Coffee outside by bike at Halewood Triangle Park

The day dawned bright and dry today so I decided on a ride along the Liverpool Loopline to one of my favourite spots, Halewood Triangle Park, where I’d spotted a great place for an outdoor brew.

The Trangia went in the Fjallraven ReKanken along with the coffee and I was off.

A chilly start saw gloves for the first time since the start of the year but the cold didn’t stop early morning walkers, runners and cyclists being out in force, which was great to see.

The Loopline is a former railway line that has been my escape throughout lockdown, a place where I can get away from traffic and the pressures of life. In fact it has been more than that for a long time. It’s been my way to work for a few years now.

Once at Halewood Triangle Park I found the spot I had eyed up and pitched up with the Trangia stove and soon had coffee on the boil.

I also had a great chat with a guy who instantly recognised the storm cooker. He used to run Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme expeditions and the Trangia was the stove of choice for generations of DoE kids.

For me, combining the bike with coffee outside is the perfect combination. Using my favourite form of transport to take me to quiet places and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors while enjoying the ritual of coffee making.

Does anyone else enjoy coffee outdoors by bike? Let me know in the comments below.

Outdoor cooking: Chicken casserole in the garden on a Gelert Phoenix (Trangia 25 copy) stove

Today was spent on the home front, embracing some Sunday hygge vibes.

Susan and I had a loose plan to make a chicken casserole so I thought it was an ideal excuse to get the storm cooker set up in the garden and see if it was good as people claimed at making ‘proper food.’ So, intrepidly, I went forth.

I started by chopping an onion, some garlic, potatoes and carrots in the house before sautéing them in the frying pan. With a few sprays of FryLight (great for outdoor cooking BTW), this worked a treat, with no sticking on the anodized surface.

Once the veggies were sautéed, I transferred them to the bigger of the two pots, only losing a few carrots in the process, before adding a little cold water. Back on the storm cooker it went to bring it back to the boil.

Sea salt and a generous amount of black pepper went in, before popping the simmer ring on and letting things combine.

Then I got my second burner and trivet stand out to brew some cowboy coffee in the kettle. Why not? While the coffee brewed I added some pre-cooked chicken and two OXO chicken cubes and combined, letting the stock soak into the meat.

Just before I lost the light and the heavens opened, I drank my coffee and had time to savour the stew before rain stopped play.

I’m really impressed with the burn time on this system. About 45 minutes – enough time to soften the carrots and potatoes. I’m totally confident about preparing some real meals next time I’m out camping or day hiking.

Coffee outside in the rain with a storm cooker

Lockdown has made us all more inventive. Finding new ways of living, whether that’s working or recreating.

Work for me has predominantly been from home. Now we’re in a second lockdown here in the UK, once more our scope for exploring has been understandably diminished, so we need to find ways of expressing the urge to roam in a more local way.

So today I went for a ride in the rain with my Swedish style storm cooker in my bag. About 13 miles away, in the grounds of Speke Hall, I found the perfect place to sit and enjoy the ritual of boiling water and preparing coffee, with nothing but the sound of rain gently falling through the beams of ancient trees.

Here’s my document of the experience, filmed on iPhone XS with Filmic Pro and edited on Adobe Premiere CC, with a nod to the amazing YouTuber Erik Normark.

I hope you enjoy it.

Overnight camp with a Carradice Camper Longflap Saddlebag: The joy of packing light

Most Monday evenings are pretty drab affairs. The working week spreading out in front of you. The afterglow of the weekend still fresh in the memory. What better way to break the Blue Monday spell than an overnight bike camp?

I’d been assembling kit for a spontaneous camp for a while; ultralight stove, ultralight sleeping bag, sleeping mat and an ultralight one man tent. The final piece of the jigsaw was something to carry it all in.

My existing Carradice Cadet was a little too small to carry the load so I decided to splash out on a Carradice Camper Longflap, the biggest bag in the Nelson based bag maker’s ‘Classics’ range, at 23 litres, and a bag that I’d owned in the past and foolishly sold.

So the day the bag arrived from Practical Cycles was also a fresh, bright and sunny day, with a free evening. My plan was set. I’d finish work at 4:30, pack my things and head to a campsite near Delamere Forest in Cheshire, around 45km away. This would give me time to ride there at a comfortable pace, check in, set up, eat supper and watch the sunset.

Packing for an overnighter is great because you can get away with really minimal kit. You’re only away for one night so any mistakes aren’t deal breakers.

My kit was as follows:

  • Highlander Blackthorn 1 tent: At 1.5kg this rivals many more expensive trekking tents but only cost me £39 including shipping from an eBay seller. It’s a small, low profile tent that’s closer to a bivvy with poles, and packs down small so it can fit inside the saddlebag. I strapped it under the extended long flap of the Camper, which worked a treat.
  • Adventuridge Ultralight Sleeping Bag: An Aldi special buy that weighs about 400g and packs down smaller than some jackets. Great for summer camps and only £12.99. This went in the main body of the bag.
  • Adventuridge Compact Self Inflating Sleeping Mat: For another £12.99 this mat folds in half and rolls up into a sleeping bag sized object that fits neatly into the saddlebag leaving room on top for…
  • Vango Compact stove: about 100grams and around £17 this is a fantastic piece of kit. With a small gas canister and a single cookpot I was sorted.
  • Folding knife fork and spoon set.
  • Supper: some noodles and Soreen for afters/snacks – this went inside the cookpot.
  • A mug and some mint teabags.
  • Extra layers: ultralight down jacket, beanie, wool socks, merino longjohns
  • Headtorch
  • Lighter
  • Tools and spares
  • Water bottle

That’s it. All of this went in the Camper Longflap, with room to spare for more clothes if I’d been going on a multi day tour.

The bag just swallowed it all up and once attached, using Carradice’s excellent SQR system, seemed to disappear on the back of my gravel bike.

I had thought that I’d need to use the Cadet on the bars to give me a two bag setup but the genius of the tardis like Longflap means that I can get away with a single bag and resist the temptation to overpack.

I truly believe that the Camper Longflap and other traditional saddlebags are so much more functional than newer style bikepacking bags. Your gear is more accessible and they don’t wag around when you’re out of the saddle. Plus they ooze old school charm and who doesn’t like that.

The camp went wonderfully. Watching the ponies playing in the field next to the site, cooking noodles on my little stove, enjoying a pint of Cheshire Cat ale at the onsite pub before hunkering down for a solid sleep was a special experience, snatched from the dead air of a Monday evening.

I woke at around 5:30am, brewed up, packed up and was gone by 6:15, pedalling through the Vale Royal lanes with the sun shining and nothing but birdsong and the occasional fox for company.

I hope to repeat the process a few more times this year before the weather turns and the nights draw in too much. And my new Camper Longflap will be my trusty and capacious companion.

 

Sunday morning pre-ride ritual

Sometimes those moments before a bike ride are as sublime as the ride itself. Yesterday morning had that feeling. The morning sun. A quiet house. Coffee and breakfast. Really sets a person up for a day of spinning wheels.

What happened next?

I rode into the city, met with Jay, Paul and Dan and caught the train under the Mersey to meet Ian at Lever’s Causeway (which gives rise to the affectionate name of our fellowship, Lever’s Causeway CC).

From there we weaved our way to the Dee estuary, picking up the amazing bike path along the marsh at Burton before crossing the Dee into Wales. We tested ourselves on Paper Mill Lane, a local Strava KOM segment near Shotton, before a loop around Ewloe and Hawarden. Then we crossed the Dee again on the footbridge and took on a mighty headwind on the towpath all the way back to Net’s Cafe near Burton, where a brie and bacon panini girded me suitably for the ride home.

Strava

91.7 kilometres in the bank and great to see LCCC again after a few months of lockdown.

Review: Full circle back to the Microshift RD M-55 rear derailleur

It’s funny how things go full circle. And bad puns aside, nowhere is this more true than with my constantly evolving bicycles.

The Microshift M55 rear derailleur prior to installation

Back in 2011 I had a bike by the name of Ressurectio, a steel framed touring bike that went through many iterations before finally going to a new home. And one of the many parts that graced that bike was a Microshift M55 rear mech.

Fast forward 11 years and bikes have come and gone from the EC stable. My current and probably forever bike is my 1983 Raleigh Clubman, which I bought in 2014 completely stock and have, since then, systematically and sympathetically upgraded.

One piece just didn’t feel right though. For a long while it had a Shimano Sora short cage rear mech, which jarred with the high polish theme of the rest of the components.

Then I remembered the M55. A nine speed long cage MTB mech with a pleasing, minimal, polished aluminium parallelogram. They’re no longer listed on Microshift’s website but are still available online.

After a bit of smartphone noodling I bagged mine for £20 from Upgrade Cycles, ironically the same price as I paid back in 2011 and waited patiently for the postie.

It arrived super quick and it wasn’t long before I had it installed.

Installed on the Raleigh Clubman.

Initial impressions are great. It looks perfect on the Raleigh and works a treat. Easy to set up with lovely old school nickel-plated hi, lo and b limit screws and springs.

It’s light too, weighing in at 227g, making today’s be-clutched MTB derailleurs seem most portly.

The shifting action is extremely positive, combined currently with an eight-speed cassette and Ultegra bar-end shifters.

The great thing about this mech is it gives me options. I can move up to nine speed when chain and cassette changing time comes. I have a set of nine speed Dura Ace bar ends waiting in the wings for this very day. 

It will also allow me to go to an 11-34 cassette with the capacity to team with a wide range sub compact double or a triple. So basically I’m set for future tweaks to my setup.

All in all, I’m really happy to have rediscovered this unsung hero of a mech. Is anyone else running an M55 out there? I’d be interested to hear about your setup and your impressions of it.

The polished aluminium of the M55 ties in perfectly with the shiny silver theme elsewhere.

Have nine years changed my impressions of the M55? Nope. Not a jot.

 

 

Single minded

For the last few months my beloved Raleigh Clubman has been hanging on a hook in the shed. No I haven’t fallen out of love with riding. Rather I’ve fallen in love with the other, much simpler bike in my shed.

Last year a black Raleigh Record Sprint came into my possession. A neighbour of mine spotted it in the local Aladdin’s Cave and procured it on my behalf. It was complete and original but it needed some TLC. Its wheels were shot, frame was scuffed up and the gears weren’t up to much.

I already had a great geared bike in the shed so I decided to create something different. Something with little functional overlap with the Clubman. So I stripped the mechs, cables and shifters from the bike, along with the worn old chainrings from the stock crank. I replaced the wheels with a pair of freehub wheels I had lying around, added a single speed converter kit and a single front ring and I was set.

I’ve ridden single speed before and loved the low-maintenance and the simplicity of the ride and the first spin on the bike brought back the love for that purity straight away.

Recently I’ve taken up rock climbing and the stealthy single speed is the perfect bike to thread through the city and down to the climbing wall.

It’s a hilly four miles down from Old Swan to the docks, where Awesome Walls is located, dropping down over Everton Brow is always magical with the city and the river spread out in front of me.

And muscling the bike up over Everton Brow after two hours on the climbing wall is a great way to empty the tank.

The bike is a beater and no mistake. It’s scratched up, it’s got odd wheels but it runs like a dream. Silent, thanks to the SS drivetrain and whippy too, courtesy of those skinny Reynolds 501 tubes.

I’m tempted to repaint it but I think it will lose its ‘lock me up anywhere’ charm. There’s no anxiety about catching more dents and dings. It’s ugly. It flies under the radar. But I’m enjoying my riding more on this £25 beater than I have done in years.

33.3 recurring: Rivendell Jack Brown and the mathematics of plush

Two immutable laws were at play today. 1. Buying your own Christmas presents is always best. 2. Spending money on tyres is the most efficient way of transforming your bike.

I squared the power of these two laws recently with the acquisition of a pair of Rivendell Jack Brown Green tyres. Now the thought of opening a pair of tyres wrapped in Christmas paper might not appeal to many. Opening a pair of tyres that you bought yourself is surely more tragic? Nonetheless the childlike joy of anticipation has kept me going since I clicked ‘Buy Now’ on Planet X’s website during their Black Friday Fibonacci sale a month or more ago.

“Math is a wonderful thing”, to quote Jack Black, and Jack Brown also knows a thing or two about the magic of numbers. What we have here is a 700c tyre in a Goldilocks 33.3mm width. Why is 33.3 just right? Because it will fit a huge range of bikes, from 1970s and 80s ‘road bikes’ through hybrids, tourers and cross bikes.

It is also a width that won’t intimidate died in the wool 23mm riders, in spite of high performances tyres being available in motorcycle-like widths for many a moon.

But it’s when fat is combined with thin that the magic really happens. A fat, slick tyre with a thin supple carcass is the apogee of road/cycle interface. Jack Brown ‘Green’ is a fat skin wall with a thin tread, high thread count, Kevlar bead and no puncture resistant belt and as a result, weigh a paltry 350g apiece. Rivendell also produce a ‘Blue’ version with a Kevlar belt for the puncture-anxious.

But enough of the numbers and specs. How does the maths work out on the road?

In short. Oh. My. Levels of plush that one only dreams of. Quick acceleration. Floating over irregularities like a pneumatically-suspended god. A rounded profile that begs for Jan Heine-like angles of lean. Tenacious grip on many surfaces. I rode this very day through water, ice, autumn leaves, puddles, gravel and more and not once did Jack’s chequerboard tread complain.

Then there’s the looks. Simultaneously channeling 70s road bike and Dugast tub, the Panaracer-made Jack Brown is a quality handmade in Japan thing, looking like a snake that’s shed its skin in the packet but on the bike like the bulbous, canvas-sided loveliness that graced Eugene Christophe et al’s Tour de France whips.

But inevitably we must come back to the numbers. What price for this best of all worlds performance? Currently £29.99 from Planet X , Fibonacci sales excepted.

My advice? If you’re fat tyre curious, call Jack. You won’t be disappointed.