Thursday, 30 June 2011

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Monday, 27 June 2011

Sennen, Cornwall

The beach below our campsite 


 Looking for dinner

 Sennen Harbour


Unknown climber finishes Demo Route

A busy day at the crag!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Viva la Revolution

"Trees flash past, first left then right, a ribbon of yellow-brown earth stretches out in front of me winding through a tunnel of green and brown. Leaning into the corners the rear snaps round smartly carrying momentum out of the turn, I feel the tyres grip the earth as eyes search out the terrain ahead. A roller with a perfect take off line, time to get some air, power on and launch. Flying!"

If you read this blog regularly or actually know me then you may have noticed I’ve bought a new bike, I think I’ve mentioned it a bit here and there. In the three weeks since it landed all shiny and new in my front room I’ve had it out at the trail centre and thrashing round the Peak. In summary, it’s brilliant, you should buy one!

For those not up to speed I went for a 29er in the guise of a Gary Fisher Cobia (now sold as a Trek). I already own a Fisher, my Hi-Fi full suspension bike which I love; however i've always felt the rear shock sanitises the riding experience somewhat especially on open country trails. I missed the rawness of my old hardtail (another Fisher, the still excellent Tassajara) which gave a much more organic hands on ride, a feeling of being more connected with the corners and drop offs.

I’ve also become psyched about off road cycle touring and have some plans to push out some big biking adventures in the next few years. I wanted a bike that would cover big mileage on rough but not super technical ground and something that could tow one of these. A 29er looked like it would tick all these boxes.

Little and Large, my Cobia and Hi-Fi

I was taking a risk though, changing the size of the wheels could have big effects on the handling of the bike. Yes I rode it at the shop but there is only so much you can tell going up and down a bit of street outside the store; would it really live up to all those promises when the tyres hit real dirt? In the end I committed because it was a Fisher, pretty much the only mainstream manufacturer that has tried to do anything novel with bike design in recent years. If anyone could get it right it would be them and in my past experience of their bikes they have never put a foot wrong.

"The switchbacks look ridiculously steep, cutting one way then the other as they carve their way up the hillside. My back wheel digs in and traction pushes me forward the front riding up easily over obsticles. "This bike climbs like a beast" i'm working hard but actually quite comfortable not busting may balls. Ahead a tight left-hander at least 135 degrees, not much room to swing this big frame round onto it's new heading. If the 29er is going to fail anywhere it may be here. Slow into the corner, roll the bars over and bring her round, wheels track round and were still going. Next!"

All Fisher bikes have two subtle design tweaks, firstly the frame geometry has been altered to put the riders weight further over the back wheel giving better grip and better climbing performance for a small reduction in acceleration. John who borrowed my Hi-Fi recently noticed this on the first big climb of the day “It just keeps on going!” he blurted sounding slightly amazed that cycling uphill could be this easy. Danm! My secrets out, the reason I burn everyone off on the hills is not because I’m super fit but because the geometry does all the work for me. The second tweak is to the arrangement of the front forks, but rather than read about it here is a nice little video guide.

So the Bike; the Cobia at £850 may sit towards the lower end of the 29er price bracket but it has the same frame as the range topping Paragon which retails at almost twice the price (£1,450). With my limited funds it offered a great base on which to build better components when I have the cash. That said the components are not bad with a mix of Shimano and SRAM, through the gears and drive-train.

Gears are SRAM X5 shifters coupled with Shimano Deore front derailure and a SRAM X7 rear. Despite this hodge-podge of bits they work well and fire through the cogs smoothly and quickly. My only minor nag is that the down shifters sit above the up on the same side of the bars which is the complete opposite of the Shimano set up I’m used to on my Hi-Fi, a recipe for confusion till I get used to it.

"Coming down of the bottom of Stanage Causway speed begins to pick up, slowly for the first few seconds then you can almost feel the big wheels get going and the bike leaps away as fast as lightning. The track is wide but littered with countless loose cobbles sized between snooker balls and footballs. Not the easiest terrain to ride but the 29er cuts through smoothly, momentum holding the bike in like, I feel stable, confident to put some power down. 

So what does it feel like to ride? Well the smoothness is obvious straignt away, its really comfortable on moderately rough ground whith much less jarring than I was used too as the wheels role smoothly over obstacles. The reason for this is because the angle of attack is less;  and here comes the science bit. A 26” and 29” wheel meet the same obstacle on the trail, the obstacle is proportionally smaller to the diameter of the 29” wheel than it is to the 26” and so is the displacement necessary to ride it. An extreme example of this is why it's much easier to cycle down a gravel path then skateboard down one, the gravels a a considerable fraction of the wheel size of the board but tiny compared to the wheel size of the bike.

The second big effect of the 29” wheels is that they have a longer contact patch with the ground; this is the bit of tyre that actually does all the work of gripping the surface and stopping you ending up in a big pile on the floor. It’s actually worryingly small for all wheels, scare yourself and work out how big it is for your car which you throw into wet corners at 70mph! The bigger contact patch gives more traction when climbing and better grip in the corners, it is also more likely to “float” over sand, mud, and snow before becoming bogged down. If your interested a more detailed explanation can be found on the Fisher website.

In the bigger wheels the mass is situated further away from the hub this effects performance in two ways. Firstly it needs slightly more energy and time to get them going although I found that in practice this is marginal. The second effect is that once they are going they stay gone!. The bike accelerates downhill very quickly and carries its momentum through rough ground better than any 26” bike I’ve ridden.

The brakes are Promax Hornets, not a model or indeed brand I was familiar with. They are not quite as sharp as the Avids on my Hi-Fi but i'm not sure if that is down to the brakes themselves or the fact that the bigger wheel has much more angular momentum and is therefore harder to stop. The effect on the trail is negligible you can still easily get the back wheel skidding round corners with ease. 

A word about sizing, I’m 6ft and bought the 19” frame which feels right. 29er’s are naturally bigger bikes even on the smaller frames and I think riders under about 5 ft 6” may find the whole set up a bit big.

"Stainburn red decent line: I've never ridden this clean, usually technically stopped by the boulder fields or mentally by the big drop off at half distance. "Your on the wrong bike you know, this is not what you bought the 29er for" I tell my self as I fly through the bermed corners. "Well at least your giving it a proper test, I retort". The boulders go as easily as I can ever remember, next up the drop off, should I stop and inspect? "F**k it just go". Set the line, sit back and roll off the edge. Then it hits, "The decent is on here don't cock it up now that's the hard bits are over". Switchback after switch back and some more small jumps and it's done, a personal demon is slayed; yes I love this bike"

So what are you waiting for? Join the revolution when your barrelling into those corners with a big smile on you face you won’t regret it.

Just for clarity this isn't me.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Surface and Skye

I spent a few hours walking around near Tower Bridge yesterday and had a play with the camera. I shot in monochrome as it hides all your mistakes and somehow make pictures look better than they are. The day was quite bright and some of the pictures especially the 1/4 sec exposures of the fountains are overexposed (ISO100, f-9-11).

The Shard at London Bridge Station

I liked the composition between the tower and the water feature cunning down the street. Unfortunately plans to get up at 5.00 to photograph it when the streets were empty failed because I went out on the lash.


Vanishing Point

The Rule of Thirds

These next four are the same picture rotated through 90 degrees.




Light and Water

The Fighting Temeraire, Turner

Visited the National Gallery yesterday having been in London for a conference. Can anyone paint light like Turner could? A spellbinding painting. 

Lake Keitele, Gallen-Kallela

I had never heard of the artist or the work but I loved the water and the setting of this; the scene of space.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Elephant in the Room

I started to write a blog about wind farms; it was going to be a rant about how we are defacing our hills with these ugly structures, not to mention the pylons and access roads that go with them. It was going to be that they are the wrong strategy for tackling global warming and we should be looking to minimising our energy use and investing in nuclear power. The more I wrote however the more I realised there was an elephant in the room, one of my own hypocrisy and I think a wider hypocrisy within the outdoor community as a whole. So it’s not going to be a blog about the relative merits of wind farms but the decisions I have to make about how my lifestyle choices are affecting the planet.

Global warming is the most serious issue facing humanity today. It's happening, it's caused by us, and it will indirectly kill millions of people through water and food shortages, wars over the basics of human life, changing disease patterns and half a hundred other interlinked effects. Unlike many of its detractors I have actually read the IPCC evidential reports which are freely available on the internet and am convinced by the science. Frankly if 98% of scientists buy into the idea well, if you took your car to 100 garages and 98 said your brakes were dangerous you would be a fool not to do something.

Of all environmental issues wind farms appear to be the one that generates the most debate within the outdoor community. Most of "us" including myself are against them or deeply sceptical. I think for me this is mostly a gut feeling, I go on a lot on these pages about how I feel deeply connected with the landscape and how it’s experiencing the mountains in all their glory whilst walking, climbing, and camping that’s the key motivating factor that sends me to the hills.

It’s the thought of the visual intrusion of these massive structures, beating time with such a regular rhythm into the stunning views from the Scottish and Welsh hills (because it is primarily Scotland and Wales that are suffering) that depresses me so much. To me they feel so obviously out of place.

Copyright NASA

It's not as simple as that is it though?

I'm complaining about wind farms for aesthetic and principally selfish reasons, they spoil my enjoyment of the county side. Thinking deeper though and it's obvious that my love of the hills has contributed in it's small way to the problem we face.

I like to consider myself a green person, I recycle, cycle to work, turn of lights, put on a jumper and turn down the heating, avoid air freighted food. Whilst at university I even would get up early on climbing trips and collect the 100’s of bottles and cans from the night before and take them to the local recycling centre.

I also have a blind spot, my car; I must drive 15,000 miles a year for no reason other than having fun in the hills. Already this year I've been to Scotland three times, Wales twice, the Lakes. In the next few months I will drive to Cornwall, Scotland again, and to Chamonix, and Fontainebleau in France. Every mile I will be spewing CO2 out into the atmosphere.

I think we forget this in the outdoor circles, our carbon footprints are awful. A back of an envelope calculation for my car shows that those 15,000 miles equate to 2.8 tonnes of CO2. Considering the average UK carbon footprint is 9.7 tonnes the fact that I get a almost a third of the way to that total just through my main leisure activities pretty much off sets any good I do in other areas.

Destroying the things we love?
It’s easy to criticise others, but actually who is to say if the carbon footprint from my mileage is an inherently a better or more worthwhile use of carbon than someone who wants to drive their gas guzzling SUV round town or run half a hundred electrical appliances in their house.

So here is the conflict. My outdoor interests are crucial to whom I am; I can’t imagine myself not going walking and climbing in the hills as these activities define a core part of my soul. My aspirations to move towards becoming a mountain instructor means I will inevitably increase my carbon footprint and through my actions contribute to global warming that may alter the landscapes a love with catastrophic effects for all their inhabitants.

Can I really be green whilst doing this mileage for fun? Can I offset the damage by ruthlessly minimising my footprint elsewhere? I guess before I go shouting off about wind farms I should see if I can set my own house in order because at the moment I don’t know how to square this circle.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

It's Good!

More to follow...

Friday, 3 June 2011

New Toy!

I'm very excited! I picked up my new bike today, it's sat by my fireplace looking shiny, and new. I now own three bikes (2 MTB, one road) which some people may find excessive, however a wise man (sort of) once told me the secret to bike happiness; perfect no of bikes = number of bikes you own + 1. 

A new addition to the family.

Looking at the picture and you may think the new addition looks a bit odd, slightly out of proportion, well you're right, the wheels are big. The bike is a 29er, basically it has 29" wheels rather than the standard 26" wheels you get with most bikes. There are logical reasons for this but I will talk about them when I give the bike a proper review. First I have to ride it, which will keep me occupied this weekend.

The 29" wheel next to the 26" on my standard full suspension.

The bike is a Gary Fisher Cobia; Gary Fisher has as good a claim as anyone to have invented the mountain bike. Having done this he didn't stop; unlike all other mainstream manufactures  Fisher is still tinkering with the fundermentals of frame and fork geometry to make the bike ride better and because of this all Fishers handle in a unique way. I love his bikes, this is the third I have owned and if I get my way I will never buy another make. 

A fist full of Fishers.

Unfortunately Trek who have bought the Fisher brand (retaining the man) have decided to drop the name from their bikes. Therefore  I now own a Trek Cobia from the Gary Fisher Collection. I'm disappointed by this, the Fisher name always signified a little  bit of quirkiness a desire to be different. Oh well, let the fun begin.

Could they have made it any smaller?