Monday, 31 March 2014

Outside assistance - Gordon Active by Gordon Tours

Holyland Bikepacking Challenge  is a self supported event.

The rules of self supporting are pretty clear in that while on the course you cannot receive any help that is not available to all ... so you couldn't have a support crew on the trail or have pre determined supplies of food and water ... it levels the playing field and makes the racing low budget and more accessible to all.

However, there is nothing to say that prior to the event and afterwards you can't be helped in the logistics of your travels and that is exactly the kind of support that Gordon Active by Gordon Tours have helped me with.

Established in 1972 these guys are one of Israel's largest tour operators and active in promoting cycling holidays in Israel.

Gordon Tours Ltd have been kind enough to offer advice on all aspects of my stay both before and after the event to ensure that all I have to worry about is packing the bike and turning pedals.

Huge thank you and will see you guys soon.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

A process of constant refinement

.. thats how bike packing feels to me.

Every time I come back to bikepacking I do so usually after a sufficient gap that allows some new thought process to occur as to what I pack and how I pack it.

Obviously the nature of the trip to some degree focusses the equipment around a certain period of time or temperature but after that you can be as creative as you want.

This weekend I had my first real stab at a super lightweight set up .. I was brutal in culling as much as I could.  A friend once told me any idiot can be uncomfortable and I am prepared to be that idiot.

Israel is now only 2 weeks away and for once I feel ready.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Preparation time

Winter traditionally for most is a time to take stock and put in the groundwork for forthcoming plans of adventure.  Whether the groundwork involves developing fitness or a lighter bikepacking rig someone passionate about cycling never really sees any real downtime .. we eat and sleep these adventures from inception to final blog entry.

The start of my year saw my focus shifted from dreams of 2 wheeled adventures to those on 2 skis with a fresh and exciting challenge on cross country skis planned.  When the final goal of all the training and preperation  evaporated through an event cancellation disappointment was soon overcome by a refocus on the next upcoming challenge.

I had always planned that 2014 was going to be a year I didn't pack a bike and travel to ride, after all the UK has so much to offer a rider of any kind of bike.  With little notice an event that I guess had always been at the back of my mind became very much 'going to happen' and before I knew it flights were booked and within a day of deciding I was going to race across Israel !!

Israel even for those challenged by geography is not in the UK so travel was going to happen, but then it always does .. best laid plans and all that.

In 2014 the first Holyland Bikepacking Challenge ( takes place.   Starting in the very north of Israel and finishing in the south ... the route traverses a variety of terrain from the green north to the desert in the south all the while immersed in an exciting mix of modern and  historical settings.

Unknown to myself at the time Israel has an ever increasing population of bikepackers. The entry list is brimming with Israeli riders some with some impressive previous event finishes as well as a handful of Internationals .. a great mix which should provide some entertaining riding companions.

As a first point of preparation I joined the Bikepacking Israel Facebook group and began to go through previous posts and photos ...

The photos indicated that ahead of me was quite an adventure.

So preparation has started and as usual the set up used for my last bikepacking trip is not good enough so plenty of refinement has started.

The starting point is the 2014 Salsa El Mariachi Ti XTR .. I don't think I could get a better bike ... the perfect balance of comfort and speed.  Add to this already great start some made in the UK Alpkit ( bike packing luggage the package is starting to look pretty good.  I am opting for 'less is best' with this set up so smaller bags and less gear.

Bike shown without a few bags .. I am taking more than my toothbrush ;) 

A pair of Alpkit stem cells will house my stove and some food up front for ease of access.

For inspiration a Bunyan Velo ( decal is in clear site at all times :)

At the moment I still have another 4 weeks so the plan is to ride a big mountain bike loop to check bike position is good then the following week fully loaded riding test to make sure everything is where it is best placed and there are no annoying rattles :)

Next blog will hopefully be the fully loaded bike and kit details :)

Israel images courtesy of Yoav Lavi and the Bikepacking Israel Facebook Group

Friday, 21 February 2014

ALPKIT'd since 2009

In 2009 I had just started in to a deal with a UK bike brand, adventures were planned but these adventures needed equipment from a more outdoors and camping style company so the search to find a compatible brand was on .. a company who would support me and work with me to make sure I always had the right kit for the job ... a short list was drawn up and in 2009 at an outdoor show which I can't remember the name a relationship was born.

I remember first impressions of the Alpkit stand at this particular show, as with Alpkit it was not only style but substance and there was offerings of all new kinds of kit.  The stand was mainly staffed by friends and the people that Alpkit support and straight away that was a stand bonus ... a company with its feet firmly on the ground ( or in a boat or on a rock face) still out there doing cool stuff and appreciated by those they support.  Frequently a customer would come to the stand and the discussion was usually along the lines of what kit they already had like it was a collection they were amassing.

So my first point of call was a sit down with one of the originators of the brand, Jim Evans, from the offset we were definitely all on the same page and I left positive that being an Alpkit sponsored rider was a fantastic opportunity.  A few weeks later a 65l dry bag arrived stuffed to the brim with product... so my Alpkit adventure began.

From the initial meeting with Jim I was then in time introduced to the other 'founding fathers' ... Nick Smith and the brothers Col and Kenny Stocker.

During my time with Alpkit I have been mostly subjected to some wild equipment experiments in the name of progress with Nick and Jim using me to guinea pig where possible and Col and Ken documenting the process ... usually with a happy ending.

I trawled through my blog and pulled out some images that I thought summarised my Alpkit experience ..

I can say dealing with Alpkit has never produced a dull moment and the pictures don't go even part way to portray the experience through adventure that these guys have always helped enable and often come along too.

I recently made a trip to see the guys at the newish much larger warehouse, showroom and importantly factory and over a few coffees the future was discussed and promises even more positive experiences.

Proud to say I am an Alpkit'er :)

Huge thank you ALPKIT !!!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

When the opportunity arises ... ride it !

The bicycle for some is simply a form of transporting yourself from point A to point B but for the me its the reason too travel.

The formula I work to is very simple ... Find an event or a spot you want to travel too ... Contact as many local people as you can find .. Ride and sample someone else's local spot.

The cycle (no pun intended) is self perpetuating as the more you travel and the more people you meet the further your horizons are expanded.  Chat to a new rider for 10 minutes and already you have another big stack of possibilities laid out in front of you.  I believe as I travel through life that owning and riding a bicycle has opened up so much possibility and experience I would of otherwise never have had.

With my simple outlook to take hold of any opportunity to travel it was not a hard decision to travel with Grace to a conference in San Francisco.. While Grace furthered her knowledge in her academic field I would expand my knowledge in my chosen field.. path, forest, road etc.  With the destination set all I needed to find were the local riders and local spots to ride.

The event of extensive social media sites has made finding people to ride with easy.  Forget the seven degrees of separation theory as cycling is a much tighter knit community and you will no doubt know someone through only one or two friends.  In this case my nearest port of call was Errin Vasquez in LA, sure enough Errin was quick fire to come back with 2 guys I could contact ... Erik Mathy and Andrew Gentry Law ... and as an added bonus Errin could make a trip to ride too.  A plan was coming together.

On arriving in San Francisco the first point of business was to get hold of a bike and luckily Erik had a Salsa Vaya I could use, only a size too big but it would be fine.  The first taste of riding in SF was the West Bay area.  Kindly picked up by Andrew we made out way over to meet Erik and Errin at Erik's place in Almaeda.  From there the plan was simple .. roll some local tracks and streets and whenever the mood took us stop for coffee, beer, pizza etc.

Straight away the mutual love of 2 wheels and riding eased the conversation along as rides past and present were discussed, coffee was drunk and local small stores were visited.  Later that day we met with Lucas Winzenburg of Bunyan Velo fame and Gabe Ehlert, a local rando rider and talented designer of the Box Dog Bikes Pelican frameset.  A plan for the following days ride was established.

Mt Tam and German Sausage

Mondays ride started at the Ferry Building, Erik, Errin and myself were joined by Gabe and his friend Jake for a trip out to Mt Tam.

The ride started steadily tracking along the bay toward and eventually crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, again another cool moment afforded by cycling.

Mt Tam lays beyond the Marin headlands and as we rolled through the local towns I wondered when the climb was going to start.  Every little town seemed to have provided the inspiration for a Marin Bike name so I tried to remember what each model looked like as a mental challenge.  It wasn't long before we rode through a tree lined road to the start of the Railway Grade trail that would take us to the summit of MT Tam, both east and west summits !

The climb was a dirt road that never really had a huge gradient due to its previous use as a rail track for tourists to climb the mountain, but what the climb may of lacked in gradient it made up for in duration.

We climbed in the sun on dry trails and it really was perfection on a bike.  After a mile or so of climbing we stopped at the first view point, we sat for a few minutes and soaked up the view looking back toward San Francisco and scoured the hillside picking out the great network of trails that exist here.

From our first viewpoint we looked up and could just see the trail we were heading for and the forest service lookout point which was the first summit we would aim for, there was still a lot of climbing to go.

As ever the gradient was always steady, the sun was shining and the view and trail was superb at all times.  Gabe took up the front of the group and steadily we made our way up even opting for the steeper tarmac section to finish the east peak.

There was a a variety of bikes within the group ... a definite lean toward the rando steel set up with the vaya filling the gap between them and Erik's loaner steel singlespeed mountain bike :)

After the east peak there was still more to come with a short descent then the climb up the west peak .. after that though the descending started and it was as long as the climb !!

Swooping turns were coming fast as I tried to keep Gabe in sight, I watched his rear light glow brighter as we dipped into more dense wooded areas the further down the descent we got, always mindful of the drop in temperature and the potential for patches of ice.  Gabe quickly rode away effortlessly leaving us all to regroup at the base of the descent on a dam.

Discovering that at the base of the dam out of the reach of any sunlight a small pond was frozen so like a bunch of kids we spent a while throwing rocks down to listen to the crazy reverberation of rock striking ice.

All that laid before us now was another much smaller climb and a descent to lunch .. a German sausage joint with an entire wall dedicated to bike racks .. bike friendly ? very much so !

Stomachs full we rolled the last few miles to the ferry terminal and travelled back to San Francisco boat assisted.

Time for a final coffee stop was made then a roll back to the hotel ever mindful of the traffic and differing rules of the road :)

A great day out with great people and one that will stay with me for a while.

I love San Francisco

I was lucky enough to manage a few local city rides after that and also a day out just me and Gabe where we travelled south and took in the beautiful coastline not to mention another epic forest and dirt road climb this time with more serious gradient and an even windier descent.

San Francisco really offered me so much potential to ride as with little effort you can be beyond the city and in to some fantastic scenery .. something I am used to in the UK but trails and rides on a US scale are fairly impressive.  New friends were made and more riding memories were stored to be reflected upon at a time when I cannot ride anymore ... such a fantastic place and fantastic people.

I guess my biggest memory from the week was non bike related when I finally got the right place and the right time at Yosemite to ask Grace to marry me and she said yes !  A whole new chapter of life started from that point on with more planning, organising and travel to be organised .. but that's what we both love.

Thanks Errin for the use of your images, Thanks Gabe for some good routes and excellent company,  you taught me a lot about raccoons and a huge thanks to my new friend Erik Mathy for the loan of your bike and a few great nights out !!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Winter Miles, Winter Smiles.

In truth the saying actually goes ‘Winter miles, Summer smiles’ … its popular in my local road club as a mantra of encouragement to get out during the bleak north east England winter as come summer those who have chosen the cosy sofa over the damp saddle will then be put to the sword.

I myself believe that winter smiles are just as important to set up for the coming years challenges. You come of winter deflated and demotivated then that’s the attitude you will take to your goals.

Cycling is such a diverse sport that with a few variations on the theme of a bike you can see out the whole year and keep your riding fresh. Those blessed with actual real seasons seem to make the transition from thin to fat bikes seamlessly as snow descends (annoyingly to those without snow well documented across social media). Unfortunately the weather here at home to coin a Guitar Ted phrase is ‘Consistently inconsistent’.

At best here we hope for dry, bright and cold though our default weather setting from October sometimes as late as April or May is wet, windy and generally bleak.

I could opt for the cosy sofa and pay the summer price, I could grind out the miles senselessly in all-weather at risk of losing all motivation (I often have to) but what I would rather do is look for those winter smiles.

The best way I can achieve my winter smiles is to mix up my riding as much as possible over winter though I don’t really want to wear all my bikes in mud and grit better to have one well-kept do it all machine, reducing time and money spent on consumables is also essential in winter smiles attainment… what I use is a ‘Do it nearly all’ machine.

There is only one choice for me when I come to my garage to go riding… my Warbird.

On the tin it says it’s a gravel bike though in reality it’s so much more than that. Its great on the road bridging sections of trail seamlessly, it rides efficiently enough to cover good distance, off road it adds an extra challenge to trails previously ridden on fatter tyres. These are not just traits only found with the Warbird they are also true of all bikes with some semblance to cyclocross bikes.

The great Belgium sport of cyclocross has bred a whole host of variations on what was initially a road bike with better grip and mud shedding clearance.

Not only can I race cyclocross every weekend locally fulfilling the desire to put on a number but I can also efficiently ride the trails to and from the race. My mid-week night ride is a mix of trail and dirt stitched together through winter weekend reconnaissance rides with friends. The Warbird is my do it all machine for winter.

Every weekend is now spent with an exploratory Saturday ride with friends … we hunt for new and interesting sections of trail and path previously unridden, if we have always turned left at a junction we turn right, if we spot an opening in the woods we go for it .. often with many comic consequences.

Weather and season don’t dictate the level of enjoyment you can have on a bike…. the bike you choose to ride, the people you ride with and the places you ride do.

As we transition from autumn to winter I am sure there are many winter smiles ahead to be had.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Its back !! low tyre pressures and skinsuits .. Cross Season !

A few years back I decided to do some cross racing, mainly just on a whim as it was something I wanted to experience more than anything.  Being an 'Endurance' rider on paper cross really shouldn't suit me.  After a few races and a steep learning curve I could manage a top 10 in local races .. I was hooked from then on.

Before I realised it I was watching Belgian cross races in Flemish while I turbo trained and had bought myself a skinsuit to race in not to mention investing in expensive tub tyres.  My life at the weekend was all about tyre pressures.

The season after my first I managed to race only up to Christmas having to stop to train longer miles for the Dirty Kanza 200, last season I couldn't race at all with Trans Iowa so early in the year my winter was all about the big weekend miles.

2014 is still a work in progress as far as my racing is concerned so while I decide on my race schedule I am taking all opportunity to get back out on a muddy field for an hour plus a lap.

This season I have been lucky enough to enlist the support of All City Cycles in the form of a disc based Macho Man to race on ... after subtracting a chainring and adding some aggressive clinchers the bike is set.

Last weekend saw my first cross race in near 2 years .. a fast and painful experience but one that has definitely reignited my love for the sport.

The race was local, the weather was reasonable and the course was technical in its content ... technical in a cross sense is as many off camber tight cornering as you can squeeze in to a mile long circuit.

My bike handling was dubious but my overall fitness was pretty good ... good enough for a 9th place opener to my season.

The All City Macho Man had seen 20 minutes of use prior to the race and out of the box it felt great ... the steel frame is super comfortable whilst the geometry did its best to correct all my poor line selections.

Looking forward to the rest of the season, getting to know my bike a little better and improving my results sheet :)

Images courtesy of Mark Straughan