The cook kit – pt 1

Mountain biking is hard work, hungry work, and after a day in the saddle being able to cook a hot meal and knock up a brew is simply essential. In the past I’ve used a big old bulky combination of a 900ml pan, a camping kettle, big gas stove etc Basically, cheapo camping kit that really didn’t lend itself well to the lightweight world of bike-packing. But things have changed! Over the winter I’ve picked up a few goodies that have helped me shed weight and space, but can still provide a decent meal for one, or a hot snack for two. The original cook kit wasn’t particularly heavy, but it was bulky and was one of the main reasons I had to use the rucksack. The new and improved cook kit all fits in to one of the AlpKit Stem cells, which is utterly brilliant.

Cook kit components

Cook kit components

It all revolves around an AlpKit 650ml MytiMug. This titanium contraption is somewhere between a large mug and a small cooking pot, inside it I can fit my Vango ultralight gas stove, a back up lighter, a folding spork, some instant coffee sachets and a few sachets of salt and pepper, stolen from a motorway services, if memory serves. You can just make out some black bands at the top of the MytiMug, these are silicon wrist bands, you remember them? “Make poverty history”, “Make cancer history”, “Make wristbands history” etc. The thinking behind this is that titanium mugs get very, very hot while they’re on the stove which can result in basically setting fire to your lips whilst trying to drink your freshly made brew. These silicon bands stop that from happening. It also happens that these two silicon bands just happen to be in support of the mighty Opsreys! Which is nice.

Cook kit components nested inside the Mytimug

Cook kit components nested inside the Mytimug

Anyway, back to the cook kit. So everything gets nested inside the MytiMug itself, which comes in a handy mesh bag, to help keep the lid on whilst riding. Also, by going for a slightly smaller gas can, I can get the MytiMug, with all it’s contents, and the gas can in to a single Stem Cell. As you can see from the pictures, it’s snug but if anything that helps stop it all from rattling around too much. The Stem Cells fit using simple velcro loops around the stem and handlebars of the bike.

Here’s a few more images to give you an idea of how it all fits together.

MytiMug, gas can and Stem Cell

MytiMug, gas can and Stem Cell

Everything inside the Stem Cell

Everything inside the Stem Cell

New Toys – pt1 : Frame bag and tyres

So, over the winter I’ve bought a few bits and bobs. Trying to save money as and where I can and trying to find bargains, but in some cases, simply stumping up the cash was required. The following is an example of both finding a bargain, and stumping up the cash.

Firstly, the frame bag, or should I say partial frame bag. I’ve been after something like this for a while as I’ve been fed up with having to take the ruck sack. Why should I have to carry the weight, when the bike should be doing that? One of the drawbacks of frame bags is that they do have a tendency to be rather pricey, especially the custom fit jobbies. Another drawback of the custom fit bags is that, by their very nature, they’ll only fit one frame properly, so swapping between the KTM and the Ridley would be a no go. So I’d set my sights on a partial frame bag, specifically the WildCat Ocelot, I’d heard good things and they seem like a decent bunch of guys. This plan derailed when I spotted an advert on the BearBones forum for a second hand Apidura frame bag in the right size and in mint condition. So I grabbed it. £40 delivered, as opposed to £70. It fits perfectly along the top tube, however it’s a bit squishy from top to bottom as I think my downtube angle is a little shallow. To be honest, it’s not a big deal and I’m very happy with it. It’s the perfect shape and size for carrying tools, tubes, torch batter, pump, tent pole, food, spare warm bits… The list goes on. Must say, I’m very impressed by the Apidura build quality. The bag itself has two full length zippers allowing access to the two main compartments; one is a large cavity for “dumping stuff” in, the other is smaller, and contains a few small net pouches for organising things a little better. It also has a small opening on top (under the top tube) for allowing wires or water bladder tubes through. Very well though out bit of kit! Just to be on the safe side, I gave the frame bag (and my AlpKit dry bags) a quick coat of Fabsil. I’m sure the VX21 is waterproof enough anyway, but it seemed like a good idea just to add a thin layer of silicon, every little helps ‘n all that.

Now the tyres. The KTM was running 2.1″ Schwalbe Rapid Robs which were OK on hard pack surfaces and tarmac, but very skittish and unpleasant off road. I had to run them at around 40psi to avoid snake bite flats which meant they bounced around a lot and had very poor traction in proper, actual mud. So they had to go, I did a fair bit of research on t’interweb and asked for advice here and there and eventually decided on the Schwalbe Nobby Nic / Rock Razor combination you can see below. The Rock Razor is a rear specific tyre, it has a semi-slick profile in the centre to ease rolling resistance and keep things nice and fast, but has exceptionally soft side lugs designed to really dig in when the bike is leaning over. Hopefully this might keep things a bit more predictable at the back, the Robs had a tendency to just lose traction whenever they felt like it. The Nobby Nic up front is much chunkier and more of a classic mountain bike “all trail” design, this is the tyre that provides control and braking, so there’s nothing semi-slick about this tyre. I chose the 2.35″ varieties of both tyres and also went for the more expensive Snake Skin, TL Easy Evo versions of the tyres, this means they have much, much thicker side walls, meaning better protection, but also the added strength means I can reduce each tyres pressure without too much of a risk from snake bite flats. Another benefit of these tyres, is that if and when I decide to try tubeless, the tyres are ready and waiting. The Nic is the “trail star” (softer compound) and the Razor is the “pace star” (harder, faster compound). I’m currently experimenting with pressures, but 33psi at the back and 30psi at the front seems brilliant so far. Also, they look far, far chunkier and meatier than the Robs. When swapping the tyres over I really couldn’t get over just how thin and crappy the Robs felt, no wonder my tubes were covered in little green scab patches. These tyres were NOT cheap, they were the expensive variants and came in at £30 for the Nic and £35 for the Razor.

I forgot to weigh the tyres before they were fitted, but from the Schwalbe website:

  • Nobby Nic, 27.5 x 2.35, Snakeskin, TL Easy, Folding = 720g
  • Rock Razor, 27.5 x 2.35, Snakeskin, TL Easy, Folding = 695g

The Rapid Robs were 680g each, so it’s a weight gain, but not much.

EDIT As you can see in the picture below, the frame bag does make accessing bottles tricky, so I’ve used some of those “Elite” bottle cage strap thingys to shift the bottle cages down. I’ll add some pictures soon.

Frame bag and tyres

Frame bag and tyres

I’m not dead

No I’m not, I’ve just been hibernating. I’m still trying to pluck up the courage to do some proper, actual winter bikepacking. So what have I been doing in the mean time? I’ve been eating and drinking over the festive period mostly, but I’ve also been buying a few bits and bobs and doing a bit of tinkering. So, in the next couple of weeks expect some info on: My new cheap as chips sleeping mat! A budget down jacket. A new set of handlebars on the KTM! And some other bits I’ve forgotten about. Also I’ll be doing some more kit fettling and rearranging as I now have a few new bags that will be replacing the old rucksack, at last!

Either way, 2016 is the year I’m setting myself targets. I’ve decided by March I want to get the Triban Trail under my belt, it’s a nice triangular 3 day circuit in North Wales. By May I’d like to have complete the Sandstone Way, and then by July I want to do the Trans Cambrian Way And then hopefully by the end of the year I’d like to have completed the Sarn Helen, which is a huge North to South route right through the heart of Wales. Also I’d like to get in to the more social aspects of bike packing and participate in events like the WRT with bearbones gang.

Same mountain, different hill

So I headed up Moel Y Parc again. Long rides are a bit of a struggle at the moment due to juggling work, Zoe’s working hours and trying to look after George, so I tend to be heading for Saturday afternoon rides, over night camps and heading home early on the Sunday morning. So, for a quick over nighter, it seemed to make sense to head back up Moel Y Parc, as per: https://bikepackingonabudget.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/up-a-mountain-down-a-hill/

This time I was alone, which meant I could ride a little faster, carry less kit and the equipment I was carrying could be a little lighter. As summer is drawing to a close I noticed two things along the trails, they’re heavily overgrown with nettles and the wasps are more aggressive than usual. The climb up the “mountain” was utterly leg destroying as usual, I reckon I managed a 50/50 split between riding and walking. This time round I was chasing the sun so had to move a little quicker, I didn’t want to have to pitch the Yellowstone tent in the dark. I got to the pitching spot for around 18:00, so had around an hour of proper sunlight left, which was plenty. I pitched the tent, phoned home to confirm I was still alive and got a brew on.

Home, sweet home

Home, sweet home

This was quickly followed by boiling up 500ml of water to cook my cheapo fresh pasta. I’d decided bringing a sauce pot or sachet was a faff and didn’t bother, this was a mistake, scoffing 400gms of spinach and ricotta tortellini ‘dry’ can become a chore! Next time, a sachet of tomato sauce of similar will be on the cards. After dinner I went for a walk around the summit and just sat there staring out at the views, it’s amazing, I’ve got the Wirral estuary to the North, Vale of Clwyd and Snowdonia range to the West and to the South, the rest of the Clwydian range and Berwyn mountains in the distance. As the sun finally set turning the sky pink and purple, the lights of Ruthin, Denbigh, St Asaph and the coastal towns changed the view completely, but made it no less beautiful. A nice, bright, half moon meant I could basically wander around without needing any kind of artificial light too! Which was nice…

The Snowdonia range in the distance

The Snowdonia range in the distance

But, back to the kit, as usual I had to use the Karrimor AirSpace rucksack to carry my cook kit and clothes and it’s really starting to annoy me, sore legs is one thing, sore back and shoulders is something I could do without. At the moment the rucksack carries the cook kit and warm clothes, so I’ve decided to start improving the cook kit first. I’m swapping the 900ml pan (over kill) for an AlpKit Titanium MytiMug 650. It’s big enough that I can stash a fair bit inside it (wind shield, coffee, spork etc), but still small enough that I have more options available to me on how to carry it on the bike,  I think a Stem Cell or WildCat Ocelot is the best option so far. I’m hoping once I’ve got my hands on the MytiMug the Vango stove will fit inside it too, if not a little more thinking may be required. When it comes to the clothes I’m currently taking a pair of CragHopper walking trousers, an Under Armour t-shirt, thick socks, wooly hat, neck buff and a cheapo Berghaus fleece. Might seem overkill but I don’t like being cold. It all fits in a 5l Karrimor dry bag at the minute, with the bulk of the space being taken up by the fleece and trousers. I’m going to swap the fleece for a down jacket, and there are hundreds of options available, most of which are quite expensive. However, SportsDirect are flogging Karrimor 750fp down jackets for £50.00, which is a bargain, and I’m my opinion, worth a punt. So with that in mind, I’m thinking the wooly hat, socks and down jacket will join the sleeping bag in my AlpKit AirLok dry bag / seat pack. The trousers, and whatever extra I decide to carry, may have to go upfront on the handlebars. I’ve bought one of the dual ended 13l AlpKit dry bags with the intention of filling it with the tent and maybe a dry bag with clothes in. At the moment this idea is not working. Although the space isn’t an issue as such, getting two dry bags inside another is causing issues with “friction”, they simply won’t budge. I could stuff the clothes in loose but I’m a little worried about them getting wet along side the tent’s dry bag. Might be a valid concern, or I could be worried about nothing. We’ll see.

Morning mist over the Vale of Clwyd

Morning mist over the Vale of Clwyd

What’s next on the shopping list

There’s a few bits and bobs I’m not happy with any more. I know I originally said I was over the moon with how well the Vango Ultralite sleeping mat worked, and to be fair I still am, but I’m not happy with how big and heavy it is when packed, so I’m thinking of upgrading. In keeping with the “on a budget” aspect of this site, I’m very interested in the AlpKit Numo, it’s light and compact when packed, nice and thick when unpacked and very cheap at £35 delivered. The only thing I’m not sure of is it’s thermal / insulation properties being that it’s an air mat that is completely empty and devoid of any insulation materials. I’ve just been sent a link to this to: the Thermarest Neo-Air Venture WV mattress, that’s a mouthful eh? Currently on offer too…. Hmmmmm.
I’m also getting hacked off with riding with a rucksack on, so I’m considering a bigger frame bag, a custom AlpKit Stingray would be nice, however a fair bit of advice I’ve had recently indicates the Wildcat Gear Ocelot may be a better option, in that it can carry as much stuff, but has the advantage that it’s not a custom fit, so may fit both the KTM and the Ridley, which is definitely a plus point.
The only other upgrade I’m thinking of is the cook kit, but this isn’t a particularly high priority as it’s not always required, I’m thinking of ditching the big ally pan and going for a couple of nesting Ti mugs, again, AlpKit are looking good for this. I feel like a walking / riding AlpKit advocate at the moment, but you can’t argue with decent kit and decent prices…
I’m open to suggestions on all of the above by the way!

Up a mountain, down a hill

Right, first things first, in the UK there is no consistent definition of what constitutes a lump of rock being a mountain and not a hill. There are various theories on the subject, in the US any hill with a summit at 1,000ft is a mountain, the BBC have stated it’s actually 2,000ft  in the UK, the Scots would probably tell you it’s 3,000ft. My point is, that Moel Y Parc at the Northern tip of the Clwydians is 1,306ft, so we’re with the Americans on this one! We went up a mountain!

I’m jumping ahead of myself anyway, first things first, we had to pack everything on the bikes, I’m sure you’ve seen enough of the test fitting pictures by now so you know what the bikes looked like. I was horrified to weigh Zoe’s Emmelle Nightshade, full laden and see it come in at just over 22kg.The KTM came in at 17kg, not including the 6.5kg Karrimor rucksack I was taking too, just thought I’d get that in before anyone thought I was using Zoe’s bike as a pack-horse and keeping mine nice and light. On the Saturday morning the weather wasn’t great, we sulked around until 1pm when the rain started to ease up and the sky lightened a bit. We headed out along the winding country roads and were at the first bridleway pretty quickly, it gave us the chance just to get a feel for the bikes in mud before ending up too far from home. Everything with the bikes was good, the weather was patchy but we pushed on anyway.

A quick stop on one of the many bridleways we used

A quick stop on one of the many bridleways we used

Well deserved refreshments at the Fox Inn

Well deserved refreshments at the Fox Inn

We stuck to bridleways, infrequently used footpaths (sshhhhhh!) and the quieter country lanes and eventually made it down to Ysceifiog. It’s a lovely little country village with a small pub, The Fox Inn where we decided a pint or two was a good idea, in hind sight it wasn’t, we had a hell of a climb to come. After a 30 minute break we headed away from the pub to the tiny nature reserve and then across the A541 where we began our ascent up the road between Pen-Y-Cloddiau to the East and Moel-Y-Parc to the West. This was a long, steep, winding road and it wasn’t long until we were interspersing riding with walking just to save our legs. The road soon turns to a very steep and loose bridle way, which fortunately levels out quickly to sensational views over the Vale of Clwyd.

The sun setting over the Vale of Clwyd

The sun setting over the Vale of Clwyd

These views are why we do this! We set up camp at the intersection of a few different paths, the Clwydian way, Offa’s Dyke path and Clifford byway all meet here, however it was 7pm by the time we were setting up and we only met one person, a friendly fell runner who stopped for a chat about bikepacking!

What a view

What a view

Our home for the night

Our home for the night

We were using the Vango Ark 200 as opposed to the Yellowstone tent, which meant three things, it’s much heavier, it’s much easier to set up and it’s much bigger once inside. Split between two it’s doable, not ideal, but doable. I know Vango aren’t in the same league as MSR and Hilleberg but the build quality of the Ark 200 is brilliant, miles better than the cheapo Yellowstone.

Brew!

Brew!

Zoe sorted out the sleeping mats and bags, while I broke out the cook kit and got a brew on. I’ll admit it, the kettle was overkill, I don’t think water boiled any faster in that than in the crappy 900ml ally pot. Next time, the kettle stays at home. The boil in the bag meals (Wayfayrer) although heavy and expensive, are actually really tasty and made a welcome change from overly dry, heavy flapjack. We used the boiling water to knock up a couple of coffees and tucked in. As the sun started to sink the views only improved.

Evening views

Evening views

Descending the Clifford Byway

Descending the Clifford Byway

The next day we decided to head down the Clifford byway to Bodfari, then follow the B5429 up through Tremeirchion to Rhuallt. It was hilly, but the tarmac riding was, to be fair, welcome relief to the bouncy off road riding of the day before. Let’s just say I was a bit tender on the saddle come Sunday morning. Zoe did brilliantly considering her lack of experience on a bike and how much bike and luggage weight she was having to push up the hills. We got to Dyserth eventually and returned to the bridle ways only to find a calf had been caught in a fenced off section of trail and had been running up and down for god knows how long, churning everything up. By the time I’d thought this might not be the best idea, Zoe had sunk in the mud and other “material” and almost lost both shoes. We eventually made it though and Zoe went for a paddle in a nearby stream to clean shoes, socks and feet. We continued along the slowly rising bridle ways and rejoined the road for the last stretch home. We arrived muddy, wet, knackered and thoroughly over the moon for making it one piece! Even after a hot shower, cup of tea and ten minute sit down on the sofa we were both chatting away about where we’re going next!

So here’s a bit of a review of the kit:

  • Vango Ark 200 – Heavy, yes, but far more robust than the Yellowstone. For solo trips I’ll stick to the Yellowstone but the Vango is a true 2 man tent.
  • The bikes – Amazingly Zoe’s bike made it, the KTM was great, however both bikes seemed to suffer from dodgy rear brakes. I think the KTM’s hydro disc brakes need bleeding, the Emmelle just needs burning and replacing (more of that soon).
  • The cook kit – Apart from not needing the kettle, everything else worked a treat, including my MYOG windshield, which is just a small length of the tin foil radiator backing you can get from B&Q, circle it round the stove and use two spare pegs to hold it in place. It also helps stop things rattling when packed up.
  • The MYOG strappy bar harness – Worked great, OK it’s miles faffier than something like an AlpKit Kanga, or Revelate Sweetroll, but it cost less than a tenner and works a treat. Job done.
  • The sleeping mats and bags – To be fair, the 2.5cm sleeping mats aren’t silent night matresses, but you get used to them. The sleeping bags are effective, but Zoe was using the Vango Wilderness, which has a decent thermal rating but is very bulky and heavy. Again, I think cheapo sleeping bags just do not work. Another Lamina may be on the shopping list soon.
  • The AlpKit Airlok tapered – This, I’m seriously over the moon with. OK so it’s only a dry bag, but, it’s not. It’s a fully functioning seat pack for £15! Seriously, it’s ace. Buy one!
AlpKit Airlok tapered, seatpack of champions!

AlpKit Airlok tapered, seatpack of champions!

Romantic weekend in the mud

Well I was planning another trip for this weekend when Zoe told me she had some time off and fancied joining me! This was great, it’s nice to have company, especially when it’s your wife. So this did raise a few more issues though, specifically carrying more kit.

The first thing we realised was that both of us and our kit wouldn’t fit in the super high quality * Yellowstone tent. This meant digging out our Vango Ark 200, now this is NOT a bikepacking tent. It’s big and heavy, it’s more of a small family / fun tent, but split between the two of us, it could be doable. I decided to split the inner and fly in to two separate dry bags, one could go on my strappy handlebar harness, the other would go on the mini rack fitted to the front of Zoe’s bike. Talking of Zoe’s bike, it’s a hand me down Emmelle Nightshade… It’s horrible. It’s heavy, has awkward frame geometry so very little fits, has an awful 2 x 5 drive train using SRAM grip shifts and is generally an unpleasant piece of equipment, but she likes it, so that’s that. This isn’t Zoe’s but it’s basically identical:

Emmelle nightshade

Emmelle nightshade

The bike does have the clamp from a Hamax Kiss child seat that George, our 2 year old normally sits in and this got me thinking. The Hamax child seat is basically a big plastic chair attached to a loop of steel bar which can be removed. So a plan formed. I’ve taken the child seat apart, separating the chair and bars and have fitted the bars alone to the clamp on the bike’s seat tube, this basically gives us a springy, large rack at the back for strapping stuff to, it’s not the lightest thing in the world, but it works. I’ve also whipped the mini front rack off the Ridley and fitted it to the cantilever brakes on the Nightshade. When dishing out the kit and figuring what would go where we came up with the following:

Emelle Nightshade

  • Front rack
    1. Tent inner in dry bag
  • Rear rack
    1. Vango sleeping bag,
    2. Warm clothes
    3. 15l dry bag
  • Frame
    1. Zoe’s water bottle

KTM UltraFire

So this means there’s a bit of weight on my back, but it’s not too horrendous, I should be OK as we’re planning on taking it easy anyway. The cook kit is obviously larger than normal as there’s two of us, it’s also something I’m looking to upgrade / lighten in the near future, but at the moment it consists of the following, pics to follow soon:

  1. 900ml pot
  2. 600ml kettle (overkill, but it actually weighs very little and fits in the dry bag nicely and it boils water faster than the pot)
  3. Calor gas can
  4. Vango folding gas stove
  5. 2 x sporks
  6. 2 x insulated mugs (heavy and bulky)
  7. MYOG wind shield
  8. Lighter
  9. A 5l Karrimor dry bag

As for food it’s mostly flapjacks, instant porridge pots and we’ve got two of those boil in the bag meals, bloody expensive £4 each and bloody heavy. Next time I’ll look for the dehydrated ones instead I think. Either way, we shouldn’t be too far from civilisation should the worst happen as we’re only heading 20 miles or so in to the Clwydian range. I’ll be test fitting everything this evening and will upload some pictures.