Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Final Countdown to the Tour Aotearoa

Natural beauty in abundance on a recent shakedown ride
In less than 10 days, a rag-tag group of bike packers will converge on Cape Reinga with a single goal in mind; to eat sleep and ride their way to Bluff. The route is a spawn of Jonathan Kennett’s work on the NZ Cycle Trails, taking in the scenic highlights as it winds its way from north to deep-south.

When the idea was first mooted I was always going to be a starter and now with the ride imminent my excitement has reached fever pitch. While final preparations have had the pleasant distraction of a new baby Maxwell, I’ve managed to stick loosely to my plan and pull everything together physically, mentally and gear wise with a few days to spare. We’ve actually been blessed with Max’s 3-4 hour night sleep cycle, but the 6 hour minimum stipulated for the Tour Aotearoa will luxurious by comparison!

BLAAT (Bike leaning against a tree)
My bike setup has seen some incremental improvements from the steed used in shorter rides such as the Big Hurt and Cloudride here in Australia. Some lightweight carbon aerobars have dropped half a kg of weight, and coupled with curvy Carver MyTi bars give a range of hand positions to keep tingly fingers to a minimum. A refined K-lite dynamo system will allow me to choose between possum dazzling illumination or USB charging at the flick of a stem mounted switch.

What the wind gets to see
For tires I’ve gone with sketchy/fast Maxxis Tread Lites, and I replaced some aging XT brakes and cranks with some shiny XTR stuff which will probably only be shiny for the first few days.
Newcastle’s Bike bag dude has sewn up some uber-light bags including the maiden ‘fast’ ride for a cavernous frame bag, allowing me to run a huge bladder in lieu of bottles.

What I get to see
My trusty Rohloff internally geared hub remains with my years of trying to kill it leaving no scars, while the Ground Effect clothing including cat/dog proof Anti-Cyclone and Exocet shorts wee always going to be first on my packing list.

Having been through the motions of a ride like this a few times, my mental state has been relatively withdrawn, and only now as I pore of cue sheets and ambitious daily itineraries does the enormity of the task at hand sink in. While I’ve got some of the best form in recent memory over short distances, I’m very much relying that I’ll settle into the old groove of long days in the saddle.

A unique challenge of the route is the requirement to string together a number of ambitious distance goals early in the ride, and only if all goes to plan will we be able to make the ferry sailings. Packrafting could be a backup option but my kayak weighs more than my bike and gear combined so I’m planning to  take my chances with the ferry!

Pack rafting - not really an option for the Tour Aotearoa
To see how it all pans out keep an eye out on Instagram @whalleyollie where I’ll endeavor to make regular posts, and you can track the adventure at

Monday, February 16, 2015

A USB Charge Chocolate Factory

Cockpit setup showing USB charger (silver), switch unit, light (Gold) and GPS.
Coles deli Kransky in Bike Bag Dude chaff bag is an optional extra.
As some of you may be aware, I've been running K-lite dynamo charge and lighting system for 2 years now, and after a number of refinements the system is now dialed enough that I feel the world should know about its awesomeness, largely because it makes endless riding possible. If only humans didn't need sleep and food. Lots of food.

One of the foods I enjoy is chocolate, and for the purposes of this post, let's imagine the system as a chocolate factory, only staffed by one Ollie rather than an army of Oompa Loompas.

The options are endless and Kerry is always willing to indulge your desires, but this is the simple and sturdy setup which I've arrived at which suits my needs to tee.

SP Dynamo hub
The chocolate heating boiler of the system is the proven SP Dynamo hub, sucking out a measly 3 watts and delivering AC power (melted chocolate) in spades. While light as a feather and world leading in efficiency, the hubs don't have replaceable bearings without a trip home to the factory. This means that when they finally do go, you'll need to rebuild a wheel. For me this is not a huge deal given my rim will likely be trashed at that stage due to frequent over the bars (OTB) excursions.

A chocolate transmitting pipe in the form of a wire runs up your fork leg and connects to the molten chocolate diverting switch box which allows you to choose lighting, USB charge or neither. A plug at the hub allows for easy wheel removal. This switch delivers chocolate (electricity) to wherever you desire.

Dynamo wire coming up from the hub
Sitting on my topcap is a Sinewave Reactor, the brains of the system which takes the wildly varying flow of chocolate from the hub and makes a nice steady USB output (like a Toblerone) which will charge your phone, GPS, a backup battery or even a desktop missile launcher -a bikepacking essential!

Through some Kiwi ingenuity, Kerry managed to integrate the reactor with the switch, making for a very tidy setup which means that no wires need to come up through the crown and up the bottom of the steerer tube. Solid crown carbon fork owners rejoice!
Choose lights or USB function with this stem located switch. All wires pass outside the steerer.
After some difficulty finding a reliable buffer battery, I've ended up doing without and have found that the smooth output from the Reactor is sufficient. If the incessant 'External Power Lost' screen on my Garmin becomes too much, I simply switch the charger off and wait till my speed is up again.

Using an out-front Garmin mount, I can get my Edge 800 GPS positioned well clear of the charger, and with a stubby USB cord I can get the current were it needs to be. Excess cord is simply taped to the stem.

If I throw the switch the other way, the USB goes off and chocolate is transformed into a chocolaty sun-like spray of 1100 lumens of glorious LED light, which often sends kangaroos scampering. Having this much light on tap is fantastic especially during the late hours of the night when sleep monsters begin their reign of terror.
Chocolaty lumens galore form the bar mounted light
Kangaroos, wombats and sleep monsters all fear the 1100 lumen chocolaty mist
A small cylindrical rectifier is all that is required for my single level setup (stored in my frame bag), but standlites and dimming switches can be added to give you the ultimate in lighting control. If the trail heads upwards and my fatigued legs can't muster more than the 7 km/h which the system starts to flicker at, I just switch the light off and rely on my helmet light. Switching it back on when the trail turns downhill.

Running the system whilst on the trail is far from a chore, if anything it is a welcome relief during sections of dull trail. Provided you keep the GPS sufficiently charged, there really is nothing to told you back from endless riding.

Keeping your GPS charged avoids scenes like this
Now if only Kerry could get the system to make chocolate...


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Blackheath to Campbelltown with two bikepacking noobs

Jamie and Scott take in some natural beauty
There is nothing like sharing your passion with other like minded people, and this past weekend I had a chance to indulge in a weekend of riding in the Blue Mountains with some buddies who were bikepacking virgins. For Scott and Jamie it would be their first attempt at the pursuit. As kiwis on the wrong side of the ditch, they were eager to push the boat out and see a new part of their Australian home. 

Scott or 'Diesel' as he is known for his tendency to chug along at a solid if not remarkable pace, could call upon experience in adventure racing including the sketchy early days of the Southern Traverse. Recently a family of three girls has limited his riding time so the weekend's ride was a nice chance to escape and feel the burn that only a long day in the saddle can bring. 

Scott acquaints himself with one of the joys of bikepacking: Gluttony
Jamie is a quintessential kiwi gadabout having climbed many mountains (literally) in NZ and abroad. Both had never strapped bags to their bikes and headed for the hills, but the weekend was a chance to rectify this oversight.

Jamie gets amongst the lunch spread
In what was possibly the most prepared I've ever been for a ride, the duo turned up on a Wednesday night, borrowing Heidi's Bike Bag Dude gear and the Freeload rack usually reserved for grocery duties amongst other items. They set about halving their gear, then halving it again to take their best stab at the comfort/exertion balance which defines every attempt at packing. I knew they were getting the hang of it when Scott asked if we were going to share chamois cream, before I suggested that this was perhaps a step too far.

One incongruity which became immediately apparent was our respective definitions of self sufficiency. At one end was my hard line view that each person should carry the stuff they needed to survive by themselves, a race hardened approach. Scott and Jamie on the other hand came from the care-bear school of sharing and caring, and my attitude softened particularly at the end of the day when I could offer some boiling water from my Kovea in exchange for a hearty serve of hot chocolate. Definitely a win-win.

Wednesday night packing herald new levels of organisation!
Boarding a Friday night train bound for Blackheath, we grabbed a pub-meal and rolled down to our accommodation for the night. Half expecting to be bivvying in a bunker on the golf course, Jamie had organised an exceptional hookup with his work colleagues' parents playing host in their beautiful home. The hospitality even extended to a cooked breakfast, and in telling them the definition of a trail angel (the bikepackers best friend), I needed to only point to our two gracious hosts.

Blackheath's very own trail angels
It was with heavy stomachs that we left their home for the blast down to the six foot track. The smooth tar seal of the appropriately named Megalong Valley gave way to the roots and rocks of the trail, an entertaining mix of singletrack left ruffled by recent rains. The bumps served as an excellent test of gear stability, and after tightening straps and adjusting for the tractor like handling of a laden bike, we continued on to Cox's River.
When I'd been across this waterway before it had been by wading through the river, but to up the ante we decided to traverse the swing bridge usually reserved for high waters. Floppier than a damp pancake, we wobbled and heaved our bikes across swearing to never do it again.

Scott hefts his steed across Cox's River
What followed was a pinchy climb up the six foot track. Once a year this becomes crowded with runners who tackle its 42 km length, and it was apparent from the dribs and drabs of runners making their way through that the toughness of the course required practice. We were all a bit baffled about how such a dull route generated such excitement, but as we grinded our bikes upwards the only thoughts we could muster revolved around reaching the ridge. Fortunately it came and after a delightful roll down a swooping and switchbacked road, we made it Jenolan Caves for a zoo consisting of tourist buses and pre-teen longboarders intent on capturing the next viral You tube edit of their 'mad skills'.

Sifting at Jenolan caves
After a lunch feast, we tackled the savage climb from Jenolan to Oberon, ascending some 600m in 5km, it required liberal use of granny gear to reach the satisfying summit. A long stretch of forest road and a drenching from a passing shower followed, and it was at this point that the enormity of the ride started to dawn on us. 

Not accustomed to many hours on his skimpy XC seat, Jamie butt was loudly protesting, while Scott's self proclaimed sprinter's legs still felt the wrath of the Jenolan climb. 
This log was more comfortable than his saddle
To make matters worse, a random unidentified object robbed the air from Scott's rear tire, but this stoppage served as an opportunity for Jamie to indulge in a well earned nap.

Scott tends to his puncture
Once back rolling the rain cleared and we plodded on, a fire road detour took us down a gnarly path to a creek, with the resulting hike back up a nice changed for tweaked quads. 

Some gnarl late in the day
Finally making it Werong camp 110km in, we chose to camp for the night. A wise decision given that the ominous clouds chose to drop their load just as dark settled. After a dinner of dehydrated deliciousness, we went to bed dry and warm in our concrete shelter.

Mt Werong - our dry oasis
Morning dawned and after promises of a rapid departure evaporated, we eventually rolled out into the cool haze of the morning. What followed on the road to Yerranderie was one of the highlights, a smooth ridegtop road with perfectly rollable vertical curves that egged you to pedal the downs, with the reward of coasting across the tops. The 45km to the ghost town of Yerranderie passed in a flash, and while we didn't explore in depth, we were in wonder at the audacity of trying to build a town in a place so remote.

All smiles at Yerranderie
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, and while it was light on singletrack there was no shortage of breathtaking views and smooth roads. With a faffing to riding ratio drastically reduced compared with the first day, Jamie and Scott were clearly adapting to the game.

On reaching our destination, it was a great pleasure to introduce them to the joys of ice cream, chocloate milk, Coke and schinitzel burgers in that order. While after a long day of riding the mental will was there, some stomach contraction made consumption of this feast difficult and resulted in a short nap being taken on the grass of the village green.

Post burger grass angels
A final tar seal pedal to Campbelltown and the adventure was over. Happy to be sitting on padded train seats we were treated to a largely empty carriage, no doubt due to the accumulated stench of two days riding. Scott and Jamie were tired  but fizzing by the end of the ride, and hopefully they'll be keen for more adventures after memories of minor suffering have faded. They certainly made for great riding companions if only because we could relax and use the proper English which New Zealanders prefer (bro, cuz and eh were frequently heard). It was great to share the joys and agonies of a proper long ride with Soctt and Jamie and I sincerely hope it will be the first of many!

Stinky but smiling on the train home form Campbelltown

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rohloff XL Brings New Levels of Phatness

Ollie on a headland 
Fat bikes have squashed a path through the biking world even wider than the fluro-shorted bandits of Enduro. These trending, bulbous tired beasts caught some by surprise and left even more perplexed. The appeal of a heavier, slower more cumbersome bike is hard to explain, but one short ride (link) was all I needed to get bitten by the fat biking bug.  With supreme traction, momentum and the ability to ride crazy terrain (like a sandy beach or straight up a set of 10 stairs) they offer a level of off trail adventure which is unparalleled.

Testing the easy range of the 'hoff up a steep pinch
I was a reasonably slow adopter, taking possession of my On-one Fatty more than a year ago. In a short time I reduced the Shimano XT drivetrain to a shadow of its former self. Floppy pivots and a flogged chain meant chain suck began as soon as the mix of sand and water reached sub-optimum, which was pretty much anytime I went riding on a beach. So while 5 p.s.i  100mm wide tires lapped up the sand,  the failure of the drivetrain to impart forward impetus meant I could only pedal when sand conditions were perfect, severely limiting my fat bike enjoyment.

Sandy serenity
The obvious solution to this is to run a single speed-un appealing given the low range required, or ideally an internally geared hub, which till a few months ago was as rare as unicorn tears. As a long time user of the Rohloff hub for off-road riding, I dropped a line to the wizards in Germany and encouraged them to develop something appropriately bomb proof, but they didn’t let on that something was already in development.

Rohloff XL pre wheel build
So fat, it doesn't fit in the photo frame
Imagine my surprise then when the truly monstrous Rohloff XL was announced in 170mm spacing which would drop right into my Fatty. Through some exceptional fortune my offer of testing services was accepted and after a protracted wheel build I was rolling and ready for an ill-fated Snowy Mountains adventure.

Since the Snowys,  the hub has started to bed in, and I’ve taken it on some great sandy adventures where the ability to just pedal without fear of drivetrain disobedience has cranked up the fun factor.  Most recently I headed out with Brad and Chad  of Hurt fame, to map a route from Woy Woy to Newcastle for their new Fat Hurt route.
Brad tells us a story
Fat riders on the roll
Organ rattling stairs
Fat bikes even go okay in the forest
While slippery rooty descents and kidney rattling stairs made for interesting trail obstacles, it was the sandy shore where the hub really shone. Running a 34 tooth sprocket with a 17 tooth cog, I had a nice low ratio which meant I could churn through the sand with relative ease.

Where the magic happens
A common complaint against the Rohloff is the heft, but in the fat bike application where a single tube can weigh as much as an entire 29er wheelset, the increase in weight is barely noticeable and it never ceases to amaze me how it positively responds to poorly timed shifts.  

Chad and Ollie discuss tire pressures while awaiting beach rider's preferred fuel; fush and chups
As for durability, Chad who we rode with towards Newcastle is running a Rohloff on his Surly Moonlander, and if the state of his frame is anything to go by it hasn’t seen a great deal of love. His favored riding shoes are jandals (or pluggers), and the reason for this is obvious when you see Chad huffy toss his bike into the sea to circumvent an untraversable waterway. Rust pinholes and a hobo-chic patina on the frame have me fearing for the steel frame’s life, but the Rohloff just keeps on ticking.

I only hope to be able to log enough adventures on my hub to do the supreme durability justice, and given Australia’s proliferation of sand I’m probably in the right place!

Thanks to Brad for the photos!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Hiking: Not that bad.

Ollie points a stick at a waterfall.
With Heidi and my holiday stars aligning, we chose to indulge in a two day adventure to explore somewhere new around our Australian home.  More than ever before, the deliberation over where to adventure dragged on, with the process a journey in itself.

After 4 years of adventuring together, Heidi has grown weary of missions which I hastily label as easy, and after experiencing a joyous weekend of hiking with some girlfriends a few months back, she had a hankering for some more type-1 fun adventure. These consist of only pleasurable activities with no excessive exertion, at odds with the type-2 fun plagued by difficulty, risk and pain which I tend to favour.

Acknowledging the need for a compromise, I embraced the concept of type-1 fun and we set about plotting our weekend plans. As the days ticked down we considered bike touring from Bathurst, an off road bike pack along the 6 foot track to Jenolan caves, and even a last minute flight to Cairns, Alice Springs or Darwin.

Carrying some bruised knees from  a particularly enduro huck to rock (enduro because I was wearing a colourful top), the prospect of slogging up or down hills with a heavy pack didn’t hold as much appeal as a ride, but the absence of a route with type-1 friendly distances meant it was a hike or a weekend of housebound misery.

Our last minute decision to walk from Blackheath to Acacia Flat meant we didn’t get a chance to print the route instructions, but backups on a phone and GPS meant we could find the route if we became geographically misplaced.

Heidi begins the adventure at the Mosman ferry terminal
A pleasant ferry and train journey and we were off on our merry way, descending from Evan’s Lookdown into the cool humidity of the gully below, so enthralled by the moss covered scenes that we bowled right past the turnoff to Acacia Flat.

Historic hand hewn steps through the canyon
Trundling on, we gaped at the chasms of the Blue Mountain’s very own grand canyon, which was just like the real one only much smaller. Waterfalls over the track made for refreshing stops, while off to the side of the tracks we saw speleological enthusiasts lowering themselves into the dark caverns below.

Ollie ponders the steps ahead
It wasn’t until we’d hiked out the other side of the canyon that we realized we’d erred, the GPS failing to get a signal through the narrow canyon opening, and signage proving sparser than we’d hoped.

Backtracking, we accepted that we’d get to know the canyon just a little bit better, and on reaching the turnoff we kicked ourselves for having hastily passed the obscured signs.

Descending down washed out tracks, the route took on the feel of a gnarled bush trail, with rock clambering and tree swinging making for pleasant relief on my weak cyclist’s knees.

Reaching the river flat Heidi spied a lyrebird, and adding this to the snakes and lizards which we’d already seen, our critter count was racking up.

A staunch lizard suns itself
A final stroll along the flat took us two a beautiful campsite where we set up a stove and set about indulging our favourite hiking sin; gluttony.

The post dinner feast view 
Sleep came easily and in the morning we did the reverse, branching off at junction rock for a long climb back to Govett’s leap. While both of us were initially stiff, the heat of the day saw limbs loosened up, and only when fatigue set in on the long drag along Pope’s Glen Walk to Blackheath did the spring in our step become saggy.

Some serious stair action made ascending the cliff a doddle
Dragging weary limbs onto the platform at Blackheath, we inhaled the remainder of our food and contemplated our failed efforts at a type-1 weekend.  Despite our best efforts we’d been lost and got sore, which is how a good type-2 adventure usually ends up anyway. 

Views to suffer for
While I was immediately satisfied, it took a week of recovery and some hilarious stiff legged hobbling around the house before Heidi could reflect on the adventure in a positive light. We’d experienced a beautiful part of the world and far from discouraging our pursuit of type-1 fun, we’ve started a list so that when the next opportunity arises we’ll have some options ready to roll (or stroll)!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Adventures don’t have to make sense

The view from Bullock's hut
It dawned on my during a particularly rough patch of hike-a-bike on last weekend’s trip to the Snowy Mountains that adventures don’t need to make rational sense. In fact, the opposite is often true.

Leaving Sydney with my good friend Ross at 6PM, we stopped only to fuel up on double-meat meatball subs. Having not driven at highway speed for some time, least of all at night, the journey was a rush. Thankfully Ross took the wheel of his Subaru and he weaved his way through herds of wombats on the final stretch to Lake Crackenback.

We proceeded to fumble around on the dark trails searching for Bullock’s hut, located at a GPS waypoint I’d marked in a high rise building in Sydney, a world away. Fortunately it turned out to be where the internet had told us, and even more fortunately the historic hut was unlocked, providing warm haven away from the frosty mountain air which was settling outside.

This is what night looks like after six hours of bleary eyed Friday evening driving to a place we’d never been. This was adventure.

Curling up in our fart sacks staring up at the wooden ceiling, we went to bed by putting the uncertainty of the journey ahead on hold, knowing that whatever the mountains would throw at us, we could only do our best.

On waking in the morning, my excitement at opening the green wooden door to reveal the vista we’d arrived at sight unseen was palpable. The thin strips of morning sun outlining the door gave way to a beautiful scene that made our seemingly irrational toils to get to the mountains worthwhile.

Waking up to this was adventure.
The bridge where our journey began
My ill-conceived plan, which rivaled even Michi Speck's for sheer half-bakedness, was to bash our way up and over a ridge, crossing from the Thredbo to Perisher Valleys. We’d then link up with some of the cross country skiing trails and head for the geographically misplaced Seaman’s hut past Charlotte’s pass, and deep within the Mt Kosciusko Park.

Ross, who should take no responsibility for the trailless gong-show which ensued, had decided to join in. We’d brought our fat bikes in a last ditch attempt to ride the snow before a spring induced phase change took it on its own adventure to the Pacific Ocean.  The internet tells us that fat bikes are perfectly capable for riding on snow, and after only experiencing sand and trail we were keen to verify these far-fetched claims.

Ross readies his bike of fatness
The adventure began with a sneaky crossing of the rail bridge, following the Ski Tube line up to its tunnel portal, then entering the jungle on the bank above. My limited planning had involved scoping the route online; revealing a 3 km straight line to the trails which I was confident we could knock off in an hour. How wrong I was.

Our ill fated journey
What began as an ironic laugh inducing carry through knee high scrub, become a nightmarish thicket of woods which could only be penetrated through a combination of branch snapping, clambering and profanity.

Beer and skittles to start

Before the proper carry ensued...
After 3 hours and less than 500m progress, upside-down frowns became inverted.
The carrying techniques we adopted certainly wouldn’t be found on internet cycle tip websites, dragging and throwing our fat tired steeds with little regard for paint finish nor hydraulic hose integrity. I’d opted to stash gear in a back pack, which proved to be less cumbersome than Ross’s bike-packed Moonlander. On offering assistance it was apparent that his steed weighed at least one million moon units. Navigating the bush with these bikes was equal in awkwardness to carrying a fine Elizabethan era chest of draws around an army assault course.

Battered and bruised by the ordeal, we sat on a tangle of twigs in a rare clearing and dug into our rations. We’d learnt the hard way that up to 1800m elevation, Australia’s mountains are without the alpine scrub which can be a saving grace in New Zealand. With no clear terrain to measure our progress, and only the recurring nightmare ahead, we made the decision to cut our losses and return to the valley.

While defeated, the prospect of leaving the hellish bush buoyed us, and retracing our GPS track we wrestled and tossed our bikes down the slope, using the slopes distance advantage to full effect. In forty minutes we were back at the tunnel portal and ecstatic, not even a flat tire could deflate the joy of return to the known and comfortable realm of ridable trail. We’d had an adventure.

Ross restores positive inflation
On return to Bullock’s Hut we found a network of smooth trails which while lame under normal circumstances, became a heavenly ribbon of single track; a metaphorical ice-pack for our bush bruised egos. 

No Segways = Hardcore

Jumping back in the Subaru we drove the road to Perisher and scampered up at the first snowy slope we could find. At this late stage of the day there  only slush remained and any attempts to control direction or speed were met with a face full of snow, which was hilarious (at least for those watching). Turns out that you need crisp early morning snow to make any kind of progress on fat bikes.

Ross eats a snow sandwhich
Slushy snow proved super sketchy
For two seconds,Ollie keeps the rubber down
Looking on the bright side, the cool snow was a literal salve for out stick battered shins, and with the drive to the lacklustresw we’d saved ourselves the disappointment of slaving up a mountain with no reward.

Lying awake waiting for sleep back at Bullock’s Hut that evening, I contemplated the nature of our adventure, and how despite being dealt an embarrassing lesson by Mother Nature, I was filled with a warm contentment. We’d failed to complete the route we’d planned, and failed to ride properly on snow. But we were still out there trying something new, some of it that no one else would have done before, and this I feel is the essence of a good adventure.