Thursday, October 01, 2015

The poor mans Diablo

Exposure Diablo
The Exposure Diablo is a light that is very popular with Bikepackers because it can be charged via USB, via a dynamo, and it can also be used as a power-bank to top-up devices. (USB in and USB out).

I call my set-up the "Poor Mans Diablo".
The Rich Mans "Diablo" (RMD) costs about $300 NZ dollars. The Poor mans Diablo (PMD) does all the things the RMD does, at a fraction of the price. The RMD is one item. The PMD is efectively two.

The charger/powerbank are separate in the PMD. The PMD has the same sized battery inside in it as the RMD, a 3100 mah battery. Exposure make top-shelf gear for sure, and you could probably use a Diablo underwater if that's the way you Bike-pack ; )

I reckon if I wasn't using a dynamo system in the TA, this would be my sole lighting system. As is it, it is my back up. See the costings below for the PMD.

Torch + charger/power-bank + battery + cable + 3-pin USB plug. All that is missing is the helmet and bar mounts.
Helmet with torch mounted.

Torch = 8.50$ US

Charger/power bank = 5.15$ US

USB to micro cable = 7.90$ NZ

USB power adapter =18.90 $ NZ

18650 Battery @ 3100 mah = 18.00 $ NZ

Handlebar torch clamp = 0.92 $ US

Helmet mount = 3.77 $ US (I dont think this is mine, but it is similar, seems too expensive).

You could also use one of these. This one takes 2x 18650s.  Also
dirt cheap. I am not sure how they go charging two batteries of
uneven charge should one become more flat than another?
Final cost in NZ pesos:

Charger= 8.03
USB wall Adaptor=18.90
Total=73.38 +

With a PMD you can carry multiple batteries. If you take another charging box, you could charge more than 1 battery at a time. You can get charging boxes that take 1, 2 or 3 18650 batteries. The reason I use the single one is that it does "pass-through" for use as a cache battery with my dynamo set-up. The double one above is not pass-through but both charges and can be charged.

Handlebar mount.
The quality of your PMD's torch beam will likely determined by how much you pay for it.

My 10$ ones wont likely be as good as a "name " branded one, like this Klarus XT2C that Nathan Mawkes uses in his set-up.

A higher quality torch may have a more even spread. This is where spending more could pay off. I am very happy with my torch for the money but would expect a more even beam from something like the Klarus.

I get 14, 7 and 3.5 hours out of one of these 3100mah batteries on high, medium and low settings. There is also strobe and SOS !

 If you want to delve into levels of nerdery you had no idea existed, go here for tests on batteries, chargers, torches etc. More for flash-lights here on the Candlepower forums.

Remember with the batteries used above. Some people regard them as incendiary devices. Do not put them on charge and leave the house!

More lighting related posts:

Another really cheap and possibly more more useful scenario is to use an AA powered Fenix LD22, as used as a spare head torch by Josh Kato in winning this years Tour Divide.

Try this.

1. Fenix LD22 torch
2. 1 x 4 or 2 cell NIMH USB powered charger
3. 2 to 4 Lithium batteries
4. 2 to 4 rechargable NIMH batteies
5. Top up at gas stations on route if all the other AAs run out.

If you were wanting to try this option, the first step would be to get one of these torches and trial it first.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What is your Achilles heel?

As I found out in my 2014 Kiwi Brevet, there is nothing worse than having Achilles problems on the bike. I had done two previous KB's without a hint of it. I couldn't pin it down to any one thing, because I had changed too many variables, going from a 26er fully to a rigid drop-barred 29er, Time pedals to Crank Bros, and different shoes. It didn't stop me from riding, but I could tell that I was doing damage that I was going to have to pay for. The one thing I did know, after 2 months of rehabilitation where even walking was a chore, I didn't want to go there again. Spending my tea-breaks doing eccentric heel-drops in the stair-well wears thin after the first month.

My fear of its return has prompted me to do a bit of research. I read a few ride reports and asked a few questions. If it's something that afflicts even the good guys then you know its not about physical preparation, although it could still be about bike fit.

As with many things in bikepacking, including saddle-tolerance, you really don't know what is going to happen to you until you have done more than about 2.5 good long days in the saddle.

I remember reading Josh Kench's book about his attempt at RAAM and how earlier in his build up he suffered from severe Achilles problems. His Coach recommended he shift his cleats back. In this years Tour Divide a local Kiwi rider Greg Galway, was one of the many riders to have a similar problem, once again, his coach, the same coach, Silas Cullen recommended the same treatment.

I aim to ask a few of these hardy riders of their experiences with Achilles pain, what they did and what they suggest, then I'll ask Silas for some of his ideas about what is happening and what he recommends.

For a bit of background on cleat placement, the following comes from Steve Hogg who is a bike-fit guru in Australia. I am not aware of him having any particular involvement in bikepacking but his ideas seem to be being adopted anyway. He has been promoting moving cleats rear-ward for many years, long before the Enduro riders had adopted it, for completely different reasons I imagine. When I say "Enduro" I mean guys who rip down hills fast on MTBs with 6 inches of travel. Read Steve Hoggs whole article here : . My simple interpretation of his writing is that he says the foot is a poor lever, and the further back the cleats are, the less work the muscles have to do to stabilize the lower leg.

Some "case studies"

Simon Kennett brought bikepacking as we now know it to our part of woods after finishing the 2008 Great Divide in 3rd place. There was a fair bit of snow that year, and one thing that many people agree on, walking through snow is a killer. In fact hike-a-biking in general is really rough on your Achilles.

Simon Kennett Great Divide 08
Some comments from Simon:
Yes. At the end of day three of the Great Divide Race, I remember mentioning it to the guy I was riding with at the time. He asked if I might have to pull out, to which I replied there was absolutely no way I was pulling out of this race. Being stubborn can take you a fair way. Luckily there was no walking through snow drifts for the next three days. It came right. I took an anti-inflammatory pill, gave my calf a massage, and rode at a slightly easier pace for the first hour the next day. I vaguely remember 'icing' it with a cold drink at one stage, too.

Are there other things you did which you think helped?
Don't spend time pedaling hard while on the aero bars or drops until well warmed up.

Are there things that you would do, or recommend others do to make sure that they don't experience these agonies. Eg, a stretching regime, a professional bike fit, moving cleats back, certain pedals or shoes?
Stretching before injury is a good idea, but take care with stretches immediately after injury. Having cleats positioned just behind the ball of the foot should help with Achilles problems, as would a heel wedge in your shoe. While first warming up in the morning, just place the arch of your foot over the pedal and soft-pedal for a few minutes. Consider playing with your seat position. It's a good idea to include some walking in the weeks building up to the big ride. If you have a history of Achilles problems, look for shoes with a little bit of flex in the soles and big heel lugs.


Ollie Whalley. Photo by Mike Israel
Another Kiwi, Oli Whalley broke the Tour Divide record in his rookie year finishing 1st.

Ollie, I wonder if youv'e had any issues with Achilles pain in your adventures?
Yes, in the 2012 Tour Divide.

What worked to alleviate your pain?
I jammed my cleats back on my shoes. Fortunately the guy I was riding alongside, Craig Stappler also told me how I could strap my Achilles.

Are there adjustments that you made after the occurrence that you have stuck with to this day?
Yes, I now do all of my riding with the cleats back these days, and carry strapping tape in the big events.

Do you have any recommendations for up and coming riders?
Stretches are good, but strengthening is also important. 30 calf-raise reps on a step 3 times a week is what I do when he is in prep mode. Ollies Blog.


Nathan Mawkes.
Image from Chris Charles
Nathan Mawkes has done the Tour Divide twice, and while this is not meant to be just about the Tour Divide, it does seem to be a sure-fire way to mess up your Achilles.

Nathan, I wonder if youv'e had any experience with Achilles pain?
Yes, during Tour Divide in 2012, there was a lot more snow that year up north which resulted in a lot of pushing your bike through snow for quite a few hours at a time, narrow and fairly rigid XC oriented bike shoes are not the ideal shoes due to the lack of stability in soft snow, the minimal flexibility also resulted in the foot having to work harder to stabilise, and hence begin to fail.

What worked to alleviate your pain?
Pain killers and perseverance, enjoy the scenery / journey.

Are there other things you did which you think helped?
No, by the end I had worn away the protective sheath in both Achilles and was struggling to walk. but I could still ride.....

Are there adjustments that you made after the occurrence that you have stuck with to this day?
when I returned to Tour Divide again in 2013 I went with a wider soled shoe. with a slightly more flexible sole, this made any hike a bike sections, or even walking in town more enjoyable, since then I've used 4 different models of mtb shoes but keep gravitating to those with wide flexible soles, my current favourites are Pearl Izumi X-Alps

Are there things that you would do, or recommend others do to make sure that they don't experience these issues?
My Achilles issues were more the result of hike a bike, if anything the controlled motion of the bike was less of the cause.

Are you an advocate for strapping your Achilles in an event if it flares up and you know what to do? 
I do carry strapping tape but I would be unlikely to use it  unless there was a lot of time off the bike.


Geoff B from down south.
Although I’ve been lucky enough to have done quite few events and missions now (4 x 1100km brevets, 4 x 300km hilly Petite Brevets and the Tour Divide once) I still class myself as a novice in the bikepacking world rankings.

Have you had any experience with Achilles pain?
I’ve only had one occurrence of real Achilles pain and this was in my first long brevet and after a sustained hike a bike. Luckily the pain wasn’t major and it preceded a short rest time and then there wasn’t any more hike a bike so with a little “soft pedalling” the pain was manageable and then went away.

Do you think soft pedalling would work for most people?Yes, depending on how bad the pain is, I would think most riders can pedal through it, but they may have to ease off a bit, revise their expectations downward and follow the other suggestions below.

What other things did you do which you helped?
Icing and strapping can also be beneficial. Some riders are fans of anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen but I’ve personally stayed cleared of these, although I have taken paracetamol which has helped with minor joint issues as well. Every night in the TD when available my companion would beg, borrow or steal ice to ensure he could ice all his affected areas, I think this was probably a very good idea.

Are there adjustments that you made after your problems that you've stuck with?
There is a strong argument to having your cleats in the most rearward position,  and I always have them in that position anyway. But if you don’t and do experience Achilles pain I do suggest you try moving your cleats back.

Are there things that you would do, or recommend others do to make sure that they don’t experience these problems. E.g. a stretching regime, a professional bike fit, certain pedals or shoes?
We’ve always wondered why so many riders are affected by Achilles pain and other joint issues early on in events like the Tour Divide; one explanation seems to be the hugely increased mileages these riders are trying to achieve in the first few days compared to what they are used too. I think mileages need to be built up prior to the event and then slowly loaded mileage, hike a bike and loaded hills need to progressively added to a new rider’s program.

I’m sure that stretching would be very beneficial (not speaking from experience though) especially calf stretches, as would a upper body strength program as most riders wouldn’t believe how strong you need to be to manage a loaded bike for days on end.

Professional bike fits sound a reasonable suggestion, but I suggest caution in finding someone that caters to the needs of the bikepacker that may be different to those of an XC racer or road cyclist.

Definitely move cleats back; use shoes that are bigger than you normally would as your feet will swell; pedals should ideally offer some support,  although many of us just use standard XC race style pedals; shoes should be comfortable and able to be walked in (uphill pushing a loaded bike), I prefer softer enduro style shoes with good grippy soles now rather than carbon soled xc racer types.

Above all ride your bike (lots), experiment with different seats, aero-bars, supportive handgrips and bar ends, as this will give you multiple hand / seating positions that will help to spread load on not just your Achilles but hands, butt and knees as well. (Probably another topic here).

Are you an advocate for strapping your Achilles in an event if it flares up and you know what to do?
Personally I don’t strap unless I have too, although as I know my Physio well, I asked for instructions on how to strap my Achilles, ankles and knees before I started the TD. There was a huge amount of strapping tape used in the TD, not sure if it helped… looked good though and that’s important too ; )

One of the best solutions I heard of was from Katie and Sam (the tandem riders from TD 2014), they fashioned a rubber glove to form a stretchable strapping to take pressure of the Achilles, by all accounts it worked a treat.

Editor (GB was 4th in the 2014 Tour Divide at age 49).


Neil Beltchenko
Neil Betchenko already has an impressive history in endurance events and came 3rd in his rookie year in possibly the most nail-biting Tour Divide ever.

I wonder if youv'e had any experience with Achilles pain?
Yes, lots of times. It used to be because of cleat position, now its because of over use. My situation is a bit more different however. when I was in middle school, I got surgery on my feet. They added an extra piece in my foot to give me more of an arch. Because of this, they had to snip and extend my Achilles (sounds gross). So in general, i believe my Achilles flares up more so then the next person.

What were your experiences and what did you do to alleviate it at the time?
The easiest thing I did was to push the cleat all the way back in the shoe. This inhibits excessive movement in the Achilles which will put less stress on it. It also does not effect your power all that much, although a power test could determine if it truly does or not. Other things I like to do is wear compression socks, this proves to delay the the "creak" of my Achilles.

Do you think this advice would work for most people?
Yes, both of those tidbits were given to me by bike fitters.

Are there other things you did which you think helped?
When I was on the Divide, I got some serious creaks in my right Achilles. I never considered wrapping them but I did put on two straps of Salonpas  on each side every morning to deal with the pain. It worked wonders for me.

Are there adjustments that you made after the occurrence that you have stuck with to this day?
I just always put my cleats back and also use after market insoles, that give me more support when I'm walking. A big part of bikepacking is hiking with your bike, you need good insoles and good shoes, importanto!

Are there things that you would do, or recommend others do to make sure that they don't experience these issues?
I can't stress how important a bike fit is, and before you go into your fit, make sure you are using a shoe that is broken in, not new. But above all, experience is the most important, get out there, hike with your bike, ride 100 miles. do what it takes to experience the pain and work from there.

Are you an advocate for strapping your Achilles in an event if it flares up and you know what to do?
No, never have.
Neils site:


2015 TD rookie Greg Galway
I’m new to this bike-packing endurance cycling and I’m learning all the time from others. I didn’t hear of many Achilles issues in my last TD, but knees came up quite often.

Achilles Pain: Yes I had a problem at this years TD. It felt like I was getting a blister where my shoe rubs my Achilles. At first I didn’t think too much about it (used a couple of plasters)  but it got worse. I had taken some strapping tape and  learn't how to strap it. Just like that the pain slowly disappeared (got to have shaved legs) :)

Knees: Major problems, this could also have contributed to my Achilles as well (don’t know).
Move your cleats back "MOST IMPORTANT”
Cleats are back to normal at the moment but will move them back early in the new year for a couple of longer training rides.
Stretching: Knee on floor, foot against wall, straighten body up. This is from my coach Silas Cullen of Smart Coaching. Once I did this I was problem free for the rest of the TD.
My coach also recommends a lot of high cadence in training. Go for a ride then spin at 100+rpm for last 10-30min with no load (as many muscle contractions as possible) This can be harder than the ride itself. It also helps with endurance training. Hopefully this can help others.

So I forwarded the above stories and a few questions to Silas Cullen and Steve Hogg to get some ideas on what is actually happening, and to see if they could make any recommendations, short of obviously getting a proper bike fit. Up front these guys will tell you they are not bikepacking bike-fit experts, but they are very experienced in related issues. Read more about them and what they do here. and


Achilles pain in Endurance Riders
Comments by Cycling Coach Silas Cullen

Who it affects
Achilles pain can affect any rider, but it tends to come on more frequently with endurance riding and even to riders who have never experienced it before. Endurance riding is incredibly demanding on the body, so it’s not surprising that it starts to complain if things are not set up right.

Overuse injuries or “repetitive strain injuries”  need two things. Firstly “many repetitions” of the same thing, that’s why they’re called overuse… Secondly with “poor range of motion” or too much load in one specific area, that’s why there’s an injury.

What Causes it

1. Tightness in the back
The back feeds all of the electrical signals to the muscles. It must be in good health for the body to work properly. When riding all day typically the hip flexors tighten creating that well known “duck bum” or sway back posture. This can pinch the sciatic nerve which can cause pain all the way down the back of the legs including the lower calf area. This won’t cause pain in the tendon directly but certainly in the connective muscle around the tendon. If range of motion is changed then the tendon may then become inflamed. If a rider also has a tight sensation in the hamstrings then this is almost certainly the cause.

2. Movement at the foot
Within the pedal stroke riders have varying degrees of movement where the foot may rotate slightly externally or internally within the pedal stroke itself. This might normally be ok but when faced with many hours of riding and the load associated with the fully loaded bikepacking style of endurance  riding, inflammation can occur.

How to prevent it
To prevent the sciatic nerve being pinched through poor posture we stretch the muscles which are tightening and causing this problem - the hip flexors! These powerful muscles are not easy to stretch and concentration is needed to perform correct technique. Posteriorly rotating the hips and stretching the upper thigh. If the back is swayed during a hip flexor stretch, then the hip flexors are not being stretched. It is easy to get this wrong. Link here.

Secondly, maintaining general back mobility will help a lot. Gently twisting, extending and flexing the back and maintaining range of motion is essential for a healthy spine and is a good idea to do anyway.

To prevent movement at the foot being the cause, we can decrease the load through the foot by pulling the cleats back as far as they’ll go. I have had many athletes re drill holes in their shoes to get there cleats even further back. This may seem extreme to some people, but so is riding for ten hours a day for a month on a 25kg bike, or riding for forty hours non stop as fast as you can go…

The other thing we do when moving the cleats back, is that for the same angle change at the foot within the pedal stroke, the heel moves a lesser distance. For example if the foot changes angle by 2 degrees to a more toes out position at the top of the pedal stroke, the heel will move in (closer to the bike) a given distance. The further back the cleats, the less this distance will be. This decreases any twist slight twist through the Achilles which may also help reduce inflammation.

What to do when it happens during a ride
Move the cleats back on your shoes as far as you can to alleviate the pressure put through the calf on each pedal stroke. It may also feel good to put the seat forwards just a few millimetres at the same time. This because then the cleats go back the hamstring and calves may feel ever so slightly more stretched out. By moving the seat forwards we bring the body forward as well as the foot (cleats back means foot forward), maintaining the same balance. Be aware that this will slightly increase the load on the arms and hands, but an endurance setup should always have plenty of options for hand placement - to move around.

Bikepacking endurance riding has one key element and goal - “keep going”. If we can eliminate the pain and cause no other discomfort, then we eliminate the problem and a rider can continue uninhibited.



Steve Hogg

I mentioned Steve Hogg earlier. He really is one of the top bike-fitters in the world and has been nice enough to contribute to this discussion at short notice, with some very useful advice and links on bike set-up. See a few bullet-points on common issues, and links to more info on his site. You could spend a week reading all his stuff.

Steve Hogg:
I see a reasonable amount of Achilles tendinitis in first time fit clients and the aspects of bike fitting that play a part in the problem are, in no particular order:

1. Seat height. The majority of riders sit too high. The typical unconscious response to this is to sit less squarely on the seat so that one leg reaches okay to the pedals and the other side over reaches even more so. It is typically the less favoured leg (the one the rider hangs away from) that feels the onset of Achilles tendon problems first.  For a simple method of accurately setting seat height, see this link.

2. Cleat position. The shorter the foot as a lever, meaning the more rearward the cleat position, the less likelihood there will be of developing Achilles tendon issues. If you want a 'rule of thumb' for bike packing, move the cleats as far back on the shoe as they will go. More info here.

3. Arch support. The need for arch support is under appreciated. Humans have not evolved to apply force to rigid cycling shoe soles for long periods of time. Additionally, there is no brand of cycling shoe that comes standard with arch support insoles that will properly do the job for a majority of riders. More info here.

4. Tight calves. The tighter the riders calves, the greater the chance of incurring an Achilles tendon injury.

5. Pedals. Trail / AM style clipless pedals with a platform of sorts around the pedal (think XT/XTR Trail, Crank Bros Mallet etc) offer greater foot on pedal stability than do straight out XC clipless pedals

6. Seat setback plays a part and I'm of the view that many mtb's have too slack a seat tube angle which is why many mtb'ers run zero offset seat posts. If seat setback is too great when climbing really steep off road trails, then the entire rear  kinetic chain (gluteals, hamstrings and calves) is overworked. If the rider has other risk factors (poor cleat position and / or too high a seat and / or etc, etc) this can be enough to push them over the edge in to an Achilles tendon injury.


Editor: Wow. Looking at that, I suspect I failed in at least 4 of the 6 bullet-points outlined above in my last Kiwi Brevet.

I think there is more than enough in here to make us realise how vital it is to have our positions sorted out as much as we can when taking on these kinds of challenges. Hopefully there is something in here to help make your next event as pain-free as it can be. Thanks heaps to Silas and Steve and the guys who shared their real-world experiences.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Any plan is better than no plan

For some of you preparing for a bikepacking event is a bit new.
3000kms is a long way, but the more prepared you are, the more fun it will be.
There is a saying that goes "any plan is better than no plan".

I have done a bit of training, and coaching over the years so I am happy to share my very basic plan. It's a safe plan with lots of recovery. If you are a harry-hard-out and are a lot younger, you can do a lot more and don't really need me to tell you how to suck eggs. This is a plan for people with limited time.

For this time of the year, when the weather is rubbish, in Wellington anyway, you need to start small.

Because I am an old bugger I believe in lots of rest. A recent study has suggested what I always suspected. The best recovery is actually not riding. Your partner will probably buy into this concept too.

Jonty and Chris Kiwi Brevet 2010. Molesworth.

Phase 1 Starting week.
T - 1 hour
T - 1 hour
S - 3 hours

Can you see the pattern? Hard, easy, hard, easy, hard, easy. There is no improvement without recovery.

All of these rides can be on the flat, until your fitness improves.
Then as your confidence increases you can head for the hills. As Arthur Lydiard used to say "Hills are the short-cut to speed". You wont need speed, but the strength will help heaps.

As the weeks go on you will notice that 1hour is a doddle, and there is a lot more light available in the day. This is when you get out of bed earlier. Getting out of bed earlier is a skill that you can apply to other areas of your life. Just don't wake the family.

The 1 hour rides morph into 2 hour rides and the 3 hour ride becomes a 5 hour ride. Gradually....

Nick and Jonty Kiwi Brevet 2010. Maruia.

Phase 2 (A month later).
T - 2 hour
T - 2 hour
S - 5 hours

You need to ramp up the hours slowly, because as you age, your testosterone levels drop off and recovery is harder. (I have noticed a lot of Bikepackers are over 40.)

If you get tired, you will become grumpy, and your family might ask you to move out into your own flat.

So before long you are doing 2+2+5=9 hours a week. 5 hours is a very good ride. 7 hours kinda feels like a days work, but if you go somewhere new to explore and you are not just riding around in circles then its all good. If you don't have typical family demands then you might be able to sneak out for some longer adventures.

A couple of times you might like to get up REALLY early and do a
3+2+5 = 10 hour week.

Then, if you are still married, and you encourage your spouse to head away for a trip with their best friend one weekend you can try doubling up. That means back to back rides, like you will do in the TA.

If you still have any friends at this point they will likely be cyclists so you can even do an over-nighter and test some of that fruity gear you have been purchasing all year.

So you might end up doing a 3+2+5+5=15 hour week . I don't think I  have ever ridden that many hours (training) in a week but if you are motivated and get a clean leave pass anything is possible.

Matt Jonty and Alex Kiwi Brevet 2012. Moana.

Phase 3 (3 months later).
T - 3 hour
T - 2 hour
S - 5 hours
S-  5 hours

Every 4th week, have an easy week. Cut right back on your work-load. You could knock back your hours by 40% and do your rides very easily on the flat. Maybe do them with your kids or partner.

You do not need to do any racing to do a bikepacking event, unless you really fancy yourself at the pointy end. Even then its not essential. It wont do you any harm, but if you do, ride to the event, race, and ride home.

Group rides can also be good for motivation, especially the ones before work where you might struggle with the early morning starts. Riding before work is good because no one can tell about the strange double-life you are leading.

You don't need to ride a loaded bike all the time but its a good idea to do some loaded riding towards the end of your training so its not a shock to your system.

I am currently doing my long ride on a Friday night (leaving work early) while my wife goes to the pub with her buddies. It gives me a chance to test my lights and I have a whole weekend to recover and do useful stuff around the house.

Don't stress about kilometres. Its time in the saddle you need to experience. Sort out your nutrition and how you will carry your liquids, spares, tools etc.

Even though you could well end up riding 10 hours a day in the TA, its not as hard as you might think. You will have lots of breaks, and it feels more like you are riding two 5 hour days with total recovery in between. You will be surprised how easy it is without the day to day stresses of working for a living and training at the same time.

Some maxims
  • If in doubt, leave it out.
  • Don't do your easy rides too hard and your hard rides too easy.
  • You can recover from being under-trained, but its a lot harder to recover from being over-trained.

To summarise. Build up slowly. Hard/easy. Test your gear, most importantly your saddle.

It will be the best holiday you ever had !
Does that sound mad?

Disclaimer. If you are young and reckless and have youth on your side, you don't need to do any of this. Just eat lots of Kebabs ; )

Steve Halligan 2014 Kiwi Brevet. Rainbow Valley.

A link from on training for the Tour Divide. You will find many useful resources here.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Great Rimutaka Bike eXperiment

144 kms off road and gravel.
The Great Rimutaka Bike eXperiment #GRBX was a social media experiment that paid off in spades for the guys at Inspiring Riding, if empowering people to get out and ride into a stiff southerly is any measure of success! It was great. Around 50 people were there on all sorts of rigs, beta-testing all sorts of gear, some in anticipation of their next over-nighter, but many in anticipation of the TA (TourAotearoa) being held next February.

I was looking to trial my new dynamo set-up and I was pretty happy with the results. Mind you, according to Strava I averaged 23.4 kmh. That is not a sustainable Brevet/Bike-packing speed for any human I have heard of. And to prove this, I imploded at the halfway mark with the biggest bonk I have ever experienced. My latest special toastie pie recipe which was a special blend of Cheese and Smoked mussels was suddenly repeating on me and seemed less than desirable.

I managed to keep the contents inside my stomach, but my pace was so slow, as I rode the "Incline" that I wasn't pedalling fast enough to generate power from my dynamo to power my lights through the first tunnel. I could see lights alright, lots of small twinkly ones!

A caffeinated GEL at the top restored my mojo and I was shortly back to normal.

The latest iteration of the Stealth Bike Bag with a port-hole for cables and water resistant zip.
 I had purchased a top-tube bag off Michael at Stealth Bike bags a few months back but he said if I waited a while he would do the new one with the new slinky water resistant zip. He turned up with it at the start so I eagerly velcroed it on.

I was testing my dynamo charging system so aligned all the goodies inside the bag as well as I could and put it all in another plastic bag. There was the Sinewave converter, my little battery holder, and a 3100 mah battery, and my phone. Before I started, I estimated that the 3100 mah battery was mostly charged, and the phone was also mostly charged. With an average speed of 23.4 kmh I would have been generating a reasonable amount of watts (for charging) and at the end of the day, the phone was fully charged at 100%. The idea is that at the end of the day, this battery or one of the other 2 I will be carrying, can be put into my head torch, should I need extra lighting if negotiating slow single-track at night. They can also be used as a power-bank.

 I took the battery out today and it lasted for 6.5 hours in my torch, on the medium setting, so without getting all technical, that implies I didn't bleed too much power, overall. You wont see any photos from the ride. Why?

1. We were hammering too hard.
2. My phone was in a plastic bag in my top-tube bag ; )

The order of the bikes across the line, not neccessarily the fastest order, as people tended to leave at different times.

1, Hard-tail, 2, Fully, 3, CX bike, 4, CX bike, 5, Rigid MTB.

More "peer-reviewed" info to come when all the data has been analysed by the gurus at Inspiring Riding. Thanks guys. It was great.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Woodward Mounty double-barrel-bottle-mount

Trevor Woodward is doing another run of his revolutionary Woodward Mounty double-barrel-bottle-mount. Try saying that after 2 litres of Angry Peaches!

Trev only uses organically grown steel in his work and all of his machinists are of a legal working age.

Barryn with 1.5 lires of Garage Project on board in the middle
spot. Barryn is approximately 7.5 feet tall and has no issues.  
You can also mount another bottle in the middle. Potentially a very big bottle.  You can have all your bottles in the one place!  My current thinking is that I will use this and a frame bag. Otherwise I will be radiator-hose-clipping cages on the top tube and under the down tube for TourAotearoa .

As far as getting in the way goes, it is almost identical to a top-tube bag. If you don't like the way your leg can lightly brush a bag when you stand up and hammer it may not be for you. I will always brush my top-tube bag before I brush the bottles in Trev's mount. Everyone has different leg lengths though. The only time I DO notice it, is when commuting and I stop and wait at the lights, and sit on my top-tube a bit askew. It might be worth borrowing one to try it just to be sure though. Trev is asking 40$ for this bespoke factory-free item.

Contact Trev on 021-484-213 . Best you ring him after hours. He checks his texts once every two weeks and I cant recall him ever answering an email.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Dynamo diatribe

I've just realised that I've been posting most of my Tour Aotearoa stuff on my Instagram instead of my blog, which is pretty hopeless as far as being a resource for anyone else who may be interested.

See below a graphic timeline for creating my "charging regime" for the Tour Aotearoa Brevet.

I started with an Exposure dynamo Light, I saw a great deal on Evans cycles and picked it up for around $350 NZ plus $20 shipping. A light AND the Exposure branded SP hub. That is very cheap. It was an impulse buy. It is a 9mm QR hub with 28 holes, possibly why it was cheap, with through-axle being more in demand these days for some people, and 28 holes being more suited to a road application than off-road.

I got a new rim and spokes and Francis at Jville Cycles built up the wheel.

It was great. I had free light for as long as I could pedal! But this was just the beginning. Nathan Mawkes told me what he did for his Kiwi Brevet charging regime, and as it was a very cheap option I followed suit. Even cheaper than Nathans option. I brought a 10 US$ torch, and an 8 US$ charger/power-bank, with a couple of 18650 (Chinese) rechargeable batteries thrown in.

I ran some tests. This torch is very bright. It has high, medium, and low modes plus a few more. It lasts for 3.5, 7 and 14 hours respectively.

18650 batteries are what is found in lap-top cases. I almost started a fire breaking one up. If you do this, exercise caution.

These are unprotected cells. Don't put them on charge and go out for the day!  The good ones are about $18.50 each NZ from MrPositive (if you cant gut an old lap-top without maiming yourself then buy the Panasonics).

You will need a way to charge these batteries, as your dynamo won't do it "out-of-the-box" . You need a USB-converter, the Sinewave one is good, but not cheap.  I got Kerry at kLite to build me a switch as well so I could easily toggle from lights to USB charging.

The plan goes like this:
1. Start with about 3 fully charged 18650 batteries.
2. Use one as a cache-battery inline between my dynamo and my "device" be it GPS or phone.
3. In the evening, I can also use one of the batteries as back-up in the spare torch which I can strap to my helmet.

The cheapie charger/power-bank allows "pass-through-charging" which you need if you are going to be charging and being charged at the same time.

The white thing inline here is just temporary. It is measuring the load from my GPS.

A rather crowded dash-board.

All of the gizmos will fit in here. A Stealth Bike Bags top-tube bag.

So far my testing has been pretty minimal. But I can say this.

It all fits.
I rode around the bays the other day and charged my phone from 5% to 72% in about 1.5 hours.

Isn't all this TECHNOLOGY risky?
Of course.

The fall-back plan
I will take a spare USB cable for my phone.
This is also spare for charging my power-bank device.
I will take a 3 pin USB plug and a tiny 3 port hub to plug into it, should my dynamo explode leaving me with no electricity, forcing me to charge in a motel or such-like.
I will take my original dynamo light harness as a spare in case my switch/harness gets damaged.

Basically if I have a "power-transmission" outage I will be USB charging my batteries, phones and light from 3 pin plugs. 3 x 3.5, 7 and 14 hours is a lot of light. This is what most people will be doing anyway, it's just my back-up.

That's the theory anyway : )

Bright but cheap torch

Basic power-bank/charger

Tester gizmo

PS. Don't burn down your house messing around with this stuff.
If I told you to jump off a cliff would you?

Is technology your friend?

Some people think that the Tour de France is at the bleeding edge of tech as far as the bicycle goes, but I suspect that apart from wider tires and rims, TDF tech probably plateaued at least 5 years ago. To me, most "advances" seem to be adding complexity and trying to fix problems that weren't there in the first place. Electronic shifting and a multitude of bottom bracket standards don't really trickle down in a useful way to the man on the street. Aero frames won't add that much value to your commuting day. Maybe disc brakes will be adopted soon in the peloton, although I cant see the average roadie actually wanting to bleed the brakes on his road bike. I know I hate doing it on my MTB's, and they are not even the "problem-brakes". The difference in performance doesn't actually look that big in this test with GCN, until it gets wet. (Video).
Kogel Bottom Bracket chart.
It seems to me that there is useful technology, and there is tech-for-tech's-sake, which is mostly just there to sell new widgets. I am as much a geek as the next person, maybe more so, but sometimes I ask myself if this stuff is good for the cause of the bicycle, which is in essence an inherently simple and elegant device.

The owner of this narrow wide
1x sprocket was cutting them out
in 2 to 3 weeks. He changed
brands which helped a lot.
You might say that taking an MTB drive-chain down from 27 or 20 speeds to 11 speeds by eliminating a front chain-ring is simplifying the drive train, but it would be a shame if the trade-off was advanced wear in shifters, chains, front sprockets and added weight and complexity in the derailer, and the fact that you could either ride to the trail at a decent pace OR actually ride up the hills, but not both. Not a problem if you don't ride in hills, or on the flat I guess. Where I live we actually ride to the trails. 1x11 is a Race Day Only compromise in my view. Why did we need 1x11? To save weight for XC racers? Why did we need narrow-wide chain-rings and clutch derailers? To stop the chain dropping off because we removed the front derailer. Fixing a "problem" that created several more actual problems.

I guess this is what you get with design. The more you hone a design to excel in one area, the more unsuitable it becomes for general usage. A Formula 1 car will cost a bomb, and will go like stink, but you wont want to drive it to work. This is where your Carbon road bike is right now, light, fast, and mostly uncomfortable. I used to own a Moto Guzzi Lemans, and while I loved that throbbing V-twin on the open road, it was a pig around town, where I preferred to ride my Honda CT90 postie bike.

Ideally the marketers want us to have many many bikes (N+1 is the number) rather than one bike that will do most things. New niches are constantly being created for the latest thing, Enduro, Gravel grinding or Bikepacking or what ever people have actually been doing for years anyway, but without a label. People used to ride their old steel road bikes off road, now its a "thing".

It would be interesting to see what people think the biggest recent "real" tech advance in cycling is. I suspect that its not electronic gears, maybe wider rims? The 650B wheel format that has been the norm for randoneers for years has been rebranded as 27.5 to create more confusion for the poor people who have only just changed from 26 inch to 29 inch wheels, (29ers just being 700c rebranded anyway.) If you think about it logically why would anyone make the move from 26 inch to 27.5 inches. The difference is too small. From a marketing point of view you would be better to go from 26 inch to 29 inch, then back down to 27.5 inch, which is the way it has panned out.

 Listen to a very  interesting podcast here on frame building and 650B vs 700  and how in this chap's view a 650B might serve most people better than their 700c roadie. It gives a bit of background on how 700c bikes got to where they are today.

This is a great piece with a similar angle on Why Are Bicycle Sales Declining  where the writer asks the question: "Imagine if car dealers only sold recreational cars. Cars for racing and off-roading. Cars not really suited to daily use". It's probably the most relevant read I've seen for years and answers the question of why my road bike sits unused in my garage even though it's probably the fastest, lightest and most efficient bike I have.

I think its really sad to see the adopting of bad designs or the creation of unnecessary designs. Company A comes out with a new bottom bracket standard called SPF3000. Company B says its rubbish and A will regret it. Buyers flocks to Company A like moth to a flame, and before long Company B is losing so much market share that they have to adopt the same standard or come out with their own new bottom bracket, PFTT 50210. This is probably what happened with Shimano going to 1x11 speed. Purely conjecture on my part though.

Now we are in the amazing situation of having our shifting available in electronic, wifi and hydraulic forms. Was there really anything wrong with cable shifting? There is a lot more fun coming up with the new axle standards too. I am not following it too closely, given that most of my 7 bikes run 9 speed I cant really be called an early adopter.

In Bikepacking circles (also known as Bike Trekking or Cycle Touring) there is a thing called MYOG, make your own gear, where people are building their own luggage systems. This is an example of something that is needs based, not "marketing-based". Some folks get so good at it that they go into business, like Revelate or Porcelain Rocket. Now some of the big guys are jumping on the bandwagon for a piece of the action, big hitters like Thule or Blackburn. Whether they can react to demand like the way the small guys can is yet to be seen. 2014 Tour Divide winner Jefe Branham still builds his own gear, such is the culture of DIY or "self-supportedness" in that scene.

Lael Wilcox. Image from Revelate's Instagram
To check out some "useful" tech in action look at some of the Tour Divide bikes.  Lael Wilcoxes bike has a carbon fibre frame with a state of the art luggage system with an internal skeleton. A dynamo hub that powers lights or charges GPSs, phones and spare batteries. On this bike she was able to cover over 260kms of wilderness riding each day to finish the 4418km Tour Divide in 17 days. Tour de France riders average a paltry 160kms a day and take 21 days to cover 3360 .

Did technology enable her to ride faster for longer? Possibly, but there are pros and cons. Her press-fit bottom bracket failed her and was replaced mid-route, as did Jay Petervary's. (Jay's Bike). Jay is a legend in Bike Packing circles having won most of the major endurance events of that genre and he was riding the latest hi-tech offering from Salsa, the new carbon fibre Cutthroat, a purpose built Tour Divide bike. I'm not sure how long it took to replace Jay's BB on route when it failed, but the guy who won, Josh Kato only did so by around 20 minutes. 20 minutes after 14 days in a non-drafting race is as good as a sprint. What was Josh's tech level like? Not very high. Josh rode a 3x9 speed titanium Salsa Fargo with bar end shifters like you get on time trial bikes, with a "friction" option. Almost anti-tech. No fast wearing narrow-wide chain rings or overly complex clutched rear derailer for him. Instead, the much maligned XTR rapid-rise (my favourite). If your cable breaks it defaults to the biggest rear sprocket, and at 34, instead of a 42, its going to offer a lot more options if your front shifting is still working. Following his incredible (failed) attempt at the Tour Divide the year before (an amazing read) he was leaving nothing to chance and was probably hauling a lot more gear than most. He didn't use a dynamo hub for lighting or charging, but he did have a spare GPS after seeing his partner's one fail the year before.

Editor of Bikepackersmag Neil Beltchenko's rig.
Tour Divide drive-train placings
1st, 3x9, Josh Kato,
2nd, 2x10, Jay Petervary,
3rd, 1x11,  Neil Beltchenko

Australian Jesse Carlson has just finished the TransAmerica, a self-supported 6,800km race across the US. He finished in 18 days, 480kms ahead of his next competitor. Thats 377kms a day, double what the Tour de France riders do, but unlike the Tour Divide, it's all on road. Check out his bike, a plush titanium Curve with hydraulic disc brakes, electronic shifters and  dynamo hub powered lights. Don't look at his seat. Not much padding on a 98 gram seat.

Some of his gear is from the high-end German manufacturer Tune and some of it is from his own company Curve Cycling. Jesse's SP dynamo hub was not only charging his kLite lights, but also his, Shimano Di2's external battery and his Iphone and Garmin Etrex 30 GPS. Why an Etrex 30 and not an Edge series GPS? Safety.The Etrex series has a longer burn time than the more modern touch screened versions and it can take batteries from a gas station or convenience store on route as an emergency back-up should his charging regime fail. Did Jesses charging regime fail? It did actually. This year the temperatures in the race were so high at times that his USB converter, which alters the current from the dynamo to enable charging of his devices, got cooked in the heat. His GPS also suffered temporary thermal shut-down and his Iphone charging cable fried. With weather hot enough to cook cables he changed tack, deciding to do more riding in the cooler evenings, as the dynamo hub and lights were unaffected. He went to plan B for charging devices which meant a USB charger in power sockets. Always have a plan B where tech is involved. Specs on Jesses bike and kit.

Another one of these endurance events, which is closer to Henri Desgrange's original ideal of what the TDF was meant to be is the Transcontinental . It's another self-supported race that this year went from Belgium to Istanbul. Around 4239kms for the winner; you get to choose your own route. The winner Josh Ibbet cranked it out in under 10 days. 423kms a day. Here is something to think about when choosing a sleeping mat, a quote from Josh.  "Last year, I thought I was travelling really light with a lightweight air mat. After the first or second night I really couldn’t be bothered to blow it up". Now he uses nothing. That's low-tech. The fact that there is next to no time traveling in the wilderness means they don't need too much gear, but it's interesting the lengths he goes to for comfort while riding. 28mm tubeless tires, aero bars and hydraulic disc brakes like Jesse's TransAm bike. This is the kind of bike you could commute on, although he mentions that previous riders who used Di2 say the batteries flatten after around 11 days of constant use. Check out his kit list here for more details.

I will finish off this rambling diatribe with two (mostly) different approaches to tech. The 1st and 2nd place getters in last years 360 mile Oregon Outback gravel race. Jan Heine's almost retro looking rando bike and  Ira Ryans Breadwinner cycles custom rig.

I think it would be safe to say that the only thing they have in common is frame material and down-tube shifters. Yes down-tube shifters, like in the olden days, well, sort of like in the olden days. Ira's used a mechanism tweaked to accept 11 speed TT shifter internals, while Jan's is a two levered system. Nothing much to go wrong there. But they are both very usable bikes that are unlikely to let you down, which is what you want when you are out in the boonies.

RIDER  Jan Heine Ira Ryan
Frame Rene Herse steel custom rando bike Breadwinner B-Road, steel
Fork  Steel, made by Kaiesi Enve carbon CX disc fork
Wheels  650B 700 c
Tires  42mm Compass babyshoe Pass Extralight 38mm Panaracer Pasela Tourguard
Front rings 46/30 Renee Herse crank. 50/34 Shimano Durace 
Rear Cluster 5 speed 14-22 11 speed shimano 11-25
Derailers 1930s Nivex rear, custom built suicide shifter front Durace rear and front
Brakes Mafac Raid centerpull (1970s) TRP Hylex hydraulic disc
Saddle  Brooks Professional Sella Italia Flight  (90's)
Shifters Down-tube 2x5 Down-tube 2 x11
Bottom bracket Press-fit (Edit) see Jan's comment in the "comments" Threaded english 68mm.
Extras Dynamo hub/lights and mudguards

*Most of this info was gleaned from CX Magazine. Ira's Bike and Jan's Bike.

Check out Jan's cluster. 5 gears, with a beautiful Rene Herse crank. Imagine how strong and light a 650B wheel with 5 sprockets could be. Read the links to CX Magazine or go to Jan's blog for a fresh angle on the bicycle.

It does make you think about how important the "technology" is on your bike. Is it an advance or a liability?

Jan Heine's Rene Herse custom. 2nd in the Oregon Outback. Image from Bicycle Quarterly

Ira Ryan's Oregon Outback winning Breadwinner B-Road

Links from this post.

Jay Petervary -
Jays bike
Jan Heine's bike in CX-Mag.
Ira Ryans bike in CX-Mag.
Breadwinner cycles
Josh Ibbet pre-TCR
Josh Ibbets bike and kit.
Revelate Designs
Josh Kato interview
Josh Kato's kit list.
Josh's Bike
Josh Katos 2015 TourDivide scratch. Amazing read.
Curve Cycling
SP Dynamo hubs (plays annoying music)
kLite Lights
Road Bike Review - Do-disc-brakes-stop-you-faster-than-rim-brakes

Disclaimer: These are my own personal views, and opinions, and are no more or less valid than anyone else who has a blog's view.  They come from my experiences as a rider and consumer of cycling products across several genres: XC, CX,Track, TT, Road and Bikepacking. I have never worked in the industry. I do 95% of the work on my own bikes and would like to keep it that way. I currently foolishly have 8 bikes but if the zombie apocalypse comes the one bike I would like to have at my disposal would be my early model Karate Monkey. I am not afraid of technology, I have been using a PowerTap power meter for years and have recently brought a dynamo hub and all the accoutrement's.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tune axle swap. 9mm to through-axle

Is your old Tune hub looking sad and neglected cos you dropped her for some swanky new model?

No problemo.

1. Bash out the old axle  (on the right), using the closest approximation to the official tool that you have ; )
2. Bash out the old bearings. (15x28x7mm).
3. Bash in some NEW bearings. The same bearings that you get in a Hope rear hub.
(17x28x7mm). I got them from ShockCraft.
4. Insert the new oversized axle that you bought from Krischan at

And whacko-the-diddle-oh chicken treat. You are good to go.

Sell your old axle to a weener on