Paris-Brest-Paris 2015

23 03 2015

Time to breath life back into the old blog! That can only mean one thing, well two actually. Firstly, that I’m planning a big ride, the journey of which is possibly worthy writing about and secondly, that the kids have backed off a little and cut Rach and I a bit of slack.

pbpposter

So the ride I’m planning is the Paris-Brest-Paris. A long distant cycling event that goes from Paris to well….Brest, and then back to Paris. Some 1400km (870 miles), to be ridden within 90 hours. Organised every four years, the first event being held in 1891, making it one of the oldest cycling events. To be honest, I’m not riding it for the route, by accounts its a little mundane. But what it lacks in topography it makes up for in atmosphere and heritage. It’s a ride to be completed at least once by any half serious long distance cyclist, of which I’m trying to be.

pbp03-route

And I’m not alone, with several thousand other cyclists from across the world heading to Paris in August this year. It’s sure to be fun. But as with all these long events, its the journey to the start line where the adventure really lies. The consistency in training, the miles back and forth over Wales, the early starts, the Tuesday night hilly rides and catching up with cycling friends seen only once or twice a year. Good times.

Advertisements




Goodbye trusty steed: The Roadrat’s obituary

22 07 2013

I go through an odd set of emotions when I decide to sell a bike, or frame. Unlike many of my cycling peers, I never had a great stable of bikes at anyone time, and haven’t actually owned that many bikes. The process of picking a frame and it’s components is usually long and drawn out. How am I going to use the bike? What components to get? How much will it cost? How am I going to fund this project? As a result, I tend to keep bikes for a good few years and have many adventures on them. This builds a set of emotions and feelings for the bike. I become attached to them. So when the day arrives that I finally decide it’s time to move on, it’s not a decision taken lightly and involves a fair bit of pain. It’s like loosing a dear friend. So when on Saturday I decided to place my Cotic Roadrat frame on a well-known internet action site, only to have it bought within an hour, I thought it fit to write an Obituary of sorts to remember the adventures we’ve had together.

Cotic Headbadge

During 2007 I had been thinking about putting together a bike for a mixture of uses. It would be asked to do long distance road rides, touring and some light off-road use. It would need to take skinny slick and knobbly tires, have the option of either cantilever or disc brakes, be well-built and be a little bit different. I had looked at the Surly Crosscheck, the Soma Doublecross but I’d also spotted the Cotic Roadrat and the frame fitted the bill. But there was no way I could justify the cost of such a bike at that time to be honest. However, Rach and I were getting married May 2008, and for our honeymoon we’d decided to go for a two month bike tour around central Europe and neither of us had suitable bikes for the trip. So we agreed that new bikes would be our wedding gifts to each other.  The Roadrat was born and specked to be hard-wearing. I picked a range of components that crossed the mtb and road world. Hope pro2 hubs, bottom bracket, headset, DT swiss rims and spokes, spooky cantilever brakes, to be upgraded to cable discs after the honeymoon (which never happened). Ultegra 9 speed brifiters, XT rear mech, 105 front, Sram mtb cassette, Race Face cadence compact chainset, with an array of decent finishing kit including On-one midge bars and a Brooks B17 saddle finished it off. It was a sexy built to last bike put together in my lounge.

Building the roadrat

By April 2008 I had a finished bike. What a great feeling. Having a brand new bike with shiny new parts awaiting its first ride of discovery.

IMG_5286

It’s first proper adventure was my stag-do. Yes, I went cycling for my stag-do, and with only one friend, Simon. At the time I only had one friend that would want to cycle the sustains coast-to-coast route over 3 days including the off-road sections. So I strapped on some luggage, fitted knobbly tires and off we went to cycle across the county and drink some beer on the way. What I didn’t know at the time was this ride was to be my very first bikehiking trip, something I love doing now.

Roadrat C2C

Stag security

The trip was a success and the bike performed without fail. The next trip was our Honeymoon. Two months around central Europe. Rach and I covered 1600 miles and crossed Slovenia, Hungry, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic and East Germany. The Roadrat was loaded with bike camping gear and new kit for the trip, and again performed brilliantly.

hungary j on bike

me by Elbe

I still think that was the best two months of my life. Travelling on a bike I loved riding and with my best friend who was now my wife. My two favourite things! But those two months came to an end and we were back home, but the adventures continued. First up early August 2008, I stripped the luggage off, put the knobbly tires back on and rode some cheeky trails on the Worcestershire Way.

Worcester way

Pear Amberley

This was followed by an attempt on the whole 100 miles of the South Downs Way, again with Simon. It had been Simon’s childhood dream to ride the South Downs Way in one go. It was not to happen on this occasion, we made it to about the 80 mile mark before we ran out of light. We would return during May 2009 and finish the distance but this time on mountain bikes.

Roadrat on SDW

It was during these long off-road rides using the flared drop midge bars that I started plotting my next bike. That plotting would ultimately spell the end of the Roadrat but more on that later. For now, the Roadrat was being used for another type of adventure, audax. Somewhere during the end of 2008, Phil, a cycling friend at work, asked if I fancied entering the London-Edinburgh-London audax. At 875 miles, I hesitated and then entered. Phil didn’t enter. The ride was at the end of July 2009 so I had about 7 months to train. This was a major undertaking. I’d decided that buying and training on a fixed wheel bike would be a good idea so through the bike to work scheme I picked one up during December 2008. Indeed I rode all my training rides up to 400km on the fixie but the long 600km rides and the LEL itself I would use the Roadrat. It’s odd, but I don’t have any photos from those long rides. I suppose I’d decided that taking a camera would not help me finish any quicker! So during June and July 2009 I put in about 1200 miles on the Roadrat over two very long hard rides. The LEL was a monster but we finished without fault, but having ridden my lighter road specific fixed gear bike all year I was starting too see the flaws in my choice of kit for the Roadrat. It was just a little too heavy, a little too robust and a bit too stiff for fast long distance road rides. What it did excel in, was being fitted with wider tires, a little bit of kit and being taken on multi-surface adventures. And that’s what it’s next trip was all about.

Having been in training to ride long distances and in need of a holiday for 2009, I decided it would be a good idea to spend two weeks riding the 1600 miles from Birmingham to Almeria, Southern Spain to see my cousin. Rach, would have her own adventure and go overland by train and we would spend a week relaxing before flying back. So some more kit was purchased, namely a bivi bag, light weight tarp and ultra light sleeping mat and I headed off early September 2009 to churn out 150 miles a day for about 12 days.

Shadow me

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Broken me

It was an awesome trip! The highlight being two days of Col bagging in the French Pyrenees. The bike was set up as light as I knew how at the time (I’d make big changes to the set up if I did the trip now). I met great people on the way but the daily distances broke me and I suffered from solitude. Again the bike performed wonderfully, if a little heavy, but I was grateful of its build quality when tackling unsurfaced Spanish roads.

2010 rolled in and I was still using the Roadrat in multi-terrian mode to muck about off road. The Roadrat really suited the knobbly tires. I’d used it for the 2009 HONC, and again in 2010, coming close to a win both times.

Roadrat Cannock

But it was the 1000km Mille Cymru that was the main target for 2010. Again most of my training was done on the fixie except for the last month when I went back to the Roadrat in road guise to get used to using gears again.

me mille

I smashed my way round Wales putting in 3 back to back 230 mile days with over 14,000 meters of climbing. It was a hard ride, possibly my best ever to date. I don’t think I’d ever been that fit before or that fit since. By now the Roadrat was starting to get a little tired. Other than new cables and pads, I’d only changed the chain once but hadn’t needed to do any other real maintenance. By the time Spring 2011 came round a number of the components needed some love. The headset, rear hub and bottom bracket bearings had seen better days, I needed new cables, pads, bar tape and tires. All this corresponded with Rach and I saving to buy a house. Money was not flush and the Roadrat hung on the wall waiting to receive some love. I’d also decided to turn my attention to long distance mtb rides, and didn’t have any tours planned. The Roadrat became a bit redundant as my first choice for road rides was always the fixie. Being lighter, having less to maintain and ultimately better suited to ride rides, it was always picked in favour to the Roadrat. Off road rides were done on the mtb as it was always quicker over technical terrain.

Roadrat seat tube

The Roadrat’s final big adventure was made during the summer of 2011 where it went from London to Brussels in 24 hours leading a group of charity cyclists. It was a fun ride, and one that suited my cycling style. Not much happened with the Roadrat after that point. After three solid years of adventures covering 6-7000 miles the Roadrat slowly went out of favour as I turned increasing to my other two bikes.

Through late 2011 and into 2012 the Roadrat was used for little more than the odd snow ride and occasional 3 mile commutes to work. We had our house and Adam had been born so money and attention had been diverted elsewhere and the Roadrat’s list of requirements went unmet.

Roadrat snow

But it was a new frame that marked the end of service. I loved riding the Roatrat off road with knobbly tires and flared drop bars and this set up had long convinced me of the merits of a 29er mtb, maybe even one designed for use with flared drops. I’d had my eye on a Salsa Fargo for a few years but in the end I was given some money and bought a Singular Gryphon frame and forks. The Roadrat was stripped, the components serviced and fitted to the new frame. During August 2012 my long distance 29er, rigid, single speed, flared drop bar, bike packing mtb was born. It’s the logical evolution of all I loved about the Roadrat, namely the off-road adventures, but it’s just a lot more rugged.

Gryphon Fisherfield

And despite all the long distance road rides I had tackled on the Roadrat, it never really excelled in that function. Sacrificing the Roadrat to build the Gryphon confirmed that to me. So from August 2012 until last Saturday the Roadrat has hung in the shed awaiting it’s next adventure. Every time I saw it just hung there, looking a bit sad, it brought back the memories of the adventures we’d tackled together. And that me feel guilty, that it’s destiny was to wait until I decided to bring it back to life with a new set of components and a new function. But deep down I knew that was unlikely to ever happen. The Roadrat deserved more than that. So it was with a sad heart that I decided to sell the frame and therefore open up a new line of adventure for the Roadrat in someone else’s care.

Roadrat frame

Of course, I’m planning a replacement. I have been since 2009. A bike that will follow the long distance road ride spirit of the Roadrat. A perfect stablemate to the Gryphon, with its off-road focus. It will share many of the same core requirements as the Roadrat, such as disc brakes, comfortable, stable to ride, versatility, not shy of some rough road action if required. But this bike will be much lighter, more forgiving and less rugged. It will not be used for loaded touring, the Gryphon can do that, but will be fitted with light weight luggage.  I’ve my eye on a few possibilities from Salsa, Shand and Lynskey. With thousands of miles of long distance solo road rides under my belt I’ve had plenty of time to ponder the build. I know what I want, I know what I don’t want. I know every component to be used, who will build my wheels, what brake pads I will use. This bike will be a keeper. Problem is at this point in time there is no way I can justify the cost. But I’m 40 in the not so distant future and I’ve a few long distance road adventures on my radar, the 2015 Paris-Brest-Paris, the 1001Miglia and the Transontinental Race. So who knows?

Long live the spirit of Roadrat!





Highland Trail 400 – reflections

12 06 2013

fisherfield rainbow

It’s been over 2 weeks since the race ended for me, so it’s time I finally thought about putting some words to paper. However, to be honest I don’t really have the will to write about it. I’d spent a good 6 months thinking about this event. It was to be this years ‘big ride’ before I focus my efforts on running over the next few years. It was the first bike-packing race I’d entered as most others take place in the states and as such are prohibitively expensive for me to ride. But I’ve been thinking about having a go at such a race for 5 years now, ever since I first discovered the Tour Divide. Every long distance ride, every Tuesday night blast with Rich, every bike-packing trip with Simon, every night in my bivi bag with Rach over the last 5 years has been with this in mind. And when it came down to it, I had to pull out before the end because of a snapped spoke on a very kindly lent wheel. Thanks for that wheel Tom. I was GUTTED, and still am if I allow myself to think about it. So instead of writing too much about the Highland trail 400 in this post I thought I’d muse on bike and kit set-up  the choices I made and how it worked out for me.

So this is me and my bike.

IMG_2737

I ride a Singular Gryphon. Yep, it’s single speed has drop bars and no suspension. And it worked really well, except for the snapped spoke that is. Wheels aside (an upgrade to arch ex rims, on hope hubs running tubeless is on the cards), the bike is built around parts poached off my touring/CX bike. Usual kit, decent but not silly expensive. Hope headset, bottom bracket, hubs, all easy to service and proven time and time again. Race face cadence cranks because that’s what I had. 34t steel surly ring, 19t steel surly sprocket, KMC Z610 chain, that are all hard-wearing and look nice when clean. Avid bb7 road disc brakes because, well that’s about the only choice really with the drop bars. Cane creek SCR-5C levers. I like the shorter reach levers and the little lizards on the hoods are cute. Avid full metal jacket brake cables because they work. I was running a 2.2 continental king-x protection on the rear and a 2.35 schwalbe nobby nic on the front. Both had tubes and a little sealant and it performed without fault.

The rest of the kit is a little more, well, odd. Salsa Woodchipper bars, wrapped with salsa bar tape (that I won’t be using again, to stretchy) and over wrapped with black cloth tape. I love these bars, the angle of the flared drops are perfect and are oh so comfortable! There is plenty of space to move my hands back and forth and the width provides plenty of leverage on the climbs and stacks of control. At no point did my hands or wrists ache during the ride despite my lack of suspension. I think running a 2.35 front tire helped. However, I’m thinking of giving Jeff Jones H-bars ago as I’d like to be a little more upright than I currently am but don’t want a massive pile of spacer’s and a silly steep steam.  The HT400 promised to have a lot of hike-a-bike which in Scotland could only mean rocks. I didn’t fancy walking miles in stiff cycling shoes with a nice shiny cleat slipping on the rocks. So I opted to wear my Inov-8 315 trail shoes. I paired them with flat peddles and Power Grips. I’ve been riding on this set-up for 3 months and found it to work well. There’s no real noticeable loss of cycling efficiency, out of the saddle single speed honking is a little odd, but fine really and walking was a pleasure. I had no problem with this set up on the HT400, and unlike some other riders my feet did not hurt. Finally I opted to use my beloved Brooks titanium swift saddle atop a BBB carbon seat spot. The swift usually lives on my fixie for road duties but I know it to be very comfy.

IMG_2756

So on to the bike-packing kit. First up the electronics. I use a Garmin Dakota 20 GPS with open street maps. I like that it uses AA batteries, and the unit has proved itself to be reliable over the last few years. However, if I was buying new now I’d have to consider the Garmin e-trex 20 because of it’s massive battery life. I had an Exposure diablo helmet light and a triple piggyback so I could happily ride into the night. Which didn’t really happen. I also have another small white LED for camping and a flashing red LED for roads both on my helmet. The only other item was the spot tracker.

I used a Revalate Designs sling and large pocket. I see that Eric has updated his designs for both now. The sling holds a Sea to Summit XS compression dry bag into which I place a PHD minius 300 downbag, with full zip and pertex outer, a silk liner and a Montane prism primaloft jacket. This kkeps me warm to about -2 degrees and full zip allows for plenty of warm weather ventilation.  The sling is used to carry food and Elete electrolytes. I’ve recently had a wildcat gear frame bag custom stitched to fit around a travel tap water bottle with a removable water filter. The frame bags main pocket holds two spare tubes, basic tool kit (that did not include a spare spoke) basic first aid kit, pump, midge spray, spare batteries for GPS and spot tracker, the piggyback battery, the travel tap water filter, very small lock and my buff. The bag was not full so I didn’t have worry about careful packing and had extra space for food if needed. In the smaller side pocket I kept route cards and my camera. I also used a wildcat tiger harness to carry an 8l alpkit airlock drybag. Into which went my Rab ascent bivi. I like this bivi bag, whilst its not the lightest it’s well made, robust, breaths very well, can be fully closed if the weather’s bad, has a built in bug net (handy in scotland) and doesn’t cost the earth. I also packed into the saddle bag some heavy weight extremities windproof gloves, full length pertex trousers  a Smelly Henson long sleeve top, Embers 3/4 merino tights, Hilly calf compression socks, lightweight Seal Skins, some light weight Rapha merino liner socks and a pair of thicker Hilly running socks. I like my socks! I get cold feet. This stuff was used for sleeping in and could be used as extra layers on the bike if the weather turned proper nasty. Finally I also carried a lightweight TOG24 8l backpack. I placed my Montane DT waterproof jacket in an outside mesh pocket for easy access. In the zip pocket I carried my tooth brush and paste, small pot of tee tree oil (antiseptic and smells nice, good for wet, smelly feet) butt maintenance kit (sudocrem), phone, emergency thick blue latex gloves. Great stuff sudocrem, can be used to smooth and ease blisters on other parts of the body besides your arse. I like to have these things to hand when I go into a toilet. I also stashed my small Bozeman Mountain’s Torso-Lite sleeping mat (now discontinued) on the bag, but the bag was essentially empty and used for food storage.

Finally I wore Endura MT500 3/4 bib knickers, a thin Ibex merino vest, Shutt Velo mtb merino perform jersey, with a Montane featherlite smock, Spcialized BG gel mitts with Rab primaloft liner glove. The smock and liner gloves were stuffed into the framebag when not worn. As mentioned I wore Inov-8 315 trail shoes with Embers merino socks, but the socks were put in the bin after the first day as they were threadbare and I wore either the Hilly running socks or seal skins thereafter.

So that’s it. The kit could be lighter but I don’t have a bottomless money pit so it all strikes a balance between cost, function, weight and durability. Maybe I should have just made a kit list instead of rambling on but hey ho. I used everything I wanted to use and nothing I didn’t want to use. By that I mean my rain gear stayed packed away (DT jacket, pertex trousers, windproof gloves), along with my first aid kit, spare tubes, pump and midge spray. I only used the water filter once as in most cases clean water was easy to come by. I would bring it all with me again, as this is Scotland and I’ve been proper caught out by the weather during late May.

IMG_20130527_085954

As I said, I’ve not talked about the ride, that might happen another time but despite my failure to finish I had a great time whilst the ride lasted. I meet some great guys, we struggled through some amazing landscapes and laughed at the stupidity of traversing the stunning fisherfield countryside. Thanks to Greg, Tom, Daniel and Arno for a great ride.

IMG_2797

I do hope to return as I’ve some unfinished business. Maybe next time I’ll get to finish like these guys.

IMG_2847





Expirementing with ‘Map My Ride’

9 01 2012

I love maps, whether they are paper or electronic. I still think the best gift Rach has ever bought me was the Times comprehensive atlas of the world but I love my GPS device and the freedom it gives me on the bike. As a bit of fun I decided to install the Map my Ride app for my android phone. I liked the idea of being able to use it as a live tracker, so that people are able to see my current location on a map. It works by sending a message to twitter and Facebook to say that i’ve started a ride and provides a link to watch the live map. It also always you to review the route once you get home as a 3D flyover video using Google earth. Here was Sunday night’s ride.

I think that’s rather good!





The toughest MTB event in the UK?

17 10 2011

Well that was quite some ride! The Bear Bones 200 is a unique kind of ride, billed as a bikepacking independent time trail, with no support or route marking. It’s just you, your bike, 200 km of Mid Wales and what ever the weather throws at you. Stuff of adventure.

Bear Bones Map

Due to MOT reasons I had to travel to Machynlleth by train the night before and had a fantastic nights sleep in my bivi bag on the side of a hill. Come Saturday morning a small huddle started to gather round a tipi in a cold field.
Bike envy started early with many exotic 29er’s and various bikepacking systems containing an ultra lightweight backpacking wish list were pulled from van’s and cars for last minute fettling. At 10am the 30 or so people rolled out of the field past the farm and up! And, up, and up, and up! The first climb nearly sent me back to the start wanting to bail. Seems my fitness had dropped further than I’d thought, but the clear blue skys and fantastic views kept my spirits up, well that and the thought that I’d quit to many rides this year to not make it round this one. I soon fell into riding with Clive and Jase and the miles started to pass by, well grind by if I’m honest, but they were going by.

The trails put together for this ride were a mixture of high open moors, forest tracks, single track, tarmac with occasional river thrown in so we could clean our bikes, (thinking Strada Florida here, check out this video). Due to the remote nature of the route, one of the challenges would be your approach to food. Do you carry everything you might need? But how much would you need? And how much does that weigh? Or do you carry enough to get between possible shops or pubs? What if they are closed? Clive and I both opted to take enough food to get between the two possible shop stops on route. Jase had enough to get round the whole way. So it was at Pontrhydfendigaid that Clive and I hit the pub and Jase rode on in to the dusk. It had taken us about 8 hours to ride 60 miles and the shop had closed. If the pub had not been open or serving food then I’m not sure what I would of done!

With sweet potato curry inside us and the sun now set, we headed back into the dark hills. I’ve always enjoyed off road riding in the dark, ever since those dizzy days of my twin vista lights and their combined 10w output. Lights have come on but the sensation remains the same, exploring with no visual landscape aids, just you and the trail, and the starts if your lucky. We rode Strada Florida in the dark.

Somehow,  leaving a forest I spotted another good bivi spot tucked up on a bank with soft dry grass. It was either stay here or risk having to push on for another 15-20 miles until we could find a place with cover not in a valley. Clive and I slept well until about 4am when the rain started. I learnt on Saturday night that without the use of a tarp, I’m unable to keep the rain from falling on my head using my bivi bag. At 6am, we were back on the bikes and heading in to a very misty night. After a long, step, rocky bridleway climb, the devils staircase, a remote moor top crossing, and crossing the hill top south of the Elan valley we found breakfast in Rhayader around 11am. Eggs and baked beans on toast with tea, ohhh the tea!

Back on the bikes, and topped up with water and food Clive continued to keep me entertained with stories of his many adventures, one of the benefits of a riding partner a good few years wiser than I. We soon picked our way up the final forest climb and down in to the Staylittle valley, nearly home. Thankfully there was no sting in the tail of this ride, indeed quite the opposite. The final few miles are a fast tarmac decent. Clive and I arrived back at 2.38pm, earning ourselves a green badge and a very welcome 3 course lunch, thanks Dee 🙂

So Clive and I took over 28 hours to ride the 200km, where as Kevin Roderick and Ian Barrington were back in 17h 23m. OK, they did not stop for sleep, but that’s one hell of a time! To be honest, I’m surprised I got round that ride at all, my current fitness did not desire a finish time at all.  Check out the results.

Does it deserve to be called the toughest mtb event in the UK? Well, most people are not going to be able to get round in one go so will need to sleep. It’s self supported, there are no race marshals to hold your hand or pink arrows to tell you where to go.  You might run out of food and water, and you will climb 4000m. I’d say a wet Kielder 100 is harder on the bikes, but the Bear Bones 200 is in a different league altogether, it’s was a real adventure and not just a race. It’s the toughest ride I’ve ever done on a mtb. But as one of the other finishers reminded us at the end “the weather made it easy”





Bear Bones 200

14 10 2011

Not been blogging for a while, Rach and I have been in the states exploring Washington and Oregon. We’re back now and this weekend I’m off out to Wales for a spot of Bikepacking. The event is the Bear Bones 200, a 200 Km self supported ride round mid Wales. We have to carry at least a sleeping bag and the expectation is that we sleep out overnight. I’m going down to Machynlleth tonight where I’ll grab a pizza and head out on to the hills to find a cozy spot for the night before the start tomorrow. Whilst in America I picked up some gear from Revelate Designs made for this type of trip and I’ve even put 9 gears back on the bike. Thanks again to the Carbon Monkey for the Exposure light hire. Should be a fun weekend 🙂





I’ve added a new page to the blog site – GPX Tracks

2 08 2011

I’m making use of the new blog theme, thought I’d add a place to share my GPX tracks. There are just two there at the moment, but that will grow as I find time to add more. You can see the link on the top of the blog or just follow this link.








%d bloggers like this: