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)!