Monday, November 23, 2015

An Ice Cold Century.

This time of year it is easy to look at the weather forecast and decide that the day would be better spent indoors rather than doing a big ride on the bike. However with the weekends being the only daylight hours available to us for riding, we will usually wrap up and go ride anyway.

Our plan for the weekend was to cycle across the country from Bowness on Solway to Tynemouth on Saturday, then ride back on the Sunday. A trip we did when Tom was 7, which back then took us 4 days.

I'd set the alarm to wake me at 2:45am on Saturday. We packed the bikes and our clothes quickly in the car. As we left it started to snow.

Not ideal cycling conditions, but I figured things may be better up North.

After an uneventful drive, some 2 1/2 hours later we parked up near Bowness on Solway, and there was no snow, though it was only 1 degree above freezing.

A quick picture just as the sun was beginning to rise, and we were on our way Eastwards.

On the far side of Carlisle we started to encounter patches of black ice on the road, though with care they were avoidable.

A few miles further and the roads were covered in ice. If your wheel was anything but vertical, as Tom found out, you were quickly lying on the ground. He'd been on the deck 3 times before I took this picture.

We persevered, we walked some bits, and rode others gingerly. 

However when we arrived at this sign, the depth of snow, and ice, made it clear that trying to get across the country in one day on this day was not going to happen. Even the busy A69 had ice along its edges.

So we formulated plan B. Back to the car would take our mileage up to around 50 miles, From there we would try and do the same again whilst clinging to the coast roads, which appeared to have avoided the worst of the weather. Our plan B was to ride the same distance we would have done on the C2C, 100 miles.

The sun came out and we enjoyed the virtually traffic free roads.

At Allonby our turn around point, we stopped for chips.

The hot food was just what we needed. The last 25 miles flew by.

Tom has wanted to ride a century for a long time now, and was so happy when his GPS showed "100 miles".

We celebrated with Pizza before the drive back home.

We only did a few miles the following day, but I thought it amusing that we did more hills in 13 miles, than we did in 102 the day before.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Ride 'til you puke, Relentless 2015, then ride some more.

Just after Tom had finished his first 24 hour race at Strathpuffer this year, he was asking what other 24 hour races he might be able to do. I sent an email to No Fuss Events to see if he could ride at Relentless 24 in October, to which they replied yes, but with the proviso we rode our Alpkit tandem.

We left the Peak District early on Friday morning and drove the 350 miles North to Fort William. We arrived in plenty of time to put up our pit tent in daylight, get our race number, chat to some friends, then adjourn to a Travelodge for a comfy nights sleep.

Overnight the weather had changed a little from the unseasonal warm still conditions the night before.

We arrived back at race HQ to find our tent partially collapsed, and some of our stuff soaked through. I was glad we had plenty of time in hand that morning, as it took a while to get the tent pitched solidly again. Thanks must go some of our neighbours who did their best to save the tent at 4am, then some others who gave us some bomber tent stakes which helped make sure it didn't blow down again.

Tent sorted, we got dressed to ride, were briefed about the race, and lined up for the start, amusingly far nearer the front than we ought to have been as the first bit went straight up a hill.

We didn't hold people up though on the hill as there was lots of passing space. I was a bit concerned though that the tandem would be a liability on some of the tight turns others had told me about. Oh, but something  was actually scaring me, and that was the raised wooden boardwalk (North Shore) sections. If the curves on any of those were too tight then the back of the tandem wouldn't get round and we would probably get hurt.

I won't give a turn by turn account, but will say that we rode every bit of the course at least once. We didn't fall off the North Shore. The uphill sections were hard work on the tandem, the downhill sections an absolute blast.

We did crash a few times into trees and rocks, but didn't get badly hurt. Though after one particularly spectacular off, there were some tricky bits that we thereafter elected to walk.

The course was hard and there were only a couple of bits that you could relax on with the tandem. We did have a good system though where Tom was in charge of food and drink, so we got to refuel whilst riding as well as back in the pits.

As we were organised for food and had a pair of Exposure Toro lights to keep us going , nearly 12 hours of the 24 had passed before we took a proper break. Tom was a bit tired so we decided that we'd have 3 hours sleep before heading out again.

3:30AM and  we are good to go again, except that Tom doesn't fancy eating anything. I put this down to tiredness, so we took a bit of extra food in our pockets as we set off up the hill for later.

Our ascent was interspersed by Tom making loud belching noises, and him grumbling about his stomach. At the top of the climb he asked if we could stop for a moment (I thought for a wee). He dismounted the tandem, then emptied his guts over the floor.

Pictured above is the caption on his Team JMC  race jersey. Apt eh? The thing is we were only about a 1/3rd of the way round the lap, so he would have to ride some more.
I made him sip some water, and he was soon feeling better. We rode back down to the arena (at 2/3rd distance) where he could have retreated, but instead he said we should ride back up and down the hill to finish that lap.
Tom still wasn't liking the idea of food though, so I decided we'd have a few more hours off, then maybe ride a last lap in the morning to finish.

9am, and the extra rest had done him good. He ate ham and cheese toasted wraps and a bowl of cereal for breakfast accompanied by hot chocolate.

He even stopped for a bite to eat on the way round.

We finished our last lap nearly bang on 24 hours after we started to make a total of 11.

One of the best things about these events is the opportunity to catch up with so many friends in one weekend. Great to see you all.

Many thanks to all the competitors who we didn't know and their supporters for cheering us on.

A big thanks to the race organisers for letting Tom take part.and of course to our sponsors.

Last of all thanks to my wife and daughter for being our pit crew!

(Photo Credits No Fuss FB page)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Alpkit Tandem

I'm normally very good about writing up things as they happen for this blog. However, I am a bit late telling our latest news, as Tom and I have been busy either riding or tweaking the set up of a new bike, the Alpkit Tandem.

Tom riding solo.

I met Dave, one of the guys from Alpkit a while back at a party, and during our conversation I mentioned that Tom and I were planning on doing the Tour Divide on a tandem in 2016. I didn't realise at the time, but Alpkit were in the planning stage of having some bikes made to compliment their other products. Dave said that they might be able to help us by getting a custom tandem made.

Brant at helped with the design and a couple of weeks ago I took delivery of a very red tandem frame made to accommodate 29" or 650B+ wheels, and a box of parts from which I would build a bike.

My gear shifter and stoker.
The build went well except that the shifter cables I had were not long enough. This didn't stop Tom and I taking the bike out for a test ride, it just meant that when we wanted to change gear, Tom had to get off and change gear with a spanner. Longer cables were ordered, and a couple of days later, fitted.

It's too early yet to write a full review, but since it has been built up we have been out on it at every spare moment.  It is an absolute hoot to ride. It is red, and of course that means it is fast. It flys downhill, and it is just as well that the brakes are great. Tandems are renowned for their relative slowness heading back up the hill, but we've found that this bike will get up a lot of stuff that I'd not get up on a solo bike.

We'll be fitting a full set of  Alpkit luggage soon, and will let you know how it rides when laden.

Specification -

Alpkit custom frame.

Rohloff Gear 36 hole Hub with an 18 sprocket

Middleburn Chainsets 170/165mm. 38 Drive ring, 28 teeth same side timing rings.

8 speed chains.

Rockshox Pike Solo Air Forks set to 100mm

Use Vybe Suspension seatpost for Tom.

Hope Tech 3 V4 disc brakes with 203mm rotors

29" 36 Hole Halo rims (Front Hope Pro 2 15mm hub)

Tyres Continental Mountain King 2.4"

Truvativ Stem, bars, pilot's seatpost.

Weight 20.4 Kgs

Loads of Clearance.

USE Vybe Suspension seatpost.

Drive and Timing chains.

Rear end.

Monday, July 27, 2015

#RaphaRising 2015

This was the third time we'd taken on the Rapha Rising climbing challenge. This year the target was 9366 metres, and there were 9 days in which to complete it.

Tom ambitiously thought it might be possible to do it one ride, and so it was we left the house near midnight on day one to start the challenge.

We drove a short way from home to leave the car packed with food and drink as a feed station, and then embarked on riding reps up Holme Moss. 3.5K at a steady 8%.

It was a clear night.With our Exposure lights providing more than enough light.

....and it did not seem to be long before dawn was on its way.

The weather played nice and dawn soon turned to sunshine. We were also joined by Alison, who brought coffee, and who rode with us for a while. Tim also did a couple of reps with us.

The obligatory summit picture.

After 19 reps, 4,932 metres and 122 kilometres, Tom's knees were getting sore, so we headed home for the day.

Next day, Sunday, a recovery ride, 495 metres and a visit to  the pub.

Day 3 and another easy ride of a few reps up a local hill. 549 metres.

Day 4, 616 metres and some peculiar local art.

Day 5. An after school ride taking in some of the local classics including Winnnats Pass. 1149 metres.

Day 6 dawned and we resolved to finish the challenge.

9 hill reps of Highgate road and a bridleway gave us 1669 metres.

After 7 reps Tom was desperate for food though. We just made the chip shop in time.

A grand total of 9410 metres. Challenge completed!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Highland Trail 550 2015 Video.

Tom and I shot some video on the first few days of our trip. It's not a polished production, but we didn't really have a lot of  time or energy spare. We didn't film on the last two days as it was mostly raining. Apologies especially about the variable sound levels.

Fun making it though.

Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Highland Trail 2015 Overview.

If you've ridden the Highland Trail 550 before as I did in 2014, or you know parts of the route, you will no doubt have thought that the idea of a 10 year old riding it was a bit crazy. People say it is one of the toughest bikepacking challenges out there, and the cold wet and windy conditions this year certainly made it much harder than last year.

So what were we thinking? Well we were after a challenge that would fit into Tom's half term, that was hard. Did I think we'd get all the way round? I honestly didn't know. I had several possible scenarios in mind both before we set off, and was always discussing our options to Tom on our ride. My primary aim was that Tom had a good time, and that we both got home in one piece whilst having a proper adventure. This trip, I thought would also be good preparation for riding the Tour Divide next year. I knew he could do 2 or 3 tough days back to back, but the Tour Divide will take us nearer a month.7 days seemed to be a good way of testing his staying power. I'm proud to say he was strong throughout.

The responsibilities of taking a child to the remote places that this route visits cannot be understimated. I had to ensure that in case of my incapacity that Tom had the required skills to take shelter, navigate and to call for help if needed. I was confident that if needed Tom could look after himself (see the Kit List for more on this).

One thing I did notice is that I took much better care of myself on this trip, than I did on last years HTR. Being responsible for someone else means you have to be operating at 100% capacity yourself at all times.

I made a couple of decisions, that meant we didn't complete the whole 550+ mile route. Safety was my number one consideration plus we were limited by Tom's school holidays for time.

Also it has to be said that even with a very light load, Tom's bike was heavy for him on the rougher hike a bike sections.

Over 7 days though we rode 405 miles in challenging weather, and though a lift home was always a phone call and a few hours away, we didn't give up on riding our bikes back to Tyndrum. It's easy to sit with a map at home planning what's going to happen and when. It's a different thing though to adapt ones itinerary to reflect energy levels, the weather, and other external influences. I think we learned how to do that well, and that will stand us in good stead next year.

We'd like to thank Alpkit for the Tent and luggage. Use Exposure for our bike lights and Tom's Vybe suspension seatpost. Dave for the loan of his Spot Tracker and camping mat. Elliott for taking us to the start, and bringing us back. Kevin and Marion for seeing us off at the start. Last, but not least my wife and daughter for their support.

Thanks also to the numerous people who cheered us along our way via Twitter, and to the HTR competitors we saw enroute who we chatted with. Congratulations to anyone who lined up at the start, and those who managed to make it through to the finish.

Finally, neither of us had any crashes or overuse injuries. We were both as to be expected pretty tired at the end though.

Links below to each day, and finally Tom's kit list.

Any questions you have, please ask in the comments.

Highland Trail Video.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Kit List

Monday, June 1, 2015

Highland Trail 2015 Kit List.

Ok, this is a list of Tom's Kit and stuff we shared I've not included my clothes as most of it is duplicated though in my size and not his. :)

Bike - Ragley Hardtail with 3*9 transmission, Reba air forks and a USE Vybe suspension seatpost. The seatpost makes a great lightweight alternative to a fully suspended rear end, and definitely saved his butt from some of the hammering. Mudhugger mudguards F+R. Exposure Toro MK6 front light and some unknown rear led light.

Luggage - Alpkit stem cell x 2, one for a water bottle, the other for quick access to his waterproof jacket. Custom two compartment Stingray frame bag which held some of our lightest bits and pieces. A kids bike is unlikely to have clearance for a seat mounted Koala I did have one on my bike though which carried the tent and some extra food.

Riding clothes - Rapha bib shorts. Synthetic long sleeve baselayer top. Rapha classic Jersey and arm warmers, Btwin long sleeve thermal windproof jacket. Rapha Rain Jacket. Decathlon waterproof trousers. Sealskinz knee length socks. Fingerless mitts and a pair of primaloft mittens. Pearl Izumi SPD shoes ( a size too large). Buff, Cotton cycling cap. Mens small armwarmers used as leg warmers.

Night clothes - Thermal top and bottom base layer. Decathlon fleece jumper. Mountain warehouse synthetic gilet (aged 7-8, sized to be a snug fit) Merino socks. Rapha Merino beanie.

Sleeping - Yeti 900+ down pied'elephant sleeping bag which fits him as a full length bag. 3/4 adult sleeping mat. Tent Alpkit Ordos 2

Night clothes and his sleeping kit all fitted into an 8 litre Alpkit drybag. Whilst I used the 13 litre version for my stuff.

Tom carried the SPOT tracker strapped to his bar bag. He was taught how to work it including how to use the SOS function.

He had his own mobile phone and knows how the 112 emergency system works.

He also carried a whistle to call me with a long blow, or to use the international SOS call.

He didn't have a GPS on his bike, but he knows how to use mine.

The only thing other than spares which we took that we didn't need, was a midge head net each.

This setup worked well for us. Though it was May the temperature with wind chill was often close to freezing. He'd wear similar clothing riding in the Peak District where we live in December.

One tip, is when you stop for the night is to make sure that your kid gets out of their damp cycling stuff, and into their dry evening clothes asap.

Likewise in the morning make sure that all they need to do is pull down the tent before putting on their cycling wear.