BAM – February 2019

I’ve finally opened my BAM (bivvy-a-month) 2019 account, I missed January unfortunately.  I decided it would be a good time to start getting out more regularly, plus I need to start prepping for the WRT in May.

The bike ready to go
The bike ready to go

I decided to stay local to home (20 miles max) so headed up to a local area littered with bridle ways, double and single track, un-adopted roads, and all manner of remnants of the areas industrial past. I started off on Saturday afternoon, and used a route I’ve not tried before and, to be honest, probably won’t use again, it was quite boring and there was too much traffic. I’m not sure what it is about Welsh b-roads that attracts idiot drivers in crap little hatchbacks. Answers on a postcard?

I arrived in the rough vicinity of my proposed camping spot quite early, so took advantage of the local pub (think Slaughtered Lamb), to grab a pint of Diet Coke and use the facilities. I did enquire as to whether they were serving food, to which the answer was a hesitant, “Not really…” I’m not really sure what that meant, I just nodded politely and finished my drink.

I jumped back on the bike and went for a wander around the local trails, stopping for a quick photo opp at the old kilns.

Exploring the lime kilns
Exploring the lime kilns
Camping the disused quarry
Camping in the disused quarry

The spot I was planning to visit had been recommend by a patron of the BearBones parish, and I’m glad I took the advice. It’s an old disused quarry, which is good and bad. Good because there’s plenty of level areas and plateaus to pitch on, bad because there’s plenty of stone under the topsoil, so getting the stakes in can be a challenge.

As the boozer wasn’t doing any food I was going to try the Adventure Expedition dehydrated meal I’d picked up, minced beef hotpot apparently. Well that’s what it said on the label. I can only describe it as tasteless goopy stuff with bits in. I won’t be going down that route again, the boil in the bag meals are much tastier, although they are heavier, or better yet, just find a local chippy / pub (that serves food).

Anyway, back to the trip, the new tent worked like a charm. Stood up to the wind and rain, albeit light rain. As my kit isn’t really “4 season”, I’d decided to take two sleeping mats; the 7cm karrimor lilo mat to provide comfort and keep me off the floor, AND the 3cm Vango self-inflating mat to go inside the sleeping bag and provide some insulation. Despite the obvious weight and volume penalty, the combination of both mats worked brilliantly, I was comfortable and warm all night. All in all, the kit is standing up to the abuse I throw at it, however the KTM is definitely due a service, the gears were all over the place so a trip to the LBS is in order.

Stay tuned for the next trip out, sooner rather than later I hope.

Six Moon Designs Skyscape Scout
Six Moon Designs Skyscape Scout
At least the coffee was OK.
At least the coffee was OK.
Advertisements

New digs – first look

So as with all things budgety, eventually you get to a stage and realise if you want quality, now and again, you gotta pay for it.

Now the tent is one of the “core” pieces of kit and really isn’t something that you want letting you down. The original Yellowstone tent I used was a great intro to small tents on a very tight budget, but the quality just wasn’t there. I think it was also let down by the general design, the tent required over 15 pegs to pitch it, and even then, or maybe because of that, it was difficult to get right. It wasn’t particularly waterproof, even after a coat of fabsil, the stitching was poor, the zips were prone to snagging and the internal mesh was not fine enough to keep the midges out. Something had to change.

I decided I was sticking with a tent, I’m comfortable in nature, but I don’t want slugs crawling across my face at night. If you enjoy a tarp and bivvy, well done, but it ain’t for me. There’s a growing market for lightweight tents in both single skin and double skin varieties. I’m not too much of a weight weeny, so anything around 1 kilogram would be acceptable. I started googling my options and consulted the chaps on Bearbones too. A few manufacturer names popped up regularly, including; Big Agnes, Six Moon Designs, MSR, Terra Nova and Hilleberg. Some of the prices of these tents, especially the “super light” variants are eye watering.

I decided I liked the look of the Six Moon Designs SkyScape Scout. It’s a mouthful I know, but in a nutshell, it’s a hybrid design tent, so in essence a single skin tent along the centre section, and a double skin tent at the sides. At £150 it’s actually very reasonable, given the competition. A word of warning though, it doesn’t come with poles, as it’s designed to work with hiking poles (if that’s your thing). I spoke to someone who had a pair of the Six Moon Design aluminium poles that had been bought in error, so got them half price. If this hadn’t been the case, I’d have plumped for a pair of the BearBones carbon jobbies. The tent itself uses a central “spreader pole” in to which the longer poles fit, it then relies on the five pegs (yes only five!) to keep tension on the poles which results in a very sturdy pitch.

Six Moon Design Skyscape Scout tent

Six Moon Design Skyscape Scout tent

I’ve only quickly tested the tent in pretty good conditions, so it’s not been put through it’s paces yet, but that will be happening quite soon I hope. Stay tuned for more….

Six Moon Design Skyscape Scout interior

Six Moon Design Skyscape Scout interior

Six Moon Design Skyscape Scout exterior

Six Moon Design Skyscape Scout exterior

Forks and Bars

I’ve made some changes to the ole KTM over the past few months, primarily the forks and bars, oh and I’ve swapped the tyres out too.

Surly Ogre Forks

Surly Ogre Forks

The KTM originally came with a set of Suntour XCM spring forks fitted, which were average at best. Even for someone with limited mountain biking experience like me, it was obvious they were forks from the “cheaper” end of the market. Very clunky, very noisy, barely adjustable (although I wouldn’t have known what I was doing anyway) and very, very heavy at over 2Kg. I’d also realised that the type of riding I was, and still am, doing, doesn’t really require suspension. The bike is usually loaded up with bags, so I tend to take everything at quite a steady pace, nothing too fast. Also, given the extra weight the bike carries, the last thing I want on a climb is energy sapping suspension or extra weight. After a bit of research in to measurements and fittings I found the perfect solution, Surly Ogre forks! The Surly Ogre is an American built bike designed specifically for bikepacking and heavy duty touring. The forks are designed to fit 29er mountain bikes, although all the measurements (axle to crown etc) match up with the requirements for a 27.5″ suspension fork too. I got local bike mechanic / suspension specialists Indi Cycle Works to fit them for me, as I knew if I had a go I’d end up knackering the headset or something. I’d wholeheartedly recommend this guy. service was excellent, fast turn around and it didn’t cost the Earth! As you can see, the forks also include plenty of fittings for triple pack cages like the Salsa Anything Cage or the FreeParable Gorilla Cage. They can also accommodated tyres up to 29″ x 3″, however as the bike has been in “commuter mode” for a while, she’s currently wearing Schwalbe Hurricane 27.5″ x 2″ tyres. You can see just how much clearance is available in this picture.

Surly Ogre Fork Clearance

Surly Ogre Fork Clearance

Then we come to the bars. Bikepackers tend to talk about alternative bar designs a lot, as flat bars (the bars usually fitted to mountain bikes) can be quite uncomfortable after extended periods on the bike, and can result in aching wrists or a tingling sensation in the hands. “Alt Bars” and the associated sweep back that they provide, can help to alleviate this issue. Another popular option these days is to fit road style drop bars, but this can cause issues with brake and drive train hardware compatibility. I had a couple of issues that I was hoping some new bars could help me with, firstly as I described above, after a few hours riding I could sense a tingling / numbness in my thumbs, I’d also sometimes experience an aching in my shoulders and neck from leaning forwards for protracted periods, and finally, I also had issues with the handlebar bags and cable clearance as you can see in this earlier article. There are plenty of alternative style bars available from the relatively common riser bar, the ever popular Jones loop or H-bar, right through to oddities like the Surly Moloko or Velo Orange Crazy bar. I decided to go for something relatively mundane, after a little advice from the Bearbones brigade and opted for the OnOne Og bar.

OnOne Og handlebars

OnOne Og handlebars

With 25° backsweep, 6° upsweep it really does make a huge difference compared to the original KTM line flats that were fitted, also by rotating the bar in the stem you get to dial the fit in quite nicely. Another benefit of the Ogs is that they are really cheap in comparison to other bars, at only £21! Bargains galore! I should point out that in the picture above you can also see a pair of cheapo bar ends that I decided to fit “inboard” in order to give me some extra hand positions, similar to the extra positions provided by Surly Moloko and Jones H-Bars.  Here’s another shot of the OnOne Ogs and the inboard bar ends. #BestBicycle …..?

Inboard bar ends on OnOne Ogs

Inboard bar ends on OnOne Ogs

Family Bikepacking – Mawddach trail

Yeah, I know, it’s been a while. Anyway, I figured my first post on here should be one documenting one of my favourite trips of 2018, our family bikepacking adventure down the Mawddach trail, between Dolgellau and Barmouth. Ok, so it wasn’t an “adventure” as such the way most bikepackers use the word, but little George loved it, and for him it was an adventure!

WeeHoo iGo Turbo Trailer

WeeHoo iGo Turbo Trailer

So, we decided after buying George’s WeeHoo iGo Turbo trailer, that proper bikepacking with the sprog in tow (literally) was now a valid option. The iGo trailer is a cracking piece of kit. Utilising only one wheel, it feels much less “draggy” than the bigger twin wheel “box style” trailers that we’ve used in the past. Plus it has a fully fledged chainset hooked up to a freewheel at the back, so George can pedal along and help with the overall effort, although he does appear to prefer it when he just sits back and relaxes! The trailer also includes a set of mini panniers at the back for all those extra bits and bobs required when looking after a child. It was also the first trip out on Zoe’s new bike, a Marin Wildcat Trail WFG 5, we’d finally got rid of that hideous purple thing that felt like it was built of cast iron! To be fair, the Marin is a really nice piece of kit, running a 1×10 drive-train, some nice RockShox Recon Silver forks and female specific geometry. It also weighs in at about a third of that Emmelle Nightshade abomination.

Marin Wildcat

Marin Wildcat

The Mawddach trail is a mostly paved route that follows an old railway line from the small town of Dolegallau, down the Mawddach estuary to the popular tourist town of Barmouth. You could easily manage this on a gravel bike or even a proper road bike. We picked this particular route for our first family outing, mainly as it’s impossible to get lost, isn’t too long at less than ten miles in total, and has lots of options for food, drink and camping along the way.

We parked up in the centre of Dolgellau and put the bikes and trailer together, strapped all the bags on, then immediately called it lunch! Carb loading, well that was my excuse! We set off just after our lunch had settled and the weather, although warm, was a touch overcast, I was praying it wouldn’t rain. We’d decided that Zoe and George would live in the Vango Ark 200, whilst I’d be slumming it in the Yellowstone Alpine tent, which is decidedly un-waterproof (even after a coat of Fabsil). Fortunately my concerns were unfounded, blue skies emerged and it turned out to be one of the hottest weekends of the year! Result.

Mawddach Estuary

Mawddach Estuary

Tents at Graig Wen campsite

Tents at Graig Wen campsite

We decided to camp about 3/4 of the way to Barmouth on the southern slopes of the valley at Graig Wen campsite, which is a cracking little site that we had almost entirely to ourselves, which was surprising given the weather. Just be warned, once you leave the trail and head to the site, you’ve got a very steep hill to push up. The site has coin operated showers, and fridges and freezers available for use by residents. They also hire out small fire pits and there’s a well stocked little tuck shop too.

George on the bridge

George on the bridge

To get to Barmouth itself, you have to cross the railway bridge at the mouth of the estuary. This in itself is a wonderful little attraction, that is now, unfortunately under threat of closure due to council funding issues. Once in Barmouth there is plenty to do in the bustling little tourist town, however, because the weather was simply amazing, we spent most of our time playing on the sandy beach. We also decided to jump on a small dinghy which took us across the mouth of the river to a small train station, at which point we got on a “steamy” and headed over to Fairbourne to take a look. A word of warning, in Fairbourne there is absolutely sweet FA to do. But that didn’t bother us, it’s a nice quiet little village and we just sat outside a cafe enjoying drinks and ice cream. Plus, George is obsessed with trains, so we got to watch a few Arriva diesels roll by, which kept him happy.

George and his teddy

George and his teddy

We spent a couple of days riding around the area and enjoying the beach. It was a really enjoyable, relaxing trip and I would recommend it to anyone, with or without children. By the time we rolled back in to Dolgellau, I think it’s safe to say, George had caught the bikepacking bug and he was already asking about our next trip while he devoured yet another ice cream.

BOOM! BAM!

Yeah, so it’s been a while. Basically starting a new job, fixing up a three hundred year old house and trying to keep a four year old child alive are full time tasks! As such, the bikepacking was put on the back burner, hence me disappearing for more than a year.

Either way, things are a little calmer now, I have a bit more time available, so I’m back on it! There have been loads of changes and updates to my kit, more of that soon. Also, I have decided to “attempt” to get in to the spirit of things with the Bivi A Month challenge on Bear Bones bikepacking forum. How well this will go, remains to be seen.

Here are the rules:

1/ At least one night out during every calender month throughout 2018.

2/ A single trip taking in both the last night of one month and the first of the next, will count as two months if you wish.

3/ No paid for accommodation inc’ campsites or hostels.

4/ A bike must be involved – it’s bikepacking, the clue’s in the name.

5/ Your own garden doesn’t count, although next doors does … if you must.

6/ Post each trip here in as much detail as you like, pictures are good. One post for each month please.

The point is I’m still alive, again, and will try my best to be a little more active. Posts to soon follow will involve such exciting things as: New forks on the KTM, spending money on bar bags and seat packs, lights for riding at night, things that contain down and fun with water bottles. I’m so excited I might wee!

Routes and maps

Get lost! Or not, as the case may be. I’ve been thinking about grabbing a dedicated GPS unit, something like the Garmin Etrex 20 or similar. I do like the freedom of being able to ride anywhere I want, but I also like the ability to turn on some gadget to see my location, overlay-ed on a map with a route indicated too. This means I’m free to ride around for a bit, looking at interesting things, then get back on the pre-planned route to get to some destination. Easiest way to achieve this is by utilising a GPS unit, loaded up with some maps and some GPX files for routes. Or, you could always use a smart phone instead of a dedicated GPS unit like the Garmin. The question then, is which GPS / mapping application do you use? Also, how would you deal with the power requirements of a smart phone over a multi day trip? I’ve tried a couple of apps including BackCountry Navigator and I recently downloaded an app called Maverick, which seems to be a little simpler to use, which is a good thing for me. Both of these apps allow you to download maps for use offline, meaning you don’t need a mobile data connection in order to use them.

BikeHike course creator

BikeHike course creator

I’ve always found planning routes to be fun but challenging. I’m aware of my own limitations as a rider, so try to avoid huge ascents and try to be a little more strategic about climbs on my routes for example. There are plenty of tools out there that can help you plan a bikepacking trip, and by this I mean both on road and off road, one of my favourites is BikeHike. The course creator lets you see both a Google maps / OSM style view and a more traditional OS format map. It’s really, really handy, especially when you switch over to “satellite view” too, just to check there’s actually something on the ground.

As you can see from the images below, both Maverick and BackCountry Navigator revolve around similar map view screens showing a map, your current position and, if required, a GPX route overlay. These GPX files are very useful, especially when riding an ITT with a predetermined route that is new to you as a rider. Most of the well known ITT (Independent Time Trial) routes have freely available GPX files hosted around the internet, information on many of the UK routes can be found at: Self-Supported, including the basic rules of self-supported, or ITT, routes, which I have helpfully stolen and copied here.

  1. Complete the entire route, under your own power  – no drafting
  2. Be completely self-supported throughout the ride – absolutely no support crews, absolutely no gear sharing
  3. Only use commercial services that are available to all challengers – no private resupply, no private lodging
  4. If you have to leave the route, you must re-join it at the exactly same spot
  5. No caches of any kind
  6. No pre-arranged support, which means before you begin your ride – e.g. booking a B&B, arranging to meet a vehicle
  7. No travel by any motorized means during your ride – by all means do so if necessary, but understand if you do your attempt is over

All common sense stuff really. However, this is for the “competitive” types, personally I’m out there to enjoy myself, not try and beat someone else’s times. Anyway, that’s beside the point. At the end of the day the routes and trails exist, if you want to pootle along enjoying the scenery or absolutely cane it to see your name on a website leader board, then so be it, the choice is yours. I’ve got a stash of GPX files, some I’ve created myself using BikeHike or are made from previous routes I’ve ridden, others are taken from various resources around the internet. You can take a look at the files in Google Drive by clicking here, help yourselves. Oh, and if you fancy planning riding a little further afield, I’ll just leave this here, European Bikepacking Routes.

BackCountry Navigator

BackCountry Navigator

Maverick GPS map screen

Maverick GPS map screen

A day at the beach

OK, so due to workload I’ve barely left the house so far this summer, which, given the weather we’ve had, hasn’t depressed me too much. However, the wife and I decided to head out over the August bank holiday for some day rides, one of which was heading down the Lon Las Cefni cycle route from Llangefni to Newborough Forest on Anglesey in North Wales. This meant a nice easy ride along a dedicated cycle path from Llyn Cefni lake, following the river down to Malltraeth on the coast, then through Newborough Forest to the beach (probably the best beach in North Wales!). I’ve recently found out that Malltraeth literally translates to English as “Desolate beach”, which is a little harsh as it’s actually quite a nice area.

Anyway, this day ride allowed me to try out some of the kit I’ve accumulated, not for carrying bikepacking gear, oh no, I was carrying a picnic blanket, toy cars, bucket and spades, a mini wetsuit and all the other things required to keep a 2 year old boy happy on a big sandy beach. Of all the kit on the bike, I’ve got to say I’m pretty much impressed with everything. The Blackburn outpost handlebar system is great, considering I got it at a bargain price of £30, not the usual rrp of £70+, the Apidura frame pack is worth it’s weight in gold and the Stem Cells are about the most useful thing ever invented to go on a bike, other than wheels probably. As I said, this was a day trip only, but I did get to set the bike up with all the usual overnight / bikepacking gear so it was a good “no stress” test of the current kit.  Here’s a picture of the setup:

From left to right we have the AlpKit Airlok tapered dry bag, Apidura Mountain frame pack, two AlpKit Stem Cells, Blackburn Outpost handlebar system and finally my first aid pack strapped to the harness.

From left to right we have the AlpKit Airlok tapered dry bag, Apidura Mountain frame pack, two AlpKit Stem Cells, Blackburn Outpost handlebar system and finally my first aid pack strapped to the harness.

I also got to have a go at riding on the sandy beach itself, which was actually easier than I’d imagined. The chunky Schwalbe tyres definitely helped out.

One thing this particular ride has done is inspire us to start planning a circumnavigation of the entire island of Anglesey. Updates to follow!