Friday, 20 December 2013

Handlebar Harness - "Barness" (DIY/MYOG)

I got itchy hands, and the only cure is to make bikepacking gear. In theory, the bar harness (how has no-one coined the term 'barness' yet?) is an extremely simple, stable piece of kit. They're capable of hauling a surprising quantity of gear, without compromising your handling or adding too much additional weight. The barness itself weighs 320 grams in its current state, certainly not the lightest.

In practice, getting the barness stable and fitting nicely, avoiding the brakes and gear cables, is a little more fiddly than one might imagine.

I choose a harness (like the Wildcat Gear Mountain Lion) rather than a waterproof bag (like a Revelate Designs Sweetroll) because it avoids the necessity of seam sealing or using waterproof materials. It's also much more versatile - holding a variety of bags and types of cargo.

I added double-layered elastic straps to jam items for quick access, like gloves and a buff.

I salvaged the majority of the material from a suitcase. The main body is a piece of relatively flexible plastic. I reckon the degree of flexibility is an important consideration - too flexible and it won't provide support - the bag will flop around the place. However, if it's too stiff it won't conform to the load well when it's cinched tight. Additionally, it could fatigue and break.

The rest of the materials are from various places.

Removable spacers. The spacers are sections of a second suitcase, cut into a shape to accommodate the brakes.

Sections of inner tube line the inner of these straps. This provides a bit more grip when cinched against the bars. It's also possible to add a few more layers, due to the compressibility of the rubber, this should put the straps under tension, increasing the stability further.

This lower strap arrangement wraps around a "Crud Fast Fender Front Mud Guard" with the mudguard section removed. This isn't the only way of fulfilling this role, but it's simple and I'm lazy. I'm slightly worried the bag will eventually fatigue the plastic stays, but only time will tell.

I added another length of (hidden) plastic to reinforce the main section. All the holes were made by pressing a tack through the section and then sewing through. I'll probably glue something over the treads on the internal side, for protection from wear and tear. The fabric on the back is pretty unnecessary, but it doesn't add much weight. The edging is more important - preventing chipping/abrasion and softening the edge where the barness meets the dry bag.

At some point I'll add a removable mesh pocket stretched across the front for quick access to a rain jacket and gloves.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Partial Framebag - (DIY/MYOG)

I wanted to make a partial framebag to utilize the space within the triangle without compromising the bottle cage position and or easy handling of the bike. I salvaged a suitcase from a neighbour’s trash. Everything was hand stitched.

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The majority of the material is a relatively stiff foam, with fabric on the outside. This was all from the suitcase, minimizing the necessary stitching. Salvaged suitcases are good sources of material for this kind of work – they’re often available, and the materials tend to be water resistant. The outer material possesses a reasonable mixture of flexibility and stiffness, and is often not too difficult to work and stitch through.

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I cut the basic shape with a pocket knife and used a scalpel to score out the grooves where the folds are. It’s very stable in my mountain bike, as it was specifically designed to fit the frame. Fortunately, it also happens to kinda fit into my Crosscheck frame. The bag isn’t waterproof, but the foam should repel water, and any that gets in should drain out through the zip. It weighs ~160 grams. Every tool inside is held with elastic material, because I'm hella cool.

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It works well, I'll probably make two small modifications at some point - a buckle to change the length of the strap attaching to the down tube. This would allow a secure attachment to both my bikes. I may stitch sections of inner tube to the attachment straps. This should increase the stability, even though it's already very stable.

Framebags are a good DIY project, they're expensive to buy and not too difficult to make. There are dozens of variations available, if you wanna have a crack at at making one, I'd recommend making a model out of cardboard to check it fits and everything. You can then cut this model up and use it as a template for cutting the material.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Wentwood Forest - Downhill Trail

Wentwood forest is an ancient woodland to the north-west of Newport in South Wales. It's hella pretty, and home to a very good downhill trail, as well as numerous forest tracks and cross country singletrack trails. The autumn is an excellent time for the vibrant forest colours, although, unsurprisingly, the ground is sloppy as all hell.

The downhill trail starts about here, winding through the woods, heading west, along relatively flat terrain. The trail is dominated by roots, but a lot of fun. After meandering through the woods, the trail starts heading north west and downhill. Trail features are more obviously intentionally constructed here, including berms and jumps.


View Wentwood Downhill Trail in a larger map

The local mountain biking association have not revealed the route of the downhill trail. Their website is apparently no longer active, so I've put the map here. If anyone from the local club would like it removed, I'm happy to oblige - contact me with the address here.

I haven't got photos of the last third of the trail, but in current conditions it was constant error correction, basically surfing down the hill on the tide of leaves and mud. It was good fun - and none of the drops were obligatory - some of the beginnings of the sections were steep and fairly sketchy. In general, even novice downhiller will be mostly fine.

The crisp leaves and (occasionally) clear skies of autumn.

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The forestry commission have been busy.

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Looking south-east, towards the Severn.

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Elliot cocoons himself against the cold.

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Trail slop.

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Two steeds o' aluminium at rest.

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Amphibious riding.

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The flat part of the trail winds through the coniferous trees - it's rooty and rugged and a lot of fun.

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The trail goes over a bridleway/track, and starts another section. This section is currently dominated by a comically thick covering of leaves.

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Elliot rails the berm on the first section of the downhill.

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Wentwood Forest is great fun. The downhill trail is fun and challenging in places, but mostly just a good time. Much of the singletrack is delightfully rugged. Aside from the main downhill trail, there are numerous little pieces of singletrack and normal footpaths throughout the forest to be found.

Friday, 1 November 2013

South West Coast Path - Hell's Mouth and Godrivy Point

This is a small update, focusing on the photography than a day-ride, so I won't bother with a proper route map. We rode north-east along the beach in St. Ives bay from Hayle, then joined the south-west coastal path around Hell's Mouth for a few kilometres, before doubling back and riding around the Knavocks and Godrivy point.

The Cornish beaches are not overrated. This one is about fifteen seconds from Hayle, after some navigating through beach-side community and some sandy single-track through the towans.

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Shockingly, the dry sand was not particularly ridable.

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The wet sand provided enough solidity and traction to allow (comparatively) easy riding.

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We left the beach and climbed on the road up to Fishing cove, joining the south west coastal path.

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Looking north along the coastal path. This was all ridable, a cross bike would be fine for the short section we rode. The path follows the edge of the cliff closely, so riding conservatively is a necessity.

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From Godrivy point, looking north.

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The light house on Godrivy island.

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We went to St. Ives the next day, mostly to collect photographic evidence of oddly worded signs, and piles of damp fishing gear.

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The South-west coastal path goes for miles, with some excellent views of rugged cliffs. I reckon there's a hell of a good ride along the coast path, starting around Ilfracombe and heading south-west.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Ridge Ride - Grwyne Fawr Reservoir and Rhos Dirion/Bal Mawr

Taking advantage of the dry conditions of summer, myself and Elliot took cyclocross bikes (Surly Crosschecks) into the Black Mountains, north of Abergavenny. Lacking cars, there was a road ride before hitting the moors, so as a compromise we took (hopefully) off-road worthy cyclocross bikes and crossed our fingers conditions would be favourable. The typical state of the moorland is boggy. With anything but the chubbiest tyres, you sink in. Even if it hasn't rained in a while, the peat retains moisture and makes riding frustrating - sapping the energy and the will. Especially if you make the mistake of wandering into an actual marsh, in a poorly devised shortcut.

Fortunately, the moors were as dry as I've seen them, making the route we went was 90% ridable and 100% awesome. The valley leading to the Grywne Fawr reservoir is dramatic and lush, with either a road or gravel tracks leading up through the valley. Then come the rocks, but only a few kilometres or so, leading you to the moor. Once you reach the trig point, and set off south along the ridge it's almost exclusively downhill, predominantly singletrack and excellent views of the black mountains in all directions.

The route we took is shown below, although it'd be easy enough to modify it for arriving by car. Just park at the bottom of the Grwyne Fawr valley, cutting out the ride to Abergavenny and back.


View Grwyne Fawr Loop - Ridge Ride in a larger map

Initially we rode up the paved road up the valley, then crossed a bridge over the Grwyne Fawr. This took us form paved roads and onto gravel/dirt tracks.

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Ell-dogg shows his skidding skillz on the track.

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A short, rocky descent led us towards the edge of the Mynydd du Forest forest.

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The Mynydd Du Forest.

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Looking north up the Grwyne Fawr valley.

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Looking south down the valley , on the edge of the Mynydd Du Forest.

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We ride up the Grwyne Fawr valley. The path here is decent, there's couple of slightly rocky spots, but nothing extreme.

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My new build 'Handsome Dan' looking, in reverence, at the reservoir.

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Ellsworth takes pictures on his ancient film camera, and I use the opportunity to take a confusing photo.

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The reservoir's edge.

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A camping spot for the future? At the north end of the reservoir.

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We ride up the track alongside the reservoir. The riding is easy, prior to the end of the reservoir.

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A profit of the coming rockstorm, alongside the Grwyne Fawr river.

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Elliot put up a valiant fight against the loose, rocky ascent. Ultimately, walking progressed at similar speed and was much less taxing.

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These are the tracks nearing the top of the moor. They're remarkably dry, so easy to ride. But not for long - when winter rolls round the moors will get sodden.

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The trig point atop Rhos Dirion.

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The descent (southwest) from the trig point. We made rapid progress from now on. We were both thoroughly loving this descent. There's enough of a descending gradient that you bomb along the path effortlessly, and only one steep section of descent. The path is currently great riding, compact, lumpy but not taxing, so just a good ol' time. Go ride it if you can. It was fun on a 'cross bike, it'd be even better on a mountain bike. There's a couple of short ascents but these are minor compared to the descent.

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Heather lines much of this path, adding a sprinkling of purple to the hillsides.

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These sandy tracks were surprisingly solid.

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Looking east.

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Looking north, along the ridge towards the peak of Rhos Dirion.

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Looking south.

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Sublime singletrack. Not techy, just hella fun.

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Looking south toward the Sugarloaf.

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The track towards the southern end of the ridge, near Twyn-y-Gaer, an iron age hillfort (more info here.

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There's a nice, and convenient pub (the Queen's Head) at the bottom of the final descent, on road, from the ridge.

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I creeped out some teenage girls taking this photo. I was waiting for the flag to fly, damn it.

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This is an excellent ride, even if you're relatively new to mountain biking. The singletrack is great, the views are excellent and dams are cool. Do it before conditions turn the moorland into a slog-fest.

Not relevant to the ride itself, but interesting to some; We met a fella on the train transporting an old postie bike he'd just bought. Rod brakes and all.

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