Monthly Archives: February 2012

Melted ice and snow, mud and of course rain.

Melted ice and snow, mud and of course rain.

Just me and Jim last Thursday, it had been fairly dry but as we set off from Endcliffe Park the drizzle started, as we ploughed up Clough Lane the wind howled and as we pulled onto hound kirk moor the mist descended. With nature screaming in our faces to go home or straight to the pub we pushed on up to Jim’s rock as tradition now demands. This track has now become one long rut though over use, we suspect because the “improvements” to Houndkirk road have rendered it so boring many more riders are using the alternatives. The climb is a real test of skill and although I rode up more of it than I did in last week’s snow and ice the stop start, wheel spinning  and pedal strikes made it an exhausting slog. The way down was not much better, slippery mud threatened to drag us into the heather and the mist meant we couldn’t see the steps until we were on top of them, I was glad to be at the bottom in one piece.

For the third week in a row we called off Cabbage Bench, it’s hard enough in the dry when you can see more than three feet beyond your front wheel, tonight was not the night. We took the bikes about half way up the Houndkirk Road before turning back to the pub. We broke the 2 pint rule; this is the rule that states, any less than 2 and you might question the wisdom of firing through the woods at speed, in the dark with a lamp on your head, any more and you may end up in a river/ ditch / tree trunk.  That said, this rule was established by short people with less blood for the purposes of dilution than Jim and I so to hell with it. We found a different route back to town that took in Jim’s local circuit that he does a couple of times a week. It would be pretty tame in the day but at night, swooping silently through the trees not really knowing where you’re going with three pints inside you makes it quite interesting.

We popped out in Whitley Woods and went our separate ways, both glad we’d dragged ourselves out and grateful for mud guards.

Buying a new bike… 29er vs 26er

Buying a new bike… 29er vs 26er

When my On One 456 was nicked I had every intention of replacing it with a carbon version of the same bike. I don’t like to sound like a sales rep for On One but I just think they make great bikes and they don’t take the piss with their prices, I mean why would you pay more than £200 quid for a few steel pipes welded together? I had my heart set on the SRAM X9 456 build for £1299, unfortunately there’s been some delays in getting the money together and the price has now gone up to £1499, still great value but at this price point there are other options that present themselves. One is a new carbon 29er called the Lurcher that is arriving in the UK in March, it’s been in the pipe line for nearly 2 years. The 29er is the new standard that everyone is talking about, the fact is that big wheels roll over big rocks more easily and now that designers have got a handle on the geometry needed to solve the handling issues of early incarnations of big wheelers, there’s no reason not to give them a try.

Having owned a 26er and loved it, it’s very tempting to stick with what you know, that said I know that I ended up going over the handlebars of that bike a number of times. Most of these instance I put down to bad positioning on the bike, but there were several times where I felt that being flung over the front was a harsh punishment for a minor error. The more I think about the times I’ve scrubbed off speed on the approached to a steep section or step and not had the momentum to roll over the first root, rock or rut that’s met my front wheel, bringing the bike to a sudden halt and sending me over the bars, the more I think that the 29er is the solution.

I went to One One’s showroom at the weekend and although the staff were very helpful it didn’t really make the decision any easier. The carbon 456s are very pretty and chucking my leg over a 20 inch frame felt like home but I also got to see the Lurcher. I had thought I’d need a 19.5″ in the 29er but the cockpit of the 18″ prototype felt very roomy even with a short stem and is probably the size for me. I’d be happy with either bike, the 150mm travel of the 456 is great but you don’t need as much with the  a 29er, making the fork cheaper or a lighter, higher spec fork the same price. It’s a tough one but the Lurcher has it by a nose at the moment, it’s not landing until the 2oth March so plenty of time change my mind.

[slideshow]Here’s a list of 29er problems that I believe have been solved.

Handling – Big wheels may be stable but they’re not as manoeuvrable as 26″ wheels

I think this has been solved with the geometry of the new breed of 29ers, I needed an 80mm stem on my 26er, the longer the stem the less responsive the steering, but 80mm was necessary to fit a 6ft 2in bloke on to a 20 inch frame. The 18″ Lurcher had a longer cockpit, and a shorter stem (about 40mm),  shorter stem means more responsive handling, my theory is that these differences in layout should negate any differences in handling between the two bikes.

Parts and Spares – 29ers are not as common and replacing parts is a problem and there is not the choice.

The 29er standard is being embraced by all the major manufacturers and with Fox and Rock Shox expanding their range of 29er forks in 2012 this problem is of the past.

For big guys only – 29ers are only good for bigger riders

You may have a point, I read that really big guys (25 stone +) should stick with 26″ wheels, but shorter riders may not experience the benefits of big wheels in the same way as us six footers. Would you want a 16″ frame with 29″ wheels?

Wheel Strength – Bigger wheels have more flex in them, don’t track as well and are weaker than 26 inch wheels.

I understand that the shop return rates for both standards are about the same, you could argue that there are less 29ers out there so if the return rates are the same then that suggests 29er wheels are weaker. That said I’ve bent in half a 26 inch wheel, mainly due to being fat and clumsy, but if 29er geometry suits a bigger rider it might make wheel bending accidents less likely. With the introduction of the 15 and 20mm front axles last year the issues of tracking for both 26 and 29 inch wheels should be a thing of the past.

No good for Down Hill – You’ll never replace the 26″ standard in this discipline, it’s just the best tool for the job.

Only time will tell, I guess we won’t know until riders start winning events on 29ers.

Having not yet ridden a 29er this is all conjecture and imbibed wisdom, but I thought I would share my decision-making process with you.  I hope to have a 29er in place by the end of March so then I’ll be able to speak from experience.

Snow, ice and frozen rain.

Snow, ice and frozen rain.
No Excuses Thursday – 9 Feb 2012

Following last week’s puncture induced stress fest I decided to check the bike at 6.30 in preparation for the 7.30 meet and I discovered I had another puncture. I’m past the point of getting angry about this but I will be absolutely delighted if I drag the bike out one week and both tyres are still inflated. With an hour until the meet I had time bring the wheel into the kitchen an search for thorns in my own time, found two that required tweezers to remove.

I met Matt at the entrance to Endcliffe Park and Jim and Gav met us at Hanging Water Lane. The path through the woods was snow covered and had the appearance and slip to grip ratio of wet roughly cut marble. We pushed on through the freezing rain up Clough Lane and Ringinglow Road to Houndkirk. We did the usual warm up to Jim’s Rock, with the snow and the clearance issues, the Dawes was impossible to ride up the track and I gave up and pushed it to the top.

We decided that the route down Blackamoor would be the least treacherous but getting to it was tricky at times. Even now that it has been smoothed out the Old Houndkirk Road was a blend of snow, icy slush and ice coated rocks that kept us all guessing on our way down to Hathersage Road. A left and right took us on to Blacka moor and what wasn’t snow was frozen mud, the frozen rain persisted. The main challenge on this section was the cobble stone bridleway down to the river, tricky in the dry, daunting when covered in snow and ice. We got through that unscathed and the very steep track down to the gate. I’d forgotten just how deep the three steps that followed were, and more importantly, how close together the second and third were. With Matt in front and Gav and Jim behind I cleared the first one, wobbled on the second and wasn’t exactly composed for the third where I came unstuck.

I think the back wheel lost grip on the wooded edge of the step and I landed on my side to the left of the track. I didn’t land on anything hard or sharp for a change so no damage done. Gav told me afterward that the back of the bike shot out to the right and that it looked like a pretty big crash, I said that it was important to have these falls to remind you that it doesn’t always hurt.

After 8 weeks off the bike Matt struggled up the long road climb back to the pub, he was with us to see a herd of red deer cross the road directly in front of us. We arrived at the pub 20 minutes later, cold, wet and knackered. The ride home was painfully cold on the hands and I will be taking ski gloves with me next week.

The first rule of bike club is… You’re going to need a bike.

The first rule of bike club is… You’re going to need a bike.
No Excuses Thursday – 2 Feb 2012

No excuses Thursdays has taken a back seat over the last few months, equipment failures, Matt’s pre wedding riding ban, Matt’s Honeymoon and then I had my bike nicked. Apart from last weeks ill fated puncture fest we haven’t been out as a group since Jim and I meet up at the Norfolk Arms at the end of November and as we set off Jim’s rear brake caliper seized up and that was the end of the ride, three pints in the pub and home.

So with a text from Matt on Monday asking if I had plans, and a response from me stating that I had no excuses, we arranged a 7.30pm meet. It would have been a less stressful start to the evening if, upon wheeling out the bike from the shed at 7.20 I hadn’t discovered that the rear wheel had a flat. I left a message on Matt’s phone telling him that there weren’t enough swear words in the English language and set about prising the tyre from the rim. On doing to the usual checks of the inner wall I found another f-ing thorn. I had to go back into the house to find the tweezers to get this one out. I was about 15 minutes late, this would have been bad enough if it had just been Matt and Jim but also there where Gav (Jim’s Brother and Chadders, a new one). I apologised profusely and we set off.

It was clear, dry and not as cold as I was expecting as the five of us cycled through Whitley Woods, I explained that I’d had two punctures last week and that this evenings flat technically made it three. Silence descended upon us as we concentrated on keeping the wheels turning up Clough Lane, as the fittest among us Gav broke away with Jim not far behind. I kept them in my sites but I always find this the toughest part of the ride, just when you think it can’t get any steeper, it does.

We stopped at the end of the lane to wait for Matt and Chadders. I hadn’t realised that this was poor Chadders’ first time out: welcome to No Excuses Thursday, now ride up this wall. As we all had on our first attempt at Clough Lane, he ended up pushing the bike to the top and it took a fair few platitudes and reassurances that the worst was over to keep him in the game. We took the ride up to Ringinglow Road slowly, Chadders told me that he would normally be sat on the sofa playing Call of Duty, hopefully the chat kept his mind off the fact that we were still slogging up hill, and would be for the next mile and a half we reached Lady Canning’s PLantation.

On to Jumble road and then right up to Jim’s Rock, the Dawes reminded me of its crappy clearance issues all the way up. Once we were all at the top we took a moment to take in the lights of Sheffield as the snow started to fall. Matt and Jim led the way on the descent, it’s a great little warm up and for Chadders it was the unveiling of the reason we ride up to the moors in February in the snow, rather than sitting in front of the telly. The smile on his face as he reached the bottom of the trail suggested that he’d been bitten.

Down to the “improved” old Houndkirk Road which has recently been filled in, smoothed out and essentially ruined for mountain bikers and off roaders alike, if I wanted to ride on a smooth surface, I’d use the road. We turned right towards Burbage Edge but only rode for 20 minutes before deciding to head back to the Norfolk Arms via Lady Cannings Plantation which is a pine forest that has a wide central track with a well concealed narrow path down to Ringinglow road. We’d hoped that the temperature would have frozen the worst of the quagmire that we usually find on this route, and it had but as we sped through the trees Chadders managed to find a patch that hadn’t frozen, his front wheel disappeared and he was over the bar, I was directly behind him and it looked like he could have left his testicles dangling from the stem. Fortunately he was all smiles as I handed his bike back to him. The rest of this blast through the trees went without incident and I even managed to clean the narrow bridge that I usually struggle to get across without putting a foot down.

Following a couple of pints in the Norfolk Arms we braced ourselves for the coldest part of the ride. Gav and I waited for the rest of them at the junction to Clough Lane as Matt approached he said that Jim had taken Chadders back down the road as his legs had cramped up and he couldn’t face any more off-road. Down Clough Lane, remembering to avoid the large patch of ice we’d seen on the way up, through Whittle Woods and home.