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.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Ups and Downs at the Dirty 600

Sunrise over Cessnock - Reason enough to get involved
With the tingly fingers and blackened toenails from April’s Cloudride finally subsiding, the itch had returned and I was well overdue for another bikepacking adventure, if only to break the daily monotony of a blustery Sydney existence.

Since moving from New Zealand to Australia two years ago, I’ve been raving to boyhood chum Tristan about the great bikepacking on offer, particularly in New South Wale’s Hunter Valley. When a gap in his hectic native bird-rescuing schedule opened up, some cheap trans Tasman airfares sealed the deal and he was on a plane bound for Sydney, with adventure bound to ensue.

Elated post-ride Tristan
We’d grown up riding and racing together in Nelson and were pretty good mates, but our bromance was afflicted by the tyranny of distance so more than anything else I was looking forward to spending a good few days catching up with Tristan.  In the past our rides together ended inevitably with broken bikes, scraped knees and the dull lactic pain that can only come from repeated full noise sprints.

With the belly of my own life and work swelling with busyness, riding has taken a stoker seat so I was bracing for some old fashioned punishment at the legs of Tristan. He was coming off a holiday at the Alaskan Singlespeed/debauchery World Championships then a tonne of riding in the Canadian Rockies, so his usual ferocious pace would be even more so.

Tristan arrived on a Friday afternoon to the same weather which had been dampening Sydney for weeks, frequent soggy downpours and a cool blustery breeze that made the prospect of four days in the wilderness less than attractive.  Up till this point we’d decided to ride the infamous Big Hurt, a 750km bikepacking loop heavy with bike carry and leeches. The sheer physical and mental misery I’d been through riding the course last year had forced me to revaluate my passion for bikepacking. But as always seems to happen, the memories faded and when we were running through ride ideas the Hurt came out on top. Laden with single track, the course would have taken us through some remote and critter heavy parts of NSW for Tristan’s first Australian wilderness experience.

Fortunately we reconsidered our position. Thoughts of slick leaf litter laden slopes where one step forward would have resulted in two back (not to mention falling on ones face) steered us towards a less extreme option. As luck would have it, the Hunter’s very own GPX Gandalf (Brad Mertens) had wizzarded up a worthy loop called the Dirty 600, six hundred odd kilometres of road and singletrack which avoided the hike-a-bike that had earned the Hurt its fearsome reputation. 

Brad Mertens in 10 years
Loading the files onto our Garmins the night before, we added some last minute revisions to divert around an irate farmer, and were all set for our adventure.

All aboard the train and ready for adventure!
One of the great things about riding in the Hunter is that so much of it is accessible by train, except when the train breaks down and forces one to stand in the rain waiting for a replacement. About an hour from our destination Morissett, we contemplated the ride but were not keen to say goodbye to the relative warmth and dryness of the train and station too early. Fortunately the wait was short and before we knew it we were rolling out on the course, Gandalf himself coming all the way from Middle-Wangi to show us the way to Coorangbong.

It begins... (Day 1)
Starting with a gentle road climb into the Watagans (which by the third time, some 560 kilometres into the ride, would became the Notagains) the sunshine which had blessed the start of our ride gave way to a misty vapour that forced us to pedal harder and don my Anti-cyclone. This first part of the ride was punctuated by climbs followed by short descents, forming undulating ridge roads which set the rhythm for the rest of the ride. Dropping down into Wyong it was sunny again and joining the trail up to Mangrove Mountain the puddles were ever present. Soon our bikes were slathered in fine particles of clay, a paste which migrated from trail to every part of our body and even via drink bottles into our mouths. Not even the delicious taste of home in the form of an Em’s Power Cookie bar could flush out the gritty sensation.

Rohloff hub cared less about the mud than I did
A welcome stop at the Mangrove Mountain store allowed Tristan to overhear some quintessential Aussie banter, with locals discussing the prospects of weekend festivities, a lingo laiden diatribe that left us in hysterics. Before we could further investigate the culture we were barked out of town by some rowdy blue heelers, a breed Tristan is familiar with as it is the same as his Dusky, the dog made famous in the dusky dog blog.
Who let the dogs out?
Buoyed by the pies and chiko rolls of the stop we rolled through strangely boggy Upper Mangrove and onto the Convict trail, determined to make it Wisemans Ferry before sunset. I’d recalled this section from the Hurt and was overjoyed that I could share it with Tristan, the rocky steps and convict hewn trail becoming increasingly gnarly in the failing light. Boarding the Wiseman’s Ferry in the proper dark, we were carried to the warm bistro across the road, and while the generous portions delighted our hearty bikepacker’s appetites, they failed to comprehend our need for takeaway food, proffering a quiche and cookies in a huge polystyrene containers. Fortunately some spare ziplock bags did the trick, although they didn’t prevent Tristan’s quiche from becoming pureed.

Tristan gets stuck into his dinners at Wisemans ferry

Rolling out to the Upper Colo Campground, we were escorted by Rosco and Gandalf who as instigators of the route were keen to see its effects in person. Tristan and I didn’t have to pretend to be stoked with the trail so far, and as we bivied up to the sound of grunting Koalas and the serene backing track of our fellow camper’s offensively loud dubstep  we were eager to see what else was in store.

Morissett to Upper Colo, 188km, 11 hours, 1707m climbing. Critters of note: Lyrebird, Kookaburra, Koala.

And continues (Day 2) ...
Some minor bathroom related dalliances aside, the second day started smoothly with an invigorating climb to the ridge then more undulating roads and a descent to the Hawkesbury River.
Probably the dullest part of the route, the proceeding rolling roads swayed back and forwards up the valley past picturesque cows, churches, spitting us out at the historic St. Albans pub. 

Large servings in St. Albans bring bikepackers all the way from NZ
A breakfast of epic proportions ensued, with bacon, eggs and man sized toast doused in enough butter to lube our screeching chains. While we’d missed the lamb shanks of the previous night the breakfast was more than fitting of the day ahead. More mellow rolling roads took us up into the hills behind Wollombi, with motivation starting to wane we hit a gnarly descent that got the stoke going.

Dubious water source which may have caused digestive malfunction
The Dirty 600 was not without its own Hurt-like idiosyncrasies, with Brad throwing in a ‘for shits and giggles’ loop up the Boree track to get the kilometre’s and vistas up. It ended up being a fantastic section of trail with the hills just short enough for momentum to be carried. However it was at this point when a cruel digestive ailment struck me mid pedal stroke. Dropping my bike and dashing for the bush with toilet paper in hand, I cursed the evil microbes that had rendered my bacon breakfast to liquid. Taking my time to make sure my stomach was settled we set off again feeling decidedly average, not even the high speed 84km/h run to the Wollombi valley could lift my spirits. Stopping at the store then the pub I picked at a hearty evening meal with surprising disinterest. My digestive disconnect provided mixed feedback to my normally over ambitious gullet. Taking my time I managed to get through most of it, and saddling up again we headed for what we hoped would be our final camp.

Shortly after loudly proclaiming the lameness of Australian hills in comparison to the steep cols of Banks Penininsula (especially as arranged in the Petite Brevet), the road pinched upwards into the sky. Only the small illuminated patch of our headlights kept us from seeing the soul destroying climb ahead of us, and so we stayed on our bikes, winching our bikes up the road, knees and crank bolts creaking all the way. Passing a wombat rescue centre we chose a flat spot and bivied for the night.

Upper Colo to Pokolbin State Forest, 215km, 12 hours, 3371m. Critters of note: Wombat, Deer, Owl.

The final Countdown (Day 3)...
After an early and chilly night, we packed up our camp and wolfed down a packet of Oreos each to fuel us for the descent to Cessnock. Starting up high we’d wrapped up warm, but as the inevitable ridge pinches hit we stripped off layers and stuffed them back in our bags. After a short section of rocky singletrack we picked up speed on the descent, only to execute some high speed swerves to dodge some startled Kangaroos who chose a path through our front spokes as the path of least resistance. Hearts racing, they settled as we re-joined tarseal and took in the awesome sunrise which was happening over a mist shrouded Cessnock.

Sunshine over a misty Cessnock
Not ones to dwell on such niceties, we dove down the hill and into the mist, heading straight for McDonalds where the greasy McMuffins were just as welcome as the warm seats and bathroom sink shower. Turns out the hyper-processed mush had reawakened my appetite which had thrown a wobbly after the digestive malfunction of the previous day. With sun starting to emerge we headed for Kurri Kurri, a combination of back roads and railway track taking us to a park which made for a perfect chamois cream application opportunity for Tristan, whose tired brain now considered the indecency socially acceptable. He has since apologised to any children or old ladies who may have been offended.

Tristan discretely applies cream in a Kurri Kurri park
Shredding through more twisty moto trail amongst piles of consumerist detritus was a new experience for Tristan, and one that left him perplexed given the multitude of garbage collection options available.
Before long we were pointed upwards and sweating hard, grinding up into the Notagains for the final time. Crossing the course where we’d headed for Wyong was a great milestone which was capped off with the heavenly Coke, pies and slices of the Cooranbong bakery. This time Ollie offended some older patrons by scraping mud from his bike onto the footpath and letting out a load profanity laden proclamation that his chain was stuffed.

Heading out for the final stretch, we began singing ‘final countdown’, a cola fuelled ding-dong battle ensued as we circled the Eralong power station. neither of us could break the other and the spirit of congeniality returned for the spin around Morisset Peninsula to the finish.

Pokolbin State Forest to Morisset, 189km, 11.5 hours, 2621m. Critters of note: Bison, Goanna, Fox, Snake, Millions of Kangaroos.

In summary...
Rolling into Morisset after 55 hours of riding, sleeping and eating we were both struck with how pleasant a bikepacking ride could be with fine company and without the red haze that comes part of racing. I’d enjoyed the Dirty 600 more immensely, and while a strong willpower was required to resurrect sleepy limbs form the padded train seat for our short ride home, my body and mind came out the other end refreshed rather than drained. Our relatively fresh state was a sure testament to the fact that we’d matured to the point where we no longer saw the need to crush each other every ride, or maybe we were just getting old!

Despite Ollie's pyscho expression he was actually as happy as Tristan
For those with some time to kill both Tristan and I can wholeheartedly recommend the Dirty 600 loop, or for those just dabbling there are shorter 400 and 200 km routes each taking in many of the Hunter's fine trails. Grand depart is on October 4 so there is still plenty of time to carbo load or at least start your taper!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ollie's (Quality) Junk Sale. Everything Must Go!

Times always come in one's life where the accumulation of life's excessive accoutrements  becomes too great to bear. This phenomenon is made worse when one resides in a shoebox sized apartment, as Heidi and I are forced to do in Sydney. Motivated by a suffocating proliferation of components I've decided to have a clear out and sell some fine quality 'lightly used' components via social media. So have a gander at the junk below and make me a realistic offer at Happy to sort shipping to either Australia or NZ as require. Prices are in AUD. If I can successfully get rid of the first round then there are a few more to come, and I promise there is actually some good stuff in there, especially for a kleptomaniacal biker!

 SRAM Press fit PF30 BB $40
-Brand Spankers SRAM Press Fit 30 Bottom Bracket 

-Fits 30mm spindle cranksets to mountain and road frames with PF30 BB shell 
-Includes spacers, wave washer and instructions

 Near new Chris King Headset $100

-1-1/8" old School straight steerer 
-Sotto Voce logos 
-Slight cable rub on lower cup 
-Bearings smooth as silk 
-Includes star nut, and mad props from your riding buddies for rolling on the best headset in the biz

 Brand new Shimano XT M780 Rear Derailleur $80

-10 speed compatible 
-Long cage 
-Bad-ass black colourway 
-Show that derailleur munching rock you are boss with this wallet friendly but well performing shiftermatron

 Brand new Shimano XT Ninja Stars $90

-Taken off XT M780 crankset 
-104/64 bcd 4 bolt 
-42t biggie 
-32t middle 
-24t granny 
-Benchmark Shimano shifting 
-Doesn't include bolts 

 XT Bottom bracket to suit XT/SLX/Zee MTB Cranksets $40

-Spacers included for 68/73mm threaded BB shells 

 Crazy light Egg Beater Ti SPD pedals $100

-Includes real Titanium spindles for uber lightness (sub 200g!) 
-Good condition with recent rebuild and little play in cages 
-Doesn't include cleats 

Brand New Egg Beater 3 SPD pedals $130 

-Weight: 278g/pair 

-Includes cleats

  Brand new Shimano XTR Ninja Stars $130
-Taken off XTR M980 crankset 
-104/64 bcd 4 bolt 

-42t biggie 
-32t middle 
-24t granny 
-Benchmark Shimano shifting 
-Includes bolts for biggie/middle 

White e13 Turbocharger bash ring $25

-104 bcd 4 bolt pattern 
-To suit 36T single or double ring 
-Includes long bolts for fitting 
-Perfect if you keep getting a bit rad and consistently huck to chainring