When I last wrote I was expecting to spend just few days recovering from a chest infection in Chivay. It turned out to be a little more serious than that involving making use of Peru’s rural medical services, somewhat chaotic initially but very helpful, and a course of intravenous antibiotics. Despite the obvious impact to riding plans it is not always an entirely negative experience being unwell in such places. It is when one needs help that is reinforced the knowledge that no matter where you are in the world people will do their best to assist. It can be quite heartwarming. I collected dengue fever in northwest Sumatra many years ago. The fever was shit but my experiences with the little Islamic hospital that helped me remain a cheerful memory.
Bridge over the Rio Colca near Sibayo. In Sibayo, I was invited to stay with a local family here. I spent a lovely evening tucking into a hearty alpaca stew with Benita, her husband Caesar, and ten year old son Ciamillo. The following morning Benita sent me packing up into the rarefied air towards 5000m with a hearty breakfast of quinoa porridge, eggs, bread, coffee.
So ultimately my bike collected dust in Chivay for more than two weeks, and while I would rather have been riding in the mountains it meant I had time to build some meaningful friendships in the village which helped enormously with the frustration. As I write I am back on the road but my ongoing plans have been somewhat curtailed due to the lasting effects of the infection. Aside from a persistent, chesty cough I find I am not recovering as well as I need to from hard days in the saddle so rather than a long, linear journey north with long, committing stretches I’ve decided to make a loop, ultimately returning to Arequipa, with more options for rest and recovery and with no stretches of more than 4 days away from towns and villages where I can stop if need be. It does mean however that I must return to Peru next year.. unfinished business and all that.
From Sibayo it is straight into a dirt road climb to 4700m
Leaving Chivay, as I cruised uphill along the banks of the Rio Colca I met an old gent on a Chinese-made bone-shaker bicycle heading in the opposite direction. As cyclists so often do we stopped to exchange greetings. I mentioned where I was headed to which he sucked his teeth, rubbed the finger and thumb of one hand together and jabbed me in the chest with another pair of fingers, twisting them as he did so. The implication being that travelling solo in such places I was sure to be robbed and killed. I have found it to be the same the whole world over; cycle through a valley and the people there, otherwise very welcoming, will often tell you that by travelling into the next valley you are sure to be robbed, or worse, because that valley is full of bad people. Arrive in the next valley and the people will express shock that you were able to travel through the previous valley without being robbed or killed, because, of course, that valley is full of bad people. The reality I have discovered is that the more remote the places travelled the stronger the communities and the more friendly the people.
At around 4700m the scenery opens out. Stunningly beautiful
A few remote and tiny pueblitos dot the highlands. The people are invariably friendly and keen to chat.
Views are stupendous. The riding is hard, especially in the afternoons when the winds howl and rain and snow flurries often sweep in.
This is Caylloma, a remote outpost on the puna at about 4300m. It feels desolate, especially in the afternoons when dust devils rule the streets in the icy winds and the harsh, high altitude sun bleaches the colour from the landscape. It is a handy stop over however for some rest and resupply.
From Caylloma the track climbs straight to 5000m...
It is a steep, switchbacked climb on rough dirt. It took 3 1/2hrs. Makes those European passes in the Alps and Pyrenees looks a bit silly...
Above 5000m is a desolate prospect. A thin, icy cold gale with snow flurries...
... but if you don't mind some hardship and isolation it is a sublime place to go riding.
I was able to hook into into a remote goat track for an afternoon, overnight and morning to get me towards Espinar. It was a hard climb back up to above 4700m. Soft, boggy, rocky and technical in spots.
Remote, bitterly cold, and with darkness just an hour away it was a case of descending a couple of hundred metres to find a camp spot. The Surly ECR is brilliant in such terrain, very sure footed when its rider is particularly shagged from a hard day in the saddle.
As always with the loss of daylight the temperature plummeted to negative double digits.
Sunshine to thaw things out in the morning. I was 'discovered' by these two chaps while cooking breakfast. They said they were camped nearby, prospecting for gold.
Descending to meet the dirt road to Espinar. This track was very sloppy in places...
Mucky bike. I am really very fond of my Surly ECR, it has taken me to some fantastic places.
Back down at a somewhat more hospital 4200m or so. some fine riding enroute to Espinar.
If interested in reading more there are stacks of words and pictures over at my personal blog, http://www.seasurfdirt.com.
I promised Ash I'd post a few updates from the road in Peru over the next few months. I've been meaning to come back here for a while now to explore the vast network of dirt roads and trails, many unmapped, that criss-cross this part of the Andes. Purely by chance I was able to link up with an old riding buddy here for a few days which was super.
Climbing out of the 'burbs of Arequipa in southern Peru. The city sits at an altitude of 2300m, this track is just the beginning of one of many relentless 'mega-climbs' all the way to a somewhat breathless 4500m.
Arequipa: New tyres look rubbish... too clean. i'm riding my Surly ECR (on the right) which is a simply awesome dirt road touring bike but with 29+ wheels it's a big bike which can make travel with it on airlines and buses a little awkward at times. I use it at home for trail riding but with a low BB and essentially touring geometry it's a compromise. My friend, Cass, brought his Surly Ogre. It's a bit more versatile and can be used with standard 29er wheels or set up, as here, with 27.5+ wheels. The smaller wheelsize makes packing it easier but still with the benefits of plus-size tyres. As with the ECR it's bristling with braze-ons for carrying stuff. It is also a handy trail bike. (by the way, Ash can get Surly stuff in the shop :-)
There is a terrific global community around 'adventure cycling'. I met Cass all the way back in 2003 riding through Ladakh. Check out bikepacking.com for more inspiration from his keyboard and his awesome cycling flavoured instagram at https://www.instagram.com/whileoutriding/
It's a long, hard climb gaining some 2000m in altitude around the flanks of Nevado Chachani (6057m) with fine views of Volcan El Misti (5822m).
A bitterly cold, windswept campspot high on the puna at around 4500m altitude. It's getting dark around 6pm here at the moment. By 8pm everything is pretty much frozen solid...
.. it is hard work but when the terrain looks like this so very worth the effort...!
Anyway, that's enough for this evening, hopefully a little bit of inspiration to get out and do more on your bike than the usual 'local loop'. More soon! In the meantime there are more words and pics over on my own blog here.
P.s. Just as an aside... as far as route finding goes Google Earth is a terrific resource for finding 'interesting' lesser travelled routes to explore. ridewithgps.com is another superb resource. Wifi is readily available in most towns around the world these days. It makes life very much easier when researching roads to travel although in mny respects I do rather miss the sense of adventure that comes with the 'suck it and see' approach, navigating village to village based on directions from the locals.
We love to hear your stories around bikes and cycling, occasionally with a view to featuring here. Recently one of our customers mentioned how he'd been on something of a journey with regards to his bike so we asked him if he would be happy to share his experiences. After all we live in a world now where cycling has developed niches within niches, and we're told by marketing departments that we need not only cyclocross bikes but gravel bikes, and adventure bikes, and it's not enough to have a road bike any more.. we need, apparently, race bikes, and endurance bikes, and sportive bikes. You may or may not know the accepted formula for determining the correct number of bicycles (x, say) to own.. i.e x = n + 1 where n is the current number of cycles in your fleet. What follows is a rather nice piece from someone looking to go the other way, i.e. following a path defined by x = (n+1) - n ...
My first new bike was a steel purple BSA drop bar with 3 speed sturmy archer gears. I used to ride this to school. At weekends I would cycle to the shops and the beach with friends and to far flung fishing spots on the cliffs, with my rod strapped to the crossbar and bait and sandwiches slung over my shoulder in a bag. A single bike to do lots of things.
As I got older I got into racing and saved money to buy a lovely steel 531 Mercian road frame set. This bike was only used for racing or Sunday cycling club rides. I bought a second hand clunker for cycling to work. My stable had grown to two steeds. One for commuting, one for racing and training. As I got into time-trialling , I felt the need to improve my chances in events so purchased a Pat Rohan steel low pro and built it up. It went really well and I even entered an RTTC National 25 mile event on it. Three bikes now. One for training, one for racing and one for work.As family life and work became more important, my cycling activities slipped away for a good few years. The bikes were sold and my Mercian frame stored but not used.
Later in life my interest in cycling was reignited. I do not think it ever went away really, just into stasis for a few years. Things in cycling had changed in the intervening years. Most notably the use of aluminium and carbon fibre in frame construction and big developments in aero kit for time-trialling. My new phase of bike buying again followed a similar trend. Initially a new aluminium road bike which I used for commuting ,weekend rides and time trials. This was followed by a mountain bike for off-road and then a carbon road bike and finally a more traditional hand built steel 653 time trial bike with aero bars and deep section wheels.
Suddenly I had four bikes each of which did a single thing. The N+1 (number of bikes you need where N is the number of bikes you have) phenomenon had taken a grip.
I had a few years where I trained and raced hard for time-trials. I did some personal bests at a range of distances but eventually I stopped racing as it was becoming a bit obsessive. I was also riding my carbon road bike less and less and the same with my mountain bike. One weekend I looked at my collection of bikes and thought, what is the point of all these bikes that generally all do one thing and I am not riding most of them? I was still an active cyclist but I really only needed a decent bike that did lots of things, a generalist not a specialist. I sold up my stable and pooled the proceeds for reinvesting.
My cycling focus had also changed. Racing was now history as was thrashing myself silly around the Cornish lanes on my carbon road bike with some bizzare desire to keep my average speed up - for what ? Commuting and weekend rides were still on the agenda for fun, social/cafe rides and fitness. The idea of riding dirt tracks and touring and bikepacking was also becoming more appealing. Self contained camping under your own steam traversing road and off road routes. Was there a bike that could do all of these things? The concept of the 'One' bike had landed, but where to start, did it exist and what exactly did I want?
A friend of mine, also into cycling, mentioned that he had a bike called a Surly Cross Check which was quite versatile. I had never heard of this bike or what it looked like or could do. I made some enquiries on the Surly website and went to check out the Cross Check. It was an understated road bike, steel Cro-Mo frame and with lots of braze-ons. Quite heavy compared to a carbon bike, but clearly well made and very durable and with clearance for bigger tyres than normal road bikes. My friend who is an experienced cycle traveller showed me photos of where he had taken the Cross Check in touring mode. Hmmmm.
I started to think about the specification for my new bike. Carbon is stiff and of course light but hard to repair if it gets knocked or damaged in transit. I was not overly concerned with frame weight anymore, especially when bike-packing, so light weight was not a must have. Aluminium is a great frame material but harsh on longer rides. Back to steel then. All my early bikes had been steel. Durable, repairable, great ride quality and plenty of strength for load-lugging and off road riding.
Braking systems were also in evolution. Disc brakes only seen previously on mountain bikes had now migrated across to road bikes. No more worn rims, super stopping power and longer lasting brake pads. Fatter road tyres were also growing in popularity. In my early time trialling days, thin was king and I used 18mm hutchinson tyres on my Pat Rohan low pro. These new gravel bikes had tyres up to 45c and bigger on the 'monster cross' , road bikes. My One bike kit list was growing.
I looked again at the Surly website. As well as the Cross Check model, Surly had also produced a disc brake version called the 'Straggler'. This frame had One Bike potential. Steel road frame and forks, relaxed angles, multiple braze-on points for bottles and panniers, disc brakes, wide tyre clearance (up to 45c) and competivitve price. I also liked the Surly brand philosophy - quirky and sort of non-conformist. Another tick in the box.I had found my frame.
Surly Straggler... useful!
I went down to Hayle Cycles to see if they could order me a Surly Straggler frame set. I explained what I wanted and why and the order was placed. I knew that Ash was also a dab hand at wheel building, so discussed with him the parts suitable to make a bomb-proof all purpose wheelset. The Straggler is a 700c wheelsize, but interestingly could take a range of wheel hub widths up to and including mtb hubs. Lots of options which is a good thing. I settled on some shimano XT hubs with 32 spokes, triple crossed and matched to Ryde Taurus 19mm rims. A bombproof wheelset and able to take big tyres.
While I was waiting for the frame to arrive, I collected all the other bike components ready for the new build. Building your bike from the frame up used to be a common way for cyclists to construct their new machines. You learnt a lot about how bikes work doing this. Sadly this has now largely been overtaken by the purchase of complete, ready to ride bikes and a lot of cyclists these days do not know how to fix even simple things.
Gearing for my One Bike also needed some careful consideration. The One Bike needed to be simple and functional. Avoidance of complexity was desireable. A lot of the new gravel bikes were using single small tooth chainrings (no front shifter mechanism) matched to big rear cassettes to give huge gear ranges. I liked this idea and decided on a 40 tooth front ring matched with a 11-36 rear cassette. For loaded bikepacking I would swop the 40t ring for a 34t front ring. Taking an idea from cyclo-cross, I decided to add an indexed bar end shifter to the drop bars as only shifting for the rear mechanism would be required. Simple, effective, nothing to go wrong and cheap.
After a few weeks Ash contacted me to say that the frame had arrived and that the wheels were ready. Build on! The frame was gloss black with white Surly logos. It looked great. All of the components I had sourced were also black, including the bar tape, so this One Bike was going to look stealthy. After a weekend locked in my man-cave, the One Bike was finished. Pristine with not a speck of dirt, although this would not last long.
Surly Straggler in lightweight weekend away camping/touring/bikepacking mode.
My first test ride was planned for the following weekend. The bike was heavy as it was steel and aluminium, not a speck of carbon in sight, but with the gearing range and 40c tyres it floated over rough lane surfaces and tracks and even the steep Cornish hills were quite tolerable as long as you chose the right gear and right pace. This was not a bike for racing up hills!
I have owned and ridden this bike for over 6 months now and each time I take it out I have fun. It is a great commuter bike, very sure footed and comfortable and brilliant on tracks and dirt. Weekend rides of 50-100km are regular features and as spring and summer arrive the One Bike will become a lightly packed overnighter for mini adventures into the Cornish countryside and coast and in due course some longer bike-packing camping trips to destinations further afield.
Truly a One Bike for lots of things, lots of miles and plenty of smiles.
Incidentally.. the Surly Cross Check mentioned is perhaps the 'original' adventure bike. It's been around for a number of years and like its more recent sibling the Straggler is a fantastic do it all bike. I have one... I have used it as a road winter trainer with 25mm slicks on, I've raced cyclocross on it with 35c knobbies on, I've enjoyed big offroad days out on it with 45C knobby tyres fitted, and made long trans-continental mixed terrain journeys on it with fat tyres, racks and panniers on. Really if you want one bike that can do everything it would be hard to go wrong with either. Pop into the shop and have a chat if you'd like to know more.
Surly Cross Check, perhaps the original do it all 'adventure' bicycle...
We just had to share this... In this age of factory wheelsets and, apparently, everything in a black anodized finish one sure way to stand out from your mates on the chaingang is a custom wheel build... particularly when the parts you're using look like this... Phil Wood hubs are among the best in the business with a fantastic reputation for durability (I've been running a pair in all weathers for the last 8 years without a hitch). The engineering is second to none.. and then there's the finish... they are also available in a polished black finish and a selection of anodized colours but really our favourite is the natural high polish. The finish is absolutely flawless. Combined with some high-polish H PLus Son TB14 rims this wheelset we are building for a customer is really going to be something special.
Legendary Phil Wood level of finish
Combined with high polish H Plus Son rims for a stunning, classic wheelset.
There is an awful lot to be said for a traditional wheelbuild - you can choose from a wide range of hubs, rims, and spokes that we can build into a wheelset tailored exactly to your requirements that will serve you well for many years.
Phil Wood make hubs for road, track, touring and MTB (as well as some of the best bottom brackets on the markets and other bits and bobs), but we can also supply super alternatives from Paul Component Engineering, Chris King, Hope, Campagnolo and more. Give us a call to find out more about hubs, rims, spokes and a wheelbuild your mates will envy.
I promised Ash I would guest post on his blog from time to time, something I'm more than happy to do, so here is the first of an irregular series of posts on a variety of topics that hopefully will make you want to ride your bike even more...
We're very much still in the depths of winter but spring comes early to west Cornwall so now is a good time I reckon to start thinking about all the things you can do with your bike when spring does get here. I'm very much a fan of using my bike to have adventures, and contrary to popular belief it isn't necessary to book time off work, leave your family, and fly half-way around the world to have an adventure (although that is fun..)... instead stay in Cornwall and have some weekend, or even midweek micro-adventures... Leave after work, ride somewhere amazing, sleep out, ride back, shower at work (if you can) and get on with your day feeling particularly smug about how good your life is while your colleagues chatter about what was on the telly last night. Cornwall has some cracking spots to spend a discrete night out, just be sure to leave absolutely no trace of your occupancy.
By the way.. that which follows is not intended to be a comprehensive how to.. rather it is intended to perhaps give you some ideas for enjoying your bike in ways that go beyond the Sunday cafe ride or usual post-work loop.
Make the most of your bike in 2017
Minimal kit is required, you don't even need a touring bike, any bike will do.. the best bike is the bike you've got... and it doesn't need to be able to take a rack. With the rise in popularity of bike-packing there is now available an enormous variety of bags specifically designed for carrying stuff on bikes without racks. I know that Ash stocks a decent range of bikepacking bags from Blackburn Design and Carradice (possibly the original bikepacking bags, and with a touch of traditional British class) and can get Altura stuff too. Pop in to the store to find out more. The reality is however that while all the different flavours of bags are really useful and well worth the investment you don't absolutely need any specialist stuff at all... a couple of stuffsacs or drybags and some webbing straps can go an awful long way, particularly if the forecast is good and you leave your tent at home and either kip out under the stars or carry a tarp just to keep the dew off.
Bike-specific bags are useful but not essential for a quick overnighter.. a dry bag and couple of webbing straps can go a long way. This has my sleeping bag, liner and mattress. Bike is my Surly Cross Check which is just awesome for this kind of messing about as well as bigger adventures. Ash can get hold of all things Surly for you :-)
Traditional Carradice bags are great and age wonderfully. They do need bag loops on your saddle but if yours doesn't have them accessory ones that attach to the saddle rails are available for a few quid.
By way of keeping the gear required to a minimum you can leave the stove at home too, instead stop for fish and chips on your way out, a couple of muesli bars for the morning to get you to the nearest cafe are pretty much all you need... Having said that a small stove is really great for a leisurely mug of coffee while watching the sun rise. Small gas canister or meths-burning stoves are really cheap - check eBay, alpkit.com for example.. or if you feel a little more 'bushcrafty' pick up a miniature woodburner, you can find examples for around a tenner on eBay, or make your own. There are plenty of 'instructables' on the web for making both meths stoves from a soft drinks can, or wood-gasifer stoves from old tin cans.
Leave the stove at home and instead find a pub or chippy on your outbound ride.
This is my little woodburner. It folds to smaller than a pack of cards... Be careful not to set fire to stuff if the weather is dry.
Another wood (or leaves, heather etc etc) burning alternative.. a few quid from eBay.
So.. what do you really need to carry with you.... if the forecast is good then a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat - not just for those slightly less 'ard - it will help keep you warm, some snacks, and a warm layer. A headlamp is useful as is a knife.. and I like my woolly hat, even in summer. After that if you're taking a stove then some sort of pot is handy... cheap mess tims off eBay are a good place to start on a budget. One other thing before I finish... I don't really want this post to turn into an instructable on how to poop in the wild in an environmentally appropriate way so instead here's an article for your perusal. Or just wait till you get to the cafe :-)
Take your fishing rod and catch your tea... might be a good idea to have an alternative source of nutrition on hand however...
If the forecast is good keep your clobber to a minimum and just kip out under the stars. It's great. If you don't have, or don't want a bivy bag then a synthetic sleeping bag, or down bag with a water-resistant shell is a good idea in the UK because of overnight dew fall on clear nights.
There, hopefully that'll give you some ideas to begin with...
Happy riding, Mike.
Good for spending quality time with your mates