Archive for November, 2006

Camera Repairs

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After more than a year of general neglect and many months bouncing about in a bar bag, my ever faithful Canon 20D was beginning to complain. Loudly. The exposure compensation had packed in, the on/off switch was playing up and dust seemed to be stuck to the sensor. I was dreading the innevitable big £££ to invest in a new body, especially as there’s not one on the market that’s significantly better than what I have – without spending a lot more cashola.

As luck would have it, miracles have been worked by Bristol’s Black on White, a small, professional repairing outfit in Westbury Park. I dropped it in for a sensor clean and to see if they could figure out what was wrong, and a few days later it was ready. ‘Bit, er, dirty in there, ‘ they commented after their open surgery on the body. Apparently the camera innards were jammed with a fine sand and dust – that would be Ladakhi sand and dust, I expect. In any case, it now feels as good as new. Having exposure compensation back is great, and being able to rely on it actually turning on is nice too. The bill was £60 plus VAT, which I thought was a bargain, considering the sensor clean alone is £23. So if you’re having camera complaints, I highly recommend them.

Simon has posted a bit about Camera Armor, from the US, on his site. Could be worth a try…

The Way of the 29er

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I’m really into 29ers these days. Not heard of them? They’re basically bikes with 700c wheels, big fat mtb tyres and a rejigged geometry so there’s no toe overlap. Popular in the US, the 29 bit refers to the approximate size of the wheels’ outside diameter. I tried one out on a What Mountain Bike shoot. Instantly smitten, it didn’t take long before I’d bought one. My first impression, before I’d really got into this whole *movement* (as it turns out to be), was the front tyre’s anaconda-like grip on the ground, and the way it just rolls and rolls and rolls.

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But why? There’s loads of stuff on the internet debating the pros and cons of a 29er compared to the now traditional 26incher; vocal preachers and avid demonizers alike airing their views. As a fairly tall rider (6’1″ with giraffe legs), 29ers immediately felt right. They looked right too, which I like in a bike. Nicely in proportion. A longer fork means less spacers stacked up like casino chips to get a comfortable cockpit, and as I run a long seat post, there’s no need to a ridiculously high riser bar to balance it out.

I’ve tried the Inbred in pretty much all its incarnations. Singlespeed rigid in Ashton Court, with a Rock Shox Reba fork, gears for Wales, a Rohloff for touring in China, and now I’ve purloined a carbon fork so I can experiment with it light, rigid and geared. The upshot is that I’m riding faster than before, with more confidence: thanks to those big wheels, and their useful knack of rolling over things rather than hitting them. In fact, with that big pocket of air, they almost act like suspension. Not 100mm travel suspension (which seems more than ample for these bikes) but enough to take the edge off a lumpy trail.

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The sliding dropout gizmo means the Inbred is a real chameleon. There’s even a special hanger with a mini torque arm for a Rohloff. It’s a bit more fiddly to run a BOB trailer, as you need to space the dropouts a bit, or cut down the skewer. I’ve only used it for the groceries so need to check how it handles heavier loads, as single wheel trailers put loads of stress on the dropouts. You’ll need a longer trailer yoke too, or the back tyre will rub. Check out those extravagant blue-capped Hopes. They were due for Cara’s colour co-cordinated Cotic Soul, but they arrived late so I got them (-:

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The argument against big wheels is that, being inherently more stable, they’re more unwieldly to turn than their 26in brothers. Well, no complaints with how the On One handles – it’s certainly no slouch. I believe it’s the only 29er currently sporting a fork with a specific 29er offset (47mm) to sharpen up steering (by reducing ‘trail’), while also helping out with toe/tyre clearance. 29er goemetry and fork offset have yet to settle down across the brands – though this looks like the way it will go with forks, rather than taking a normal 26in fork and sticking a bit on the end…

What’s in a number?

The big complaint (funnily enough, generally from people who don’t ride them) is that the extra size and weight of the wheel makes life harder in tight singletrack, as it requires more effort to kick the bigger wheels up to speed. While this makes sense, those who favour a fluid riding style rather than a stop-start explosive one probably won’t find it such a big deal, within reason. In fact, it may even bring out the best in your riding. The big wheels seem to roll nonchalantly over roots, allowing you to pick up more tempo. Far from holding you back, all that rubber corners like it’s on rails, thanks to a longer tyre patch with the ground. I particularly like the way the bike seems to lope along like my (now sadly departed) lurcher Tramp. Full of potential energy, coaxing you to ride a little faster, use a little less brake, urging you to see what it/you can really do. The downside is that extra tyre=more area for mud to stick to, and hence even more weight in UK winter conditions. But the advantage is that it’s more inclined to float over boggy and muddy patches rather than sinking in. After riding a Surly Karate Monkey on this year’s Coast to Coast off road epic with Cara and Kieran, I was unanimously crowned BogMaster.

I’m still tweaking the setup, and there’s some of the fiddly stuff to sort out, like cutting down brake hoses and tydying up the fork steerer length. A few bits are borrowed, like the minimally lovely Middleburn cranks, the lightweight Speedcity wheelset and the leggy On One Superlight carbon forks. I’m even trying out a 29/44 chainring combo. Another experiment.

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Only two chainrings means a neater chainline and less to think about. The 29er wheel accounts for about a cog and a half difference in gear size over a 26in bike, so I could envisage running out of gears on a long technical climb. A bigger gear means you have to attack the climb faster, like a singlespeed, and use the momentum and that extra 29er grip to hurl you up. So far I like it, though I’m having trouble getting it to shift reliably into the smallest cog at the back – removing a couple of links from the chain helped. (edit: I’ve now fitted a longer arm rear mech, and that has sorted it out) Think I’ll fit a Tiagra front mech I have around, as this will maximise tyre clearance and look a bit neater too.

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On One’s new carbon forks weigh about 940g, have massive clearances and are unashamedly cylindrical to keep them on track. Like the steel version the frame came with, it has a 47mm, 29er specific offset. I’ve fitted a 180mm front disc, the norm these days so I’m told. Does the job nicely.

Continue reading ‘The Way of the 29er’

A day in the life of the Pashminas

Cass and his furry friend

I was sifting through our summer 2006 pics, and came across these two furry fellows. The pic was taken by Aussie Dan after I’d fed this friendly miniature goat a piece of chapati. The toothbrush was for my own benefit. The three of us were reaching the end of our Karzoc Valley ultra-light (and ultra-hungry) hike’n’bike adventure, on a mission to unearth new singletrack. A story which I’d like to write up one day (if they’ll have it) for a fine UK publication by the name of Singletrack.

The night before, we’d dined with a Tibetan semi-nomadic shepard and his wife, as well as a handful of hey-diddly-neighbours in cowboy hats who’d crammed into the tent to watch us. As luck would have it, the wife spoke surprisingly good English, and told us a bit about their lives.

In the warmer summer months the small village of a dozen families cross the pass and descend to the vast, grassy expanse of the Morei plains to fatten up their livestock – in their case a grand total of 99 Pashmina goats. In the winter, everyone huddles away in cuboid, mud brick houses. They’re set in a protective quandrangle, with windows only on the inside: this place gets very, very cold. It’s 3 days and nights away by horse from Leh (when the roads are cut off by snow) and a real ghost town in the summer. We’d passed through it the day before, and even in these warmer months a cutting wind was whipping through the valley.

Every once in a while, a businessman from Leh visits to buy the pashmina wool, considered the softest in the world. Interestingly, the goats aren’t sheared but brushed, which removes their fine hairs.The family treated us to a hearty breakfast (goat milk and goat yogurt amongst other things) and then we said our farewells – the husband set off with his mates towards the hills, yodelling and yipping to the various yaks, sheep and goats that were milling about. I said I’d go back next year with some pictures.

The Pashmina Massive

The Pashmina Massive.

Nomad head

This chap didn’t say much, but he seemed to like watching us.

Cass, Dan and Rob

One for the family album.

Bike shadow

Inside the nomad tent, warm and out of the wind…

Singletrack Morei Plain

Singletrack off the Morei Plain.

Pics by Daniel and Cass.

Tibetan tig welding!

People often wonder what happens if their frame breaks on the road. Martin, who joined us on the first Spiti trip we organised and helped unearth much of the singletrack, just emailed these pics. He was riding Lhasa to Kathmandu on a jeep-supported tour this autumn. My Specialized Enduro frame gave up the ghost around Shigatse, but fortunately we managed to track down the only man with a Tig welder who did an OK job on repairing and reinforcing the frame. The frame lasted the remainder of the trip. It took some serious hammering and filing to get the inside of the seat tube to accept the seatpost afterwards! The metal of the frame bulged inward where the welds were done, he said. Just goes to show what a bodge can do, even on an aluminium frame…

Tibetan tig weld

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Oh, and Specialized didn’t bat an eyelid about sending him a new frame under warranty…

Provisional Dates for 2007

Chandra Tal

Here’s our trips and provisional dates for next year. We’ve decided to push them back a bit, as this summer saw an unusual amount of rain earlier in the season. For the first time the monsoon bruised its way up to Leh, washing out roads and in some cases even villages along the way. Normally Ladakh is shielded from the yearly rains that sweep through much of India by two monster passes (Rohtang Jot and Baralacha La). Climatic changes now seem to be saying otherwise… As usual, these are all challenging trips; get it touch and we’ll tell you more about what they entail.

We’ve made a few itinerary changes too. Feedback is most welcome.

Manali to Leh via Wari-la: 13th August to 31st August (jeep-supported)

We’re thinking of running the classic Manali-Leh ride with minimal jeep support for 2007, and adding an extra sting to the tail by looping round to take in two *bonus* 5000m+ passes in the Nubra Valley. Want to hit all the big passes in one go? Then this is the trip for you.

Spiti Epic: September 3rd to September 17th (jeep-supported)

Aside from a few tweaks, this trip will be running pretty much unchanged; it’s the most mtb orientated of the rides and we keep finding new challenges to throw in. There’s some mean switchbacks and optional technical bits for added flavour.

Sach Pass: 18th Sept to 2nd October (jeep-supported)

If there’s enough interest, we’d like to run a new trip that ventures into the quiet Pangi and Chamba valleys. We’ve posted some information on it here. It’s a more *chilled out* tour; it’s a little lower in altitude and set in a part of the Indian Himalaya where tourists rarely travel. Have a read, and let us know if you’re interested.

We hope to run all the trips with 8 people, plus us. As usual, jeep supported will be minimal and we have our excellent Spitian and Ladakhi crew to help transport kit and rustle up delicious local delicacies.

These aren’t set in stone quite yet, so get in touch for more information.

Sustrans Route 81

We’re just back from riding a section of Sustrans’ Route 81 (in mid wales) for a ride feature in Cycling Plus. Here’s a few pics…

Cara and a wiggle

Woods

Sssss

Elan Valley

Fairytale

Bridge

Seaside


Please check out our main website for details on our bike trips to the Indian Himalayas.

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