Thursday, 7 March 2019

Rovaniemi Kit

This year's race was a bit different to that two years ago primarily because of the temperature being 10C or so warmer. Although I've not "raced" on the fat bike at home I was far warmer during the Rovaniemi 150 than on most UK winter rides where I've ridden it.

I'd done some adjustments since last time - https://bobwightman.blogspot.com/2017/03/rovaniemi-kit-what-worked-and-what-didnt.html , changes are noted in the comments, they are mostly about better cold protection but it just so happens that I'd have been OK with the kit I'd used last time.

I've put links to the manufacturer's pages for some of the items but the standard stuff is easily located on CRC, Wiggle, etc..

The bike

Singular Puffin medium frame with Travers Fat Prong carbon forks. Industry Nine hubs with Sun Ringle Mulefut 80mm rims. Tyres were 45Nrth Vanhelgas set up tubeless. Raceface Aeffect cranks with Absolute Black oval 26T chainring. Shimano rear mech and Sunrace 11-42 10spd cassette. Avid BB7 brakes. Nukeproof Electron plastic/composite pedals. Jones SG Riser Loop bars.

Apart from the Jones bars this is the same setup as two years ago. I'd originally fitted a set of carbon Jones Loop bars to the bike but got nerve damage after the last time. I suddenly realised it was because the previous owner was a little shorter than me and the steerer had been cut to suit so the front end was too low. The only way to lift it would have been to get a new set of forks but then Jones released their riser bars. Perfect!

Bags and Kit

Wildcat Lion handlebar harness with 20L Exped dry bag. Two Revelate Mountain Feed Bags. Wildcat Snow Leopard frame bag.  Alpkit Fuel Pod top tube bag. Wildcat Tiger seat harness and tapered dry bag.

The 20L dry bag held a Rab Expedition 1100 sleeping bag and an Exped Winterlite sleeping mat. I can get the bag in to a 13L bag but it's a struggle. I used the 13L bag last time and wrapped a CCF mat around it.

Revelate Williwaw pogies. A big step up from the Alpkit model but a bit warm this time. Garmin Oregon GPS mounted on the front loop of the bars.

One Feed bag held trail food and the other my goggles and battery from MTB Batteries for one of my lights.

The frame bag came with the bike and is one of the prototypes. It contained a spare inner tube; two spare buffs; three spare pairs of gloves; small pan; more food. GoPro lay along the top of the frame bag and strapped to top tube.

The top tube bag was fitted at the top tube - seat post junction to aid with standover. It held spare batteries for camera and GoPro; tools (multi-tool, Leatherman squirt, sewing kit). I also had a Sahmurai Sword tyre plug system which fits in the end of the handlebars. I had a Topeak Mountain Morph pump strapped to the down tube.

The saddle bag held: a spare thermal top; spare socks; 3/4 length waterproof trousers; lightweight waterproof; PHD lightweight down jacket.

Lights were a Hope Vision 2 mounted on the front loop of the bars and an Exposure Joystick mounted on my helmet (Lazer Revolution). The helmet has an inbuilt GoPro mount so I've an adaptor between that and the Exposure style mount. Generally you don't need a huge amount of light because the snow reflects so much so both lights were on their lowest settings, even with virtually a full night of riding I hardly used any of the battery charge. A small rear light was attached to the Tiger harness.

Food

Mostly nut and raisin mix with a bar of marzipan (doesn't freeze or crumble in to bits). I'd also a packet of precooked rice and grains and a couple of packets of porridge (hence the pan) but didn't use this.

On Me

Bridgedale socks; Scarpa Mountaineering boots with in-built gaiters; Madison thermal bib long; long sleeved thermal top of uncertain make and vintage; Gore Windstopper Jacket; lightweight buff under helmet.

Between thermal and jacket I had a Revelate Wampak drinks pack with a 3 litre bladder.

Camera and a few cereal and chocolate bars in the jacket pockets.

Thoughts

Mostly I got things right with just a few niggles. As stated several times the conditions were somewhat atypical and all the kit I'd bought to supplement/correct the mistakes from last time weren't really needed.

One worry was the chainring getting bent on the flight out. I'd taken a spare but packed the wrong tool to replace it so I ended up (carefully) bending it back into line. It held up for the race and I didn't have any shifting problems so a bit lucky there.

Later on I had problems with the brakes freezing up. I think this is because of everything being so wet earlier on in the race then when temperatures fell that turned to ice. I'm not sure if it was the callipers freezing up or water in the cables. I've seen a blog post about weatherproofing BB7s so will investigate that.

I got tyre pressures pretty much right this time - I was riding quite a bit more of the lake than those ahead of me for example plus on the long tracks heading to CP7 where there was a lot of soft or broken snow I pulled away from Mike Collins who's much stronger than me. It's a bit of a balancing act between having pressures low enough to ride but high enough to reduce drag. The route surface also ranges from soft tracks to ploughed roads so it was a matter of judging whether each section was long enough to justify stopping to adjust pressures, having done the route before made this easier.

I didn't think they were too low until I got off the second lake and the rear felt "squidgy". Whether it was the drop in temperature or I'd caught the edge of an icy rut and the tyre had burped some air I don't know but it needed a couple of PSI adding. I was possibly down to 2psi at that point.

This is how low I got with tyre pressures - probably a bit too low at this point!


My hands were roasting for most of the ride! I had the ventilation zips on the pogies open all the time until after the temperatures dropped well below freezing. I only used one of the spare pairs of gloves. In a similar vein my feet were very warm until the dampness built up from sweating. They only really got cold due to this at the stops, particularly the hut at CP6, but warmed up once I got moving. Constantly wriggling my toes helped.

The Williwaw pogies have their own bar end plugs to use as part of their mounting system. Using the Sahmurai plugs meant that I had to loop the mount on to the bar grips which didn't really work.
A) they would slip off the end of the bars occasionally.
B) the mounting loop sat under the palm of my hand and was somewhat irritating.

I'd wanted to have my sleeping kit at the back of the bike but I've no saddle bag big enough to stuff it in. This meant that I'd 2.5kg or so on the front of the bike affecting handling. One option might be to use a rear pannier rack and strap the bag to that. It would add around 700g over and above the Tiger harness and dry bag. While "soft" bikepacking kit is generally fine, it's intended to be streamlined to allow riding through narrow trails. On events like the Rovaniemi 150 the terrain and trails are much more open so that isn't so much of a problem. Certainly if I had to carry more kit it would be an option.

I'd strapped the pump on the downtube next to the frame bag. When I came to use it after getting off the second lake it was rather icy so it might be better strapping it to the top tube. I'd not had this problem last time because it was so consistently cold.

I'd looked around for a quick release mount to be able clip the GoPro and its "selfie" stick to the top tube but didn't manage to find one so I ended up using Velcro One-Wrap to fix it. As a result it was awkward to release and start using so I didn't get as much footage as I'd have liked.

Of all the mandatory and spare kit I carried on the bike, the only items I used were the pump and one pair of gloves. Of course most of it is for when things go wrong or you are much slower and intending to sleep out.

Ever more learning!

Thursday, 28 February 2019

What Lays Beneath

Snow's weird. Well its primary constituent, water, is weird. In fact it's one of the weirdest compounds known. The only substance that is naturally solid, liquid and vapour at the earth's surface. One of very few substances whose density isn't linear with temperature (the others are mostly rare elements), it's densest at +4C which is why ice floats on water and forms on the surface of bodies of water and not at the bottom.

We woke to -25C. Putting a bike together in those temperatures is "interesting". A bent chainring should have been swapped out but I'd forgotten the adaptor so some careful rebending with a set of adjustable spanners was in order. The day was forecast to get warmer, a lot warmer, by the time we headed down to the mandatory gear inspection and race brief it had risen to -15C. Two hours later it was -5C.

Race day and it was just below freezing as we headed down to sign on. It wasn't even nippy standing around on the river waiting for the start.

The start
Phil Clarke at the start
Simon and Lisa Bryant

The start was the typical dash. We've 11km of this to spread the field out a bit and already the conditions feel harder than two years ago. I keep pace with Phil Clarke, one of the many British riders in the race and who I'd ridden with for a couple of days on the Highland Trail in 2017. We pass Mike (Collins) who'd had a puncture within the first kilometre.

I'm on my limit when Phil pulls away as we work at passing a couple of other riders and he's leaving the first checkpoint as I head in. 47mins to there, a full eleven minutes slower than last time. Hmm might be a long day. There's a long minor road section before the first of the proper off-road sections. It feels firm until I get to a lead where there's soft windblown snow across the track and I'm off. Time to let some air out of the tyres. Soon I'm at checkpoint two.



The forest road on the way to checkpoint two


Each of the race distances (66, 150 & 300km) have separate sheets to sign. I notice there's only five numbers before mine. "Is this the first sheet?", "yes". Gulp, I wasn't expecting that.

The next bit is one of the pain in the ass sections and is unrideable. It's so narrow and convoluted twisting in and around trees that the organisers can't use snowmobiles to create the trail but have to flatten it using snowshoes. It doesn't feel as bad as last time and soon I'm on the lake.

It's definitely warm on the lake, probably +5C, and it's hard work. Ahead, still some way in the distance, I notice riders getting off and walking before remounting for a short distance then walking again. I stop to let more air out of my tyres. There's lots of overflow on the lake, these are definitely walking sections but the rest is mostly ridable - it's just a case of choosing the right line and speed for any one  obstacle. I catch one of the riders I'd seen earlier. No, no, no, NO! He's walking in the main tyre tracks with his bike to the side thus wrecking any semblance of line for those following. He probably thought I was a grumpy old git going past.



Ice lying on water isn't static, it lives and breathes in response to the weather and its immediate environment. One factor is variations in atmospheric pressure, these cause the ice to fall with high pressure and rise in low pressure. These changes lead to cracks forming in the ice and the underlying water overflowing on to the surface.

With dry, i.e. uncovered by snow, surfaces this water will freeze if air temperatures are below zero but remain liquid in warmer conditions. More interesting is what happens if the ice is blanketed with snow.

In such circumstances the snow acts as an insulator (well it's the air inside the snow that actually does the insulating) and the water remains in liquid form at temperatures well below freezing, the actual temperature depending on the depth of snow and ambient conditions. Unless someone has passed across the overflow then it's effectively hidden and the first you know about it is a sudden wet squidge. If air temps are well below zero then the water can freeze near instantly to boots, skis, drivetrain.

As much of a worry is the thought always at the back of your mind that this isn't actually overflow but a break in the ice.

The next rider is some way away and it takes a while to catch them: I'd pull close on the tricky sections but then they'd pull out a lead when it was easier. Eventually I was close enough to see that it was a woman rider and when I passed I noted that she was riding the 150 as well. Her troubles were caused by too high tyre pressures for the conditions. I was in fifth! By the time I turned left at the route junction I looked back and she was just a dot in the distance.

Finally, after 11km of sheer bloody effort I'm off the lake. Last time this had been fast smooth ice. A bit of road (still snow/ice) and then it's the longest and steepest hill on the route. "On your right" a voice announces, I wobble and fall off the marked track. "Shit! Sorry!" It's the woman again. It takes me several minutes to find purchase to climb back on the track.

I catch her on the descent and she passes me again on the next section of road. I see her for the last time at the third checkpoint. Also there is Phil. He's been there a while sorting out a chain dropping issue. I leave on my own. For the next few hours the only riders, indeed people, I see will be at the checkpoints.


Checkpoint three

More track, more road (with reindeer!) and more track get me to checkpoint four. The sunny morning has turned to a cloudy afternoon and it's really hard to make out features on the track. It's the Bridge of Doom next and the descent to it sees me headlong in to the snow at the side of the track as I catch a rut where one of the riders ahead has pushed through the surface. The bridge isn't as bad as last time - it gets its name due a competitor who fell in the stream and carried on rather than returning to the checkpoint five hundred metres back. He lost most of his toes to frostbite. The second pain in the ass section follows.

The Bridge of Doom (photo from 2017)
A longish road section then tracks through the forest with more comedy falls - they don't hurt, other than pride, the snow's too soft and deep for that.

Even several metres of dry snow can't support the weight of a bike and rider so we are following snowmobile tracks through the woods. The machines are a tracked rubber band (for want of a better description) with an outboard pair of steering skis. This has a micro effect on how and where you ride.

The tracks thus formed need time for the cold air to firm up the disturbed snow, it's almost impossible to ride on fresh snowmobile tracks, especially uphill.

How quickly and how steadily the driver has passed along the track can affect the firmness of the track: a little too much throttle can lift the front end just enough that the skis don't compact the snow quite as much.

I'm following the line of a steerer ski when my front wheel disappears and I'm over the bars. Giggling I look at the bike - the downtube is lying on the snow surface. I lift the bike out and carry on.

In and out of checkpoint five without stopping other than to sign the sheet. I need to get the next bit done before dark as it's probably the most technical. The steep descent done it's lights on and I'm reduced to walking to the next checkpoint after a couple of snowmobiles pass in the opposite direction.

On the trails after checkpoint five.

Checkpoint six (out of eight) is actually just over halfway in distance and just under halfway in time. I spend time in the hut by the fire drying gloves and buffs whilst eating as much as possible. Two Italian riders arrive, they are on the 300km race, then a while later Mike turns up. He must have been storming to catch up after fixing the tyre at the start.

Mike leaves before me but I catch him again on the long descent back to the starting river. He's having a bad time mentally with the conditions. I ride with him for a while but eventually the elastic snaps and I'm on my own. The forest track gives way to minor road and I reach the river and pass through the village. A food stop under the street lights then onward. It's 34km between CPs 6 & 7 and it feels very lonely.

Riders also have an effect on the trail - follow someone who hasn't lowered their tyre pressure enough for the conditions and there'll be wiggles in the tyre tracks as they slip around and dips in the track as they apply too much torque and the tyre begins to dig in. In the worst case they'll step off or fall off and leave holes in the trail.

There are so many micro conditions to contend with: breaks in the trees allow the wind to fill over the track or the sun to soften it.

There's a light behind, it can only be Mike. I push on, the gap closing as I reach the climbs, extending as I hit the descents. At the turn on to the forest track there's no light in sight. I push on. This section just seems to last for ever as you follow forest tracks in the night. Like last time I smell the wood smoke from the fire before I see the shelters of the checkpoint. I spend time holding various bits of clothing to the fire to dry them out. I'm about to leave when Mike arrives. He's thinking of kipping here for a while.

A snowmobile pulls in to the checkpoint and leaves again just after I've got going. The track is now too soft to ride so it's more pushing. Eventually I get on to a forestry track and the surface improves. The snowmobile is heading back, the driver signals me to stop: "man then woman ahead, about 5km on the lake, but woman is not looking good. If you see her check with her." It turns out that she'd taken one of the many tracks leading off the route on the lake and rung race HQ to say she was lost. Somehow she got back on track and finished in fifth.

I'm halfway across the lake and all of a sudden the wheels come off. Not the bike, me. I've bonked. Apart from the road sections it's all been hard work, the track surface just soft enough that you were pushing maybe a centimetre or more of snow in front of your wheels. It was like riding with a binding brake. I've eaten enough, I probably ate 2/3rds of the food I took and we'd stocked up with more than we thought we'd need. I'd also drunk plenty. I walk significant parts of the track across the lake.

Mike's light appears on the lake behind me and the catch is made just before we reach the far bank. I stop to put air in my rear tyre (I think a drop in temperature had also had an effect) and apart from his rear light blinking in the distance it's the last I'll see of him. The hill over to the river is a long steady drag, still mostly rideable but I have to walk a couple of bits.
This is how low my tyre was when I pumped it up!
Down on to the river, turn left and the last checkpoint is a kilometre away. In and out with no stopping, just the 11km back to the finish. This is interminable - I ride 500m then walk 500m. I look back, the white of the iced river fades away with distance until it merges in to the dark of the forest. Nothing. I'm on my own. Those 11km take 1hr40mins.

I lean the bike against the wall, stop the Garmin and open the door. A small round of applause from the volunteers manning the desks, a handshake from Alex. I'm done.

19hrs54mins

I finished in seventh place. I'd lost an hour to Mike in the last 20km. The next finishers, the first on foot, arrive nearly three and a half hours after me. It's five hours until the next fat biker arrives. It seems that the seven of us were well out in front of everyone else for the entire race (Mike's puncture at the start excepted). We all had roughly an hour between our finishing times. Phil gained an impressive third place in 16:04

The finishing times

I grab a couple of naps - trying to sleep in a sleeping bag rated to -30C in a heated storeroom isn't easy. Cath left the halfway hut at 23:03 so I reckoned she'd be finishing sometime between 1pm and 2pm. She eventually finished at 9 minutes past two as second lady on bike and in 18th place overall.

Cath receiving her prize from the organiser Alex.
Conditions were much harder than two years ago, only ten competitors finished in under 24hrs compared to over twenty then. The first lady was Hungarian but on the roster she'd put "UK" so I'm not sure if she's dual nationality. If she is then five of the top seven were Brits. Apparently she'd recently completed the Seven Summits which might explain her amazing aerobic performance.


Trail conditions required constant attention, you couldn't relax for a moment in case you caught the edge of a shallow rut or failed to spot a post hole. My shoulders were sore for a couple of days afterwards with the effort of keeping the bike upright and pointing forward.

Full results here: https://www.rovaniemi150.com/results/rov150-2019/


Here's the Strava activity link:


Is this going to be like hangovers? "Never again!"

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

2018 Bivy a Month retrospective

Having missed out on getting a full twelve months' worth of bivvies for the last couple of years, in each case just a month was missed, we determined to give the Bivy-a-month challenge a proper shot.

January 

Another BB "do", this time the winter event. We'd got to the cafe at Bwlch y Sarnau and were wondering where to kip. I thought I'd better put a jacket on and noticed some old farm buildings so ended up with a four star bivy! Plenty of room to get us and the bikes inside out of the wind and rain. Turns out that the whole farm was up for sale for redevelopment so maybe not an option in future.










February 

A last minute grab this one. Decided to keep it very local so headed up the hill behind us, me on the fat bike, Cath on her plus wheeled Stooge. Cath rejected my first choice - locally known as "murder wood" after the body of a lady of ill repute was found there in the 1970s - no idea why she didn't fancy stopping there. So we carried on and made our way to close to the top of the hill. For a hill in the Pennines it's actually quite prominent and separate from the rest of the chain so it's pretty exposed. However, there's some old, shallow, quarry pits here, I'd used them for a bivy a couple of years ago when Cath was away skiing. The same spot I'd used before was out of the wind so up with the tarp.

It was only when we'd got bedded down and turned out the torches that we realised how bright the moon was (full moon in a couple of days) and with all the lying snow the whole area everything was well lit up. The main problem was that the pitch was on a very slight slope so we'd slowly slide out of the tarp! According to my thermometer it got to -7C while Cath's reckoned it was -8C, whatever, it was pretty nippy.

We were up at 0620 and packed away just as the first snow flurry hit. A bit of cheeky riding along the Pennine Way and then back home for 0730. Sorry no pics for this one.


March  & April 

We left it until even later than February but after work kiboshed getting away on Good Friday we headed up to do some riding based on the Wild About Argyll Trails. We set off from Arrochar on Saturday afternoon and ended up on a hillside above Loch Eck. We discovered during the night that silnylon bivy bags are very slippery and pitching up on even a slight slope has unintended consequences It was pretty cold, about -3C but that was March done. 3/3.

Sunday we continued and by the time we got to Tarbert on the Mull of Kintyre (cue McCartneys, Denny Lane and a band of pipers wandering along the beach) we decided to cut the route short and headed up the road to rejoin the return at Furnace. By this time it was a bit late so we bivvied on a flat spot overlooking the sea. 4/4.



Got back to the car just under 48hrs after leaving. Didn't have any rain or other precipitation so a good choice.


May 

We did our first Welsh Ride Thing and so got two bivvies for the price of one. The weather was brilliant all weekend. The first bivy was above Brithdir near Dolgellau whilst the second was on the shores of Llyn Vyrnwy



June  

We went for a rather warm ride up to the north west part of the Dales. We followed the Pennine Bridleway but with a few short cuts. After a nice meal in The Moorcock Inn we ended up bivvying close to the Water Cut sculpture near the north end of the PBW with Wild Boar Fell across the other side of the valley as a backdrop.

The following morning we rode the very northern bit of the PBW over the shoulder of Wild Boar Fell before heading back home via Sedbergh, Ribblehead and Malham.



July 

We went for a rather long ride this time, basically the Leeds-Liverpool canal to Wigan, the Bridgewater canal to join up with the Trans Pennine Trail then NCN 67 to Leeds before rejoining the LL canal to get back home.

We bivvied in Longdendale on the old railway line that once used the Woodhead tunnels.

We rose early, everything was bone dry - no condensation or ground damp. By the time we'd ridden the 6km to the tunnel entrances it was drizzling so good timing.




August: The French Divide.






September: A midweek strike.

I rode over to Cath's work (having forgotten that she finished at 1700 not 1730 ) then we set off up through the woods and on to the moor

I had thought of bivvying up on the top of the moor but it was very busy with a group of twenty or so mountain bikers going the other way then a group of fell runners then it looked like a pair of trails bikers were heading along the track! It was also a bit early and actually blowing a bit of a gale so we carried on.

We headed up from Hetton and found an old quarry working that was sheltered and had some flat spots to put up the tent. This was our first BAM using a tent, it's new and Cath wanted another night out in it. Anyway, I found another use for the Schnozzle bag - as a diffuser over an Exposure Joystick. Cue stereotypical nighttime shot of a lit tent ...



It rained through the night which wasn't forecast and it was a bit dreich in the morning. A quick pack up then it was down towards Threshfield, Cath headed to work while I headed home.

October 

Another getting to the end of the month and what shall we do job. Cold northerlies meant somewhere sheltered. We e eventually settled on top of the local hill! This was the same spot as for the February bivy.

We headed out on our fat bikes which gave Cath a chance to try her new tyres. It was about -3C when we set out but warmed up a bit through the night to around or just above freezing this morning. We used the same site, some old quarry workings, that we'd used on our Feb bivy as they are reasonably sheltered. We used the new Pole-a-Bear poles we got earlier in the week from Stu along with a carbon pole he'd made for me last year. What we didn't realise was that they came out about 150mm shorter than our normal reused old tent poles so the setup wasn't quite right.




There were a few light showers through the night but it was definitely nippy in the morning with some frost on the tarp.

November 

Got it in early this time. I persuaded Cath that the new tyres on her fat bike needed a proper ride so that they'd bed in.

With the short daylight hours timing was everything, we needed to get to the pub at about the time they started to serve food, a couple of hours there then off to wherever we would bivy. We left Buckden after midday and headed up on to Stake Moss then down via a new to us bridleway to Thornton Rust and then by road to Aysgarth where we took afternoon tea. Steady riding along the north side of the valley in ever increasing gloom and darkness got us to the pub in Bainbridge about forty minutes before food time.

Suitably replenished we left the pub at about 2000 and headed up the old Roman Road keeping a look out for potential bivy spots. After about a kilometre there was an open gate in to a flat field. Up with the tent. A couple of swigs of whisky and some snacks and we crashed out.




The morning was fine but looking a bit ominous so a quick breakfast then it was on and up the rest of the Roman Road and over Fleet Moss to Cam Head to drop down towards Ribblehead before cutting back through Langstrothdale forest. All the descent was in cold driving rain so by the time we got back to the car we were both soaked and frozen.

December

We chickened out of the BB Winter bivy, in the event it was probably just as well since black ice coated everything and it was difficult if not impossible to walk the short distance from the house door to the car! That meant our only real chance was our annual three day trip somewhere. We ended up in Kielder Forest visiting both Kershopehead and Flittingford bothies.

Most of the first day was really a night ride and in very thick fog it was a good job I'd put the route into the GPS to get us to Kershopehead. There were a couple of well oiled Carlisle lads in their already who'd already got the fire going. A steady day got us to Flittingford which fortunately was empty as it's very small.




The third day was a straightforward ride back to the car on tracks we'd used before.

So that's a full year's worth of bivvies.

Monday, 15 October 2018

BB200, the 2018 wet edition

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.
This is not done by jostling in the street.
William Blake


The last time I'd been at this stream it was fast flowing but clear and I'd almost managed to ride across it. Today it was a dirty brown roaring maelstrom. It didn't look good.

Two years ago I did my first BB200 gaining one of the coveted black badges. There must have been something about that year as over a third of the entrants also got a black badge. Rumours spread that that course was "easy". With the course being different each year it's hard to compare them but the 2014 route has a mythical status: apparently the riders didn't speak to Stu on their return to Llanbrynmair and there's lots of dark mutterings in to cups of coffee when it's mentioned.

"The bridge at 20km has gone. Use your own judgement on how to get round or across that stream." With that advice, I was away. The stream looked like one of those African rivers in the rainy season, a red-brown soup, surface features flitting past in the current. I knew that there were no tributaries joining it between here and the ford and also that I wasn't going to be crossing it. Farm and forestry tracks rejoined the route further upstream, they would do.

In truth none of the BB200 routes are "easy", they aren't meant to be, but the conditions on the day can make them much harder. The short daylight hours of October just add to this. There's no "winning" or "losing" but scratching is a hard choice. Making decisions in such conditions as we experienced on Saturday can have serious consequences.

In these days of 250km+ per day multi-day rides a mere 200km might not seem much to shout about but they are tough kilometres. Even the easy grassy bits you have to keep concentrating as a lot of the surface is a layer of wet soil and grass that has little resistance to pedalling and you can easily find yourself sideways to your original line of motion.

It's taken nearly seven hours to do the first 60km to reach the filling station/shop in Ponterwyd. There's a group of riders there refuelling. A cup of coffee, a sandwich and replenish supplies and I'm on my way in ten minutes or so. No point in standing around getting cold, it's another 50km to the next potential stop in Llangurig so time to crack on.

I'd not done the next section around the two bothies before so I don't really know what to expect. In the event there was another stream crossing, quite a bit deeper this one, and what would turn out to be the biggest hike-a-bike of the route. A bit of cramp at the top of this just as I get hit by a gust of wind. Fortunately it's downhill for a while and I work it off. Some stream enabled bridleways to the second bothy then I'm on familiar territory but the Broken Road is tricky in the wind.

It's also hard on kit. Given the number of GPS and light failures I think it's reasonable to say that manufacturers don't employ the 24hr spin cycle on their nearest industrial washing machine when testing their products. There was much discussion beforehand about the best way of keeping your feet dry with lots of "systems" being bandied about. It's probably safe to say that by the first thigh deep river crossing none of them were still working if indeed they ever had.

The road to the head of the Elan Valley is eased by what is now a tail gale. Darkness falls along here so lights on and finding the next bridleway is tricky. The "problem" is solved by blasting downhill through tussocks until I find the track. I'd thought when looking at the map that this was mainly downhill so I'm confused as to why there are three lights on the hillside above me. Then I work my way back on to the GPX line and it becomes clear: the downhill has a large bit of uphill in it. I've no idea of the time when I get to the road so it's just press on.

It's 2030 and I've made the pub in time for something to eat. "We've just turned the fryers off. We've had no-one in all night." "Soup?" "Can do that for you." There won't be anywhere else open until I get to the finish. Twelve hours to here. They've felt like hard won miles. Another couple of riders arrive seeking shelter from the storm. I'm there for thirty minutes. Things are calming down when I head out, in fact for a while there's stars in the sky.

A good mental attitude will get you a long way on the BB200. Enjoying your own company helps since in the latter parts of the route you will likely be on your own. Equally true is that you can spend a large part of the route with other riders. These tend to be chatty affairs given the likelihood of some rather large personal space in the not too distant future.

The track is doing the best approximation of a river that it can when my front wheel drops into a muddy pool and hits a hidden sloping rock and I'm eating rock. No damage done. Except for the flapper on the end of a finger. Blood drips down washed away by the rain. It takes an hour or so for the flow to stop. A second fall ten hours later bangs my knee which is still sore a day later. Oh, there's more blood.
 Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. My front wheel is making an odd but regular noise. I stop and check the brake rotor for debris but there's nothing obvious. Another spin of the wheel. Tap. Tap. Tap. Hmm. Then I notice the stick across the top of the tyre. I pull at it. It's attached to a thorn. There's a quick hiss and the sealant does its job. (I find another thorn once I get home) There's been a lot of hedge cutting and I've been lucky to get this far.

The BB200 is a curious beast, some call it an ITT, some a challenge. It can be both but at times it's as much an exploration of your psyche with the clinician's couch substituted by the mountains of Mid-Wales. A game of open air chess with a myriad conflicting aims and decisions: can you make it round? Have I enough food with me? Do I have time to get to the next shop? Do I stop at the cafe and cool down or push on?

2am and I'm sat under the market hall in Llanidloes. A couple walk past, they're the first people I've seen in three hours since I left the last couple of riders near Bwlch y Sarnau. I'm not sure that my light has enough juice to see me to the end so I've decided to sit a while and grab a bite whilst it's getting some charge. After fifteen minutes I'm starting to get cold so it's time to pack up and get moving again.

I'm trying hard to ignore the clunking noise from my left pedal (I think) hopefully that will fix it. I've ignored the creaking chain for a good seven hours now and that still works so the tactic seems a good one.

I do a bit of faffing about in Hafren Forest and one of the riders I pulled away from at Bwlch y Sarnau catches me up and we will ride to the finish together. One big climb through the forest then it's mostly downhill and a few small bumps to deal with. As we approach the last bridleway I can feel cramp coming on so we walk the last climb. With over twenty hours of riding done we are tired so the descent is steady then it's just 20 minutes of road and we pull in to the community centre car park. It's 0618, the first light of the new day is just visible.

┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄

So how did it compare to two years previously? In 2016 for the 205km I had a total time of 19hrs1min with 16hrs35mins riding. This year for 202km I had a total time of 21hrs20mins with a riding time of 19hrs35mins.

The Strava bit:


Two years ago 25+ riders, over a third of the field, went home with a black badge. This year there were just seven. Definitely harder, not a repeat of 2014, people even spoke to Stu afterwards, but hard.

Cath arrived back at the centre 29hrs30mins after setting off having ridden through without a bivy. Tough lass! She didn't look anywhere near as tired as two years ago.

"That" stream? My companion crosses it bike on shoulder so it's doable. My turn. The water comes to the top of my thighs and I'm struggling for purchase on the boulders then I'm over to the far bank. We wait for the rest of our loose group and help them across.

Of course on the drive home it was nice and sunny and I needed the sunglasses that I'd left at home by the back door.

This black badge was hard won.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Revisiting a bike build

A couple of years ago I built up a Singular Puffin fat bike for the Rovaniemi 150 bike race. My first fat bike, it would take a little getting used to and there was a good chance I'd have to modify one or two things.

One of the things that I definitely didn't get right during the Rovaniemi was tyre pressures. I made the classic newbie mistake of running too high a pressure so struggled when the snow got softer. I'd fitted a 28T chainring but since I've rarely used the 11T cog I thought I'd drop down a couple of teeth so ordered a 26T oval chainring and fitted that. Bling gold so I can tell it apart from the 28T version!

Update

On a ride a few weeks later I  noticed a crunching noise when in the 42T cog. Bike up on workstand to see what's going on. It turned out to be at the chainring end. There were two BB spacers on the drive side and one on the NDS so swapped a spacer from the drive side to the NDS thereby moving the chainline inward by 2.5mm and it was sorted. There's still plenty of clearance between chain and tyre.



A weekend in the Lakes doing some rather steep stuff led me to realise that the brakes (Avid BB7s) were a little underpowered so I moved the 180mm rotor from the front to the back and added a 200mm rotor to the front, except ... Hope rotors don't play well with Avid brakes - the tabs on the pads foul the "rivets" connecting the inner part of the rotor to the braking surface. The easiest solution was to cut the tabs down. It turned out to be the one practical solution I later found when searching online.

That's a big rotor!

And so's that!


At the time I noted that I'd take time to get used to the handlebars. Earlier this year I built up a Salsa Spearfish and rather than buy a new set of Jones Bars I moved the bars to the Spearfish and put some On-One Mary bars on the fat bike. The Loop Bars felt right on the Spearfish so it obviously wasn't the bars themselves that were the problem but I put things to one side and got on with riding and generally doing stuff. As it happened the Mary Bars didn't feel right either so time to have a ponder and mull things over.

It dawned on me that Ian, the previous owner of the Puffin, was a little shorter than me so he'd have cut the fork steerer to suit him. Basically the bars were too low. As it happened Jones had recently released a new model of Loop Bar, one with an inbuilt rise of 2.5". A set were duly ordered.

They didn't get put on the Puffin straight away, they went onto Cath's Stooge to give her a chance to see if they suited her. A month or so later and she's decided they aren't for her, so ...

Put Cath's Stooge Moto bars back on her bike and remove the On-One Marys from mine.

Jeff Jones recommends that the brake and gear levers are situated as close to the bar joint as possible but I wanted to use a set of Revelate Williwaw Pogies with these bars (See this post about the pogies I used during the Rovaniemi 150) so I needed to make sure that wherever I fitted them they weren't going to interfere with one another. It turned out that about 50mm further out towards the ends of the bars felt right. It's worth noting that Revelate state that the Williwaws aren't for use with Jones Loop Bars but they seem all right to me, angling the bars downwards appears to help in this regard.

While last time I'd gone for a double colour taping scheme this time I've gone for a single colour, red, but the bars are double wrapped which will help with cold temps.

I'd got a set of ESI Chunky Monkey foam grips so rather than use bar tape to cover the bars all the way to the levers I'd use a section of the grip on the inside of the levers and with luck this would also grip on to the bar tape at that point. The last time I'd fitted these grips I'd really struggled but this time a good dousing of Iso-Propyl Alcohol and they went on in seconds. The inner sections were really easy since they were so short. Then the levers, then the longer outer section.



The last job was to angle the bars and then tighten down the levers to suit.

At the weekend I went for a test ride over on some new to me bridleways in the Forest of Bowland. Seems pretty sorted.




Tuesday, 28 August 2018

YD200, the 2018 Edition

2018 has been a somewhat frustrating year, I'd scratched on the first day on the HT550 and on the fifth day of The French Divide so I was a bit down about things. We'd toured Brittany after scratching on the FD but if I'd completed the FD then I doubt I would have considered riding this year's YD200. As it was I thought I'd be OK so rang Stuart on the Friday to see if there were any spaces.

"There's only eight due to turn up! A few who registered have emailed to say they can't make it."

"See you tomorrow morning"

Which meant I had to get the bike ready. But I'm a dab hand at this now. The forecast was fine and cool (hurrah!) for Saturday with rain coming in on Sunday morning. Riding through was the obvious tactic but I'd pack a lightweight bivy system that I've used before: SOl Escape bivy and a PHD lightweight duvet. Along with a windshirt for possible trail use it came to a mighty 600g! An Alpkit Top Tube bag mounted in the frame behind the bottle cage held tools and spares, the pump was strapped to the bottle cage, and two Revelate Feed bags for trail snacks and odds 'n' sods. Pretty lightweight but some did have even less.

Up early and ride into town. Yep, just eight of us. I knew, in varying degrees, four of the others, ITTs are a small and apparently shrinking world. One of those I know is Phil Clarke who I'd ridden with on last year's HT550 and who I'd last seen at Corrour this year when he gave me an inner tube for my busted rear wheel. Returning that we had a chat then Stuart gave his usual pep-talk and soon it was time to go.

I led the small group out of the yard and towards town, that certainly wasn't going to last! Soon enough the front runners are off in front. Let them go. Most of Stuart's rides finish over Barden Moor but this started that way which isn't that usual for me to ride. It's a long drag to the summit especially with the head wind. Soon enough we are dropping down to Rylstone and heading up to Bordley.

The front two (Tom Bruce and Phil) are well ahead but there's a group of four of us riding at roughly the same pace so Mike, George, Ian and myself spend most of the next few hours riding together or as various pairings as our strength ebbs and flows. There's quite a bit of surface water on Mastiles Lane, evidence of Friday's rain, nothing's particularly boggy or muddy though and we keep pressing on.

The Saturday of the August BH weekend is Malham Show Day which has an associated Trailquest meaning that as we pushed westwards towards Settle we'd cross lots of bikers with map boards mounted on their bikes as they rode around picking up controls and points. There was one part of the route that I'd not done before, at the time I thought it was a footpath but checking the map afterwards it wasn't even that, definitely cheeky!

Mike, myself and George at the 3 Peaks cafe in Settle

An agreement was made to have a coffee in Settle then the first of the hard climbs, it's in the 100 road climbs book, where Mike gets a bit of lead on the rest of us before a rapid descent and some nice BW around Wharfe. Lights on for the descent through the tunnels at Clapham and we pop out of those to find Mike dealing with a blown rear tyre.

The next bit to Wray is all road but it's lumpy. There's just George and myself at this point and by the time we get to Wray we could do with refreshments as there'll be nothing until we ride back over the Roman road across Salter's Fell to Slaidburn. The pub is convenient and a drink and ice cream do wonders. Steep road before an equally steep drop and climb back out lead to the end of the tarmac. The first part of the track is a good surface but it deteriorates after a gate, presumably an estate boundary, then again after another gate.


We almost gate crash a wedding on the way in to Slaidburn where we meet up again with Ian. We've just about finished our coffee when Mike arrives - George and I thought he'd passed us when we were in the pub but fixing his tyre had taken longer than anticipated. As we pass through Gisburn Forest he nips off to the cafe/shop to see if they have inner tubes for sale.

There's short sections of one of the marked routes we need to follow and I'm reminded why I don't like trail centres. Ah well, at least it's over pretty soon. Unfortunately as we climb through the forest I get the early signs of cramp and George and Ian leave me behind. Nothing to do but ease off and pedal through it. At least there's a long bit of generally downhill road next. One climb up to above Settle then a bit of bridleway I'd not done before and then I'm in town.

George and Ian are sat outside the Co-op, I nip in and grab what I need. I leave five minutes after them and won't see them until the finish. I normally manage the climb on the Settle Loop out of town but the cramps force me to walk some of it - at least I clean one of the rocky sections for the first time.

Once on top it's easy going as now there's a tail wind. Most of the puddles on Mastiles Lane have gone, in fact one beck that we'd avoided on the way out because it was so deep was now almost dry. With lots of interlinked loops in the route at this point it was possible I'd see the front riders and so it proved as Phil and I met at a gate. A quick chat about timings and we head on. I'd enough food to not need to visit the Spar at Threshfield but I needed to walk the steep tarmac back onto the tops. Down to the foot of Mastiles then start heading up again.

Mike catches me at this point - he'd stopped for something to eat at Tosside - as we get to the steeper top section we both get off and walk. The moon is just rising and we both stop to take a shot. Once on top it's nearly dark and the wind feels keen so on with the arm warmers and press on. I switch my lights on just before Lee Gate farm, no point in risking things.


There's just one short steep climb to Weets Top and as the cramps come back Mike pulls away. I'll be on my own to the finish. The descent to Calton is a blast in the dark. I text Cath to let her know my expected finish time and polish off the road section to Bell Busk. Just Markhouse Lane, the canal towpath and the old railway track to do.

I've done bits of the old railway track where the Land-Rover experience use it but not the section heading back to town. The pools looked particularly black tonight, well worth avoiding. The "new" bit starts off as double track but slowly gets less and less well defined until soon you are on a path riding through bushes. There's no lights to indicate where I am but all of a sudden the angle goes downhill sharply and I debouch onto the road. Just TT mode back to the finish.

I finish just before 11pm having taken just under 15hrs. Phil and my three companions are there and we chat for a while before it's time to head home and get some kip. The fastest time was 12hrs22mins.

Overall not a bad effort. I could still feel this summer's efforts in my legs, in particular there's no real top end power and sustained tempo is a bit lacking - going up long draggy hills I'd invariably drop behind whoever I was with.

Monday, 27 August 2018

ITTs, Touring and Powering Electronics

We all like our electronic gadgets but keeping them powered on a multi-day bike ride can be frustrating. There's no "one best" solution as both riders' preferences and the nature of any given ride change. For the French Divide I needed to keep the following (in priority order) going:
  • GPS (Garmin Oregon 600)
  • Phone (iPhone 5)
  • Front light (Exposure Joystick) & Rear light (small USB light)
  • Camera (Sony Rx100)
The GPS was most important as I'd be following a predefined route on it.

The phone was on air-plane mode for most of the time unless I was checking/sending texts from/to Cath.

I didn't plan to or actually ride much at night so the front light was mainly used on low mode at camp-sites and bivvies and would probably have lasted the whole ride on one charge. The rear light similarly saw little usage, usually early morning when heading out of town.

The camera was a different matter. While the documentation states that the battery will last for up to 200 shots that tends to be: power on, take lots of shots, power off. I was using it like : power on, take shot, power off. Most of the power consumption is in physically getting the camera ready to take a shot and then physically going back to storage mode. The actual shot uses very little power unless you zoom in and out a lot. This meant that I got about 40 shots before the battery was flat. In retrospect I'd have been better using the camera on the phone.

While I've long been a convert for dynamo hubs on commuter bikes I'd not been convinced of their usefulness off-road where speeds are usually much slower. There'd be no guarantee that I'd have access to power sockets cheekily or otherwise so I settled on using a dynamo hub to generate the power. Having forks with 15mm through-axle somewhat limits you to only a couple of models so I went for the Shutter Precision PDX-8 and Stuart Rider built it up into a nice wheel for me. There have been a lot of reports about the bearings on the SP dynamo hubs failing, particularly the through-axle versions, so it was a bit of a risk going for that rather than the Schmidt version. So far I've done over 1600km on it and it's fine.

There's a slight problem with using a dynamo to directly power devices like GPSs, Garmins in particular, in that when your speed drops or you stop to check you are still on route or take a photo, whatever then the device thinks power has been removed and a screen pops up asking if you want to stay powered on. Annoying especially if the default is to then turn the thing off if no button is pressed! Consequently my strategy was to charge a battery during the day then use that battery to charge the devices at night. Hopefully I could maintain speed to keep everything going.

A test ride, on my commute, showed that I could generate 500mAh at a steady 20kmh. I wouldn't be maintaining that speed as an average, more like 10-12kmh so at a rough guess I'd generate 300mAh (I'll have to do a ride at that speed to confirm this) for about 12hrs each day giving 3600mAh in total. Keeping my power consumption below that would mean that I would be effectively energy neutral in that I wouldn't need to search out power sockets to top things up. The 3600mAh figure is quite useful as that's generally around the capacity of standard 18650 cells which are used in powerbanks - these all have stated capacities that are multiples of 3500/3600mAh.

My setup thus consisted of the dynamo hub which was connected to an Igaro D1 converter which itself connected directly to a 10,500mAh battery (i.e. one with three 18650 cells). During the day I'd charge the battery then at night change the battery from "sink" to "source" and top up the GPS then whatever device might need it. Occasionally I ran the GPS directly from the battery. For this scenario I also had a single cell battery that I could charge, converters like the Igaro don't like to be left "open circuit" with nothing connected and you can fry the electronics if you take a long descent at speed. A bit of "on the track" testing showed that the system would begin to charge once I got to about 8kmh but would then continue charging even if the speed dropped to 5kmh. Obviously you aren't getting huge amounts of charge through at those speeds but it does show that you can keep trickle charging things at little more than walking speed.

I started with everything fully charged and for the four days that I was riding the event it all worked as planned. It helped that much of the first day was fast riding. Once I'd scratched and then met up with Cath we went touring in Brittany which involved gentler speeds.

During the six days of touring we averaged around 90Km a day with around 6-8hrs of riding per day. With phone on air-plane mode and using the GPS screen sparingly (canals tend to have fewer options for going wrong than roads!) I was power neutral in that I could have continued indefinitely without requiring mains top-up. Except ...

I recharged the camera! This obviously has a fairly hefty battery inside as I basically drained a three-quarter full powerbank in recharging it. I spent the next two days slowly increasing the charge in the powerbank and generally ekeing things out. In retrospect I'd have been better using the camera on the phone. I should have probably recharged it when we were staying in hotels in either Reims or Paris.

One day I ran the Garmin directly from the powerbank. In typically Garmin fashion in this mode the unit ignores all the power saving options you've set up! I think it assumes that an external power source will be something with "infinite" reserve like a lighter socket in a motor vehicle or something similar on a boat. Consequently the screen stayed "on" all the time running the battery down! The Oregon actually works in opposite ways when using internal and external power - when using internal power the screen auto turns off and you have to press the power button to turn it on but when using external power you have to press the power button to turn it off.

In conclusion. For rides where you are able to maintain even a modest speed then a strategy of charging a battery through the day then using that to charge your devices is likely to work. For something like the Highland Trail and Cairngorms Loop where speeds are much slower I think you are better simply taking enough batteries to recharge your devices and not bothering with the dynamo, maybe a plug to use in a cafe if you can get away with it.