Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Bikepacking Toolkit and Spares

A while since I've posted so since I haven't done any notable rides I thought I'd do a few posts about the kit I take. Starting with bike tools and spares.

Despite our best intentions occasionally things go wrong and generally there's no-one else around to sort it out. Enter the tool-kit. With a little forethought you can carry tools and spares that will fix most problems short of major breakages. So here's a run down of things to take along with techniques and the occasional tip. As with most things in life, prevention is better than cure so a well maintained bike is less likely to suffer problems - "A stitch in time" and all that. They still happen though and accidents do occur - the only time I've needed to use any tools out on the trails in the last few years was to refit my shifter after a crash. Before we get to the tools and stuff there's a couple of ancillary items that are well worth taking.

Firstly a light of some kind. Obviously if you ride at night then you'll have a light on the bike but these are pretty vicious in terms of output, even at their lowest settings, and aren't designed for close up work. In the case of dynamo lights they are fixed to the bike and the standlight only lasts a couple of minutes anyway. So a small headtorch (with charged batteries!) will let you see what you are doing. Petzl Zipka, Alpkit Muon or Viper are all fine and pack up small, the Zipka with batteries weighs just 65g. An alternative (and something that you are likely to have with you anyway) may be your mobile phone - some have a "spotlight" option. Next, if it's cold (or winter) then one of those chemical handwarmers to keep your digits nice and flexible and capable of doing the work or even putting on the area of bike being worked on to avoid cold induced brittleness.

As ever with practical things it's worth practising in a comfortable environment - being out on the moors in driving rain as darkness is falling isn't the time to start reading the instruction manual: "Thank you for purchasing this product, we hope it gives you many years service ...". As above it's pretty rare things go wrong: I've only used a tyre plug in anger twice in seven years which is hardly enough to become proficient.

Examples:
  • get an old tyre and stab and slash it to see how plugs/anchovies work and how to sew a tyre back together; 
  • use the chain tool on old chains or the bit of chain you removed when fitting the new one. 

Even then when using the tyre plug it's a different matter inserting it on a mounted tyre than on an old one just lying around, you've got to avoid puncturing both another part of the tyre and disturbing the rim tape.

Multi-tool

Seemingly derigeuer these days, choose your favourite one. There's a few newer designs that aim to make use of empty space around your bike such as inside the crank spindle or the steerer column. But while convenient, multi-tools by their nature try to be all things to all riders, they're the Swiss Army knife of biking but do you really need all those bells and whistles?

Work out what your bike needs in the way of tools. There's a small range of hex/Allen keys that will do most of the bolts on a bike:  3, 4 & 5mm covers my Cotic Solaris' needs while my Singular Puffin fat bike needs 2, 4 & 5mm. Disc rotor bolts are usually Torx T25, some chainring bolts are Torx T20. Mech hanger bolts are usually 2mm hex.

I've got a set of Fixit Sticks that were on sale in a local bike shop. Only four "tools" (3, 4, 5mm hex and a Philips screwdriver) but the two halves slot together to make a T-shaped proper sized tool you can hold in your hand. Fixit also do a set of these with magnetic holders and replaceable bits. On a similar note a magnetic holder/wrench with the required standard hex bits is another alternative and can be lightweight and cheap to put together but does leave the problem of a chain tool.

You may need either a flat or Phillips screwdriver, in cold weather a regular screwdriver might be worth considering. One tool that is well worth taking is a set of pliers. For bike purposes the Leatherman Squirt covers most bases. Again, work out what you need and how a particular tool or feature will work in conjunction with your other kit.

You don't have to buy bike specific "kits" or tools, a look around most hardware stores will get you something that does the job if a little less elegantly.

In really cold weather it may be more worthwhile just taking full sized versions of whichever sizes of Allen Key your bike uses. The four needed for my fat bike weigh just 40g and I can get my whole hand around the handle/long side. Wrap in heat shrink (but not over the business ends) to avoid contact cold burns. Similarly a full sized Leatherman or Gerber tool rather than something like the Squirt will be easier to handle in the cold.

Pump

You need a pump designed for high volume as opposed to high pressure tyres. There's only a handful that are genuinely useful out on the trail: the Topeak Mountain Morph and the Lezyne HV mini-floor pump. Both have a "foot" as well as a T-handle for easier pumping and they both come with a hose so you aren't putting strain on the valve. The pump doesn't get used much so check that the seals haven't dried out prior to heading off on a trip and that it will pump the tyres up to the required pressure, again maintenance plays its part.

Inner tube

Even if you don't run tubeless (why not?) having a spare inner tube covers those situations where the tyre is damaged to the point where on its own it won't hold air. No need to go overboard, get the lightest tube you can find, something like the Surly ultra light. See a little later for mending tyres. There's also the Tubolito which are even smaller and lighter but various people have had problems with them. They aren't cheap either!

Tyre plugs

When something punctures your tyre and it's too big for the sealant to work then somehow you've got to plug that hole, ooer missus! Enter the tyre plug, often known as anchovies or bacon strips. Basically a strip of material along with applicator that you use to push said material into hole. There's a few systems around, they all do the same thing, usually there's two tools - a rasp or file to roughen up the edges of the hole and the applicator. Some also have a small blade to cut the material once you've plugged the hole but any knife/blade will do. I've the Sahmurai Sword which replaces the end caps on your handlebars thus making use of a somewhat wasted space. https://cyclorise.com/collections/sahmurai-sword

The strips as supplied are a bit long so cut them in half, they only have to be long enough to pass through the tyre wall when bent in two.

TIP: fit one length of the material in the applicator before heading out so you are ready to go.

Assuming you are quick off the mark, put a finger over the hole to try and stop too much air from escaping, after all you are only going to have to pump the tyre up again in a minute or two. Grab the rasp and push it into the hole and roughen the edges. Now grab the applicator and push in until the strip is in the hole a reasonable amount then put a finger on the strip and gently pull the applicator back out. Trim off any excess if you feel the need. Pump up the tyre. If you want to make a really permanent job then when you get home clean and dry the area and apply some flexible superglue over the strip and let it set.

Back to inner tubes. One side effect of the tubeless system working is that you tend not to know when you've had an "incident" that with tubes would see you stopped at the side of the trail either repairing a puncture or replacing the tube. Sometimes it's obvious when the sealant sprays out but more often than not the sealant just does its job especially with larger volume tyres that run at lower pressure. An inner tube should be your last resort for when all else fails. If you are lucky then you'll find the thorns and nails by running your fingers (carefully!) around the inside of the tyre before fitting the tube. The problem is that often you'll get embedded sharps that don't fully push through the tyre carcase and only show themselves when that part of the tyre strikes an edge and the thorn or whatever pushes into the tube then retreats back into hiding. On one occasion I put in a tube after carefully checking the inside of the tyre. The tube would slowly deflate over a couple of hours. When I got home and checked there were six pin-prick punctures in it!

TIP: get some tissue paper or similar and wipe it around the inside of the tyre. Any thorns will snag the lightweight paper and will be easier to find. Leatherman/Gerber like tools usually have some form of pliers which are ideal for removing any thorns.

Spares

Again this is very bike and component specific.

Spare valve and valve cores: Over time tubeless sealant can clog up the valve so grab a few spare valve cores, and pack one or two. You'll need either a valve core tool or a pair of pliers (e.g. Leatherman Squirt) to remove/replace it. If your multi-tool has a chain tool then there's a suitably sized slot on that that will also work. I also take a spare valve especially if it's a remote trip or I'm heading somewhere where I'm not sure whether I'm going to get spares.

Chain: Quick links of appropriate size for your chain. Also keep that short length of chain you removed when originally fitting it, if you do break/wreck a chain then it's easy to repair. You don't need any special tools to remove the quicklink, an old piece of gear/brake cable or even zip-ties can be used to squeeze the two sides together - thread the cable through the links either side, cross the wires over and pull. Alternatively use some pliers. One other technique is to use your chainring: position the quicklink so that it sits on the chainring, now lift the chain at one side and pull it towards the quicklink by one link such that you form a triangle sticking up from the chainring with the quicklink forming one side. Now push down on the QL and it should come apart.

One "tool" that is worth having is a chain holder - basically a piece of wire about 10cm long with hooks at both ends. Some chain tools and some multi-tools come with one but they are easy enough to make out of an old spoke or wire coat hanger. They are used to hold the chain either side of where you might break it with the chain tool or when putting the chain back together so that there isn't any tension in the work area.

To fit the quicklink it's a case of applying enough force to pull the pins into the correct parts of the slots. Put the quicklink together and spin the cranks until it is in the upper part of the loop where it will be under tension. Now stamp firmly on the pedal and it should snap into place. Make sure that both sides have engaged!

Gear cable: Some people pack one but I've yet to break one, again with proper maintenance this shouldn't be necessary - I'd replace gear (and brake cables if you've mechanical brakes) prior to a big trip. Then again only 10g and takes up next to no space.

Spare brake pads: I'd pack a set but it does depend where you are heading. Make sure you pack the correct pads for the bike! My Puffin has Avid BB7 brakes but I've a Hope rotor which has a set of rivets holding the braking surface to the spider which foul on the arms of the Avid pads so those need to be cut down before I head out.

Mech Hanger: One of those items that's almost impossible to source should you break it, I've bent one when out riding but not broken it. You'll almost certainly need a 2mm hex key for the bolts holding this.

I'll divide the spares in to generic and bike specific packs with the latter living permanently on the relevant bike. The pack is marked up with the bike's make/model so I don't head out with the wrong set of spares but I've usually got bags permanently fixed to the bikes and the kit lives in there.

In the shot below are the contents of one such bike specific tin, it measures 90x32x32mm and is at top right of the shot, an ex-work colleague vaped and this is one of his empty vaping gunk tins suitably washed (several times). All the items beneath it plus the nitryl glove go in to it.
  • Allen key with magnetic holder
  • 2, 3 & 4mm hex bits (the Allen key "handle" is 5mm), T25 bit
  • Loctite flexible super glue
  • pack of tyre plugs
  • a set of spare brake pads and spring with retaining bolt
  • spare valve core
  • various nuts and bolts
  • cable end crimps
  • chain powerlink (appropriate size for the chain)
  • spare mech hanger (with bolts)
  • chain holder. 
 Total weight of tin and contents is 130g.


The pump is a Topeak DA something or other. There's a few wraps of Gorilla Tape around the handle.  To the left of this we have: tyre boot (old toothpaste tube); Leatherman Squirt tool;  tyre lever, Topeak mini chain tool (40g).

Along the top: Sahmurai Sword tyre plug tools that fit into the bar ends. A bunch of zip ties. A Tubolito emergency inner tube.

All that lot comes to under 500g (the pump and inner tube account for 200g of that) which isn't a great deal. Volume wise it's not a lot if you exclude the pump, I've a Wildcat Cheetah "Jerry can" top tube bag and it all goes in there with room to spare.

For more remote trips items like the Unior lockring tool that lets you remove the cassette and the Fiberfix emergency spoke can be useful. In the latter case a few spokes taped to the seat stays or inside the seat post (held by foam to stop rattling) is also an option.

The above should show that there's no reason a comprehensive set of tools and spares need either cost the earth or take up masses of room. Working out just what you need can pay dividends.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

JennRide 2019

Back to the Lakes and rolling in to the car park and the first four people we see we know. It's that kind of event. Tent up and it's off to Wheelbase to listen to a variety of short lectures ranging from bovine avoiding Highland Trails to windswept Asian plains.

Up early, well this is the Lakes in summer, breakfast in More then a bit of hanging around until around 9am we decide not to wait for the Grand DĂ©part and set off. Familiar lanes lead to the top of a descent I've not done before, a bit blind and rocky and quite narrow, not one to be in a big pack descending really. Minor lanes lead to the ferry crossing on Windermere. We've just missed one sailing so by the time the ferry is back on our side pretty well everyone from the GD has arrived.

Rather a lot of cyclists on the ferry.

Once across I'm riding alongside Tony who's on an ebike and fairly shifting! He's only out for a short spin with his wife so after a couple of km he stops and waits for her. A check to see if Cath's OK before the climb over Claife Heights then I push on.

The first technical climb and I almost make it without dabbing, Stu Rider gets passed me and cleans it so now I've a target to keep up with. The descent past Wise E'en Tarn is fast, I don't realise how fast until I get home to discover I'm in the top ten on Strava! That never happens on a descent for me.

Riding round to the next bit of off-road I'm chatting to Alan Goldsmith about my bike and I make the stupid comment that I've finally got it dialled for climbing. "Now's your chance! This next one's tricky". And so it proved, I'd not done it before but got within a few bike lengths of the end of the difficulties. Annoyingly Alan got to within one.

A rocky descent into Grizedale before climbing up on The North Face trail and over towards Parkamoor.


A quick stop for something to eat and then on to one of the main descents of the route. This went well until about halfway down when I got the wrong line, stopped then as I tried to get going again went over the bars! Landing on bedrock hurts! Then I noticed something flapping on the bike - turns out the bolt holding my shifter to the brake had chosen that moment to disappear. A zip tie and a bit of tape from Mark (the chap in the shot above) and I was good to carry on.

Easy riding led to Torver and the deli at The Wilson Arms. Pete McNeil offered a bolt to fix my shifter but it was slightly too short. In the end Alan Goldsmith came to the rescue with a slightly longer one - "that'll be a DQ then" he remarked.

Up and over Torver Common, past Stephenson Ground and another rocky descent down to The Newfield Inn. Time for refreshments.






A couple of pints later and I was ready to go. Now the JennRide has a short option and a long option and the Newfield was the turning point for the short route. But it was only 3:45pm so way too early to start heading back. However I didn't really want to go over to Wasdale so decided to do a medium option of my own: Road up on to Ulpha Fell then cut right and take bridleways down to Boot then another BW along the valley floor to by the Woolpack Inn. Sorted!

By the time I got to my turn off the official route Stu Rider had caught me up again. The BW down the hillside was great, not technical but just nice fun. The one along the valley floor was a little different having been subject to some recent bulldozing in places to make it passable for farm vehicles.



There was a music festival on at The Woolpack so no stopping. On to the climb back over to Dunnerdale. This is basically a push for half an hour or so. As I reached the top of the steepest section I got a text from Cath - she was doing the same as me but using the roads in the valley as she didn't know the BWs. On the final track before the Wallowbarrow Descent I started with cramps which was a little annoying.

I got back to the Newfield three hours after leaving so time to grab something to eat. Tony Craig was there having come off on the rocky descent down to the pub - he'd end up getting a (expensive) taxi back to Staveley. I spent nearly two hours in the pub! There was no rush I was going to bivy on the Coniston side of Walna Scar so only had to get there by dark.

Chatting to one of the other riders it turned out that we'd both worked for the same building firm in Kendal many years ago so there was a bit of "what's X doing now?". He chose to set off with me and head up Walna Scar.

It looked like my timing was right, there were long shadows on the push up the bottom section.


My companion dropped back then another rider appeared and caught me up at the midway gate. We walked together up the next bit, my cramp preventing me from attempting to ride any of it. Finally at the summit we were treated to a great sunset.



It was a bit chilly on top, time to head down. I managed to ride more of it than the last times I've ridden it but I was still a bit shaken by my fall earlier in the day so walked a couple of sections of about 50 metres. Then it was just a blast down to the easier track.

There were plenty of people bivvying out but I thought I'd better find somewhere that Cath could find me. I ended up just on from Boo Tarn (more of a reedy swamp these days) and texted her to let her know. She arrived about an hour later having missed me in the pub by about fifteen minutes.


The morning turned out grey so we didn't get the matching sunrise. Ah well. A quick butty from the filling station in Coniston then it was time to start heading back to Ambleside.

There were a few bridleways in here that I'd not done before. The one below is a fairly steep lane leading up from Yew Tree Farm.


Round past Tarn Hows then another new to me descent towards the Drunken Duck. I'd done the bottom bit the other way some time ago but the main part of the descent was new. The last new to me bit was a bridleway from Outgate towards Brathay then it was familiar territory into town and breakfast.



All that was left was up and over Jenkin's Crag and the bottom bit of Garburn Pass (which has been pitched with stone since I last rode it, definitely much easier to try and climb now). Round by High Borrans where Rich the organiser and another rider caught us up which meant that we could sort ourselves out and take turns to open gates.


Then just the Three Rivers descent and back into Staveley in time for lunch.

All in all a good weekend even if I'm still somewhat battered and bruised from my low speed, as in 0 kmh, over the bars incident.

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.