Saturday, 14 January 2017

A Short Ride but with a Magical Encounter.

Now before we start, some of the photos below look a bit tired and emotional from the uploading process, but if you right click on them and open in a new tab they come out a lot better looking.

It hasn't been a good week for riding, mostly thanks to my back giving me considerable grief that only now, after several days of firing Ibuprofen down my neck, is it starting to ease. 

Just the one ride this week then, and that was a short bimble around my regular, but always interesting, loop. 

I must've been around this loop, and variations of it, hundreds of times now, but it never fails to invigorate or fascinate in some way or other. Part of that though is down to being a bimbler in the first place, if I were given to spearing through the lanes like a missile chasing some Strava interval or whatever, I'd be missing out on so much of what these particular lanes, and and the countryside in general, have to offer.

There's always a photo to be found, somehow. I keep thinking I must've wrung every photo possible out of this loop, then I go for a ride and against all the odds end up coming home with something captured to portray the ride, or the countryside and how it appeals to me and so on.

Double gate to the left is the entrance to a solar farm, which will feature in, but not be the subject of, another picture shortly...

I feel happiest in these lanes too, the familiarity is comforting and relaxing, and though it sounds strange to say, I feel safe in the countryside, I feel at home.

Less than 2 miles out from home, but by the time I reach this section of my favourite lane I'm starting to build body heat and also acclimatise to the cold I initially felt on setting off. These high banks and overhanging trees always offer protection from aggressive cross winds and slicing rain, and so I invariably start to feel all the stresses draining out of my body and mind as I coast down through this section, often stopping to take it all in and just enjoy the moment.

But there is also the chance that something has changed, either natural in the way of the local flora finally flowering for instance, leading to a previously dull green bank becoming alive with vibrant colour, or by man in the way of activity in the fields. 

 Just poking about places like this bridge above, is a great way to relax and spend a few minutes.

Embrace the slop! I hate having dirty bikes and trousers all the time, but the benefits of riding through winter far outweigh the negatives.

Then there are the encounters to be had. Sometimes with dog walkers who stop for a brief chat while I'm messing with the camera or just admiring a particular view for the third time that week, or it may be with horse riders, or a brush with something majestic or magical, or both, in the form of the local wildlife. Usually this would be a Hawk or Buzzard or whatever (I need to A - start wearing my prescription glasses on rides and B - To learn how to identify these birds so I know what they are!) dropping out of a tree and swooping up the road ahead of me before banking off to one side and soaring away above a field. An all too fleeting glimpse of graceful wing span and upturned wing tip feathers that is simply awe inspiring. 

A Stoat, or a Weasel, (see above for reasons for poor descriptions given here...) was a real highlight, and so far, a single shot experience, my having not seen another since.

On this ride the other day it was another animal that caught my attention, and breath, when I had an encounter with a Hare. I was drifting along fairly easily with the blustery wind buffeting me from the west when I heard a brief flap of panic and rustle of grass and caught a glimpse of something brown launching out of the verge and into the field to my left. I stopped of course, as did what I could now see was a Hare, and we cautiously eyed each other. Slowly so as not to startle the creature more I reached for my camera in the bum bag (an ugly item to wear but for being quick on the draw with a camera they are hard to beat) and switched it on and zoomed it in before bringing it to my eye. These meetings are always over in seconds and the urge to get the camera out quick has to be tempered with the need to not create sudden movements or sounds. My target hopped a bit further away and once again stopped, turning to the side to better keep an eye on me, and presenting me with a most graceful and handsome stance to capture. I managed three shots before he, or she, decided that was enough attention for one day and disappeared fast into the distance. 

A little bit of bimbling magic - an encounter with a Hare, and what a proud and elegant looking chap he (might be a she for all I know but I'll go with chap) is. Tregassow Lane Solar Farm in the background.

Thrilled to have seen such a beast, I was immediately disappointed to realise I'd left the camera on a high ISO after some gloomily lit photo dickery earlier. Checking the rear screen showed I'd caught the Hare nicely in the frame but I still crossed my fingers as I rode home that the image quality wouldn't be ruined in a blaze of fuzzy noise.

Thankfully, after a bit of adjustment to the RAW image, I had some images that even when viewed at 100%, weren't too bad, and the encounter had been recorded in pixels rather than just memory. 

So a bad week for riding, but a good week for a bit of the magic of the countryside.


Monday, 9 January 2017

Savouring a Libation to Saint Drogo...

This year of bicycle bimbling has got off to a slow start, even by my meagre standards, with just two rides done so far and under 20 miles covered. Not that I'm worried mind you, as it's not a competition or anything. Just as well too. No, the key factor for me is quality over quantity - smiles over miles, pleasure over pain and happiness over...erm... sweatiness. It's not how fast, how far and how often for me, it's more how much I see, feel, and submerge into the landscape that tickles my Trout.

Saturday mind you, didn't get off to the most calming of starts though, as after a night spent anguishing over all sorts of junk whirling around in my head, I overslept and didn't stumble out of bed until nearly 10 in the morning. I obviously had got to sleep at some point, probably around Sheep number 15,020, but I can't say I awoke refreshed and ready for the day, but there we go. 
The normal procedure at such times is to stumble down to the kitchen to make coffee while arguing with myself mentally about what to do with what remains of the day, if anything. Going back to bed is a good answer on some particularly 'black' days, staring at the internet until it's time for lunch is another possibility on 'grey' days. But before going to bed I had in fact made plans to go for a ride somewhere and have a coffee, something I haven't done for a while, and so in an unusually positive move for me in such circumstances, I thought 'Why not' and decided to get out and get on with it quickly, before I changed my mind. To facilitate that, I would postpone the first coffee of the day until I reached a suitable point on my ride... This was brave bravery of the highest order! Riding 'pre-caffeinated' can be done, I've done it many times before, but usually on days when I've felt a bit more switched on to start with. This could get messy...

It wasn't just my head that was grey and drizzly, but Saturday was too, but I'd decided to head into the local wood (didn't want to take on anything too ambitious, not in my precariously coffee deficient state) where the weather wouldn't really make its presence felt. 

Hmmm... grey and grizzlesome out, and what the hell is all that noise?

The shooting season has been under way since October apparently, but you'd be forgiven for thinking it started on Saturday morning and ended sometime on Saturday afternoon, and the local gun bunnies were all out blowing as many furry/feathery things to pieces as they could, while they could. The normally peaceful lane to Lanner Mill where the entrance to the wood is sounded more like being beside a busy battlefield. Not just the sound of shotguns either, but a bird scarer got in on the action as well, unless the gun club have started using Howitzers now to take out the poor blundering Pheasants with.  Wouldn't put it past them actually...

A pleasant enough rural scene, but by the sound of it World War Three had broken out and no one had thought to tell me... 

Thankfully, once I'd taken cover in the wood, the trees did a good job of muffling the sound of guns and I could take the white flag off my selfie stick and set about enjoying some peace and quiet. 

The stream running alongside the lower path in Idless Woods near Truro.

The winter so far has been quite mild, and not very wet either - December apparently, saw just 42% of the expected rainfall nationally, but the lowermost path in the wood was surprisingly snotty, with many muddy, boggy, puddles to negotiate. Looking to my right and into the dense wood was, on this grey day, a move full of foreboding. Blimey it was dark in there. All sorts of nasties could be hiding within those shadowy trunks - gert big hairy arsed man eating animals... Zombies... a Camborne man marooned after missing the last bus home even... yikes, now that is scary! Best keep pedaling... 

I did go off piste though briefly to check out the ruins of the old Gunpowder factory.

An odd thing to find in a wood in the middle of nowhere but that was why these explosives factories were sited thus - to limit damage in the event of an accident - the trees would smother the explosion and also the roofs of the buildings were designed to blow off easily, allowing the explosive force an easy and relatively harmless escape route upwards.
The running water meanwhile was used to power huge grinding wheels.

Gunpowder for use in the mines had to be imported into Cornwall at great expense until the early 1800s, when several such factories were established in the county, mostly in wooded river valleys. Charcoal was produced in this wood, but the other main ingredients for Gunpowder - Saltpetre and Sulphur, would have been brought into the county, possibly arriving by boat into what was still then a bustling port in nearby Truro.

There isn't a huge amount to see here, basically what you can see in these photos - the ruins of some small buildings, unlike at other much bigger sites, particularly the Kennal Vale factory near Ponsanooth. 

Gunpowder production in the county lasted for about a hundred years before the increased use of Gelignite and Dynamite saw production end. The actual history of this particular factory has, frustratingly, so far eluded me - more research required!

More info on the works at Kennal Vale can be found Here

By now, the stresses of the sleep disturbed night and the sound of WW3 going ahead had long been forgotten and the bimble was working its theraputic magic as I relaxed into my surroundings, and congratulated myself on having got thus far and still feeling relatively human. But, coffee would have to be infused soon, so having had a good nose around I got back onto the main path and rode down to a favourite spot for a brew up at the edge of the stream, beside some more evidence of some past activity or other. 

 Whatever was here wasn't very big, but I'd still like to know what it was... eh Forestry Commission? A bit more history on your web site page for Idless Woods would be most welcome!

 Whoop whoop! Coffee time!

The Trangia getting a tad excited. I must buy some pointy flamed fuel next time, this flat topped flame meths is nowhere near as pleasing...

 If Beaver lived here, this is the view they'd get.

 And this is the sort of caper they get up to no doubt...

Coffee always tastes so much better when you've had to wait for it! I don't get into all the fermuckle that some folk do when coffeenating outdoors - not for me all the grinding and filtering equipment and all that guff. I prefer the ease of the all in one sachets that can be bought from any supermarket and the like. A coffee snob's worst nightmare, but darned good tasting to me. 

Had the day started earlier, well for me anyway, then I would most likely have then ridden on somewhere else but by now it was gone lunchtime, so I decided to stick around in the wood and have me a poke about up a path I hadn't poked about up before. 

 A couple of random woodland shots above...

 Now these strange sheltery type structures might be responsible for...

the damage to the bark on many of the trees here. It could be the result of animal activity, but there were no signs of tracks, droppings or hair/fur to suggest this is the case.

Unusually, I had trouble getting the old duffer (me) in focus while trying to get some riding shots. Normally it's not an issue, but for some reason, on Saturday, the camera wasn't playing ball. So time for plan B on such occasions, and blur the old boy and focus on something a bit more solid and most importantly, stationary.

The sun even started to come out just to make the day complete, and after a goodly bit of dicking about trying to get a satisfactory ride past photo, I headed home, muddy of bike and trouser, and in need of food now as well as more coffee, but very relaxed and happy. 

Heading home after what turned out to be a very satisfying day despite a dodgy start.

Only 7 miles done, but they were very pleasurable miles indeed, which is as I said some yards back up there at the top of this epic, what it's all about. 

Oh... Saint Drogo, the geezer mentioned in the title... he's the Patron Saint of Coffee and Coffee Houses. Sound chap obviously.


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

First Bimble of the Year in the Bag.

Well, 2017 got underway without much in the way of fanfare as far as I was concerned. I sort of stumbled into it like I do my clothes some mornings, before realising later my jumper is on inside out and I've put both socks on one foot. New Year's Day was a bit of a fuggy one for me, I wasn't really at the races, nor the day after, but yesterday, the third day of this fresh year, I thought it about time I got my first ride under my wheels.

It turned out to be cracking day for it too - beautiful and sunny, and still as a lamppost, but with a chunky frost in evidence along with air as sharp as needles in the lungs when gulping it in up some of the hills.

I do like silhouettes on days like these...

 Look, here's another. The lane at Treworgan on the way to Lanner Mill.

Once out of the village and far enough beyond the main road to no longer hear the traffic, the only noise to be heard came from the wild life and my tyres crackling softly on the gravel, and crunching on the frozen grass or mud up the middle of the road in places. 

I never knowingly go anywhere under dressed, so most of me was lovely and toasty, but my face and fingers were still making the cold air felt, and taking photos became a fumblesome affair as I struggled with the camera and dead feeling pinkies. Half pressing the shutter to get focus was the biggest issue, but the cold wasn't just bothering the flesh, the camera was acting up as well, adding to the fun. Once focused, it wouldn't then release focus after the shutter had been released, and the menus seemed to go haywire as well, flitting from setting to setting or flashing on and off. Back home and all is fine once more, so hopefully it was just the cold making mischief in the works rather than another Canon about to terminally call it quits.

Frozen fingers didn't help when descending the hill towards Lanner Mill either, as speed down there is unwise to say the least, but I was also wary of hitting any frozen damp patches while hard on the brakes all the way down. I'd passed plenty of frozen puddles and damp bits for unplanned skidding and crashing to be a real possibility, and I try to avoid that kind of thing if I can, plus I'd given my stunt double the day off, so care taking was the order of the day.

Climbing the swinish hill up out of Lanner Mill. A good place to stop for a rest  A nice spot for a photograph, featuring as it does, this attractive old barn/store.

More care was needed regarding that low sun too with regard to meeting the occasional motor vehicle. I always seemed to meet something that was travelling fully into the sun, either when driving towards me or coming up behind me, and I'm wary of how little the driver can see of an old bloke on a bike in such conditions, so as soon as I heard something I pulled right in and let them pass.

For some reason I always struggle for photographic inspiration around this particular loop, and yesterday was no exception, in fact, with the low but bright sun and dark shadows making for heaps of exposure befuddling contrast, it wasn't just my photographic eye that was struggling. That sun also made riding uncomfortable at times too, as it strobed away into one eye or the other depending on what direction my nose was pointing.

I've made a deal with the Devil Dodgers - If they don't knock on my door to tell all about their particular religious flavour, then I won't go knocking on theirs, so this is as close as I generally get to churches. I stay outside on neutral ground lest I get struck down by a lightning bolt or similar.
But this church, the parish church of St Allen, is a fine example of the type it has to be said.

 Always an untidy, messy lane this one, but yesterday the mud up the middle was thrillingly crunchy as the tyres broke the frozen crust.

A barn undergoing renovation at Ventonleague while out of shot to the left, a whole new building is going up. I just hope it fits in well with the surroundings and isn't some architect's glass and concrete fetish made real.

Apparently the result of air bubbles - some milky, some clear - in the ice as it formed, the patterns to be found on frozen puddles can be quite striking. Redness is the reflection of my jacket. 

All of which sounds like a lot of moaning, but in fact it was another enjoyable enough ride, full of solitude and fresh, invigorating, runny nose making, air, and I will never complain about that. 

These maps aren't the most detailed or interesting, but there we go. 7.9 miles was the journey, at a bimbleiferous 7.0 mph average.


Monday, 2 January 2017

A Year of Fatbikery.

Well just a few days over a year actually, but t'was December 2015 that I entered the world of Fatbiking when Fatso, my On One Fatty arrived. So with  a year(ish) and 825 miles that have surrendered beneath Fatso's pummeling tyres, I think it's time to have a look and see how we got on.

Fatso basking in the sun on Perranporth Beach. 

First up, I bought the Fatty without ever having ridden a Fatbike, so it was a bit of a gamble it must be said. But I'd read enough about them, and thought long and hard about my riding and how well suited (or not) those Doughnut tyres might be, to think it worth the risk.

Did it pay off? Woo Yeah! I love riding the Fatty! It is certainly different to other bikes, but you soon get used to the less lively (wobbly? Tippy?) ride and instead revel in the stability, traction and comfort that is found in abundance. This thing feels invincible! Where the narrower tyres of my Voodoo for example would get pushed around by roots or rocks, or slip and slide, or just spin out in some mud, Fatso just chunters on, flattening all in his path seemingly, and with grip to climb the side of a house. I have found though that wet and sloppy mud is best tackled slowly and under power. Hitting it at speed does see the tyres float and skate about, which in a straight line is huge fun, feeling the tyres moving about beneath you as the rear decides it doesn't want to follow the front for a bit. Not so hot possibly on a bend.

For a slow bimbler like me, all this adds up to being ideal. I like to potter along on Bridleways and in the woods, and so don't carry much momentum into obstacles, but those tyres and the stability make things easy. I've fallen off the Voodoo a couple of times at low speed, both times as a result of losing balance when getting tipped by a lump or in one case, a root. I've yet to fall off Fatso, I expect it will happen, it's not actually invincible, but by heck it doesn't half give confidence.

One downside is when switching to the Voodoo - I nearly always feel like I'm about to tip over at the junction at the end of my road, just because on Fatso, it feels far more solid and stable.

My neighbour Craig, laughed when I first told him I'd gone Fat, but after seeing how it rode around a local woodland mountain biking trail (Cardinham) he decided he had to have one too, and got himself a Specialized Fatboy. He then persuaded a roadie mate of his to get one as well (a roadie who had never previously ridden a mountain bike...) and the pair of them now go each week to Cardinham and hoon as hard as they can around the twisting, diving, lumpy woodland trail. They can ride a lot harder than I can with my bad back, but even now, six months or so later, they still go round grinning and laughing out loud at the liberties they can take thanks to those big fat tyres. Fatbikes are an absolute hoot, no question!

 Fatso on the left, Craig on his Specialized Fatboy on the right. 

 You need a big van to transport these things around...

Fat attack on the trail. These bikes are simply massive fun anywhere.

I've ridden Fatso on and off road, and for me, there are no downsides to fatriding. Sure there's more drag from the tyres compared to some road bike missile, but so what? If you want to go fast then a roadbike is what you ride. Take a fatbike, adjust your expectations accordingly, and enjoy! Anyway, these bikes are not half as draggy as they look like they'll be. My average speeds around my usual local loops are no different to on my other bikes, and I don't seem to be putting in any extra effort.

The biggest downside to Fatbike ownership by far is the attention you get. I'm someone that generally likes to go about without drawing attention to myself, and the Fatty is not the best choice for the shy and retiring by a long way. Buy one and you'd better get used to people staring and also endless questions about how what and why etc. Go for a ride with another Fatbike and the impact on the unsuspecting public is doubled! Riding with Craig on his Fatboy really can get embarrassing as people wonder what these two rasping, thundering bikes are.

Buy a Fatbike and you'd better get used to this sort of reaction, 'cos you're going to be seeing it a lot...

Oh yes, tyre noise... embrace the rasp! Boy do the tyres make some noise on tarmac, ("Like a flipping Land Rover" - Craig) but again, who cares, it's all part of the fun and character of the bike, and believe me, Fatbikes are full of character.

Anything else... oh yes, if you do go Fat, fit some mudguards or get used to wearing lots of grolly. Those tyres fling slop around with great enthusiasm - up your back, in your face, up your chest and over your shoes. Fun to be had though when riding beside a non Fat biking mate through puddles - move in close and give him a soaking from the Fatbike's wake!

So, those are my overall thoughts on my first year of Fattery. I might buy other bikes in the future - I also like the look of some 27.5 plussers, but I don't think I could go without having a Fatbike in my motive power depot now, and if I had to keep just one of my current bikes it's not a contest, it's easily Fatso.

So now we'll have a look at how the bike has fared in the first year with a few photos of some Fatty Beausage...

Well things could've got off to a very rocky start, as the bike dropped its chain on my very first ride and in getting jammed up, took gert lumps off the chainstay paint. But I was having too much fun and I took this ugly incident surprisingly philosophically for me. By then, even on the maiden outing, I'd already realised this bike was going to be a keeper, and a long term one at that, and it didn't spoil the fun I was having.

Now this is an ugly scar. From whence it came I just don't know, but some touch up paint is required for the top of the right fork leg here I think.

Cable rub on the fork top. Now I could get some of that clear tape to protect the frame, but for some weird reason, such marks now don't bother me, rather they add character... Hmmm... looks all wrong written down, but that's how I feel. Battle scars are just part and parcel of riding a mountain bike, so wear 'em with pride! Something like that anyway...

Heel rub on the seat stay - see above for my thoughts on such blemishes...

The black cranks have held up well, just light scuffing to the finish. Some bikes with mega money crankery fitted look far worse than this after just a couple of rides.

Don't believe these folk that say Fatbikes are draggy and have serious rolling resistance issues. Oh no. Quite the opposite! Try parking a fatbike by leaning it against something and you'll find it takes several goes to get the bike comfortable and settled, those wheels just want to keep rollin'. So the bar ends get scuffs a plenty - big deal! As for the bar ends themselves, yes they are as fashionable these days as flared jeans and Mullet hair cuts, but I find 'em great when slogging up hills or along long flat straights. They're also handy for hanging one's hat on when it gets hot, or one's shopping bags perhaps.

Sram X5 is pretty low down in the ranking of their gear I think, t'is cheap stuff, but so far I've had no issues at all (other than the one dropped chain incident - it hasn't done it since) and no adjustments have been needed. 2 x 10 is a must for my weak legs and the gert big hills round these here parts. Chain is still fine too, well within wear limits, after just over 800 miles.

The Avid brakes come in for some criticism from some owners, but I've not had any issues with them. They don't have the over the bars bite of some discs, but are powerful and progressive enough for my needs. The original pads were changed at 690 miles though, front and back, as they were utterly hooperchooped. They had seen plenty of mud and gribble though. I replaced 'em with Clarks pads... yes the super cheap jobs, and so far I'm pleased with their performance, no worse than the originals certainly in performance - bargain!

Standard 760mm El Guapo Wotsit bars are superbly comfortable for me, the perfect width and rise. I've since fitted another pair to the Voodoo which has sorted the shoulder pain I was getting on that bike. Handlebar Spider is a factory install I believe, much like the wing mirror spiders on cars these days.

Ah... now here's an issue for sure. The On One Floater tyres are perfectly good enough in my book, they seem to have plenty of traction available, aren't especially draggy, and (touches wood... prays to the puncture fairies...) I've yet to get a puncture. But... firstly the rear in particular is wearing quite rapidly... that's the sort of tyre wear that would make a Suzuki Hayabusa owner laugh... But that isn't the real issue. No. Seating the darned things on the rim is what really rips my knitting, it's a first prize ball ache. The bike arrived with a flat front tyre, and a slightly out of round rear. It took many goes with soap, washing up liquid and much pumping of air to get them seated to an acceptable level, and they're still not 100% perfect even now.  I'd swap the tyres over to even the wear but so far have bottled out of tangling with all that hassle again... it can wait until I've worn the rear down to the canvas... Beggar that for a laugh. Good tyres otherwise though, and most importantly, they aren't silly money like some fat tyres.

Overall then, I just love riding the Fatty, as I think I might have said earlier... A lot of folk dismiss Fatbikes as being for snow and sand only (Rubbish! Tripe! Untruths! Throw fruit at these people...) and claim they are clowns bikes that drag along the road as if their tyres are made of velcro. If they've ridden one and not liked it, fair enough, but a lot of the critics online plainly haven't, as they spout utter rubbish, and that ain't right. So if you're fat curious, as I was, blag a ride on one or just go for it anyway, take a punt, and enjoy the ride - they are huge fun!

Where the fun lives. If you like your cycling really grin flavoured, you need some of these in your life.