It’s bike failure season, so lets sleep out

There’s always a time of year when my bikes all start falling to pieces. It’s come now, just as I was getting over a Christmas-acquired cold and disrupted my plans to get some good training in for the TD.

The current bike casualty list is:

  • Stuck front brake piston on Pugsley
  • Worn out BB on Pugsley
  • Worn out rear wheel bearings on Karate Monkey
  • Worn out freewheel on Karate Monkey
  • Worn out rear tyre on Karate Monkey
  • Worn out pedal bearings on Karate Monkey
  • Broken cranks on Balfa
  • Worn out pedal bearings on Balfa
  • Torn (but patched with toothpaste tube!) tyre on Voodoo
  • Worn bushings, and associated gouged stanchions on Voodoo’s forks
  • Worn out pedal mechanism on Voodoo
  • Mangled LH crank-arm on Voodoo
  • Broken saddle (might be fixabled) that I use on Voodoo/Pugsley

Woe is me! I’m sure I can beg, and ebay my way out of that lot eventually.

Fortunately, this weekend is time to go to NZ for Emily’s swim which means a break from bikes. We’re going to buy a camper van (and sell it before we go) to tour around the country swimming, kayaking, hiking, (maybe a bit of biking), and having a fine old time. So with this and other camping adventures in mind, we’ve been testing out various combinations of gear…

Where some people see -5C in London as a problem, we saw an opportunity for Emily to test a potential new sleeping bag and for me to push the envelope with minimal gear. Camping out on the grass by the pool where she works was an odd experience. We headed out from home at around 9pm (just when we were warm and settled for the night), and picked our spot on the grass. Somewhere without frozen footprints so that we could make our own smooth ground. Up with my tent for her, and down with my bivvy bag for me.

My aim was to see how my +7C rated summer bag would perform when wearing cold-weather clothing that I might take on the TD. For the uninitiated, a bivvy bag is a breathable waterproof outer shell to put a sleeping bag in. It looks like a green body-bag, but gives you an acceptable level of protection for just 300g. Point number 1 was that my sleeping bag zips up on the opposite side to the bivvy. Tricky, but not insurmountable. Point number 2 was that when it’s cold, you need to do it pretty much all the way up which is pretty claustrophobic, but that’s something to get used to.

To be honest, I don’t think I slept at all that night. City noise and uncomfortable (but not dangerous feeling) cold added together to keep me restless. I knew that I wasn’t warm enough and doubts nagged about whether it would do any harm. My mind jumbled and circled possibilities, but wouldn’t rest. I suppose the conclusion is that if -5C is the extreme end of what I could expect on a trip, then the kit is just enough.

Camping out like that probably seems even more insane to some people than going to the great outdoors, but it’s a great way to test stuff with no real risk and a way to get a tiny slice of being in the wilds without having to drive way out of London.

It was the same mentality that I took to Wales at the weekend. The plan was to ride all the trails at Afan in one go, then sleep out and head to Barry for a meeting on Monday morning.

Starting from Glyncorrwg Ponds, the trail is 4 miles of twisty climbing. It was immediately obvious that lots of time on a turbo trainer is good for sitting down on moderate inclines and not that helpful for hauling up a proper hill with one gear. My arms were still attached at the top, though, so I made it to the fire-roads.

I had known that snow was a risk, particularly on the more remote Skyline trail and as soon as I dipped away from the main valley, I was on a mix of snow and ice. Wet snow ploughed my tyres sideways. Polished ice drifted me around with disdain. Pretty soon, I was walking through ankle-deep snow in my summer shoes. Frustrating as it might have been, I had my long-ride head on and this could easily be replicated in the Rockies in June so I took it for what it was.

After some getting lost, I eventually found the trail markers again only to find the trail gone. Logging by the forest owners had obliterated sections of trail completely, forcing me to carry over and around. Still could happen in the Rockies. I spied another rider ahead and he turned out to be a local who had worked on the trails. We dragged some of the more manageable stuff out of the way and he took note of what needed tackling with a saw. When I got back onto the mission, I had covered few miles and a lot of time, but I was coming back around to the trail centre.

With fresh supplies, I headed out to tackle that silly climb again. As soon as I reached the top again, I noticed my crank-arm: still bolted tight but the spline had worn round and it was pretty close to going round without the axle. The only safe thing to do was to pick a safe way down and abort the ride. Damn.

With the ride aborted, I had time to think about where to sleep. Either a cheap hotel (below) or a bivvy.

The beach at Barry turned out to be a great place for a bivvy. Quiet, dry, and with the chance of a nice sunrise in the morning. So, I settled down and watched the stars. As I lay there, they flew back away from the sea. Hang on… stars don’t move. My head churned, but the stars kept moving. I’m sure stars don’t move. I don’t look at stars often enough, but I’m sure they don’t move. Finally, my brain caught up and realised that it was the clouds moving. Shifting gear, I could suddenly make out a sensible perspective where banks of cloud drifted overhead. Shooting stars popped across my view now and again as I lay snug in my bag. This certainly beat TV in the hotel, and a perfectly restful night enveloped me.

4 comments to It’s bike failure season, so lets sleep out

  • sean

    Don't forget that you can throw some heat packs in your sleeping bag to help push the temperature rating for a few hours. Are you gonna SS the TD as well?

  • Aidan

    Hey Sean,

    That's a good point about the handwarmers. I was also thinking of taking a soda-can stove and a bit of fuel in case I need it on the TD. That would allow me to make a Nalgene hot water bottle if it came to it.

    I will be on a SS for the TD. Gears are wrong and should only be used for DH.

    Enjoy the Ultrasport this year!

  • sean

    As long as you're not trying to cook a (seitan)steak, a soda can alcohol stove or esbit stove is more than sufficient. Good luck in the TD! I'll see you when you come back for Nome….

  • Anonymous