Monday, 12 June 2017

What Do I Ride 1 - Kona Caldera

Any bike publication worth their salt eventually does a “what do we ride” feature and I don’t see why I should do anything different. There’s only me so it’ll be a short and irregular series.

This weekend the full-susser went into the bike hospital and I was battering my body on the hardtail, which gives me the perfect opportunity to start the series with:

2004 Kona Caldera

Frame – 2004 Kona Caldera
Fork – Rockshox Recon
Wheels – Mavic Crossride
Tyres – Continental Mountain King
Brakes - Shimano SLX
Crankset – Shimano Deore, modified to only run the middle 34t ring
Drive – 10 speed cassette with Shimano SLX Shadow+ mech, Shimano XT shifter, e-thirteen chain guide
Contact – WTB Volt saddle, Ritchey Rizer Pro bars, Shimano LX pedals

This is broadly my second choice bike and as such runs a mixture of solid reliable parts and budget decisions to match its status. The bike is built around a Caldera frame that was my main bike for years and reflects the fashion from the time, with steeper angles on a stiff aluminium build. There have been many iterations of the bike around gearing options, and it’s now settled on a 1x10 system using a modified Deore crankset. The chain retention device is a hangover from before it had a clutch mech keeping things in place and I haven’t seen any reason to get rid of it, preferring a belt and braces approach.

The Recon forks are a recent replacement for a Sektor R that reached the end of their life, offering air sprung smoothness over coil suspension. Wheels come from Mavic and are light, with bladed spokes despite being very competitively priced, and the tyres are also on the cheap side. Conti Mountain Kings are fast rolling but not very subtle, but are adequate for what the bike does.

What it gets used for is non-technical riding and muddy days out where speed and simplicity is the most important thing. On rockier or rougher terrain it’s skittish and a challenge to control especially on narrow 90s riser bars but I still love this bike. Pedals and saddle are old favourites, the seat is a cheaper copy of the one on my other bike and brakes are the same, while the pedals are old favourites as I run SPDs on every bike.

It’s a light, fast, bike that reminds me every time I ride that hardtails are great in the right place. It climbs incredibly and helps to keep me honest when I’m riding the big bike.

This weekend this bike got two excursions, at least one reminding me of the advantages of riding on suspension as I clattered down the lines I would have taken on that bike.


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A Peak District Tour

After a week of beautiful sunshine it seems only natural to want to celebrate with a big ride.

In terms of landscape the Peak District offers some distinct big-ness. After much debate I woke up early, and hit the M1 for 3 hours to go and get some time on some real hills. This was how I found myself in the carpark in Castleton at 9:30 with a plan and even some lunch. It was raining.

The rain gave way quickly to a muggy morning to start the climbing, out of the town and up towards Mam Tor on a road that famously has fallen off the hill and so now makes a nice traffic-free and slightly off-road start to the day. From there proper tarmac took me up to the first pass at Rushup Edge. This track hit the headlines a while ago as it was the focus of some less-than sensitive repair work, but the bedrock remains with loose rocks on other sections and it still stands up as a good warm up for Peak District descending. More of the same on the Pennine Bridleway dropped me into a steep valley and onto my first pushed climbing section. The climbs here are tough and often loose and the heat and my lingering cold were not working in my favour. I pushed a little, then remounted and rode on. I was doing this section in the opposite direction from usual and it seems to work as well either way, with each brutal climb I remembered becoming a clattering downhill.

Soon I was approaching the long loose climb up to Kinder Scout which was dealt with in short bursts, and fully ridden up to the seriously steep, loose and challenging top section, where I was on foot again. Halfway up I passed a pair of e-bikes with riders fixing a puncture and I wonder which way they were addressing it, and what the legal position of powered bikes on bridleways is. Finally reaching the top of the climb, with sweat pouring off me, it was time for the point of doing this “backwards”, which was a descent of Jacobs Ladder. This starts with steep rock sections where the pack road has fallen apart and then drops into a loose switchback across the hill on rocks big enough to move considerably under your wheels. Crossing the stream at the bottom led to a recovery cruise down the valley to the road again.

Another tough climb, that I’d be lying if I suggested I rode all of, followed to take me up to Rushup Edge again and then off on a couple of road sections before a wide steady climbing track into the wind to put me above Castleton again, with the highly technical Cave Dale to drop through to get back to the car. It felt like I dealt with this tough descent better than ever before, but any comparison was lost as I somehow managed to mess up the GPX file for Strava.

Even without analysis of my performance this was a brilliant day out in the hills, well worth the 6 hours’ driving and leaving me with videos and sunburn to show for a day of real, proper mountain biking.


Monday, 15 May 2017

Training? Just Playing Out.

Another weekend, another biking story. This time another parable of how different fun on a bike can be. In retrospect you could view the variety as great cross-training. But training for what, I have no idea.

Squeezed into the start of Saturday, in a brisk wind, I went to the BMX track and made sure I still had what I’d built up before roughing up my knee last week.

Heading home via my usual test of strength to hop up a low wall, then parked the bikes until Sunday when a beautiful late Spring day begged me to get out into the baked out, dusty trails of Hertfordshire. Another variation of linking previous routes, with the added options provided by a lack of clogging wet clay anywhere to play with, took me looping up from Hertford, through Watton and out to the North. A couple of exploring turns to shorten the total and one that found a sweet singletrack option next to the usual bridleway took me on a smooth 50-odd KM in the breezy sunshine. The fast tracks, lovely weather and, I guess, good fitness took me round the Hertfordshire countryside smoothly on one of those days where you reach the car wishing for more but tired and satisfied with a few hours in the saddle.


Monday, 8 May 2017

More Closed Routes

Another irritating theme is developing with recent riding. As I explore different areas to ride I’ve found too many blocked ways and closed paths. In Wales this happened in spectacular fashion but it came up again this weekend in Hertfordshire.

This ride was an attempt to start in St Albans and link into the riding I knew existed to the East. As you can see there some early false starts. Firstly when a track that I hoped would cross the motorway actually came to a dead stop before crossing. Soon afterwards another track was closed for work, the second section to fall to roadworks in the same area of Hertfordshire this year. Both meant annoying diversions, in each case racking up the tarmac miles on this exploring ride. Overall the best sections were easily the ones I already knew, but I might have missed some opportunities to the north of St Albans, however much there was little that grabbed my attention on studying the map.

Home from this trip I wanted some more flowing fun (in a similar style to last week, oddly). I rolled off to the BMX track to blast over some jumps and berms. Results were mixed.

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When it was going well, it felt great, hitting jumps at times too hard and overjumping the doubles. It was probably this speed that put me on the deck, but at least I got up and back at it before heading home with blood running down my leg. The old saying is true and not getting back up there does more damage the next time out.


Friday, 5 May 2017

Cymru Contrasts

Mountain bikes offer the option to ride perfectly maintained flowing trails, where you can let it all hang out, and that’s great. They also let you go exploring and that’s even better. You can sit over a beer in an evening, preferably in a nice cottage with a wood burner, or a casual outside table overlooking the valley and pull out a map to trace the opportunities in the shape of likely-looking bridleways.

That’s what we did last weekend, although minus the idyllic evening setting and more revisiting old ideas. My brother lives in Wales and had been eyeing up a couple of long bridleways stretching over the Black Mountain. You can see them here. They looked enticing and we imagined pony tracks into the wilderness that would ease us up and over to drop back to the valley the other side of the mountain. The first one proved us not far wrong as after a dynamic drive through mountain lanes we parked, pulled on more clothes than expected for late April, thanks to a biting wind and turned the pedals over up a stony track into the teeth of a stiff breeze. After a while things turned downhill and small rock gardens gave way to boggy grass and discussions about how this was just about as wet as it could be to ride. Some sketchy navigation placed us at the gate as expected and we spun down the road to pick up a bike track along the valley, feeling pretty damn pleased with ourselves.

The next track was where we expected and we paused for quiche Lorraine under a tree before pressing on.

And then things got less straight forward.

Following a concrete track we arrived at the end of the main route over the top of the hills, except it wasn’t there. Bringing on our combined map reading experience we followed the fence that was beside the marked bridleway and managed to drop knee-deep into a bog. There was no track, so we branched out to try and meet where it should be. There was no obvious path anywhere on the hillside but we pressed on, looking for high ground to scope the possibilities, then following the route of the path that wasn’t. We spent the next few hours walking, pushing bikes over unmarked moorland, round boulder fields and down steep inclines, until we picked up a stream that we followed to its source on the shoulder of the hills.

The hours we spent trudging across the hill were not what you hope for in a ride and there were definite moments of less enthusiasm for the whole adventure, until we started the descent. Here we found a marginally better defined path, although that didn’t stop me high-siding myself straight into yet another bog as I stalled the bike on some inconvenient reeds. After rolling down to civilisation in the shape of a gate we realised the map had fallen out of a bag thanks to a fault zip and we tried to remember the end of the ride. This went well, on a final track that was mostly ridable and then a switchback road climb, to complete a 30km ride in something like 5 hours. We madeit back to shower before dinner.

It turns out we were remarkably close to the route of the bridleway most of the way, and can confirm there is no path there. This would explain why this route appears in no mountain bike guides.

Perhaps frustrated by this non-ride I went looking for an easy thrill the next day. Nothing does that quite like South Wales’ trail centres and I headed to Glyncorrwg to get a fix on Whites Level. The beautiful combination of singletrack climbing and flowing fast built technical descents had me grinning and jumping everything I felt I could, riding it fast (for me) and smooth. Exactly the buzz I wanted, and making it impossible to not stop off at Cwm Carn for a lap of Cafall (with Pedalhounds) on the Sunday. Climbing strongly and enjoying each moment the bike fell away in front of me and stuck in the corners, I revelled in the contrast of a damp trail, over the dry dusty conditions on Whites. The woods were steaming as the warmth of the day evaporated the water in the dirt and sections that were covered in leaves were now clearer and slightly scarier for it.

A weekend of balance and contrast that showed everything that Wales and mountain bikes can offer you.