Broken Bikes, Bruised Bodies And Bottled Beer

To celebrate the end of the racing season Shergie decided that it would be a very good idea to gather a few people together for a weekend in north Wales with some bikes and some beer. I met up with him and Tom in Warwick, left my van there and piled into his. We paused briefly somewhere near Oswestry to purchase as much beer as we could fit into a shopping trolly, along with a loaf of bread, some porridge oats and some peanut butter.

Most of the journey there was spent discussing van conversions and how best to go about such a project and it was quite late by the time we arrived at the bunkhouse near Dolgellau. Stuart had beaten us there by quite some margin, possibly down to not having a speed limiter on his truck such as we had been having to contend with, but more likely by just being a lot more organised and setting off on time.

He had already started on the beers and it seemed awfully rude not to join him for a couple, so we did. The conversation then moved round to the Transcontinental. There may be a few of you who have not heard of it but in summary it is a race across Europe. The start of next year’s event will be somewhere in Belgium, with three checkpoints to pass through (the summit of Mt. Ventoux, another somewhere in the Italian Alps and one more in Slovenia) before the finish in Istanbul. It is a proper race too, none of the overnight stops or anything like that which you get on the Tour de France, the clock starts in Belgium and stops when you reach the end, over 2,400 miles later. Make your own route (verified by GPS trackers) and look after your own food and sleeping arrangements.

It sounds like a lot of fun, but also quite daunting, and a logistical nightmare to plan. Riders have in the past had to be completely self-sufficient but next year there will be an option to race as a pair, albeit still with no outside assistance at all.

Anyway, the reason we were talking about it, other than the fact that it does sound a lot of fun, is that Stuart and Shergie have applied for a place in next year’s event. Just think about that for a minute. Shergie, the man who could get lost in his own kitchen, attempting to ride over 2,400 miles from one side of a continent to the other. I hope Stuart knows what he’s doing!

After a suitable amount of beer had been drunk we turned in for the night. I was awakened sometime later by some very load thrash metal coming from a speaker 3 inches from my ear, much to the amusement of everyone else. We had some porridge, piled the bikes into the truck and headed off to Coed-y-Brenin.

Rather surprisingly for this time of year in north Wales it wasn’t raining. Rob was already there when we arrived, getting his bike out of the car. Shergie decided that he would like to ride Stuart’s brand new Scott Genius. This was very brave of Stuart, the bike had only been to the shops and back to check that it was working, to all intents and purposes this would be it’s first ride. However, the front brake lever wasn’t quite to Shergie’s liking and so it was removed, the hose rerouted, and then the lever, which was connected to the shifter with a single M4 bolt (remember that detail) reattached.

Of the many trails we picked the longest, called The Beast, which is essentially two smaller ones ridden as one, which should keep us entertained for an afternoon. I was having a huge amount of fun riding my enormous Kona Stinky on the downhill sections, but then struggling as I tried to get it back up as best I could. As long as I was ahead of Tom on his nearly-as-heavy Commencal I was happy. The others were all flying along on their nice light bikes, Rob in particular on his fortnight-old Scott Scale hardtail.

We had a brief pause as Shergie managed to puncture the rear tyre of the Genius but it didn’t take us long to fix and we were soon on our way again. We had another stop for a cup of tea at the little café and made a fuss of the local cats.

Once underway again we decided to swap bikes around a bit. Shergie ended up on my Stinky, which slowed him down quite a bit, and I ended up on the brand-new Genius. It was the brief moment when I wasn’t on the brand-new Genius which caused some concern, Stuart found me sprawled across the rocks next to his new pride and joy, but fortunately no harm was done, either to me or to the bike.

Harm was done to a bike when Shergie climbed aboard Rob’s two week old Scale, he had managed to ride the best part of 25 yards before the hanger was ripped apart and he came to a very sudden halt accompanied by the sound of the chain pinging in the spokes.

We faffed around for a while, trying to build a singlespeed out of it before the lack of any sort of tension in the chain caused us to admit defeat. Shergie decided to scoot/push it back the shortcut way and the rest of us carried on, Rob trying really hard not to look too worried as Shergie was wrapping the chain around the carbon frame.

Shergie doesn’t have to actually be present in order for things to break. Remember the M4 bolt which held the brake lever to the shifter on the Genius? He had ‘tightened’ it, if that’s the right word, earlier that morning. On the very first climb after we had said goodbye to him the bolt decided that it would come out and disappear into the rocks. This left Stuart, who was now finally getting a go on his own new bike, with a brake lever swinging in and out of his front wheel. Rob, Tom, myself and a helpful passer-by walked up and down the last section for a while, searching in vain for the missing bolt, while Stuart tried to find another M4 bolt which wasn’t really doing very much, eventually stealing one from a bottle-cage mount somewhere. I can’t actually remember who’s bike that came from, must check mine when I get home…

The final section of the trail has two route options, we paused briefly to discuss which way to go, selected the one on the right, and then came to a halt again as Rob, who was riding Stuart’s other bike, the SC Tallboy, said a very rude word very loudly when he tried to brake into the first corner and failed to slow down nearly as much as expected.

The source of this profanity was identified as a broken brake calliper mount, the lower one on the fork leg had sheared completely and this had pulled the bolt out of the upper one. Luckily no-one was hurt but there was little we could do about this and so Rob limped back with his damaged bike while the few of us who still had functioning machines rode back to the truck.

Shergie had his own bike with him, a fully rigid carbon XC bike, but even bringing this into service left us with only four bikes to share between five of us. The idea of hiring a Fatbike for the following day was mooted, none of us had ever ridden one in anger and we were all keen to see what the fuss was about.

We spent a while back at the bunkhouse, in the fading light, removing the forks from Rob’s bike and fitting them to Stuart’s SC, trying to work out if the crown races were compatible and if not how easily they could be changed. We eventually got it done and then had a beer before we headed into town, to the curry house run by a local town councillor. The highlight of the walk into town was undoubtedly walking passed Gwydaf Evan’s garage, there’s a name from the past. This caused great excitement amongst our little group, but much less so when I sent Gina, my other half, a text message to tell her where we were, it was almost as if she had never heard of certain mid 1990s British rally champions.

The food was very good, cooked very well by the town councillor, and we had a chat with the town councillor before we left (he told us three times that he was a town councillor, so it must have been an important detail) Nice chap, but he did go on a wee bit. We decided not to head into Dolgellau’s nightclub, but instead to head back to the bunkhouse for some more beers and reminiscences of past races. Shegie nodded off almost immediately, the rest of us were all very well behaved and didn’t draw on him at all, although we would have done had we been able to find a pen.

In the morning we had a lot of porridge, I’m not sure who was cooking but they had clearly misjudged the quantities required. The honey had also disappeared and so we had to have it on it’s own, which was lovely…

On arrival back at Coed-y-Brenin we decided that even though we now had the same number of working bikes as we did people we would still like a go on a fatbike and so decided to hire one. A few laps around the car park had us grinning like lunatics and so off we set.

We had left my Stinky behind as this was noticeably slower than the other bikes on most of the course. No, it wasn’t just me being rubbish, I was flying up the hills as soon as I got on the fattie. This surprised me enormously, it wasn’t nearly as heavy and cumbersome up hill as I had been expecting. It was a lot of fun on the downhills of course, but wasn’t quite as rapid as some of the full sussers in our group.

Shergie was doing a lot better than expected on his rigid bike, but did look like he was having to try a lot harder than the rest of us. However, it was Stuart who had the first crash, on the brand new Genius which luckily escaped unscathed. He lost quite a bit of blood from his shin though.

We kept pausing to faff with the tyres pressures on the fattie, making them lower and lower as we went along, until at one tyre-pressure-adjustment-stop Shergie removed the valve core from the front wheel by mistake. We decided that this had made it quite low enough and left it alone after then.

I had handed over control of the fattie by then and was having a very good time on the SC Tallboy. I’ve ridden a few 29ers in the last few years but this is the first time I’ve actually felt comfortable on one, the first time one has handled like it should rather than leaving me feeling like I’m perched miles above it.  I was having a huge amount of fun on the final descent of the first trail, trying to catch Rob on the Commencal with Stuart on the Scott not far behind me.

Shegie on his little rigid bike was trying desparately to keep up with Tom on the fattie but, unsurprisingly, it turns out that you can’t follow the lines someone on a fattie takes when you have forks like that.

We eventually gave up waiting for them and headed back up the trail to see where they had got to, and met them heading down towards us very slowly. Shergie had performed a frontal dismount further up and now his hand wouldn’t move very much. Barely able to hold the bars it was obvious that he couldn’t ride any more, leaving the rest of us to carry on without him. He was patched up very a very helpful nurse at the café, a bandage and an icepack.

Just because he wasn’t there didn’t mean he would stop breaking things for the rest of us. After the accidental valve-core removal the front tyre of the fatbike had been a little too low and this inevitably punctured. Removing the tyre proved harder than expected, we ended up with the wheel flat on the ground and stamping on the tyre to break the seal. Once we had finally got the tyre off the rim it was nice and easy to fix, although pumping did take a lot longer than usual, and Rob’s gas proved a little inadequate.

The fatbike had been interesting. We had all very much enjoyed riding it, and there was an ex-hire bike, going cheap. However, we all asking pretty much the same question ‘would I actually use it if I had one?’ It was a lot of fun, but was this just because it was a novelty, something new and a bit different? I had actually enjoyed riding the SC more and would certainly use it more if I had one. Good though the fatbike is there isn’t really anywhere other than it’s natural habitat of deep snow or sand, neither of which occur in great quantities where I live, where it will be faster than a conventional bike. And ultimately faster is more fun surely, regardless of which bike you are on?

Having collected Shergie we did a quick tally of the weekend’s damage:
Broken mech and hanger on Rob’s bike – Shergie
Puncture on the Scott – Shergie
Crash on the Scott, no damage – me
Lost bolt from the Scott – Shergie
Crash on the Scott, no damage to the bike - Stuart
Puncture on the fatbike – Shergie
Broken brake tabs on the SC – Rob
Huge blue swollen hand, bandaged – Shergie
Tom didn’t break anything bike related all weekend, although he did manage to block the sink in the bunkhouse with porridge.

You may notice one name cropping up as the culprit more than others. This is slightly worrying as he and Stuart will be attempting to ride to Istanbul in the not too distant future. They have mentioned to me that they are on the hunt for sponsors and I think there could be a very good opportunity for someone here: Anyone who can lend them a bike or other useful gear and have it survive over a week and more than 2,400 miles of Shergie will clearly be able to point to that and tell everyone just how good and strong their bike or other useful gear is, if it can survive that it can survive anything! If anyone thinks that their bike or other useful gear is up to the challenge drop me a line on  and I’ll put you in touch. (Seriously, they are both veterans of many endurance races and know what they are doing, I promise)

The journey back was largely uneventful, apart from the steering wheel on Shergie’s van coming loose. This may come as news to you Tom, you were asleep and we thought it best not to mention it…

Before and after pictures of Rob's bike. No need to explain which is which.

There would have been more photographs but Shergie has dropped his telephone down the toilet and it no longer works.

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