All 39 entries tagged Cycling

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April 23, 2005

New Toy

I've been pondering for a while whether I could justify another mountain bike; specifically, something a bit burlier than my sylph-like hardtail (now down to somewhere below the 25lb mark, which is pretty bloody light considering it's a got a cheap frame and 2.1" tyres). And finally, I found the offer I couldn't refuse: £300 off an 05 Kona Coiler Dee-lux

And now, having trekked down to Cardiff and back to collect it; first impressions: Unfortunately, having spanged my finger in a crash on thursday evening I haven't yet been able to take it for a 'proper' test ride (I was planning to stop at Cwm Carn on the way back from Cardiff). But it passes the back-garden test with flying colours. The Marzocchi 66 forks are amazingly plush – probably because they've got about twice as much travel as my XC Paces. The bike is a long way off being light, but it pedals surpisingly well - the ProPedal rear shock is very effective. It makes light work of the 'down the garden steps' test, and it looks super-pimp. I can't wait until my hand is better again and I can go and find something steep to chuck it down.

I need to get better home insurance, too…


April 22, 2005

A years worth of biking

Looking back through my archives, I seem it's just over a year since I bought my mountain bike . In that year, it's had a surprising amount of use:

Stanton (Fell off, hurt self)
Bredon Hill (Fast, rocky)
Forrest of Dean / Symonds Yat (Short, hard work)
Glentress Black (Big drops, broke forks), Red and Blue
– Innerleithen Red (Scary)
Cairngorms circuit ('Out there')
– Quninish (scenic)
– Loch Frisa (Saw sea eagles on nest)
Afan Skyline (scenic, long)
Marin Rough Ride (Unreasonably good singletrack, long)
– Whytes Level / Penrydd (Rocky, fast)
– Cannock chase (Familiar)
– Various rides round Leamington/Stratford (muddy)
Long Mynd (Hilly, mad descents)
– Malvern Hills (Steep, excessive climbing)
Sherwood Pines (Play area)
– Pentland hills (propery mountain feel)
Edale (Rocks; made me want a full-suss)
Goyt Valley (Hard the first time, easier when I returned)
Macc. Forest / Cat & Fiddle (big climbs, fast descents)
Kentmere / Garburn pass ( long, rocky)
N. Yorks moors (Long, scenic, rocky, sunny)
Embsay (Steep, fast)
Hopwas woods (Tamworth – steep, muddy, fun)

Not a bad haul for 12 months riding. In that time, I've replaced or upgraded:

– Brakes; crap-o shimano cable discs->Hayes HFX 9 (Brill)

– Tyres; Tioga factory XC 1.9 (cack)->Panaracer Fire XC 2.1 (brill in the dry) ->Panaracer Trailraker (better in the mud)

– Wheels; x117 on sub-deore hubs -> 717 on XT (The old hubs died due to crappy seals)

– Forks; Marzocchi EXR 80mm->Pace RC36 100mm (The old forks lost air, were heavy, and had crap damping, the new ones are great except for somewhat ineffective mud-seals)

– Cassette; Deore->XT (old one wore out)

– Chain; shimano cheapie ->SRAM cheapie (on it's 3rd or 4th by now; SRAM are much easier to clean)

– Pedals; shimano M525->Crank Bros. Eggbeaters (My one concession to bike-tarting)

– Front Mech; Deore->XT (old one went wonky)

– Shifters; Deore->XT (old one blew up)


April 21, 2005

Long Mynd bike ride

Finally, the evenings are long enough for post-work mountain bike rides again! To kick the season off, Patrick and I headed for Shropshire to take a look round the Long Mynd. A rather slow start due to the M42/M6 junction being shut meant we didn't arrive in Church Stretton until 6:30, but it was a beautiful clear evening so we weren't too worried about running out of time. We set off round this route, only in reverse since the Minton Batch descent was recommended to me. A sharp initial climb up a wet and rocky bridleway led onto a superb bit of doubletrack up onto the top of the Mynd – about 1/2 an hour's energetic spinning, with Patrick setting a solid pace. Over the top of Pole Bank, and a decent down a track that started out fairly smooth and fast, then rapidly became quite rough and wet,as we dropped down to Medlicott.

A testing singletrack climb bought us back onto the top of the hill again, right outside a Gliding club's airstrip. We stopped for a few minutes to watch the gliders coming in, then set off down Minton Batch. This is a manic singletrack descent, following a steep-sided valley. The track frequently has streamlets going down it, making it rather slippy in places, and in other places has steep drops down on the right into the stream below. One particularly pleasing corner been had eroded away by the stream, requiring a kind of wall-ride manouver to get round without falling in. There were a number of small rock drops too to liven things up.

Alas, near the bottom it all started to go a bit too well, and I lost the back end on a steep off-camber corner. What would have been an amusing tumble was made slightly annoying by me landing on my little finger and bending it back far beyond it's normal range. Mercifully it seems to be bruised rather than disolocated or broken.

The bottom of Minton Batch was the end of the off-road portion of the ride – all that remained was 15 minutes spin back along the road to the car. We were back just before 8:30, having got round the route in a smidgeon under 2 hours. Not bad going, considering we got slightly lost at a couple of points.

The route would definitely be worth coming back to do the other way round, and it seems that we've only just scratched the surface of what's available in the area. Definitely one to come back to. The chippie is very good, too.


February 23, 2005

Better ways to spend your tuesdays

Writing about web page http://mbwales.com/afan_forest

So, whilst everyone else was hard at work on tuesday, I had a better idea…

Faced with the closure of South Wales's mines, and the consequent need to discover alternative sources of income wherever they might be found, the ingenious folk of Glyncorrwg came up with a belter: Convert your largely useless, dull, and boring steep forrested hillsides into the best mountain-bike trails to be had south of Scotland and north of Chamonix. Then make a living flogging flapjack, chainrings, and back issues of singletrack to bikers. Thus was born Afan Argoed. Not much of a tradeoff in return for an entire industrial heritage, I grant you, but it's better than nothing…

So it was that 8am on tuesday morning saw me heading south. Quite a long way south, as it turned out – about 150 miles or so. 3 hours later I was unloading the bike by the side of an unpromising looking bit of waste ground which may at some stage have been a mine, or a quarry, so something industrial. It was cold, with a little bit of snow in the air, but also some hints of blue sky, so off I went.

The first things that strikes you about the trails at Afan are the gates. Being so close to a major population center, they have big problems with motocross riders ripping up the singletrack, so every bit of built track is protected by a fence with a gap just wide enough to squeeze a bike through on end. It's a bit of a pain to be honest, but a necessary evil I guess.

The second thing to strike you is how thoughtful the design is. The trail starts at the bottom of a huge steep hill, but rather than just take the Coed-y-Brenin approach of routing you up a soul-destroying fire road, they've built a long, twisty singletrack that zigzags up the hill for something over 6K, often steep enough to get you working hard, but interspersed with little challenges to keep you on your toes, and the odd short 'reward' section of downhill. A great way to gain height.

40 minutes or so of climbing saw me 'top out' and get the first of the days views. A bit of fire-road followed, then a snowy singletrack descent, then more fireroad, more singletrack, then [repeat for approx another 3 hours]. Skyline is a big route [46KM], but what's remarkable about it is the length of top-quality trail. It took me 4 hours to get round, and well over half of that was on tight, twisty singletrack though woods, moorland, and the occasional rock garden. The trails were also amazingly dry, with just the odd dusting of snow here and there

Compared with the Black+Red combo at Glentress (about the same length) there seemed to be more technical trail, though what was noticeably absent was the big, bermed descents and big but relatively safe (i.e. you're not landing on rocks) drops that make GT sporting,

The views as you come round to the north of the hill are superb, looking out over a big drop towards the Brecon Beacons. It was quite exposed high up, and I was glad of a fairly warm jacket – the mud on the bike was frozen solid, and even my camelbak froze at one point.

Then just when you think you're getting the hang of these trails, you hit the final descent. It's noticeably different to the preceding singletrack. The entry point is a good indicator of what's to come, with a set of 4 big stone steps spaced exactly a wheelbase apart. Then it's a seemingly never-ending set of drop, ramp, corner, drop, ramp, jump, corner, drop, ramp, drop, corner… The closest comparison I could make would be the downhill course at Cannock, only 4 times as long and with rocks. Despite a few anxious nose-wheelie moments higher up, I found my confidence rising with each drop cleared, and I hit the last set at a fairly good speed – big air time. I endo-ed into the final gate unable to wipe the smile off my face – although I paid for it later with a severe case of 'hardtail backache'.

And best of all, that's only a quarter of the built trails explored, and there's apparently a whole load of natural trails too. I'll be back…

pics on flickr


I am not mad.

Why O Why O Why…

…is it that every time the weather is anything other than summery, when I get in on my bike people say 'Ooh you must be mad, coming in on that thing in this weather'?

Well, why might that be, then?

It's cold/wet: Cobblers. I have a set of waterproofs that are, and a set of thermals that work. You probably got colder clearing the snow off your windscreen than I did riding in.
It's icy/slippy: More cobblers. The roads have all been gritted, the temperature is about 2 degrees so there's no ice. Skinny bike tyres cut quite well through slush and snow anyway.
It's hard work: More cobblers.(I could open a shoe factory). It's hard work riding in for the first month. Then it's easy. This applies for any length of commute between 5 and 20 miles each way, IME. and you can eat chocolate and cake when you get to work and still have a flat tummy, if that's your thing.

Besides which, riding in is fun. If it wasn't, I'd come in in the car instead of leaving it at home. On my bike I get to see all sorts of stuff that I'd miss from the car. This morning's haul included

– 2 Muntjack deer in a field outside Offchurch

– 6 blackbirds in the hedge between Cubbington and Stoneleigh, all puffed up to the size of a pigeon and all singing away

– a buzzard over Wappenbury woods, beeing harrassed by 2 crows

– The sun reflecting off the snowy fields opposite Stoneleigh golf club.

I might have spotted the buzzard briefly from the car in a neck-craning sort of way, but I would have missed the rest. Which would have been a shame. And there's something about spinning down the long exposed bit of road outside Cubbington with only the tyres hissing and the chain chattering that just feels better than sitting in the car flipping between CDs you've heard before and annoying interviews on radio 4. Why wouldn't I want to ride to work? Why doesn't everyone?


January 30, 2005

New toys: Panaracer trailraker

A short product review:

Panaracer trailraker 2.1" tyres . Stick to Cannock Chase like sh!t to a blanket. Don't clog. Light. Instant skill-boost in wet/muddy conditions.

Downsides? Well, not much really. They're not terribly cheap at £50 a pair, although I defy anyone to find another upgrade for that price that makes such a big difference. And they seem a bit more 'bouncy' than my old Fire XCs – a couple of times when popping over logs and little rocks the back end kicked up under me unexpectedly. Could just be that I've got them pumped up a bit hard though.
And you find your legs getting more tired because you can ride up things that previously you would have pushed up :-) Nevertheless, I'm giving them


January 03, 2005

Edale bike–ride

It's been a while since I went for a ride in the peak district, so I thought it was about time for another one. A quick ring round my usual riding buddies found only one of them available, and so it was that Kev and I met up at the car park below Mam Tor in the dark peak.

A spin up the road, and a muddy push up onto the ridge got us onto the track over Rushup edge, which we followed through some fairly swampy peat, before joining up with the old road.

This made for a technical decent, with sets of moderately big drop-offs to negotiate, and a stream running down the middle of the path to keep everything slippery.

From there we continued down to Roych Clough – more super-steep rocky stuff, followed by a lung-bursting climb out of the clough onto the edge of Famine Hill.

A rather un-controlled descent down wet grass and mud brought us to Coldwell Clough, then another punishing climb up to edale cross.

From here we descended Jacobs Ladder, a fairly-well renowned peak district biking testpiece. I have to admit that the top section got the better of me; I didn't fancy trusting my tyres on the wet rock, and walked the steepest section of the descent. One to come back to on a drier day (or when I've got a bit more skill) I suppose. The bottom section was rather loose and muddy, but rideable with care.

We spun along the road from Barber Booth towards Hope for a couple of miles, then took the bridleway that leads up to Hope Cross (via a very entertaining descent with drainage bars to jump), before climbing up to the old roman road that leads down to Hope. This is pretty badly chewed up by illegal motocross biking, but still entertaining in places, despite the big puddles.

From Hope we headed into Castleton on the road, then took a minor road and bridleway on to the side of Mam Tor. We were hoping to get a decent ride along the ridge, but by this time the wind was blowing a gale and it was all we could do to push the bikes up the the top. We rode back down, weaving through the day trippers, then dropped back down to the car park on the road. Providently, a mobile burger van pulled up just as we arrived, so I was able to fortify myself with a pound or so of saturated fat in a bun, ready for the long drive south again. A great day out.

Pics on flickr


December 26, 2004

Festive bike–ride

Thanks Santa!

Egg beater clipless pedals - a fastastic bit of technology, and with the added benefit of packaging that would put Apple to shame :-)

Just what you need in this weather – had a couple of hours today out on Bredon Hill enjoying some unexpected snow. The ice spoiled the fast decents somewhat, as I was reduced to trackstanding at the top of each steep section to try and work out if there was going to be any space to brake, but the novelty factor of ploughing though (admittedly not very much) powder and trying out speedway-style turns made up for it. And the pedals never once clogged or froze, despite gallons of sub-zero mud. Much fun, although it hasn't done my cold any good.


December 06, 2004

Kentmere bike ride

There was a spate of postings a couple of weeks back from people who had been up to the Lakes with one or other of the outdoors-y societies (hillwalking / climbing / etc), and seeing the photos inspired me to plan a short trip away for the weekend. This time of year is really quite good in the lakes – the swarms of tourists have gone, the trees and the bracken are looking nice and scenic, and the weather is, well, no worse than usual. Plus, at this time of year you can book accommodation and reasonably short notice, whereas in the summer you need to book 6 months in advance to get anywhere decent.

Mostly we did the sort of things that 3-year-olds like to do – boat trip down windermere, visit to the aquarium, trip round the Peter Rabbit exhibition, play on the arial walkways at Brockhole, etc. But seeing as we were staying slap-bang in the middle of the best mountain biking area in the lakes, it seemed rude not to get at least one ride in.

The start was inauspicious. I bought a new pair of bike shoes the day before, then managed to strip the threads on them trying to fit the studs with an inappropriate screwdriver. So, back on with the commuting shoes, and the new shoes were packaged up to be taken back to the bike-shop to undo my work.
I set off from Park House in Stavely, for a long muddy grind onto the moor towards Long Sleddale . Once I was up above the intake, the track became much better drained, and gave a couple of miles of top-class singletrack before dropping steeply. Here I met my second upset of the day – decending at speed, the chain somehow managed to twist a loop into iteself, so that when I took a pedal stroke there was a creak and the cranks locked up; on inspection 2 links of the chain were irrepairably bent. I took the links out, re-joined the chain (making a mental note to avoid big-chainring / big sproket combinations) and continued.

After a couple of miles spinning up the road to Sadgill , I turned off again to follow the green lane up and over towards kentmere. This turned out to be mostly a carry, as the track was almost unrideably steep and composed mostly of loose pebbles and breeze-block sized rocks. However, the decent back down into kentmere was a blast, alternating rutted grassy tracks with the occasional rocky step.

From Kentmere, I headed up the Garburn pass . I managed to ride most of the bottom half, but the top section is being resurfaced and is currently composed of loose mud and gravel. Attempting to ride it just sprayed mud from the back wheel, so I shouldered the bike and walked up.

The decent from the top of Garburn to Dubbs Resevoir is something else entirely. It starts off steep and tooth-rattlingly technical, the track surface being mostly loose head-sized rocks with some big steep sections (they'd be drop-offs if taken at a decent speed). Steering on this stuff was asking for trouble, so I just tried to keep my weight back, let the forks do the work, and steer off the sides of the track when the need arose.
After half a mile or so, the surface gets smoother and the pace faster. The steep sections could now be jumped without fear of a messy injury, so I kept my speed up all the way back down. The track goes on and on seemingly forever, paying back all the effort I put into the climb on the other side.

Eventually, I came out on the road again, and freewheeled down to Mislet . Another muddy ascent (rideable this time) took me up onto Mickle Moss, where a rolling doubletrack route led along the fellside until a brakes-off-full-speed descent on a rocky landrover track took me back down to kentmere. By this time I had the best part of 25 hilly miles behind me, and so I went for the easy option, spinning back down the road into Stavely before gritting my teeth and grinding back up the road to park head. I arrived back at the cottage pretty-much exhausted, having seriously underestimated the number of calories required to ride in the lakes. Another good ride, and definitely one to come back to. Possibly the first time when I've really felt that a full-sussser would be an advantage, too – I'd gladly trade in the extra few pounds of weight for a smoother ride down some of those descents.


November 16, 2004

Jaguar Bike: Stick to what you're good at

Writing about web page http://neil-franklin.fotopic.net/c342533_1.html

Jaguar S-type branded MTB : The ugliest bike in the world, ever ?

( Can't help but suspect that Jaguar Cars haven't actually had very much input into the design process here. In fact, I suspect that they aren't even aware of it's existence. )


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