West wind ride.

In the last 6 months I’ve ridden a lot for work but sometimes feel like I haven’t got ‘out there’ just for the fun of it. This coupled with the income from work having enabled me to rejig my bikepacking set up a fair bit meant an overnight ride was past due. The weather forecast was less than stella but I almost wanted this. Time to see how things performed in inclement conditions.

To be honest it really wasn’t that bad. Windy yes and I sort of deliberately chose to camp on a ridge to see how my tarp fared. However it was fairly warm overnight and didn’t rain, I think there may have been a few drops but nothing consistent. I’d switched out my kit for a number of reasons either to do with shedding bulk, weight or to meet a specific ‘need’ I felt I had.

The ‘new’ kit to test was:

Integral Designs* Silwing tarp – I sold my old Rig 3.5 as I just didn’t feel like there was enough room under it for me and my stuff  whilst being adequately covered from the elements. The Silwing gives much more coverage whilst only being slightly bigger in pack size than the Rig. However it is much less versatile in how you can pitch it essentially only functioning as a ridge between two poles. It stood up to the strong winds really well though and I’m really pleased with how well it performed. I would have liked some rain to really test it but I guess I shouldn’t be wishing for wet weather.
*I think these are now branded as Rab.

PHD Minim 300 Sleeping bag – This was a ‘special offer’ deal where you got a bag that sat somewhere between the Minim 400 and the Minimus. So it’s rated to zero degrees Celsius the same as the cheap Blacks bag that leaked down I used last year. So far the temperature  hasn’t really been that cold so I don’t know if it really is as warm however the bag has performed well. The quality is much better than my previous bag with a smaller pack size and weight.

Klymit Inertia X-Lite 3/4 mat – This was one of those products that I saw and it made me scratch my head and say “does that work”. I’ve been using an old 3/4 Thermarest mat which I got for free. It’s done the job so I’ve never been able to justify buying anything else especially as most mats came out at a similar pack size. The Klymit though totally blew that one out of the water as it packs down to the size of a soft drinks can. The pack size is tiny! I’ve read that these are pretty marmite so I was interested to see how I got on with it. The verdict is that I like it, coming from a fairly thin 3/4 mat already it’s not much of a change, supports the places that need support and seems to provide about the same amount of warmth. I can see that if I had been using something thicker before my opinion would have been different but I know I sleep well enough on a thin small mat so it works for me. I  do have to put ‘something’ under my feet normally to provide a touch more insulation for those. Usually it’s my shorts, last night it was my down jacket but it doesn’t need to be much and I don’t feel the cold coming up from the ground anywhere and can sleep fine.

Windshield from Stuart at Bearbones coupled with Alpkit 650 ml Ti mug – For the past year I’ve been using a two foil trays as a windshield. Not very efficient or stable. I’ve also been cooking in an Optimus ally pot and a cheap folding frying pan. The Alpkit mug is essentially me being a weight weenie, it’s light! It’s possibly more restrictive that my old pot but I haven’t tried to do anything more in it than boil water. The windshield was made by Stuart at Bearbones bikepacking and essentially a low Caldera cone clone that sits around my Bearbones meths stove with the Alpkit mug on top. Again the new kit did the job, what more do you need and with space as a premium (i.e. in a bikepacking set up rather than with panniers) it’s also useful that I can fit the windshield and the stove inside the mug.

As an aside I also bought a 1 ltr Trangia bottle to store my fuel in. Much safer than my previous methods of carrying/pouring fuel.

Fujifilm XP60 camera – I’ve decided to move away from having a smartphone. Yes they are useful but looking back to last year on tour I was one of those “where’s the wireless” people. So I bought a second hand phone that only really does calls/texts and restrict myself to using a computer when I need to go online. With easy access to a laptop as I need to carry it around for work I still find I’m connected too much currently but I’m leaving the laptop at home on trips which means I won’t have that method of access**. However lack of a smartphone means I need some other method of taking photographs. I haven’t used an actual camera in years however I can see clear benefits, it’s easier to hold and focus than a smartphone. I’m still learning how to get the best from it though (tips appreciated) as can be seen in the photos below. The tarp/campsite images I took this morning aren’t particularly sharp compared to photos from yesterday.
**This blog may not be updated on trips though and those periods/experiences may only appear as fanzines/ebooks in future.

In terms of the actual bike my intention with this bike was always to have two sets of wheels a road going set and another for riding off road. Finally this has occurred! So for riding/touring on the road I have a wheelset which consists of an XT rear disc hub with an SP PD8 front hub on Exal LX17 rims. For off road riding I now have another set of wheels with again XT and SP hubs but laced to Velocity Blunt 35 rims. I’ve set these up tubeless with a Vittoria Bombolini 29×3.0 tyre on the front and a Vittoria/Geax AKA 2.2 on the rear. The 2.2 on the 35mm rims is big! I’m not sure a 2.4 on that rim would fit in my frame. After two or three rides I am sold on both wider rims and 29+ as a tyre size. Yes they’re a bit more draggy on the road and when climbing but actually I don’t a feel like it’s a huge difference. However when it comes to riding downhill or even on some flat sections the larger tyre footprint and volume gives me more confidence than I had previously and rolls really well. I’m not very skilled on a mountain bike so I guess they compensate by rolling over and through things more readily or at least giving me the feeling they will so I’ll ‘go for it’ and be more confident. The AKA is surprisingly good as an all round tyre until you try to pedal in soft mud where it slides about as you would expect.

There you have it I’ve been a good little consumer and ploughed a fair bit of my earnings back into the economy. I do however have a policy of buying stuff second hand where I can especially when it comes to electronics.  Also where possible I’ll only buy kit where I’ve worn out the old stuff or I will sell an existing item when I buy a new one. Even then I usually deliberate on whether the newer item is really required or just mindless consumption.

As well as testing equipment the weather conditions on the ride yesterday tested me. Everything above did the job it was supposed to, at times I wasn’t sure the rider did. High winds meant a long push from Ulwell up on to Nine barrows down where before I’ve ridden more of that climb, the conditions then made the cycle along the top to descend into Corfe Castle hard work even on the flat. The strong winds meant 37 miles of cycling were slow and tiring, however this is why it’s good to force myself out. You can’t order in nice weather so you have to learn to cope with what is presented to you.

Here are the photos I took.

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