Monthly Archives: June 2015

Mountain Biking heaven

Rats, the first version of this got lost ๐Ÿ™

Trying again.

I had a brilliant 36 mile mountain ride today, starting from and return to the campsite at Blair Atholl.

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
06:29:16 05:49:00 36.20 6.22 27.29 3,631.89
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

It was great practice for the Bear Bones 200km event in October as it got me doing things outside my comfort zone including:

  • carrying my bike up a narrow steep sheep track with a steep drop on one side.
  • Two sections where I had to push my bike for a couple of miles each time.
  • Lots of rain
  • Lots of water on the ground bogs, puddles and fords.
  • Lots of climbing into low cloud
  • Lots of rocks and narrow sheep tracks
  • no coffee shops!

Here are some phots from before the rain really got going:







What pleased me most was my mental attitude which remained cheerful and positive throughout. Not once was I in a negative place wondering if I could finish or get up the next climb or whatever. That is a big step forward for me.

There was some excitement. I had 3 falls:

  • onto my right side in the middle of a ford (overestimated my skills there). Filled my right sock and boot with water and proved that a Wildcat Lioness is not waterproof if submerged.
  • onto my left side, landing in a deep patch of heather when I failed to unclip my foot in time
  • a very neat fall ovber the handlebars. IO saw it coming as the front wheel dropped over an edge into a soft hole. I was very pleased with the best forward somersault since junior school ๐Ÿ™‚

The last few miles were downhill on a tiny road in torential rain, the whole road turned into a river and so I had both feet wet. However, my new sealskinz socks were good and my Shimano Boots brilliant for the walking and riding. Although, I do need to make them easier to unclip.

All in all a fantastic day out. Very tired but also very pleased tonight.


Load tour reflections after 8 days, 490 miles and 22,600 feet climbed

Cycling from Syston to Iona in 8 days has broken many personal records. Longest day rides fully loaded, longest number of days solo touring by bike, longest number of nights solo camping in a row. So I wanted to reflect on what worked and what didn’t.


Shand Stoater Plus

When I rode Lands End to John O’Groats on my Trek Pilot I would while away the miles dreaming of a better bike for the future. Those dreams became my search for “A Bike for Life” which became a reality in my Shand Stoater. As parts of my route over these 8 days coincided with some of my LEJOG route comparisons are inevitable and quite easy.
It was noticeable that I never found myself dreaming about a different bike or changes that I wanted to make to my bike for life. Yes there are a number of reasons for this (better weather, lower daily mileages, a different focus that travelling loaded and more slowly gives) but the key reason was the way the bike worked. More comfortable, no creaks, no need to stop and check for damage after a bad pothole, no servicing or maintenance needed.
The Stoater frame is just right for this kind of ride. The bigger tyres (37mm front and 40mm rear – I think) worked well both with the load and with the mixed surfaces. So I could eat up the miles when it was a good surface while coping with the sometimes appalling surfaces of the so called “National Cycle Network”. At the same time the frame copes with 4 panniers, bag on the rear rack and loaded handlebars really well. The handling was great at all speeds and on all surfaces.

Rohloff and Gates Centertrack Belt Drive

I’ve put these together because the combination is so much greater than the parts. The combination was a key reason for the choice of a Shand as nearly 3 years ago very few frame manufacturers supported both these. Both worked flawlessly and without any maintenance or servicing.

The Rohloff is perfect for loaded touring. The gear range is enormous and the gears evenly spread. Being able to change multiple gears at a time is really helpful (when you hit a sudden steep slope being able to change down really quickly and using only one rotary gear change is really helpful when you have a heavy load). Also being able to change gear while stationary is great, one less thing to worry about when diving into a passing place to avoid a charging HGV. The fact that it is just as efficient at the end without having been cleaned or oiled or anything is also so different to my Trek after LEJOG where the whole drivetrain needed disassembling to clean it and replace a lot of it.ย 

The Gates Centertrack belt drive is something that does attract attention when people look at the bike. No chain seems incredible to many. Again it has worked flawlessly, completely silent and maintenance free. I can now see tooth marks on the belt, the first signs of wear that I have seen. I guess I’ll have a look around to see if it would be a good idea, at some point, to take the belt off and put it on reversed to even the wear. I’d say that this belt has been given relatively extreme loading with me climbing over 20,000 feet with the bike so heavily loaded. It hasn’t missed a beat. I totally recommend it, while recognising that I know people who are much more powerful riders than me who have had problems in thick mud.

So far as I am concerned the combination of Rohloff and Belt Drive is unsurpassed for loaded touring.

Wildcat Gear luggage

For this trip I used 3 products from Wildcat Gear on my handlebar (which are a Jones Loop h-bar).

The Tomcat sits on top filling the loop of the Jones bar. It carried my tools, spare tube, sun cream, sanitising hand wash.

The Mountain Lion harness held my Vango Banshee 300 tent (inside an Alpkit Dual Extra 20 litre drybag) with the poles in their bag slid into the harness as well. It is so quick to get the tent out and ready to pitch when you arrive at site yet totally secure, silent and unobtrusive the rest of the time. It worked perfectly, it didn’t slip once, the bag didn’t move or rub or have any issues at all.

The Lioness is a small handlebar bag that works with the Mountain Lion. It is very quick to release and so I keep my wallet, phone, tablet, sun glasses, USB battery for recharging any of my devices, paperwork, keys and chocolate in it. Again it does not move around or slip and is superbly convenient when you stop.

All three Wildcat Gear products are totally recommended.


I have the Stainless Steel Tubus front and rear racks. They have been on the bike since new, they have never caused any problems and have been totally reliable and simple to use. Fully recommended.

Alpkit Gourdon 20 Rucksack

This time I used a simple luggage strap to hold this rucksack on the top of my rear rack. In it I had my sleeping bag, nighttime clothing and anything I found lying around after all the other bags were packed. The rucksack is really useful when nipping to the shops after pitching the tent and will be useful while here Iona. It worked well in this role.

Garmin Edge 1000

I am very pleased with this. I like the larger screen, it is very easy to follow a course anywhere whether off road, through cities or on a maze of rural roads. The screen and map detail is good enough that you can use it as a map and take detours if a different road takes your fancy and then find your way back to the route). The only issue for touring is the battery life, I have turned backlighting to the minimum and on the longer days use a USB battery to recharge it during my lunch stop (or on one day while going along). I particularly wanted the bluetooth support so I can upload my rides using my phone at the end of the day. I can also (via a convoluted method) put new routes onto the Garmin that I can create using my tablet on Strava. While I didn’t use it this tour the on device routing is also very useful.

Miscellaneous Bike bits

  • Ergon bio-cork grips. Still fantastic after 2.5 years!ย 
  • Jones Loop H-Bar: I wouldn’t choose anything else for loaded touring
  • USE Sumo suspension seatpost: Just works with no issues at all. Recommended.
  • Charge Spoon Saddle: Has worked well and 90% happy with the comfort.
  • Hope Hydraulic Disk Brakes: Superb. Haven’t touched them. They are powerful, well modulated, silent and reliable.
  • Hope Bottom bracket with ceramic bearings: Still going strong and smooth after nearly 8,000 miles
  • Middleburn cranks: Highly recommended
  • Schmidt Dynamo, eDelux Front Light and B&M Racktop rear light. Very highly recommended. No issues at all.
  • Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres. I’ve been using these for ages now, so they are nothing like new. No punctures, no need to pump them up. Sure footed on gravel tracks, smooth running on the road. No worries about glass, thorns or potholes. They look like they have a lot of life left in them yet.
  • Shimano Touring Pedals A530: Had them for years. Work well both with shoes with cleats and in trainers or crocs.

Carradice Carradry Panniers

These have survived but I don’t really recommend them.

  • Most the rivets holding the rail for the rack clips onto the bag have failed and I’ve replaced them with 5mm bolts.
  • The clips used to attach the bags to the rack are fiddly and can be difficult to open
  • The bags squeak when the road surface is not perfect (most of the time in the UK)
  • The zips on the rear pannier pockets leak and the pockets fill with water. The zip pulls break and now one of the zips has come away from the fabric.

On the positive side they carry a lot of stuff, the main compartments are waterproof and the straps on top are really convenient for holding jackets or strapping odd items too (bottles of drink, crocs etc).
ย ย 
Vango Banshee 300 tent

Yes it was overkill to carry a three man tent. However, the only “two” man tents we have are the popup style which are awkward to carry on a bike due to their shape. The Banshee is really quick to pitch and the inner tent is pitched second and taken down first. I much prefer that when it is raining as you can get the flysheet up and then put the inner up without it getting wet (and the same in reverse when packing up in the rain).

The tent has been very stable in the strongest winds I have had.

I did like the sitting headroom but my only reservation is the side opening and the size of the porch that leaves. If it is wet it is hard to avoid drips into the tent when getting in and out. It does not create a large enough area for sheltered cooking.

Shimano MT91 Boots

I wore these a little for the day before starting. They have been great. Comfortable to wear and ride in despite the warm temperatures. Now I have arrived in Iona I have taken the cleats off and put the fill-in pads back so I have a pair of walking boots for the week here.

Tout Terrain Plug III

This is the USB charger that fits into a special stem cap. Mine stopped working just before this ride and in the future I don’t think I’d bother with it, getting the cable into a device without it being damaged while bouncing around is tricky. I find it is easy to carry a USB battery and have found enough places to recharge it.ย 


Crazy inspiring stories

This tale of the Highland Trail 550 by Tom, the fastest finisher is both crazy and inspiring.

Of course he was riding a Shand ๐Ÿ™‚

Not that all Shand riders are capable of such feats, even if their bikes are ๐Ÿ˜‰


Signed up for a crazy thing

At the weekend I came over all crazy and have signed up for the Bear Bones 200. This is probably the daftest thing I have ever done! Last year I watched it online by followingย the satellite tracking dots and heard afterwards how incredibly tough it had been with hours at a time of “Hike a Bike” sections (where you have to push or carry your bike because the conditions are unrideable – often tussocky boggy mountainsides).

This year I was watching the satellite tracking for the Highland Trail 550 and being particularly impressed by MiniPips ie Rich and Tom (who is 10). Their collection of blog posts is here and their video is here:

Both HT550 and WildcatGear were providing a twitter commentary and lots of us were particularly inspired by the determination of Jenny Graham (now on twitter). In particular it took her some 23 hours to find a way across one river.


Afterwards she said that the first time she had tried to cross it was going to be over chest deep, in the end she managed to cross where it was “only” high thigh deep.

Given the suffering of these strong, determined, fit people the fact it inspired me to enter a 200km self supported bikepacking event with a requirement that I take less than 36 hours is something of a mystery to me.

Of course at the moment I have lots of ideas about how I am going to train for this. Training that particularly needs to include pushing a loaded bike up big hills through bogs. What the reality will be is probably very different which is something to worry about until October 10th.

Anyway it will be a good opportunity to really use my new boots (see yesterday’s blog post) ๐Ÿ™‚


Packing progress

Since my last post I’m pleased to say I have made some good progress that is going to help considerably with the packing.

Firstly, OutdoorGB have confirmed today that a replacement Exped Sleeping Mat is on it’s way and should arrive tomorrow ๐Ÿ™‚ That saves a huge amount of weight and space compared to the next best mat we have.

Secondly, I’ve ordered some new cycling boots. Shimano MT91’s which will save me having to carry hike boots as well as wearing cycling shoes.

mt91-bootsPlus they are going to be ideal for an upcoming autumn adventure (more later). Should arrive tomorrow.

Thirdly, I’ve sorted out my cockpit. My (rather large but comfy) tent, a Vango Banshee 300, fits neatly (without pegs and poles) into my Alkit 20 litre Xtra Dual drybag. That is held in place by my Wildcat Mountain Lion (upgraded to the latest version with tongue) and my Wildcat Lioness. On top of the handlebar is my Tomcat bag.

wildcat-cockpit3 wildcat-cockpit2 wildcat-cockpit1

Fourthly, as my Alpkit Gourdon 20 rucksack was so useful on and off the bike on my last tour I’m going to put that on top of my rear rack. I’ll use it for my sleeping bag and so on instead of using my Wildcat Tiger.

Glad that is all sorted ๐Ÿ™‚



Sabbatical Photo Gallery

My sabbatical photos from 2015:


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