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.

The Wildcat Lioness - Free your pockets.

If you're anything like me then you'll find that when it comes to packing, the big stuff's easy.
Sleeping bag and mat in one place, bivvy bag and tarp in another. Food and cooking kit somewhere else. A place for everything and everything in its place ... well, that's how it works in my head.

The reality is sometimes a little different though and 10 minutes before I set off I can be found stuffing my pockets with all those bits and bobs that don't (in my packing scheme at least) have a specific, defined home. While bulging jersey pockets are considered de-rigueur on the road, they can be come a pain when you're trying to get your mud encrusted waterproof over the top of them or find that last piece of fluffy flapjack from deep within their depths.

If you are anything like me, then help is at hand in the curvy form of the Wildcat Gear Lioness.

Nowhere near as complicated as it first looks.

The Lioness is designed to work in conjunction with their Mountain Lion front harness and is shaped to fit around the dry bag rather than just sit on top of it, which not only makes the Lioness very secure but also adds to the aesthetics.

At first look you could be forgiven for thinking the Lioness will be hard to fit, various buckles and straps give off an air of complexity but actually the opposite is true. A quick glance at the diagrams contained within the instructions is all that's required ... the instructions are very, very good and should be easily understood even by the terminally hard of thinking.

Now I know why woman like buying handbags.

With the Lioness in place you can now fill it with all the junk that would otherwise be cluttering your pockets. In my case that usually consists of various items from the following list - camera, money, water filter, gps, flapjack, knife, ipod, tube, windproof, chocolate, lighter, stove, chicken breasts, tools, batteries, pump and bacon butties ... there may be other things I've forgotten and no doubt, another list of things I've yet to try.

Yellow lining aids finding your stuff.


The inner is surprisingly spacious and has two 'mesh pockets' to aid keeping things where you put them. The main opening is nice and big and is controlled by a quality double ended waterproof zip. I've found it's possible to access the contents while riding as long as I'm not doing anything too taxing at the time.
The clever fixing arrangement means that even when stuffed, the Lioness remains very stable and doesn't rotate around the dry bag in the main harness, no matter how rough the going gets.


The quality of manufacture is to the same high standard as everything else that has a Wildcat label sewn onto it, so you won't have to worry about it falling apart in the middle of nowhere ... something which shouldn't be overlooked or dismissed.


Ready for the next adventure.

If you already use a Wildcat Mountain Lion then I can't think of any good reason not to buy yourself a Lioness. If you don't already use a Mountain Lion, then I suggest you treat yourself to both ... and free your pockets!

Available directly from Wildcat Gear 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cumulus Quilt 150 - Tried and Tested.

Staying warm through the night while trying to carry the absolute minimum will always involve a little bit of compromise. Obviously there's nothing lighter than the stuff you leave behind but anyone can be cold and miserable, can't they? ... striking a balance isn't always easy. I've long been a believer in the virtues of quilts as a way of lightening the load while maintaining a level of comfort through the night. 

Earlier this year, well respected Polish sleeping bag manufacturer Cumulus launched a range of 4 down quilts. Each one is imaginatively named after the amount of down contained within its shell ... a quilt for each season maybe?

The lightest of the family is the 150, that's right just 150g of the highest quality 850+fp 96/4 Polish down to keep you warm and snugly. Due to the nature of quilts they're not generally tested for temperature rating, you have to rely on the manufactures 'best guess' and your own experience. I think Cumulus have been very sensible with their ratings and have given the 150 a rating of 9 degrees C comfort and 3 degrees C minimum comfort level, which for the UK really means Summer and maybe late Spring and early Autumn if the the weather Gods are smiling on us.

A simple loft conversion.

The shell of the 150 is made from Pertex Quantum which at 27g a sq/m is about as light a shell as you're going to get. Like all quilts, the 150 has no bottom but unlike some, it does feature a fully sewn-in foot box that extends to around knee level which not only keeps your feet warm but also helps keep the quilt where you put it.

Simple clip for securing the neck end.

At the neck end, there's a flat clip and shockcord that can be fastened / pulled tight to help keep the heat in and any draughts out. Three sets of loops and shockcord on the underside let you adjust the girth of the quilt above the foot box and also allows you to attach it to your sleeping mat if that's your thing ... but that's something I never do. 

Having used plenty of 'summer' bags with similar amounts of down in the past, I was expecting something akin to a slightly chubby sheet with very little loft. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the 150g of insulation puffs up the shell nicely and produces something like 2.5" of loft on the sides (double thickness) and 1.5" across the top. The down is held in place by H baffles, they're simple but effective and very unusual on such a light 'bag' where much less efficient sewn-through construction is usually employed as a way of keeping cost and weight down.

Shockcord and locks for when it gets chilly.

Packing the Quilt 150 for the first time is quite a revelation ... the packsize is tiny. It does come with a stuff sack (and storage sack too) but my usual method is to stuff sleeping bags straight into a dry bag along with my sleeping mat, down jacket, etc. Normally I'd use a 13L dry bag to contain this 'sleeping' gear but when I use the 150 I can happily get away with an 8L bag and still have a little spare room in there. Besides a minuscule packsize the lack of weight is also very welcome. Cumulus quote a weight of 372g excluding stuff sack, the Bear Bones scales of truth recorded 380g including stuff sack and all three elastic cords ... woohoo - but does it actually keep you warm?

Sewn-in foot box finishes around the knee.

I've spent about half a dozen nights curled up under the 150 so far. Conditions have ranged from 'still wandering about at 11pm in just a base layer' to 'I think that's the last of summer and I'm putting my jacket on' and so far I've yet to be cold. There's been the odd occasion when I've woken and a part of me has felt a little cool but generally that's because I've put my hand / arm out from under it. I think as conditions start to become colder the 150 will still be usable but I'll need to be a bit more precise with how and what I do. Firstly, I'll need to properly close the bottom of the quilt to minimise any dead air space and seal out any draughts. Using the neck fastenings will also make quite a difference, helping to prevent any convective heat loss and lastly adding a hat or even a balaclava to the mix should keep things comfortable well into low single figures.

The only negative I can found at present is the size, the quilt measures 175cm long x 75cm at the shoulders and 44cm at the foot, so if you're much larger than the average you might find it a bit too snug. My own opinion is that an extra 10cm on the length and another 10 across the shoulders would be a worthwhile addition without adding much to the weight ... at 5'7" this is of no concern to me but I thought I'd best mention it ;o)

If you want one then you'll need to search the net for a European supplier as the quilts aren't available in the UK ... however there's plenty of out there in France and Germany.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bear Bones jerseys - order yours now.

After a few design tweeks the new Bear Bones Bikepacking jerseys are now available to pre-order ... but only until August 6th, so you need to be quick!

The jersey features a full length concealed zip, 3 rear pockets and the option of having your name, etc on the back. Available in sizes XS - 5XL and yours for just £39 delivered.

For full details and ordering click HERE




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.

Pegs.

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.

Lines.

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.
Poles.

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