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Gear reviews – what worked

I’ve had the time on the ride to think about what worked and what didn’t work, and which of the things I’d recommend if you considered a similar undertaking.

Brooks Swift
The saddle has been phenomenally comfortable all the way through. My previous posting of Sudacrem was perhaps too hasty as I’ve not had any problems whatsoever with this saddle on the ride. Just make sure it’s broken in before you depart!

Carradice Camper Longflap
Again, flawless use from this. The Longflap variant is definitely the one to buy as the extra capacity comes in useful for any impromptu supermarket visits. The sizing was near perfect for me, with the buckles compressing the load down well. I would consider it for more bulky touring, perhaps putting my tent across the top with a bar bag for my sleeping bag. The bracket on the other hand is a bit rubbish, requiring a repair in Tongue as it’s a bit flimsy.

Titanium
The hype is right – nothing feels like it. Lighter than steel but comfier than both it or aluminium. I was really happy I bought this bike, and hope it does me for years and years.

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Book review – Deception Point

I decided to take a book away with me to kill time in the evenings. Having read all of Dan Brown’s other works, I thought I could do worse than this. However, having read this one, I can’t see why he’s so popular as he’s just a writer of formulaic thrillers that reveal themselves very early on.

If you’re writing a Dan Brown book, you need to start with an expert in their field (cryptology, information analysis, symbology…)
You then give them a love interest, equally capable but in a different field.
Add a mysterious society or organisation (CIA, Knights Templar, Illuminati)
Kill, or appear to kill off some main characters
Have at least one main character reveal themselves to be working for the other side.
Bad guys chase good guys
The conspiracy turns out to be a lie
Good guy and love interest get together
The end

In short, don’t buy this book.

No caption needed

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Worth its weight in gold

The new bike

I’ve been rambling along for months about gear choices, and yesterday was my first time out on the new bike.

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I went for the Van Nicholas, and it feels great. I fitted my Brooks saddle but other than that it’s the plain build. It’s fast, yet comfortable – the feel on the road is like my steel hardtail offroad. There’s a bit of give that softens out the horrible road vibration, but it doesn’t feel squishy when out of the saddle to climb. It weighs less than my Cube as well, so money well spent I reckon.

However, I still prefer my Shimano shifters on my Cube to the SRAM on this bike. Shimano Ultegra shifting feels a lot softer compared to a quite harsh feel on this. It may loosen off over time, but we shall see…

Route-wise, I rode Edinburgh-Dunfermline-Crieff-Comrie, then had a long lunch stop and returned by Braco, Dunblane, Stirling, Grangemouth, Polmont and finally Kirkliston. I got 120 miles in and I feel fine today. My hands are a bit sore, which I think is down to just not being used to the thinner tyres. My legs are perfectly fine though despite almost 9 hours on the bike. I averaged 25kph, which is more than normal even though I had a big saddlebag with me.

The bike – or is it?

I’d mentioned previously that my Cube X Race Pro was going to get used for the trip, but I’m having second thoughts. I’ve got a steel hardtail, and I thought perhaps a steel road bike would be comfy an fast for the whole route.

However…

I’ve always lusted after a titanium frame, and as luck would have it Van Nicholas do a full bike of their Mistral for a very good price. Titanium is as comfy as steel or even moreso, but considerably lighter, so the full bike weight is comparable to that of my Cube. This bike is on order for a test ride, and once received I’ll know whether I’ll have a new bike to get used to.

The bag

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I am now at the stage where I have my luggage sorted. I’ve continued with the ‘Best of British’ theme with a Carradice Camper Longflap, which I think makes a versatile and lighter alternative to a rack and pannier and goes nicely with my Brooks saddle. I was restricted by not having rack mounts on my Cube, and the bag I’ve gone for is more than big enough for all my stuff.

First impressions – it wobbles a bit and takes a while to attach, but it’s very well made and goes well with the Brooks. However, the ensemble doesn’t suit the bike, so I may accelerate my next bike purchase…

West Highland Way – epilogue

I failed to include a few things when I wrote this up originally, specifically around kit choices both good and bad, and things I’d do differently.

On the train back, I discovered the only casualty of the trip on the bike – a broken spoke. I reckon the back wheel needed tensioned anyway as it feels quite soft in use, irrespective of tyre pressure. It’s like the wheel flexes in use and it’s not the frame, axle or cassette. That’ll be a cheap and cheerful fix anyway, and something to kill time in front of the TV. Might even be an excuse to buy a truing stand.

In me terms, my feet are in bits. My choice of Shimano MT91 boots was the right one to make for the amount of walking, but when the elastic on your socks is rubbish it means that grit gets in them and goes down to your ankles and rubs. I emptied out my socks several times on the route but it wasn’t enough to stop me rubbing my ankles raw. It’s agony now in anything other than short socks, but it’s just a lesson to be learned and not a regret.

I did however forget to bring sunglasses and sunscreen, the latter meaning my biker tan has got off to a good start. Razor sharp tanlines on my arms from my base layer and watch, but the lack of sunglasses has at least kept my face devoid of the normal lines and patches of tan.

I think I carried just the right amount of food, as I was able to eat the night after from my supplies. I would have liked to have had a couple of gels for emergency bonk purposes, but a pack of Dextro energy tablets helped in that respect.

As I was carrying my full overnight gear, I was happy to have discovered Blizzard bags, and even happier to have not used it. They weigh less than a bivi bag, but are insulated, and are good for emergencies. I think taking a tent, even my Laser, would have been a step too far as it’s a bulky item that might or might not have been used.

My Rab synthetic gilet came with me, a brilliant piece of kit that gets stuffed into a drybag any time I’m out in the hills and is a quick booster layer. It didn’t get worn at all until the day after as I wasn’t stopped in the cold long enough for it to be of use.

As ever, I wore Icebreaker merino, this time a 260 weight zip top which was almost perfect if not slightly too warm. I favour merino as it’s warm even when wet, and in particular Icebreaker as it’s a tight weave that doesn’t itch.

Time-wise, I think the midnight start is definitely the way to go as the easy stuff at the start is better done in the dark than the Devil’s Staircase. Even with decent lights, you’d need to slow down and that piece of trail needs to be ridden as quickly as possible!

From a recovery perspective, my regime of drinking PSP22 through the whole day has meant that my muscles are completely fine. I used to drink only water in my Camelbak and get my carbs from food, but I now think the energy drink is the way forward. I never fail to drink but have been known to bonk quite badly in the past through low blood sugars, so I think that ditching my water-only approach will help me on LeJog.