Monday, July 31, 2006

Back Pain - update

Some of ya may recall me moaning about back pain waaay back in April, which I'm glad to say didn't stop me riding for too long. Well, since the initial and mega painful spasms my back settled down somewhat and allowed me to ride, do chores (boo) and generally get on with life. However, it still wasn't 100% and I'd occassionally experience a small jarring that'd stop me dead in my tracks. Oddly, I've found that being active reduced the pain and gave me increased mobility - at least until I sat down again !

I was concerned that all my cycling was tightening my hamstrings and that my lack of tummy excercises was causing an imbalance in my mid section and twisting my lower back. So I tried doing situps again (boring) and stretches but one particularly ott stretching session had me in pain for a couple of days.

So last wk I decided that enough was enough and visited the quacks to get a second opinion to id why it's hasn't healed and if I should seek further treatment. I should point out that I've experienced similiar injury's that normally heal over a few weeks of taking it easy - hence the delay in my treatment. Getting an appointment was a feat in itself (damn NHS) and to my disgust the GP wasn't that interested but he happily referred me to a local sports injury clinic. He even indicated that it didn't matter if I saw a chiropractor, osteopath or a physio as "they're all the same"! - I suspect that he won't get any further that a plain ol'GP.

Now I've used this particular clinic before, for a shoulder injury, so I felt confident that I'd get some decent treatment rather that the a general practioners "take a pain killer" approach. The fact that the treatment is covered by my company health scheme also gave me a warm glow ;)

The very next day I had an appointment with a chiropractor (private healthcare rocks) who in complete contrast was very attentive and gave me a thorough once over. All of my pain has been isolated to my lower spine with a recent ache in the hips and rear left side so I niavely assumed that the pain was related to the spine. Wrong - apparently my right hip (opposite to the pain) had restricted movement with very tight surrounding muscles. After some precise massage, twistin', crunchin' and stretching the magician had relieved most/if not all of the hip tension and I felt so much better. So in no time I should be able to do the hoola again ! :D

One good point to note is that he thought cycling was an excellent form of excercise, especially in the back. The posture relieves most of the pressure on the spine and the regular hip motion means that cyclists often recover from any back injurys very quickly B) So much so, that he thought I might only need one session! - whoohoo. However, he did caution me to take it easy for a few days as I was likely to feel better but that I may experience some pain in 3-4 days. I also have a few very simple excercises which gently free up the hips and am now under orders to stop over stretching and any hot showers/baths.

Over the wkend, I've continued with his little excercises and found that my regular commute and a couple of MTB rides haven't adversely affect me. After 5 days, I still feel good and have had none of the occassional spasms or hip pains. So I appear to be well on the mend and long may it continue - fingers crossed. I'l be returning for a checkup once the bendy man returns from his 3wk vacation.

Footnote: I appreciate that not all back issues can be attributed to the same cause but at least my plight highlights how important it is to receive treatment from a specialist. That treatment itself can take as little as 15minutes. That the post manipulation excercises are so simple. Oh yeah, that cycling is a good thing :)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Penmachno

Saturday Afternoon, I have in front of me some of the best single-track I have ridden, it is warm and dry, the sky is clear, scenery superb and I have the place to myself! Spain? France? Well no, just outside Betwys-y-Coed, North Wales near a small village called Penmachno.

A family camping trip meant that I had chance to ride one trail in the area, originally it was going to be the Marin, but thanks to a suggestion from Farqui I opted for the shorter Penmachno. This is a complete trail, but there is another section planned and until the second part is done there is no signposting maps etc. (See the notice in the photos for explanation). Distance is around 12 miles, there is some car parking, way marking is excellent and fully in place.

There were a few riders packing up when I arrived and when I asked them about the trail they said it was mostly ‘tight’ flowing single-track, some jumpy bits, but nothing technical and no big drops. The trail builders seem to differ; I guess it depends on your definition of technical.

The initial climb is by fire road but then it soon goes into single-track. ‘Tight’ seems a good description, because these trails are fast and flowing, but need full concentration as they twist through the trees and over narrow ‘bridges’ – there are plenty of stumps and rocks to catch you out. Surface is slate, so may be very different in the wet.

The sections of single-track seem to last for ages related to the climbs. There is a long section across an open hillside that initially climbs then is flat, but again needs concentration. There is a tricky single-track switchback climb and towards the end it gets even more interesting with some switchback descents, the hairpins are quite tight in places. The final descent across a steep hillside is well worth waiting for and leaves you wanting to go round again!

As I was on my own and it was the first time I had ridden here, I took it very easy. There is certainly a feeling of remoteness compared with other man-made trails, I guess this will change when the next section is completed and better facilities are in place. Used the 5-Spot, (annoying gears still present!), but could be done easily on a bike with less travel.

So, thoroughly recommended, perhaps not worth 3-4 hours drive alone, but maybe in combination with other trails in the area.

Highlights of the ride? Long twisty single-track and the sight of a large bird of prey gliding to roost a few feet in front of me as I rode one hillside trail.

P.S. Betwys-y-Coed is a good place to visit for all the family, nice shops, pubs, etc. Lots of walks from the town if that is your thing. I do not recommend the Fish & Chip shop on the main road!! Alpine café by the Station has been recommended elsewhere, open for breakfasts, but can get busy later.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Santa Arrives Early

With a long wkend of climbing looming, at Afan, I'm keen to ensure that my drivetrain doesn't suffer from chainsuck again - as it has at a wet and gritty Cannock, twice! :x I already have a spare set of chainrings but my rear mech has seen better days and no longer shifts cleanly in the lower range, in part due to it's now wobbly mount. Also after a years worth of hard riding, finding the limit and often exceeding it, my shifters have managed to survive many an "off" but the levers are now somewhat bent. Albeit still functional, testomony to the SRAM design.

So after a some surfing and emails to our good buddy in Montana I was ready to place an order. I also asked the posse if anyone else was short of any gear so that we might share the shipping costs. Rob fancied some mega bling in the way of some CrankBros Candy 4Ti's and a silver Thomson stem.

For those of you that haven't imported before, here's the scoop; Chad typically sends his parcels via USPS Global Express which is about a 25% the cost of Fedex and typically gives a fast delivery - in around 4 days. I then get to track the parcel travelling across the US and over the pond to blighty before it sits in customs for a few hours. Unfortunately, I've not had one parcel slip through without Duty and Vat charges :( The dastardly charges are explained here. This particular shipment was also perched in customs for 21hrs which is most unusual - perhaps they were catching up after the wkends bbq's ?

Once clear of the calculators, ParcelFarce then charge a disproportionate amount to push the shipment the relatively short distance from the airport to our local depot. Where I then have to trundle along and cough up the dosh that'll top up Gordon Brown's kitty before they'll release our goodies.

Needless to say, the discount was well worth a little effort and it was a treat to see Rob's face light up when presented with his mega bling 4Ti's. Here's a selection of some of the bits;

I'd like to give big thanx to Chaybo and his "team" for such favourable prices, putting up with us ;) and the odd feeby gave me a nice warm glow :)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

2002 Specialized S-Works FSRxc

Farqui recently commented on how fortunate I am to own 3 top notch bikes, I realise he is right. I have been lucky enough to pick up some good second hand buys, apart from the Turner,

The FSR was my first quality MTB, I had a rigid steel Townsend for many years while the kids were growing up and then tried several Saracen bikes which looked good, but were often a bit heavy. It was about this time that David started getting more into bikes and after reading the mags I decided that a Specialized Enduro was the bike for me, so I set to looking for one second-hand. No luck though, but then I came across a 2002 FSR, which I presumed would be equally good. Got to be honest and say I did not really know what I was buying, but I well remember the look of disbelief on Ddave’s face when I brought it home! From Saracen to S-Works was a bit of a jump!It had been built from a frame and came with an odd range of kit, forks were Rockshox Duke U-Turn, Specialized Cranks with old fashioned toe clip pedals, XT Changers, narrow 317 rims with XT twin pot brakes and very odd saddle! Original spec would have included Rockshox SIDS, (Too flexy for me), XTR and rim brakes for lightness.

It was a real delight apart from the Rochshox forks, which I soon ditched for a set of Fox 80RL’s bought from the States. The saddle was replaced with a WTB and that was about it. So I now felt I could take on some proper trails with confidence and took it to Cannock, Afan as well as some local stuff.

As I became more adventurous it became clear that, unlike the Enduro, this frame was not built for rough stuff and thus the Turner was ordered with the FSR becoming a donor for many of the parts. I was going to sell the frame, but found that depreciation on mountain bikes is far worse than cars; similar frames were selling for so little money I decided to hang on to it.

Recently, with various upgrades on the Turner I realised recently that I almost had enough bits to put it back together; it just needed brakes and shifters. Ddave suggested some cheap V-Brakes, but then came up with some LX Discs. A set of new LX changers off Ebay completed the list.

Although there are no really light bits in the kit list, I was pleased to find that the FSR came out under 28lbs, (5-Spot is 31lbs). As the Turner was suffering gear shift woes again I decided to try the FSR at Woburn and found it a delight in terms of how nimble it is and the climbing ability using lock-out – less intimidating the 5-Spot! I am sort of hoping that my daughter will use it when she is a bit older, but in the meantime it will get the odd outing on less technical trails. Oh, and there is one more thing I should mention in its favour, it looks an absolute stunner in the Works colours – and like the rest of you, I am a sucker for looks.

Here's a Specialized link to the frame and you'll find some photo's here.

Specification
Frame: 2002 Specialized S-Works FSRxc Team Red/Pearlescent White (75/90mm Rear Travel)
Wheels: Mavic 519
Cranks: Shimano Deore Square Taper
Brakes: 2006 Shimano LX Hydraulic Disc
Changers: 2006 Shimano LX
Rear Mech: Shimano XT
Fork: Fox Float 80RL
Rear Shock: Fox Float RL
Bars: Truativ
Stem: Ultra short Raceface
Grips: Specialized BG
Saddle: WTB
Seat Post: Thompson
Wheels: Conti

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Specialized Shocks ?

For the techno-boffs, the Specialized website has some details of it's new for 2007, in house shocks and revised suspension package.

If that doesn't put you to sleep then there's also a PDF that goes into more detail and expands some wonderful marketing mumbo jumbo.

They are either being very brave or very daft entering a market with such an established field of manufacturers, especially as the products are so darn fickle and over analyzed. Also don't forget that 5th Element have recently pulled their bouncer from production and not so long ago it was one of the best.

Iron Horse

This is our new bike "Kovski", although not as fast as my Turner or Crack 'n' fails he is a bit bigger 15.2hh equates to a Turner Super Extra Large. He does have somewhat more 'kick' than the Turner but this can be avoided by staying away from the back wheels!

I'm just learning to ride, it's good fun once you get familiar with the equipment and have filled it with Carrots and juicy apples, no GT85 required here. This truly is a new steed for me and I recommend this type as great complementary exercise to the Turner, shoulders, back, arms and erectors (either side of belly button from groin upwards and cause of my regular bad back) all get a good workout.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Woburn July 16th

A portion of the posse hit an extremely dry and sunny Woburn yesterday with our local guide showing the guys some sweet new sections.

The trails are bone dry out there, very dusty in places and very fast in places. The dust and occassional tree stump or log seemed to catch out a few riders too ;) The new loops seemed to get a thumbs up from the riders, although Dozer seemed unable to stay upright for very long and ducked out halfway around with a dodgy hand/wrist. A steep cross camber final drop into the jump arena played mind games with the following posse but most redeemed themselves on a second attempt :p

The only slight dampener of the day was coming across the Greensands ranger who was collecting monies for the use of the facilities. It's the first time I've come across this in 4yrs, honest guys :blush. For the record it's £2 per visit or £10 for the year, which is quite reasonable.

Brumster brought along his helmet cam which appeared to work well and the only problem seems to be the thumbs of the user :huh Hi-res (75Mb) vid can be downloaded here. With a little fine tuning I'm sure we'll have lots of fun with it.

Although this was no mile munchin ride it was good to get out with some like minded pals on decent trails whilst soaking up some rays.

Post ride, I can highly recommend the award winning Sunday roasts offered by the George Inn at Little Brickhill and their chocolate brownie deserts are simply awesome. Oh and the guiness went down very well too :p

Posse: Brumster, Dozer, Farqui, Les, Uphilla
Weather: roastin
Stats: 12.8miles, 1hr 57mins, average 6.6mph - Tracklogs here
Mechanicals: Brumster's front brake (Hayes) started rubbing but was easily realigned, Les also had some very slight rotor rub but rode on regardless.

Friday, July 14, 2006

New Pace Full Susser

Singletrack have an interesting review of the new Pace RC400 'FreeFloater', as recently tested at the Dalby Forest new trails opening. Checkit out, 'cos we don't see many British fully's released - with the exception of this years glut of new Whyte's.

Much of the geometry seems very similiar to a Turner 5Spot but I've found that small differences on paper reflect as a big different on the trails. It'll be interesting to see how popular this steed becomes, especially amongst the Pace-ites.

Our Yorks based manufacturer have been busy with frame designs recently as it wasn't long ago that they released their new hardtail, the RC303.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sunrace Bling Cassette

Sunrace JuJu 9 Speed Pro Level Competition Series Cassette

Specs

  • Titanium Nitride Coating or Satin Finish
  • Shimano Compatible
  • Aluminum Spider
  • All Steel Rings
  • Patented Super Fluid Drive> Shifting Ramps
  • Weight - 11-34 285 grams 11-32 275 grams

MZ 9-speed cassette cost US$110. It costs more than XT and not even as light! Check out the review on Bike mag "solid shifting" I'm impressed "after six months of torture, the MZ emerged as flashy as it began”

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Peaks Ride Anyone ?

Folks, a colleague (John) has graviously offered to show us around his local, gritty Midlands patch with a slightly different slant on an earlier visit but will still include Jacob's Ladder and the Beast.

Local suggestion...If you haven't done Jacob's Ladder before, then you're best approaching it from the Hayfield side, so I suggest meeting in Edale, completing a loop out and back to Hayfield and finishing on a descent of Jacob's Ladder into Edale. This covers about 18 miles of reasonably challenging riding and will take about 3 - 3.5hours.

We can then have a break in Edale (pub or cafe) and then do an out and back to include the Beast - with approx 10 miles of moderate riding, taking about 2hours.

When: Sunday 20th August, 10am

Trailhead: Edale, train station

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Garmin - latest

The latest GPS units from Garmin take familiar models and add MicroSD cards. Included in this GPS update are the eTrex Legend C, eTrex Vista C and GPSMap60C(s) models. The new models are denoted by an 'x' at the end of the name, e.g. eTrex Vista Cx.

What's New? Each GPS remains entirely unchanged bar the addition of a MicroSD card, used to store maps downloaded from Garmin's MapSource products. The eTrex models are bundled with a 32MB card, the GPSMap60C(s) models include a 64MB card. In all cases the MicroSD slot is located inside the waterproof battery compartment as illustrated.

About MicroSD Cards : MicroSD is the smallest of the plug in memory card standards and can be found in many portable devices such as mobile phones or MP3 players. The cards are about the size of the tip of your finger and come in a variety of capacities from 32MB upwards.

What are the Cards Used For? The MicroSD cards are used to store maps inside the GPS. The only maps which can be downloaded are maps from the Garmin MapSource range of products. The idea behind the removable card is to download different maps onto each card minimising the amount of kit required when travelling over large areas.

TrackLogs Support : The new 'x' models are supported by TrackLogs Digital Mapping. Support includes the transfer or routes, tracks and waypoints to and from the devices. Requires TrackLogs v3.11.1 or later.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Santa Cruz Chameleon

History: The original Chameleon frame was released in 1996, and 10 years later, is still going very, very strong as the original, do-it-all freeride frame. Dirtjumpers loved its light weight, but super tough build, slalom riders loved it's super stiff back end, and corner hugging handling, and everyone else loved it for all of the above reasons....

Fast forward to 2003, and I've decided that the old Saracen Jump bike is not suited to riding anything else other than trials or jumps, after spending quite a lot of time researching different frames, reading reviews, I decided to go with this, in a medium (16") size. A little on the small side, I even considered the 14" but I knew this would be ridden long distance so I compromised a little and went for the 16".

So I finally decided to go for it. To be honest, a lad in the village had one of the '97 ones, (still does) and I had fallen in love with it and always wanted one.


After a couple of lucky bargains I ended up with a build like the pic above (not the original build but it's the earliest pic I could find! - (original spec had LX rear mech, Race Face Prodigy Cranks, triple rings and a different bar stem combo)

Despite not being built up most suited to road riding, it managed a 140mile C2C ride within weeks of first having it with utter ease.

One of the first thing you will notice about this bike when you first get on it is just how stiff the back end really is. With 1inch square chainstays, you can imagine why! It overwhelms the engagement on hubs, makes you run out of gears really quick, and really shows up flexibly crank arms. It really does accelerate THAT quickly. This stiff back end does have one draw back though, it isn't the comfiest in the business, BUT, it does track the ground exceptionally well.

The second thing you'll notice is just how good it feels ripping round corners. The short back end and really helps in this and carving around berms is a pure joy: you feel as if you are a dual slalom racer, and puts such a massive smile on your face when you exit the berm faster than you entered it.

Oh yeah short back end: makes it sooo easy to pop the front end up over obstacles and off drops, some bikes just feel dead when you try and lift them, this comes alive when you lift it up, you can find yourself wheeling/manualling out of corners, manualling doubles in 4x race, and just generally getting the front wheel out of the brown smelly stuff with a the slightest of flicks.
That said, it's reinforced front end is very stiff, and makes for superb tracking when the descending and pounding your fork into various rocks, roots and general trail mischief.

Frame highlights :
Headtube: cut away at the front to save weight, but left massive at the back to give a massive weld area for maximum strength: a lot of top/down tubes join behind the headtube, on this, they wrap around half of it. That headtube isn't going anywhere.

"Bi-Ovalised Downtube" I suppose you could call it, not that Santa Cruz have ever made any fuss about it, but I know Cannondale, for example make a big deal about it.

It's shaped so that at the headtube it gives maximum weld area and maximum resistance against deflection by having a tall profile, it changes shape at the bottom bracket to be wider and give again, maximum weld area and a stiff shape for pedaling etc.

Those Massive chainstays, and the big ol' dropouts. Which are horizontal, by the way. Yup, the wheel goes in back wards - a bit of a pain if you aren't used to it - there is a reason for it and its so you can run singlespeed without the need for those silly tensioners that replace the rear mech.
And if you were worried about the wheel popping out backwards, some nice strong lips prevent this should your back wheel slip. And I've only ever had it happen when I had a rubbish QR fitted that didn't hold the wheel properly.
Both dropouts are also replaceable, little black adapters slot in to give perfect position for geared duties, and also the hanger for your spangly mech.

It's had a few (cough - say nothing uphilla!) Spec changes over the years, several forks, but the frame itself, despite being alu, seems to be going on forever....
Weight wise, you could easily make it lightweight, I've had it down to 27.5lbs with Mavic DH wheels and Vanilla forks, but I think I've finally found a good compromise between strength and weight.


Downsides? Only one: with the back end being so short, it has a tendency to want to wheely up every steep hill you come across, so a travel adjust fork or a longer stem is a must if you like to go up a lot. (Well, I suppose you have to at some point if you wanna come down;) )

Kit highlights:
2003 Marzocchi Z.1 Freeride Pro's (QR20)
Full XTR Groupset
Saint Cranks
Mono M4 brakes (fully tarted out with black bore caps and levers, + g'ridge) not sure if this was a highlight, though, to be honest.
2002 Marzocchi Shiver USD forks (these were the nicest forks I've ever had, just too flexy)

2005 Fox Vanilla RLC's
Now with full X.0 Groupset.

It's just a whole bunch of fun really, you can do what you want with it, and it'll always leave a smile on your face for it:

To sum up: It does it's namesake lizard proud, truely is a bike of many colours (literally, too). Perfect handling, perfect geometry, top quality finish.

Not bad either at the new lower price of £400!

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