Medical Stoppage

(To the tune of The Bluebells Young at Heart.)

HEEEEEERNIA, HER HER HER HERN-NI-AAAAA!!!

So towards the end of last summer, I had a little road bump that stopped me from riding for a while. We all have them from time to time. Some accrued on the bike as injuries and some (usually more seriously) come about all by themselves in everyday life. Mine was an annoyingly small umbilical hernia.

This is pretty much, eactly like a hernia in real life.

I say annoying, because it was small, yet caused such a surprisingly big break in my riding. Time off the bike always feels longer than it is in reality, and it was no different in my case. The recovery whilst smooth, and shorter than some others with the same condition seemed to drag and drain more than I had hoped for.

I have been back riding for a while now, and whilst I probably could be riding proper trails again, I have taken my time. Easing back in with lots of XC orientated miles. Building the fitness back up and not pushing the healed surgery more than I know it can handle.

I have been giving the big bike some TLC and spent some time building myself back up as well. But that break in period I feel is over, its time to go ride bikes in the woods again.

Don’t Change Your Frame Bearings

Pay Someone else to do it.

Most of us like tinkering with our bikes, However, some jobs are easier than others. But being able to ride a bike you’ve maintained yourself is a gratifying feeling. It not only can save you money, but the skills and knowledge of what works (and more crucially why) will help guide your equipment choices. Honing everything down to what works for you.

But some jobs, some jobs I would recommend not attempting yourself.

Its not that a competent home mechanic cannot successfully do these jobs (because they absolutely can). But that some jobs have a fairly high cost of entry. Not only in the expense of the tools required, but also the knowedge and experience needing to do them.

Wheel truing and building, rear shock servicing and in this instance, frame pivot bearings. These are all the kinds of jobs that I would suggest taking to your LBS instead of tackling yourself. Again this isn’t saying that a home mechanic cannot learn these skills. But the cost of the tools and almost more importantly, the time it would take you to do the job. Can add up and tip the scales in favour of going to the bike shop.

I don’t own a truing stand, so to dish my wheel correctly would leave me with not much change from £200 before I could mess the job up first before getting it right. Wasting time and getting stressed in the mean time.

So sometimes, sometimes its better to go to the pros and spend your time elsewhere.

Used Parts Addiction?

I have a confession to make,

I have a bit of a second hand parts problem.

We all love new bike parts. Part of the hobby (if it can be called that) is afterall, the equipment that allows us to ride what we want to ride. Whether it is a slick new fork, brakeset or even just a stem. Seeking out and researching the best upgrades for our performance or budgetry requirements, and sometimes, for pure bike vanity is a constant distraction to the commited cyclist.

Upgraditist is a very real thing afterall.

But in reality, do most of us really need the udgrade? Will we really notice the marginal performance improvement? Have we really worn out the part that is being replaced? More often than not, I would suggest that we are swapping out perfectly servicable equipment for something new for the sake of something new. So do you really need that upgrade? probably not, now I’m not suggesting I am any different, we all catch upgraditist from time to time.

Literally only the gear outers were new on this build…

What this results in however, is all of us who have been riding for a long time, having a large collection of spare parts. Just sitting in greasy boxes becoming more and more redundant (or unfashionable) by the day, in our sheds. Most of these 9 speed drive trains, front deraileurs and non-dropper seat posts, will be of little interest to most modern riders. But when they were replaced, they probably weren’t that redundant. Not many riders would have gone from a 9 speed with a triple to a 1x 13 speed for example.

Progress is incremental, and the upgrade cycle that we run our gear through, for most of us, is also incremental. But when making these incremental upgrades I try always to find what I want (as need is rarely the driving factor) second hand first before buying new.

I do this for two main reasons, the first is purely financial, nice bikes are hella expensive. So finding a boutique brand stem or high quality dropper lever that actually works second hand, can allow me to run a bike I couldn’t afford if I bought everything new.

There are however parts that I will not buy second hand, normally things that will wear out. I am suspicous to the level of wear and tear that those parts may have been through. Cassettes and chain rings for example, is it being sold with 50km on the clock because the seller prefers Sram over Shimano or is it for sale because its been through the mill? SCrew it I’ll get a new one.

But if a part was top tier when new, I wont normally worry too much about its servicablility. I have for example bought Hope and XTR on a good nember of occasions. But as always, I try and look things over and make my purchasing decisions on a case by case basis.

The second reason is slightly different. When trying to assess and reduce the waste caused by single-use items in my homelife, why would this stop at the shed?

So when I do need (more often want) a new crank/shifter/dropper etc, I have a stalk about eBay and the various facebook buy and sell groups. The search can be far more rewarding (and not to mention distracting) than the more prosaic scroll through Chain Reactions or Wiggle (both are the same thing anyway).

So theres my take on it, second hand parts for the win, almost everytime.

Magicshine ALLTY 1000

Looking for a backup light for spring & summer evening rides?

I was sent the ALLTY 1000 by Magicshine, and after enjoying the transformative powers that their Monteer 6500 brought to my night riding, I had high hopes for it. This light delivers 1000 lumens, it has an internal battery that is USB re-chargeable, is waterproof and like the Monteer, uses a standard Garmin base mount.

1000 lumens is not going to replace your main night riding light, but it could be a really good secondary light. With a brighter lamp on your bars this could be an solid option for a helmet mounted light. I however, have been using it as my “get you home” light for my evening rides. During the spring it is all too easy to lose the light and get caught out. Whether heavy cloud or tree cover, riding longer than expected or simply misjudging it, we all sometimes need an emergency light to get us home safely.

The ALLTY weighs only 132 grams, and is small enough to fit in your pocket whilst riding without noticing. The 1000 lumens is delivered as a very usable spot of light rather than a broader flood. This works well as a second light with a flood on the bars, but it is broad enough to give you ample light to ride at pace in darkened tree cover. It is not enough light to ride at full pace on trails I don’t know (but you probably shouldn’t be riding new terrain blind at full speed in the dark anyway).

The running time matches the quoted numbers on the box, but if running in sub zero temperatures, I would expect the running time to drop. My only concern about the build quality, is that the Garmin base mount is not as solid a connection as that on other lights or accessories that use this mounting system. There is a small amount of play, only a few milimetres, but this isn’t noticable whilst riding.

All in all, if you’re looking for a small, self-contained light as second, backup or commuter light, then you wouldn’t have many complaints about this one.

Rimpact – CushCore Killer?

When I was recently looking for a new tyre insert option, I came across Rimpact. A UK based insert maker, producing their SendNoodz “pool-noodle” style insert. The profile looked interesting and being UK made was another draw, but the biggest thing that caught my attention was the price.

£36.99 for a set of enduro happy inserts with specialist valves. With CushCore coming in at three times that amount, makes these a very, very interesting prospect.

Get your own SendNoodz inserts here on the Rimpact site.

Upgrading Your Selfie Game

So You Want an Action Photo of Your Riding?

Whether for the good old social media game or, just so you have some pictures for posterity. Problem is, you don’t have someone to hold the camera. So, how do you up your selfie game to get good quality action shots?

Well I’ve used three tricks to get these kind of shots before, they all have pros and cons.

Methods

  • Video Still
  • Timelapse – Action Camera
  • Timelapse – SLR & Intervalometer

Video Still

The simplest is pulling a video still, for this the better the original video clip the better, however a smartphone or action camera can also work well. You have at least 25 stills (if not more) every second to choose from, so you are more or less guaranteed the shot. The problens are resolution and blur.

Still from Sony Nex 7

A full hd video still has a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, so, if you are using it on social platforms then it will be fine, but it will be useless for print.

Smartphone on the left GoPro Session on the right.

The second draw back is blur, video generally shots at a slower frame rate than you need to freeze fast motion. So unless you have full manual control or a very sunny day there will more than likely be some motion blur.

Action Camera Timelapse

The second approach I use is to use the same action camera, but set it in timelapse mode. For this you need a little bit of luck, some patience and a large memory card. The benefits of this method are the image is a higher resolution, so printing the image becomes an option, or, you can crop it to refine the composition. The image also is noticeably sharper than a pulled video still.

Timelapse image shot on Drift Stealth 2.

I use a small tripod or a small modified woodworking clamp to position the camera, then set it running at its shortest interval, which is usually 1 second. The drawbacks here are you will more frequently be in the wrong place when the shutter fires to get the shot.

So this works well if you are sessioning a feature anyway, and if you weren’t planning on sessioning, well now you are if your shooting timelapse to get your action shots.


Intervalometer (Pro timelapse)

So if you really want the best resolution and more crucially, RAW files to work with, then using an SLR and an intervalometer is the way to go. It has all the same pros and cons as shooting timelapse with an action camera, except the image quality is night and day.

Take 5.

You instanly gain full manual control of the exposure and focus and the resolution is usually higher. The sensor is also signiciantly larger, even on a crop sensor than an action camera and this is before you think about the glass up front. Basically, without getting too deep into it, its better. Trust me.

So What Else?

There are a few other things we can do to get the best out of our images by editing them in the post. Programs like Photoshop and Lightroom are the usualk suspects when it comes to image editting Classics include dropping to black and white and adding a little grain to create a more evocative image, this can work well with images that have a little blur.

We can also combine images to create a series of stills in a single image, this is called photomerging. I wont go into the how-to here, but they can be quite eye catching images.

DMBinS Video

I recently produced a little video work for Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland

The video was to promote a new funding grant scheme for Scottish accomodation providers. As riders we all know that finding somewhere to stay when on weekenders away is a challenge, as more or less, nowhere has secure bike storage. This scheme is an attempt by DMBinS to help change that, and improve the range of accomodation available to cyclists.

The riders in the shoot and my willing actors, are members of the DMBinS team, Will Clarke and Colena Cotter. The Hotel in the video, is the exceptionally bike friendly and helpful Peebles Hydro. Seriously if you want to see the high bar for bike provision by an accomodation provider, see what they have done with Genesis Bikes.

The shoot was a fun little morning. We sessioned sections of Daves trail at Glentress, gradually making our way down to the Hydro. Probably one of the more challenging and fun elements of this project where the animated sequences in the second half.

Using a mix of C4D and After Effects I pulled it all together in Premiere. Whilst being fairly simple, I am pretty happy with the overall effect and outcome.

So whilst not being the usual kind of video I make for Stravaiging, it is still MTB related! And thank you again to the Hydro for being so accomodating and to Will and Colena for their acting (and riding) skills!

If this sounds like something your work or business might be interested in, then follow this link for more details. Or if you would like to contact me regarding any video production work, please don’t hesitate to contact me here.

Brand X Dropper – 1000km Review

Surely it Can’t Last For That Money?

Short answer: yes. Longer answer: yes, but.

This post, which is of the badged up TranzX in disguise variety, is available from a few places. But most famously, from Chain Reactions where it is frequently on sale south of £100. Not only is it a post with 120mm of drop for less than a £100 (that 82p per mm of drop!), it also comes with a warranty. Which surely I will be needing if it is that price?

It comes with a under the bar shifter paddle style lever as well as all the gear cables and outers needed to install the post. So with the lever kit being in the range of £25 on its own, the value is frankly astounding.

Once installed, I have to say, the post looks the part. The only obvious weak link is the lever, which has a ferocious amount of slop and what looks like a barrel adjuster nut that will snap as soon as you look at it. But after 1000km of use, the lever is immaculate and not withstanding a crash, I can see the lever going the distance.

The post however, has a niggle or two. The post no longer returns to full height under its own steam, 10/15mm short of full return. A strip and service might bring it back to full life but if not, the mechanism is built around a sealed replaceable cartridge which will certainly do the job.

But if you had a Reverb that had that as its only issue after one year, then your more than lucky.

So this isn’t necessarily a good post for the money, its just a great dropper and a solid contender.

Evening Mass

The long dark is slowly easing.

Each day is noticably a little bit brighter when the end of the working day rolls around. It is by no means time to pack away the riding lights, we have need of all those lumins for a good few weeks, if not months, yet.

But it certainly feels like a corner has been turned, and we can start to remember and feel the excitement of the mid-week ride. The wonder that a few stolen hours of an evening can do for a rider is hard to quantify, but we all feel it. Especially if the spring and summer are as endless as those of 2018.

Heres to the evening ride. Heres to seeing the long shadows, to feeling the setting suns warmth on your back. We’re not there yet, but its close enough to almost touch. Almost.

EDC Trail Tool – Review

Ultimate Multi-tool? or Classy Bling?

Nothing beats riding packless, and the OneUp Components EDC tool system helps in that quest. It allows you to carry all the tools and small misc parts either in a mini pump or more excitingly, inside your forks steerer tube. But how does it work? Is it any good? and who is it for?

Mine was installed by Mike at 20Twenty Bike Clinic

If you want to see the full installation process see, this shed time.

Riding Glenlivet Trail Centre

Glenlivet has had a few changes this year.

It’s also been a while since my last ride there so it was worth a visit to see what’s what.

Most of the adjustments can be filed under “estate maintenance“, and is mostly clear felling. Whilst this does open up the views in the top sectors of the red and blue, it also opens it up to the wind. These trails really suffer from the wind, and it took a lot of pace and energy out of you when it wasn’t at your back.

It also made some of the jumps early on in the red a little dicey, blowing me clean off the track at one point. Now I may have just have been unlucky with the weather, but I suspect there is never a day without a stiff breeze up top.

More excitingly, down at the hub cafe the changes are much more positive with the addition of a new skills park. The feature rich little skills park works as a great compliment to the already excellent pump track.

This development, along with the felling and trail maintenance work is really encouraging to see. All too often when you return to a trail centre a year apart, you find wear and tear, not new features and resolved drainage issues.

All in all, Glenlivet might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is always worth the visit in my view.

Monteer 6500 – Review

Night riding season is well and truly here.

The Monteer 6500 is Magicshine’s top tier offering, coming in £200.00, it features an array of 5 CREE LED’s which are powered by a large separate battery pack. It certainly lacks the convenience of some of its competitors self-contained units, but what it lacks in compact form factor, it makes up for in sheer brightness.

Magicshine might not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking of MTB specific riding lights. But I have been using some of their smaller units for commuting and as backup lights for a number of years. I have been nothing than impressed by the longevity of the lights. They may lack some of the features of other top lights, but their simple rugged approach is not without merit.

The unit itself feels very solid and made of good quality materials, the same can mostly be said for all the ancillary parts. The CNC Garmin style bar mount for the head unit is nicely finished and comes with rubber shims for different bar widths, the battery housing has a reassuring heft but mine had fine hairline cracks. Nothing that would stop me using is but I am keeping a close eye on them to see if they get worse with use.

Once fitted and on the trail the power of the lights is hard to understate, the rated 6500 lumens is more than a credible headline. The range of settings is a welcome feature, with 15 different light settings that are easily navigated through using the single button on the head unit. This allows for you to find the right amount of brightness for the climbs saving battery life for the descents where you need the full power most.

You get some warning of remaining battery life with the on/control button changing colour at preset intervals (100%, 70%, 30% and 10%). It is relatively vague, but enough to give you ample warning.

The bad news, the cabling and battery placement. the cable exits the head unit at a fairly awkward angle, this makes for a messy run of the power cable. The cable itself is also a fairly odd length, too long to mount the battery close to the head tube, too short to get it near the bottom bracket or set tube.

However, this is just nit picking, as once the light is on and you can see through time on the trail you don’t care how messy it makes your bars. Besides, no one can see it in the dark anyway. In reality it is cheaper than some of the more established names, but it is still an expensive luxury accessory for you riding. However, the performance is greater than that of equal and sometimes greater price tag.

Riding Mastermind

A destination trail, a single ribbon of singletrack sublime enough to make any amount of journey time worth while.

Mastermind and the Ridge are to be found on opposite sides of the Dee next to Ballater. The Ridge is a long rugged natural trail that goes steep once it re-enters the treeline. Mastermind however, is a different kettle of fish and a trail worthy of almost any length of drive.

Mastermind Ballater trail time stravaigingMastermind Ballater trail time MTB enduro.png

A lovingly crafted ribbon of singletrack of the highest order, steep and fast, technical yet flowing. Sinuous and supportive turns roll through the trees, with hero lines booting over the berms for those willing (or skilled enough) to hit full send. A true test of skill and bravery, this trail is one to measure yourself against, a litmus test of a trail and one well worth the pilgrimage.

Chapeau to the trail faeries.

Mastermind Mountain Biking Enduro singletrack

Lochnagar

“Eye and foot acquire in rough walking a co-ordination that makes one distinctly aware of where the next step is to fall, even while watching sky and land.”

Whilst I was grateful for how true this was, I was also acutely aware that this would be a mighty foul place to twist or break an ankle. It was at this point that I felt my foot give way and the strength fail in my ankle, bugger.


Lochnagar, an iconic hill and one of the most popular and recognisable in the southern Cairngorms. Not so much a peak, as a promontory that juts from a jagged ridge line into its equally impressive coire. Whilst being the main objective of the days ride, it is in fact one of five munros that can be bagged by foot or bike from this route. Whilst the stats suggest a big day, the numbers can be misleading as to just how big, with more than 1000m of climbing over the 30km of frequently tough ground.

Loch Muick.jpgThe day started on the shores of Loch Muick, the weather gods had blessed and cursed me with blue skies and a blistering temperature to match. I had ample provisions and camera gear and was prepared for a big day on the hill.

Rolling out of the car park the route took me along the southern shores of Loch Muick, I covered quick ground before the wall of the Capel road climb came to dominate my field of view. This stiff and completely dried out sand dune of a climb is an early introduction in what to expect higher on the plateau.

The loose trail surface and record breaking drought had conspired to rob me of any and all climbing traction. But with a mix of pushing and zig-zagging up the unforgiving trail I was rewarded with views over the plateau and towards Mount Keen in the east.

Looking to the east Cappel Road.jpgThe deep sandy nature of the trail persisted as I gained more elevation, the deer grass slowly encroaching into the centre of the trail, rooting it to more solid ground. The drought had also wrought its withering work on the peat bogs. Normally a broken collection of dark black pools would greet you, the depths hidden by the darkness of the peat filtered water. Even with the weeks without rain, I was still surprised to find them dried up. A cracked skin of white glistening sand and gravel reflecting the light where the ripples on the water’s surface should have been.

Peat PoolsThis made me aware that burns to refill my water would be few and far between and that even with the heat, I would need to be careful with my fluids, mindful not to over exert or over heat myself.

After a few quick kms I passed the wind battered pony hut that marks the start of the climb towards Broad Cairn. The initial strides of the climb are on a stretch of newly resurfaced walkers’ path. With large steps and water bars it was very tempting to turn around and rip back down, if it wasn’t for the fact I would have to climb back up again.

I’ve tried this route before, a good few years ago but lack of time and high winds turned me back, that attempt ended at Broad Cairn. I am sure a more efficient route through this munros boulder field exists, I’m sure one time I will find it, this would not be that day. The trail melted into a morass of increasingly large boulders, the route through fading into the chaotic yet perfectly balanced hillside. I didn’t want to climb over the top, the map told me a path around the shoulder was there, I thought I had found it, I had in fact found a deer path.

With the bike shouldered across my back I methodically picked my way, one step following the next. The desiccated moss and lichen squeaked unnaturally as I walked over it, the land was more of a desert than normal. With my mind beginning to wander I remembered a passage from Nan Shepard’s “The Living Mountain” that I had read the day before.

“Eye and foot acquire in rough walking a co-ordination that makes one distinctly aware of where the next step is to fall, even while watching sky and land.”

Whilst I was grateful for how true this was, I was also acutely aware that this would be a mighty foul place to twist or break an ankle. It was at this point that I felt my foot give way and the strength fail in my ankle, bugger.

Estate Boundary lines.jpgSitting on the moss and lichen covered slope I looked at the coire below, shapes moved and gathered. A large herd was rallying to move on, they had no doubt caught my scent on the warm breeze and felt that my presence was too great a risk. The grace and speed that they covered ground with was beautiful to watch. The deer here are used to gamekeepers stalking and rifle cracks echoing off the cliffs from higher ground. Yet had I not slipped I would not have seen them, and if I had kept moving they would have remained still. To see them was to disturb them.

Awaking myself from my reverie, I took some vitamin I with flapjacks and pressed on. The elation I felt when I finally contoured the shoulder and saw the small marker cairn signalling the path, pure joy. Building momentum I joined the line of cairns together, the ibuprofen had kicked in and I was back on the bike and flying across the short alpine grass.

Making up for time, the stretch over Cairn Bannoch to beneath Carn an Sagairt Mor was a euphoric fast blast. Smooth trail, short grass and glacial smooth rocks for booting off of. This is why.

EndlessSo far I had seen no-one since the shores of Loch Muick, but it was now late enough in the day for the hillwalkers to have made it this far in. Small patches of coloured goretex came and passed cordially moving aside allowing me to keep rhythm.

The tempo slowed and after crossing the first hint of running water on the high tops it was on to possibly the stiffest climb of the day. An unrelenting push up the western flanks of Carn a Choire Bhoidheach, it was part of the price for the final descent, re-gaining elevation and being rewarded with yet more sublime views.

A brief spell of implied, if not real, exposure around the edge of the coire cliffs above Loch Nan Eun delivered me to the final push up Lochnagar itself. Steeling myself for the main descent of the day, I could see the trail precipitously falling from view. I had heard rumours of the Glas Allt, a long unforgiving and at times, arguably, the most technical trail this side of Scotland. Hoping the Ibuprofen would hold I saddled up and dropped in.

The rock strewn trail was fast yet deceptive, drops and wheel sized hollows lay hidden from view until you were on top of them. The Glas Allt is famous for its staircases, huge unshaped rocks wrenched into place. The first of these was intimidating as I rolled in, a feeling that only increased the further I went down. Speed control was vital, a little too much or too little of either brake at the wrong point would lead to a high consequence crash.

With my heart rate fully elevated and adrenalin coursing it was on to the first more open high speed stretch. Water bars measured in feet not inches started to punctuate the trail. I tried to pre-hop or use a natural lip to boost across these bars but I started to come up increasingly short, the strength in my ankle started to fail and the pain increase with each loading of the bike. This already long descent was going to take a whole lot longer than expected.

With the whispers starting to become audible in my head, caution and stiffness started to enter into my riding. I was aware that I was riding defensively and features well within my limits were stalling me in a way that they wouldn’t have on any other ride. Breathing deep I knew I would not clean this descent. The main techfest was yet to come and the way I was riding would make the water fall towards the shores of Loch Muick too great a risk. Sometimes caution is the better part of valour.

When I reached the falls the pain in my ankle was constant and quite intense, with that and my head not in the game I dismounted and carried the bike back to the treeline. There is nothing more soul destroying than a downhill hike-a-bike.

Back within the comforting blanket of the treeline a fast spin delivered me back along Loch Muick to the car park. With a day spent amongst proper mountains, returning both sunburnt and hollowed out, yet with memories and emotions that will remain long after the body has recovered.

This is why.

Lochnagar Route.png