kit

It costs how much!? I could buy a car for that!

It costs how much!? I could buy a car for that!

The recent “it costs how much?” bunfight over Fox Suspension’s new Live Valve has got me thinking about the costs of mountain biking. How much do you need to spend to have fun?

Seriously, how much?

Pivot Cycles have just released a mountain bike that, at full retail, costs over $11,000.

I’m going to let that sink in for a moment…

$11,000 for a push bike

…yes, for a push bike. Now, there have been very expensive bikes before. My roadie chums will probably be able to point to half a dozen or so such “super machines” whose costs cause you to boggle. Equally, there have been articles about for a while about “the most incredible superbike” but they’re usually made by Porsche or Givenchy or another company that has no heritage in bikes. They’re not designed to be ridden, they’re designed to be photographed and have articles written about them.

The Pivot is different. Pivot have been in mountain biking for a long time, they have a reputation and caché within the community. This bike has, undoubtedly, been designed to be ridden. Apparently, it rides quite well too. It does, though, cost more than my car.

So, the question then becomes:

Do I need to buy a bike that costs a small fortune to go riding?

Do I heck!

Me and my stumpy: best of friends

Me and my stumpy: best of friends

You really don’t. I always dread the question “was it expensive?” because that depends entirely on your definition of expensive. Was my work bike expensive? Well, if you think that a few hundred quid is a lot of money, then yes it was expensive. On the other hand, if I need a bike where the suspension, brakes, gears and everything else work, day in and day out and will handle pretty much whatever I throw at them then it was a bargain. Even more so when I factor in that it’s within its comfort zone long after I’m out of mine.

But, if I weren’t doing this for a living, I probably wouldn’t need it.

It’s worth noting that the previous bike I rode for a decade cost a quarter of the retail price of this one. I was happy and quick enough on it. Yes, things got a bit hairy when I took it into big mountains, but most of the time, it was a lot of fun. I’m still riding the same local trails I rode on that hardtail, and still enjoying them.

Happy man, dirty bike

Happy man, dirty bike

Let’s go back in time

My first mountain bike, the one that bit me with the bug back in the nineties cost about £200. It had 18 whole gears and rim brakes that didn’t work in the rain. It had a threaded headset that needed constant tightening with a spanner I didn’t own. It had tiny wheels and tyres with virtually no traction. And it had no suspension. It was great, and I had a great time riding it. I rode it for years and years until it finally wore out. At no point did I feel that I needed a “better” bike to have fun.

By modern standards, it was rubbish. But that didn’t stop me having an absolute blast on it.

When I returned to riding, I lived in Glasgow. Technology had advanced hugely and changed things. My next bike cost £600. Which I thought was an astronomical sum of money. It was, compared to my old Raleigh, incredible. It enabled me to tackle rougher terrain with a suspension fork. It stopped in the wet (a big deal in the West of Scotland) because of disc brakes. It was great. I had a cracking time pushing my boundaries and the limits of what fear would let me ride.

And then it got stolen.

Back to the future, the costs of innovation

That brings me to the bike I mentioned earlier, the one that’s still in the shed, the one on which I’ve been for adventures all over the country. The one on which I set some Strava PRs that my shiny full bouncer can’t match. The one that I commuted on for years. The one I’m still very fond of.

Snow day

Snow day

It’s also the one that, after years of abuse, I put out to pasture a few years back.

Spending a bunch of money will get you an amazing bike. It’ll get you a bike that is lightning quick, or unruffled in any situation. It’ll get you one with awesome wheels or buttery-soft suspension. It’ll get you a bike that people will keep stopping you to talk about. There is much to be said for the advantages of most of those things.

Is it necessary to get out and ride? Nah.

In fact, sometimes, it’s counter-productive. Recently, the rear shock on my Stumpy exploded (literally, the oil that makes it work squirted out over my feet and the bike) while I was on my way to meet a client. Yes, I could render it so I could do the ride and get home, but fixing it properly was beyond my ken. So, off it went by courier to a service centre where people who know about the inner workings of these things set about making it work again.

Workstand

Workstand

At that point I was hankering after the cheap simplicity of my old hardtail.

Andy, answer the question! What do I actually need?

What you really need is a bike with wheels that go round, gears that make it easier/harder to turn the peals and brakes that stop the wheels going round. The next step is a suspension fork to make things a little more comfortable, but that’s what you really need to get out and ride.

That’s it. Yes, full suspension makes life easier and more comfortable, a dropper seatpost will change the way you ride, a carbon frame will make the bike much lighter and a wider range of gears will help you get up hills. But you can have a lot of fun riding your bike without spending a fortune.

Come out with me and explore and I’ll show you how.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in kit, Thoughts, 0 comments
Kit review: Rivelo Headley ¾ bib tights

Kit review: Rivelo Headley ¾ bib tights

 

A good set of bib shorts or tights can be a cyclist’s best friend. You spend a lot of time sitting in them with your legs moving so, the right pair is a good investment. A bad pair can be your worst enemy.

From Rivelo rrp: £130

price paid Sportpursuit: £49.99

Bib what?

Mountain biking is a funny pursuit, especially in winter. I go out riding in horrible conditions: dark, cold, wet, windy or a combination of all four so keeping warm is vital, especially as I suffer from Reynaud’s phenomenon. At the same time, it’s a hobby where you are doing endless sprints and high intensity activity so venting excess heat is often just as important.

It’s that second part that separates us from our tarmac-dwelling cousins on their road bikes with constant cadence and measured effort.

Thus, any pair of shorts or tights needs to keep you warm enough to stave off hypothermia and yet be good enough at venting heat that you don’t boil in the bag. It’s a difficult balance, one that I find best achieved by ¾ length tights (I refuse to describe them as knickers, seriously). They are what they suggest: tights that stop between the knee and the ankle. Those bare shins allow me to vent heat, whilst keeping my knees and thighs warm. It’s only in the depths of winter I go over to full tights.

Rivelo Headley

Rivelo Headley (c. Rivelo)

Rivelo?

I found these in the autumn of 2016 on Sportpursuit, because I was going on a road trip to Scotland. They Describe themselves as being made of thermal fabric perfect for autumn and spring. This translates as being a brushed lycra, ideal under a pair of baggy shorts for much of the winter in the South Downs.

I was wary about buying something that’s from a company that’s clearly roadie-specific (their clothes are all named after famous road locations in Britain) and that I’d never heard of. I had visions of style-over-substance expensiveness. This turned out to be unwarranted, though the lovely box they come in seemed a little unnecessary (I have now found a use for it).

I’m tall and slender, which usually often means clothes aren’t long enough (or are too baggy): a previous pair of ¾’s only just covered my knees. They were spot on, they came a decent way below the knees. They fit really well. They’re snug in all the places they need to be, with room in the place where there needs to be some. Another neat touch is the mesh on the back of the knees which allows more heat to escape from a locale that can get clammy. It also means that the knee doesn’t runkle or get unsightly when standing up off the bike. The top half took a little while to bed in, feeling a touch too compressiony to begin with, but fine after a ride or two. It also features an odd keyhole back allowing better breathing under a rucksack (though that’s probably not what it was designed for).

Rivelo Headley (c. Malcolm Griffiths)

Rivelo Headley (c. Malcolm Griffiths)

Down and dirty

It’s all very well and good posing in front of the mirror at home, but they are riding tights and that’s where they would succeed or fail.

They have been flawless for two winters, going well under baggy shorts and they don’t runkle under a rucksack. They have a seamless pedalling action, never getting in the way of my pedalling or, crucially, moving about out of the saddle. They’re utterly invisible on the bike, which really is the best compliment I can pay them.

They have just the right amount of warmth and are great for riding in temperatures right down to freezing and probably beyond. I’ve not had cold or boiling legs, regardless of the conditions. The mesh upper means that my core, generating large amounts of heat, can vent effectively. They’ve been out in the rain, the wind, the mud and (eventually) the snow. They have performed admirably in all of them. They’ve gone through the wash umpteen times, with wilful disregard of the washing instructions, and come out fine. They are beginning to show signs of age from encountering the Velcro tabs on my baggy shorts in the washing machine, but nothing to write home about.

Rivelo Headley (c. Malcolm Griffiths)

Rivelo Headley (c. Malcolm Griffiths)

Verdict

They have become a mainstay of my riding wardrobe, they’ve become my go-to base garment for three seasons. I bought another pair in autumn 2017 so I could have a second pair for while they were in the wash. Pretty much every ride I did in the winter was in one pair or the other. I cannot find a fault with them.

Ok, the rrp of £130 is steep, but I didn’t pay that and they seem to be in stock at Sportpursuit all the time. So I’m going to disregard it. For the price I paid, they are incredible value.

10/10: They are very good at what they do and keep doing it for a long time.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in kit, 0 comments
Let’s call the whole thing off…

Let’s call the whole thing off…

One of the hardest decisions in guiding is knowing when to cancel a ride. Learning when riding won’t be fun for anyone involved is difficult. Knowing when it just won’t be safe for the group is a key skill for a guide.

I love riding my bike, most of the time

I seem to have pent the entire winter on this column complaining about the weather, or its impact on the trails. If I’m honest it’s been a difficult winter from that respect.

But the fact remains: I love riding my bike. I take the slightest of opportunities to go for a ride. I even ride my bike to the hairdresser. Seriously. I love being out. Missing an opportunity to ride bugs me and gets under my skin.

I have been known to go out in miserable conditions because I can.

As I’ve got older, I have begun to realise and to understand that there might just be times when it’s better not to ride. I might just have more fun if I don’t ride. Right now, the rain is battering at the windows as it has all day and all yesterday. So, I’ve been in touch with my social ride to tell them I’m not coming out. It’ll be soggy, cold, dark and slow, hard work. In short it will be no fun. With age comes an increasing ability to judge which rides not to go on. Knowing from the conditions which rides won’t be fun, which rides will be downright dangerous. It’s important.

The view from Deepcut

It’s not all about me

Side by side with this understanding is my professional duty of care. If you go on a ride with BackPedalling, I try to ensure that you will have a safe, fun experience. Risk assessments lay the foundations for that, coupled with questions about the group so I know that the ride planned is one that is appropriate for the conditions and the group. I have a lot of tools I can call upon, altering the route to include or leave out particular trails, altering the length to suit the group, planning for a date when the weather and undergrowth are likely to be on our side are just part of it. A lot of thought and planning goes into this.

On the day I am due to take any group out, I’m pretty excited. I get to show people cool riding and give them a great day out, and I get to ride my bike while I’m doing it. What’s not to love. With any luck, my clients are also excited about the prospect of the ride.

No-one wants to cancel the ride.

MMmmmmud

Discretion is the better part of valour

Cancelling a ride will please nobody. The clients are unhappy that they aren’t getting their amazing ride, I’m not happy because I wanted to give them that experience and I’m doubly unhappy because there’s a significant amount of admin and infrastructure that needs to be moved or disposed of. Nobody wins. At least nobody wins yet.

However, and it’s a big however. Sometimes, it’s the right decision.

I’m a pretty optimistic person. In a previous job, I ran outdoor events for families and would hold out hope until the very last minute that the weather would come good. I really want to be able to do the brilliant thing I’ve scheduled. However, there are important caveats.

At the extreme end, it’s my responsibility to make sure that my rides never star in the news as “mountain bikers airlifted from mountains in atrocious conditions”. It’s my call if the conditions are just asking for an accident or being unable to get home safely. Actually, these calls are pretty easy. It’s usually blindingly obvious when it’s just too extreme.

Much more difficult are the borderline cases. These are the ones where it won’t actually be dangerous just to be out, but the conditions mean that it won’t be safe either.

What on earth do I mean by that?

If you’re cold and wet you won’t be having fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not concentrating, your reactions will be slower. In addition, cold fingers can’t feel brakes or shifters properly. All of this, combined with slippery trails are just asking for an accident. And that’s before someone hasn’t got the right gear on and, in spite of all the warm stuff I have in the bag for them, catches hypothermia.

Even more borderline is when I have a group who are relatively inexperienced. The conditions may not be that bad for experienced riders, but for these people, it’s a different story. Slippery trails can be terrifying, boggy trails can sap energy and rain can get to everywhere you’d like to keep dry. It all adds up to a memorable experience for all the wrong reasons. I would be failing in my duty of care to make sure they enjoy themselves and there’s a good chance they’d never want to ride a bike again.

Horror show

The least fun I have with a bike

It is always with a heavy heart that I pick up the phone to tell a client that the ride is off. There is always one person who is still enthusiastic about going out “regardless of the conditions”. Informing them that the ride is not happening today, regardless of what they think, is never fun.

I have developed a strong sense of when it is the right thing to do and am fairly resolute in sticking to that decision. I am sticking with it because it’s my responsibility as a leader to make these decisions and my responsibility to riders to ensure that they are as safe as possible. Sometimes this means that the bike stays in the shed.

The more attentive of you will have noticed that a couple of scheduled rides this spring have fallen foul of the weather. I wanted to give you a little peak into the thinking that goes into making that decision.

There are still loads of rides to join in with and, assuming the weather doesn’t get the better of them too, they will be brilliant fun.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, 0 comments
Kit review: Works Components 32T Oval Narrow Wide chainring

Kit review: Works Components 32T Oval Narrow Wide chainring

Wow! That’s a mouthful.

Ok, let’s start at the beginning. About four months ago, I managed to completely wreck both chainrings on my Stumpjumper. When I say wrecked, one of them was the same shape as a pringle. Fortunately for me, it happened a few hundred yards from the door so it wasn’t a total catastrophe.

Not a massive problem: just go online, pick up some fresh ones and crack on. Actually, no. Specialized, in their wisdom, fitted a spectacularly specific “custom” chainset on the Stumpy, which left me trying to source two fairly specific chainrings. Neither of which were available from actual shops.

Three rings

Three rings

One ring

Why is one chainring better than two?

I dropped into my local bike shop to ask for answers. The manager took one look at it and told me it was time to embrace the one-by revolution. 1x chainsets only have a single chainring and no front derailleur or shifter. It’s a simpler, lighter and less mud-catching set up. The other advantage is that, once the chainring is freed of responsibility for making the chain come off the ring easily (to aid shifting), it can be shaped to help keep the chain on. This is usually achieved by having narrow and wide teeth to match the chain.

The downside was that I would have only ten gears not the “twenty” I had until now. I’ve put that in speech marks because there are a lot of duplicate ratios in those twenty. He reckoned I wouldn’t notice the loss. Apparently, it was an easy swap.

Why an Oval chainring?

While I was at it, it was suggested that I could also embrace oval chainrings. I remember Biopace oval chainrings from when I was a teenager. They never took off because no one liked them. Apparently, modern oval rings are different. The premise is based on the fact that there are parts of the pedal rotation where you are putting more force through the pedals and parts where you’re weaker. The idea of the oval ring is that it’s bigger (and therefore harder) where you’re strong and smaller (thus easier) where you’re weaker. The effect is to make the circle feel more even. This should create a smoother pedalling stroke and, more importantly, more even power which should create more grip and reduce the risk of spinning the back wheel on a climb.

That’s the premise. How do they work in real life?

Ready for my close-up

Oooh, Who’s a pretty chainring then?

Actually, there’s no such thing as a pretty chainring. When I opened the box, I was greeted by a very nicely machined piece of metal. The narrow-wide teeth were clearly present, along with some machining that clearly helped to do something. It wasn’t so intricately machined that I feared it would be a mud magnet, nothing fancy but everything in place. There was also sensibly black anodising covering the aluminium. For an item that cost a measly twenty-two quid, it looks pretty impressive. It looked ready to rock.

Lovely. But how does it ride?

Some components are game changers. Your riding will never be the same once you’ve used them. This chainring is not one of them. Other components are so utterly anonymous in use that you completely forget you have them. It is one of those.

On the first ride, it felt a little funky for about a minute. Then it became normal. Then I forgot about it. Four months later, I’ve forgotten that it was ever new. I honestly can’t tell you whether it has delivered on any of those claims to better grip etc. What I can tell you is that it works. Uncomplainingly, unfalteringly and anonymously. All the time. If that is the sign that something is working properly, then this chainring delivers in spades. It doesn’t feel funky, there is no feeling of pulsing, it just feels “normal”. Which is high praise.

Here’s a video of it in action.

 

How about the chain, does it stay on?

Disclosure: I also have a dangler chain device and a clutch rear mech. However, it (and I am aware that I am jinxing myself here) hasn’t dropped once. It hasn’t slipped once. I’ve had not a single instance of chain suck. As far as I can tell, it’s been flawless on that front.

Close up with bashring

And, from the other side

And, from the other side

How about the gears then, is ten enough?

Right, nerd stats alert:

My current setup is: 32T chainring, 11-36T 10 speed cassette, 29er wheels.

This was my biggest fear: would I run out of gears? Would I spin my legs out at just the point where I wanted to put the power down? Or, worse, would I run out of gears going up hill? I live in the South Downs so, whilst my local riding lacks vertiginous rocky ascents, there are plenty of long steep pulls.

I have found myself in the bottom gear on many occasions. On some of them I have had to just put more power through the pedals rather than spinning. On only two occasions have I actually run out. One was on a steep path near the house where I wasn’t really warmed up and was stalled by the undergrowth. The other was in walking boots, on flats, at the end of a long day, trying to ride with people on foot up a steep road. Neither could be solely attributable to the bike.

At the other end of the cassette, the only time I’ve noticed the lack of gears has been on tarmac descents. That’s not really where my bike should be performing anyway, so I’m not that bothered.

Is this chainring any good?

Yes.

Four months of riding and it hasn’t put a foot wrong. I cannot really fault it in any way, shape or form.

In a world of shiny carbon and expensive suspension, it is really nice when something that costs so little is a genuine upgrade.

9/10

I’m not sure how it could be better. The remaining 1 point is because I haven’t had it long enough to really put longevity to the test.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in kit, Thoughts, 0 comments
Braking Bad: The disc brake is an amazing thing. Right up until it isn’t

Braking Bad: The disc brake is an amazing thing. Right up until it isn’t

The joy of disc brakes

Disc brakes are just great. Right?

Disc brakes are fantastic. Apologies to any of my road-riding chums, but they are just streets ahead of all kinds of rim brakes, for a whole host of reasons. In fact, I can’t think of a single circumstance in which rim brakes are as good, let alone better. (Actually it does, apparently, take several seconds longer to change a disc wheel than a rim-brake one. This might be important if you are competing in a professional road race). They offer better modulation in the dry, they work at all in the wet, they are less likely to get fouled with mud, they almost never need me to spend hours realigning them, they don’t care if my wheel is slightly out of true and there are no cables to stretch or get gummed up.

They make mountain biking north of Watford Gap possible. I learned this the hard way away back in the early noughties when I lived in Glasgow. My disc brake equipped riding chums all stopped when they pulled on the levers while I had to wait for my brake pads to clean the rims enough to get a purchase. On one memorable occasion, this led to me heading off-piste and into a river. Oh what fun!

Until they (don’t) brake (sorry)

They are much more reliable than the alternatives right up until the point that they aren’t. Then they become a pain in the posterior.

I was heading home from a ride at the weekend when I heard the telltale sound of a brake pad that was past its best. There’s a particular “tink tink tink tink” noise it makes when something other than the pad contacts the rotor.

Which is why I have spent the morning sorting out my rear brake. It’s not a major faff to change pads: Pop the wheel off, take the old pads out, push the pistons back into the brake calliper and drop the new ones in. But there is always the chance that the brake will need to be bled as a result. And that is a major faff.

Modern discs use a hydraulic fluid instead of a cable. It has a lot of advantages: it’s reliable, it’s resilient and largely unbothered by anything you do to your bike short of splitting the hose. However, if air gets into the system they just stop working (ok, they feel really spongy first but that’s basically the same thing if you really need the bike to stop. Now!). So you need to purge the system of all those air bubbles.

All a bit Heath Robinson?

Oh, bleeding hell!

Bleeding (as that purging process is known) requires two syringes full of fluid connected to ports in the system so you can push out the bubbles. One at each end of the system. Which is fine for the front brake. The rear: not so much. There’s only so far my arms can reach and from just above the handlebars to just below the rear hub is too far.

Which is why Mel found herself standing on a chair, holding a syringe full of brake fluid attached to the lever whilst I knelt on the floor whilst I knelt on the floor with the other attached to the calliper. Fluid was duly passed back and forth, trying desperately to spill as little as possible.

Brake lever bleed

Brake lever bleed

There are several steps in the process. The final stage saw me, now standing on the chair, trying to flick the last few air bubbles out of the brake lever. Every so often I thought I’d got everything, only to have a massive bubble appear the next time I flicked it.

However, eventually it was cracked. I reassembled the bike, fitted the new pads and refitted the back wheel. This was the moment of truth: it’s hard to tell until you’ve put everything together whether the bleed has been a success. Fingers crossed. Spin the back wheel. Pull on the lever…and the wheel stops. Again: same result. Result!

Now to put everything back together again.

Now in front of an audience

The house over the road from us has been being rebuilt for the last year and a half. Over that time the builders have seen me do all sorts of strange things. They seemed to enjoy watching me do my half-hour of track stand practice every day on the drive. Today they were treated to me riding down the road and whamming on the anchors for no obvious reason, only to pedal on again and repeat the process. Then ride back up the road and do it all again. And again. And again. All this in the name of bedding in the new pads. This is the process by which you put a lot of heat into the pads to cure the surface. It’s supposed to help the pads brake better and last longer.

The truth of it is that it’s tedious and gives you arm pump. Which is no fun whatsoever.

However, the upshot is that, only a couple of hours after getting the bike out of the shed, it’s got a spanky newly set up back brake. And that’s worth it.

Rear brake bleed

Rear brake bleed

So, is it all worth it?

Yes.

It might be a pain, but it’s not really that much more of a pain than doing a similar job on the road bike. And it’s totally worth it for brakes that I know are going to work when I pull on the levers.

Brakes that work are a big part of making sure my bike is ready to take people out.

Oh, and that “tink tink tink tink” noise? That’s why I carry a spare set of pads when I go out riding.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in kit, Thoughts, 2 comments
Gear Review: Giro bib undershorts

Gear Review: Giro bib undershorts

I’ve been going through my kit locker recently. I’ve been thinking about which bits of kit to keep hold of, which ones to retire and where I have holes to be filled.

So, I’ve decided to put together reviews of the things I pick up to let you know how I get on with them. I may supplement it with reviews (reflections) on the things I’ve ridden to death.

I hope some of this is useful to you.

Giro bib undershorts: A review (Currently £47.99 on SportPursuit)

Before I start this review I need to state, for the record, that I do not have thighs like Sir Chris Hoy. Nor, also for the record, do I believe that I am any more than average in the “trouser department”. Why am I telling you this? It will all become clear shortly. Continue reading →

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in kit, Thoughts, 0 comments
Four seasons in one year

Four seasons in one year

One of the things I love about mountain biking is that it puts me in touch with the passing seasons.

The thing about riding outside through the year is that there’s no way of avoiding noticing the conditions, the weather, the climate, the nature of the ground beneath your wheels (or feet if it’s really bad).

I may bemoan it when I come home cold & wet (or refuse to go out at all) but I love the feeling of connection it gives me.

The rolling of the seasons

Happy campers

Happy campers

The weather in Britain is nothing if not unpredictable. There’s a reason why I take a waterproof out on all rides of any length. But the seasons? There’s a genuine pattern to them. The winter is colder and wetter than the summer. Autumn has the air of the winter with the ground of summer and spring is boggy under the wheels but warm on the arms. These changes serve to mark the passing of time.

Those changes are mirrored by the riding. Summer is all about dry, fast trails in sunlight. Autumn has that dryness in the ground but the wind is colder and there’s a better chance of being rained on. Those dry, dusty trails of summer can turn into deeply mudded horror-shows with notional traction ridden in the dark. In spring, there’s the promise of warmth and greenery sprouting up everywhere, but there’s also a good chance of coming home spattered in mud.

You. Hosepipe. Now

You. Hosepipe. Now

These changes in turn are mirrored by changes to how I ride and what I ride. There’s that moment in spring when my arms come out for the first time in months, the moment when the mudguards come off, the first evening ride without lights. In summer there’s the first evening ride in dark glasses, the urge to ditch the backpack to let heat out, suncream! In the autumn I have that moment when I try to remember where I put my lights for the summer, pulling out the windproof gloves for the first time, waterproof shorts and boots. In the depths of winter I’m tempted by the ease of cleaning that comes with the hard tail, I remember where my thick gloves and skullcap are, remember why I own thermal jerseys.

The spice of life

Why do I love it?

Simple: variety.

A road is a road is a road. Sometimes it’s damp, icy or even underwater. But mostly it’s the same.

Trails evolve and change through the seasons. It’s a cliché that you never ride the same trail twice, but there’s some truth in it. In summer a trail might be dry and dusty, ripe for ripping along at speed. In winter that same trail is as slippery as a speedway track ripe for sliding along sideways. Conversely a trail that’s an overgrown exercise in verdant spelunking in the summer is wide open when the vegetation dies back.

QE Park mud covered

QE Park mud covered

Years of experience has told me what to expect from my regular trails at any given time of year. Some trails are deeply seasonal: too overgrown in the summer or too slippery in the winter. Some are very resilient, holding onto grip when everything else is slippery. My inner trail map is four-dimensional: time is crucial.

That’s not to say that the unexpected never happens. I remember riding during the floods a couple of years ago. It’s a sunken lane I’ve ridden hundreds of times and never really thought about too much. On this occasion, it was two feet deep in water for an unavoidable few hundred yards. Every pedal stroke dipping my feet in the water. Then I got a puncture.

Suffice it to say that I didn’t go back until spring!

All change!

This change in the conditions, the riding style required and the experience of riding is what keeps the local trails fresh and exciting for me.

It also keeps me connected to the world around me. It keeps me connected to the slow cycle of the changing seasons. It keeps me reminded of my place in the scheme of things.

So why not come out and join me as we experience what the world is like this week? It’ll be different next week. And the week after too.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, 0 comments
Getting the better of broken spokes

Getting the better of broken spokes

On the way home from my recce ride yesterday something awful happened.

I rode down a flight of steps. It’s a flight of steps I’ve ridden down loads of time before with no ill effects. Not this time. No, this time there was an awful noise from the back wheel. A nasty, nasty noise told me that something was amiss.

I stopped and looked at the offending wheel. It was pretty clear I’d sheared off a spoke at the nipple. No bother really. It’s irksome but nothing more than that, so I carried on riding. As I carried on I realised that the back wheel was all over the show.

I stopped and looked down. The sight that confronted me was downright upsetting. I hadn’t snapped a spoke, I’d snapped four. A quick bit of mental arithmetic told me I was missing one eighth of my total spoke count at the back. That’s a real loss of structural integrity.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more nervous ride (with the possible exception of my old daily commute and the odd rocky descent in Scotland) as I expected my back wheel to fall apart at any moment. Fortunately, I made it home in one piece.

Riding home with broken spokes was just the start of my bother.

No, repairing it would be the real pain in the backside. As you’ll remember from a similar situation last week. I really love re-seating tubeless tyres.

So, with a handful of new nipples in hand I set about it this morning. It turns out that the original broken spoke count was wrong: I actually had five spokes sheared off. Oh well.

Having got through that, and chased a dropped nipple round the inside of the rim, everything went smoothly. In fact….[goes to check]…it’s still up.

Win.

 

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in kit, Rides, 0 comments
My little bag of answers

My little bag of answers

“What on earth are you carrying in that bag?”

My mentor, Richard Martin of Cyclewise, always refers to the pack he carries as his “bag of answers”. It’s a phrase that I really like because it tells me exactly why everything is there: it’s the answer to an issue or problem that might crop up. Equally, whatever issue I can think of has to be answered by the stuff I’m carrying. Simple really.

 

Richard and his bag of answers

Richard and his bag of answers

This was brought home to me in the strongest way possible last week.

Some of you know that I have another life as an education professional. Currently, I’m delivering some rivers studies sessions for Gilbert White’s House Field Studies Centre (FSC) The session teaches primary school children about how rivers work by getting them to stand in (a small) one. It’s a great session but, with my leader’s head on, there is a lot of planning goes on behind the scenes to make sure things are as safe as possible. We ensure that everyone is properly attired before we set off for the river. We brief people before they get wet and I have a throw bag in case someone falls over. I have an outdoor first aid qualification, carry a first aid kit and have a series of procedures for dealing with more serious accidents should they happen. As far as possible I have a plan for everything I can think of.

It’s the same process I go through planning and packing for a ride. Actually, I even carry the same bag.

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My bag of answers partially dismantled

Come rain…

Everything that is, except the weather. Being flippant, the wet weather plan is “if it rains: they get wet.” There is more to it than that but, simply, there is no alternative to being outdoors if the weather is wet.

The forecast for last Tuesday was miserable: properly raining. So I got all my wet weather gear out: full waterproofs, waterproof gloves, wellies. I also packed spare gloves, a spare waterproof, a couple of spare jumpers and a few hand warmers. I packed this stuff in dry bags. My bag of answers was good to go.

As I got to the river, the heavens opened. It was proper stair rods. I found myself standing, up to my shins in the river, with the rain pouring down my neck, trying to shout over the sound of the rain hitting the water. Two minutes and everyone was soaked, the rain had gone straight through my waterproof (in spite of having re-proofed it only weeks earlier). There was, however, no alternative to just getting on with it. At least it was warm.

Fortunately, the weather was so wet that everyone saw the funny side of it: I had drips hanging off my eyebrows and my nose. At lunchtime I denuded my bag of everything I could find that would make people more comfortable. The spare waterproof went to someone who had fallen over in the mud. The jumper went to someone whose waterproof proved not to be and their jumper was wringing wet. The gloves went to someone whose hands had got cold. I think I even lent out my hand warmers.

We got through the day. We got two more soakings but everybody kept their spirits up and we had a memorable but fun day out. When I got home everything got hung up: both waterproofs, the jumpers, the gloves, my first aid kit (which had proved less waterproof than advertised), my leatherman and my phone (which had happily proved to be every bit as waterproof as claimed), my trousers, my socks, everything. I tall dried out eventually but I learned a valuable lesson about EVERYTHING going in a dry bag. Everyone was happy, my bag had answers to all the questions asked of it.

…or shine

Thursday couldn’t have been more different.

Instead of rain there was wall-to-wall sunshine. Distrustful of the weather forecast, the gloves and spare waterproof still went in the bag but the other stuff was replaced by extra sun hats. The first aid kit contains both sun cream and midge repellent but both were checked before departure.

This time, the crunch came at the top of the hill we climbed in the afternoon. The children arrived at the top red-faced and complaining of thirst. Fortunately, as well as the sun hats I’d packed a big bottle of water and was able to give everyone a drink. The bag had, again, provided answers to the questions asked of it. The military-issue neck cooler proved unnecessary but it was there just in case.

And the moral of the story

To return to the matter in hand, there are some things that always live in my bag of answers: first aid kit, tools, waterproof and portable shelter to name a few. There are some things that are chosen based on the conditions or length of the ride (notably sustenance). Twice recently I’ve had some stiff questions asked of my bag and, on both occasions it contained the answers. That’s why I ask the questions before I leave the house.

My job is to make sure everyone is safe and having fun. My bag goes a long way to ensuring that’s the case.

So, next time someone asks me “what have you got in that massive bag?”

You’ll know why my response is simply: “answers”.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in kit, 0 comments
The True Price of Warm Feet

The True Price of Warm Feet

Are winter shoes worth it?

This started out as a gear review and then became more of a meditation on gear to retain warm feet. I’ll post the actual review later in the week.

I suffer from Reynaud’s Phenomenon. It’s hereditary so my siblings are afflicted by it. Put simply: my body cuts of the blood supply to my extremities when I get cold. Not even very cold, just enough to stimulate the reflex. I get it a lot in my hands, there’s a line across my knuckles beyond which my fingers are ghostly white from lack of circulation. My feet are pretty bad too. Getting cold is painful in a fingers-in-boiling-water kind of a way. Warming up again afterwards is like having carpet tacks fired at my toes.

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So I’ve taken a keen interest in keeping my extremities warm whilst riding. Especially in winter. Particularly at night.

Riding’s odd in that, no matter how cold it is, you want to be able to vent heat from your core or you’ll boil in the bag. At the same time you need to guard against extremities such as fingers & toes from getting cold. Incidentally, this is why I get incensed at football commentators castigating players for short sleeves and gloves: it really does make sense. So choosing what to wear for a ride is often a delicate balancing act, particularly for me and my fingers.

Losing feeling in fingers is as easy to spot as it is dangerous: you can’t brake or change gear. There’s a lot you can do to avoid it. Wearing warm, windproof gloves goes a long way. Adding a silk or merino baselayer adds warmth without too much bulk. The mere action of pulling on the brake levers and shifters can really help.

Toes are a different matter entirely, and much more vexing. For the entire ride they stay still. Then you ride through a puddle of cold water. It all adds up to a recipe for frozen toes. Yes, you can wiggle them but not that much. I’ve tried many of the traditional remedies. Windproof socks make a difference until you ride through a puddle and fill your shoes with cold water. I’ve tried waterproof socks but they feel horrible next to the skin and don’t breathe so my feet end up just as wet as if I’d not bothered. I’ve even tried overshoes. When they don’t rub on pedal cranks they die after about one winter and have a big hole in the bottom for water to get in. They’re better than nothing but more of a bodge than a solution.

I’ve always balked at winter boots for the bike: it’s a lot of money to spend on something I’m going to wear for rides in maybe mid-November to the end of February. It’s an awful lot of money to spend on something that might not work or might feel like wearing a moon boot. This winter I cracked. I stumped up the cash for some winter boots when my old disco slippers died. They’re not full-on winter boots but they are waterproof, padded and have a sole designed for the kind of conditions you’ll find in winter (i.e. deep mud). They’re even designed to walk in if conditions get too horrible to pedal through.

They promised much, but did they deliver?

In a word: yes. They’re superb and make me regret not making the jump before. They are toasty warm and the waterproofing means my toes, for the most part, stay dry. The difference is huge. I no longer ride with half an eye on the condition of my feet, worrying that they’re about to freeze. I don’t worry about puddles knowing that the shoes are sealed against most things. I can, and have, even walked significant distances through mud with the bike on my shoulders. They feel like a walking boot when I’m walking. The phrase gets used too much but they are, for me, a game changer. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to ride and gets cold toes.

The true joy of these shoes is that they’re not overkill for spring and autumn so I can see myself wearing them through into May and probably picking them up again in September. So they’ll get enough use to justify the cost.

So, the moral of this story is that, while you don’t need the perfect kit to enjoy a ride, sometimes having good kit can make all the difference.

The cost of warm feet? About £120. Is it worth it? Yes, a hundred times.

 

 

 

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in kit, Thoughts, 0 comments