New bike! #Gradventourer

What is it ? Is it a touring bike ? Is it an all road bike? Is it a gravel bike? Adventure bike? Adventuregravelallroad bike??? Who cares. It’s fun. According to the Bearbones brigade the correct term is now, Gradventourer!

So I have bought a new bike, not to replace my trusty KTM mountain bike, but to provide a lighter, leaner alternative for some of the better paved, or gravel covered routes I use. After much deliberation I eventually went for Evans’ Pinnacle Arkose D2. Which is pretty much, £ for £ the best spec bike I could find in the UK.

My requirements were pretty simple; around £1k, have decent tyre clearance, at least Tiagra or equivalent drivetrain and it must have hydraulic brakes, cable based systems just seemed too backward to consider. Yes, I know they’re more easily repairable on big multiday rides, but I’d rather have decent brakes than reduced stopping power on the assumption I’ll one day have to fix them.

Pinnacle offer two other variants of the Arkose D series, the D1 (cable brakes and Sora drivetrain) and the D3 (mix of 105 and Ultegra, but £300 over budget).

After a couple of test rides I’d decided the D2 was the bike for me, but I wasn’t stoked about the bars that were fitted, and for some reason Evans don’t allow any presale mods to their bikes. So as soon as I pulled the trigger on the bike, I bought a set of 48cm Genetic Digest flared dropsand some tape. One YouTube video on how the hell to wrap bars later, and voila! Here she is

Pinnacle Arkose D2

Pinnacle Arkose D2

Leave no trace!

This is a short post, inspired mainly by some chatter going on around Facebook, Twitter and some internet forum.

Beyond the obvious environmental impact that we, as bikepackers may have, given that wild camping is technically illegal in most of England and Wales, we need to do our best to not bring unnecessary attention to ourselves. We need to set an excellent example to others we may encounter on our trips, whether this is other cyclists, backpackers, landowners, dog walkers, or anyone else.

The key principle here is to ‘Leave no trace’.

Once we have left a camp / bivvy spot, there should be no indication we were ever there! This means no pissing near a fresh water source. If you need a dump, bury it properly, or better still just clench until you make it to a proper toilet. Litter, do I really need to explain that we shouldn’t leave litter all over the place?

There’s no need for a campfire, unless you’re going to sustain a cold related injury. Fires are a massive risk to wildlife in various ways, they can cause uncontrolled woodland fires, scar the land, sterilize the earth below and they attract unwanted attention and will likely get you chucked off any private land. It’s just cheeky to camp on someone’s land and then start a fire, no matter how careful or considerate you think you’re being. If you’re cold, you just brought the wrong jacket.

You should only have a campfire on a privately owned campsite that officially allows them.

On an island

I decided to try somewhere new for an adventure over one weekend in May and figured Anglesey would be fun. I used NCR5 along the coast then headed over the Menai Bridge and turned South West.

My plan was to travel as light as I practically could and head to Newborough forest for the evening, grabbing some food along the way. I was hoping to use the Wales coastal path, however, following my route on the Etrex it turned out that large portions of the coastal path, are in fact, large portions of beach instead. Which meant I wasted some time pushing the bike over the rocks at Bryn Siencyn. After that I had to stick to the roads, some of which were pretty busy and unpleasant to share with cars!

Bryn Siencyn

Bryn Siencyn

I stopped in Newborough village around 6pm, topped up my water and grabbed some food from the chippy. I realised at this point I should have paid more attention to the weather and brought some sun screen with me. I was a bit red and crispy by this point.

Nom nom nom nom nom

Nom nom nom nom nom

I jumped back on the bike and headed in to the forest, the shade and sea breeze was very welcome. After an hour or so meandering around the network of paths and gravel roads and made my way to the beach to make my way to Llanddwyn island for the evening. I was in no rush to get setup so, again, spent an hour wandering around the island, giving the remaining visitors (photographers and tourists mainly) a friendly hello. The views are simply awesome, the Llyn peninsula to the South, Anglesey coastal reefs to the North and the entire Snowdonia range skyline to the East. Its sometimes easy to forget just how amazing wales is when you live here.

Once I had the place to myself I picked a spot, pretty much in the centre of the island and pitched the tent. I’ve come to the decision that Nescafe coffee sachets are sodding awful, I need to find an alternative. Any recommendations for decent “travelling” coffee are most welcome.

Skyscape Scout tent

Skyscape Scout tent

As the weather was fine and clear skies were expected all night, I decided to take advantage of the new tents function where you can peel the fly sheet panels back, in essence turning it in to a bug net. It was brilliant, I spent time gazing up at the bright half-moon that lit the island up like a search light. Once the moon dipped below the horizon I had the stars as a backdrop. I’m seriously impressed with the Skyscape Scout tent!

In the morning I scoffed the obligatory “just add water” porridge and another mug of coff… black, hot water. Repacking everything was a doddle as I’d remembered to allow a little extra space, not packing things too tight. While I’m on the subject the new Lomo 12l bag swallows the tent, sleeping mat, poles, stakes and other random junk beautifully. It’s long and slim, and fits in the Bikepack.pl harness like a dream, it’s also very robust, but obviously there’s a slight weight penalty for that. Its dirt cheap too, £12.95 on Amazon.

Obligatory kit lined up picture

Obligatory kit lined up picture

I left the island and would have loved to cycle down the hard pack sand of the beach, only thing was, for this trip I’d decided to make life easy on the tarmac and had fitted the 2″ Schwalbe Hurricanes, which didn’t have the volume to not bury themselves. The Nobby Nic and Rock Razor combo handles the sand here perfectly, impressive given that they’re not plus+ tyres. I got back to the gravel roads, lapped the forest and headed to the main car park to use the facilities.

Newborough forest car park

Newborough forest car park

And that was that. Newborough and Llanddwyn are great, but next time I’d plan a different route, maybe up to Llangefni, then follow the Lon Las Cefni to the beach, not sure. Stay tuned…

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.

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.