No Excuses Thursday Returns

No Excuses Thursday Returns

Spring is here and No Excuses Thursday is back baby! I had to miss the 6.30pm meet on the 11th of April (children to bath, stories to read) and instead met the guys and girl at the Sportsman pub for 8pm. This meant I didn’t have to try and keep up with Julia Hobson going up hill. Keeping up with Julia was hard before she won Single Track Weekender, won Mountain Mayhem, cycled from John O’Groats to Lands End off road,  left blighty to compete in Mega Avalanche, worked as a mountain bike guide in portugal over last summer and then competed in the Cape Epic in South Africa. Mmmm, I’ll meet you in the pub Julia after I leisurely grind up the road to it, in the granny ring and in my own time.

Two pints of liquid courage and then lots of down flowy and technical downhill into Hillsborough left us all grinning. The only notable event was my head light going out half way down one of the technical descents, not for the last time. That’s a Thursday night that is.


Appetite for night riding reinvigorated the next Thursday saw the introduction to No Excuses of Martin, who has just opened Sheffield’s latest bike shop, Over Ride Cycleworks, and has therefore not been out on his bike for quite some time. We showed him the Flow House, he liked it, we went for beer.

During the third NET on the trot we rode up the Rivelin Valley, met Jim at the top of the Wyoming Brook downhill and had two pints of Landlord and some rather nice jalapeno pretzels. Resisting the urge to save myself 10km of riding by pootling straight downhill on the road to my side of town with Jim, I opted to descend into Hillsborough with Lambo and Chadders and take in some steep, technical descents through the woods on the way.

Chadders has just bought himself a new 26″ Cube with 100mm up front, it’s a very nice looking bike, quite racey for some of the stuff we throw ourselves down, but he’s done the right this going for a high end hardtail, you wouldn’t get much of a full suspension bike for £1000. The other aspect of opting for a hardtail rather than full suspension bike is that full suspension can make it too easy to get down technical descents, which on a hardtail is more difficult and this means that the hardtail rider either improves his or her technique or falls off a lot.

So No Excuses Thursday is back with a vengeance and the main players all seem suitably enthused by the fun we’ve had on the last three rides to maintain the trend. The momentum required to drag yourself away from the telly on a Thursday night is not always easily mustered but having a couple of mates to drag you out always helps.

It feels like I’ve been riding on snow for a while.

It feels like I’ve been riding on snow for a while.

It’s been a while since my last entry, the discipline of writing a diary is not a natural inclination but I enjoy looking back through past entries and this encourages me to write the next one.

I suppose I have several good excuses, we moved house in March, I had to find a new job in June, the baby was born, 4 weeks early in August… all in all 2012 was pretty hectic.

I did find time to do the 12th Hope Valley Mountain Bike Challenge on the 15th of September with a few mates, this is billed as a 50km off road ride around some of the Peak District’s classic descents starting from the base of Win Hill. The route has regular water stops with mountains of home made cakes provided by the organisers, with out this and a Camelbak containing a cocktail of energy powders and caffeine tablets I think I would have struggled more. I genuinely believe regular slurps of carbs, sugars and salts prevented the peaks and troughs in my energy levels, and certainly avoided the grumpiness I suffer from when tired and hungry.

The route took in The Beast, riding this with a cascade of other cyclists buzzing around you, shouting to let you know where they are and crashing in front of you, was an experience that seems to have spurred me on and I have yet to improve on the time set during this event. A long steep muddy climb out of the belly of The Beast brought us looping back to the top of Win Hill, the route took us up the Roman Road for the second time but we went left at the cross roads down to Jaggers Clough.

Other moments that stay in the memory are the hike up Jacob’s Ladder, this is hard work without a bike, and the general camaraderie and good nature of everyone involved in the event. We plan to do it again this September.

The rides have been sporadic at best. Lambo, Jim and I did manage to get out on a Boxing Day ride around Lady Bower. Do you remember all that rain? It was muddy and the water in the reservoir was so high it had breached the retaining wall and was cascading down the side producing an impressive water fall effect, an eventuality that was clearly planned for in its design.

Upper Derwent, Lady Bower Reservoir, Fairholmes

No Excuses rides have taken more than a back seat, it has got out of the car and been left in a layby on a remote hill side. This is a shame and has had an impact on my fitness, so much easier to lose it than it is to maintain it.

It feels like I have been riding on snow for a while, this is because I have, January and February have both been inclement and have produced some bracing temperatures and interesting riding conditions, burning all my energy pedalling but not moving up the Wyming Brook climb, trying to get to Stanage Pole but failing due to the depth of the snow and travelling sideways down Clough Lane were all features of the ride of the 26th of January.

 

The Top of Clough Lane

The Top of Clough Lane, Peak District, Sheffield

We’re at the end of February and the weather seems to be improving and I will have no excuse to not start riding to work again. This will improve my fitness and encourage me to get out on the mountain bike a bit more.

Bring on the spring.

On fatherhood…

On fatherhood…

The newest addition to our family is now a little over 48 hours old and doing ok considering she is 4 weeks early. With mum and baby still in the hospital it is down to me to hold the fort with our eldest, just trying to keep the place tidy and entertain, then entice food down a picky toddler is proving a challenge.

It is very different the second time around, still wonderful just different. I think this is because having one prepared me for the wave of love I experienced, that rush of oxytocin can’t be as unexpected the second time and is therefore somewhat less intense than the first hit. Another difference is that over the last 20 months I have got used to loving someone more than anything else in the world, initially this feeling is rather bewildering, liberating and unfamiliar as it is not like the love for your own parents, siblings or partner. It is instinctive love; you’re not obliged to feel it, there is no personality to work around, there is no baggage or history and no wish for them to be different in any way and there is no desire for love to be reciprocated and no fear of rejection – you are free to just love, love, love.

I’m looking forward to the girls coming home so life can return to something that resembles normality. Our eldest has taken it all in her stride (her stride of choice is a lob sided goose step which she has been practising up and down the maternity ward) and doesn’t seem at all fazed, she may not realise the baby is coming out of the hospital to live with us and will want to play with her toys, but early reactions to baby are good. I think this may be attributed to my wife’s cunning plan that involved buying a smaller, identical version of her favourite soft toy, a monkey, and giving it to her a few days before the birth of our new monkey.

I didn’t care about gender before the birth and I am just delighted to have a healthy one, a boy would have been nice but not nicer, in many ways it is better for the my daughters this way, they will hopefully have lots in common and be very close. That said, I expect them to ski and ride mountain bikes as well as any son, I will allow protection to prevent scuffed knees, I know girls care about how their legs look. My one regret is that I doubt I will get to use the name we’d picked out for our daughter had she been a boy – Edward D Tyler. Now that is a strong name.

“What does the D stand for?” I hear you say. Danger was to be his middle name.

After riding everything else in your life has the volume turned down…

After riding everything else in your life has the volume turned down…

I limped into work last Friday morning with welts and cuts on my arm and a large patch of skin missing where the granite kissed my knee – I’ve let Strava egg me on. This has led to a consensus of opinion between my friends, stop chasing King of the Mountain, use Strava to push yourself and concentrate more on enjoying the ride and less on the stats.

Does this mean I am going to stop turning Strava on before my rides, no, but I am going to stop chucking myself down stuff faster than my limited skills will allow, and this Thursday I have the perfect excuse to concentrate on riding well as I will be setting an example to our newest recruit.

I’ve been bugging Adam to come out for ages, almost as long as he’s been moaning that he doesn’t see enough of us, Lambo thought that it might have been the moaning that was the important part, rather than the doing something about it, but I have set about removing excuses for not coming biking as they present themselves.

So decked out in all my spare gear, which is all pretty decent kit, I stuck Adam on the Dawes which is not decent but is ridable and has coped with everything that we’ll find ourselves on this evening. The consensus was that if we’re going to convince Adam to spend £500 on a new bike we’d need to hook him, and the way to do that was to take him down the best technical downhill our humble Thursday night ride has to offer, and that means the Flow House.

Why is the Flow House so good? For a start, being mostly granite it stays fairly dry, there is only one short steep section during the down hill, meaning the rest can be taken at your own pace, it has some wonderful natural technical features and there are so many lines that you never ride it the same way end to end twice. The problem with it is that it is a 8.5km up hill slog to get there.

This has stopped being a problem for us regulars a while ago but Adam struggled. I should point out that Adam is cardiovascularly the fittest person I know, but it’s football fitness which is a different set of muscles. It doesn’t really matter how much you want someone to enjoy an activity, when they reach the “good bit” on their last legs, having rubbed raw their virgin perineum and their two fat mates are fresh, chipper and full of encouragement, it seems unlikely that they’re going to see the attraction of this sport.

Adam commented that this wasn’t like football where if someone is slow and crap you just shout at them until they get better or leave and I think he appreciated the nurturing inclusive environment we tried to provide for him. Lambo and I both know that he can’t stand being the worst at something and we really wanted him to get into it. Sadly I fear we have failed, you can tell when someone has been bitten by the wild, glad to be alive glint in their eye that accompanies their first high speed completion of a descent, there was no glint. Oh well, you can’t say we didn’t try.

Despite failing to recruit another rider to our chapter the benefit of taking out a newbie is that you have to slow everything down, the climbs, the descents and this means that you have time to think. You have time to spot the line you’ve never seen because you’ve just been bundling through chasing your personal best. You have time to go back and do a section again whilst they catch up. Going slower could be the best way to go way to go faster.

Strava became the reason to cut your hair short or trim your fingernails

Strava became the reason to cut your hair short or trim your fingernails

The sun hasn’t really shone since my last blog back in May but the rides continue through the perpetual summer rain. On fathers day I took advantage of a sunny morning and headed out of the  door at 5am, a peaceful and secret time of the day reserved for those who stoically over come their reluctance to relinquish the Sunday eiderdown. I returned three hours later with a broken spoke, a perfect opportunity to use my new truing stand.

Since then the truing stand has seen some action as I deal with the fallout of using one’s rear wheel to chew off one’s rear derailleur. I may have found all the damaged spokes but the large dink in the rim is also preventing alignment. Sick of  hoovering up sealant from my tubeless tyres every time I removed them they now stay on the rims during this exercise.

Another new addition to my toolkit is my Samsung Galaxy S3. As my first new phone in 5 years it is busy reminding me what a technophile I am and what I’ve been missing. This thing is what might have once been quaintly called a palm top, but this technology is actually worthy of the name.

So why would I label this device a tool? Quite simply it has revolutionised the way I see my rides and interact with my biking buddies, to say it is like adding another dimension, a missing component, would not be overstating it. I am talking about an app called Strava.

Strava uses the GPS functionality of your phone to map your ride. What’s so special about that? I hear you mutter. Once the ride is over you hit the save ride button on the app and Strava uploads the data to your account. It then breaks your ride down into segments that other people with Strava enabled devices have ridden, compares the results and generates leader boards for those segments. This essentially means that every time you ride you’re racing against an online community and your friends whether they’re with you or not.

If you’re as old as me you’ll remember a time before home computing when playing computer games meant pumping coins into a large box and trying to get a high enough score to enter your initials on the leader board upon your character’s inevitable demise. On successfully achieving this ambition you would dutifully come up with a swear word that could be phonetically spelt using three letters, unless you were serious about posterity, in which case you would put something personal, like your initials.

Strava have managed to take this rather geeky pleasure from my past and bring it to my new hobby, which is not entirely free from geekory itself. Yes, Call of Duty has a leader board but do I have the hours or inclination to chase the leaders, and would any of my friends care if I reached the upper echelons? No, because my mates aren’t impressed by my ability to efficiently despatch the  avatars of obnoxious, American teenage boys on a virtual battle field.

They are however impressed by my ability to ride the Rocky Clough Lane downhill segment of one of our
regular routes in 1.03 and claim the title of King of the Mountain over this segment. This means that out of the 71 people to ride it I am the joint fastest (at time of writing). And if they’re following me on Strava they can tell me by giving me Kudos (similar to a facebook like) and  comment on the relevant segment, and I can do the same to them. The chat in the pub after the ride is a very different affair in this post Strava landscape.

There is a downside to this new toy, it’s got me riding every downhill section like a crash proof nutter on a divine wind. As a man in my mid thirties I don’t have that many high-speed crashes left in me. For this reason I do find my internal monologue having a quiet word during a luck pushing descent of something like the Devil’s Elbow. “Mark” it will whisper, “who do you think you are eh? Steve Peat? Nah, you’re a middle aged bloke on a homemade bike and you’re about to run out of talent” I’d like to ignore him but he’s right and I rein Katie in. The final time is three seconds off the fastest girl, Lambo and I call it a wet lap in fading light and start to negotiate the fallen tree blocking our exit.

So a new dimension to my riding means a new dimension to this blog, if you’d like to follow my adventures follow Mark Tyler on Strava, and say you found me through my blog.

Wharncliffe Woods… Mud and Glory

Wharncliffe Woods… Mud and Glory

There is much to smile about on this sunny Thursday May evening. I’m going on a ride, it’s not raining, it’s not cold and I have fixed my bike.

I went out with Lambo last weekend on the Inbred 29er and we relived our first ride, the Win Hill, Blackley Hey loop. This was I think only my second ride with out a fall and it felt like hitting the reset button on my confidence after my disappointing performance on Snowdon.

Before this ride I put more air in the fork, this performed much better for it. I also spent an afternoon with the gears, tweaking and adjusting and finally got them shifting predictably. The only problem left was the headset, I couldn’t get the play out of this no matter how tight I made the top cap. As the ride progressed, the more the headset wobbled. Upon my return home it was clear that the movement had mashed this component and it was time for a new one. I bought a Cyclus headset press and a Chris King headset in mango. I installed the headset and found that there was still play between the bearing cap and the top cap… bollocks.

After having Gav and Jim take a look before the ride last Thursday, we all agreed that it wasn’t worth destroying another headset and I dragged the Dawes out again. With brakes dragging on the back wheel, frequent chain stuck and the chain stuck in the middle ring due to front derailleur issues I slogged my way round Houndkirk and Cabbage Bench, cursing my luck and the bike I found myself on.

I was on the cusp of giving up and taking the Inbred it to the LBS, but on reading some forums I discovered a theme running through threads about problems with Chris King headsets. Many posters claimed that the issue with the bearing cap not seating is often caused by the quite deep top cap bottoming out on the steerer tube and not applying the preload fully to the stem, spacers and bearing cap. Rather than trim the steerer I bought some oddly sized spacers (12mm, 6mm and 3mm), these increased the stack height by 1mm to 21mm. New spacers installed, top cap tightened, stem tightened, front wheel on and… NO PLAY, HOO RAH!

So I have a working bike and Lambo, Chadders and I are off to Wharncliffe woods, this involves a half hour ride over to Hillsborough to meet the lads and then another half hour on the road until we reach the woods. Fire roads crisscross the woods and make the climbing easier, although there is a short, very steep section at the start to get up that only Lambo cleaned, a trophy climb that will be mine one day.

Wharncliffe now has a sign posted, designated red route for bikes that is a mixture of swoopy single track interspersed with bits north shore, rocky slabs and muddy pits. The first section contained a tricky roll off followed by one such bog that we all approached with some trepidation. The expectation was that one of use would fly over the handle bars and skid to a halt in a patch of slop. With saddles dropped down and balls pumped up we all cleared it. We briefly lost Chadders but found him amognst the blue bells, berating his newly aquired clipless pedals – they do take some getting used to.

A short techy climb and muddy descent brought us back to fire road and after losing height for 2 minutes we decided it was time to find a more interesting way down. Slinging our testicals over our shoulders we rolled into the unkown.

We descended a very steep bank with wheels locked up and tails drifting. We popped a nose around the first corner, Lambo froze up so we parked the bikes to take a look. We’d found a step, that wouldn’t have caused too much bother if the run in was straight and the runout hadn’t be a large berm and a narrow exit between two trees. This was going to take some bottle. Lambo went first and did a good job, I made a start but lost my nerve and decided to start my approach again. Chadders wisely walked it. When I did go for it I rolled it whilst sitting on the back wheel, I remember thinking “surely my front wheel should have hit the ground by now?” as visions of a face plant into a clay berm flashed through my mind but I took the corner and stopped by the tree framed exit, not a catastrophic attempt, it will be easier next time.

More mercifully dry technical trail followed as we descended through the trees. The trail seemed to gradually increase in difficulty as went and as each section was cleared with out damage or injury our confidence grew. The last large drop off needed inspecting, after satisfying ourselves that it could be rolled, Lambo took it, I went next but Chadders stalled at the top and he walked it after common sense prevailed.

Thoroughly pumped up we made it back to the fire road and found some more fast single track through the woods to take us back to town, avoiding most of the road. We met Jim in the New Barrack tavern, he’d been on his own adventure on Houndkirk and had then ridden across town to meet us. Two pints and it was time for Jim and I to take on the hills of Walkley, Crookes and Greystones.

I checked my headset for play upon returning and the bearing cap was still seated snugly in the top cup, I will sleep well tonight.

Building a mountain bike for the first time.

Building a mountain bike for the first time.

It’s about a year since I bought my first mountain bike, a brown On One 456 with a 140mm Rock Shox Revalation RLT Ti fork, full Shimano SLX drive train and Avid Elixir 3 brakes and about 5 months since it was stolen. Since then I’ve been trying to decide what to ride next, first it was a carbon 456, then it was an On One Lurcher, but I’ve ended up with an Orange Inbred 29er frame because I was told that the Lurcher was not available until May, as it turns out that wasn’t true and I could of had one.

So I’ve ended up with a bit of a compromise, an over priced compromise at that, as On One have just dropped the price of the Inbred frame by £60 which leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and takes the shine of ones purchase.

Here’s the spec

On One Inbred 29er 18″ Frame – Orange
RockShox Reba RLT – Dual Air 100mm/29″ MaxleLite15 White MoC/PushLoc Remote Right Alum Ø 1 1/8″ Disc (100 max travel)
Avid Elixir 9 Carbon Lever Grey Anodized Front Disc Brake w/ 180mm HS1 Rotor (IS and Post Mount)
Avid Elixir 9 Carbon Lever Grey Anodized Rear Disc Brake w/ 180mm HS1 Rotor (IS and Post Mount)
Truvativ Stem Hussefelt 60mm 0deg 42mmheight 31.8 1-1/8 Blast Black
Truvativ X9 Chainset GXP 2x10sp 175mm Grey 39-26t
SRAM PG1050 10 Speed Cassette 12-36
SRAM PC1051 10 Speed Chain Silver/Grey 114 Link with PowerLock
SRAM X9 Front Derailleur 2×10 High Direct Mount Dual Pull
SRAM X9 Rear Derailleur (10spd) Medium Cage Carbon Grey
On One Smoothie Headset
On One Fleegle Handle Bar
Thompson Elite Seat Post
Charge Spoon Saddle
Supstar Grips
Rear Wheel – 29er CREST – EVO Black
Front Wheel – 29er CREST – EVO Black

Often it’s the jobs that you think are going to be hard that are very straight forward and the jobs that should be easy have been a bit of a nightmare. I’ll run through them briefly

Installing the bottom bracket and crank (easy) – with the right tool this was very easy. Grease the threads, screw in the two parts by hand to avoid cross threading and firmly tighten with a bb spanner.

Installing headset cup (f*&king nightmare) – Tried installing these with the bolt and washer approach as seen on you tube. First stab was with metal washers from B & Q and it was impossible to get the cups into the frame straight, and top cup did get a little damaged during the process but as these are not moving parts it hasn’t effected the performance of the headset. Next attempt was with this ghetto headset press which did work a little better and I eventually got both the top and bottom cups in. I spent about £20 on bolts and washers and I could have had the Cyclus Headset Press for £33.43 shipped with my Wiggle discount. So a bit of a false economy, if I were to do it again I would invest in correct tool for this particular job.

Installing the fork (fairly easy) – I bought this pipe cutting tool and it works brilliantly, I had a pratice with it by lopping of the top 10mm of the steerer, this went well so I measured it up by installing it with headset and required spacers (I’ve gone 15mm under the stem and 10mm on top) and chopped it. Getting this right is a little tricky and a few mm shorter is better than a few mm too long, especially as the tool’s clamp means that there is a minimum cut length of around 10mm. I’d cut just below your mark rather than on it or above it. This is a good video on how to cut a steerer tube.

 

Getting Tyres onto Rims (Hard) – This was very difficult due to a combination of Stan’ s Rims and Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres and lack of technique. For anyone struggling with their tyres, the first bead of the tyre has to be sitting in the groove in the middle of the rim, if it’s not you will not have the slack to get the second bead on. Even with this technique I still needed tyres levers to seat the last section.

Installing & setting up gears (Tricky) – There is a lot to go wrong here as there are many parameters and settings to consider. Finding the right combination of front deraileur and shim to make it fit a 28.6mm seat tube was the first big challenge. After tweaking limit screws for a couple of hours I worked out that the barrell adjuster on the shifter could be used to correct tension the cables, adjusting this also stopped the rear mech clicking. The problem is that it is seldom one thing but a combination of factors leading to unsatifactory performance.

Brakes (Straight Forward) - These have been fit and forget, at some point I will need to shorten the rear brake cable but as it is working at the moment I am reluctant to work my particular brand of fecal magic on it.

Overall it’s been a horrible nightmare, there are so many standards and compatibility issues that it’s very difficult to make the right desicions when buying. At one point I had 4 X9 front deraileurs on my work bench and the correct shim and I still could mount any of them. It seems often the manufacturers don’t know whether what they’re making will fit.

If you’re thinking of building a bike for the first time, DON’T, I implore you, it is, for the most part a soul destroying, time evapourating, hair extracting all consuming misery. If there is a hell I suspect it is filled will lawyers and BMW drivers trying to build bicycles from scratch. On the odd occasion, when I’m greasy and bleeding in the early hours of the morning, it goes well and there is a great sense of accomplishment. This usually evaporates in the cold light when the expensive part you slowly, lovingly fitted according to the intructions and with the right tools disintergrates because of some obscure compatibility issue, or you forgot to face and chase the deliniated nipple flanges or beacuse of plain bad luck.

If you want an overpriced bike that doesn’t work made out of tears and pain, build your own, otherwise I suggest using your local bike shop.

Same old, same old…

Same old, same old…

I’ve been moving house and trying to build a bike, more on that patience sapping money pit later, and therefore not blogging but not much has changed except that I now live on the right side of Sheffield for easy access to the Peaks by bike, I am out of my door and on wooded single track in 3 mins. I’m still lugging around the Dawes, it’s keeping my eye in, but I’m yearning to ride something a little better equipped.

After many failed attempts over the winter due to poor visibility and snow, we’ve been riding a trail I shall call Cabbage Bench, for no other reason that it is technically a footpath and therefore off-limits to cyclists. As individuals we’re usually unnecessarily deferential to this stupid piece of legislation dreamt up by some moron in Whitehall, but as the council has made a concerted and comprehensive effort to ruin the old Houndkirk Road by making it smoother that most of the roads in Sheffield city centre, we feel entitled and obliged to seek technical riding elsewhere. If you don’t like you can take down my number plate call the police.

Rivlin Valley has also felt our rubber with Lambo leading us on new adventures in the dark to the un-ridden and potentially un-rideable. It has been a while since I rode a new descent, it’s been even longer since I rode a mountain bike off-road in daylight. A new descent in the dark is a mind focussing event that never fails to leave the adrenal gland empty and flapping.

The steps on our Rivlin trail still fill me with dread before they’re attempted and relief once they’re cleaned. On descending the big flight of steps on our route for its first time the Dawes ran out of travel towards the bottom and let out a PING as we hit the footpath. This is the sort of noise I would associate with attracting the attention of the concierge in a hotel lobby, not the suspension system of a mountain bike.

I have a ride around Edale with Beachy tomorrow and I was hoping to take my newly built Inbred 29er out for its first ride but I’ve been let down by Chain Reaction Cycles and have no front brake and no front shifter. So it’s going to have to be the Dawes which will probably give up half way round and result in a long walk back to the car in a dirty red cloud of anger.

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.