Riding at night on the MTB, sounds take on a much greater significance….
click, click, click as we clip in and leave the yard calls of “clear” as we head out on the road the whirr of knobbly tyres on the tarmac puffs and pants as we hit the first hill before we’re properly warmed up conversation petering out the buzz of the transformer on the electric pole at the forest entrance the first crunches of gravel as we enter the forest trail the clunk of changing gears as the trail steepens calls of “straight on” as the lead man almost takes the wrong turn the blood thumping in my ears as the climb hits 12% splashing through puddles as we descend the far side the wind whistling past my ears as the descent picks up speed the irritating rub of grit in my brakes from the earlier puddles skidding tyres as we stop abruptly for the forest gate calls of “holes!” as the lead rider discovers the massive potholes on the next descent the noisy stream as it cascades down the hill in full spate the clatter of a falling bike as one of the guys mistimes clipping in after the short break the unwelcome intrusion of car engines as we briefly rejoin the main road the beep of my Garmin as I complete another 5km – why so long since the last one! the whirr of the power assist as one of the guys passes me on his ebike on the next steep hill the crunch of metal cleats on tarmac as I step off and walk the hill that I swear was 20%+ bark, bark, bark of the dog – stay away from my house silence then BARK! BARK! BARK! – I’m going to catch you and kill you all! the rhythmic whoosh, whoosh of the windmills hidden by the darkness the sound of rain hitting the plastic shell of my helmet as a short, sharp shower passes over calls of “car back!” as we get closer to town the crunch of beech nuts as I take the slightly longer route through Drumboe Woods the “quack” of ducks on the river and splashes as they squabble the rumble of tyres on wood on the small forest bridge the squelch of wet leaves under my bike on the bicycle path tyres on concrete as I lap the yard to avoid finishing on 29.9km beeps of my Garmin as it confirms my ride is saved rain thumping on the roof of the van just minutes after finishing my ride hellos! as I finally come through the front door
On Sunday last week I finally made it back on to the bike after almost two months to the day. I had a lot of digestive issues in September, had two bouts of illness heading into October and totally lost motivation for cycling or much of anything else fitness wise to be honest. Any focus I did have went into training for the sponsored run for Pieta.
Sunday though was such a perfect cycling day that I couldn’t let it go to waste. It was mild, bright and dry with very little wind. I decided on an easy paced cycle down to Clady and back to Killygordon using a mix of back and main road. The treat at the end was a short off-road section along the river in Killygordon and a final spin around the forest trails of Monellan.
Mid morning on a Sunday the roads were pretty quiet which was a nice, relaxing re-introduction to the road. Just over the border in Clady I made some new friends.
The trail along the river was really nice with the trees all colourful with changing leaves and lots of water in the river after all the heavy rain of the last few weeks. In Monellan the trails were better than expected and definitely drier than I’d hoped for, really enjoyable.
autumnal bike porn!
After Monellan I was still feeling good so decided to tackle the pretty tough climb up Gleneely Hill before heading home via the long, easy downhill. This is never easy on any bike, never mind on a mountain bike and definitely not after such a long break but I surprised myself and made it to the top without passing out! I was more than ready for an easy glide home though 😊
I also decided to try and film for the first time while cycling. In July I got a budget action camera (Akaso Brave 6 Plus) and set of accessories for my birthday. My plan was to use a mixture of handheld and chest mounted filming but it didn’t go very much according to plan. The handheld bits were fine but I totally miscalculated the placement of the camera on the chest harness. I ended up with a lot of footage but most of it of my handlebars 🙈
I was also using the camera in the protective case which kills the sound quality so the two pieces to camera that I filmed needed an external voice recorder. This worked well for the introductory piece but having just finished the climb up Gleneely I totally forgot about the external mic for the concluding piece which left it totally unusable. I’m still using my mobile for editing (VN Video Editor). This worked pretty well but synchronising the voice over and the video was tricky.
In the end I managed to salvage just over 6min of reasonable quality footage and I’ve decided to go ahead and post it up as a learning experience. I’ve posted a link below if you are interested in giving it a view.
I dropped my road bike off with the bike mechanic yesterday morning on my way to work. I had hoped to get it back early this morning and get a spin today but they’re very busy. He suggested it would be this evening before it would be ready so I had to make alternative plans.
It’s a while now (March last year) since I had a proper day out on the MTB. I’d spotted a great route a few weeks ago by a guy I follow on Strava and with a slight modification I soon had almost a 60km, mostly off road route to ride.
First though the bike needed some TLC. My poor MTB doesn’t get much more than very basic maintenance and performs way better than I deserve. However, before riding it today I had to spend some time scrubbing down and re-lubing the drive train and pumping up the tyres. After my hydration miscalculation on Sunday I also figured that taking my Camelbak would be a wise idea. Of course, it hasn’t been used in almost two years and needed a good sterilisation and clean too. By the time I’d everything prepared it was after 12 before I was in the car and off to the start.
The car park and start location is part way into Barnes Gap between Ballybofey and Donegal Town. The first 5K would be along this busy main road following part of my route from Sunday’s 100K. After this it turns off onto quieter side roads for another 5K to Leghowney Community Hall where it finally goes off road.
The route follows the first section of the Leghowney Loop Walk up through Meenadreen Windfarm. The first section of this is up a punishing climb for just over 2km with the gradient fluctuating between 10-14%. The windfarm has a 25km/hr speed limit and halfway up there was a speed display sign that seemed to take great delight in telling me I was going at 8km/hr.
This climb is up through mostly mature forestry and at the top opens out into the generic upland bog that is typical of this part of Donegal. It’s here were the turbines are located. There appeared to be two windfarms in total with the main one consisting of 25 turbines. Altogether there must have been 40 with a couple more locations visible on nearby hills. One thing about Donegal, there’s no shortage of wind!
Close to the first turbine there’s a very out of place bench that looks exactly like a memorial. I’m not sure of the meaning behind the plaque as I couldn’t see any signs of habitation but possibly any old ruins were cleared during the construction works?
The route through the windfarm is almost 9km in total along graded access roads. It varies from stiff climbs to sweeping descents. However, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you are riding through an industrial complex in the middle of nowhere. Once again I struggled to see the justification of the impact of windfarms while being hypocritical enough to enjoy the trails they provide!
Exiting the windfarm by a large gate with a pedestrian kissing gate, definitely not designed for bikes, I came out on the Laghey to Killeter road close to the border crossing called Kelly’s Bridge.
A short section of road brought me to the forest section of The Bannadoo Trail I walked at the end of April but heading in the opposite direction. Another 6km of undulating forest track before reaching Big Bridge.
Along this forest track I met a guy walking two beautiful beagle dogs. One of them decided to run along after me giving me a bit of a fright when I realised he was chasing me about 150m after I passed him. Not nice getting startled on these rough tracks, he could easily have caused me to slip and crash.
From Big Bridge it was back to climbing again. I’ve only ridden this section once before and from the opposite direction and I didn’t remember it being so long. It was almost 9km with the first 4km of that climbing, sometimes steep, and always with a track surface composed of rock dust that sucks the energy out of the legs. Along this section I was treated to the sight of a red deer bounding across the track from one forest section to the other before enjoying the final few kilometres downhill and back to road for a while again.
This 5km is the last significant section of road and took me past the start and finish of my Barnes Gap walk from a couple of weeks ago. It used to be possible to go up here and make an alternative route but with the ongoing construction I didn’t fancy the hassle today.
Turning after 5K took me on to a bog road that runs along the top of Lough Mourne which is the water source for most of the Finn Valley. This is a pretty barren location when the weather is against you but has a severe beauty on a warm, almost sunny day like today. Thankfully the wind wasn’t against me as it’s also ferociously exposed. The track is mostly used by tractors accessing the bog and as such the surface is incredibly rocky and rough, eroded further by water runoff. My ass took a real pounding* for 3km before I eventually dropped down to the head of the Lough and stopped to let tender bits recover.
*not intending to spend time in a maximum security prison, this is a phrase I didn’t ever expect to write!
Two short sections of road broken by a fast descent of a rough track at the back of the water treatment works brought me back to the forest and saw the last of the tarmac for the day. Along the first section of road I spotted a large buzzard hunting the abandoned grazing between the road and forest. He was hovering for ages but didn’t get to eat this time and eventually drifted off as if embarrassed to fail with me watching.
This last section of forest is familiar to me from two routes I’ve ridden a number of times. The first section crosses a steep ridge but normally I ride it in the opposite direction. It’s one of my favourite off road descents but today I had to ride up it. Close to the start of the climb there was a Cavan reg car randomly parked at the side of the track and a few hundred metres on I spotted a forest worker who obviously owned it. He was quite short and wearing a huge pair of wellies that looked way too big for him. These were literally his downfall as he tripped and took a tumble as he stepped to the grass verge to give me space to puff my way past. It was a real slow motion tumble and perfect roll and thankfully only his dignity was bruised. I was especially happy to see him getting up again as I didn’t fancy stopping and starting on that bugger of a climb. I was of course also happy to see that he wasn’t hurt!
Just before the steepest section the track cut off to the left and within 20m my Garmin was having a fit that I was off course. I looked at Google Maps to confirm I was right, there couldn’t be two tracks that close and going in the same direction, so I pushed on. The track did seem more overgrown than memory but it’s been a few years so I was happy enough. A few hundred metres later the track dead ended and I had to turn back. I’m sure that the Garmin would be sniggering if it could. The little Cavan man also got his revenge as I met him driving along the track as I made my way back to tackle the last couple hundred metres of 14% climb before taking the correct turn this time.
The advantage of doing this section the opposite way is that the tough uphill I normally struggle along now becomes a fast downhill although sadly broken by a gate halfway. It was along the flat section of the ridge that I had my most surreal experience on the bike a few years ago. I was pedalling along and swore I could hear music. Coming around the corner I met a beautiful black lab followed by a guy playing bagpipes! He walks the dog up here and brings the pipes to practice where he doesn’t bother the family or neighbours!
The final 10km was tough. It’s two sections of forest with a section of upland grazing in between. The forest is the usual graded track but the farmland section is back to a rocky lane. It’s a steep area rising and falling along the edge of the hill but generally climbing all the way. The farmland section is the steepest and the toughest with deep eroded sections exposing rocks big enough to stop me if hit the wrong way. By the time I reached the end of this all my contact points were sore and tender and crying out for a break.
Through this area there are a number of abandoned buildings. It was obviously a much more populated area over the last 100 years but completely abandoned now. It must have been a tough life eking out an existence up here, especially in harsh winters.
The final section of forest starts with a rapid downhill and one I’ve ridden many times. Knowing the terrain I let the bike go and aided by the open forest gate I got halfway up the next hill with momentum on my side. The next couple of kilometres are a series of rolling short, steep climbs with shorter descents gradually increasing the elevation each time. The track had changed to finer gravel and loose small stones making it very tiring on already tired legs. The strong breeze was also back in my face making it feel even harder again. I was very pleased to make it to the top of the last climb and took a few minutes to admire the views across the back of Barnes Gap, into the Bluestacks and catch my breath.
The last section is an exhilarating and very fast descent back to the road just 50m from the car park. This area gets a lot of rain so the steep track is badly rutted and eroded by constant run-off. It takes a careful eye and concentration to navigate safely especially as tired as I was. I made it safely and enjoyed this last blast of adrenaline before finishing.
Back at the car I was starving. I had a substantial late breakfast before leaving the house and had two bars along the way but I was out longer than expected and more than ready for food. Getting home I made a ham and cheese toasty that I may have swallowed whole! However, hydration was not a problem today.
I have my first vaccine appointment in the morning and I also have a 100km spin planned. I’m not sure about that now having read BgddyJim’s experiences post vaccine but as I still haven’t heard from the bike mechanic that decision may be made for me.
This morning was getting some jobs done about the house. Tempocyclist will be glad to hear that one of them was cleaning my bike which was on the plan before he published his latest blog 😄
Post lunch the idea was a ride on the road bike of approximately 60km but I just couldn’t get motivated for it. I think it may have been a bit of burnout after 6 days in a row but I’m mostly blaming it on the weather. It was cold here all day with a mist hanging just overhead giving a hateful grey and gloomy feel to the day. Just over 2 hours on the road in that was totally unappealing.
Instead I decided to get the MTB out instead. I fancied an hour or so wandering around the local roads and forests. I ditched the usual gear and threw my walking trousers over my bib shorts and stuck on my hiking shoes having switched my bike pedals to the flats. I wanted to be able to jump off the bike and do a bit of exploring in Monellan.
In the end up I was out for almost 2.5hours including just over half an hour exploring. I even took time to stop for a few photos.
A slog on the road turned into a great local wander. I even found a cracking spot along the river for tomorrow morning. I’m really glad I decided to change my plans.
The weather overnight was down to freezing and below and with the forecast giving 2/3°C plus sleet/snow showers it definitely wasn’t going to be a day for the road bike. Using Strava’s suggested route function last night I had a decent couple of hours on the MTB planned for late morning/early afternoon.
I haven’t ridden this route before but I know all the sections having ridden them all on previous MTB or road spins. It’s uphill from the get go on minor roads from the house, into the forest for a few km before a mixture of forest and minor roads back home.
Heading into the first section of forest trails the gate was open and it was soon obvious why. The trail was a mess of half frozen mud churned to bits by digger works clearing the drains. At the top junction I was relieved to branch off onto an older trail that brought me back out on to a short section of road. The exit gate was closed but I was able to squeeze out the side where walkers had worn a rough path over a few rocks. Being lazy I tried to do this without completely dismounting, hit a big rock too slowly and managed a slow motion fall to the side on to the rough track. Thankfully not a bad fall and I managed to keep my head off the floor but I’m going to have a lovely bruised thigh tomorrow!
The day had started off bright and very sunny but shortly after going into the next section of forest it dulled down and the sleet showers started. This soon turned to snow which was strangely invigorating to ride in. There’s something exhilarating about doing something that most people wouldn’t even consider and riding a bike in a snow shower is definitely one of them.
Shortly after stopping for these photos I was back on to the roads. The snow was getting steadily heavier and less comfortable all the time. In the space of approximately 1km I went from this:
At this stage I decided the fun was rapidly going out of the day and with a lot more climbing and high ground to cover I decided to turn for home at just over 12km.
Just over 2km later and the day turned to shit completely. I started to notice that telltale bounce in my rear tyre and no matter how much you wish it away, it’s obvious there’s a puncture. It felt like a slow puncture and with two CO2 cannisters in my bag I figured I had an opportunity to get most of the way home at least without having to change the tube. I didn’t figure in a faulty CO2 pump 🙈
Neither of the two cannisters would open and it appears that the pin that pierces the seal is broken or missing. Without a manual pump I was snookered and Hike a Bike was my only option.
Just over 1km later I had worked out that I had a minimum of 8km to walk home and as I was already getting cold this was a non-starter. I was just about able to get mobile network and got through to my Dad who was at home and able to come get me. Fifteen cold and miserable minutes later he picked me up along the side of the road having walked almost 3km in total. MTB shoes are no fun for walking in and my gloves turned out to be a bad choice for today so I was delighted to get out of the weather and into his warm car for the short drive home. Shower plus warm food and all was well again.
Next bike purchase looks like a new CO2 pump and a new tyre. That’s a series of punctures in the same tyre now and I can’t work out why.
One of my favourite blogs is Tempo Cyclist. He writes about lots of things, mostly cycling related. This morning he shared a great tip that I was unaware of and think is worth sharing.
Rather than try to rehash what TC has already eloquently described head over to his blog and read what he has to say. While there I’d recommend having a look at his older posts and giving him a follow if you don’t already 👍
My last spin on the MTB was in May when I managed to break my derailleur hanger! I did eventually get a replacement once lockdown was over but fitting it was fiddly and I couldn’t get the gearing dialled in. The bike needed a good service and cable change so I decided to leave it until I could get it to Halfords in Letterkenny. The 31 Days of Biking challenge took over and then the purchase of my new bike and the poor MTB remained hanging up in the garage in semi retirement.
I eventually got myself organised and left it in for a service a couple of weeks ago and got everything sorted and in good working order again ready for the inevitable change in weather that would put me off the road bike.
Today the weather wasn’t too bad but for some reason I couldn’t get motivated to ride the road bike. The weather was mild but grey and drizzly and the thought of 2-3 hours was dispiriting. Having decided to just go for an hour I decided to use the MTB instead to get a decent workout in the legs and make sure everything was good after the service.
As always leaving the house is the most challenging bit and while I was dropping down the hill from the house I quickly decided to extend the route to make my 25km spin into 30km. The novelty of the MTB though soon had me smiling and enjoying the ride so 30 quickly became 40 and then 45, eventually finishing up just over 46km.
Most of the spin was on roads, a mixture of back roads like above and slightly busier main roads but with it being a lockdown Sunday afternoon traffic was pretty light and no lorries which is the biggest bonus.
On the way out of Killygordon I decided to do a bit of exploring and dropped down off the road, under the bridge and along the weir access lane along the riverbank.
I’ve only ever been down this lane once or twice and not for a very long time. The river was full and fast after the recent spell of heavy rain and the weir was in full flow.
The lane ends at the weir but there were rough tracks going a bit further, likely created by local fishermen walking upriver and perfect for the MTB.
It’s the ability to randomly change route and head off track that I love about the MTB. Exploring off road brings out my inner 8 year old and reminds me of the fun I had as a kid with a bike growing up in a small village.
My mini riverside adventure gave me an interest in more. Going into Ballybofey I thought about Drumboe but figured it would be pretty busy on a mild Sunday afternoon so went on down the main road with a plan to visit Monellan instead.
Monellan was busy enough too but nothing too annoying for either me or the families out walking. I buzzed around the forest tracks and two of the rougher little paths. I decided to skip the section where I broke my hanger in May but did get to ride the path we discovered earlier this year for the first time.
Leaving Monellan I made my final route change and headed up the steep road climb to Gleneely School and round my normal walking/running route and back home. Having talked myself out of a 2-3hr road spin for an hour I ended up being out for 2hrs 15min and really enjoyed myself.
It’s unlikely that many cyclists will be missing a gillet from their cycling wardrobe. For me it’s an essential. It’s very rare that I leave the house without one of some form, either on me or in my pocket or saddle bag. It’s only on one of those very rare days that we’re guaranteed warm sunshine that I will venture out without one.
My main gillet is my Club one that I wear over either a jersey or my Perfetto from Autumn through to Spring. It’s usually too heavy for Summer use and as it’s not waterproof I also need something for the cooler days and/or when I can expect a heavy shower or two. That’s when the Reflex comes into play.
I bought my first one of these a good few years ago, not long after I started cycling regularly and when I realised that a full waterproof jacket wasn’t going to be practical on the warmer days. I’m one of those people that generate a lot of heat and I’m most comfortable when my arms are bare or just lightly covered.
This gillet is still in decent shape but the lack of visibility of the black colour concerns me on duller days and the reflective strips are getting worn looking having been stuffed and unstuffed countless times over the years. I’ve been very happy with it so when the time came to replace it Sportful was my first choice again.
The design had been updated slightly over the years and now has a much better reflective pattern. There are a number of colour choices with Sportful showing fluro yellow, white and black on their website and Wiggle giving a further two of fluro orange and blue. I went for the yellow this time as I wanted something to increase my visibility.
I’ve worn it quite a number of times now and find it really good at what I want it to do. I mainly use it as an additional windbreaker over my Club gillet and Perfetto on very cold Winter days or just over a jersey on fast descents on cooler days. It also gets good use when I get caught in heavier, more prolonged showers when a soaking is unavoidable and unwanted. It has a very handy integrated stuff sack that allows it to compress into a very neat package for a jersey pocket or saddle bag. I’ve also worn it out running on warmer but wet days and found it good for keeping me dry while preventing overheating.
Overall I’m still happy with the new version but I do miss one feature from the original. It had mesh panels down the sides that made it much more breathable. I’m sure removing them has made it more waterproof but they suited me.
I’ve seen some negative reviews on Wiggle that the zip is flimsy but so far I’ve had no issues. They may have upgraded it as it looks and feels sturdy to me.
Value: 9/10 simply because I’m tight fisted and always feel like I’m paying too much! It was €40 when I bought it which is pretty much the RRP.
Durability: 8/10 a decent zip and robust fabric. Negative reviews on Wiggle have me cautious for the longer term.
Effectiveness: 8/10 a great windbreaker, about as waterproof as a gillet can be but would have preferred to see better breathability via the older version mesh panels or a shoulder vent.
I’m not the handiest person when it comes to bicycle repair and maintenance and my main cycling fear during lockdown is that I would break something beyond my basic repair skills. That happened yesterday!
My cycling mileage has steadily decreased over the 8 weeks of restrictions but the MTB has been neglected the most. Apart from a short and uninspiring spin around the local roads my MTB hasn’t seen much use since since the end of March.
On Tuesday our exercise restriction was relaxed to allow us to go up to 5km from home for exercise. This covers two and most of a third forestry area that are perfect for a 60-90min blast on the MTB. On our last couple of visits to Monellan for walking we also discovered 2 new trails off the main tracks and perfect for a bit of “natural” MTBing.
On Friday I managed to shake off my resurgent cycling ennui and decided to dust off the MTB. Down the road, across a rough farm track, back on the road for 2km and into the woods. The first bit of trail runs down the side of the river and along the original estate wall before meeting up with another trail. Along the wall the trail passes through a number of narrow gaps between trees and on some of these someone has added piles of small branches to create small jumps for ponies. These also make perfect small jumps for a MTB. The third jump has been made too big to take with a bike so I detoured to the left to avoid it. As I passed I didn’t see the end of one of the branches sticking out that managed to catch my rear wheel and drivetrain. By the time I realised what had happened the damage was done!
Thankfully the hanger did its job and broke before the derailleur itself was damaged. A bit of online research and it looks like an easy repair but getting the part will be the tricky bit. There are a multitude of hangers available to buy and you need to buy the exact one to match your frame.
Normally a quick call to Halfords and I would have one within a couple of days. Unfortunately all the Halfords stores are currently closed in RoI and services in NI are highly limited plus my nearest NI stores are approx 45min away.
An online chat with the UK website resulted in a recommendation to contact a store and discuss with store staff as the online rep was working from home with limited access to information. I’ve decided to wait until tomorrow to try and make sure I get a more experienced member of staff on shift.
At least getting home was easier. Catriona and Conor were walking in Monellan so a short wait for them to appear on the trail and I was able to head to the car park, load the bike into the back of the car and wait for them to finish. A 4km walk home pushing a broken bike wouldn’t have been much fun!
Yesterday was such a good day with warm Spring sunshine for probably the first time this year that I decided not to waste it and threw my gear together in the afternoon and headed for Barnes Gap forest.
I fancied something a bit different from Friday’s spin and thought the trails up there would be good with a possible climb to the summit in the back of my mind.
I was aware of the works in the forest as there is a construction company installing a windfarm. On my last visit they were working between the summit and the quarry with minimal security at the quarry end but safe enough as the site shut down for the weekend. Big change now! The works have spread out along most of the main trails with massive sections quarried out to provide stone for the widening of the trails for increased access for construction vehicles. Most of the trails have changed from potholed gravel and stone to chunky hardcore and rock. Where the vehicles have been working and travelling the trails are a mixture of smooth and some rock but the newer sections are very rocky making the going particularly difficult.
On my loop I entered and left the forest twice each. Neither of the two entrances were signed but both exits were. If I’d seen the signs early on I probably wouldn’t have gone but by the time I saw the construction I was committed and decided to go ahead, especially as all the vehicles were parked up for the weekend. The only security was at the quarry end again but he couldn’t have cared less about me as he was standing chatting to someone.
Halfway round brought me to the summit trail. No windmills going in up there so the track was in good shape. I headed up with the option to retreat if my legs gave up on me. It’s a tough old climb this one at 2.2km and an average gradient of 7.4%. According to Strava it’s an elevation increase of 165m but I’ve no idea how that reflects on other climbs. All I know is that it’s pretty relentless with very little respite and a number of steep sections hitting 12-14% and I’m sure 20% on one of the final sections. The steepness is a real challenge but it’s the loose gravel on some of the steep sections and especially on the tight corners that are the most difficult. Pleased to say I made it to the top without having to stop and even managed a PB for my 3rd attempt taking 45secs off my previous time.
The views from the top were amazing. I’ve been up here a good few times, on foot as well as on the bike and this is definitely the best views I’ve had. I hung around for a few photos but the windchill was significant enough to speed me along.
The drop back down isn’t for the fainthearted either! The steep descents are slippy now with the loose gravel and the turns are tight enough to test. With images of A&E flashing through my head I kept on the brakes and took it fairly handy all the way down.
At the base I continued on through the construction site, stopping for photos before exiting out on to the main road. A short stretch of tarmac and back into the forest to loop around back to the car to give me almost 19km and 400m of climbing in 1hr 20min and a big smile on my face.