19 November 2010

Quick reviews of a load of MTB Kit I've used...

Thought I'd do a list of kit that I've used that works. Hope you find it vagely useful!

  • Endura Stealth waterproof softshell jacketEndura Stealth Jacket 07/08 – the first waterproof soft-shell I know of. Great bit of kit, breathes reasonably well even though I sweat almost as soon as I start riding... It's got a thin fleece lining, so I wouldn't wear it on warm days, but the rest of the time it's quite versatile. You can wear it with just a base layer, or if it's really cold with a mid-layer as well. 2 sets of vents make it cool enough as you get warmer. Only a chest & back pocket, but this has been enough for me so far. The back pocket will hold just enough to get by on short rides where you may not want to take a backpack. It's still going strong & still 100% waterproof. Newer versions have more pockets, so even better. Only regret is that I went for red instead of my usual preference for dependable black! The blue looked quite good but wasn't in stock at the time

  • Endura Venturi eVent trousersEndura Venturi eVent jacket & trousers – eVent seems to live up to the hype. The theory is that it breathes without body heat. It's as or more breathable than most other materials, but feels better than some when you get a bit cold. Also seems reasonably tough & hard wearing. I recently did put a small tear in the knee, but this was a heavy fall with a huge pack on ...gaffer tape required! Well thought out, 2 side pockets plus a back pocket. Still waterproof after 2½ years & has only been re-treated 'just in case'.

    Endura Venturi eVent jacketComments for the jacket as for the trousers. It has more pockets than the Stealth. Great jacket, shame I stupidly lost it...

  • Paramo Velez Adventure Lite Smock – got this to kind of replace the eVent jacket. This is the first Paramo that isn't too hot for biking in. I thought I'd try it as Paramo stuff lasts ages; many people have Paramo gear that's been going for over 10 years. Paramo Velez Adventure LightReason for this is that the waterproofing is down to a layering system rather than a membrane. If it loses it's waterproofing a bit you just re-proof with Nikwax TX10 to bring back the performance. The smock design might not suit everyone, and there is only a chest pocket & a kind of one piece hand-warmer pocket accessed through the side vents, but I always have plenty of space somewhere, so lack of pockets hasn't been an issue for me. It's still a warmish garment for cycling, so can be worn with just a base-layer, but if it gets too hot the afore-mentioned side-vents allow for a fair bit of cooling. Not really for the summer, but the rest of the year it's great. First impressions were that the sleeves were on the short side for biking, but in practice this hasn't been a problem. The Velcro cuffs seem to do a good job. The other difference with Paramo is the feel, their stuff is really soft to wear

  • Five Ten Impact High Shoes5-10 Impact High/Low '06 – most people know how good 5-10 shoes are. They use tacky rubber, same as climbing shoes on the soles, so they grip flat pedals like nothing else. Only thing to add is that they're still going now with no signs of giving up. The newer ones are synthetic uppers, not heard any negatives about this so far. The main reason why I have 2 pairs is that at the time there seemed to be some doubt as to whether they would keep making them, so I ordered a second lot. They proved so popular that it looks likely they'll be made for some time into the future. The Lows are a bit more comfy, I have weird feet with angular bony bits that make the left shoe slightly less comfy on the High's. I found the High's could be waterproofed reasonably well with Grangers or similar. Five Ten Impact Low ShoesIf they do get wet, dry them out fairly soon, as almost every shoe other than the clip-in types have a midsole made of compressed & glued cardboard, or something similar

  • howies NBL base layerhowies merino base layers – many reasons why I use these; they're still reasonably warm if they get wet, they breathe better than anything else by a long way, they never smell bad like synthetics, they keep you warm in the winter & cool in the summer. The merino fibres are naturally resistant to bacteria & they can absorb a lot of liquid before they feel damp. howies merino is about as good as it gets, so there's no hint of itchiness

  • howies merino mid layer – same comments as for the base-layers, just a warmer version. They have thumb loops to make it easier to put a jacket on

  • howies long way home shorts & merino liner – not much to say, the shorts are comfy, the liners are really comfy. It looks very much like they were made by Endura, which is a good thing, but they were quite pricey. Bit of an irrelevant review as they don't seem to sell them any more. They do have a habit of reviving stuff though...

  • Endura Humvee & Singletrack shorts – really well made, Endura stuff generally is. They have plenty of pockets & the Singletrack shorts came with liners. Most shorts do the job, but Endura seem to do it pretty well. Best to try on before you buy, as good fit is important

  • Rixen Kaul Kilkfix Mini Map HolderRixen Kaul Klickfix Mini Map Holder – the Klickfix system is used to attach various things to the handlebars, but the map holder is the only thing of interest to me. The map holder is great, helps avoid missing a turning because you have the map in sight all the time. It's made of folded perspex & is A6 size. I use Memory Map & then laminate the maps. Satmap seem to have borrowed the same attachment system for their GPS unit. The mount rotates 90 degrees to fit bars or stems. The similar Polaris MapTrap is a bit cheaper & has an identical looking map holder. Not sure if it's as versatile in fitting though. I reckon I'd struggle to fit it around a bike computer & light as easily as with the Rixen Kaul version

  • Middleburn RS7 ISIS Cranks & Chain RingsMiddleburn chain rings & RS7 cranks – lightweight cranks with a lifetime guarantee! The RS7's are guaranteed for dirt jumping & DH! If you want to go even lighter they do the RS8. Still guaranteed, but not for jumping & downhill. Mine are ISIS, they also do square tapered & were working on an x-type. Many will be put off by ISIS bottom brackets, as there have been some bad ones. In my experience the good ones outlast external BB's by a fair bit. Current one is a Superstar, it's made like the old Shimano square taper cartridge BB's, which is a good thing. See the long term review earlier in the year for more. Still going strong with a reasonable amount of air-time... The chain rings are made of the better 7075T6 alloy. You get a choice of clear, coloured anodised finishes or a hardcoat, as well as the choice of slickshift or not (shifting pins & ramps). Much discussion can be found on forums about whether the hardcoat does anything, but in my experience it does seem to substantially increase the lifetime. If you're running a single ring then there's no need for slickshift so you'll save a little bit. You'll find other makes that do 7075T6 chain rings, some cheaper, some more expensive. Watch out for the quality of machining as well, as the more accurate the tooth profile the longer they'll last

  • KMC X9 chains – KMC also make Shimano's chains as far as I'm aware. They're by far my chain of choice. If you join them with the powerlink as per instructions they seem super tough. Spare Powerlinks are available from sellers for easy repairs on the trails, although I've never had one break. With the standard X9 it doesn't matter whether you go for the grey(73), grey/silver(93) or silver(99). I checked with KMC & they're all the same quality/strength, so I go for the cheaper grey X9-73 model. By all accounts the lightweight versions aren't so tough, but this is the same with all brands. Hollow pins & cut-out side plates might look cool & save a few grams, but they will break more easily...

  • XTR M952 rear mech – it finally gave up recently, the springs were really weak & chainsuck was occuring on the granny ring despite everything being new! It was no longer providing enough tension. But it gave about 5 or 6 years of heavy use, and I bought it 2nd hand from ebay for about £25. It looked a few years old even then!

  • XT Shadow rear mech – the replacement for the XTR. Works really well, even lighter but also more positive shifting & the cable routing on the Orange Five is much improved. Nothing badly wrong with it before, but it's much more direct & stops the outer cable from moving back & fore in the guides

  • Sealskinz socks – fully waterproof socks with a seal around them so they stay waterproof even when fully submersed. Still going strong after about 6 years, although they've not been used all the time. Mine don't have a warm lining, so I use them with some thin merino socks which make them plenty warm enough. A practical point with gloves & socks is to put them on in the warm! Change in the cold & you'll stay cold...

  • DMR V12's – these seem to fit my feet nicely. The bearings/bushings seem to last ages, I've never needed to replace them. Practical tip; to grease them, remove the alloy end cap, clean the old grease out if it's dirty then fill the cavity & the cap with clean grease & re-fit. Repeat until the dirty stuff is pushed out at the crank end of the axle & you start to see a bit of clean stuff coming out. Downside with V12 type pedals is when you mash a pin on a rock & destroy the hex fitting the pins have a tendency to crumble when the necessary mole grips are used. Not always, but sometimes. This can make them impossible to get out. The pins seem that hard they break ti coated drills. So if you see any signs of damage replace them before it's too late. Problem is you don't always see it coming

  • Fox Flux lid 08 – good coverage, good venting, seems solid, fits me well. Try before you buy for fit, as it's no good a helmet being great on paper if it's not comfy

  • BBB replacement derailleur jockey wheels – cartridge bearings & fibre-glass reinforced plastic, last longer than XTR originals & are about ¼ of the price. I've used them for ages with no complaints. The upper one doesn't float like the Shimano originals, but seems to make hardly any difference. Possibly slightly more positive shifts but almost impossible to tell

9 November 2010

Coming soon...

Still haven't got round to actually writing up some proper reviews, but in the mean time, here's a list of what you can expect for the next post, which will hopefully be in a week or so:
  • Endura Stealth Jacket 08
  • Endura eVent trousers
  • Endura eVent jacket
  • Paramo Velez Adventure Lite Smock
  • 5-10 high '06
  • 5-10 low '06
  • lots of howies merino base layers
  • howies merino mid layer
  • howies long way home shorts & liner
  • Rixen Kaul Klickfix Mini Map Holder
  • Middleburn chainrings & RS7 cranks
  • KMC X9 chains
  • XTR M952 rear mech
  • Sealskinz socks
  • DMR V12's
  • Fox Flux lid 08
  • BBB jockey wheels
  • Superstar ISIS BB
All this is kit I've actually used, in most cases long term.

It'll get written up when I get back from doing a coast to coast ride.

7 October 2010

No posts for a while...

Just looked at the date on the last post & realized I've been quiet for a while.

In case you thought I'd permanently fallen asleep or something, there will be another one up soon. The next one will hopefully be useful, it'll be a kit list with why I own the items I own & how it's all performed over the time.

Some will be specifically bike kit, some bike relevant but useful for other sports as well.

Hopefully will be up within the next couple of weeks.

Happy riding...

17 August 2010

Satmap Active10 - final thoughts

Satmap active10 GPS unit
So, it's a bit late, but I thought I'd better finish off the review.

Positives first:

  • Ease of plotting a route. For mountain bikers a big selling point is the ability to go out & explore, then plot a route back home from wherever you happen to be. This is great for MTBers as you can cover more ground on a bike & exploring will get you 'lost' more quickly than on foot.
  • Many people like to use a GPS to log their progress which the Satmap seems to do accurately. If you want a GPS for this purpose you might find the other features unnecessary,  but you might become convinced by the value of the map display
  • A major plus for bikers is the replaceable screen cover. There's a fair bit of peace of mind knowing that if it gets scratched a replacement is cheap & available. I only used the unit in the dry, but someone who owns a unit told me that in the wet, moisture gets behind the cover making the display harder to read, so maybe some better sealing might be needed?
  • The unit has a tough feel to it which is big plus for MTBers.

  • The main negative I found is the battery level display. It shows as maximum for ages, but when the batteries run out there's very little warning. Another owner I met mentioned the same problem. The batteries supplied gave about 2 days worth, but they were the expensive Lithium type, so to use these regularly would be quite expensive. I guess this wouldn't concern everyone. A rechargeable is available and comes as standard if you buy the MTB kit. If however the unit's being used for expedition type journeys then there might not be chance to recharge. It may well be good in comparison to other units, but more battery life is always a good improvement.
  • As far as I know the screen on the unit is good in comparison to others, but I found the display very difficult to read in sunlight. I'm guessing this is the case with most GPS units, but one of Satmap's selling points was that it was easy to read in sunlight. It's a bit of a pain needing to find shade in order to see the display, and sometimes that means that a map in a map holder is faster to use.
  • Sometimes the map didn't orientate correctly which meant if I was relying on the unit it caused wrong turns. This happened mainly on just one route, others were OK. The three of us on the ride thought that using the unit had lengthened the journey time a fair bit over using an OS map.
  • I didn't find the menu system that intuitive. I got used to it, but I'm quite good with gadgets and often don't need instruction manuals, but I had to keep referring back to the manual for a lot longer than usual.
  • Most MTBers will ride with gloves all year round, and usually full fingered ones. The buttons are a bit awkward to use with gloves. I thought they lacked feel without gloves & even thin gloves made it worse. A light-ish touch combined with a more definite click to the buttons would be ideal I think. This isn't a major gripe though.
  • Another minor was the bulk of the unit. It would be nice if any future versions were smaller or thinner. Crashes are inevitable at some point when mountain biking, and it's not always possible to mount the unit in a way that would avoid damage in a fall. For some bikes maybe putting it on the top tube would work, but if the frame tubes are fatter the unit ends up being too far back & the rider's knees would hit it.
For me I could see the attraction, but I actually quite enjoy map reading & I like to keep the skills up to scratch so I'll stick with paper maps.

If you're after a GPS with OS Maps I'd say this is a good one to go for, some of the other similar models from other brands have some major disadvantages like no option to change batteries so if the rechargeable one runs out you're stuck, or just generally dissatisfied owner reviews on the net.

23 July 2010

KMC X9 Chains

OK, so this one's not too exciting, but hopefully useful...

This is a long term review proper, just to let you know my chain of choice. It's a kind of vital component! There's basically 3 main makes available, Shimano, SRAM & KMC. As far as I know, KMC make the Shimano chains, which is curious, because in my experience, Shimano are excellent at almost everything, with the possible exception of their chains. KMC however, make some absolute bullet proof offerings under their own name. The X9 series (if you ignore the drilled out lightweight ones)are all the same apart from the colour. They do a grey, a silver/grey & a silver, for slightly different prices. You can pick them up for a huge amount less than the equivalent Shimano or SRAM chains and although it's not easy to judge, they seem to me to outlast the other makes. I've never managed to break one and they seem to wear better.

That's it really, just 4 years worth of use & they've never let me down. There's no sponsorship involved (although I'd be fine if they're interested!), just an honest account of a few years of use.

28 June 2010

New Course - Friday afternoon air...

It seems there are a fair few riders who can tackle pretty much any trail they find themselves on, but have never got comfortable with the wheels off the ground.

So if you're one of them and fancy learning to get air safely, knowing you can stay in control & get the landing right, sign up for a course.

We've had great success teaching jumps on the regular courses, so thought it would be good to offer it to people who don't necessarily need to learn other skills.

Next one's on the 10th Sept, but as usual if you have a group together already you can contact us for a time that suits.

See the prices & dates page to book, or contact us to pay by bank transfer or cheque. Feel free to phone for a chat if you have any questions.

5 June 2010

Satmap Active10 - update

Satmap active10 GPS unit
Got one of these through the post end of April by Special Delivery from the UK distributors. They were after feedback about the unit from a mountain biker's point of view. There'll be a full review after it goes back at the end of June, but here's a few comments:

Battery power seems to be easily good for a day & a bit - so far hasn't lasted 2 whole days with high capacity alkalines. If I owned the unit I'd go for the rechargeable battery (you can always keep AA's as backup).

As with any device with a backlit LCD screen, the brighter the default setting the shorter the battery life. Also the longer the screen stays on before sleep the more battery drain ...obvious to some, not so obvious to others. So far I've left the screen on a mid setting & about 30 seconds until the screen switches off. In bright sunlight the map is quite hard to read, but the waypoint pointer is much easier. As far as I can gather this is the same with all brands.

One thing I need to have a play with is the speed setting at which the compass switches modes. Sometimes at slow speeds, like on a steeper climb, the map flips 180 degrees or the waypoint goes a bit random. This can be a bit of a pain sometimes & send you the wrong way, but not for long. Still annoying though if you end up having to double back & it's uphill... I have a feeling that altering the afore-mentioned mode change speed might sort this.

To me the unit is more useful as a get you home device if I want to explore randomly then switch the unit on to plot a route back. The route maker is easy to use & by all accounts the Satmap is the only unit with a decent one.
For a pre-planned route I prefer to use a traditional map. If you can already read maps then why get rusty? Plus there's no batteries to run out & nothing to malfunction (although the Satmap10 is a reliable unit).

That's all for now, more later.

27 April 2010

Satmap Active10

Satmap active10 GPS unit
Just received one of these through the post by Special Delivery this morning from the UK distributors. They were after feedback about the unit from a mountain biker's point of view. I've only had a quick look so far as I'm waiting for a map-card to show up. First impressions in no particular order:

  • Replaceable screen covers
  • Easy to plot routes on the unit
  • ...which allows it to be used without a PC
  • Personally I like the button control as opposed to touch screen
  • OS mapping
  • Really solid bike mount
  • Decent carry case
  • Appears to have good battery life, will report more fully later on
  • so far, not much except the buttons need a firm press

13 April 2010

Singletrack World » Dig For a Pig

Singletrack World » Dig For a Pig

Click the link for info on winning a Ragley Blue Pig in exchange for some trail maintenance with SingletrAction

 Find out more about SingletrAction and other upcoming dig days on their site.

8 April 2010

English coast to coast trip

coast2coastJust a quick post to let you know about the latest trip on offer. The English off-road c2c is a one of those 'must do' trips for mountain bikers, but there are a good few routes you could use. You won't find this exact route in the guide-books; the trails have been carefully chosen to replace some that have been dulled down with trails that give you the MTBers grin!

The trip is fully supported meaning you'll only only need to carry provisions for the day's riding (do I hear cries of cake, Haribo & chocolate?)

It's possible to do the route in 3 days, but we're taking 5, as we reckon real mountain biking is as much about enjoying the trails & the surroundings as eating up the miles. You'll need to be OK with about 35 miles per day, mostly off-road. The route goes west to east, from St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay, and accommodation along the way will be a combination of B&Bs, pubs and better quality bunkhouses. You'll only need to find your own evening meals

More details here - chasingtrails.com

Cyclist No.1

Cyclist No.1 logoCyclist No.1 is a new not-for-profit cycling website that's already taking off in a big way

Gary Lake is the editor & designer. His career in digital media shows up in the high standard of the site. There's already a strong team of regular contributors including Phil Saxena the world-class trail builder, Rob Lee who's a top UK endurance racer and lately, me as the MTB Technique contributor

There'll be a short bio up there in the next few days, but the 1st in a series of articles is already up. It's on the basics of braking. More will follow at aprox 1 per month(ish) depending on how busy life is

You can also find Cyclist No1 on Facebook and twitter

7 April 2010

Chasing Trails on Bikeradar

Rider on Trek MTBLook out for a Bikeradar article in the next month or so by Ruth Schofield on a 1:1 day's skills coaching with Chasing Trails. Ruth is doing a series from a beginner's point of view where the final aim is to ride Snowdon later in the year. When Ruth arrived at Dalby for the day, she'd missed a course elsewhere due to the snow a few weeks ago. So far she's completed a maintenance course and a basic beginner's intro to mountain biking. The 1:1 with Chasing Trails gave her the chance for a relaxed but comprehensive day where there was no need to feel either held back or moving at too fast a pace in terms of skill level. I don't think Ruth will mind me saying that she's a bit of a perfectionist & was quite hard on herself if she didn't get everything dialled 1st time! Never the less, she was prepared to admit that she'd made great progress during the day & even rode a section of black on the world cup circuit (several times!) The Bikeradar write up will likely focus on drop offs & obstacles, but we had time to cover much more from basics like braking to more advanced stuff like berms. I'll post a link once the article is live, but in the mean time, the previous ones can be found here:

Beginner's guide to mountain biking, part 1

Beginner's guide to mountain biking, part 2

Beginner's guide to mountain biking, part 3

4 April 2010

Welsh Cakes

Welsh CakesI took a supply on a 7stanes trip the other week & they were liked by all. So here’s the recipe

Click the link for a pdf or right click & 'save target as' if you want to save a copy

As with all cakes, best eaten warm!

Not sure where they rate as energy food for fitness freaks, but they’re an awesome post ride snack, and for riding breaks, all food is good, especially cake!

1 April 2010

Ghetto tubeless...

I tweeted a more compact version of these instructions the other day after fitting some new tyres using the ghetto tubeless method. Thought I'd put it in order, add a bit more info, & post it up here for reference

I prefer this method to the kits that come with a rimstrip, some widths of rim don't fit the rimstrips too well. Also, this method costs about half the price of the packaged kits

So, if you fancy going tubeless for less rolling resistance, no pinch flats, more grip & the ability to run lower pressures, here's some easy to follow instructions:
  1. Check the net for good/bad tyre/rim combos, but I've found Maxxis on EN321's to work well, also Continentals. Kenda's don't like it so much. Some tyre/rim combos are just too loose fitting & some tyres have extremely porous side-walls. Maxxis seem to be built really nicely
  2. Fit a rim tape, as it will protect the rim strip you will make from damage by the spoke holes (I use a couple of layers of insulation tape, remember to cut a hole for the valve)
  3. Next, fit a 24" (or smaller) Schrader tube onto the rim, with no tyre on yet. Blow it up a little bit just to make it easy to centre it on the rim. It needs to be one with a removable core (most are)
  4. Now cut the tube with sharp scissors down the centre so it opens up & turns into a (very wide at the moment) rim strip
  5. Clean off the chalky stuff with a damp cloth, then wipe dry. Fit the tyre using washing up liquid on the bead to make life easy
  6. Remove the valve core using one of the little tools, (cheap to buy). This is so that inflation in the next step can be done as fast as possible, and you'll need the core out to get the sealant in
  7. inflate to 60psi as fast as possible to seat the bead. If it's not working, make sure the beads are outside the valve hole. You'll likely need a track pump. Some people use a CO2 cartridge or take it to a garage & use the airline, although some airlines these days seem to be slower than a track pump
  8. You might need to mess about a bit to get the tyre beads seated well so it inflates...
  9. Carefully remove the pump, if you can let the air out slowish that's better. Don't put the wheel down as it might move the tyre
  10. Now put some latex sealant through the valve hole into the tyre, using a plastic bottle with a narrow nozzle, or a small funnel. Valve needs to be at the bottom, obviously...
  11. Use about 150-200ml, or whatever the brand of sealant recommends. Refit the valve core & inflate to 60psi again. Sealant might leak a bit but as long as it's not pouring out just hold wheel flat & swish the sealant around until the leaks stop. Turn over to do both sides. If it's leaking really bad then something's moved and you'll need to make sure the tyre's re-seated again
  12. When it's sorted, carefully trim off the excess rim strip. I used a sharp knife with the flat of the blade against the tyre so I couldn't cut the sidewall. Just be careful & follow the usual rules with sharp blades. If you're an uncoordinated type, probably get some else to do this! A blunt blade is asking for trouble as the rubber will be awkward to cut
  13. To be on the safe side leave it at 60psi for a good few hours (24hrs if you can spare it) before adjusting to riding pressure. You should be able to use lower pressure than before, as pinch flats will be no more! How much lower depends on your set-up. Some tyres/rims will be a tighter fit & the tyres less likely to roll of the rim at low pressure
  14. Ride!
Brands of sealant include Joe's No Flats, No Tubes (Stan's), Effetto Caffe Latex & Bontrager Super Juice

20 March 2010

Inspiration for all!

51 & Freeriding

A bit of inspiration to get out & ride, whatever your age...

It didn't seem to want to embed, so click the link above to go direct to the site

3 March 2010

Middleburn RS7 Crankset (ISIS) long term review

Middleburn RS7 Silver cranksetCranks. Pedals one end, bottom bracket the other, 1 - 3 chainrings, make the bike go

There's a lot of talk about how stiff various cranks are. These ones are stiff, although it's rare for even cheap ones to feel flexy. The RS7's are also on the light side. They're made out of quality alloy in Britain. They're pricey, with a RRP for the arms & a spider around £150. But, they have a lifetime guarantee which includes DH & dirt jumping. And you often see them for a fair but less than the RRP. If you want even lighter still, the RS8's still have a lifetime guarantee but not for DH & DJ

I can't think of anything bad. They're available in sq taper or ISIS. Stop, I hear you say, but aren't ISIS BB's the worst product ever invented? Well they have a bad rep, but in my experience if you get a quality BB, (not necessarily the most expensive), they last as long as the old square tapered ones. The axles are larger diameter & therefore stronger. The FSA Platinum I 1st used lasted 16 months of hard use before any play developed. It was replaced by a Superstar a couple of months ago, the design of which makes total sense, so I'm expecting that to do well. As a comparison, the best I've had from an external type BB is 6 months, the worst is 3 rides! Before anyone asks, yes the BB shell was faced. There are better units available now, however, from Hope, Chris King & others

Although these have a tripple, the spider is removable & you can fit a lightweight XC double where the inner ring is also the spider for the big ring. Uno setups do away with a spider, the ring fits where the spider would normally. Spiders are available in XC & DH versions, and trials set-ups are also available. In the more standard config, you can get various 4 or 5 bolt types including one for XTR cranks to allow you to run your own choice of rings

Lastly, a word about chain rings. The pic shows Middleburns fitted. I use these because they seem to last better than most. It's very hard to decide on a longest lasting make of chain ring, because the conditions & the weather make it a bit variable, but these seem to do the job. The granny ring has been on other cranksets, so it's 2 years old or more, The big ring isn't showing any signs of wear & it's about 6 months old & the middle ring (gets the most use) is still going after a good few months, but has some wear. Not enough yet to need replacing, but enough that you can see it. The one on there at the mo is a hardcoat, unlike the older one in the pic

To sum up, buy a set of RS7's if you don't mind shelling out a bit of cash for something that will last. They're due to release an external set sometime soon, so you may want to wait for that - I'd say there's no need, this one is fine. Another UK product that works & works well

22 February 2010

RAW Bamboo Bikes - 'The Dale' Mountain Bike

Calfee bamboo framed mountain bikeI almost always ride a full-sus these days. The Orange Five does everything well, and most things outstandingly well. I guess I love it because you can point it down steep nasty stuff & it laughs at it! So I'd kind of forgotten the joy of a good hard-tail bike

The last HT I rode regularly was a DMR Switchback & when it was the only bike I had no complaints really. Since selling most of the DMR, the last time I was out on a HT was one of the G3 fleet bikes when a customer wanted to hire my Five for the day. Annoyingly (a bit, anyway) the G3 was better than the DMR to ride, despite being a much cheaper build and having stock bars that are a bit narrow for my tastes (although they suit most people)

What made the RAW stand out for me was the obvious difference in the ride between it and other 'good' bikes. I felt almost zero trail buzz. There's nothing wrong with the DMR or the G3, when you ride them you think “yep, nice, wouldn't change anything”. But the first few seconds on the bike was enough to know this was in another league. Ever since finding the website I've been really curious to see one, so I jumped at the chance of a test ride. Having said that, I was almost expecting a fragile feeling bike that would need riding 'carefully'. Kind of how lots of people imagine carbon to be. But the solid feel & almost silent ride inspired confidence early on. I should say this has been used regularly by Rachel the importer and as a demo bike for about a year already

Calfee bamboo framed mountain bikeIn my experience a comfy HT frame usually means not so quick acceleration and a fast HT usually means feeling battered at the end of the day (to generalise slightly). The RAW however really was the best of both. It seemed to surge forward, but without that combination of clatter/vibration you get in varying degrees with most HT's. It really is very quiet & I found myself in the big ring almost any time the trail straightened out. At the end of the day I had way less of the usual aches, and that's with a dodgy hand & shoulder waiting to play up at any time (sympathy optional)...

Craig Calfee, the frame builder has been going for over 20 years and this shows in the handling. The bike feels right, it's not a gimmick or a green idea from a non-bike company. He has a history making advanced carbon fibre frames, even a tandem. Greg Lemond was the first customer for road frames! The first bamboo frame was built in 1995 but just as a publicity stunt. 12 more were made for employees, relatives & friends. They felt the feedback on the smooth ride quality was too good to ignore and began production in 2005. The MTB frames are only available in bamboo as it is more 'crash tolerant' than carbon apparently ...which is nice to know
Recommended fork travel is 80 or 100mm. The bike I rode had 80mm Reba's which did a splendid job. I ride 140mm as a rule but the 80mm combined with such a comfy frame seemed to be plenty. Although nothing to do with the frame, Rockshox forks always impress me these days, the Toras on the G3's are better than they have any right to be for the cash

What the bike isn't going to do is beat a full-sus down something steep, rocky & super technical, but it will make it no problem with decent technique (see skills courses!) But as a race bike it would do just fine. The difference between this & some other race bikes is that you'll definitely want to ride it for much of the rest of the time as well. I would most certainly like one, and although I'd probably still ride the Five more of the time, it'd be close!

One thing I didn't do is get a weight. You might think this was just lazy, and you might be right! But on a serious note I think weight is sometimes a bit of a red herring. Until about 2005 I had a no-sus (or fully rigid in normal speak) Dave Yates frame. It was light. The bike weighed about 23lbs. It felt quick. A long ride left you feeling like you'd had a good kicking for about 3 days after! The DMR was next & I built it more for strength, so it came in at about 29 or 30lbs. 1st ride out when it was built, just down the street I had to check the computer was calibrated because the speed was surely wrong! It was a good few mph (the good old days) faster. Now, as far as I can see, if a bike accelerates quicker & then holds its speed better, the extra weight doesn't really count? Because if a lighter bike is flexing where it should be stiff, you're wasting as much energy as carrying extra weight. I wouldn't have said this added up until I had 2 bikes to compare. I'm not saying all light bikes are flexible & inefficient, just that if a bike is very efficient then it doesn't necessarily have to be the lightest. And with the RAW Bamboo frame, add in the distinct smoothness of the ride & you have a bike that you feel fresher on for longer. Maybe, if you're still with me, a bit more explaining is needed? In that if the bike is comfy, how can it also be efficient? Well the vibration dampening seems to be a property of the material & not dependant on using flexible tubes. In fact I couldn't see or feel any flex under pedalling forces, whereas there's a noticeable amount on many steel frames & a bit on many ALU frames. At a guess I'd say it was somewhere near 25lbs maybe

If I get an accurate weight I'll add it in later. But like I say, on it's own weight doesn't tell you everything

It seemed perfectly happy to do this, which also made me happy...
Calfee bamboo framed mountain bike

size nominal size effective top tube length stand over height head angle seat Angle
large 18" 22.8”
31” (78.7cm) 71° 73°

Frames cost £2349, a s/s bike is £2999 and geared bikes start at £3250

You get a 10 year guarantee on the frame, which goes a long way to prove they believe in what they build

www.rawbamboobikes.co.uk +44 (0) 7970 780514


  • extremely quiet, almost silent – even without a chainstay protector fitted
  • felt very solid & tough, the chain stay seemed to have shrugged off chain slap way better than steel/ALU frames
  • very comfy for a HT
  • very fast accelerating, was in the big ring surprisingly often
  • geometry good, steering fast & precise without being twitchy. Climbed & descended well, stable at speed
  • Green! Bamboo is sustainable & they build by hand without using electricity in the build
  • if you don't want mass produced, the Calfee is as far from it as you're likely to get!
  • 10 yr guarantee!

  • Pricey, but it does feel like a top of the range bike, and if I had the spare cash I would have already ordered one! So, bad in the usual way that we generally want quality stuff to be cheaper than is possible...
  • not loads of tyre clearance on the one I rode, but they will custom build. And I didn't feel it needed huge tyres once I stopped looking & started riding

14 January 2010

howies NBL (natural base layer)

howies NBL LS
howies description: “Superfine Merino that can be worn on its own or as part of a layering system when it's cold. Wicks naturally, resists build-up of odours, regulates temperature and is itch-free so it feels real nice next to your skin. 100% Zque accredited Merino wool”

Brands generally want you to believe their products will somehow enhance your quality of life. Apparently if you drink the right kind of Cola you'll have more friends and become rich & cool... MTB marketing isn't usually at that level of fantasy, but it's often difficult to know which ones are describing a quality product and which simply have a huge marketing department. If you’ve got a product that does the job it's all a bit more straightforward, for company & customer

The howies stuff I’ve owned does usually seem to match the marketing. I hesitate to use the phrase “does what it says on the tin” but there genuinely isn’t that much to add that howies haven’t said above. Except that I’ve owned a long sleeved & a couple of short sleeved versions for nearly 3½ years now, and they’re still going strong. When new, I was concerned that they were so comfortable that I’d grab one to wear off the bike far too often! Well, I’m still doing that now, so I reckon they’ve proved themselves for quality

On the bike, I wear one as the only top layer on warm summer days, and you can get away with just the base layer & one of the warmer jackets like an Endura Stealth in the winter on all but the coldest days. When it’s cooler but dry in the autumn I usually wear a howies mid layer on top

It’s often claimed that natural materials out-perform synthetics. In my opinion this is often true; it certainly is with merino. For many, the cost will seem a bit high, but I reckon they work out at good value seeing they last so well. The fact that they refuse to smell ‘used’ is a plus if you’re away for a week or weekend as you don’t need a base layer for every day. Another advantage is that merino stays almost as warm when wet, so if you sweat a lot or just get caught without a waterproof the ride doesn’t turn miserable. It also soaks up a huge amount of moisture before it even starts to feel damp. Make sure you follow the washing instructions as it will more than likely shrink in the tumble drier. They dry quick enough not to be tempted, so no excuses there