Wednesday, September 24, 2014

20° but feels like 8° ... Windproof tops.

We've all experienced the affects of 'wind chill' and it doesn't need to be particularly windy before we feel them ... just think how much colder you are at the bottom of a long descent than you were at the top.

A windproof top can make the ideal 'extra layer' to stuff in your pocket or bag. They usually weigh very little, generally pack down to nothing and can make all the difference, even on those summery rides. Most manufactures have their own take on how best to produce a windproof, while they all strive to fulfill the same role they do come in numerous guises ... here's 3 to get you started.

Ooh get you.

The OMM Sonic smock is about as basic as a windproof can get. There's no pockets, no hood and only half a zip. It's made from something OMM call Point Zero, a very light, highly breathable fabric that weighs pretty much nothing. The wrists are elasticated and also feature thumb loops which do help seal out any unwanted draughts. Around the bottom there's a simple drawcord arrangement, which I have to say broke very quickly on mine although I can also say that I haven't missed it. The zip finishes just below your moobs and adds just enough venting for the climbs. The outer face has a DWR coating which I'm sure must help repel a certain amount of moisture but certainly doesn't make the smock even remotely waterproof ... just resistant.

If you're interested in carrying as little weight as possible, then you'll be interested to know that a medium weighs just 68g on the scales of truth and can literally be stuffed into the smallest space. Although the Sonic uses a very light material I've not managed to tear, rip or generally damage it yet (apart from the drawcord but that might have been a manufacturing fault, which I'm sure would have been remedied under warranty if I'd been bothered) after 18 months and some less than careful treatment.

Ideal if you want minimum weight without the whistles and bells.

Paramo ... no nonsense.

Paramo tend to do things a little differently ... while their Fuera smock is without doubt the heaviest of the 3 and certainly has the biggest pack size, it's the one that feels like it'll outlive cockroaches in a nuclear strike. It's made from Nikwax Windproof which just like the others has a DWR coating but the water repellency of Nikwax material can increased with the use of Nikwax products like TX Direct, which is always handy. All the features you'd usually associate with a heavier jacket are present - full hood with a wired peak and rear volume adjuster - large 'Kangaroo' front pocket which is big enough for an OS map or baby marsupial - adjustable velcro cuffs and an elasticated, drawcord hem. The zip is 240mm long but feels shorter mainly because it finishes higher up, which gives you the option to really seal the elements out if need be. 

A small (yes Paramo sizing is generous) tips the scales at 282g but if you want something to wear year in year out, that offers maximum protection and maybe can leave to the grandkids, this is probably it.

Half way to becoming a tea pot.

Haglofs Shield Pro is a windproof with a bonus or maybe an identity crisis depending on your point of view. The shell fabric feels similar to that used on the Sonic, however it does feel slightly thicker and has a minuscule rip-stop weave and the obligatory DWR coating. This is a jacket not a smock, so there's obviously a full zip which is nicely backed with an internal baffle. A fairly basic and lightly elasticated hood takes care of upstairs and yes, it does fit easily under a helmet. Pockets are limited to a single hand warmer that's placed quite high on the right hand side ... big enough for your keys but certainly not a map. The hem shares the same part elasticated structure as the hood as do the cuffs, which also benefit from thumb loops. So what's the bonus? Insulation. The front of the jacket contains 40g synthetic insulation ... nothing in the arms, nothing round the back, just the front where you'll get maximum benefit. When you pick the Shield up you can tell the front's that bit thicker but it's not until you put it on that you really feel it. 40g/m isn't a lot of insulation but it does make a huge difference, so much so that I've taken to using the Shield as an 'evening camp' jacket through summer.

Adding insulation obviously pushes the weight up and increases the pack size but only slightly, a medium weighs 122g and still packs down to the size of a Granny Smith. While the Shield might not be as light as the Sonic or as tough as the Fuera it does offer a level of versatility that's ideal for the colder months.

All 3 tops are easily sourced on-line but shop about as often the rrp doesn't reflect the price they can be bought for. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Plastic fantastic ... lighter than Ti, cheaper than chips.

A while ago I posted something about cooking without a cooker but if you're really wanting to push things, could you go further? Maybe there's a way you could dispense with the pot / mug altogether and replace it with something much lighter, infinitely cheaper and available pretty much everywhere ... the humble plastic bottle, that's right I did say plastic.

I've chosen the thinnest, poorest quality one I could find. It's not special, it once contained spring water from somewhere or other like countless bottles on the shelves or in the bin ... something a little more substantial will obviously last longer, maybe even a couple of days use. Have a rummage through the bins and see what you can find.

The first thing you'll need to do is light yourself a little fire. It doesn't have to be worthy of Guy Fawkes, just enough room for your bottle to be placed in the middle.

You'll be needing one of these.

When you've got a reasonable amount of hot embers, scrape a hollow in them and place your bottle in it. Remember to remove the lid first and only fill it 3/4 full to allow a little expansion (water) and contraction (bottle) room.

Oi - take the lid off first.

Add a bit more fuel to your fire concentrating around the outside of the bottle. Don't go mad, you do need some flames but you're not trying to re-make the Towering Inferno.

Pop the bottle on and put a put a bit more wood ont' fire.

Sit back and relax. You'll obviously need to keep feeding your fire but within a few minutes you'll have lovely boiling water.

Hard to see but the water is boiling here.

If you're going for the full dirt-bag approach just empty your favoured powered beverage straight into the bottle and give it a little shake.

Not pretty but enough life left for the mornings brew.

Although not exactly unscathed by the ordeal, your bottle will still hold water and should be capable of a couple more 'burns'.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apidura luggage - first look.

Close your eyes for a second and imagine yourself in Banff, sometime around the second week of June or maybe even mid-Wales in May or October. You'll notice that although there's a multitude of makes and models and every type of bike present, at least 90% of them will have something in common, aside from the anxious looking operator ... 'soft luggage'. The benefits of ditching the rack and panniers have been widely discussed and should be pretty obvious to anyone who's ever ridden anything rougher than the average tow-path. Soft luggage is light, virtually unbreakable, helps retain the bikes natural centre of gravity and doesn't require any mounts ... Still not convinced? Well, maybe Apidura will persuade you.

Overflow luggage elastics on bar and seatpack.

Apidura produce a pretty comprehensive range of luggage, all the usual areas are covered - frame, bars, seat and top tube all have bags designated to them and most are available in a couple of sizes, so it shouldn't matter whether you're a minimalist whippet just carrying the bare bones or a slack-packer needing room for a bag of chips and a 4 cans of Boddingtons.

The 3 bags here have a combined, maximum capacity of 45L ... That might only be the size of the average walkers day sack but in bikepacking terms, that's a lot of room. It's divided like this - seatpack 17.5L, handlebar pack 20L and 7.5L in the handlebar accessory pack.

pre-attached fittings for the accessory pocket.

The seatpack fastens to the bike in the usual manner via the seatpost and saddle rails and has a roll-top closure. The barpack is of the open-ended tube variety, again with a roll-top closure at each end. It feature pre-attached fittings for the accessory pocket so the two mate neatly together ... and importantly, are easy to separate.

All the packs are manufactured in industry standard XV21 but all feature Hypalon in high wear / high abrasion areas, which should hopefully mean less wear and a longer life (not you, just the bags). Depending on model, each bag also features a light mount, overflow luggage elastics or both.

Just how much room do you need?

The bags here have already been on their maiden voyage through the Welsh hills and so far are holding up well and working as anticipated ... expect a full review in the next couple of weeks.

In case you're wondering ... the latin word for “bee" is Apidae and something built to last is durable, so APIDURA.

Monday, September 1, 2014

AlpKit Rig 3.5 - a dummies guide.

Despite my best efforts over the last few years not everyone 'gets' tarps. For some people tarps seem to present the great outdoors with the ideal opportunity to make the hours of darkness wet, cold, windy and completely miserable ... sound familiar?

Trying to sleep under a tarp that's flapping like a duck taking off or is only a stiff breeze away from depositing half a gallon of water over you and your expensive sleeping bag isn't much fun. The chances are that by dawn you'll already have vowed never again and resigned yourself to a life of tents. However, this sorry state of affairs isn't the fault of the much beleaguered tarp - it's yours!

In a last-ditch attempt to try and convert the non-believers, I've teamed up with the AlpKit Rig 3.5 to hopefully show you just how simple it can be ... we really can't make it any easier!

The Rig 3.5 is a great solo tarp. At 2.4m x 1.4m it's just big enough to use all year round. It packs to virtually nothing and only weighs 270g, so it won't weigh you down or slow you up. In common with it's bigger siblings the 3.5's real trump card are the mid-panel tie-out points, in this case there's 4 which is generally 3 more than you'd find on any other similarly sized tarp ... the diagram below shows where all the tie-out points are.

The 3 set-ups here, all use a pair of poles that measure 110cm and 70cm, 6 x 1m and 2 x 2m guy lines and 8 'decent' pegs ... total weight is 550g. The line attachment schematics show the position of the guy lines required for each set-up, the green lines indicate the position of the 2m guy lines and the black lines show the locations of the 1m lines. The 'extra' mid-point tie-outs in the diagrams can be used as and when conditions call for it, they can be pegged straight to the ground or tied off to your bike / stick or whatever to provide more space.

This is what we're starting with.

When most people think tarp, they think 'A' Frame. It offers plenty of protection from the elements but usually at the expense of headroom. Pitch the lowest end towards the wind for the best protection / most stable pitch.

Moving the main pole nearer to the tarp will raise the shelter.

Aim for an even tension and as few creases as possible.

The Half Pyramid is quick to pitch and offers the most room. The open front isn't great in windy, wet conditions so consider pitching it facing walls, trees, etc. It's very stable and will withstand pretty much anything.

Pitch the opening towards natural shelter.

Surprising amount of space and very storm-worthy.

If things get really wild, then the addition of a dropped tail to the 'A' Frame makes it much more storm resistant but with a reduction in space. Move the main pole away from the tarp to lower the front of the shelter.

If things get 'blowy".
The Rig 3.5 is available directly from AlpKit and if you'd like some poles to accompany your tarp, you can find them HERE.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Stooge - So let's take a ride and see what's mine.

I spent 4 consecutive days trying out the Stooge, I wanted to get to know it a little before I put finger to keyboard ... this is what I discovered.

A last look over the edge, release the brakes, push down on the pedal and off we go ... although this was the very first time we'd joined forces with any degree of commitment, nothing untoward happened. The first right hander was taken at the usual pace but the rear end 'shimmy' that generally accompanies such cavalier endeavours didn't materialise. Click, click and push on the pedals, the track straightens and levels slightly reducing the effects of gravity, speed costs and you have to pay with a bit of effort. The first of the wide, wheel swallowing ruts appears and with it the first real surprise ... lift the front wheel and it feels like someone or something else is doing it all for you, it's not just easy, it's really easy. If you can't manual either buy a BMX or a Stooge!

Riding the BB200? Commit this to memory.

So, my first experience of pointing the Stooge down hill was a positive one, plenty of grip, very stable and an ability to hoist the front end clear of whatever happens to be in your way with minimal effort or fuss. A few more miles of 'getting to know each other' deposited me at the start of an old road. Judging by the ground, nobody or nothing had been along it since the cattle drovers left it for dead sometime around 1892. A combination of rock, mud and gradient conspired to make forward momentum a difficult thing to achieve ... this is where I got my second surprise of the day. On paper the Stooge should be a good technical climber but I wasn't getting it ... what I was getting was very little grip from the rear tyre. I'd already decided that the 760mm wide bars didn't suit me and they'd be changed that night but there was something else and whatever it was felt like it was causing the rear end to break free of the ground at the slightest provocation while climbing. The rear wheel was wearing a 2.2 Conti' X King rather than my usual Race Kings so I was fairly confident that there was enough tyre but something was certainly amiss.

Later that night I stood in the workshop staring at the bike. The silly wide bars had already been relegated to the floor and a pair of chopped Fleegles sat in their place, that would make the position better (for me) but it wouldn't account for the lack of grip on technical climbs. Halfway through my second brew I had an idea, I reached for a 6mm allen key and spun the bottom bracket eccentric. The frame had arrived with the eccentric set as far back as it would go, I now dropped it as low as it would go.

On our way back from the trail centre test.

The narrower bars were an instant improvement and made the bike feel more balanced without any loss of control in the going down department. What I didn't yet know was whether changing the eccentric would help with climbing but I knew where to go to find out. Anyone who's ridden across the mountain plateau from Nant -Yr- Arian to the mountain road and Machynlleth will have come across a small dam, below the dam is a ford and next to the ford is a 30%, rutted gravel climb. It's not a long climb but it's technically very hard and I'd decided that if we could make it to the top, then any issues from the previous day were cured.

The Trail Centre Test.

Is that a Jones mate?
Yeah, all Jones frames are branded as Stooge now.
Oh, right.

With the trail centre test concluded, I finished my flapjack, necked my brew and headed back home. The previous day combined with the mornings 30 miles were starting to give me a real feel for the bike. I'd very quickly stopped thinking about descending and just let the bike do its own thing, the careful line-choice usually required when riding rigid feels like overkill on the Stooge. 

I'd already started to get an inkling that the bikes climbing prowess may have been restored to anticipated levels but I couldn't be fully sure until I reached the dam. Carry a bit of speed through the ford, pop the front wheel up onto the other side, allow the gradient to slow you just enough - then PEDAL!

25 seconds later we crested the top, the Stooges honour well and truly intact and my lungs trying to exit my body through my ears.

Whether altering the position of the eccentric really made the difference or whether it was just a placebo almost doesn't matter ... the important thing was that I now knew it could climb as well as any other rigid 29er I've ever ridden and descend better than all of them.

Steel + rigid never goes out of style.

Although the forecast was predicting rain measured in feet rather than inches, my enthusiasm for a third day hooning round the countryside remained undiminished. I was pretty happy with my set-up and aside from a quick shuffle of headset spacers I hadn't changed anything except the bars. All I wanted to do now was share some miles with the bike and get 100% used to it.

A few hours later I sat looking out of the cafe window, slurry dripped off every inch of the bike and I smiled ... it was a sneaky inward smile but still a smile. I felt like I was riding something special, not special because it cost lots of money (it didn't, it owes me well under a grand) but special in a 'I've discovered something brilliant' kind of way. Each time I looked up from my plate, the bike winked at me and said "come on, we've got places to go" ... I couldn't wait to get out of the cafe and back into the 'summery' weather.

The colour of fun!

Another day, another ride ... the previous days weather had turned into today's weather but I didn't give a toss! ... which I think says more about the bike than any stats or figures ever could.

I'm not going to pretend that 4 days is long enough to truly get to grips with a new bike but I do think it's long enough to get a pretty good idea. 

If you're looking for a suspension substitute then stop it - it doesn't exist ... the Stooge is a rigid bike and it rides brilliantly but it's still rigid. If you can accept that, then regardless of whether you're an old hand or new to the world of non-bounce you won't be disappointed. The seasoned rigid rider will feel like they've just discovered Colonial Sanders secret recipe and the newbie will probably wonder why they ever bothered with suspension in the first place.

A bike, a tree and a valley.

Oh and I should just point out that the build quality is top notch, neat consistent welds and paint that won't flake off at the first sign of water ... I'm told the frames are manufactured in the same factory as a certain US company who's products are well regarded and widely used within the bikepacking world.

Frame and Forks cost £450 and are available directly from Stooge or through Keep Pedalling and CTBM all of whom have Demos available. If you're anywhere near Bear Bones Towers then you're more than welcome to have a play on mine but I'll want it back.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Stooge ... An introduction.

Designing a rigid bike can't be hard, can it? Bicycles are pretty simple things, once you strip away the whistles and bells, it's just 2 triangles welded together with a wheel at each end and all the marketing and hype in the world can't change that.

The reality is that designing a rigid bike is a pretty tough task because there's nothing to mask any imperfections, the bike has to stand (or fall) on its own merits ... in other words, there's nothing to hide behind.

Fresh from the workshop.

The Stooge was conceived as 'a bike', not a 'this' bike or a 'that' bike, it doesn't wear a badge or have a label stuck on it. It's a bike designed to expand your horizons not limit them, it could and should be ridden anywhere and everywhere. The fact it's rigid was never meant to define its role or limit its uses ... so although it might look a bit 'niche' it wasn't ever meant to fit into one.

An air of 60's muscle car?

The first time I saw a picture I was intrigued, it ticked all the boxes - Steel, rigid, 29" wheels, singlespeed(able) and a little quirky looking - everything I like in a bike. I invited it and its owner along to the WRT so they could introduce themselves to the great unwashed. Along with numerous other people I had a tootle around the field, jumped up and down on it and squeezed the tyres ... a week or so later I ordered one.

So glad it didn't fall over.

One model, one size ... the Stooge is available in one size, it's a slightly unusual concept (although not unique) but it's one that works. Alter the stem length and seatpost layback and the frame morphs from little to large with no apparent compromises. 

Geometry is what sets one frame apart from another and the figures for the Stooge are a bit different. Some people have drawn comparisons between it and a certain other frame, a frame that's held in very high regard by all those in possession of one ... so I'm hoping any similarity is likely to prove a positive thing.

Double top tube and massive stand-over.

The bike pictured is what became of my frame and forks after a few hours workshop time. There's nothing exotic or expensive on there, the frame and fork went together mainly with 'parts bin' components and a sprinkling of new stuff like headset and bottom bracket ... which I'm glad to say are good old 1 1/8" external and 68mm BSA housed in an eccentric.

I hold my hands up ... At the time of taking the pictures I'd not ridden it more than 200 yards. I could have written something based on those 200 yards but that wouldn't be right, it would be unfair to the bike and unfair to any interested parties reading this. Instead I rode the bike for 4 consecutive days, up, down, over and around every type of terrain. It accompanied me on everything from mountainside death marches to twisty singletrack ... we even visited a trail centre! You'll be able to find out how we got on in the next couple of days ... stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here you go

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bridge Street Saddlebag - First Look.

Sometimes it's not all about rocky descents and twisty singletrack, sometimes things smooth out and speed up. Maybe your tyres will be narrow and lightly treaded ... heaven forbid they might even be slick!

When off-road gives way to gravel or tarmac, there's a chance your luggage requirements might also change ... if they do then the Bridge Street Saddlebag could be just the thing.

15L mounted with the 'High' bracket.

The saddlebags are available in 3 different sizes ranging from 4 to 15 litres, 5 different colours and 2 different mounts, so there really should be one to suit whatever you're doing.

The bag doesn't touch anything, so nothing to rub.

Regardless of size, all the bags feature quick release fittings so they can be removed in a couple of seconds and put back on just as quickly - handy for the B&B, pub or cafe stops.

15L never looked so big before.

I've been using the 15L version for the last month or so and it's proving ideal for those less adventurous outings ... a full review is in the pipeline but in the meantime you can find out more at Bridge Street Designs.