Friday, March 20, 2015

The Internet, social media and the Kiwi Brevet

 The following is a brief story of my introduction to the Internet and its impact on the Kiwi Brevet via social media.

My first introduction to the "Net" came in the late 80's where I became aware of email at my work-place, and then the Usenet. The Usenet was a bit like a series of  "bulletin boards" where there were topics of interest for people to join, or even create, like and alt.binaries.misc. There was a strict etiquette and FAQs, and pecking orders with a user-base that was either from an educational, science or military background, as these people were usually the only ones with access. This lead to the idea that the  people using this "thing" were relatively intelligent. There were no trolls as such, but there was the odd bit of "flaming". FAQ and Flaming were probably terms that came out of the Usenet.

The Mosaic Browser home page
This content was all viewed on the command line... you know, white or green text on a black background. The first web browser wasn't yet available and most people were viewing this stuff on monitors hooked into main-frame computers because there weren't that many PC's about.

Many workplaces eventually shifted to PC's and in 1993 the first web browser "Mosaic" was available.

In those days the world wide web was so small that there was a list of new websites each week, and even an Internet yellow pages was published annually.

VORB forum
Out of the world wide web came web-based forums, and Paul Kennett started the NZ mountain bike forum on  and later on Tama Easton started VORB. These forums were a lot more accessible and easier to use than the cryptic Usenet or bulletin-board type affairs and the Internet soon became frequented by people less likely to be nerds, but still keen on sharing and learning new things.

In 1999 I discovered Pyra's Blogger, and used it as a CMS (content management system) for a few sites. Kashi Leuchs (NZ's top MTBer) and the Wellington Vets Cycling Club to name a few.

Blogger by Pyra, before Google
Blogging became a bit of a "thing" but I didn't start doing it myself for quite a while as I didn't think I had anything to say that anyone else wanted to hear. Eventually my fear of strangers knowing stuff about me passed but I still didn't put anything on it about my family.

Web-based Forums on any number of themes ruled for many years, and then in 2004 a thing called Facebook arrived. Most people didn't "get it" to start with and figured it was a place where "people without actual lives" could hang out. In 2006 Twitter was the new kid on the block and once again it took a while to figure out just how to use it and how to get the most out of it, as a "reader" or "poster" and the delineation between the SMS part of it and the internet part of it added another layer of confusion.

All of a sudden no one was worried about privacy anymore. In 2007 the Iphone launched and then in 2010 fortunately Instagram appeared on the scene as an app to enable Iphone users to share their images. Android users had been able to share photos since 2008 but there wasn't a personal "stream" available for them, and Instagram for Android followed later.

With the advent of tablets (the Ipad) in 2010 the emphasis shifted totally from a web base to an app base with increasing numbers of the people using phones and tablets to get their information fix instead of their desktops. In early 2014 Mobile internet usage passed desktop usage in the US.

Blogging was being replaced by Tweeting, Instagramming and Facebooking and SMS texting was being replaced by snapchatting, vibering and gchatting. The line between cellular and internet based networks was becoming blurred. In a few years time I imagine the new users wont know how to distinguish between them.

1993 Mosaic web browser launched
      1999 Blogger
           2004 Facebook
             2006 Twitter
              2007 Iphone
                 2010 Instagram
                 2010 Ipad

Q. How useful are these new "media" as a record of our lives; who holds the information and is it accessible by us, our friends, or only the clients of the "media platform"?

I can go back to the Usenet archives and find every silly question I asked in the late 80s; I am sure I could  go to the Vorb forums and find similar things. (NB, Google seems to be looking after the Usenet archives at the moment. Maybe we should be worried.)

In 2002 Google brought Blogger from Pyra and it became part of the massive Google information gathering empire. Every thing I ever posted on Blogger is still out there and probably by virtue of its association with Google it is all completely searchable. Blogger have dropped the ball as far as keeping up with their "Blogging" competition but they were probably thinking that Google + wasn't going to be so slow to catch on.

How searchable is your content?
How searchable is Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? I've heard Facebook is used as an example of poor usability so it is possible that I am just not skilled enough to find something I saw an hour earlier on FB, let alone a week later. There is no doubt that Facebook itself knows where everything is but that is for them and their clients to know. Maybe that will change?

On Twitter, it seems it is searchable using tags, and you can just scroll down a person's feed for as long as you can be bothered until you get to the end of their timeline. Instagram is similar although Instagram is an example of the shift to a complete mobile (phone and tablet) focus. You cannot (officially) upload photos to Instagram via the desktop, or search Instagram via the web directly, although you can browse a persons "stream". Currently there are 3rd party sites (like ICONOSQUARE) that will allow you to search Instagram, but that's not to say that this feature will remain if Instagram pulls their card, like Twitter did to companies using their API. You can search Instagram via hash tags or users on the mobile app, but not on the desk-top.

An example of the rapidly changing face of Social media can be seen over the last 5 years since the first Kiwi Brevet.

The first Kiwi Brevet's web presence  started as a blog using the Blogger platform in 2009, and was promoted using the VORB Mountainbiking forum. For this, and the next Kiwi Brevet, riders shared their experiences by writing their own blogs, many of which are still linked to via the Kiwi Brevet blog.

For the 2nd Kiwi Brevet in 2012 there was less talk on the forums, but it was still the go to place for  information, along with the actual Kiwi Brevet blog which became a portal of sorts. More individual rider blog links were added. The event organisers used Twitter to share news and updates and riders were encouraged to tweet using the KiwiBrevet hash tag.

For the 3rd Kiwi Brevet in 2014 the VORB forum got a lot less use and and Facebook had taken over as the method of sharing progress during the event. With linked "apps" it was possible to post to a Blog, Facebook and Twitter simultaneously. The blog was also populated with news as it happened and riders were still blogging about their experiences afterwards.

For the 4th Kiwi Brevet in 2015 Facebook and Instagram had taken over pretty much from the VORB forum. Despite the unwieldiness of Facebook, it had the numbers and for the people who could figure out how to do it, they could follow their friend's progress, or befriend the organiser and follow his commentary during the Brevet. Instagram was also very popular using the KiwiBrevet tag, and the use of a 3rd party aggregator meant that people who were not actually on Instagram could also see the posted images that were uploaded. The blog was added to with news as it happened as usual.

The big losers in 2015 were the forums, and Blogs. So far in 2015 we have only 3 known blogs. In 2015 there were over 261 Instagram posts, but only 7 Twitter posts. It looks like people have opted for the quick and easy, formats Facebook and Instagram, with Instagram being the only one that offers a useful record from an outsiders view point, provided they know how to use a hash aggregator. It would be difficult to say how many comments or views Facebook has had.

There is an element of gear-freaking in Bikepacking so the rider/gear profiles have been very popular on the Kiwi Brevet Blog, although hits have come down over the years as people become more comfortable with finding their gear selections. Page views on the 2012 profiles are at 16,000 hits, which has dropped down to 5,600 for 2014 and 3,169 for 2015.

               Year VORB postsVORB viewsBlogsTweetsInstagram posts

The Blue-dots that the blue-dot junkies follow for 4-8 days in February!
One thing that has remained steadily popular and has done more than anything to spread the bikepacking phenomenon are the spot tracking websites that allow people to watch the rider's progress via the GPS trackers that they carry with them. The followers; known as blue-dot junkies, can share in the excitement as their loved ones ride on into the dark, or take wrong turns down no-exit roads! It also gives a level of protection to the riders as they are able to press a button on the device if they are in peril.

Without the spot-trackers the Kiwi-brevet would have had limited interest as a spectator sport. In 2015 a different spot tracking service was used to previous years.

Things change quickly in the Social media world and we don't know what is around the corner, but I cant help but think that we need something less cumbersome and more open than Facebook to build the community for these events, if you know of anything that is out there give me a comment or email me via the form. It would be nice to take back control of our content.

kiwibrevet Instagram tag in

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My favourite derailer Shimano XT M750

An awesome CX derailer and will even go to 36 teeth.
Do you like using drop bars off road?
Do you like using large rear sprockets?
Do you use Shimano?

See below my favourite derailer. Its my favourite for many reasons.

1. It is very robust
2. It has a lot less moving parts than the more recent designs that have (a) clutches and (b) sacrifical mounts that don't actually sacrifice themselves because the derailer construction is too light to actually take a hit anyway, plus they introduce two much thinner areas to develop play in instead of one wider more robust one.
3. It works on a wide variety of drive trains.
4. It works with large sprockets on the back, up to 36 teeth anyway.
5. Its cheaper than a more high-end MTB derailer (which isn't road compatible anyway; dynasis 10 isn't) and you might well find one in your LBS's bin, you will have to look hard though because there will be a pile of shimano shadow derailers on top of it !!

These are the three bikes I am using this derailer on currently with indexing.
An 8 speed MTB
A 9 speed cyclocross bike with 9 speed durace road shifters
A 10 speed MTB with 10 speed durace road shifters

It will also work on a 5, 6, 7 and 9 speed MTB setup.
So 5-9 MTB and 9-10 road.

Why  is the 9-10 road important?
Because if you are a tourer, or monster-cross or cyclo cross rider and you like big hills you may want to use a derailer that works on sprockets up to and over 34 cogs. This derailer will do that. It came out in 1999 but was supersed with the bottom normal derailer in 2003. That flopped, and with egg on their face Shimano relaunched an identical 1999 derailer again in 2005.  Another good to reason to use one is because they are dirt cheap, and even though I have used them for at least 3 years of cyclo-cross I have never come close to tearing one off. How many people can say that?

Most people matching MTB derailers to integrated road brake/shifters (Americans call them "brifters") use SRAM, because for 10 speed at least, SRAM road talks to MTB, and you can go 1x with a clutch derailer on the back. I think this compatibility may have changed with 11 speed. Other people spare themselves the grief and use friction bar-end shifters which may suffice for touring but would suck big time in CX.

Best derailer ever. 255 grams. 

This guy also makes a 9/10 speed long cage derailer for touring.

Read what Sheldon Brown said about derailers and marketing hype.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Francis Hoen, Johnsonville Cycles

It's 11am on a Saturday morning at Jville Cycles and a guy walks in off the street with a flat tire. A mum shopping for junior's first bike is asking a multitude of questions and the people who have turned up to drop off and pick up their bikes are starting to fill up the tiny shop. For me it would be like being the first medic at the scene of a plane crash but Francis Hoen is as calm as the Dalai Lama. It's what he has done for years. The subconscious load balancing and priority setting is a skill that only comes with experience.

Francis tweaks a wheel that has seen better days. 

I first met Francis in 1987 when I had mostly weaned myself from my motorcycling addiction. I had tapered down to a 1973 Yamaha 350 that was so old it had two sets of ownership papers. My attempts at keeping it roadworthy had me visiting a place in Lower Hutt called the Bike Spot.

Bike Spot was run by a guy called Al Heinie with the front desk being manned by Francis. A few years later as the mountainbiking scene hit critical mass in Wellington I was to come across Francis again as the proprietor of Johnsonville Cycles. The scene in Wellington back then was like the wild west with shops popping up all over the show as the local appetite for mountain biking exploded. The Kennett bros and Brent Hoy's Muddy Trails made sure that there were events on continuously pretty much throughout the year. Wellington differed from most places in that the events were managed outside of a bike club which worked well for a long time.

I asked Francis for sponsorship help in 1996 before the MTB Worlds in Cairns and have been a Jville Rider ever since. Francis manned the shop with a fiery red haired sidekick called Blair for many years until Blair went off the grid and moved down to the west coast with his lady where they still live. I recall a rumour that Blair would hide the "Jville Cycles" sign that used to sit on the corner of the street, to stop a steady stream of punters coming in to hassle him.

Unlike most of the other local bike shop owners at the time Francis was a competitive MTB rider and was usually on the podium, winning the master 2 category outright in 1993 and podiuming many other times. This is no mean feat as a bike shop operator with all the travel that was involved at the time. With the best 4 results from 6 races from all around the country counting, it was quite a commitment. Francis raced at the MTB Worlds in Vail, Switzerland and Canada from 1994 to 1998. He also has the record at the Karapoti Classic of 25 finishes on the full course.

The bike industry went through hard times with online sales but somehow Johnsonville Cycles   survived. A few helpers came and went over the years, but eventually Francis went back to working by himself for the most part and has reached that delicate balance. Some days he is run off his feet and other days he has time to sneak in a bit of work on his beloved VMX (Vintage Moto cross) bikes.

His old school approach is the antithesis of the modern "concept store". His solutions often don't come in branded packaging but more likely from a greasy box in the corner of the workshop. I can't count the amount of times I've seen him give a pre-loved item to a customer with the line "Nah there's no charge for that" when he could be selling them a new high dollar item off the rack instead.

A home-made tool for a job that needed doing.
He's not someone to have the latest high-tech gizmo-tools but he will find a way to do what those tools would do, using alternative techniques. I have seen him using what I presumed was an antiquated technique on something and said, "There's a tool for that now Francis". He goes "Yeah I've got it, but it doesn't work as well as this home-grown method".

When I see him dealing with a mum who would otherwise feel out of place in a shop staffed by youngsters I know his concern is bonafide. No matter what kind of newbie questions she is asking she gets his full attention. A client was telling me one day how when she first came in to see Francis she was well over 100 kgs and since she had been biking and working out she has shed about a fifth of her body weight. Another woman I met on Sunday while helping out on "Bike the trail" told me she'd go back to see Francis at Johnsonville because he was lovely. She was a solo mum riding with her daughter and didn't know I was a Jville rider.

It's a hard way to make a living and there has to be a fair bit of passion involved as the financial rewards aren't great. I'm sure Francis's BA in Philosophy was a great help as he weighed up his decision to soldier on in the face of online competition. He adapted his business to excel in the areas that the online competitors can't compete in; service. His wife Kathy is also a small business owner; this is one very hard working couple. Francis is a very rare person, a business owner with socialist leanings who would give you the shirt off his back.

Like so many things that come and go under the guise of improvement, the bicycling industry is full of hype with products that fail on release, as the consumer beta-tests them to short-term destruction. If you want to know what works, and lasts, check out what Francis runs. The Jville Cycles "shop rides" go rain or shine Wednesdays and Saturdays and if a component fails it will likely fail on one of these rides, and it won't be used again. So if you are keen to ride some trails around Wellington in places that you didn't know existed, give Francis a bell or pop in to 11 Burgess Road and join the shop ride. Everyone is welcome at Jville Cycles.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

World's fastest Karate Monkey

My long running fascination with the adaptability of the Surly Karate Monkey reared its head again recently and I made plans to revisit my earlier attempt at the unofficial Karate Monkey World Land Speed Record. The previous attempt resulted in a fairly pedestrian 35kmh average on a "sporting" course to use the parlance of the Time Trial crowd.

This time I was going to go all out and use my HED 3 trispoke (in honour of the late great Steve Hed), and my rear power-tap wheel with disc covers, that way I could use my power-tap for monitoring speed, (and power) plus it was easier to strap the PT harness on than going online to try and work out how to change the wheel diameter on my insufferable bike computer.

At the last minute the battery in my Power-tap hub died so I was going to have to race the time trial totally by feel. Not that that would be a problem. I've probably done more laps on the 5.9km Liverton road circuit than most people. Even so, I got a surprise when I glanced down at my watch to see that I had done the first lap in under 8mins 20 (which equates to about 42kmh). I had no idea what top speed I was doing with the 9kmh tail wind, but the 48-11 had me spinning a good cadence that was neither too high nor too slow. Just right, and proved to be a good governor to stop me blowing out my legs by pushing too tall a gear. I just needed to try and keep it together on the undulating return legs into the southerly.

I hadn't done a time trial for almost two years as I was injured the previous summer after the Kiwi Brevet and that particular pain that you get when TTing was like being reunited with an old friend. Pain is your friend.  I was very happy to come in at 4th place with an average of 41.4kmh, surely a new SURLY Karate Monkey land speed record?

What a cheeky monkey

The Iconic HED3 trispoke

 The next week I took my "proper" Bianchi time trial bike out and raced, knocking a massive 7 seconds off my Karate Monkey time over 23.4kms. Which goes to show, dedicated time-trial bikes are faster, but the aero position did some damage to my nether regions which took 3 days to come right. Speed has a cost! The Brooks saddle on my Karate Monkey was like an armchair by comparison.

My proper TT bike, the Bianchi D2 Chrono is a real chick magnet
I replaced the batteries in my Power-tap for the 2nd run on my dedicated TT bike and got an average of 276 watts. A long way from the 302 watts that I once maintained for a 45kmh average on my Bianchi (in good conditions). I'm keen to try it again on the Karate Monkey (with power) and see if the more relaxed position nets me more power, which in turn gets soaked up with the poorer aerodynamics. If I find that the power is similar, it would imply there are a lot of things I don't understand about aerodynamics.

Once again, it appears the Karate Monkey is the do-everything bike, although I believe that if you want the same bike today you have to buy the Ogre. The new Karate Monkey Ops loses the canti studs and bosses.

The day after the TT the Karate Monkey was back in commuter mode, and the next weekend was in full Dirt Brevet mode for an over-nighter with my wife. Try that on your Specialized Shiv !

Back in commuter mode

On the Rimutaka Cycle Trail

More Karate Monkey ravings here,  here, and here.

Contact me if your Karate Monkey is fast or faster and we will start a leader board.

If you think I might be in need of medication, check out this guy. He is the UK 12 and 24 hour Time Trial champ and his bike is a custom made MTB that he commutes and tours on.  It's so similar to my Karate Monkey I couldn't believe it when Andy Kerr sent me the link after my latest TT.

Andy Wilkinson's Dolan time trial bike >>

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Return to Mount Climie

Jonny in the early 90's
Return to Mount Climie - With pix by Ricoh Riott.

A couple of weeks back I was looking through some old piccies from back in the day. I found a goodie of local rider Jonny Waghorn descending Mt Climie on his state of the art (at the time) Yeti so I scanned it and posted it on Facebook. A a bit of banter ensued and a few weeks later Kim Hurst announced a project she had been mulling over for a while, a fundraiser to help get her favorite wrench and world renown botty grinder (Ricky Slack-boy Pincott) overseas for some hi-end wrench-action at the World 24 Hour Solo MTB champs. The plan was to create a grass-roots homage to the original Mt Climie Hill Climb/Downhill event that used to precede the Karapoti. There have been some pretty famous riders take part in these events including David Weins and Dave Cullinan from team Diamondback. The Climie uphill/downhill combo was also used to great effect in the two-day Tour De Tunnel stage race that the Kennett bros introduced in the early 90's. The 610 metre climb is a beauty but you are very lucky if the weather at the top is good.

Lower Climie
Some people really got into the spirit of it dragging out their old retro bikes and trying to relive the day. Jonny was on his still original Yeti with admittedly a bit less travel than he had back in the early 90's, and Simon Kennett had also recently just come across a new (old) bike which was the same as the one he campaigned the nationals on in the infancy of the New Zealand MTB scene.

Simon and Jonny discussing gear selection
The Downhill guys were also out in force obviously although I didn't know many of their names. Upper Hutt local Ed Banks was there. Ed is always up Climie, anytime there is a chance of snow he's up there like a rat up a drain-pipe.

The last time Jonny would look over his shoulder and see Rob's "race face".

Its worth the trip to the top for the scenery.
You could ride each event separately or together with lowest combined time winning the Mountain Ninja Class.

Ed togs up in pants that have been banned in many countries.
Steve Bale was taking it pretty seriously forgoing handle bar grips for skate-board deck tape. It must have been fun descending on his 8kg rigid bike with those. Hopefully he had some well padded gloves.

Steve Bale

Lee Campbell
One of the most exciting rides I saw was from Lee Campbell on his Specialized Fat-bike. He had been terrorising the Cyclocross fields for the previous few weeks on this machine and despite having no suspension as such I think there were only about 3 riders in the "Mountain Ninja" Class that descended faster than him. He went past me in a blur like an out of control Monster Truck on nitrous. When asked if he had any "moments" he said, "about four".

A rider getting some air shortly after the start.

Ricky Slackboy Pincot himself won the Downhill proper with his home made rear disc wheel and we were all treated to some exemplary home-brewed beer from Ricky's Mud Cycles cohort, and home-made baking back at base-camp.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Hauraki Rail Trail

This is not a tale of epic endurance and sleep deprivation, far from it. Its a story about 6 over 50s casual (very) riders doing the Hauraki Rail Trail.

We had a lovely holiday earlier this year with our friends Janet and Colin who now reside in Tasmania. They are great travellers and are always looking for a reason to come back to NZ. Janet is from the Arnst family down south which has a great cycling legacy associated with it. Janet and Colin have recently acquired electric bikes which has enabled them to cover parts of Tassie with less effort than would normally be required. Our plan was to spend some time with them chilling out at Hahei near Whitianga, and get started on the  Hauraki Rail Trail and meet up with Janet's sister and brother in law part way through.

Hot-water beach.

Hahei beach
We had almost a week together resting up at Hahei sampling some fine Wellington Craft Beers which I brought, and Colin obviously didn't have access to in Hobart. In fact there wasn't much sign of Craft Beer anywhere we went up there, so be warned! Hahei was lovely and a very nice warm change for us as Wellington was already starting to get colder. The accommodation was well appointed but each day we got a new surprise at the cockroach's new hiding places. They kept us on her toes. They like the warm. There were critters everywhere actually. Big black crickets in the grass, massive tiger slugs and on different days there were quail or pheasant walking just outside our bach.

New Chums beach near Whangapoa
In typical Coromandel style, the day we tried to leave for the start of our Hauraki Rail trail experience it bucketed down, trapping us in Tairua. No worries. There was still  plenty of accommodation and the road was cleared early the next morning.

The next day we tootled in to Thames and collected Colin and Janet's bikes from the Rail Trail HQ and we were away. We left the car there as I was intending to ride back to get it after we got to Paeroa, our day one destination. The trail was fast and well manicured. It skirted the edge of Thames for a while and then on to Kopu, Matatoki and past Puriri, where I once lived, (our house was gone) and on through Hikutia and on to Paeroa. The trail, to me, pretty much resembled a very well maintained cattle-race with views best described as "rural New Zealand", not really anything like you would see on the Otago Rail trail. Lots of green grass and the hills of the Coromandel just to the left.

Janet Kay and Colin somewhere between Thames and Paeroa.

 The people that "organise" the Rail Trail have done a great job at promoting it, and getting locals to open up their homes as Bed and Breakfasts and making visitors feel welcome. We stayed with a semi-retired couple of a similar age to ourselves. Apparently there just wasn't a lot of accommodation in Paeroa as it was, so it has been great for stimulating the local economy. Paeroa, apart from the large concrete Lemon and Paeroa bottle is mainly known for its Horse Racing and Motorcycle street racing event.

I rode back to pick up the car while the others relaxed and thought about where we were going to have tea.

The next day in Paeroa we met Janet's Sister and brother in law, Jennie and Rob  and we hit the trail to Waihi via the Karangahake Gorge. Our accommodation in Waihi was a very recently built home that we had all to ourselves for the night. As per agreement, our gear had been dropped off by the shuttle so all we had to do was ride there.

Waikino on route to Waihi

The famous five.

Ooh! A rainbow at the trail's end at Waihi.

Martha Mine in down town Waihi !
The next morning Colin and I jumped on our bikes and did a lap of the Martha mine which is pretty damn impressive. It was of particular interest to Colin who when we worked together years earlier, had done some work in the area. The last time I was in Waihi was for the Waihi to Waihi time trial and I had no idea the giant hole in the ground was even there. We did our loop and and hit the gravel back to a point on the Rail trail where we were to meet the others who had taken the "train-option". Its not sure which is faster, bike or train. Probably the bike I suspect. The train goes from Waihi to Awakino.

The Cornish pumphouse.
 We regrouped and continued on the trail until we got to the Karanghake Gorge again where we did the "Windows walk" through the old Talisman and Crown mining operations. It was well worth a look and even a typical Coromandel apocalyptic down-pour didn't dampen our spirits too much. There is a lot of info on the Karangahake Gorge here.

It rained a lot, for a very short time

Doing the "Windows" walk. It was a high-light for me.

We grabbed some lunched and headed off to our next destination which was Te Aroha, basically just hang a left when you get back to Paeroa !

Some random cycle tourists on cross bikes

A lone wheel barrow full of free feijoas in the middle of the trail from Waihi to Paeroa

Heading into the Karangahake Gorge

The Victoria battery
 It got a little bit wet at times and there was some pretty serious flooding left over from the previous day's downpour. One last stop for scones and tea on route and we rolled into Te Aroha and found our cute little "Miners cottage" which had underfloor heating in the bathroom. A great way to dry out our wet gear. Janet's bro-in-law, Rob, and I got shuttled back to Paeroa and we brought the cars back.

Ye Olde Gold Miners Lodge

It was a fun trip and and would score highly for those who live towards the sedentary end of the "Couch Potato" scale. The hire bikes used were reliable, if a tad heavy. Not that there were any hills. It's a much more achievable ride than the Otago Rail trail for the less athletic adventurer. The organisation of the shuttles and accommodation via the Rail Trail people was faultless.

If you were in a hurry (and a bit fit) you could no doubt do the whole thing in one day but it would probably be best to do that kind of thing mid-week. On the weekend when we were on the return leg from Waihi to Paeroa the trail was very popular with lots of young kids out amongst it. There were also alot of middle-aged people out there like ourselves. Janet's brother in-law was hammering away on the last day trying really hard to catch up to some people out in front of him. When he finally caught them he realised they were 60-70 year old ladies!  We got chatting to them as we waited for a shuttle at the train station and it turned out that I had ridden the first Kiwi Brevet with one of the lady's sons, Nick. It's a small world. Lets hope we are still getting out in it like these ladies were, at the same age.

Thames to Paeroa = 33km
Paeroa to Waihi = 25km
Paeroa to Te Aroha = 21km

Map borrowed from here.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kiwi Brevet kit evaluation 2014

Here is some gear geekage and ramblings from my 2014 Kiwi Brevet, recorded in no particular order. A few people have asked for a list of kit, but lists are pretty boring so here are some of my views on different bits.

Ayup with the large battery
I used the older Ayup lights with the weaker bulbs and run them with the multi-strength battery (on low) to draw even less power. If Ayup made a light with a single bulb I would probably use that instead. For the 4 and a half days of this years Kiwi Brevet I used only 1 and a half of the smaller Ayup batteries, although I also had another of the larger batteries spare. This was riding to the letter of the law and having 6 hours a day resting. Lighting demands for Bikepacking are not great, because generally you are not going that fast. If you had to have only one light, as I did, its best mounted on your head as it can be a big help when setting up and breaking camp in the dark, as it often is, when you are riding 18 hours a day : ) In a world where the electrical items you buy can often end up as landfill within months, the Ayups are the most resilient piece of electrical kit I have ever owned. The lamp and large battery above was purchased in 2008.

Garmin Etrex 20
My Garmin Etrex 20 was great and with judicious usage I only went through 1 set of batteries which died in the last few kms of the last day. The Etrex 20 was recommended to me by Geoff Blanc after the 2nd Kiwi Brevet because:
1 - It has the longest burn time of any modern GPS, (25 hrs).
2 - The batteries are replaceable, (I used 2 x lithium AA's, the same as my camera took). It is not the most intuitive GPS at first, and it does not have all the flash online connectivity of the later models, but it does the basics well. The best comparison would be like comparing your old Nokia bar cell phone to a modern smart phone. You know which one is going to have the better battery life and be the most robust.

Spot trackers
The spot tracker I had used the AAA lithiums and for me lasted the whole 4.5 days. I had another set spare.

A simple one bought from Cash converters running on AA lithiums, same as the GPS.

Samsung Galaxy S2 with a spare $35 chinese battery bank, good for maybe 1.5 charges. Probably for weight and bulk reasons a couple of spare phone batteries would be another option. The phone was really there for social media purposes, email-to-blog/FaceBook/Twitter and got very little usage.

As you can see there are a lot of batteries in there, and batteries are heavy. If you were not interested in recording your trip you could save a fair bit of weight. Maps are also heavy and take up a lot of room as well, so if you have faith in electronics then you can save on some bulk. I think Thomas Lindup went fully electronic with an Iphone with solar powered battery-pack, as did Simon Morton, and a few others experimented with solar charging with differing degrees of success.

The bulk of it
Look at a loaded bike, visually at least half of the luggage you are looking at is your sleeping kit.

Sleeping bag, bivvy sack and bedroll on the front. The rest on the back.

Tent/bivvy sack, sleeping bag/liner and sleeping roll/mat. Its a lot of bulk and usually takes up one whole end of your bike. If you are confident in your pre-booked accommodation and your ability to get there  (be wary of accommodation anxiety - stress caused by trying to meet a predestined location at a certain time)  you can drop all this kit. That is not something I would do or recommend, but for a seasoned campaigner in a hurry, or a novice on a cruisey schedule it is definitely an option. Part of the allure of Bikepacking for me is the idea of being self sufficient, but that's just my take. If you are not as fit, then credit-card touring is a great way to get started. Even if you are traveling light you should still have an emergency blanket, rain coat and a puffer jacket in my view.

I have a bit of a phobia about getting saddle soils (a boil) so I always take spare shorts, and a top, and antiseptic soap, and wash the used clothes each evening alternating with fresh ones. Some people don't bother, but many of them have their own special "procedure" to insure that nothing untoward happens in the nether regions. Apparently there has been a lot written about this area but I haven't come across it yet, if I find anything I will link to it. Veteran Endurance record holder Jay Petervary did the Tour Divide on the one pair of shorts..... I also met several people doing the Kiwi Brevet who did not even use any chamois cream !

The famous Brooks B-17 .
Is it all it's made out to be?
How much you enjoy your bike packing experience can often come down to how well your butt reacts. It's pretty hard to train for the kind of a work-out its going to get, because issues don't really start until after a couple of days. Unless you are doing two-day training rides you are not really going to know what to expect. One thing that seems to be consistent, 95% of the people using the Brooks saddles seem to have minimal problems, if any. Either that or they don't want to admit that the expensive heavy saddle they bought is a dud!  It appears the most popular Brooks saddle is the B-17. The weight of these saddles is what puts most people off them, and not surprisingly, at around 500 grams that's about double the weight of most saddles. But put another way, its only about the weight of a small water bottle. And if it means you don't get a sore bum then I'm pretty sure at day 3 you'd be happy to have one.

Brooks saddle owners do tend to rave about them a bit and Brooks try sell the whole Olde Worlde british culture of the bicycle thing. It's a bit like having pet Seamonkeys. You have to feed them the special Brooks proofide and put on the special seat cover in the rain etc. I'm not sure how many people actually do this  : )  Everyone has a favourite saddle but in my experience so far, after 3 days most bums are mincemeat. I will be trying a Brooks next time. I recently brought a Brooks Swift, and after the breaking in period, going back to my original brevet saddle, a Specialized Toupe, I couldnt believe how terrible the Toupe felt, and that was my second favourite seat to my Fizik Gobi !

Rigid vs hardtail vs fully. I have have tried both extremes, twice in the Kiwi Brevet I have used a 26inch full suspension bike, (Santa Cruz Superlight) and this last time I used a rigid drop-barred 29er (Surly Karate Monkey). No matter what you use, at some stage, someone else will always be on a better option. They all have their pros and cons. As I get older I am thinking the plushness of a fully has its advantages, and next time I will be on a fully 29er, although a hardtail 29er would probably be just about as good.

The hard-core bikepackers tend to favour fully rigid 29er bikes because they are lighter, and potentially simpler, but New Zealand has some terrain that is a lot more fun on a suspended bike, and I personally have never felt that having a heavier bike slowed me down in any way. I think there has to be a pretty big weight differential between two bikes in order for it to make a difference. While there are some steep pinches in the Kiwi Brevet, its not like you are grovelling uphill for 3 hours at a time in your granny gear. One way of limiting weight is to not carry so much water. This is the exact opposite of what I do. I will have 3 or 4 bottles and they will be full most of the time. Not that intelligent, but safe. This contrasts with my Kiwi Brevet riding partner Brian who would take minimal water on, because he was confident in his ability to pick safe streams to drink out of, and would even go as far as to not full his bottles up at the bottom of a climb if he knew there was a stream on the other side. Knowledge is power : )

See below some bike weights from Team Voodoo Lounge. All of these guys had done at least one Kiwi Brevet before except Calum, and Simon, and Simon doesn't muck about and did hours of gear testing, research and tire squeezing.

18 kgs. Thomas, rigid, carbon
20 kgs. Andy, hardtail alloy
21 kgs. Jeff, rigid, steel, drop-barred
22 kgs, Calum, hardtail, alloy
22 kgs, Simon, hardtail, alloy
27 kgs, Tor, rigid alloy.

These weights are "dry" for bikes, minus the full water-bottles and and back-packs people might have been wearing, but with all bags attached. From memory all the bikes were 29ers. Compare these weights to Dave Sharpe's disc equipped Carbon Cyclo-cross Hakkalugi which weighed in at 12.4 kgs. It takes a very motivated person to want to ride hours of gnarly single-track on 33 millimetre tyres though. The plus side is when you hit the gravel or tar-seal its game-on!

Salsa Woodchipper, trimmed .
I think Tor and Simon were running Jones H-bar styled set-ups while everyone else was on more standard flat-bars, except for my Salsa Woodchipper drop-bar. If you were to ride 1000kms in 4-5 days with just a set of flat bars, then there is no doubt you would do some damage, at least temporarily, to your hands in the way of numbness. A sensible bare minimum is a flat bar with bar-ends, but a very good addition is an aero bar which can also be used to tie a front bag onto. Basically you just need a couple of different positions to rest your hands. A drop-bar or a Jones H-bar offers many positions and the Jones bar has plenty of mount points for electronic gizmos and bags. On a drop-bar you will have to run road-style brake/shifters while on a Jones you can run standard MTB stuff. There are a lot more variations in handlebars out there today than there were a couple of years ago. For drop-bar usuage SRAM is actually the best in my view, as all their road kit has the same cable pull as their MTB stuff. Shimano on the other hand seems to have gone out of their way to make stuff incompatible between road and off-road on their later stuff.

Tyres are a very personal thing and can be the cause of much frustration.I saw several people who suffered catastrophic tire delaminations. This shouldn't happen, but if it is ever going to happen, it will happen on the Kiwi Brevet where you are exposed to all kinds of wildly varying terrain. Be wary that some tyres are not supposed to be used with tubeless sealant in them. I was very very happy with my Stans Ravens which are a very light tire that roll amazingly fast. To look at them offers no clue as to their speed and grip. I wouldn't choose a tire based on weight, but rolling resistance can be a big thing. My only gripe was that I spent so much time making my non-tubeless rims, tubeless-ready, and to then suffer a sidewall pin-prick puncture in the North Bank rock garden. Remember that tubeless tires only really self-seal on punctures that happen on the "bottom" of the tire, not the sidewall.

One set-up that really impressed me was that of Peter Maindonald who ran UST rims with burly UST tires that he could air up with a hand-pump. No risks there. Obviously you always take a couple of spare tubes and a pump that wont unwind your tubeless valve-cores when you undo it. Either that or you make sure the cores are done up tight. Some people will take one full size tube and one a 26er which are a lot smaller and lighter but will fit in an emergency. I always take two tire boots made from old road tires and usually end up giving one to someone else.

Peter Maindonalds rig. Well-specced and it felt very balanced and light.

The unforeseen
I had a few issues, some of which were possibly my own fault. I used a set of pedals that were not really up to the task, and when one of them imploded while riding up the steepest sealed section of the course I was very lucky to salvage my ride due to the kindness of a local at Arthurs Pass. Had I been riding shimano SPDs I could have just plonked on one of his, but I wasn't. I was on Crank Bros Candys so I was more than happy to throw a flat pedal with toe-clips on my left side and get moving again. The next day in the technical single track of the Wharfdale I was unlucky to flick up a branch which snagged in my drive-train and mangled my rear derailler. Fortunately my Karate Monkey had horizontal drop-outs, so I was able to single-speed the frame and do the next day and a half in one gear at a time. If I was on my Santa Cruz Superlight, I would have just torn off my hanger, which is a sacrifical point on those frames, which would have saved my derailleur. I always travel with a spare hanger. You'd be silly not to if you have the option. The adaptability of the Karate Monkey definitely saved my butt for sure. There are emergency derailler hangers that can also be packed.

For the first time ever in the Kiwi Brevet I got really bad Achilles pain. I still dont know why. I was probably fitter than I had been before but there were too many variables. An extra 70kms riding a day. Different pedals, a different bike, different shoes, different bars. It started on day two so it wasn't the toe-clip or the single-speeding to blame. It took me 3 months to recover fully, doing stretches twice a day, so you don't want to go there.

Old tried and true stuff
The bullet-proof  Freeload rack. Unbreakable. The 3/4s Thermarest sleeping mat was rock solid, although I lusted after Steves one, which looked like this. It was insanely light and looked as comfy as hell. Brian pointed out that his cheap foam bedroll was a lot lighter than mine, but it also stuck out in the air a fair bit creating a bit of drag in my view.  My simple bivvy sack did its job but we were lucky to have good weather.

See below Simon's tent which folded down to nothing and did not stick out in the wind too much when packed on his bike.

Simon does a tent test pre-brevet. Tor and Thomas give advice. It looks a lot more luxurious than my bivvy sack : )
Til next time!

If you want to know more about the event that inspired the Kiwi Brevet, (the Tour Divide), then follow the trackers here as it the main event is happening right now. 27/06/2014. There are currently a couple of Kiwis in the top 10. The gossip can be found on the forum here.

If you are interested in doing the full length of New Zealand equivalent to the Tour Divide in 2016, then go here