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.

Dunkeld Enduro

“Fancy entering the Dunkeld Enduro?”

Was roughly the conversation that led of me trailing down to Dunkeld one damp saturday morning. My brother in-law (Jonny) was looking for events to enter and Dunkeld’s trails have bit of a reputation, as does the enduro, so it was an easy sell.

The Highland Perthshire Enduro takes place in the early spring on three of the hills over-shadowing the quiet little town of Dunkeld. The trails around Dunkeld are infamous for their steep natural character, with each hill having its own distinct flavour. But as I drove into the town, those hills were shrouded in rain and low cloud. To say this was going to be a wet day was an understatement, the lint in an otter’s pocket was drier that the trails that day.

The first two stages shared a climb up Birnam hill with the popular Rake & Ruin and Pink Floyd trails setting the tone for the day. Rake & Ruin was a fairly mad cold open and left you in no doubt as to what the riding would be like for the rest of the day. I have never ridden mud like this, the mix of thick clag and slick greasiness that kicked up and hit you in the chest as you drifted both wheels was something special. It was was more like skiing than riding, with both wheels on full lock you didn’t slow down. Wild. But after somehow not crashing, I made it down.

Now cramp is a right bastard; the only cure I have found that works for me, is to stop riding.

after making the climb the second time whilst awaiting my turn at the start of Pink Floyd, the mantra of “Ride Don’t Slide” was repeating in my head. This was by far and away my best stage of the day, after this it was all downhill.

The opening straight had ample grip and I was loving the speed on offer. Popping off of rocks and through compressions the bike was just motoring. More motivation to let the bike run came from the decreasing gap between me and the rider infront. After a brief low slide off the track as I entered the trees, I was back on the hunt letting the bike drift into corners as I learned how much traction I had to play with. The gap was narrowing.

Stage 2, the high point of the day.

I called “RIDER” which was a first for me at an enduro, (normally something I am used to hearing shouted at me!) and overtook the boy infront. Making yet more good progress I got over confident, overcooking a berm in the process. By the time I was back on track the guy I had passed was once more in front. Nope, not having that. Attacking yet again, I knew the end wasn’t far away, so putting down what power I had, I hollered “RIDER” overtaking him in the last few hundred yards.

Careening out of the mud bath and past the dibber, it wasn’t long before Jonny finished the stage. He had had an absolute mare, with so much mud hitching a lift on his drivtrain, his cranks, his rear mech, everything had jammed and refused to turn. Nightmare.

Did I mention it was muddy?

However all this was bittersweet, as the begining of the end for my day started during that climb to stage two, as the first twinges of cramp started creeping and dancing around my calves. Now cramp is a right bastard, and once I have cramp on a ride, the only cure I have found that works for me, is to stop riding, my day is done. Not really an option during a race, so I hydrated and refueled as best I could and tried to push through it.

Stage 3 was a very different affair, Doug’s and Dan’s Trails may lack gradient but are beautifully dug and crafted flow trails. Perfect catch berms and features help you carry speed, whilst they are tricky to ride fast blind, they are bloody good fun! And once more traction evaded me, I blew through a berm and ended up running downhill, again.

This was going to be a very demanding day.

Then came the long 9km transition and climb up the fireroads of Craigvinean to stage four and five. This was the 9km that broke me. Added to this, was the cut-off time for stage 4, if you didn’t make that, you were bumped from the full enduro to the lite verison of the event.

“I’m fine keep going!”

The cramp built and built, and my energy levels fell lower and lower as I was increasingly struggling to push through it. And what was albiet a sustained fireroad climb, turned into a death march. Strava afterwards told me that this climb was no steeper in gradient and only fractionally longer than the climbs on my local loop. But when the body is needing to stop, climbs you would happily spin up extend beyond the horizon. I am not embarressed to say that it was during this climb that I decided that the full enduro was not going to happen that day. After stage 4 my day was over.

Meeting Jonny at the top, he could see it in me, even if I wasn’t on the edge of a cramp addled bonk (not as sexy as that sounds) the clock was against us.

“Theres a really good chippy in Dunkeld”

” That sounds magic”

Stage four was a series of linked trails with the odd fire road sprint mixed in for good measure. One last push, soak up the cramp for one last trail then limp back to the carpark, thats all I had to do. One. last. run.

Dibbing in after Jonny I was hoping for a clean cruisey run, not far in Jonny got taken out by a sniper rock, hidden deep in the mud. After making sure he was OK I was back in front. I tried (as always) to keep light and let the bike work, to take it easy. The quality of the trail however encouraged me to push, I should not of pushed.

As the gradient began to mellow out and the end felt within reach, the fire in my thighs tipped over what was tolerable and my legs more or less locked up. Not being able to absorb the ground or counteract the bikes movements, everything became sketchy and painful. Rolling off course I lay down and my legs curled into my chest. “I’m fine keep going!” was my pained answer to everyone coming down behind me. Crawling back onto the bike I rolled through the time gate and lay back on the ground letting the lactate acid drain slowly out of my legs. Breathe.


Now a few hard lessons were learnt that day;

  • I have lost fitness.
  • Just because its cold and wet, doesn’t mean you can’t dehydrate.

But my primary objective of beating Jonny, against all odds had been achieved, somehow.

ME25:16.11
Jonny26:13.49

But the disaster aside, I took some positive things from the day, my riding felt good and the bike worked well, with no issues or mechnicals. My goal of landing mid-pack in the results wasn’t that unrealistic either. While the Lite Enduro was a smaller field, when going through the results on Roots & Rain I was solid mid pack until the disaster of stage 4. With a 4th on stage 2 being my best stage result of the day. There is however, always more to work on and definetely one to redemn myself on next time.

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.

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.

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.

Growing Pains – The EWS & Doping

The EWS was (and possibly still is) the wild west.

Not the bad stuff about the white man’s manifest destiny, but the open, wild space where the spirit animal of early downhill had found fresh pastures. But with the announcement earlier this year that the UCI is going to adopt the series, was too strong a trigger for many Pinkbike warriors to resist. They would bring about certain standardizations and (god forbid) rules that would kill what the discipline was, “the spirit of Enduro” would die and whither on the vine.

It was too easy to make Ratboy hiding the bong jokes to see what was coming, yes, drug testing, but also positive results and the inevitable hard questions.

The EWS when it was founded reached out to the UCI. The UCI at that time was not looking (or willing) to adopt enduro as a discipline. That meant, that the EWS was unable to issue the hallowed and iconic rainbow stripes to its champions. It also meant that certain other duties where left to the individual federations of a races host nation. Duties such as anti-doping screening.

With the structure of the EWS being what it is, with each race run by different national organizations and federations, the rules and format at each event can be different. With each race organizer having a different opinion on some of the finer points.

This in the first few years caught out some of the riders at the sharp end of the league table. Riders have been hit with penalties due to infractions that some would argue, wouldn’t have happened during a different race. What constitutes shuttling during practice for example.

On top of this, the penalties for similar infractions have been, varied. Fabien Barel received a five-minute penalty for shuttling at Crankworx back in 2013 compared with Adrien Dailly, Dimitri Tordo, and Florian Nicolai receiving twenty seconds in Colombia earlier this year. Whilst this isn’t comparing apples with apples, it is certainly something to think about when you take a step back and look at the EWS over its 6-year history.

These growing pains were however necessary, for the teams, privateers and the series organizers, to work out what the EWS was and is going to be. As the series has matured, teams have gotten wise and become more attune to these variances, with fewer of these mishaps befalling the top riders.

These positive tests results obviously do not mean that a calculated act has taken place.

From the start there has been a strong statement against doping within the EWS, Chris Ball is very clear on his position on the matter. But with the anti-doping screening programs being delegated to each individual host nations federation, consistency has arguably been lacking.

Consistency in the application of both the testing and contents of the rules regarding doping is something that should have as few inconsistencies areas as possible. One person’s asthma prescription is another person’s positive test response after all.

This all leads us to the anti-doping testing at the Olargues stage of this years series.

What we know so far;

  • 9 male athletes were tested.
  • The tests were carried out by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD).
  • 2 riders samples returned “adverse analytical findings”
  • Jared Graves & Richie Rude have confirmed that they returned those findings.
  • Four of the others tested have confirmed their tests came up clean.
  • 3 unknown athletes have not come forward as yet.
  • The AFLD have yet to release their findings and any sanctions.
  • The UCI did not oversee these tests.
  • The UCI may restrict sanctioned riders from racing next year.

So why have we had a round of testing now? And why none of the female athletes? Well the lack of females being tested was due to no female anti-doping officers being present, again the lack of consistency is evident. The AFLD may have opted to test at this race precisely because the UCI would be doing so next year. They may have wanted to appear proactive and not ignoring the event. This is pure conjecture and we will never know why this race.

Why have we not had more people caught in the past? Is Enduro inherently more clean than other mountain biking disciplines? Probably no more or less so, but regular testing doesn’t currently exist. In fact Rude implied that this was the first time he had been tested whilst racing the EWS, which for a two time world champ is kind of incredible.

As the standardized anti-doping test regime and infrastructure of the UCI comes on stream with the EWS next year, the contents of the banned substance list and the true ingredients of the supplements used by athletes will no doubt be poured over by the teams. The level of rigor on the nutritional aspects of the athletes will level up so to speak.

These positive tests results obviously do not mean that a calculated act has taken place.

Cedric Gracia told a story in one of his vlogs about doping in early French XC racing. The essence was that during a race someone from the crowd held out a bidon. He took the bottle whilst passing and his Dad basically saw this and tackled him off the bike. The reason being, you don’t know what is in the bottle. It could be just an isotonic drink, but it could also be a banned substance. It could be an over the counter supplement that contains a banned substance. A deliberate act of cheating would not have taken place, but Gracia’s career would potentially not have happened if he had tested positive.

Something of this nature may have happened, feed stations are an important element of a race day nutritional strategy. This with the fact that other riders in other disciplines have provided positive samples due to a supplement not listing all the ingredients it contains give plenty of scope for how this could have happened innocently.

The fact that they were once team mates and training partners, as well as both sponsored by Rhino Power supplements. Will no doubt raise some eyebrows. However, even without the confirmation of guilt, the fact is that these test results may impact Grave’s return to racing and Rude’s plans for the 2019 season if not beyond.

Whilst this whole episode is sad to see, I am not really surprised that it has happened. We just have to wait for the full findings and any sanctions to be published.

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

Standard Rant

New standards, everybody loves them, wait no the other one, nobody loves them. Pink bike keyboard warriors love them, nothing gets them going like a new axle width. What do I think, well, I don’t care and neither should you.

This little shed based rant/vlog I cover the ground I previously wrote about in this post.

 

Why I Don’t Trust CO2

Co2 cartridges, small, light and fast. Its like they come from the future. But I’m increasingly not a fan. Here is why I don’t trust Co2 carts as far as I can throw them, and I have a terrible throwing arm.

IMG_5446
CO2 Inflator

Durris

Chosen by NETCO as the proposed site of their ambitious trail and adventure sports centre.

Durris has a compact, yet challenging network of trails. Infamous among local riders for being perpetually slow at drying after any wet weather, yet I only ever seem to make it during the autumn and winter months.

Stravaiging Enduro durris February 3

So with this all in the background and with the recent fast rolling freeze giving way to the thaw, it was time to revisit Durris and take stock of the trails.

Stravaiging Enduro durris February 7

Standards, huh, What are They Good For?

Absolutely nothing!? maybe? I don’t know, lets talk it out.

So there is this perennial myth in mountain biking, that “big MTB” is creating new standards to devalue our existing bikes and force us into buying new product.

142X12, Boost, Super Boost, Plus tires, 29er Plus, BB30, PF30, 1.5 straight Steerer, Tapered Steerer, 20mm, 15mm, 12mm, 10mm and good old QR axles to name but a few. It can become pretty easy to look at all of these new “developments” and start believing that the Illuminati has been confirmed.

I just don’t care, I really don’t

Now I am no “industry insider“, I don’t own a shop, I’m not a frame or component manufacturer, I am at the consumer end of all of this. Frequently however, it is the consumer end of the chain that has been the most vocal against new standards. You do not need to wade far past the “looks like a session” comments on Pinkbike to find the hate for any fresh standard.

So here is my opinion on the proliferation of new standards. I just don’t care, I really don’t. Whilst that sinks in, let me illustrate why this is with a story.

I had a Honda HRV, I loved the car, he was called Henry. Henry Snapped a drive shaft pulling out of my drive one day.

Was my reaction;

“Thank goodness for industry standards! I’ll pull the RH drive shaft from my wife’s Citreon and go and get a replacement from my local autoparts shop.”

No, of course not, that would be ridiculous. I as the consumer, sourced and ordered the correct part, based on the manufacturer, model and the year of my car. It arrived, and I repaired my car.

Henry Honda 10 under the ben.jpg
What a machine.

In almost all of our consumer goods, we accept that component parts are not interchangeable. The heating element for my Kmix coffee maker is not interchangeable with any other drip coffee maker for example. So why as a consumer, do I expect that of my bicycle?

Arbitrary standards based on what was historically available or what is used on road bikes makes no sense. The width or length of an axle should be based on what a bicycle requires to be a better bicycle.

But we have a problem, a bicycle manufacturer does not make bicycles, they manufacture frames. Even with the big box brands that have their own branded components on their build kits, rarely do they actually own the factories making those parts.  Component manufacturers produce the parts that engineers at Trek, Spesh et al have to conform their designs too.

DT Swiss make the hub, the engineer and product managers at Trek see what is available from the catalogue. They then make a choice as to what is most appropriate for the frame design and target price point.

Sometimes, an engineer at for example, Trek, has a hunch. Increasing the axle width will lead to a more evenly dished wheel, a straighter chainline and a stiffer rear end. Trek speaks to DT Swiss, they explore the possibility of making a hub that will fit this new standard. Trek wont tell Specialized whats happening, but DT Swiss will, after all they now have this new hub width to sell. Before you know it, Boost is a thing.

There have even been occasions when a bike brand has co-invested with the component manufacturer, lessening the initial outlay in bringing a new product to market. Trek payed for the molds for the Reba 29er lowers to be produced for Rock Shox’s. That is a 100K investment. Arguably, without the Reba the 29er wheel size concept could not have been proven. It kick started the development and growth of the wheel size, and introduced another new standard to the world. Another debate for another time perhaps.

There are also times when brands have genuinely made their own components, with varying degrees of success. Specialized Future shocks anyone? Trek however do not make suspension or cranksets. They may own Bontrager, but they don’t make everything a bike needs. So product managers still have to rely on other component manufacturers to complete their bikes.

This is one of the major differences between the bicycle and automotive industries. Whilst some car makers do use OEM parts made for or by other manufacturers, they still manufacture and sell the entire car. Bike companies frequently only make one part of the puzzle.

Component manufacturers also want (and need) to sell to as broad an after market as possible. This goes without mentioning that more experienced riders are just as likely to buy a new frame instead of a complete bike from their LBS. These riders are typically the most vocal when it comes to the adoption of new standards. They bemoan having to buy new hubsets and cranks when upgrading their existing frame. Or how they can not simply transfer all of their existing components to the new frame of their choice.

Is the expectation that you can transfer any mid to high end wheel/crankset/brakeset to a new frame unrealistic? Yes. Does it suck if you dropped £600 on a new wheelset, only for them to not be compatible with a new frame a year later? Yes. But please acknowledge that the rider who spends that level of cash on parts and who also changes their frame on a regular basis is the minority within the market. Stop your whining.


So who in the bicycle food chain do new standards really harm?
The consumer!

I don’t buy that argument. If I am upgrading or building a bike, I just order the correctly specified part for that bike or frame. Just like when I repaired my Honda. When 650B came on the scene, did my 26 inch wheeled bike explode in a puff of small rimmed obselance? No. The bike still worked as a bike. “The industry” did not force you to upgrade, you chose too.

The LBS!

Yes and no. Now I don’t work in a bike shop, so my views here are from the outside so may be inaccurate, please correct me in the comments. but I don’t see many expensive top tier big ticket items sitting in glass cabinets anymore. Sure they have some more common standard wheelsets in stock. for example, 135mm QR rear hub wheels. But I have seen a set of those wheels sit unsold in one shop for several years.

If I wanted a custom wheelset made up, I would speak with my shop wrench and we would work out the best mix of hub/spoke/rim for my needs. I would tell them what I frame had and they would order the parts they required.

In the same way I do not expect my independent garage to have the driveshaft for my Honda in stock “just in case” why would I expect my LBS to carry every conceivable spare or upgrade? That, I feel, is unrealistic and unreasonable of me as the consumer. My LBS is a service centre and knowledge base, not amazon prime. That is not to say that the proliferation of standards is not a right pain in the ass for the LBS. I am sure there where more than a few eyes rolled and groans at the news of “Super Boost”.

Distributors!

Here you go, this is who I think is really harmed by shifting standards, importers and distributors. Distributors bring product into a country and distribute it amongst their dealers (LBS and online retailers), they are typically a B2B business.

Now when I go to my LBS and we look at the big Saddleback pornographic catalogue of components whilst discussing that dream wheelset build. They will order the CK hub from the aforementioned distributor. It is then the distributor who has to make that initial investment in inventory. It is the distributor who has to hold an ever diversifying inventory when new standards emerge. It is also the distributor who is left with dead stock taking up space and tying up cash-flow when the world forgets 142×12 hubs.

The Consumer Again!

Sort of, I have no way of knowing other than what I would do in that business. But if I was a distributor with a damaged balance sheet due to redundant stock. I might try and increase prices elsewhere in the product range to try and mitigate that loss.


Imagine,

Now what if we thought about this whole question differently. What if we as the consumer re-wired our expectations and what if the component manufacturers became consolidated with the frame builders into one holistic business.

The engineers could build the best bike they could build, not being restricted by the need to conform to a limited series of standards. Being able to base decisions such as hub width on the engineering, not what products were currently available. knowing that the suspension division could build the right fork for the application, the correct drivetrain for the suspension kinematics. No more off the shelf forks or shocks with a “modified tune” fitted to every bike at the same price point.

A bike where each element was designed as part of a whole. You know, like the automotive industry. Imagine what that bike would look like.

So Who the Hell Made This Dropper Post?

I’ve recently been looking at the Brand-X Ascend Dropper.

Now this is a budget dropper post distributed by Hotlines but primarily sold by the mighty CRC (Chain Reaction Cycles). This dropper post falls firmly into the budget end of the spectrum, with other droppers with similar specs easily retailing at twice the price of the Ascend, which has a respectable RRP of £139.99.

The Ascend has been well received by both reviewers and riders, meaning it has built up something of a reputation as bit of a giant killer. It may not have adjustable air pressure but the Infinite adjustability, internal cable routing, replaceable internal cartridge and the stonking 2 year warranty offered by CRC makes it hard to overlook.

Now those who have been paying attention to such things will be aware that the post is infact a TranzX post, namely the TranzX model YSP12 (see foot note). What we have here is a bought and badged product or what is known as a private label product.

A private label product is something that has been made by one company, to be sold under the name of another. It is in essence, a form of outsourcing and one that is common in many industries. This can allow companies to offer broad product ranges or simply the same product under different brand names at different price points. This is usually done so as to not devaluing an existing premium brand.

We are all familiar with the supermarket home brand that is just as good as the name brand product. Turn over the packaging and you wont have to look far for two products to share the same address of manufacture.

There are some very successful businesses that have based entire business models on this approach, for example, Superstar Components. A budget, online, direct sale bicycle components brand based in the UK. They now offer a made in the UK range and manufacture with their own CNC machines. But browse closely and you will find the remnants of that private label beginning. Stems, bars, brake pads and floating brake rotors that are all available else where with different branding.

This is not a criticism of that business, Superstar identified that consumables like brake pads had a unjustifiable mark up. Bought from the same factories making for other big brands, put their logo on it and undercut the competition. Good for them and good for riders.


So how does this relate to the Ascend dropper post?

On closer inspection on the CRC website, I realized that parts of the post looked very familiar, namely the actuation mechanism at the bottom of the post. With further comparison between different spec sheets, I came to the conclusion that several brands where selling the same post.

I found that the PNW Rainier and the Shimano Koryak Dropper are most likely the same post or derived from the same post. They all have a replaceable internal cartridge, no air pressure adjust, and have either 120m or 125mm (in the case of the Rainier) of travel.

In the Tranx X 2017 Dropper post catalogue the post in question is available in 80mm, 100mm, 120mm and 125mm versions.

The lever is also a sign towards them being the same post. In the Tranz X catalogue two lever variants are available, a thumb lever and under the bar trigger style lever.

Now there are some variations as well. The Shimano seat clamp is a one bolt system similar to the Specialised Command post and the other two use the same two bolt design. The seal head is different on the Koryak to the other two which have the same as the catalogue model.

But it is not Inconceivable that Shimano specced sutble and easy to produce changes to an existing model as part of a manufacturing deal. The seal head is an easy alteration as they just turn a different pattern on a lathe. The clamp would be a different die for a cast, expensive in tooling, but not for the likes of Shimano.


We now know about private label products, so whats the problem?

In a way, there isn’t one, but interesting when one of the companies you suspect is selling this dropper is the infaliable Shimano.

But Shimano wouldn’t do something like that! Sure, they are generally slow with innovation but they are solid and dependable, right?

Well, yes and no.

Shimano are one of the largest sporting equipment companies on the planet. Whilst it might make some people think a little less fondly of the brand for them to learn Shimano don’t actually make everything that they sell. It would be naive to think that they did.

Buying a proven post from a catalogue is a far faster way of filling a gap in a product range than designing your own from scratch. It may in fact be a stop gap solution whilst Shimano finalises their own design, time will tell.

So whats does this mean? Nothing, absolutely nothing. In reality all it means is that it must be a reliable component for Shimano to buy in, stick their name on and then have to uphold the warranty. It also means that whilst Shimano are not known for having the most comprehensive spare parts catalogue, finding that replacement internal cartridge might be easy than I first thought.

So at a black friday sale price of £89.99 on CRC, it might just be the bargain of the season.


Footnotes
  • All images are screen grabs off of various websites, I do not own the images.
  • Tranz X are a sub brand/company of JD Components. JD Components are probably the largest component company you’ve never heard of. Making OE equipment and parts for all manner of bike brands and manufacturers. Their components and systems are everywhere from power assisted town bikes to proper rowdy all mountain rigs.
  • This was not a sponsored article.

How to make a “Enduro” Kit Strap

Enduro racers love to strap spares to their bikes, why ride with a pack when you have duct tape?

But that option as useful as it is, is both messy and is a, unrefined solution. Companies like Race Face and Back Country Research have solutions on the market that address this, simple effective velcro strap solutions, albeit with a small pouch attached in the Race Face offering.

But these are in essence, a velcro strap, and they aren’t cheap either, so why not make your own?


Materials & Tools
  • 25mm Nylon Webbing
  • 20 or 25mm Stitch on Velcro
  • 25mm internal diameter rectangular loop
  • Sewing Machine
  • Scissors
  • Matchs or lighter

Method

To make a kit strap long enough for a spare tube and a CO2 inflator, start by cutting your materials to length. the measurements are;

  • Nylon Webbing 37cm
  • Soft Velcro 26cm
  • course velcro 5cm

The nylon webbing will want to fray at the ends, seal the end using the flame from a match or lighter. Carefully pass the end of the webbing over the flame and lightly press down on the end once the nylon starts to melt back to make a solid end to the webbing.

With the materials prepared it time to move to the sewing machine.

How to make a mtb kit strap 2

Start by attaching the rectangular loop. Thread the webbing through the loop and then fold over roughly 3 cm of the webbing.

How to make a mtb kit strap 4

Sew a square around the edge of the overlapping webbing going over the start point to ensure the stitching wont unpick itself.

Turn the strap over and attach the course velcro onto the opposite end of the strap from the Rectangular loop.

Then stitch the soft velcro on the same side and next to the course velcro.

And that is literally it, you have now made a basic kit strap for attaching those vital extra spares to your frame.

Enduro bananas

Whether it is a race day or just a epic ride into the mountains, an easy way of attaching those extra spares can make or break a day if the worst were to happen.

 

In Search of Epic?

Mountain biking is a tribe with a vocabulary all of its own.

Gnar, loam, brap, berm, lip, kicker, stoked, flow, table, gap, double, roost to name a few.

Some of those words, like the vernacular of any facet of life, have a tendency to be overused, none more so than the word epic. Epic is a strange one as it is so overused in everyday language, but it is more defined in MTB.

It is both a description of a feeling and of the physical geography a trail winds over. A ride or a trail can be epic because the adrenaline and speed mixed with the accomplishment of cleaning a trail, creates a feeling that can easily (and inarticulately) be described as “epic”.

Start of Stage 2 Tour De Ben Nevis 2014

A trail can also be epic due to scale of the landscape it traverses, the speed, technicality or sheer quality of ride that it offers. The scale and raw beauty of a landscape can be great enough to imbue even a modest trail with that ephemeral epic quality.

We mountain bikers as a tribe seek it out, we actively try and capture that epic quality and feeling. It may be like trying to catch and hold sand, but the experience of it running through your fingers can be enough to sustain you through many a work place meeting.

But one persons epic is an others local loop.

We swap stories of trails and routes, descriptions of the qualities of trails and enthuse over where is riding best. In hope that acts of positive karma will help us find that feeling for ourselves. But one persons epic is an others riders local loop, it is all a matter of location, experience and perspective.

Mount Battock desert Mountain Bike Scotland Stravaiging

if you eat cake everyday it will just become bread

The local trails you ride, as epic by someone else’s scale they may be, will become just another local loop by your personal measure. If you ride alpine singletrack every week, whilst the landscape will still be awe inspiring at times, you will, in time become accustomed to it and will expect that level of trail for your weekly riding. Likewise if you never ride groomed fast trail centres with man made drops and jumps, when you do it will feel pretty epic.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2014 Callum Kellie race Stravaiging

But ultimately, if you eat cake everyday it will just become bread. So how do we recapture that sense of “epicness“?

Leave your local, venture out of the routine loop and push beyond your comfort zone. The trail may be no more technical than your normal trails, but the unfamiliarity and blind nature of the riding has a habit of heightening the experience.

Does every ride need to be epic? No, but some of them should try to be.