allied to a big footprint and low pressure provides plenty of grip while allowing it to roll better than something this big should. 

When your tyre already weighs more than you really want it to, the last thing you need is any mud hopping on board for a free ride and weighing you down further. So far, mud shedding isn't something I've experienced any problems with. Maybe it's the shallow, widely spaced tread, the flex of the big carcass or perhaps it's because mid-Wales doesn't tend to have too much sticky mud / clay? ... whatever the reason, so far the tyre has always returned home without half a kilo of organic excess baggage clinging to it. Obviously, if you ride where ground conditions are different, you may experience something less pleasing.

Right at this moment the only two 29+ tyres available are the Chronicle and the Knard. Others are due but quite when they'll materialise is anyones guess. Will they be better than the Chronicle? I doubt it, not unless the manufactures can attain a similar performance while shaving 200g from the weight and bring it in to the market for less than £60. Maxxis have done a very good job with the Chronicle, most of the time you forget it's there, it just works. It isn't a tyre for 'this' or 'that', it's a far less specific beast, a true trail tyre that's more than capable of dealing with UK conditions ... just watch out for the thorns!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Alpkit questioned.

I can't believe there can be many people reading this who haven't heard of Alpkit. Many of you will own at least one item of 'Alpkit' and some of you will have had the pleasure of chatting or riding with them at the WRT or BB200 ... so, I thought it might be nice to try and glean a little insight into Alpkit past, present and future. Thanks to Nick for taking the time to answer the questions.

1/ How long has Alpkit been in existence?
It's 10 years since we launched ourselves at the Outdoor Show in NEC, with walking poles, rockboots and crinkly stuff bags. 

2/ Was there a catalyst for starting the company ... a trip, a conversation, one too many in the pub?
Ultimately it was a bad day at the office that started the momentum, but knowing that between the four founders we had all the skills to start a brand was the clincher.

3/ Who was your target market at the start?
The range was far to eclectic to apply any sort of marketing model to it.

Product testing gets taken very seriously.

4/ Just how many people actually work at Alkpit?

5/ Who's responsible for product design?
That will be me. 

6/ What's the most popular Alpkit product of all time?
Numbers sold it's probably the airloks, although the Gamma can't be far away. As a percentage share of the market then the Hunka Bivi bag. 

7/ What drove the decision to start manufacturing in-house?
We added up the bill to buy a 1000 boulder mats in Asia and worked out we could do it ourselves cheaper in the UK. Employ some machinists, hire some machines and buy some fabric. 
The plan is to double production over this coming summer.

Nick + singlespeed on a wet WRT.

8/ As the company grows, is it becoming more difficult to retain your grass-roots, approachable appeal?
Yes and no, everyone in the company knows how important our customers are, and from the very beginning we have always tried to be down to earth and honest. We have all had enough of the egos that go along with some brands, along with crappy working practices that have been handed down from someone that hasn't had to deal with real people. That's just not what we are about, we make stuff, we flog stuff and we try and have a good time doing it. If people like what we are doing then they buy stuff and if they don't, they wont. On a personal note, I'm lucky to make a living in an industry that I love, it would be bit weird not to want support grass roots events, or have a chat to people about what we do. 

9/ How long before we see synthetic insulation match the warmth / weight of down?
Not long, but strangely I don't think the matching of insulation values between down and synthetic will come from the outdoor industry, it's much more likely to come from the bedding industry trying simulate the feel of down, and as a by product we will get something that feels great with good insulation properties and hopefully pretty hydrophobic. Having said that, we are going to be launching two new synthetic insulation pieces, just to try some out. One has a higher clo value than Primaloft One and is really good value, the other is a by product of the bedding industry so feels amazing but is a little heavier. We will launch these as colab products so low volume, good pricing and hopefully get some feedback and real life user testing.

AlpKen ... appearing in OK magazine soon.

10/ 'Team Alpkit' are usually seen riding Genesis bikes, is that an official tie-up?
Not really, it's quite an informal tie up but I think it works. I think it helps having relationships outside you normal working sphere.

11/ I know there's lots of new products due for release this year, is there anything in particular the bikepacking community should be excited about?
This year is going to get a bit mental to be honest. Double bivi bag - the first one is proper bombproof but I'm hoping to make lighter version for less than £100, Ultralight tents, some new ranges of sleeping bags, the stitch through Pipedreams at around £140 should suit quite a lot of riders. The plan is to be in a fairly unique position over the next year of being able to kit out a complete bikepacking setup. Luggage, clothing cookware, shelter,  sounds like all we need is 650b+ titanium bikepacking bike, hmmm....

Nick you'll never get big and strong like me, if you can't stay awake long enough to eat yer tea.

12/ Do you think the interest in bikepacking will continue to increase or do you anticipate it flattening out anytime soon? 
I don't see it flattening off anytime soon,not if you can get close to 100 people (many having never done an overnight) to bike for 10 hours in the freezing cold and then stay in wilds overnight and return with a smile on their face. Suddenly people are not planning a bike touring holiday in Denmark,  there researching an off road traverse of the Sierra Nevada. The more we see published especially stuff like Bunyan Velo the more people will get inspired.

13/ What's the biscuit of choice in the office at brew time? 
The factory probably go through the most biscuits, chocolate digestive (dark) seem to be the biscuit of choice. 

The foot-hills of WRT Alpkit 'bun mountain'.

14/ You've supported a number of riders over the years, who was the first?
Shaggy was the first to come to us with a request for Iditrod fatbike frame bags. I'm still amazed that some fantastically dedicated and talented riders have interest in us at all.  

15/ I know that you've compared bikepacking to alpinism in the past, do you still feel similarities exist between the two?
I still think it holds true, perhaps even more so as the sport develops using techniques from Alpinism. So, if I side step the equipment issue and just make the comparison of someone pushing the boundaries of what they are capable of.

"Progress is entirely personal. The spirit of climbing does not lie in outcomes—lists, times, your conquests. You do keep those; you will always know which mountains you have climbed, which you have not. What you can climb is a manifestation of the current, temporary, state of your whole self." Steve House, Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete

This sums up the spirit of bikepacking just as well as alpinism and I think Bearbones and the WRT can take some credit for this. It's less to do with smashing a route, or nailing a decent. It's about feeling happy with what you have achieved and sometimes taking perverse pleasure from being in a uncomfortable place in the worst of weather ... knowing that it's the only way to be in the best of places in the best weather. You don't have to be the fittest or the strongest, you just have to enjoy it the most. 

Maybe waterproof boots could be a future product?

The trouble with windshields.

If it's possible to feel sorry for inanimate objects, then I feel sorry for windshields. They really can't win, first they get told to do one thing, then told to do another ... it really is no wonder that windshields account for the highest number of suicides amongst outdoor equipment in the UK.

At first sight it probably appears that your windshield only serves one very simple function, that function being to keep the breeze away from your cooker, thus preventing heat loss. If things were that simple then I wouldn't have any compassion for the humble windshield, I'd just put it straight and tell it to stop moaning. However, just consider, that while your windshield is upholding its end of the bargain and keeping the wind off your stove, it's also acting as a restrictor ... an air restrictor. I'm sure you're aware that stoves require two primary things in order to function, fuel and air. Too much of one or too little of the other will slow the stove down, reduce efficiency and ultimately prevent it from working at all.

Stoves also require windshields ... but all too often we just wrap something round the stove hoping it'll keep the wind off and don't give it anymore thought. Even when our stove starts to do things we weren't expecting or its performance begins to suffer, we continue to ignore the windshield. Perhaps things would be far better if we thought of the windshield and stove as a single package, one working in complete harmony with the other ... rather than stove and that bit of old tin foil we found in the bottom draw of the kitchen where all the odd bits of string and old batteries live. The effects of too much 'air' reaching your stove are pretty obvious, the flame gets blown about (or out) and most of the precious heat disappears somewhere other than the bottom of your pot. At the other end of the scale, not enough air will also produce very noticeable effects but it's not always easy for us to see what's causing them or where the fault lies.

Symptoms of too little air entering the windshield (or not been able to escape it) include - Flame burns yellow. Flame 'wonders about' under the pot. Flame becomes much bigger than usual. Base of pot becomes sooty. Boil times increase. Fuel consumption increases. Stove smells of fuel when burning. A flame that 'pulls' to one side rather than remaining centred beneath the pot is usually the result of too little air in a localised spot around the stove ... it's often seen when foil, etc is formed into a windshield around 3/4 of the pot with the remaining 1/4 left open.

Yes, it'll keep the wind off ... but

So, your windshield has 2 functions, both of which need to happen simultaneously and both of which seemingly oppose each other. It's required to form a barrier to the wind and at the same time allow enough air in so the stove can function properly ... I told you they had a hard time of things.

Breath In.
Obviously the windshield needs a way of allowing air into the stove and generally speaking the most convenient place for that to happen is near the base of the windshield. Why the bottom? Because firstly that's where the stove is and secondly, because your stove burns 'upwards' it will draw air from around its base ... think of it a bit like a chimney.

Slots are a pretty easy way to increase air flow.

As air enters the inner sanctum of our windshield, it would make us very happy if it were calm and slow moving, too much air turbulence will disrupt the flame produced by the stove (just like the wind does, after all wind's only fast moving air). In a perfect world the windshield would be designed with some sort of internal 'reservoir' that would act as a buffer, slowing the incoming air down, stabilising and holding it, then 'feeding' it to the stove on demand. Sadly, it's not a perfect world, so we'll have to do the best we can and work with what we've got and one thing we do potentially have at our disposal is room. If we can make the base of the windshield bigger, we'll increase the volume, which in turn will produce a little of the 'reservoir effect'. Another bonus of making the base bigger is that it gives us a greater area from which to get the air outside, inside. It's impossible to get too much air to the stove, as long as the air isn't moving around enough to disrupt the flame, then the more the merrier. If you're making a cylindrical shield, then increasing the diameter at the bottom is obviously going to do the same at the top. As we'll see in a minute, this might not be a problem but nothing here happens in isolation, every change you make will have a knock on effect somewhere else, there are limits to how big you can go for either practical or performance reasons ... so at some point you'll probably have to compromise.

Breath Out.
If you think of your stove / windshield as an engine with air coming in through the intake, it becomes quite clear that we also need an exhaust to remove the burnt gases ... and there's a lot of them. If these spent gases can't escape the windshield quickly and easily, they'll start to restrict the amount of clean air that can enter the windshield, which will stifle the stove. Unless you're making a shield with some sort of 'sealed' top like a cone, then the gap between the outer of your pot and the inner of your shield might suffice as an adequate escape route for the 'exhaust' gases ... or it might not. I know that's not very helpful but there's a lot of factors that can effect things here, if you're in any doubt, try adding some vent holes / slots around the top, increasing the pot / shield air gap (don't go too mad) and / or shortening the height of the shield.

As a general guide, you should be trying to build a windshield that in perfect conditions (indoors) appears to have absolutely no effect on how your stove behaves. It can sometimes be a difficult thing to judge especially with a tapered shield or cone but with a little ingenuity you should come up with something that'll enable you to see what's going on under there.

8g stove and shield in the pic below on the Bear Bones 'test rig'.

Bend me, shape me.
Unsurprisingly, a cylinder is the easiest shape of windshield to make, it's a fairly convenient shape too as it'll often roll up and fit inside your pot. However, if you're really keen, a cone shaped shield will generally increase the stoves efficiency by channeling the (very) hot exhaust gases towards the side of the pot before they're expelled ... and the tapered shape can also increase the velocity of the exhaust gases, which can help draw more fresh air in through the base of the shield ... but we're probably starting to get a bit too complicated here, so I'll shut up.

Air in, air out and lots of protection from the wind.

The biggest problem with cones is actually making them but luckily there are ways of working everything out with bits of string and your best crayons rather than complicated calculations and a degree ... so, hopefully this is something we can revisit at a later date with a 'cones for dummies' post.

If you like the idea of a cone but feel that your intentions may get mixed up with your abilities when it comes to making one, there are other ways to achieve a similar effect without turning half the worlds sheet aluminium reserves into scrap.

 Like a cone stood on its head ... sort of.

The windshield in the above picture was made to be used specifically with a Vargo titanium 'Sierra Cup'. Due to the pots tapered shape many of the benefits of using a cone are still present ... without going to the trouble of actually making one. The stove, windshield and pot work together to produce a very fast and efficeient set up, the shield isn't an afterthought, it's just as important as the other two parts.

If you came here expecting a 'How to make a windshield' post then I apologise. All this geekery was purely intended to get you thinking ... and who knows, maybe even put that bit of tin foil back in the bottom draw with the old batteries. However, I promise a full 'How to make a windshield' post will be along shortly. Perhaps I should have said all this at the start ... but I didn't want to put you off.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Many rivers to cross ... Ford Fiesta.

Believing everything you read in the paper, see on TV or hear on the radio isn't always a good thing, luckily not everyone does believe because if they did, 76 riders wouldn't have turned up to ride the Bear Bones Ford Fiesta ... they'd have stayed at home waiting to be washed away by epic floods or buried beneath their homes by falling trees.

The Ford Fiesta was the fourth installment of the Bear Bones Winter Event. Each year some things change a little and each year some remain the same but being held near the start of January means the potential for proper Winter conditions always remains high. This years star weather attraction was wind, not a stiff breeze but real wind, the kind of stuff that will happily steer your bike off whatever track you happen to be riding, turn it 90 degrees and send you off down the nearest hillside or worse. Anyone lucky enough to be above 500m on Saturday night was also treated to sleet, hail and snow ... not enough to be unpleasant but just enough to remind you that you were riding through mid-Wales in January.

One thing all the Winter Events have in common is grid references ... a list of seemingly random points dotted over the countryside but all sharing a common link. This years references all (rather surprisingly) turned out to be fords, fords which may or may not have a bridge close at hand. Visiting these points wasn't mandatory but by being selective with your choices they could help form part of your route and hopefully lead you in the direction of some great riding. 

All this winter riding and crossing rivers malarkey sounds fairly straightforward until you casually throw in the the fact that you'll also be spending the night outside (luckily for many, bothies are tolerated but not encouraged). That's right, ride for 5 to 8 hours, carrying everything you think you'll need, then when you've had enough just lie down where you stand to visit the land of nod. When morning finally dawns, simply shake the frost off, put a brew on, load up your bike and continue on your way ... still fancy it?

The bright lights of downtown Llanbrynmair community centre might not seem like much of an incentive to keep turning the cranks on Sunday but for anyone riding it's like a shining beacon in the blackest of skies. Tea, toast and cake await the ravaged traveller upon their return but often, the opportunity to share stories, listen to tales of daring do with the elements and bask in the common experience are more important ... oh and it's also where you left your car too.

I wasn't present when this picture* was taken but I know the exact spot it was. To the left is a wide ford too deep to ride, the two very slippery logs form a makeshift bridge at the narrowest part of the river as it enters the ford. Behind the riders a steep rocky track, in front of them a considerable ride to civilisation and all round a blanket of the darkest night you can imagine. If you think it looks like 'fun' then we'll see you next January.

*Thanks to Jack Thurston for allowing me to use it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The BB 200 is dead.

After 4 years the BB 200 is no more.

While the heading might sound a little doom and gloom, it shouldn't. In October you'll still have the opportunity to abuse yourself and your bike but it will be in the form of the Bear Bones Reliability Trial (BBRT). The BBRT will differ from the BB200 in a number of ways but hopefully these changes will make the challenge more appealing not less.

The most noticeable change is the removal of any timing structure ... there'll be no set start time, instead riders will be free to set off anytime between 8.00am and 10.00am on Saturday. Besides the 'flexible' start time, there'll also be no finish time designations ... it's purely about making it to the end in one piece, unsupported.

What else is going to change? Well, for some it'll be good news and for others maybe not so much ... the route distance will be increasing. The route has yet to be fully finalised but you should expect something in the region of 270km - 280km of mainly off road riding. There'll still be the odd bit of hike-a-bike and some parts that'll make you swear but they'll be nowhere near the level they were on the now infamous BB200 2014 route ... so some good news there then.

The changes are partly a response to the 'powers that be' taking an interest in bikepacking and the growing number of ITT. I won't bore you with the details but hopefully by making some subtle changes now we can remain in everyones 'good books' and continue to do what we do.

So, that's it, the BB200 is dead ... long live the BBRT.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Thumb over grip ... TOGS Review.

If you missed the initial introduction to TOGS then you might want to pop over here and get yourself up to speed before going any further.

Sorted? Okay, I'll begin. I've had these fitted to my Stooge for the last couple of months, my hands rarely stay in the same place for more than ten minutes at a time while riding, so another resting place for my pinkies is always something I'm interested in trying out. As I mentioned in the previous post, TOG stands for Thumb Over Grip, it's a hand position many people seem to favour, it's certainly comfortable but generally not that secure ... I will hold my hand up here (luckily I still can) and admit to an incident a few years ago that started with me riding with my thumbs over the top of the bars, progressed quickly into only one hand been in contact with the bike and finally resulted in my (now free) hand finding its way into the front wheel. Unlucky? Possibly. Stupid? Certainly. Had the bike been fitted with a pair of these, the chances of the above happening would have been reduced and maybe eliminated entirely.

Nearly a match for the blue of the Stooge.

The TOGS are made from something called Zytel, a type of thermoplastic. It's certainly tough but not that hard that it feels brittle, I really can't imagine a situation that would lead to them breaking, I certainly don't think your average crash would upset them in any way ... although I have tried quite hard to avoid putting this theory to the test. Once slid into place, the TOGS are held in position by a stainless cap head that pulls the split clamp together and pull it together it does. I only manged to make one move on a single occasion but I was stood climbing and actually trying to make them move ... under more normal conditions, once fitted they don't move a millimeter.

Fitted in 'summer' mode, secure and very comfy.

When I first fitted them, I did what most people would do and put them in a position where I 'thought' they should be. I climbed aboard and had a lap of the yard, nope. I loosened them off and altered the angle, no, still not right. After fifteen minutes of fiddling I loosened both sides off and set off on another tour of the yard but this time I CLOSED MY EYES - BINGO! They were now set to where they should be, not where I thought they should be.

The next few weeks saw me riding round as usual, I made a point of trying not to think about the TOGS but I did find myself using them a lot, particularly when just 'cruising' along on fireroads and doubletrack. Even though your entire hand is on top of the bar rather than wrapped round it you do feel very secure. The ability to brake isn't affected and if you have 2 way shifters you can happily change gear without moving your hands. 

Alteration to position for Winter.

What I'm going to say next isn't a criticism but it's something I 'discovered' when the weather started to get colder and for me the 'solution' has actually improved things rather than compromised how the TOGS work or feel, however, your personal set-up may not call for such measures .... As temperatures drop, I like most people in the UK rummage in the cupboard and find my winter gloves, they're warmer, waterproof(ish) but thicker. With winter gloves on the first thing I noticed was that the scallop / cut-out where your thumb sits now felt a little snug, nothing severe, just a little less room than I'd have liked. The second thing I became aware of was my thumb getting cold, not all of it, just the underside. Luckily it didn't take a genius to figure out the cause - I'd fitted the TOGS so they butted up to the inside end of the grip and all was well until I added big thick gloves into the mix. Now, my over sized thumb was fighting for space between the TOG and the brake lever clamp, resting my thumb against the clamp was also making it cold. The simple solution would be to move the brakes inward slightly, that would provide more room and the world would be rosy once more ... I didn't do that. Instead I decided to split my grips and fit the TOGS inboard of the end. Had I simply moved the brakes I'd certainly have had more room but my thumb would still rest against potentially freezing metal, only now it would be the bar rather than the brake. Fitting them this way not only gives my winterised digit plenty of room but it also now rests on something relatively soft and insulated ... which is a bit of a bonus when the mercury drops.

If you're reading this, then I imagine there's a good chance that you're no stranger to sitting on your bike for quite a few hours at a time. Anything you can do that allows you to re-position yourself without having an adverse effect on your forward progress has to be a good thing ... the TOGS do exactly that. They're unobtrusive, tough and light (19g a pair on the BB scales) and they're also manufactured in the US if that makes any difference to you. Just take some time to get the position dialled in and you might be surprised how the smallest of things can make the biggest difference.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year - new adventures.

January ... the madness of the 'festive' season is behind you and the worst that winter has to offer possibly lies ahead. It's often a time for reflection, a chance to look back at the year gone and ponder what was and what might have been. When you've finished staring at your naval, just consider that more importantly, it's an opportunity to look ahead and hopefully shape the next 365 days into something worth reflecting on come this time next year.

If you're reminiscing about 2014 and can't recall any memorable 'bikepacking moments', then right here, right now is the time to make sure the coming year doesn't turn out to be quite as shoddy as the last.

Chew - wide bars, broard smile.

Don't Wait.
If you wait for the good weather you'll never go anywhere, the grass isn't greener and contrary to what Guinness say, good things don't come to those who wait, they just miss out on stuff. Spring could spring at anytime but chances are it won't and even if it doesn't, a little 'liquid sunshine' or a good hard frost shouldn't signal the end of your world. When the elements are likely to be 'challenging' a little preparation and planning goes a long way and can really help smooth the sharp edges off a night outside. 

Lower Your Sights.
In winter the 'easy miles' can be a little harder to come by. Trying to bash out 50 miles through sideways rain or ice covered lanes is going to be a much tougher (and slower) proposition than the same distance in mid-July. Keep your mileage expectations down, combine the conditions with the short hours of daylight available and be realistic about how far you're going to get ... even if you only ride 15 miles, it's 15 miles more than you would sat on your arse watching the nations bewildered and desperate on Strictly come X factor. There's also the added benefit of staying close to home in the fact that if you do confuse your intentions with your abilities, then central heating and the love of a good shower remain within striking distance.

Memories are made of this - go and get some.

Location, Location, Location.
Where you choose to spend the night will usually have a bearing on how enjoyable that night is and at this time of year selecting the very best location could make the difference between waking up .... or not (although things would need to be particularly bad and you genuinely stupid for this to happen). If it's raining, snowing or frosty then a roof of some description is well worth searching out. I say some description because a roof doesn't need to be a roof in the common sense. Although a man made structure's usually a welcome addition, a forest canopy or overhanging rock will make a reasonable substitute. Windy? Get out of it ... a wall, a tree or even a dip in the land can be enough to shelter you. Consider which direction the sun rises and try to align yourself with it, setting up for the night facing east or south / east means that the first rays will do what they can to warm you up while you go through the morning ritual of faffing. The thought of sleeping in a valley bottom often seems appealing but in winter they're usually best avoided as cold air higher up will sink into the valley where it'll remain all night (with you) ... half way up is generally a much safer and warmer bet.  Just engage brain before deploying bivvy bag.

Jase seconds before being attacked by the Yeti in the distance.

Two's Company.
Although bikepacking is often perceived as a solitary venture, just like sex it's often much more satisfying when done in the company of others. The long hours of darkness can really start to drag when you're by yourself, electronic devices can help with the boredom but there's nothing better than the company of others. Having someone to share the experience with will make the memories last much longer, make the good bits even better and stop the bad times from being too bad. I'm not saying don't go out on your own but if you can press gang someone else, then all the better.

So what are you waiting for? Get your map out, pack your bike and get going ... like they say, time waits for no one.

Pics by mike.