From -2.8 degrees to 8 degrees in two rides and it certainly makes a difference to your enthusiasm. it’s gone from “i need to do this and get home as quickly as possible” to “how can i extend this to ride routes i’ve not ridden for a while or old favourites in the opposite direction to normal?”
How lovely to find a sunny spot to stop and bask, reptile like in the rays from the Sun. glorious!
I lasted 6 miles before i had to find the shelter and warmth of work. you can tell how cold it was because today was actually my day off and i still went and sat in the shop for a while. I’d lost the feeling in my toes and fingers. The Garmin said it was -2.8 with the windchill.
Anyway, this big brave soul ventured back out from the heat into the elements and headed straight downhill for a mile or so ensuring i was back to being cold. the only way to get warm was to ride and ride uphill. So that’s what i did and along the route i came to the Steps of Doom (S.O.D.) the S.O.D. was part of my old commute in my former life that i used to share with a colleague. He would never attempt the steps and S.O.D. became our nickname for the route home, everything was either via S.O.D. or not. looking back now those were really bad times and good times (isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?) in my personal life. So these little used urban steps in a dodgy part of town will always have a strange sentimentality for me.
The route passed 2 good pubs that i thought about stopping at and me not stopping tells you all you need to know about how cold it was, i didn’t stop once.
I’ve been lucky enough to be given a Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 “gravel” bike to play with long term and I’ve been riding it now for nearly 4 months in the dry of summer, the dampness of autumn and I would have said the cold of winter but thus far it’s been really mild.
The bike comes with a complete Shimano 105 groupset with hydraulic brakes and a 50/34 chainset and 11-34 rear cassette. the reast of the kit is from Bontrager, all good stuff that is reliable.
I found that the gearing for the riding i do (lots of off road steep mtb trails) was over geared, the 34T sprocket on the back was too high for my puny legs so i swapped to a 34T chainring and a 11-40 cassette and i’ve found that to be excellent. i even used the stock chain and rear mech without it being stretched. the nech also isn’t a clutch version. the chainring is a narrow wide one though. I’ve not lost the chain due to bouncing once since i fitted the new configuration.
The stock tyres are schwalbe G-Ones, fine for summer or road use but didn’t cut the mustard once a bit of dampness set in. i fitted WTB resolutes in 42mm size (the frame with take 45mm!) and set them up tubeless and they have been absolutely excellent, can’t fault them at all.
The other item i changed were the handle bars, i swapped in a pair of Ritchey venturemax for their extra flair and compactness, they are so comfortable and will be my go to bar from now on.
the ride is sublime, i set the “stranglehold” adjustable dropouts at the half way point for a mix of stability and manoeuverability and for me that seems about right, the masochistic amongst us can run it single speed easily. The bike will cruise on tarmac all day, 100 miles? not a problem, the geometry is stable and not full on race bike twitchy, the disc brakes give you confidence both on road and off, it’s definitely a ride along and look over the hedge at the view bike rather than a ride on someones wheel looking at the lycra covered back side in front bike, but with the right tyres i reckon it could do this too
I’ve put Gravel in inverted commas as I think to bracket this bike as a gravel bike only is wrong, it is much more versatile than that. in fact there isn’t a lot that you can’t do on this bike at all. I’d say adventure bike but that makes it sound that it would be a rubbish road bike or commute to work bike and it really isn’t. pop some slick tyres on and this could (with the help of your legs obviously) join and club run. pop a saddle bag on it and do a extra long Audax with ease. fit a rack and panniers and you could tour the world or go credit card touring via B&Bs. bike packing? no problem, with multiple bottle mounts and frame bag friendly spaces spending nights out in the middle of nowhere carrying your breakfast and tarp would be a doddle. See that bridleway you’ve never been down before because it’s 30 miles away from home via some grass up the middle lanes? this bike can get you there in more comfort than riding an MTB on the road and still handle the roughness. I’ve also taken this bike down some of my favourite singletrack, yes it’s slower than an MTB on that stuff but so engaging, just like MTBing was back in the days when the sport was new. this bike does everything well. personally I’d like a little more height on the head tube, a bit more stand over and some dropper post compatibility but that is just my preference it wouldn’t stop me buying one. One great bike that could replace many of your other bikes!
First ride of the year, incredibly mild for January 1st, I’ve seen more mud in the middle of summer! Even though the towpath part of my route was busy with people out for their annual walk in the fresh air everyone was very cheerful and pleasant.
Now i like a solo ride, the feeling of self sufficiency and tranquility and I came up with a few ideas for future rides and promoting work so all was good. even the occasional drizzle didn’t spoil things but today I’d have kind of liked some company. last year the NWAlpsCC group seem to have lost all motivation for riding. Rides have been posted up on the Whatsapp group and either there are no replies, replies with no committal or flat out “no’s” Now i know it’s not always convenient for everyone but we’ve gone from 8 or so people out on a boxing day or new years day ride to just me on both days, even last summer and the best weather we’ve had for ages brought out very few people. I’m beginning to think it might be me! I’m hoping that there’ll be more people to ride with this year, shared trails and adventures are always more fun
It’s that time of year again when we are bombarded with “new year new me” posts on social media. Lots of people join a gym this time of year, turn up to the introduction meeting and then never go again.
I’m not going to bother with a new me, I just want to continue with the old me but with renewed energy. Last year at this time I stated I wanted to ride for 5000 miles over the 12 months, well that turned out to be a little optimistic but I got close to it. This time I’m not going to set a mileage goal. My goals are to do more of the same but broaden my horizons a little and hopefully ride in new places with new people.
But for my own benefit here are my totals since i started writing this blog and started on my journey of bicycle discovery..
It’s just a bike right? A road bike with a bit of clearance for a bigger tyre? Well, yes and no. that’s a road plus bike though…probably… or is that a touring bike? Hmmm, maybe maybe not although the gravel bike frame will probably have the ability to mount at least one rack, mud guards and multiple bottle cages. That is unless it’s a pure gravel racing bike, paired down to the bone for weight saving and the ability to move forward efficiently at top speed with scant regard for comfort.
A gravel bike will have a cyclocross tyre around 35mm, er unless it’s a 45mm tyre but then that’s a 29er XC mtb with drop bars. Phew! at last we’ve nailed it down. Oh but hang on there’s a 650b option with 2.2 inch rubber so that’s what used to be called in the days before gravel bikes, monstercross! Arrgh!
All road, adventure road, road plus, gravel, cyclo cross, monster cross, tourer, rough stuffer there are lots of fancy names and sub genres but when it comes down to it it’s just riding a bike. In fact that’s just what I’ve been doing. I have a steel mountain bike of at least 10 years vintage. It’ll take a 29er wheel and a CX/Touring/narrow XC tyre in the back, it’ll even take a 29 x 3.0 inch tyre in the front with the lovely steel fork I have fitted. But at the moment it’s got 35mm tyres that cost me £3.99 each from a well known northern online store. The tyres have a continuous centre line of rubber with a few shallow side knobs, The bike is no lightweight but rolls well on tarmac and is frankly scary on any damp surface so you can imagine what it’s like on wet trails, pretty lethal. However it’s made the bike much like HG Well’s time machine. When I ride it I’m transported back to the late 80s early 90s. a time of narrow bars, long stems and the excitement of riding local trails for the first time. The time when we went out exploring and nearly every trail you pedaled down was a new personal discovery. Bridleway signs were an invite to unseen (by me) vistas and new routes to the pub or cafe. handling was scary, brakes (canti) were frankly non existent.
The trails that you now dismiss on your fancy “trail/hardcore” hardtail as being too tame become a proper challenge again, low grip and twitchy handling just with disc brakes instead of canti brakes. except this doesn’t help as the wheels lock up easily unless you concentrate and go gentle with them rather than slamming the anchors as you would with a 2.4″ knobbly rubber tyre to bail you out. The bike skitters about like bambi on the proverbial ice, I suddenly have to pay attention to the trail ahead and actually have to plan where I point the front wheel. I’ve relearned the art of weight shifting to give some extra traction to the rear wheel and to lean on the front to get the most of the limited grip. The bike has old school XC geometry so there’s no relaxing behind a 65° head angle and letting a plush 160mm travel fork take the strain. I have to actually use my arms and legs as suspension! There isn’t even a dropper post!! The adrenaline rush is unreal as you bounce off the rock you missed when planning ahead, it’s how I imagine Danny Hart felt on his rain soaked world championship DH win, stay on your bike Danny!….ok maybe it’s not in that league but it’s the most exhilarating fun you can have at 8 mph, it just feels like 50mph and my thigh muscles are as clenched as they would be at that speed.
So, I’ve got basically a hybrid bike that I use on trails and lanes. I use it to explore. That little lane that has grass growing up the middle that you’ve never ridden up could lead to a gem of a bridleway or track that needs exploring and might link up to somewhere you know and create a great loop. You’d never go up there on a road bike, you wouldn’t have pedaled 30 miles on tarmac on an mtb to get there. The only things that I have on this bike that I didn’t have on a bike back in the day is consistent braking and bars over 600mm wide.
A gravel bike does all this; it’ll probably even have wider tyres too. It will be comfortable over long distances, be forgiving, have all the rack and bottle mounts you’ll ever require and you’ll be at the cutting edge of the latest buzz word in cycling after the “E” word. But do you really need one?
Nope, you just need to dust off that old hardtail you’ve hidden behind a pile of junk in the shed, stick on some narrow tyres, remove the peak off your helmet (not really) and hit the trails that you now ignore or avoid because they are too easy and not challenging enough for your enduro rig. Get back to basics and I guarantee you’ll have a big grin on your face and a little bit of fear in your heart as you hit that first 8mph downhill.
Would I gratefully accept a modern gravel bike over an old hardtail mtb/hybrid?
Now I love the outdoors, I love a spring morning with dew on the grass and the promise of a warm sunny day to come, I love mid summer heat and daylight that last for what seems, well days. I like autumn and it’s changing colours and musty smells as things start to decay and the seasons turn around on their endless cycle. A crisp winter day can be glorious too.
I do however object to the fact that the mild weather brings with it all sorts of drawbacks, Hay fever for one, I’m particularly allergic to grass pollen that fills the air from April to the end of May. This I can tolerate with the help of antihistamine. I suffer in extreme heat. this years 30 degree heatwave wiped me out and rides that would have been long and enjoyable became in an exercise in finding the shortest way home to try and escape from the heat and humidity. I can tailor my day though to get a ride in in the relative cool of the morning or late evening and I’m not bemoaning the fact that we’ve had a proper summer this year.
What i do object to is being victimized whilst out riding. I’m getting singled out and attacked, viciously and without warning. There seems to be no remorse from the attackers and there seems to be an unending supply of them every time I go out. They are quick and agile, they can avoid my pathetic attempts to stop them injuring me. I come home bleeding, swollen and bruised. I can change my route randomly never riding the same trail twice in one week and they still seem to zero in on me with a satellite directed accuracy. I can shout and swear and promise revenge but they still keep coming. i’m at the end of my tether and don’t know what to do about it to end these motiveless attacks that make rides a painful misery.
Does anyone know how i stop these bloody insects from biting and stinging and swarming around me?