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.

Highland Trail 2015 Day 7.

Up for 8am. Breakfast at the food van at the campsite, Then time to pack, wrap up warm before heading back to Tyndrum.

Sunshine sooned turned to rain and then back again with regularity. Some of the rainstorms were the heaviest we had encountered. We were both the closest we'd been all week to getting cold.

Thoughts of how we'd managed to avoid injury, or mechanical troubles quickly yielded a pinch puncture each.

It was too cold to do other than swap the tubes for new ones, pump the tyres up rock hard, then hope that neither of us got another one.

Some nice bits of riding were had on this section.

Once again we stopped at the climbing wall cafe in Kinlochleven for food, narrowly avoiding a massive hailstorm as we arrived there.

The weather was wearing us both down. Less than 30 miles to go though to take us back to a warm bed in Tyndrum.

Within 5 minutes of leaving the cafe, we were once again climbing the Devil's Staircase. The weather was deteriorating, and as we climbed we encounterd several heavy rain and hail showers.It felt for the first time in the trip that a slip or mechanical could quite quickly become a serious situation.

As we made the top it was trying to snow. Th temptation was to go full gas for the bottom, but we descended slowly, and with care.

I was relieved when we made it down to the road.

The rest of the ride back to Tyndrum was wet, but otherwise without event.

 I'd phoned ahead earlier in the day to secure the last camping cabin available, and it was great knowing as we headed out for a bowl of pasta and meatballs at the Tyndrum Inn that we would have somewhere with a heater to spend the night.


So there we are sat in the pub after 7 days and 60 hours of riding time on our bikes during which we covered 405 miles.

Two happy boys!

Highland Trail 2015 Day 6.

A day of two parts. The first being 47 miles of road which was quite a chore on laden mountain bikes.

These miles though took us once again to the Pizza place in Fort Augustus. At ~4pm we had eaten, and it was pouring down outside. It would have been very easy to say that was enough for one day. Instead though we headed back outisde and rode straight into the wind towards Fort William, once again on the Highland Trail route.

The weather was so poor that day the only picture I took was when we had our supper in McDonalds and that isn't worth republishing.

Supper eaten we fired up the Exposure lights and headed up Glen Nevis to find the caampsite.

By the time we had put our Alpkit Ordos 2 tent up at 9:30pm in the pouring rain we had ridden 82 miles.

One more day should see us back to Tyndrum.