So we did it. 7 hours of cycling, eight hours of work and two very tired people.
I looked out the window on Monday morning and it was absoloutely stunning, blue skies, frosty, no wind, brilliant. The only tiny detail was this, we weren’t riding on Monday, we were riding on Tuesday. I looked out the window on Tuesday morning and it was a touch different, it was dark, there was the definite threat of rain in the air and it was a touch breezy.
At Oh Five Hundred Hours on the nose Jake rocked up, not in the full polar ensemble I was expecting. Up until this moment I was pretty convinced that something would come up to stop us riding, a bike issue, a failed alarm, a meteor. Something that would allow me to go back to bed but no, and as we trundled down the street at 5:03 am I flitted between “this is nuts, I should back to bed” and “this is awesome, there’s no-one else around” and finally “I hope there aren’t any farmers wandering around with guns shooting poachers right now”. But as the wheels started to roll a little faster and the lungs started filling with cold clean air it felt like a proper adventure.
The first major obstacle was the climb up into the Meldons, this point was one of three where we could loose a fair amount of time, a grassy section with a steep climb and then a sharp descent followed by a traipse through a field to hit tarmac again. Safely negotiated and a short section walked we started to make some progress. Onto a gravel track we gained some height before another field crossing and into a woodland section with a fierce climb, too much for my gearing and another five minute walk ensued. Then a swift downhill with a couple of moments dodging fallen trees and we were onto a truly gravel grinder section, a tailwind helped whip us along at a decent pace, the eastern horizon starting to light up as dawn approached while we made good speed. Loosing some of our height gains we dropped down onto our longest tarmac section, braving the A-road for a kilometre before swinging off onto a quiet side road, and heading across to sleepy Carlops.
By now we were pretty much in complete daylight, but I’m not sure that was a really good thing, we were at Nine Mile Burn and ahead lay the nastiest bit of the route, we had to get over the Pentlands. I had factored in somewhere around half an hour to make this summit and I wasn’t far wrong. It was a slog, but there were two motivating factors. The first was that we needed to be at work by a certain time and the second was that once we hit the top, it was downhill pretty much all the way. The view at the top after a significant hike-a-bike was hazy but a few rays of sunshine were hitting the farmland below us and after a brief pause we descended as fast as our skinny tyres would allow, trying not to have one of those crashes that so often happens just as you get to the end of a ride, keeping the concentration up.
Rolling into Balerno after 3 hours of cycling just as the general population was heading out to a regular Tuesday at work was pretty cool. I grabbed a bottle of Osmo Recovery to fill my legs back up and sat myself down in front of the computer, ready to have a day of working my brain and resting my legs, ready for part two, the return..
Peebles - Balerno - Peebles is on. Alarm set for 4:45 am, tomorrow we ride the gravel road to work. Hardcore on the hardcore.
The first I heard of Ezra Caldwell was through a colleague at howies, who back then didn’t have the most subtle way of putting things…
"Have you seen this guy, he’s rad, he built an assless bike because he has ass cancer."
Actual words. He now works at a rather posh cycling clothing comany, a paragon of good taste so I’m not sure he would put it quite like that now. Actually, you know what, I hope he would. I hope it hasn’t changed him.
But since that moment I’ve been regularly following the story on his blog and perusing the beautiful hand built bikes created under the Fast Boy Cycles name. It’s an incredible read, I could use many other words but his choices are better than mine. If you have the time and inclination, start at the beginning and follow the story through to where he is right now.
It’s the day after the ride before and my legs know they’ve done a bit of work in the last 24 hours. Considering that over the last few of weeks I haven’t done a ride which is longer than about 20km they aren’t as bad as I feared they would be after 65km and 3500ft of climbing which I can only put down to the Osmo Acute Recovery drink I had post ride. I also sat and watched a lot of tv for the rest of the day but I swear that stuff fills your legs back up.
As the PBP looms large and is going to happen in the next couple of weeks I needed to get out and ride the Steamroller and in particular the new Clement tyres. My route was up and over Cardrona, down to Traquair, a long road section to Berrybush Forest, down the Southern Upland Way to St Marys Loch, up to Megget Reservoir, then a big push up, over and down in Manor Valley and then the road back to Peebles. In my head I was thinking this would be a lovely spring ride, what I got was thick cloud, drizzle and a headwind. A very tough headwind.
I hate headwinds, I might be wrong but being relatively light it seems to stop me dead in my tracks. Lowlights included; a 6km climb straight into a headwind funnelling down the valley, actually having to trackstand on the way to Megget because I couldn’t go forward, pushing 50% of the way over the hills to Manor because it was too windy to stay on the bike due to the sidewind and finally, being blown over just before attempting to descend into Manor Valley.
Highlights were; I was actually getting some kilometres in, the view approaching Manor Valley makes it look really imposing and tyres. The Clements were basically everything I wanted, they seemed to roll nice and quick on the road, were light, didn’t puncture and managed to get me down stuff that really they probably weren’t designed to do. I don’t know if it was compound or tread or both but there were sections where I was thinking that this was really mountain bike territory and there was still grip available. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t mtb tyres and I was riding very much with that in mind, but it was a hell of a lot less scary than it should have been on 32C’s.
The last little bit in my gravel bike build is one the most important bits to a bicycle. Tyres. I have a bit of a thing for tyres, not because I have a certain desire for rubber but because they really can change a bike from a slippery eel of a thing to something that’s sure footed and planted. Anyone who has ridden an OEM Continental tyre and then a Black Chilli version will testify that this completely true. I have sailed over roots on the latter, and sailed over the handlebars on the former.
For the Steamroller gravel build I needed something a little different from the usual. Mainly due to the limited clearance under the brake caliper, the Steamroller may use long reach ones but it’s not exactly a cantilever or v-brake type clearance. So a monster-cross style build was out but I still needed something robust, grippy and fast rolling albeit in a slimline package,
Enter the Clement MSO 700x32C 120TPI. A dual compound mini-me version of their 40C MSO gravel tyre. One which will actually fit in my bike frame. I haven’t ridden them just yet, but they seated really nicely on my Rolf Prima P-Towns, feel nice and light at 285 grams and in my long term test of riding up the street, and back, they feel nice and grippy and puncture proof. Plus, they look cool. Clement make a really nice looking tyre (if there is such a thing) and this looks great. So when this Peebles-Balerno-Peebles ride makes national headlines the tyres will look awesome and by association so will I. Jake won’t though, he’s using another brand and I’ll report back with an expose on his tyres failings after the event. In fact, I’m pretty sure that because he isn’t riding Clements, he’ll burst into flames by the end of the outward leg. Fact.
The last month really hasn’t seen as much riding as it should have, especially with PBP looming on the horizon. But last weekend a group of us headed north to the Highlands for my very own Stag trip and it was very much a trip of two halves.
On the way up the Grantown we dropped in at Laggan for a quick blast around the red route, I had built up my Ibis Tranny again while loaning my HD to my brother who, while not quite a complete novice, is pretty new to mountain biking. Training for a marathon did seem to be good prep for climbing up to the top loop as he spanked pretty much all of us (bar one) up the hills.
Laggan, as always, delivered. I’m not a massive fan of the slightly pedally section near the very top but in fairness the headwind was stealing my speed, but when it gets into the rocky, twisty sections lower down and then into the tree’s at the end it’s great fun. It’s not long but it’s condensed, technical riding and getting to know the Tranny again was a lot of fun. From there it was a trip north to our lodge in Grantown and some beer.
For day two we headed to the new Glenlivet trails and very quickly it became obvious that this was a completely different kind of trail. We arrived on a multitude of different bikes, full suspension trail bikes, 120mm singlespeed hardtail, 100mm geared hardtail and well, a fatbike. And the consensus was probably that of all of these the geared hardtail and the fatbike were probably the most appropriate, the trail was mainly smooth gravel with nothing particularly technical, a couple of optional drops which were easily rollable and a couple of relatively straightforward rock gardens. Nothing that would be massively improved by full suspension, gears were essential however. I found myself spinning out trying to keep up the momentum where normally on a red trail the gradient would be giving me more than enough speed. This may just be a function of riding trails in the Tweed Valley that are typically winch and plummet, if you were coming from more rolling terrain it may be a little more familiar and expected.
However the biggest gripe from the group was how the trail was described, not just on the website but on the trail signage itself with one section in particular resulting in us feeling a touch let down. Proudly touted as a 6km descent we were expecting something with a certain amount of gradient, a little steeper, a bit more challenging. What we rode was more of a contouring singletrack section which at times threatened to pick up and start funnelling you down the trail with great lines and swooping arcs, only to turn flat, require a lot of time hammering the pedals to retain and then recover momentum. Personally I would have had the trail builders halve the distance of the descent and double the average gradient percentage in the process.
We also all took issue with the final section of blue which the red rejoins for the final few km, it takes you back above the car park in an attempt to give a final drop down to the cafe. And honestly after riding another pedally bit of wide singletrack I kind of gave up trying to make the trail flow and just bimbled along, pedal, freewheel, pedal until it was finally at an end. Not something I’ve ever done on the blue route on home turf at Glentress
Back in the Coffee Still at the trail head, which is a great little cafe with exceptional waffles, cakes and super friendly people behind the counter, there was a slight sense of disappointment. The trail had promised a lot but not really delivered, the best description was that it was a tease of a trail. It will be interesting to see how it succeeds or fails over the coming years. I hope it brings in enough revenue for it to flourish and grow over time, to give them the incentive to add in a more technical red option, or perhaps a full black graded, steeper option to use all that height for a real highlight of woodsy, technical trail riding. That would have tipped the balance in its favour.
And why was it a trip of two halves? A quick bike session on the morning of day three turned into a 999 call and a couple of trips to Raigmore Hospital. I don’t ever need to see someones knee cap again.
This is a flat bar.
And this is a drop bar.
And this is my problem (one of, there are many). I don’t really like drop bars, there I said it. I have almost always ridden mountain bikes, with flat or riser bars, drops feel weird and for anything other than long road rides are a bit of a handful. To get decent braking power you have to get down “in the drops” which limits your ability to move your weight fore and aft, you’re committed to a predominantly front wheel weighted stance and on a few of the trails we rode on the test ride the other day, it felt like my neck was going to separate from my shoulders trying to keep looking down the trail and applying enough brake to stop myself firing off into the trees or dry stone walls at high speed. There is a reason cyclocross races are an hour long and relatively flat, because riding drops off road is purgatory when any kind of gradient is introduced.
The second mark against drop bars is that they don’t really help with singlespeed mashing, when you’re riding up a hill in too big a gear and heaving on the bars to try and make the next turn of the cranks possible. For this, they blow.
The final death to drop bars is weight, a simple flat bar is always going to be lighter than drops (made of an equivalent material), same goes for the required style of brake levers. So in summary I can shed a few grams, not shatter my vertebrae, have better control on the descents and climb better. This is a win, win, win, win situation. There may be people out there that would prefer a drop bar for this ride but they probably have a) gears and b) shaved legs. So my long suffering flat bars will be fitted this week, hopefully along with the Clement MSO tyres which I’m hugely looking forward to.
It’s been a slack week, no riding so far, things to do.
But I’ve started to build up the Ibis Tranny again, it’s a bit scruffy now after four years of riding but it’s still my favourite bike and I reckon it’ll be my main bike this summer.
Will get back on a bike tomorrow, whatever the weather.
Beautiful day today in Peebles and pretty much blue sky as far as the eye could see as we set off for a recce ride of the Peebles-Balerno-Peebles route. In order to give ourselves a fighting chance on the day we rode the route to Carlops and back, about two thirds of the entire distance and the sections that we will most likely be completing in the dark. The only unknown on the route now is the ascent of the Pentland hills and they are the last big barrier before a relatively easy finish to the first leg. A number of things were learned…
The Continental winter tyres are great for ice and snow but are as draggy as RuPaul. Can’t wait to get the Clement MSO’s on there.
Ride with caution on the downhills, especially ones that end at sheep fields or you (i.e. me) will find yourself fixing a snakebite puncture surrounded by, and knee deep in, sheep shit. It’s a long way and self inflicted mechanicals are stupid.
Don’t leave home with spare tubes that have valve stems that aren’t quite long enough to clear Rolf Prima deep section rims.
38x18 is going to be a tough gear in places, but hopefully shedding a pound of weight in tyres when the Clements go on will help.
And finally, layer your bib shorts and longs the right way round. Jake made a serious tactical error and if someone starts to talk about Paceline Chamois Butt’r after 30km you know they’re in trouble.
All important things and good to know before we set off at 5am one March morning.