Archive | August, 2013

Pedalling for Power

28 Aug

It was always my intention to fit a dynamo hub with USB charging to my Surly Disc Trucker and after a month of deliberating and 3 months of waiting I finally got a hub and light with a USB connection fitted.

My original plan was to go for the Schmidt Son 28 6 bolt disc fitting hub which is one of the most highly rated and expensive on the market.  I ordered the hub in April from Spa Cycles who offered the best price on a complete build but by July I had given up waiting as the shop still hadn’t got it in stock despite an original order time of 3 weeks.

In the end I decided to go for the cheaper Exposure hub manufactured by SP Dynamo System.  The hub model is the PD-8 weighing in at 410 grams with a 6 bolt rotor fitting.  The hub is relatively new and there isn’t much information about online about these hubs; CTC had given it a good write up in their Cycle magazine in 2012 and the price of the hub is significantly cheaper than the Schmidt.

SP 8 Dynamo Hub connection fitting

To go with the hub I wanted to fit the Busch + Müller Lumotec IQ2 Luxos U LED which has a USB charging port and switch which can be mounted on the handlebar.  I was waiting for an online shop with a competitive price to get it in stock but with the hub bought and a month wait on the light I decided to go for the much cheaper Axa Nano 50 Plus Auto LED light.  On the Axa the USB cable plugs directly into the light.
Axa Dynamo Light USB

When the hub arrived it didn’t come with a cable connection and the light arrived with just bare cable ends.  As a make shift solution I connected the cables using some electrical tape as can be seen in the hub photo but the correct connectors were easily obtained online as the Shimano connectors fit fine.

I had read a few reviews on the light with a few saying the quality isn’t great but considering the technology and price I wouldn’t say it was bad and after 200 miles of riding so far I haven’t had a problem.  You can find some great information on a wide range of dynamo hubs and lights at

Axa LUXX 70 Steady Auto

The Axa Nano 50 plus has a USB charging port on the side of the light.

The light has a switch on the back with 3 options, off, light on or USB charging only.  Its hard to distinguish between the clicks but it works well enough.  You can’t use the light and charge at the same time but I haven’t seen a light which gives you this option due to the power required to run both.

xa Nano 50 plus dynamo light switch

The light also has a front reflector as part of the design, this is a nice feature as without trying I now almost have a road legal bike as the Shimano XT pedals came with reflectors and the rear Cateye light has a reflector incorporated into the design; just wheel reflectors missing at this point although the Schwalbe tyre have reflective bands on them.

When using the light it stays on for a surprisingly long period when stationary, this is useful at night when stopping at traffic lights or when I arrive at work and the basement lights are off.

Dynamo Light fitted below Ortlieb Bar Bag

With some adjustment it was possible to fit the light under the ortlieb bar bag.  This was important as when charging my phone I place it in the bar bag with the USB cable connecting the two.

So you might be wondering how well does the USB charging work; well I am yet to attach a multimeter and ride around measuring the exact voltage but I can tell you it does charge the phone at surprisingly low speeds.  I recently got a new Samsung Galaxy S4 and I was worried about damaging it at first but after 200 miles its working fine.  The phone beeps when it starts receiving power and this is almost immediately when the wheel starts turning.  Before I used the Samsung I tested my old HTC wildfire and this started charging at 6 mph.  The speed at which the phone started charging was one of my biggest worries, when touring with a loaded bike I average 8.5 – 10.5 mph depending on the terrain and distance.

I have been on a few trips with the phone so far and charging varies depending on the terrain and the apps that are running.  A couple of weeks ago I road the Gospel pass and during a 40 km ride with 653 metres of accent the power only managed to maintain its battery level whilst running Googles Mytracks.  We spent most of our time climbing at a slow pace and although the decent was fast it was over in a relatively short period of time compared with the climb.

The next day I road 61km and descended 706 metres whilst using the endomondo GPS app and the phone charged significantly through the day.
Axa Nano 50 plus dynamo light

Since then I have also used the dynamo hub for a five day trip covering 240 miles across Wales, I was able to keep two phones charged enough for the duration of the trip and both of them were used for calls and internet.  A small HTC was easy to charge and if it was plugged in for more than a couple of hours I was able to achieve a full charge, Kates Iphone took longer to charge and was not plugged in long enough to reach a full charge.  Surprising the Iphone would beep to say it was charging at just over 3 mph.

So charging whilst using the phones GPS to track rides gives mixed results although the battery level does not decrease.  When not using the GPS the phone charges well and at low average speeds.  Using the hub over five days of camping gave good results and although we didn’t use GPS tracking for the ride the phones got quite a bit of use and we were never without battery power.

Cardiff to Bristol Night Ride

26 Aug

Earlier in the week I had been told about a night ride from Cardiff to Bristol and decided it could be fun; I was pretty sleepy by 10:20 pm when I left the house to get to the starting point on Saturday night, cycling through the marina it was already quiet but arriving at Pedal Power I was greeted by 24 bicycles with the riders inside enjoying cake and coffee.

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So after coffee and some photos it was time to get going; we cycled through Cardiff and from the back it was a great view of tail lights zooming through the streets.  By the time we had reached the edge of the city centre the group had already been split up and at the edge of Cardiff we were in three groups with myself in the middle.

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Will speeding through the night

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Upon reaching Newport there was a short diversion needed from the route so we waited for the group behind to catch up.  By this time our group was up to 11 riders and we stuck together until arriving at Bristol although  my counting abilities are limited at 3 am in the morning but I’m sure we didn’t leave anyone behind?

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A short stop at Redwick

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Taking in the night sights on the Severn Bridge

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The Avonmouth Bridge we crossed over on our way to Bristol

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As we got closer to Bristol we lost our way a bit and after a few laps of an industrial estate we headed down to Avonmouth crossing over the bridge to the South of Bristol.  The last part of the ride took in some hills before we descended down to the Clifton Suspension Bridge.  We had made it to Bristol, some photos were taken and it was time to get breakfast at Roll for the Soul.

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6 am arrival at the Clifton Suspension Bridge

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Unfortunately by this time I needed to get back to Cardiff and the first train wasn’t until 10 am so from the Clifton Suspension Bridge I headed home, directly to the Severn Bridge this time taking a quicker route and arriving there in exactly an hour.  The ride through Bristol and up to the Severn was beautiful in the morning light and the roads were deserted.  After crossing the bridge I consulted the map and chose the most direct and flattest route I could work out from a map with a lack of contours.  By 9:45 I was back home and eating breakfast; 120 miles covered, my legs were tired but more importantly I was in need of some sleep.

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The morning view of the new Severn Bridge on my way home

Trolls got a moustache

23 Aug

I haven’t been riding the Surly Troll on long distance rides this summer; the Surly Disc Trucker has taken over on that role.  When I bought the Troll frame back in 2011 the shop had a Surly open bar in stock and tried to convince me to buy it, at the time I had no interest in it and the first set of bars the Troll got were Thorn comfort bars.

Well the Thorn Comfort bars weren’t that comfortable and I eventually fitted some bar ends.  Bar ends fitted to the Thorn bars looked ridiculous, the bars had a large rise to them and also quite a large set back.  I had a smaller set of riser bars and fitted these with the bar ends to the bike.  This served me well on long trips, it made the bike look a bit silly but comfort wise it did a great job.

As I have only been using the bike for short trips in recent months I removed the bar ends.  A couple of weeks ago I placed an order with SJS cycles for the Harry Quinn build and decided to add some Humpert Country Mas Handle bars to the basket.  Costing only £7.99 they were considerably cheaper than the Surly bars and at that price I thought it would be fun to try a new control set up.

The bars are shaped like a handle bar moustache although the moustache almost certainly came before the bicycle.  Riding it is pretty fun, its comfortable, upright and great for cruising.  The longest journey I have made with them so far has been about 20 miles hauling some heavy panniers and they were fine although I did take my time.

Handle bars on Surly Troll

Not a Surly Open Bar but Humpert Country MAS bars

Moustache Handle Bar on the Surly Troll

If I make any long multiday trips on the trill I will be refitting some risers and probably bar ends but in the mean time the moustache is staying.

Surly Trolls Moustache

Familiar Terrain

21 Aug

Day 5: Glasbury to Cardiff Bay

Over four days we have been riding from Holyhead in the north of Wales to Cardiff, our final night had been spent at a campsite not far from Hay on Wye just off Route 8.  A couple of weeks ago we rode this route after a night camping so we knew what to expect.  We set off after breakfast heading through the market town of Talgarth to a memorable climb, well Kate remembered all of it, I only remembered a little.  After spending the last four days climbing over mountains in north and mid Wales it didn’t seem too bad and we descended towards Brecon although we diverted off the route cutting off about 4 miles by avoiding the town.

We continued on to Talybont Reservoir, the route from Brecon is known as the Taff Trail and is very popular, even on a Friday we saw quite a few cyclists.  When we rode the route a couple of weeks ago Kate was running skinny 1.25″ tyres on her bike so we opted for the road around the reservoir rather than the designated Route 8 that steadily climbs the mountain alongside the reservoir.  The road is flat the length of the reservoir but at the end of the valley it climbs a long steep hill with a 25% gradient.  So this time we went with the designated route which is along a gravel forest road; it was pretty smooth for nearly the whole length although it climbs steadily.  After an hour of climbing we reached the top and got the stove out to cook some lunch.


Ladies Surly Disc Trucker

Surly Disc Trucker with Ortlieb Bar Bag





Surly Disc Trucker with Rear Light


Taff Trail Talybont Reservoir

Surly Disc Trucker


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Surly Disc Trucker with Ortlieb Panniers


Surly Disc Trucker

Surly Disc Trucker

Carrying a tent on Surly Disc Trucker



After climbing above Talybont reservoir we knew the rest of the route was mainly downhill and when we rejoined the traffic free section 5 miles from Merthyr we picked up some speed and before we knew it we were in the centre of Merthyr.  At Merthyr we decided to take a detour from Route 8 and follow the Trevithick Trail which stays on the East side of the valley, its quite a bit quicker than sticking to Route 8 and also avoids a long set of steps which take Route 8 under the A470.

After riding the length of Wales riding through the valleys was noticeably different, where as north of Merthyr the routes had been lined with native species of plants and trees the traffic free route from Merthyr down to Cardiff were lined with invasive species, rubbish, glass and vandalism, but with this said it has some great views and fascinating history.

My favourite routes in the valleys are the ones on the tops of the mountains looking down, they usually involve a steep climb to get up there but then the scenery is rewarding enough.

The ride back to Cardiff was easy but it seemed to take us a lot longer than usual, as we went through Taffs Well Kate got her bike caught in a fallen pine tree and a little further on my gear cable snapped, it wasn’t a surprise, the previous day my shifting was a bit peculiar and when I looked at the bike in the evening I could see that the gear cable had frayed.  I decided rather than try and remove the frayed cable I would wait for it to break as it would be easier to pull a broken cable out.  With less than 8 miles to go it seemed pointless to stop and fit a spare cable as it was all downhill to the bay and we were keen to get to the pub to meet some friends so I rode the remainder of the route just able to change my front gears.






We whizzed passed the millennium stadium and down to the bay; we headed straight to the pub for a pint.  An hour later we were completing our last 2 miles back to our home, I still hadn’t fixed the gear cable so after putting some tension on the cable and tying a couple of knots I climbed our final hill of the week at a quicker pace than normal to finish the trip from Holyhead to Penarth.

The Wrong Kind of Undulating

19 Aug

Day 4: Llanidloes to Glasbury

Waking up at Dol-Llys campsite I realised we had forgotten to get milk the following day to we opted for breakfast in town.  Llanidloes is a really nice town and interesting place, its not on Route 8 although its only a mile away, Route 82 does go through the town.



Route 82 in Llanidloes

Kate looking for breakfast in Llanidloes


We cycled around the town which was virtually empty at nine in the morning and then continued on our way. The route for the day was to head to Rhayader about 15 miles away and then on to Builth Wells a further 17 miles from Rhayader and then down to Glasbury which was not far from where we planned to camp. I knew the journey to Builth was going to be lumpy but after that it would be mainly downhill alongside the river Wye.

We started the day with a climb up to Llangurig where we had originally planned on camping at the previous night, it seemed a long way from Llanidloes although it was only 5 miles but it was up a large hill. Upon arrival we realised we had made the right decision the following day stopping at Llanidloes.

The route to Rhayader is quiet and pleasant, it follows the river Wye and at times the A470 can be seen the other side of the valley. It is very hilly or best described as undulating. The scenery was once again fantastic with steep sided valleys and rocky outcrops we wound our way to Rhayader where once again the route does not go into the town. As we didn’t need anything we ate lunch on a bench where a couple of dogs out for a walk joined us until their own eventually beckoned them on.

Cycling from Llanidloes to Rhayader

The road from Llanidloes to Rhayader




Kate had company for lunch



A few miles outside of Rhayader the tarmac road ends and Route 8 continues along a historic coach road owned by the National Trust. I’ve ridden this section quite a few times although always in the opposite direction, its about 2 miles long and very scenic, although some of it is only ridable on a mountain bike. I’ve ridden it with full panniers on the Surly Troll and it hasn’t been a problem bouncing along the rocky surface in parts and on the troll I never really worry about the terrain.

On the Surly Disc Trucker it was a bit slower, I had to push the first steep section which is littered with fist size rocks but once past this we were able to ride the rest although slowly. I recently fitted a new wheel to the Disc Trucker with a dynamo hub which had kept our phones charged for the last 3 days but in order to keep the wheel weight low I had fitted a light weight Mavic rim which stopped me from speeding off and bouncing down the track.

The section of route made a nice change from the tarmac but it was hard going and without an appropriate bike this section is hard to ride. The only alternative is cycling along the busy A470 which would certainly get you between Builth and Rhayader a lot quicker.

The Disc Truckers were great on the off road section even with mine fully loaded, I couldn’t go as fast as I can on the Troll and I wouldn’t want to ride all day on this terrain but it was really no problem for the bike, thumbs up again for the Trucker!


Pushing a loaded Surly Disc Trucker




Off road riding on a Surly Disc Trucker

Off road riding on a Surly Disc Trucker

Full Panniers on a Surly Disc Trucker


off road riding on a Surly Disc Trucker

Off road riding on a Surly Disc Trucker

Off road riding on a Surly Disc Trucker





Cycling from Builth Wells to Glasbury

After the unpaved section it didn’t take us too long to reach Builth with a welcome final decent to the town. We stopped at the Co-op to pick up some supplies and then followed Route 8 further south. The last part of the day saw us following a quiet road alongside the river Wye to Glasbury, apart from a headwind it was an easy ride from Builth to Glasbury and mainly downhill. At Glasbury we stopped at the garage to buy a couple of beers and made our way to Newcourt Campsite just outside Felindre and just a few miles from Glasbury.

I’ve stayed at Newcourt Camping a couple of times this year and its a great campsite, its on a working farm and the field has some great views. Compared to yesterday it had been an easy day of cycling yet we were getting tired after four long days of hard riding.  One more day left to take us back to Cardiff.



Day 4 Elevation Profile

A Day of Mountains

16 Aug

Day 3: Barmouth to Llanidloes

Waking to the sound of bleating sheep today, I woke early and put some water to boil in the tent for a morning coffee.  Apart from the sheep it was quiet with a great morning view of the estuary below. We packed our bags and the tent and rolled down to the cycle route below the field where we had pitched for the night.

Apart from the occasional runner and cyclist the route was quiet at 9:30 in the morning; we continued along to Dolgellau with a stop at anther toll bridge along the way and within an hour we had arrived at the town where we stopped at the first cafe for a second breakfast.

Morning camping coffee

Morning Coffee

Mawddach Estuary

The Mawddach Estuary in the morning

Cycling Penmaenpool Toll Bridge

The Penmaenpool Toll Bridge


We didn’t see much of Dolgellau but the town is a nice looking place; the route from here climbs the mountain behind the town and from the map I could see it would be a steep ascent.  The climb went on for a long time but as we approached the top there were some superb views of the mountains surrounding us.  The road was almost deserted apart from two road cyclists who sped passed us during the climb.  The road eventually ended and we followed a tarmac path across the mountainside until it reached another road which took us down to the start of another climb.

We went through the gate and around a bend in the road which revealed a steep steady climb to the top, we were in mid Wales and there seemed to be no way to go but over a mountain in every direction.  We climbed with views of Cadair Idris to the west; a mountain with a height of 893 metres.

As we cycled we could hear cheers and shouting, at first I thought I was hallucinating but on the neighbouring mountain we could just make out a group of people cheering at us; they must have been thinking we were crazy climbing the road.

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The town of Dolgellau

NCN Route 8 Dolgellau

Overlooking Dolgellau


The road upwards from Dolgellau

The road upwards from Dolgellau

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The road upwards from Dolgellau some more


The second climb of the day

The second climb of the day

NCN Route 8 mountains in Wales

I made it with five bags and a tent!

At the top of this climb we had views down a valley and looking over yet more mountains; as we left the top a fighter jet roared past, it was so close we could see the details of under its wings.  The road down was steeper than our road up, it wound its way down the mountain and was covered with small chippings, it made for a slow decent and I had to hold the brakes most of the way down.  From here we road to the town of Machynlleth, it was market day and the town was packed, we picked up some lunch and sat in the park preparing for the biggest mountain climb of the ride.


The road heading south to Machynlleth


A slate fence to the right of the picture


Great views on the way down

Cycling the Dyfi Estuary Route 8

Almost at Machynlleth

The road from Machynlleth climbs the highest road on NCN Route 8.  Its a great road with awesome views but there was more traffic than on any other climb on the route and most cars were speeding past; at a narrow point ahead of us two of them clipped wing mirrors, as the car coming towards us passed the glass of his wing mirror was hanging off and as we passed the spot the BT van which had hit him had left his mirror glass on the road, neither of the drivers stopped.  Later on a Subaru came hurtling towards us out of a corner; he must have mistaken the mountain road for a rally stage as he sped past.  For most of the time we were alone on the mountain but when the traffic did come by it was certainly noticeable.

The road had many turns and each time we thought we were at the top a turn would reveal another hill, surely we thought there was nowhere else to climb too.  At its highest point the route reaches 510 metre’s, this was our third large climb of the day and we had started at sea level at the Mawddach estuary.


Highest place on NCN Route 8

Looking back down the road to Machynlleth

Riding to Machynlleth

Looking back some more

Cycling from Machynlleth

Great views all the way up

Cycling from Machynlleth

Looking back down the road

Cycling from Machynlleth

And looking up the road


And looking back down some more; the climb seemed like it would never end.



It really was an awesome climb


A small part of the climb we had ridden


And at the top of the mountain


It was almost flat on the top

The top was welcome but time was getting on and we still had 15 miles to cover so we just kept going, the decent was a welcome break for the climbing and we followed the route to Llanidloes along the River Severn.  The route alongside the river is one of my favourite sections of NCN Route 8 with a great picnic spot along the way, the route is undulating but closer towards Llanidloes there is more descending towards the town.  We reached a junction on the route with the option of going into the town or another five miles to a campsite in Llangurig.  Our legs were tired from all the climbing so we opted for the campsite at Llanidloes.

We had climbed 6092 feet in 46 miles; Dol-Llys Farm and Campsite was a welcome site, it was a much more established campsite than the previous two nights and for a change we pitched close to the facilities to save our legs.  After dinner and beer I was out for the count.



Day 3 Elevation Profile

Mountains and Coastlines

14 Aug

Day 2 – Caernarfon to Barmouth

The previous day we had covered just 30 miles but I was tired enough to sleep for 10 hours and woke to the sound of cows mooing in the next field; I assume it was time for milking.  In our kitchen bag we had packed coffee sachets and some flavoured porridge; conveniently we had picked up a pint of milk the night before as I hate porridge with water.


One day I will pack a camping cafetiere but until then its coffee sachets with milk already mixed in. They don’t taste much like coffee but at least I get that caffeine hit.


Porridge from the sachet


The pouch the porridge comes in acts as a measure for the milk; it couldn’t be simpler.

For some reason it seemed to take us an age to get going but it was our first morning after camping.  We packed the tent and rolled down the small lane back on to the cycle route.  The cycle route from Caernarfon runs alongside the narrow gauge track of the Welsh Highland Railway until the train line branches off and the cycle route continues along the old track bed.


When we got to the bottom of the lane from the farm we were just in time to see the train pass on its way to Caernarfon.





We followed the old railway line for several miles but decided to take a signposted short cut to Porthmadog cutting out the small town of Criccieth.  After leaving the railway line we encountered a few hills which made us question whether the shortcut was worth it, but the views were great and before long we were eating pasties in Porthmadog harbour.


Surly Disc Trucker loaded up.


Kate’s Disc Trucker not so loaded up.



View of the “Cob”; the sea wall built in 1811.

The Cob in Porthmadog is the route for the cycle path, road and also the railway line for the Welsh Highlands train which starts in Caernarfon and which we had cycled along earlier in the morning. Porthmadog is a popular tourist town, it gets very busy in the summer and the traffic can be a pain if you want to cycle through the town as we did, but there is the option of following the cycle route around the outskirts.



After Porthmadog we cycled through Penrhyndeudraeth and across the Pont Briwet bridge which crosses the estuary to Harlech.  They are currently building a new bridge and at times the existing bridge is closed, the work is expected to go on for a couple of years so its worth checking its staus as otherwise its an 8 mile detour inland.

After the bridge we crossed over the A road and hit an unexpected hill which was rather steep.  When we looked around we had great views over the estuary and the road kept on going up and up.

Kate climbing hill above Halrech3










The route took us through a wooded valley before climbing again and above the town of Harlech.  In the distance we could see a silver band going up the mountain but I was sure the road couldn’t be that steep or go up the mountainside ahead of us.  I was wrong, there was a steady stream of water flowing down the road reflecting the sunshine, as we got closer it became apparent it was our route.

The climbing seemed endless but there was a great view to the west of the estuary, mountains and penisular, but we could also see the much flatter and busier A road below.





No sooner had we reached the top we were descending down the other side to the coast and on the road to Barmouth, down on the coast road there was a lot more traffic so we had to ride in single file, we chose to stay on this road all the way to Barmouth rather than take some of the quieter detours off it which form Route 8.

Barmouth is a busy seaside town and the has a nice sandy beach.  We managed to find the Co-op after negotiating the one way system in reverse and stocked up on some beers and food for the night.



Southbound from Barmouth the route crosses the Mawddach Estuary over a wooden railway bridge, its fairly long with a span of 820 metres.  The bridge was built in 1867 and after around 110 years of service trains were stopped due to safety fears over the bridges strength, these fears seem to have gone away along with the woodworm hopefully and the bridge is now back in use for trains pedestrians and cyclists.  There is a toll booth which charges 90p for walking and 30p extra for bikes; we didn’t pay but not because I’m too stingy, the toll booth was actually closed.











After crossing the bridge the route heads inland alongside the estuary, its one of the most scenic rides I’ve been on and a perfect finish to the day.  We cruised along until we reached our campsite for the night; Graig Wen campsite is just on the route.  We had called the campsite just after we crossed the bridge and were told camp anywhere in the lower field but not at the bottom as we woud get wet when the tide comes in, it was very close to the estuary.  Despite the field being on a very steep slope and covered with sheep and sheep poo it was perfect, well I thought so; Kate wasn’t as impressed and was concerned we were going to be sharing the tent with our new befriended lamb.  We had a great view and although the main campsite, toilets and showers were a 600 metre walk away there was a compost toilet just a short distance away.





The Tree Bog






The route from Caernarfon to Barmouth had been great, it was very scenic with both the mountains and the coast; a huge improvement on the previous day across Anglesey.  Although we hadn’t expected to do so much climbing above Harlech it had provided some great views and the ride down to Barmouth was pretty easy, we had covered about 48 miles with a moving average of 9.2 mph.  At the campsite we cooked some dinner, drank a beer and enjoyed the view knowing tomorrow would be tough.



A ride across Wales

12 Aug

Day 1 – Holyhead to Caernarfon

A last minute holiday plan became a ride across Wales from Holyhead on the island of Anglesey to Cardiff Bay following the National Cycle Network Route 8.  It was only 4 days prior to departure we decided on the trip and luckily not much planning was required other than deciding on some campsites and picking up some maps for the route; which I initially forgot.

For the North of Wales I picked up three Ordnance Survey 1:50000 maps the day before; I really like using these maps for touring, for long distances a few are needed but they allow detours to be plan and its easy to read the terrain.  The National Cycle Network is already marked on the maps but I find it can be difficult to follow through a map case whilst riding so I often highlight my route before leaving the house.

Cycle Routes on OS Maps

Kate booked the train from Cardiff to Holyhead for 5:10 am on Monday morning which meant a very early start; we left our home at 4:30 to get to the station with a light drizzle of rain.  After a short delay we were off with a change over at Chester where I almost left a pannier bag behind and eventually we ended up in a wet Holyhead.

Bicycles at Cardiff Central

Kate appearing to be still asleep whilst waiting for the 5:10 am train

We arrived in Holyhead at 10:35 am, on the way we had a change over in Chester with time for breakfast and then the next train went direct to Holyhead along the north Wales coast; at £26 each the tickets were a bargain considering it was a five and a half hour journey.  It didn’t take us long to leave the train station via the ferry terminal in Holyhead; we slipped on our waterproofs and at the end of the carpark found the route that would take us back to Cardiff.

Cycling in Anglesey

We started the journey in light rain.






The longest place name in Europe; one of the most popular tourist attractions on Anglesey. Go on try saying it!

I cycled across Anglesey a couple of years ago; whilst the route is quiet and mainly flat winding through the countryside and past the RAF base its rather unexciting but not unpleasant.


Looking down from the Menai Bridge


View over the Menai Strait


After a couple of hours we found ourselves at the Menai Strait and crossed the Menai Bridge to Bangor; route 8 avoids the town and we carried on towards Caernarfon.  The route becomes a lot more interesting dropping down to the coast before heading into the walled town which holds an impressive castle.



Caernarfon Harbour


Caernarfon Castle


The Romans built a fort in Caernarfon around 80 AD and the castle that exists today was completed around 1322 after being started by Edward I.  The town is surrounded by castle walls and is certainly worth a visit, its also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Route 8 heading south from Caernarfon

We picked up some supplies and called a nearby campsite just 15 minutes ride away.  Our Campsite for the night was Hendy Farm; a very small site with basic facilities and right on the route; its a working farm and in a nice spot, the facilities are adequate but are very basic.



We packed a chopping board for the first time.


Jack the farm dog wanted to play catch, he also pissed on the tent and dribbled on my matress. Lovely dog!


Oops; I put to much in the pan.

It was an easy day of riding, it was mainly flat with no challenging climbs.  The roads across Anglesey were very quiet and from the Menai bridge onwards it was mainly traffic free.  As we got up at 4 am to get the train from Cardiff to Holyhead we were very tired by the end of the day so 33 miles was just enough.


Surly Troll

9 Aug

I got the Surly Troll in 2011 and 2 years on I thought it was a good time to post an update.  I bought the 16″ frame and fitted it with an Alfine 11 speed hub.  I had the wheels built up with tough Rigida Sputnik rims.  The Troll has 26″ wheels and I’ve done quite a bit of off road touring with panniers and they are in great condition; the wheels are super tough but very heavy.  I recently changed the rack to a Tubus Cargo and when removing the old rack I realised the bolts were bent. I assume this is from the off road riding with panniers; I was surprised the bolts bent and the wheels have stayed absolutely true.   But the bike weighs a ton, its very slow (with me pedalling), covering 50 miles on this bike is really hard work and since getting a Surly Disc Trucker I have stopped using the Troll for touring; it now gets used for trips around town, hauling stuff and days when I’m not in a hurry.

Surly Troll

The Surly Troll

The Build details:

  • Alfine 11 Speed Hub
  • Rigida Sputnik Rims
  • Shimano Deore M545 Chainset and Bashguard
  • Shimano M324 Clipless SPD-Flat MTB Pedals
  • Tortec Rear Rack
  • Tubus Duo Front Rack
  • Continental Trave Contact Tyres
  • Brooks B17 Honey saddle
  • Avid BB7 Disc Brakes
  • Shimano Deore Brake Levers
  • SKS Chromoplastic Mudguards
  • FSA Stem
Surly Troll Shimano Alfine 11 speed hub Avid BB7

The Troll has a Shimano Alfine 11 speed hub with Avid BB7 brakes

Surly Troll Shimano Deore Chainset Shimano M324 Clipless SPD-Flat MTB Pedals

Shimano Deore Chainset with the Shimano M324 pedals

Surly Troll Rigida Sputnik Tubus Duo SKS Chromoplastic SLX Front Hub

Rigida Sputnik rims with Continental Travel Contact tyres and the Tubus Duo rack.  The Rims weigh a heavy 630 grams each!

Alfine Shifter

Surly Bicycle

Surly Troll Rear Rack mudguard

Surly Troll Front rack mudguard

Surly Troll brooks saddle

Surly Troll Conwy

With hindsight I should have probably gone straight for a Surly Long Haul Trucker but it took me a few years of touring to actually get a dedicated touring bike.  I base that on my background in mountain biking; the first bike I used for touring was an On-One Inbred and one of the main reasons I replaced the Inbred with the Troll was due to the lack of rack fixtures, bottle cages and mudguard mounts.  I love the idea that the Troll is a go anywhere bike and I think it really is apart from carrying loads of stuff stops any bike from being a go anywhere bike; I can see me taking up bike packing at this rate!

Orange Surly Troll

The Troll in Cornwall

Surly Troll

The Surly Troll on the Balmoral during a trip across the Bristol Channel to Ilfracombe

Surly Troll 14" frame organe

Surly Troll in Rhyl on Route 5

Surly Troll riding in the snow

Surly Troll with 2.5″ tyres

Surly Troll

Surly Troll

Not long after I got the Surly Disc Trucker I contemplated selling the Surly Troll but I just couldn’t do it.  I’ve ridden it on some great trips and I still love riding the thing.  But when it comes to touring trips the Surly Disc Trucker is going to win every time; even if the route is unpaved I’m confident the Trucker is going to be fine.  The Troll is a great go anywhere bike and I’ve ridden it fully loaded over some crazy terrain but riding the bike all day is hard work; I think the wheels have a lot to do with this; the rear wheel with the heavy Alfine Hub and Sputnik Rim; rotating those things takes a lot of effort.

So whats next for the Troll; maybe a rebuild or just some tweaks.  I have a Shimano Deore group set off my old Scott MTB and I might transfer the bits to the troll to see how it rides with a normal drive train rather than an internal hub gear.  Last winter the mudguards came off and 2.5″ tyres went in during the snow; that was a lot of fun.  The bike is certainly versatile and I’m unlikely to ever grow tired of it.

My Surly Disc Trucker

7 Aug

If you read the last post you will already know Kate got a Surly Disc Trucker last year and as I said; I got a little jealous.  It was also hard work keeping up with her when I was on my Troll which is pretty hefty.  So this year I decided to get my own Surly Disc Trucker!  I had secretly been buying the parts over the last 9 months and they had all been delivered to my office and mostly kept in my desk drawers; who needs paperwork?

My Disc Trucker is a 46 cm frame which fits me perfectly, I'm 5'2".

My Disc Trucker is a 46 cm frame which fits me perfectly, I’m 5’2″.

I took my time choosing the parts slowly acquiring them as they came on sale.  Deciding on the gearing was the biggest part; I would have preferred 9 speed for reliability but I already had a set or Shimano 105 STI shifters from a groupset deal I had; I had used the rest of the parts on Kate’s Tifosi rebuild and only had the shifters left.  They are 10 speed triple shifters with the gear cable exiting the side; I did consider the newer 105 model where the gear cable is hidden but I was told this was not so reliable although it avoids cables getting in the way of a bar bag.

Surly Trucker STI Shifters bar bag

Surly Disc Trucker with Ortlieb Bar Bag

The Shimano 105 shifters are designed to work with road derailleurs and there isn’t a road derailleur that works with a 36 tooth rear cassette.  It turns out that the pull ration on the Shimano mountain bike 10 speed rear derailleur is different to the pull ration of their 10 speed road shifters.  So to get the 10 speed setup to work I had to fit a Shimano 9 speed rear derailleur; the results are good with reliable shifting and 30 gears!  In case your wondering its 11 – 36 teeth on the cassette and 48/36/26 rings on the chainset.  The chain I originally fitted was only 114 links and after 400 miles I replaced it with 116 links which improved the shifting on the front chainset; I also fitted a cheap gear cable which I picked up in a local bike shop when I built the bike and this seemed to be constantly stretching so I changed this for a Shimano cable.

The Disc Trucker is a 10 speed.  To make this work I have 9 speed rear mech and 10 speed cassette

The Disc Trucker is a 10 speed. To make this work I have 9 speed rear mech and 10 speed cassette

For the chainset I opted for Shimano’s XT Trekking set with 48/36/26 rings and 170mm crank length; the model number is FC-T781.  If I had gone for a 9 speed build this would have been considerably cheaper with a Shimano LX option or I could have gone for a cheaper 10 speed Deore; it turned out that the chainset was the most expensive part after the frame.  I had difficulty buying one in the UK and in the end I had it shipped from Germany.  It has a chainguard which is really useful when I want to pop into town or go to work on it.

I decided to go for the XT trekking pedals with an SPD clip on one side; it turns out they are lighter than the dual sided Shimano SPD pedals I normally use; again very useful for going to work with normal shoes or running errands and occasionally wearing sandals in the sunshine.  On two of the trips I have been on I have taken some Gore-tex shoes for the rain and although the flat side of the pedal is great in the dry its got no grip in the wet; the tread on the Merrell Gore-tex shoe I use is designed for hiking and isn’t very good with most pedals but its useless with these in the rain, ideally I would like a pair of waterproof shoes with a flat tread for platform pedals but I haven’t come across anything yet.  I like a pair of waterproof trainers for rainy days, cold weather and camping in the wet.

Shimano XT FC-T781

Shimano XT Trekking Chainset

Shimano XT PD-T780 Pedals

I opted for the Shimano XT Trekking pedals which have an SPD clip on the opposite side.

The bike has a Tubus Cargo Classic Rack on the rear and a Tubus Tara Lowrider on the front.  The 46 cm frame only has the option for 26″ wheels and I fitted SKS Chromoplastics mudguards to the bike.  On the rear of the rack is a Cateye light which is permanently fixed; I thought it would have been knocked off by now whilst touring but despite its vulnerable position its remained untouched.  Fitting the rear rack and mudguards posed no problems and the frame design is well thought out; there are a couple of small differences between the 46 cm size and some of the larger frames; there is no pump boss below the toptube for mounting a frame pump and there is only clearance for a small 500 mm water bottle on the underneath of the downtube.

Surly Disc Trucker SKS Mudguards and Tubus Cargo rack

The Trucker has a Tubus Cargo Classic rack and SKS Chromoplastic mudguards and Cateye light

Fitting a front rack and mudguard to the Disc Trucker proved problematic as it did with the Surly Troll and Kate’s Surly Disc Trucker.  Kate’s Disc Trucker doesn’t have a front rack and I was able to bend the mudguard stay around the Avid BB7 brake and keep the SKS secu-clip in place.  With the Tara rack mounted to the Disc Trucker there wasn’t room for it on the calliper side so I had to remove the clip but the bike does have on on the other side.

The Avid BB7 brakes are excellent; I have fitted the road version to this bike as I have road levers and the pull ratio is different to flat bar brake levers; they are very powerful in all conditions, very easy to maintain and set up.  I also have them on the Surly Troll and Kate has them on her Surly Disc Trucker.  On my mountain bike I have some Avid hydraulic brakes and I must say I prefer the cable version, less force is needed to operate the hydraulic brakes but I find the Avid hydraulic brakes can be problematic and I have had trouble with the pistons sticking.  The cable discs for touring work very well; there is plenty of stopping power and recently when I buckled the front wheel I did not have the issue of the rim rubbing on the brakes as I would with conventional rim brakes.  I run a 180 mm rotor in the front and a 160 mm rotor in the rear.  The only drawback I can find is fitting mudguards is more difficult but it can be easily overcome; and there is no need to bend the mudguard stays as I have if you fit a spacer where the stay attaches to the frame.

Surly Disc Trucker Avid BB7 Road brake SKS mudguards Tubus Tara rack

The SKS mudguard stays needed bending to fit around the Avid BB7 brakes.

Surly Disc Trucker with BB7 brake and SKS mudguard

To fit the mudguard I had to remove the secu-clips on the disk brake side.

Surly Disc Trucker, fenders and Tubus rack

The Surly Disc Trucker has a Tubus Tara Lowrider fitted to front with SKS mudguards.  The secu-clip is fitted on this side.

I wanted to keep the wheel weight down and I fitted a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Racer tyres which are 26″ x 1.5″ and weigh a low 390 grams.  They have some puncture protection but from what I gather most of the weight is saved in the tyre wall.  I got them on sale at an amazing £15 each; at the time I wasn’t sure if they were going to be tough enough but after 600 miles most of which has been with full camping gear and quite a few of those miles on unpaved routes I am really happy with them.  I want to buy more but the cheapest I can find a pair for now is £60!  For a few years I have been using Continental Travel Contact Tyres which is a good strong tyre for on and off road touring, but they do weigh 690 grams each and the profile means they are slow rolling.

Schwalbe Marathon Racers Surly Disc Trucker

The wheels came off an old mountain bike; the rear was rebuilt a couple of years ago using a Mavic XM 317 on a Hope hub; I had new bearings pressed into the hub at the time and the cassette body serviced; the wheel is light weight and so far its withstood a heavy touring load on some rough ground although I do take it easy.  Mavic rims don’t have a reputation for touring on and I will be keeping an eye on it.  I have considered some touring rims but at this point the reliability of the Mavic is proving just fine.  The front wheel is another matter; its probably about 10 years old and although a great mountain bike wheel in its day it is now in need of a rebuild and new bearings.  The spokes are bladed and its a lightweight cross country rim; I will be replacing it very soon.  When I built the Troll I wanted a go anywhere bike but I found the weight of the thing stops me using it on some trips or just not going at all; it can certainly cope with tough terrain fully loaded but pedalling it on a 50 mile ride is hard work; the wheels are mostly to blame for its weight with the Alfine hub and the Sputnik rims and robust tyres so I am keen to keep the wheel weight low on the disc trucker.

Surly Disc Trucker Thomson post

I fitted a Thomson seat post to the Trucker with a Charge Spoon saddle

Its the best bike I have built to date; I’ve done 600 miles on it so far and its been great; by keeping the wheel and tyre weight down this has made a difference even when loaded up and so far its worked out well.  Its very comfortable and I have got a few rides in which have been over 70 miles long with a reasonable average speed.  The 10 speed groupset is working out fine and the short drop bars are really good; a recommendation  from Curtis.  I should have gone for the Surly Trucker instead of the Troll a few years ago but its taken me some time to evolve from mountain biking to becoming a tourer; I will assume its a case of growing up.

Mountain Biking in the Isle of Skye

Mountain Biking in the Isle of Sky in July 2010. That is the same wheel as on the Trucker now!

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