I had the pleasure of a day’s riding on the Greek island of Kefalonia recently. (Okay, it’s not quite Rome, but I’m sure the riding is better)

Despite boasting a mountain range extending to a height of over 1600m, the island has vitually no MTB scene at all, and I ended up hiring Ainos Bicycle Store owner Vasillis’ own bike – a heavily modified, perfectly working Specialized Epic – for my ride.

Tarmac climbs led out from Argostoli until they gave way to dusty tracks reach into the higher peaks. A well placed rain collector and goat-trough saved the ride, providing a much needed refill of water supplies during the long, hot ascent.  At the top the views were spectacular – a network of tracks criss-crossed the fir-ridden mountains, which showed dark against the bright sea and skies. A motorbiking goatherder was my only human contact during the entire ride, and I spent the descent playing tortoise and hare with him for fun.

Altogether it was a properly great ride in an awesome location.

I love riding in Wales, it’s the best country for mountain biking on Earth, but occasionally it’s nice to ride somewhere else. Somewhere hot.

My dearest old friend has a new coat. It’s a black coat and it suits him rather well. And he deserves it too. It’s 21 years since his last.

My Webster (a custom-built Columbus Max OR steel cross country bike) was born in 1994, wrought into existence amid the fiery coalpits of Leicester, and forced into reality through a dark hole in my psyche left by the theft of my previous bike. (I’ve nearly gotten over the theft now and consider Leicester a lovely place.)

It was originally painted in British Racing Green. Partly because it looked nice, but mostly so it would blend in along the wooded tracks of Beacon Hill – the only proper hill for miles around, and strictly out of bounds to cyclists. It blended with aplomb, looping up and down the hill regularly, before I forced it to earn it’s keep properly on coast to coast crossings of England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and Spain, as well as the weekly blast around the highways and byways of the midlands, and endless stolen weekends in the mountains of mid-Wales.

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The frame was built just as V-brakes were appearing on the market, and sports a cantilever mount which made do until I could afford the original Shimano Deore XT parallelagram V’s which have now finally been retired. Some old-skool tech just can’t be beaten though, and so I’ve kept the old square taper BB running (still smooth.)

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Straight-taper forks have always been a design favourite of mine. Simple and elegantly beautiful.

Of course, the real beauty of a bike lies in the riding, so for it’s first outing in new colours….

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Y Ffordd Ddu (The Black Road) climbs out of Dolgellau along the north face of Cader Idris, passing Llyn Gwernant and the Cregennan Lakes.

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Tarmaced for the majority of the climb it’s a steady burner with the steep ridges of the mountain towering above. As you climb higher the road turns steep and rocky, making it a no-go for road bikes.

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It rewards one’s efforts with views across the Mawddach Estuary towards Abermaw (Barmouth)

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The ride home ends with a wander around Trawsfynydd…

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…before a steep descent into Llanfigangel with views along the Dysynni valley and up to the highest peaks of Cader Idris.

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In the end, I don’t really think it matters what colour my bike is. I still love it, and it’s proper fun to ride. Everywhere.

New rides on old bikes

I have too many bikes.

I know that that statement shows blatant disregard for the n+1 rule*, but there’s only so much time in the day that can be spared for fettling, and the queue of bikes needing attention never seems to get shorter.

But with winter coming, and my trusty cold-weather steed badly in need of a respray, I made some time to get the old Raleigh 531 rebuilt, with a whole bunch of gears on it to make the local hills a bit easier (my knees will thank me) .

So here it is on its inaugral ride – an early commute through the hills past a mist-covered Llyn Mwyngil. It ain’t too shabby for a 20 year old scrapper.

Llyn Mwyngil with a 531 foreground.
Llyn Mwyngil with a 531 foreground.

* the n+1 rule states that the ideal number of bikes one should own is n + 1 where n is the number of bikes currently owned.

 

Planning a new commute.

I moved house recently, and a new house means a new commute.

I love maps, so planning a commute is almost as much fun as riding it. More fun if you have to ride a really bad commute (technically it’s impossible to have a really bad commute by bicycle).

There are some great tools for route planning, not least of which is BikeHike – a split-pane interface featuring Ordnance Survey/Google Maps/OpenCycleMap etc. means that finding trails and paths between places becomes easy, and information about distance/elevation is instantly to hand. Combine BikeHike with Google Earth and you’ve got instant 3D zoomable routemaps.

A few things have to be considered when planning a commute:

  • Distance – How far are you prepared to cycle?
  • Time – How long will the journey take?
  • Traffic – generally best avoided.
  • Trail condition – what kind of terrain will you ride?

So, start with BikeHike’s course creator. Choose “Follow Road (Google map)”, enter your postcode, and click on your house. Next, find the location of where you work and click on that. A blue line shows your first potential commute route.

Mark the start and the finish of your commute. Hey presto! Your first potential route.
Mark the start and the finish of your commute. Hey presto! Your first potential route.

Save it as a .gpx file if you want to download it to a device, or as a KML file if you want it in Google Earth. Saving it in both formats is best so you can do whatever with the route later.

Your first draft almost certainly needs work. Firstly press the “OSMcycle” button in BikeHike, which will identify any designated cycleways. Then press “Toggle Map Sizes” so that the OS map is largest. Look for quiet shortcuts and quiet longcuts (almost as good as shortcuts and often way better than riding a busy road alternative). Look for B-roads, backlanes, bridleways, farmtracks, cyclepaths, and even sheeptracks if you’re happy to push. Plan a new route using all the useful diversions you identify. Finally, press the “Show Elevation Data” button to display exactly how much the commute is going to hurt.

Use the OSMcycle map to identify potential cycleways. Use the enlarged OS Map to identify bridleways and B-roads.
Use the OSMcycle map to identify potential cycleways. Use the enlarged OS Map to identify bridleways and B-roads.
Use OS and Satellite images together to identify tracks on the ground.
Use OS and Satellite images together to identify tracks on the ground.

Once you’re happy view it in Goodle Earth: In  Google Maps, upload the KML file, switch to Earth view and you’re done. (If you’re using the new Google Maps engine you’ll need to switch back to Google Maps Classic temporarily – or permanently because Classic is better)

 

The whole route in 3D
The whole route in 3D

Of course, as well as riding to work, you have to get home from work too, and on the way home there’s often no deadline, so it’s a great opportunity to plan a longer, more fun way home.

So, here’s mine:

On the way in I’ve chosen to ride on the road, opting for the fastest route. It’s still a couple of miles longer than my old commute but the climbs aren’t as steep (bonus). On the way home I’ve opted for a slightly harder, but more scenic route climbing steadily along the north face of Cader Idris. A stunning ride home, and well worth the time it took to plan!

Now….which is your best route to work?

What came around went around.

And so that was summer.

It felt like one of those summers we had when we were kids – it went on for ages. Glorious golden days, with long hazy evenings, stretching out into seeming eternity.

Summer. We'll miss you!
Summer. We’ll miss you!

Due to the weather pattern of recent summers I expected it to finish at any moment, so spent lots of time out on the bike squeezing in what I presumed would the last ride of the summer.

I think it finally happened yesterday; the sun was still shining but there was a definite chill in the air, and it was noticeable that the environment is beginning its seasonal fade from green.

Whilst the sun shone the bike shop was busier than ever. This was thanks in part to the Minotaur trail and the new skills area – Y Ffowndri, but mostly I suspect, thanks to the clement weather. The whole of Coed y Brenin was packed almost every day, except for those really hot, sunny days where it seemed that everyone went to the beach.

I had quite a few coaching sessions with groups, families, and individuals – taking in everything from learning to ride a bike for the first time through to preparing to race across South Africa.

Summer at Coed y Brenin - like South Africa with foxgloves.
Summer at Coed y Brenin – like South Africa with foxgloves.

I only coached a single session in the rain.

It feels like summer is over now though, and so I’m forced to ask myself what did the holiday season teach me?

Well, I’m not exactly sure. It was a little bit too hectic to spend much time contemplating the meaning of it all. What I remembered though is that there’s always time for another ‘last ride of the summer’.

Maybe I’ll get another one tomorrow then?

Another last ride?
Another last ride?

Summer.

It’s hard to believe. It’s so long ago since it last happened I’d forgotten exactly what it was.

Summer - get it whilst it's hot!
Summer - get it whilst it's hot!

It’s summer!!! Proper flipping summer!!!! The sun is hot and everything!!!!!

And…(a big ‘And’)…it’s in Wales!!!!!!

I seriously struggle to express just how beautiful Wales is when the sun is shining, when you’ve got mates around, and when you’re out riding your bike.

In the North it’s like Western California with lush mountains, rushing rivers, roads as smooth as a jazztoking baby’s bum (and they flipping should be considering the time they spend fixing em!), and the most sublime singletrack man ever rode.

Slate, granite, dust, ferns, and foxgloves and starmac (like tarmac but with gold dust) combine to make a pretty special ride here.

And whilst the sun’s been shining I’ve been blessed enough to run a couple of coaching sessions. Almost too blessed – it was bloody hot out there!

Firstly Dan, Natty and George rolled up for some rolling down, making the most of the sun to practise their skills on the trail.

Dan, George and Natty basking in the sun (and glory)
Dan, George and Natty basking in the sun (and glory)

Then Steven, Tim, Finn, and Arthur battled through the heat haze to pick up some shady riding tricks in the cool of the Coed y Brenin trees.

Steven, Tim, Finn and Arthur basking in the sun at Coed y Brenin
Steven, Tim, Finn and Arthur basking in the sun at Coed y Brenin

So, Summer’s here then. I haven’t seen the forecast. I’m not sure how long it’s gonna last. I don’t even know if it’ll end tomorrow.

What I do know is: you, like me and a few other of the lucky souls who happen to be in Wales right now, should get out on your bike and make the most of it.

Summer. Get it whilst it’s hot.

My ‘Cross Bike is for Sale

You know how it is: you wait ages for a new bike and then three come along at once.

So far this year it’s a new hardtail, a cyclocrosser, and now a new road bike. Sweet eh?

Well, it all sounds good, but what it actually means is that I have to sell something to make room in the shed. And so, here it is…..my 2013 Specialized Tricross Sport Disc is for sale:

Specialized Tricross Sport Disc 56cm
2013 Specialized Tricross Sport Disc 56cm

It’s 4 months old and has done just 399.7km, mostly on the road on my commute to work (with mudguards on!). It’s been well maintained and will be fully serviced prior to sale. It would suit someone about 6′-6’2″ tall.

The bike retails at £1000 and I’m looking for just £650!

I’ll be taking off the mudguards, computer and lights, but the rest is as you see it in the picture.

Full bike specs are available here

After the sun goes down….

Wheelism is once again offering guided night riding sessions at the dark and magical Coed y Brenin over the coming months.

If you’ve ever fancied giving night riding a go but aren’t sure about splashing out that much cash on a set of lights, then come along and hire some lights too!

We have pairs of 1200 lumen lights for each rider, bright enough to light up the darkest woodland and help you catch a glimpse of the wildlife that emerges after the sun goes down.

The sessions last 2 hours, cost £20 (£25 with light hire), and include discussion about which are the best lights, how to get your lights set up, riding techniques, route choice options, as well as a load of other useful after-dark info!

Fancy it? Check out Wheelism for more details or drop us a line: coaching@wheelism.co.uk