Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Le Petit Brevet - where too much climbing is a thing

Le Petit Brevet is one of those rides that both entices and scares at the same time. I'm not getting any younger so when Scott Emmens announced he was going to organise it this year after a 3 year gap since the last one, I thought I better hop on board. The thing that you struggle with from looking at the stats, is how you can get so many vertical metres into that many kilometres. Well, all I can say is, you do.  There are only about 50 kilometres of flat in the whole ride. Typical Dirt Brevet type rules apply and you have to finish inside 36 hours.

24,888 freedom feet of climbing. If you don't enjoy climbing, it's probably not for you.

I was lucky to have my buddy Ian and his family host me, and quite close to the course, in Mt Pleasant. After unpacking my bike I noticed I could no longer get big/big in my gears and my rear disc was rubbing. Something must have shifted in the travel process.  I decided to adjust the limit screw and reset the rear caliper. I tootled off up the hill to make sure everything was meshing, it was. Up ahead I saw a couple of MTBers so I caught up to them to say hello. The older of the two checked out my bike and asked if I was doing the LPB, as his workmate was organising it. When I asked what his name was, and he said "Guy". The penny dropped. I don't think we'd met since the 2010 Kiwi Brevet when our crew came across Groundeffect's Guy Wyn-Williams and Laurence Mote heading into Darfield, or thereabouts. They had the "local knowledge" so we were happy to get on board with their suggestion of a pretty comfy spot sleeping on the porch at the Oxford Pony Club Domain. The funny part was when they got a small head start on us in the morning and we watched them cycle down the road and take a wrong turn in front of us! I don't think we saw them again. Small world anyway!

22 nervous riders, wondering what they just signed up for.
I digress. The next morning Ian and Lucy kindly dropped me off at Hansen Park where around 22 riders nervously waited for the start. Someone named "Tad" hadn't turned up, but he was on the list, so we waited a bit longer and eventually left without him. There was the usual array of completely different bikes, all of which would be perfect for the job at one stage or another during the ride. I was seriously doubtful of the kit that some people were carrying. They either had their mum waiting ahead fluffing the cushions for them in Akaroa, or they were planning on having balmy weather for the whole ride. As usual I was packing my fears, with a puffer jacket, buff, beanie, rain pants  bivvy sack and quite a few other things I considered bare essentials in case I had to sleep on the roadside.

The initial pace was a bit hot I have to say, and eventually I found out it was crusty Andy the Badger Beale who was the culprit. I struggled a bit on my rigid drop barred bike as we entered Kennedy's Bush, but the single track there was the only single-track I did at pace anyway.  I ended up riding with fellow Wellingtonian Dr Nick Kennedy. Nick is pretty fit so I asked him lots of leading questions about his medical specialty to make it harder for him to pedal and talk at the same time. Nick countered by asking me at what point old people noticed a measurable decline in their performance - he was about to find out. Nick had spent a bit of time in Christchurch so he had a bit of local knowledge and was nailing the sealed descents we rode early on. We stopped at the first cafe we saw and Nick quickly downed a pie and a coffee. I hadn't developed a desire to eat at this point so I stowed a couple of pies in my back pack.

Nick Kennedy. On a sensible bike. Cannondale hard Tail.
We carried on at a pretty good pace and got through a fair bit of climbing. The climbing was pretty constant. There were two main types of climbs. Steep, and bloody steep. After a while I pretty much stopped even using my big ring, just to save the hassle of changing gears. My little gear of 24 on the front was not that much smaller than the big gear of some of the 1x set-ups out there anyway.

Eventually we got back onto some gravel, some really steep gravel, I suspect it was Pettigrews road. We had been riding very solidly for about 70 kms at this point. I was using my new Compass Antelope Hill 2 inch slicks, and even on this crazy steep stuff there were no problems with traction. We did see Andy Beale up ahead, pushing his bike up the road. Probably a victim of his early pace and his big front ring. After about 5 minutes it turned out that riding was marginally quicker than walking, and we caught him. He was in good spirits and was fun to ride and walk with for a bit. He was on a hard-tail like Nick so as soon as we hit the off-road leading into the Double Fenceline track I told them to go on,  as I seemed to be in energy deficit and I needed to get one of those pies circulating through my system.

Taking a breather before the Double Fenceline Track.
My first pie still had little attraction for me but I forced most of it down and left the rest for the birds. It was good to take my first "breather" in about 4 hours, and after that I concentrated on taking a few photos. There was a small problem. The higher I got, the better the views were expected to be, but the tops were often enclosed in cloud. On the other hand, if it had been full sun the whole time it would have been even more brutal.

Stiles were the reason I didn't put all my gear in a frame-bag.
The Double Fenceline track wasn't particularly enjoyable for me, and my bike seemed to be getting heavier with each stile. I was surprised to see people out riding this trail for fun. The going was very slow, but after a very long time (2.5 hours) I was temporarily down on the flat again making a 2km return diversion to the Little River gas station to stock up on fresh Pies and Lolly-water. On the return I had my head down and after climbing 2 kms up SH75 I realised I had missed the turn off to Puaha Road. DOH !

Another pie stop after a foolish distraction on the smooth tarseal. What was I thinking? I need more kms?
I stopped a little way down Puaha road for a break and to get some food in before the next major ascent started. A lot of the climbs so far seemed to be around 6 to 11 %, and I think there was only one of the 10 major ones that was under 400 metres (1400 feet). Little Akaloa was beautiful, with amazing views all the way around to Okains bay.

Heading up along towards the Double Fenceline track. I think.... Looking out over Duvachelle Bay.

As I was just about to get stuck into "Big Hill" coming out of Okains bay, I met up with another rider, Andrew Laurie. Of course, I didn't know it was Big Hill, and Andrew was surprised to see me, not knowing that he had passed me when I'd taken my 4km diversion up SH75. Andrew and I enjoyed riding together for a good while, but his head was a lot stronger than mine and I had to drop off the back when I ran out of concrete pills on a particular climb. Andrew seemed to know quite a few of the climbs which was helpful.

I knew I was getting close to Akaroa, but I couldn't believe how long this 65 kms from Little River was taking. I'd left Little river at 2pm, so it looked like it was going to take me at least 6 hours to get to Akaroa. In my head I had broken the distance to Akaroa up into 2 segments, the start to Little River, about 100 kms, and Little River to Akaroa, another 65 odd. I was hanging out for the smooth tarmac descent down into Akaroa when I checked my GPS to see that I was hanging a left instead....

I got seriously flummoxed at this point. I was making hard work of the directions on the cue sheet, and how they related to where I was going. I back tracked a few metres and eventually worked out that I shouldn't have crossed the style. I had just jumped onto the correct trail when I was surprised by a rider coming up behind me. It turns out he had missed the start by an hour, starting at 8am. He wasn't carrying much gear, in fact, he wasn't even using gears. It was Tad. Some how I put two and two together and worked out that he was the guy we were waiting for at the start, and he was the World Singlespeed champion! Cripes, riding that course on a single speed sounded like the definition of insanity. He admitted to doing a bit of walking. He was on a very cool purple rigid Surly Karate Monkey. I was trying to pick his accent thinking that maybe he was Irish, but it transpired that he was originally Czech but has been in NZ for some years. There must be something about Czechs as there was another on the ride, Martin, currently living in Nelson. At the beginning of the ride we laughed about how difficult it was for Martin to get a visa while a Czech drug dealer currently in jail had no problem getting his okayed!

Gorillas in the mist
The Purple Peak Stock Track trail down into Akaroa wasn't exactly flowy and I was starting to despair of getting into town before the shops closed. I got in at just after 8pm I think and was lucky to find a fish and chip shop that while it was officially closed, took pity on me and took my 37$ for a scoop of chips and fish,  2x Powerade, 2x juice and a couple of water bottles.

Andrew Laurie. Great company.
I was so intent on getting food that I hadn't really thought much about the option of staying the night in Akaroa. It made a lot of sense, but I hadn't booked anything, and I had come with the intention of riding through, even though I knew that I was very under trained for that kind of an effort. I figured that if I wanted to I could have got accommodation, or if I blew up spectacularly in the last leg I could jump in my bivvy sack in a hedge somewhere.

The last "leg" was around 100 kms and I would be doing it in the dark. From memory it had 2 large hills in it. I figured that if I took enough food and rested up if I needed to, I could get through, and there was the promise of... joy of joy, some flat riding before the hills. So I turned on my head-light and rolled out of Akaroa at about 9pm and bang, straight into some more hills....  I saw a sign on the side of the road that said "Camping Ground"... I weakened for a moment..... no turning back now.

I lapped up the flat stuff when I eventually got to it (after the first major hill) and I'm pretty sure I even had a tail wind. Before long I was climbing again and seeing up close what a massive problem we have with Possums. I must have seen at least 50 on the trails. The problem with riding in the dark is that there is not much to see. I was starting to get bored and it was messing with my motivation. There was still a lot of climbing happening. Funnily, for someone who loves climbing, I had for the first time in my life discovered there was such a thing as too much climbing. I remembered my phone, I was Stravaing the ride so I had brought two sets of 2x18650 DIY power-banks for it. For the first time ever I was using the phone in airplane mode and was amazed at how little battery it was using. I turned on my Podcast app, if I jammed the phone in the top pocket of my pack's strap I could hear it loud and clear, and it was less intrusive than headhones. For the rest of the ride I treated myself to stories on such diverse subjects as Lab-grown meat, Fake illegally imported aphrodisiacs, to a critique of Madonna's album "Like a Prayer".

Christchurch looms.
It was getting cold so I started wearing my buff, and even put my emergency shower cap on, as well as my rain jacket, for the cold descents. The lights of Christchurch came into view, and then the day started to break. I've only even ridden into the morning once before, and it is quite a buzz. The only problem I had with navigation the whole time was getting back to Ian's house at the end, using Google maps. Scotts LPB GPX file was perfect. So good in fact, that most of the time I am ashamed to admit that I just followed the line and didn't need to use the cue sheets at all.

I had no idea who else had ridden through the night like I had, only 3 other nutters as it transpired, and unlike me, they hadn't mucked around.

First in was Josh Aldridge in a mind blowing time of 14 hours and 56 minutes, he had finished by 10 pm ! That is insane. Next was another Nelsonian, the Czech Martin Strelka finishing at 11:40 pm. His ride was very impressive, on a very nice looking Salsa Cut-throat. Then there was Andy Beale at 1:44 am. I'm not sure what I was doing in the 3 hours between Andy and my time, I guess just riding very slowly ! The other 15 riders that followed the exact course finished the next day.

Plastic fantastic with bald tires, Compass Antelope Hills.

I've done a few interesting one-day rides over the years, but none as hard as this one. If you love the hills, are up for a challenge and want to take in some amazing views, then Le Petit Brevet just might be for you. Scott did a great job organising this for us, thanks again Scott!


Friday, November 30, 2018

Compass Antelope Hill - short review - long ride

I have been using the Compass Antelope Hill tires for a few months now and gave them a seriously good testing a couple of weekends ago in Le Petit Brevet. There will be a post about that soon. Nominally 55 mm, but actually 53 mm wide on my rims. They are very similar to the Compass Rat Trap Pass tires I have been using for a couple of years, the main difference being that they obviously don't spin up as quickly as the smaller 26 inch variant.

They roll pretty well, similar to a Stans Raven, maybe a tad faster given their lack of any real tread. Le Petit Brevet was a pretty good test for these tires. A reasonable amount of seal, a lot of gravel, a good amount of grass. Lots of uphill, lots of down and a smattering of flat. I did 289 kms with 7900 metres climbing with no issues at all. I was very luck to get dry weather for the whole ride and only once experienced one skid while descending on some damp grass in the evening.  They coped with the gravel descents and the gravel climbs really well. On the steepest climb I could hear the knobbly tires of one of my riding buddies slipping, while the Antelope was still riding smooth. I upped my front rotor from a 160mm to a 180mm for this ride as well so there was some "spirited braking" going on.

I rode with 30 psi (with tubes) in both ends. I could have gone with a bit less but was happy to have a bit more air when I came to a complete halt after banging into a rock on one occasion.

These tires are pretty expensive by the time they get to NZ, but then a lot of tires are. If they wear as well as my Rat Trap Passes have I will be pretty happy. They have a good thick centre area. The only punctures I have ever had on my RTPs were caused by thin pieces of wire.

Reported weight is 535 grams for the standard weight and 465 grams for the light-weight.

Thursday, October 18, 2018


Update 4:
Boganduro Redux preliminary results.
Strava does weird things, some people's results were completely omitted.
Contact me if you see any mistakes.

Wave 2 riders added. 

Segment 1 UP ! Puketiro road
14:42 Nick Kennedy
15:53 Greg O Cleirigh
16:10 Jeff Lyall
16:26 Calum Chamberlain
16:29 Bryce Lorcet
18:13 Pat Hogan
18:46 Andy King
18:58 Chris Shaw
19:17 Michael Jacques
22:31 Jon Keyzer
25:43 Marcus Baguley
26:12 Alex Disher
39.45 Wayne Kelley
39:54 Anthony Yates
39:59 Ross Wilson
40:00 Trudy Hadley
Chris Anderson
Janet Marsh 
Jason Mccrystal
Brian Moyle
Geoffrey Notman

Segment 2 DOWN! Battle Hill
4:10 Calum Chamberlain
4:33 Nick Kennedy
4:38 Bryce Lorcet
4:39 Ross Wilson
4:40 Jeff Lyall
4:40 Michael Jacques
4:41 Andy King
4:55 Chris Shaw
5:00 Pat Hogan
5:02 Greg O Cleirigh
5:17 Marcus Baguley
5:49 Wayne Kelley
7:30 Trudy Hadley
Anthony Yates
Chris Anderson
Janet Marsh  Alex Disher
Jon Keyzer
Jason Mccrystal
Brian Moyle
Geoffrey Notman

Segment 3 UP! Belmont Road
22:59 Nick Kennedy
24:23 Greg O Cleirigh
25:14 Jeff Lyall
25:42 Bryce Lorcet
26:23 Calum Chamberlain
28:12 Pat Hogan
29:57 Michael Jacques
32:44 Chris Shaw
36:09 Jon Keyzer
39:52 Marcus Baguley
40:29 Alex Disher
54:49 Wayne Kelly
55:13 Trudy Hadley
55:16 Ross Wilson
55:23 Anthony Yates
Chris Anderson
Janet Marsh
Andy King
Jason Mccrystal
Brian Moyle
Geoffrey Notman

Segment 4 DOWN! Bull Run
6:15 Calum Chamberlain
6:51 Bryce Lorcet
7:37 Nick Kennedy
8:16 Jeff Lyall
8:34 Pat Hogan
8:53 Greg O Cleirigh
9:23 Chris Shaw
9:28 Michael Jacques
10:14 Andy King
10:15 Marcus Baguley
10:45 Jon Keyzer
16:49 Alex Disher
20:41 Trudy Hadley
20:56 Wayne Kelly
21:02 Ross Wilson
21:07 Anthony Yates
Chris Anderson
Janet Marsh
Jason Mccrystal
Brian Moyle
Update 3:
Don't forget to dress sensibly, it could get cold, bring food and water, tubes and tools. Have the course at least on your phone or GPS. ( << you may like to download the new file, I think the other was faulty). Familiarise yourself with the course in the event that you get lost. Course notes here. Please read them at least once.

Update 2: 
The Belmont Regional Park will no longer be closed for lambing as of the 20th October, this weekend, if you are one of those unscrupulous sly trainers looking for course knowledge ; )  The timed segments below are at this point a rough guide. They may be tweaked one way or another. YMMV.

Update 1: 
The Boganduro is a casual gravel grinder in the Grinduro format with self-timing based on the STRAVA app installed on your phone.

This is a chance to catch up with your buddies and have a good old chin-wag, and if you are up for it, lay down the hurt on a couple of climbs or downhills, if that's your thing.

It will be on gravel where possible, with around 1600 metres of climbing. The Boganduro starts in Wellington, or the Hutt Valley, and takes in Battle Hill and Belmont Regional Parks.

Starting point:
Wellington Train station. 8am and
Petone Wharf 8:40am, Sunday October 28th.

Cost: Free
Food availability: Pauatahanui Cafe / Dairy enroute.
Bail-out points: Judgeford, return to Hutt Valley via Haywards on the road.

It's fully self supported, bring tools and a couple of spare tubes and kit.

Be prepared for all weather and to ride for up to 96 kms max, but around 74kms if you are only starting in the Hutt.

Use #boganduro to share  related bumpf in your social media if that takes your fancy.

To give you an idea of the terrain, here are the STRAVA timed segments that will most likely be on the course. My suggestion is that you will want at least 35mm tires.

The full ride on Strava can be seen here:

The Strava timed segments are shown here.

I have done a couple of reccies on the 3 of the 4 sectors of the #Boganduro. The downhill segments are both mint, and the climbs are... climby : ) the major climb (Puketiro/Cooks Road) you should be able to do in a 1 to 1 gear, so a 32/32 or similar, but YMMV. Strava tells me that there is at least 1 km at 20% on this first sector, but overall it is 8%.

96 kms from Wellington to Wellington

Boganduro fly-by here:


The latest NEW stuff is here now (just below).

*Course GPS (GPX file) here:
*Course notes here. (Dropbox)
*A large map here.  (Dropbox).
A large live zoomable map here:  (Web)

*Read comments below on Dropbox.


The full ride on Strava can be seen here:

The Strava timed segments are shown here.

* WARNING. Dropbox have deliberately made the download procedure confusing so that people THINK that they need to join up and login to dropbox. You do NOT need to.

When the big white login button appears, click the small grey X in the top right, and continue on, repeating what you have already done.

Once the file is saved you can Drag n drop the file onto your GPS or smart phone. I don't know what you do if you have an Iphone but I heard recently that Apple were going to invent "drag n dropping" of files. Fingers crossed!

There are plenty of phone apps that allow you to view a GPS file. The one I use is called New Zealand Maps.

There is another map here which gives you a good idea of the course, but it is temporary.

Youtube of the Bull Run track here. This is the only technical part of the course. Slow down if you are not a confident rider. There are only a couple of small drops in the course.  Another version of it here with better lighting.

Looking at your segments
After you have finished your ride you can upload the file using Strava. Go to the Boganduro segments under your results, look under the "LEADERBOARDS" for "Todays" results.

Results from last years Boganduro are here.


Friday, October 12, 2018

K-Lite Ultra first impressions

A while back a buddy asked me about dynamo systems, as he had just signed up for the Japanese Odyssey rando/bike-packing event and was considering one. I'd been using an Exposure/SP dynamo kit after an impulse buy in the lead-in to the 2016 Tour Aotearoa, and I have been very happy with it to date.

Kerry's never not been involved with bikes. [ R ]
There is a bit of a learning curve to dynamos so Matt had a few questions. The landscape had also changed a fair bit in 3 years, so I did what I normally do when I have dynamo related questions. I asked Kerry Staite from K-Lite. >>

Kerry has to be the most wired guy on the planet, and replies to most emails faster than an army of Russian bots.

I had never actually bought a system off Kerry before, but I had certainly benefited a lot from his know-how, and I had a couple of his switch/wiring looms which he built me for my lighting kit in 2015. His knowledge is encyclopedic, especially in how dynamo set-ups relate to Bikepacking, GPSes, cache batteries and the many different scenarios brain addled endurance athletes and Bikepackers find themselves in. The Tour Divide is the proving ground for Kerry's designs and at some stage most of the big hitters have used his distinctive little gold coloured lamps .

So I sent off a list of about 6 good questions that would set my buddy Matt up with some guidelines when Kerry replied. To my surprise, within a minute or two I got a voice call via FB messenger, it was Kerry.

I'd never actually spoken to him before directly, but we had a good yap and Kerry offered to send over a prototype of the new Skunkworks Ultra Bikepacking Kit that he had been developing and testing on a bunch of test riders out in the real world, people like Jay Petervary for example. In fact, if I peered closely at my Instagram feed I could see little K-Lite prototypes sneaking out under bed-rolls and handlebars in quite a few places. It was under the radar though. These guys were field testing the latest iterations of his new design. Matt could test it and see if it fit the bill for his upcoming adventure. I could run it through its paces and blog  about it when it wasn't so #secretsquirrel

Switch, light and USB converter for charging devices.
Kerry is a master of the 3d printer so he uses this technique as a way of constantly refining his designs in real time. He can adjust his model and print out a tweaked version.

He had also been working on a brand new USB charger. People wanting to use their dynamos for charging devices, (other than their lights) need a USB charger, and most people were having to shell out for the Sinewave Revolution model which seemed to have the bikepacking market sewn up, but was also very expensive, for people not earning US dollars. Anyone, like me, who had tried to build their own USB converters soon realised that the Sinewave was the best option back in 2015.

Next version USB charger
in "see-thru" colour-way
When the kit Kerry sent over arrived it included the new funky USB charger, the Ultra MTB Bikepacker version of the lights, a switch/wiring loom and some extensive mounting options. I couldn't wait to get it set up on my bike and test it up against my existing Exposure Revolution Dynamo light, before passing it on to Matt to try.

Loads, on GPS top, Phone below.
(Why you don't use a phone as a GPS) 
It took me a while to figure out something about the new switch/wiring loom Kerry sent over. (I hadn't read the instructions). It was a "PRO system" only available to the big guns. When it runs on lights mode, it also lets the other plug in the harness charge your GPS, if it is plugged in.

Unlike Phones, GPSes power demands are quite small and the effect on the light itself is minimal.

The system available to the man on the street uses a simple toggle, lights or charging. keeping it simple. See the picture to the right to see the difference between the load from an Extrex 20 GPX vs a Samsung A5, with a medium sized battery.

The USB charger
A new run of the USB chargers.
The design of the K-Lite USB charger really impressed me. Both the input and output cables went into the same end of the unit, which means it takes up less room, and there is less kinking of cables if it is stuffed into a Gas-tank. Kerry says this set-up is designed specifically for use with the BikeBagDude Gas tank.

The fit of the "USB-in" port was very tight, which is great, to stop any water egress. An even better surprise came later when I saw the next iteration of the USB charger, it was transparent, so you could see all the techie internals, and best of all, an activity light, so you KNOW if the charger is receiving power from the hub. Imagine how much help that will be if you suddenly lose charging power in the boonies and you are trying to trouble-shoot a fault in your hub, wiring loom, USB charger, USB cable, or actual device. If the light in the USB charger is going, you have just ruled out 3 separate points of failure. It's been tested running under water as well, so it would have been a godsend in this years Tour Aotearoa.

The lights
So there are two different lights, both designs share the same housing, but have completely different characteristics.

1. MTB/Snow version, 2 wide optics on each side with a spot in the middle.
2. Gravel/Road version, 2 spot optics on each side with a flood in the middle.

The side optics light up first, and the middle optic chimes in at higher speed.

These new lights are a completely different beast from the old K-lite, the stand-light is now included into the casing rather than being a separate unit as it was in Kerry's first generation designs. This simplifies the set-up a lot. The stand-light is now as good or better than the Exposure Revolution which I always thought of as the best off road stand-light.

Another thing that stands out for me are the mounting options. Kerry has opted to go with a GoPro styled mount because it is so widely available. There are a heap of cheapie variations of it on Ali-express with all manner of extenders to create a solution to fit around the way you distribute your front baggage. There are some incredibly creative set-ups being used, and by creative I mean that in a very "Fredly" way. The nature of the mount means that it can be removed, and the light can be mounted off a fork brake hole as well, so it is adaptable. There are also a bunch of slots in the front of the design so that if there was a bike vs Wombat experience which lead to damage then it should be possible to zip-tie the light to something in an emergency.

MTB/Snow version
The beam of the MTB/Snow version is basically a solid 180 degree wall of light. It is completely even in its spread from one side to the other, and only gets a lot brighter in the middle at higher speeds. An issue with Endurance riding at night is when a centre-weighted beam pattern causes disturbance with your eyes when you have to look away from the centre of the trail. An even spread of light is much easier on the brain when everything is running on auto-pilot. Kerry maintains that in single-track, the wider beam pattern means that there is less need for a supplementary helmet light to "fill-in" the spaces when you are typically trying to see what is coming around the corner. In my experience this is true, the light was illuminating well up the sides of the trail when I was single-tracking.

Image from
It can be difficult to compare one light with another. You need to make sure that both lights are pointing in the way that maximises their potential. I was using my Exposure Revo as a standard that I knew and was familiar with as a benchmark. It has a completely different beam pattern with a much more centre-weighted bias. By comparison, the K-Lite MTB/Snow version looked weaker in the middle. But this is to be expected. The Revo did not have the spread of the K-Lite out wide. You cant have it both ways. The K-Lite MTB is designed for off-roading with emphasis on a wide consistent beam. The Exposure Revo is a more generalist light with a foot in both camps.

Road/Gravel version
The road gravel version just blew me away out of the box. I installed the Revo and K-Lite side by side and did runs up around my block. I could toggle from one light to another and the difference was very noticeable. The Road/Gravel K-Lite was more like a helmet light with its more grunty centre-weighted beam pattern. Bright, but still quite wide. Obviously not as wide as the MTB/Snow version, but still way wider and substantially brighter than my Revo. It was so much brighter than the Revo that I was a bit gutted to be honest. The K-Lite wasn't mine, and I wished it was.

A couple of weekends later Matt and I left late and did a 170 km gravel loop so we could see how the K-Lite stood up, without competition from the light pollution that you get from riding in urban areas. This time he was using the Road/Gravel version that I picked up when I was in Melbourne a week earlier. We finished the ride at midnight so probably half the ride was in total darkness, on quiet unlit country roads, or rugged coastline. I took a spare head-lamp as there are always sections of sand, scree and stream crossings that require walking on the Turakirae Heads part of the ride.

K-lite peeking out under the Aeroe front bag.
On the flat sealed road sections of the ride, the difference between the Revo and the K-lite seemed less than I had observed previously. I soon realised this was because the K-Lite was partly obscured by the prototype Aeroe front bag that Matt was running. Even though the bag was hanging over the top of the lights, it still had a massive throw and reached a long way down the road. On our first decent climb in full darkness the Revo and the K-Lite seemed to be poking out a similar amount of illumination at very low speeds, but the K-Lite just reached so much further when we got rolling at any kind of speed.

In another more recent night ride we did, when the Aeroe bag was obscuring even more of the light, due to running the bag in the vertical position, the K-Lite was still blasting a long way down the road.

Kerry really seems to have both sides of the market covered with these lights. The MTBing bikepacker who does crazy all nighters like the Tourdivide and Race to the Rock, and the ever increasing members of the #gravgrav crowd.

Here is a bit more info with pix about the lights from the official launch a month or so back with Kerry's video below.

Anyone in NZ wanting to try the K-Lites should get in touch with the NZ rep Chris Hodder from Pure Sports. Details here.

Disclaimer. These two sets of lights were lent to me on a trial basis so that a friend could evaluate them. He eventually bought a set.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Tour de Gravel - Marlborough - 2018

I only heard about the Tour de Gravel when chatting to local Paul Nicholls a few weeks before the event. It was in Blenheim so a good chance to catch up with my parents and Pew, the baby magpie  we found in the carpark at work, who was now living down south with my folks in the Voodoo Lounge.

Got a bro-deal from Bluebridge using their be-kind-to-cyclists promo. Very little room to actually store your bike tho.
Mossieur Veganburger came along too and we met Bretto from Chainslapmag and his buddy Richard on the Ferry. There was some cycling related talk I believe for the next 3 hours.

The Tour de Gravel was a 4 stage gravel race where you rode on to the next stage after finishing the first. A bit like a Grinduro. It was organised by Duncan McKenzie who organises the Graperide, Marlborough's largest cycling event.

My first problem was deciding on which bike to use. There were potentially 4, and they all had their pros and cons. The Giant only had a 38 tooth big chain-ring, and discs felt a bit like over kill on a gravel event like this. The Litespeed would have been the most fun, and probably the lightest rig, but the 2 inch wide tires just don't roll as fast as the 38mm ones, on the seal. On the gravel they would have been great, but on this ride there was a good mix of surfaces.

When you have too much choice.

International Pirates day. Ooo Arrr! Piccie from Matt.
It would have been a blast to ride the retro Peugeot, and I know it handles the gravel well, having done two Eroica's on it, but I went with my Barlow Pass shod Singular Kite cross-bike  in the end. I had no complaints. They were probably the fastest tires there, and I don't think I gave anything away with that choice, maybe I rode a little more tentatively on the roughest descent, but that's pretty much how I ride anyway. I'm  not a risk taker, unlike one poor  guy who went down one corner in front of me on stage 2, coming away with a broken collar bone.

I didn't come into the event with any real fitness but it was still a surprise to be thrashed by 2 guys on singlespeeds. Vaughan Watson who I had come across in the 2014 Kiwi Brevet on an SSer, and Aaron Bleakely. It was a buzz to be riding with these guys, watching them  doing their spasmodic spins as they hung with the bunch at 45kmh in the "wrong gear", then to see them stomp off into the distance on the next climb! It makes you wonder, how much do you really gain from having gears. Obviously they got by without them back in the day.

The object of Scotty's bromance, "Kevin" who he piloted at non-break-neck speed in the early stages, until he got the Ok....

Every time I go to Marlborough I seem to end up dicing with Brent Ackroyd from Bikefit Marlborough and I recognised Lucas Cowley from Auntsfield Estate, the hosts of last year's Cyclocross nationals, and had not realised he was a gun roadie, actually coming 3rd in the Tour de Gravel. I'm pretty sure that the Jason Allen who was racing was the ex national road/track champ. Its great see guys like that mixing it up with allcomers regardless of their form, he was unlucky to puncture in the last stage.

Brett from Chainslap Mag trying to use his phone with gloves on. Pushed it too hard in the big ring into the wind I think.
It was a very achievable course, not too steep at all, with the longest stage being around 27 kms and the others from 18 to 22 kms. There were around 120 riders, with a "Touring" option, for riders less inclined to race, they could leave at their own time and pace around 15 mins before the staged start. There was also a "bag-truck" which went from stage to stage, with everyone's bags and food in it. this was ideal, as it was a cold day and a puffer jacket was a must have.

Shot of generic old guy grimacing, from Digby Shaw Photography
As usual, in Marlborough, local industry gets in behind events in a big way by donating all the spot and merit prizes. Age groups were a bit peculiar at under 50 and over 50 years of age, which probably says something about the demographics of the event. Entry was 85 $ and included a hot pie and coffee at the half-way stage.

There was an after match function meal at the Vines Village Cafe but we hooked up with Bretto and Richard for supper at Raizada Indian Restaurant which was a way better option for the mostly Veggo-freak crew.

There is talk of next years event being in a clover-leaf styled design, with each leg starting at the same place, probably based in Seddon. This is a great idea, although having to get transport to the start would be a downside for Wellingtonians like myself, trying to do it on the cheap, Ferry tickets being what they are. I am sure if there had not been a Cyclocross race on in Wellington that weekend there would have been a hell of a lot more Wellingtonians there.

Mondo Kopua mentioned that he is planning some Grinduro styled events in Marlborough later in the year so keep an eye out for them.

Results here.

A cool video here:   Bretto's Chainslap Mag write up with Digbys amazing photos in here in detail.

Some of the local sponsors were: Golden Mile Brewing , Vines Village Cafe, Bikefit Marlborough, Taylor Pass Honey, Darling Wines.

Why not make a weekend of it and ride back to Picton via Port Underwood. Matt on his buddy Kevin's Singular Kite
As on Scott's Kevin, Bretto ran the 47mm 650B Horizon Byways on his JAEGHER. No complaints.
If you are going to have a puncture, have it on the way home after the ride. Upside down nail.....

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cousin Mosquito Lyrics

A short diversion from cycling related stuff to my favourite song.

Lyrics for the Song Cousin Mosquito
By Liberian congresswoman Belinda Jackson Parker

My friends.
Lend me your ears
I have a story to tell you
Mr mosquito
Now when you are in the tropics
Beware of that tiny insect
Everyone is cousin to him
Take no chances with brother mosquito
He has the sting of death
When he sings the solo
No one likes to hear
But before he sting
He sings
And that sting
Is the sting of death
It's the sting of death
Beware of cousin
whenever you hear
cousin mosquito
Cousin-cousin-cousin-cousin (repeat 71 times)

Beware of cousin mosquito and his solo
Take no chances
For cousin mosquito
saps all of your blood
and send you to your grave
before time
so take my advice
avoid cousin mosquito and his solo

Cousin-cousin-cousin-cousin (repeat 100 times)
is dangerous
avoid cousin cousin cousin mosquito and his solo.
Cousin-cousin-cousin-cousin (repeat 18 times)

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Tour Aotearoa 2018

Cape Reinga - Te Rerenga Wairua
Leaping place of the spirits
Image:  Paul Nicholls
On February the 28th 2018, the last group of riders set off in the Tour Aotearoa, leaving from Cape Reinga, at the tip of the North Island of New Zealand.

1 hour and 10 minutes later, Wellington massage therapist Pat Hogan reached Bluff, 3000 kilometres away at the bottom of New Zealand, finishing the journey that he started 14 days earlier on February the 14th at the Cape.

The Tour organiser, Jonathan Kennett had opened it up to 600 riders this year, in 6 x 100 person waves, starting on the 10th of February and staggering the start waves through until the 28th. This would spread the load over the country and make sure that the smaller towns were not over-whelmed with hungry riders looking for a bed. It also made it easier for the Ferries to cope with a more manageable stream of riders.

The Tour Aotearoa is not your typical bikepacking event. It’s not a race, it’s more like an adventure, a journey.

90-mile beach. Photo by Paul Nicholls
A bit of pre-camping before the start. Photo by Paul Nicholls.
 It’s like a cross between the Coast to Coast Multisport event and the Camino de Santiago. It encourages self sufficiency and resilience. It must be completed between 10 and 30 days, unsupported, with 6 hours a day minimum rest from riding, for recovery. Riders must follow, and not deviate from an established course that takes in some of New Zealand’s great rides. The Waikato River Trail, the Pureora Timber trail and the Big River Waiuta trails on the west coast of the South Island. Deviation from this path can only be for safety reasons outlined in the course notes, or in cases of civil emergency or local road closings, as happened during Cyclone Gita this year.

Not all plain sailing on the Kaipara Harbour with wild weather causing havoc at times. Image Paul Nicholls.
New Zealand has a very changeable weather system, the literal translation of Aotearoa is “The land of the long white cloud”. After coming off the hottest summer in recorded history this year's Tour Aotearoa was suddenly hammered with rough weather as a series of tropical cyclones swept through.

Some challenging terrain to be negotiated

Not originally a river. Photo: Helen Kettles
Rider resolve was being tested. Ferries were being cancelled, roads were being washed out and closed. Conditions were becoming difficult as cars and heavy traffic were re-routed onto the previously quiet Tour Aotearoa route, causing challenges for some of the riders who were not expecting to mix it up with other road users.

A burgeoning community has grown up around the Tour Aotearoa with many remote accommodation options popping up and sharing their details on the official Facebook site. A Mangakino businessman speculated that the 2016 TA injected $15,000 into the local economy, and he was expecting double that in 2018.

In Ongarue the bowling club was opened for the first time in 20 years where showers and mattresses were set up for riders, as well as a food caravan. In Arapuni the Rhubarb Cafe extended its hours to cope with hungry riders. In Pahiatua a couple of "rest tents" were erected for riders and in Reefton there were welcome banners. All around the country, in the rural areas that the TA passed though, people were getting involved. The upcoming tour was enough to convince a man to open the cafe he had been thinking about at Donnellys Crossing.

Spectators and family members watched as their loved ones navigated the country by keeping an eye on their “Spot-trackers”. The Spot trackers are the thing that has probably done more to promote this kind of an event than anything.

Watching the progress of your friend or family member from the comfort of your computer or cell phone as they battle the elements and terrain can be very addictive.

You might liken it to Reality TV where the actors are your friends, and assuming there are fresh batteries in their trackers you can see where they have stopped to eat during the day or are sleeping at night.
This knowledge of where your people are is a double edged sword as now the concerned family members can get worried if their rider's spot tracker seems to stop in one place longer for what they deem an acceptable period!

Despite the emphasis on resilience in adventure biking, social media has now become a big part of the tool-set with which some people arm themselves. In earlier times, if you suffered a catastrophic failure then your only option was to keep on walking until the nearest farm house where you could usually rely on a friendly farmer to help you out. Nowadays the request also goes out to social media where completely random people will offer a loan of replacement parts or just advice on where is the closest bike shop.

Within hours of a rear hub failure, a rider has found an after hours mechanic on Facebook, and a rescue mission has been launched to extract another rider deep from the boon-docks by friendly DOC staff. Two other riders were reunited with their bikes after they were stolen from their accommodation one night, all with the power of Social Media.

Like it or loath it, Social Media is here to stay. In the grand-daddy of all "bikepacking" events, the Tour Divide, the trackers are used by other riders to see how close their fellow competitors are, to see if they can afford to stop for a sleep or a leisurely meal. But the Tour Divide is a race and the Tour Aotearoa is not, its a Dirt Brevet with cut-off times. Organiser Jonathan Kennett makes sure everyone knows. If you finish inside 10 days, you are disqualified.

Maybe the emphasis on the Tour Aotearoa not being a race is part of the popularity of this event. One guy came to New Zealand to go walking, and a week later had brought a $1000 mountainbike and entered. He finished in 28 days, but it was hard. Some people seem to have an idea that its a groomed cycle-way like those in Europe. It's not. It's a mixture of all terrains including beautiful rugged trails where you will have no choice but to push your bike up stream beds, you are riding in the wilderness.

400 of the 525 starters this year were from New Zealand, at an average age of around 50 years old. The overseas riders averaged 40 years old. By comparison, the American Tour Divide pulls in 163 riders in total from all countries.

A large number of the riders in this year’s Tour Aotearoa were women. Typically an event of this length would attract 9% to 11% women at most. It is estimated that around 22% of the riders this year were of the fairer sex.

Helen and Anne-Marie, two intrepid adventurers in their first ever Bikepacking experience.
Maybe it was the example set by trail blazer Anja Mcdonald’s ride in the 2016 event. Anja finished 3rd across the line in her wave in a bit over 10 days. This year her husband Tristan Rawlence was trying to beat her time, but for every elite level rider doing the TA there are 100 riders who just want to experience the outdoors and meet a new challenge.

Several riders over the age of 70 were out there this year mixing it up, and for a large number of people this was their first exposure to any kind of a Bikepacking. This brings big challenges for some of these riders lacking experience in the outdoors and missing bike maintenance skills. Fortunately New Zealand is a small country dotted with towns, many of which have good bike shops en route. 56 riders reported that they didn't actually camp out once, so there is always that option.

With an 87% finishing rate, its obvious that organiser Jonathan Kennett and his helpers must be doing something right. The next official running of the Tour Aotearoa is scheduled for 2020, but the TA is not just an event, its a pathway, and riders are doing it whenever they can make it, at their own pace and with their own rules.

Luke Garten sums up the vibe pretty well in this podcast
For more details on the Tour Aotearoa, follow the link.

A training plan for the Tour Aotearoa.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Eroica Montalcino 2018

I thought I was pretty lucky getting the chance to ride Eroica Japan in 2017, but my luck continued in 2018 with a 5 week trip to Italy, Croatia and Slovenia, with 5 days in Montalcino Tuscany, to ride the Eroica Montalcino.

It started out as an opportunity to reunite with some Eroica friends from the Japanese event, my buddy Ran from Wellington, and Darryn and his wife from Melbourne Australia, who we met while in Japan. In the end Ran couldn't make it but the others could. Darryn's wife Yvonne, and mine really enjoy each others company so we had all the ingredients for a successful holiday. “Happy wife, happy life” as our guide on our Amalfi coast bus ride told us many times, he should know, his wife ran off with the butcher so he changed camps, so the story goes.

Fiat 500 L. Heaps of room.
Getting there was half the fun. Despite driving in a country where road rules and speed limits are completely optional, somehow I managed to simultaneously annoy the locals by driving too slow (130kmh in the slow lane), and also pick up a speeding ticket within an hour of getting on the Autostrada. Go figure. We don't speak Italian so I have no idea what I was supposed to have done, I suspect, being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the officer was down on quota!

Meanwhile, Darryn had gone with the other option: NOT hiring a car, which meant dragging a bike case around from plane to train to bus etc. At least he didn't have to worry about parking, or speed camera fines arriving 6 months later with a 60 euro admin fee from the rental company! What ever you do, where a bike case is involved, there will be pain!

The view out the window from Darryn and Yvonnes accommodation.

The hill top town of Montalcino in Tuscany was the location for our base, and by pure chance we were a few metres around the corner from Darryn and Yvonne. These hill top towns are dotted all over Tuscany and are amazing with their cobbled streets and beautiful old buildings.  Darryn and Yvonne had been on holiday earlier than us and managed to follow a bit of the Giro and Darryn even got to ride his Eroica steed up a back route to the Zoncalon, so they could view the Giro's steepest climb.

I quickly assembled my bike which had survived the 30 hour flight and car journey from Milan to Montalcino, in readiness for a tootle the next day. We snuck in a ride, enjoying temperatures in the high 20's. The bikes were all running sweet.

Checking out the Strade Bianchi

We had decided to go out that afternoon for a drink but Yvonne texted back,  Darryn was stuck in front of the telly. Froome had "done a Floyd  Landis" and ridden away from the bunch, live on TV! I had to join him. Exciting times.

The picturesque village of Montalcino was now peppered with heaps of stalls which had just popped up out of nowhere, selling all sorts of things that none of us needed but that we all wanted.

The pre-ride meal had been spread out over several locations through-out the town. There was wine, great food, good company and some very exuberant accordian playing and a fair bit of serenading. On the way back to our accommodation we came across more festivities out on the street with revellers toasting the Eroica founder Giancarlo Brocci.

Giancarlo Brocci and some speeches

The startline, the night before.
The day of the ride turned out to be a beauty, not too hot, sunny with occasional overcast patches. There were several distances on offer, 27km, 46km,70km, 96km and the 171km route. Darryn was doing the 96km ride, but I had decided that if I was coming this far I was going to do the big one. I hadn't done the amount of training I needed to do it comfortably but was hoping to fake the last 71 kms! The two longer distanced events started at the same time and we rolled out on time.

It was a fairly relaxed pace which I guess makes sense for a 171 km ride on old steel bikes. Eventually I came to the first check-point, except it wasn’t. It was the second ! I had blown through the first one thinking that it was just one of the many food stops along the way, some of which were just for food only. The guys in checkpoint two thankfully believed my story, gave me the missing stamp and said I was the first to come through, I was to meet them again later when closing off that loop from the other direction. The checkpoints had all sorts of lovely food on offer and I forced myself to have my first wine, it would have seemed rude not too.
Strade Bianchi
At this point I was in heaven. Hill after rolling hill, most of them white limestone gravel, the famous Strade Bianchi. The scenery was incredible.

After struggling with the course marking in Eroica Japan in 2017 I made sure I had the map loaded on my Etrex GPS this time. Not that I needed it. The course was marked very well. In fact, the only time I got in trouble was when I watched the GPS too closely and missed the signage which was often slightly different as we passed through the little villages.

I was still running the same tires I used in Eroica Japan, the Specialized Roubaix 30/32’s and there were great. Robust as hell on the rough descents. Probably not period correct but really comfy. My much maligned Mafac Competition brakes were also great. I only had the one moment when I met a car while bombing some Strade Bianchi and I panicked and swerved left, a bad move in a country where they drive on the other side of the road.

I thought I was keeping on top of my nutrition, there was plenty of food available, even if some of it wasn’t your normal endurance riding fare. After a long time riding by myself I started to catch up with some of the slower riders on the other courses which overlapped with mine and we headed for the really steep stuff, which the organisers had thoughtfully saved for the last 50 or so kilometres! None of these guys were riding, they were all pushing their bikes up to the checkpoint. It was damn steep, well, it felt steep after 130kms, I think it was the Castiglioni del Bosco Narciarello. I was determined to ride it, but it was hard work in the heat and I probably paid for it.

I must have been running low on glycogen and suffered some brain fade as when I came through the next town I missed the signs and ended up back-tracking a couple of kms.

The day was starting to drag, and there was another really nasty hill coming up. The things that I was in love with 8 hours ago, hills and gravel, were starting to feel very old hat. I was bonking. I had to get off and walk near the top. I’ve only ever done that once before and I didn’t like it. I was cooked. In situations like this you hate yourself for feeling so weak, but the reality is, you have just run out of energy.

I pushed my bike up the cobbles to the checkpoint, somehow knowing that I was 169kms, into a 171km ride, but also realising that in fact, I was a long way from finishing, because this was obviously not the last checkpoint! 10kms remained. Faking the last 71kms hadn’t quite paid off, as the ride was now 181kms! I watched as the guy who had been catching me everytime I back-tracked got his card stamped. He was doing the long ride too. There was nothing to do. I sat down and and had a cold drink and stuffed a bit more food into my face. I tried not to think about what the last extra 10 kms of the ride involved. I imagined another 13% gravel climb, but to my surprise, when I finally rolled off again, it was smooth fast tarmac, and  my legs had mostly returned. Bye bye Castelnuovo dell Abate, hello Montalcino !

When I rolled over the finish line and got my last stamp Darryn had been there for quite a while, having finished earlier near the front of the 96km bunch. We had a relaxing beer and we went to clean up. A couple of hours later we had hunted down the all day pasta party and Darryn’s wife Yvonne recognised the two guys who were responsible for the serenading and accordian playing the night before! To our surprise they were not just the entertainment, they had also ridden Eroica! Yvonne told them how much she enjoyed their performance at the dinner the night before. Next minute the accordian was out and Yvonne received a heart-felt serenade of her own! What an experience. They couldn’t believe 4 people had travelled all the way from the Antipodes to Montalcino Italy for a vintage bike ride, a private serenade made it just that little bit more worth while.

Eroica Montalcino 2018 - 181 km