Shimano Deore CS-M5100 cassette

11 of your finest speeds

With the current war of ratios that is going on between Shimano and Sram over who can shoe horn the biggest sprocket onto their 12 speed cassettes ,at time of writing, Sram has gone one better with 52T over Shimano who introduced 51T just to outdo Srams 50T from a while ago…phew! it was refreshing to see that there are options further down the price scale that don’t need a specific freehub to work. Shimano 12sp needs their propitiatory “Micro Spline” freehub and in turn to run Sram big cassettes in most cases you need their “XD” driver.

However if you haven’t invested in the 12sp technology yet and are still running 11 speed then there is now a very good alternative from Shimano. The Deore M5100 cassette which happily fits straight on to the standard Shimano freehub that everyone running the big “S’s” gears already has. Before this new cassette the biggest sprocket on a 11sp Shimano cassette was 46T which is a very low gear indeed and originally ideally suited to a mountain bike. It does suffer though from a hug gap between the penultimate sprocket and that 46t, namely 37t-46t. I ran this cassette through the winter months on my gravel bike on a set of 650b wheels with much knobblier tyres than those I use in the drier months as my local terrain is very muddy and clay rich so i need all the traction i can get for the seated climbing necessitated to stop the wheel from spinning out. The gap was very annoying and when I needed a slightly lower gear than the 37t to stop stalling (I’m no climbing super hero as you can tell) the big jump to 46t was too great and I ended up loosing balance as my legs spun wildly.

The solution pt1

to over come this i butchered a 11-42t cassette, removing the 15t sprocket and adding a very second hand expander sprocket which used to be all the rage before huge cassettes but seem rare these days. This sprocket had 45 teeth so making the final jump between cogs 42-45t which was much better and this is what i ended up running for most of the damp months. Unfortunately the horrible gritty/grinding local conditions all but destroyed the cassette and chain (ok, i should have checked the chain wear more regularly) so knowing that the new Deore cassette was imminent I nursed that chain and cassette for as long as possible until my local bike shop called to say the new cassette had arrived!

The Solution pt2

The Deore M5100 has a ratio of 11-13-15-18-21-24-28-33-39-45-51T and those last 3 sprockets are very evenly spread so even tough the gaps are bigger than at the other end of the cassette the transition is easier to keep a good cadence on and aids balance and traction as your legs aren’t all over the place when concentrating on traction and line choice. The smaller sprockets are much closer in range and this is a good thing as on a gravel bike this is where you will mostly be sat. Small ration changes enabling smooth pedaling and letting you carry your speed on tarmac and less technical off road sections. the new cassette was 70g heavier than my modified 11-45 extended cassette)


M5100 in action

When I came to fit the cassette I was expecting to have a fight to get it to work, probably requiring a rear hanger extender/road link but i thought i’d try it out first anyway. I did fit a complete 116 link chain ( the old one was left this long too to accommodate the 11-45/46T) , set the clutch to on and with trepidation cycled through the gears. As you can see from the video, I was lucky and it worked straight away without any modification. I didn’t even have to adjust the “B” screw it was fine on the setting from the previous cassette. Please note if you try this your set up may be different! it’s not my fault if you damage anything!

So there it is, as mountain bike cassette on a gravel bike. the rest of the gearing is all GRX 810 with a 1 x 40 chainring. the 51t sprocket gives very very very low gearing and other than deliberately trying it out when riding I doubt if I’ll ever use it on this bike. the next sprocket down tends to be my extreme sit and spin gear. However for a heavily laden touring or bike packing bike that has done away with the fuss of a double (or triple) chainset this could just be what you are after at the end of a long day with that last long steep incline to grind up.

The cassette has now done a couple of hundred miles around my local area and is so far trouble free so I’m in no hurry to swap it for something less silly. in fact i’m going to get one for my mountain bike as the cost of the cassette is much less than the cost of upgrading to 12 speed to get that extra gearing and who needs that extra one tooth (sram)?

Elan Valley Explorer

I’ve been wanting to explore the Elan valley since I got a gravel bike and when we had a mini summer in the middle of February I knew I had to get over there to take advantage of it.

it also took me 5 minutes to be able to walk properly

I’m still suffering from a tibial band injury that i picked up last December riding in Scotland. luckily it doesn’t hurt at all when pedaling but does become very sore afterwards even with the recommended stretching exercises. It also plays up if i sit in the same position for a long period of time. It takes over two hours to drive to the start point of today’s ride from home and so when I pulled up in Ryhayader not only was it a struggle to get out of the van it also took me 5 minutes to be able to walk properly.

After getting my leg moving and unloading the bike I was ready to go. Ryhayader is right at the end of the Elan Valley so it was a very short ride through the town centre to the start of the trail. I had loaded the route onto my Garmin but the route is very well signed posted so unless you intend to veer of the route you won’t need a map. within minutes the first iew of the Valley appeared and well, it was pretty breath taking.

Summer in February

I’d left home early to avoid traffic and it also worked in my favour on the outward leg of the route as I had the place pretty much to myself. There aren’t many better things than to stand looking at that view with the only sound heard being a distant bird and the lapping of the water.

The route starts off on surprisingly rolling tarmac which takes you off the busy A road out of town, it probably would be faster on the road as there are a few gates to negotiate but the inconvenience is worth not sharing the road with a logging lorry or a holiday maker taking more notice of the view than how they are driving. the tarmac path passes the Elan valley Hotel and then the Visitor centre and then the tarmac turns much more interesting for a gravel bike. As it follows the banks of reservoirs the path becomes muddy, rooty and rutted in places. I stopped here for a drink and to reflect that the water in my flask probably came from this very lake as it was originally built and flooded to feed the thirsty folk and industry of Birmingham.

The trail wound on along side the water until it came to the part where the route starts to climb up a steep loose surfaced bank through a wooded area. Well usually it does, this time there was a orange barrier with a sign saying a short area of the route was closed due to a landslide. So a complete loop wasn’t possible. I did however decide I’d ride up the either side of the blockage to get as close to a loop as possible. I’d also comment at this point that the best was to do the route is to avoid this climb and do the loop backwards. this means the climb is on a very quiet road with awesome views and gentle gradients but means the second part of the route is all off road and all downhill on some very cool gravel tracks that take a bit of concentration!

The blockage was a rock slide and although it was only about 5ft across it was clearly dangerous and closing the trail was the only option.

On the return leg it was clear that this is a very popular place to visit as it was much busier. But in the usual way of things the busiest place was near the visitor centre and its cafe. It seems visitors to Wales do the same as visitors to forest centres etc with cafes, they turn up, look at the view from the car park, buy a coffee and then get back in their car, not many seem to venture far from the “honey pot” even on the warmest February day for years. Such is modern life.

The potential to explore the area is immense with lots of bridleways and quiet lanes to check out. I did just over 25 miles in fantastic weather. But This was still February and as the day went on and the shadows got longer the temperature fall was dramatic and it was wise to stick to routes that were sign posted or known as sunset is early and it wouldn’t be a good idea to get lost without adequate clothing or lights. i’ll comeback later in the year and do some more exploring.

A great ride to experience, nothing too strenuous but with potential for a much bigger, more technical and physical ride in the future

Never Underestimate the power of a pedal

I’m sat here in glorious sunshine “enjoying” the second week of my Government directed isolation. This is due to my partner displaying symptoms of Covid-19. Luckily she only has mild symptoms, although I’m sure she’d say that the painful persistant cough and fatigue from just walking around is bad enough thank you very much. Here in the UK if you live with someone with symptoms you have to isolate yourself from the outside world for 14 days from the onset of the symptoms. the sufferer on the other hand can emerge after seven days if symptoms are gone.

my last ride before isolation

So I’m now starting day 8 of total lockdown and this means it’s 8 days since I last got out for a ride on a bike. Somehow this might not have been so bad if it was winter and the weather was bad and the trails were their usual claggy mess. However, that’s not the case. It’s one of the best spring periods in the UK we’ve experienced in a long time. The sun has shone for the last three weeks, the trails are actually dusty, the blossom is on the trees and the brambles and stinging nettles haven’t grown enough across the routes to rip your skin and clothing to bits.

I shouldn’t moan, so far i have no symptoms myself, the incubation period being 2-14 days (so there’s still time!) and I know there are thousands of people suffering out there but sat here on my own with plenty of time to think It’s hard not to feel sorry for myself. I’ve even resorted to digging my road bike out of the loft to use on my ancient turbo trainer. I tried it once for a 10 mile “ride” and found it so boring. my turbo is so unsophisticated it won’t connect to Zwift or any of the other platforms so I can’t even jump on that band wagon. Smart trainers are also impossible to buy as they have been panic purchased to toilet roll levels!

the thought of pedalling down a twisty, sinewy dusty stretch of singletrack is now giving me major withdrawal symptoms. Being the Admin on @ukgravelco instagram channel and Facebook doesn’t help either. Seeing happy faces on sunny rides, riders dancing up climbs, owning descents and clean shiny bikes is like some sort of masochistic BDSM torture. all my social media is directed to this type of picture or the type of person who rides this sort of terrain. But like most addictions, even though I can’t get my fix I also can’t look away.

My other passion is for guitars but even having more time to play is not cutting it. Dream bike speccing such as a Fustle Causeway is like self flagellation and I’ve not even chosen a high end build!

The Garden session, download not available thankfully!

It’s strange and at the same time amazing how much joy that mix of metal tubes, plastic and rubber gives you and you don’t realise this until it’s taken away. I guess it’s all about freedom really and the ability to go where you want, with who you want, when you want.

Which also brings me to the other thing the bike brings you and that is camaraderie . I enjoy a solo ride, you don’t have to take into account other peoples fitness (both higher and lower) or technical ability and please yourself if you stop of not. But, the best thing about experiences is sharing them with others, that high five or fist bump at the end of a sweet section of trail. yes I’m in my 50s and i still do this, but usually without and grace or coordination. i draw the line at using the word “stocked” though!. the mutual grin and giggles when you’ve all survived or cleared a difficult downhill or climb is one not to be missed. type 2 fun situations are less joyful in the pub afterwards if you are the only one telling the tale and there’s been no shared suffering. Bottom line is I miss riding with my mates.

So this has all been quite a depressing read I guess. That’s because I’m sat in my own bubble of misery but the only way out of this is to think ahead. the trails and routes will still be out there at the end of this pandemic (because even though I’ll be released next week social distancing rules will still apply and it’ll be local solo rides until further notice). My bike with be the cleanest with the most up to date service schedule it’s had since i built it and although my fitness will have suffered I can’t ride with anyone else and show myself up until i build those legs back up!

look what boredom made me do!

So if I can survive this symptom free the future is bright, it’s just a bit further over the horizon than usual, but at least that means the ride to get to it will last longer and rides that are longer are good!

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my Girlfriend who despite having to endure this horrible virus put up with my miserable face, my moping around and general glass half empty demeanor over something as ridiculous as not riding a bicycle for a few days, she’s a true inspiration. Having to isolate from her in the same house and sleep in separate rooms was the hardest thing ever!

the long suffering OH

As well as planning dream bike builds I’ve been compiling a must ride when this is all over list so I’ll be asking for local knowledge in the future so start sorting out all the sweet routes for me!

Causeway Gravel bike

Causeway Gravel Bike

UK gravel Collective is really excited to be involved with the launch of a brand new Gravel bike in the shape of Fustle’s Causeway.

I’ve been following the company’s progress via their Instagram channel and got in touch with Alistair Becket who is designer and owner of the new brand. After a long chat on the phone where I realised his vision of the perfect Gravel Bike was exactly what I’d been looking for for myself. A bike designed for actual gravel riding rather than based on a road bike or cyclocross bike with a bit of extra clearance thrown in. I really wanted to get involved with the launch as his enthusiasm and passion came across strongly and at the same time he seemed like a really cool guy.

Alistair is the guy behind Reburn design and has products for Nukeproof, Forbidden Bike Company, Privateer Bikes and others from his base in Northern Ireland. This location in itself means the bike will be designed with the conditions we get here in the UK in mind, no Californian tyre clearance here!

Alistair’s design idea is for a “competitive off road bike design to produce a chassis that offers every rider a more stable and confidence inspiring ride while retaining the nimble and efficient nature of a drop bar bike. With each frame designed to accommodate stem length from 60mm – 80mm, you can now pair a short stem with a longer wheelbase chassis for extra stability without compromising on your riding position and fit.

geometry and fit guide can be found here

I’m really hoping to be able to get a test ride on a causeway (especially the red one as that colour looks awesome!) and let you guys know if Alistairs design is as good as i think it will be.

here’s a few questions for Alistair on his vision for the Causeway bike and Fustle…

Tell us about Fustle bikes

FUSTLE is a small, rider owned brand that provides a simple, no fuss way to custom build your new bike, and utilises it’s unique position to develop innovative chassis kits, free from the constraints of it’s large commercial competitors.

What does this mean? You get the bike that you want, just the way you want it, without the baggage.

Our mission is to develop Bikes that utilise forward thinking technology to provide confidence inspiring stability and handling as well as functionality and versatility.

Located on the coastline just outside Belfast, Northern Ireland, our development and testing is heavily influenced by the local terrain which shapes both the way we ride, and how we design our products.  Paired with our background and experience in MTB development, our products deliver functionality and versatility led by off-road influenced technology.

Using our online custom bike builder, we empower our customers to build a specification to suit their needs and preferences, specific to their local terrain and riding style.

Starting out with our Causeway GR1 gravel bike, we will continue to develop into different disciplines and expand our range of Chassis Kits as we see the opportunities develop.

why not spec all the bikes the same and save a lot of hassle?

Born out of frustration and despair at the monotonous model year cycle that constrains the entire cycle industry, I always felt strongly that I should hand over these critical choices to the customer who was buying their bike. After all, it’s their bike, so why should I be the one to choose how it gets built? It turns out, not too many bike brands are built to deliver this.

Selecting final specifications is usually the job of a product manager, and therefore their own riding style and preferences can heavily influence the end product. That can be a really good thing in a lot of ways if they truly understand their customer… but everyone is different, and most want different things from their bike and the experience that they seek to have on each ride.

What choices do potential customers have over say, buying an off the peg bike?

Our custom bike builder offers each customer a choice on virtually every part of the bike build, from handlebar width and flare, to tyre tread and size, without the hassle of selling off your old parts when you find the specific part that you wanted to suit your local terrain or preference.

How is your bike different to the others?

Having spent the last 20 years riding mountain bikes, the time pressures of becoming a parent led me into the world of gravel bikes where their versatility really stirred my interest as I could enjoy riding off road without the hassle of packing up to drive to the mountains for my fix of off road excitement.

When I first started looking at Gravel bikes in more detail, the options were really quite limited based on what I really wanted from a do it all drop bar bike.

It quickly became clear that what was out there tended to be more influenced by the road market than the off road market, which led me to start piecing together what today we call ‘The Causeway GR1’

Launching a bike in the middle of a pandemic is brave!

This isn’t quite how I pictured our launch when I started with the idea of a simple gravel bike over 2 years ago. We are living in a world of change right now, and following the traditional route of visiting a handful of selected journalists with a van full of test bikes to tell our story simply isn’t an option in today’s world as we all battle against this Coronavirus.

Having started so long ago with the development, it’s taken almost 24 months of preparation, testing, supplier meetings and all of the pieces of the puzzle that go into the launch of a new product to get this far.
Our first production run is now finished and Chassis’ kits are on the sea, headed for Belfast port and due at the end of April.

This week we are switching on our website and opening our virtual doors for business, with our first batch of assembly slots already booked up by some loyal and enthusiastic customers who were given the chance to test out our custom bike builder functionality on the website ahead of time.

So what do your customers get?

The Causeway GR1 is our first Chassis Kit that has been under development for approximately 24 months at time of launch.

An aluminium Gravel/Adventure frame with full carbon fork, it is targeted at riders looking for a drop bar bike with MTB pedigree.

It features;

  • 6061 Aluminium frame, (tested to ISO 4210 MTB Certification)
  • Full UD Carbon Fork and Steerer
  • 12x142mm and 12x100mm axle spacing
  • Dropped Top Tube for dropper-post compatibility
  • Internal Cable routing and dropper post routing
  • 31.6mm Seat post diameter
  • Tyre clearance for 700x50mm (650x 2.1”)
  • Longer front centre frames for use with shorter stem

Available in 3 Sizes

  • (XS/SM coming september 2020)
  • SM/MD
  • MD/LG
  • LG/XL

Available in 3 Colours

  • Red
  • Green
  • Blue
one of the many options
  • Frame and Fork
  • Seatpost and Stem (to offer customer a choice of rider fit)
  • Headset, Axles, Chainstay Protection, accessories

Chassis kit from £849.99, Complete Bikes starting at £1999.99

We are continually working with different component suppliers to introduce some additional options that suit the needs of our customers. If you can’t find the part that you really want, get in touch and we will do our best to source it for you.

The options are too long to list, choice is good! more details can be found on Fustle’s website

Wizard Works

Custom Framebag and Lil Presto, photo By Lucas Winzenburg

After being a Vancouver hobby that transitioned to New Zealand and now based in London, Wizard Works came to my notice as is usual these days, when looking for content for the UKgravelCO channel on instagram. I was drawn to the vast array of colours and original ideas. So i just had to contact Harry and ask what Wizard Works was all about….

Custom Bags for Quirk – Photo by Quirk Cycles

What’s your background, how did you get into making bespoke bags and products?

I have spent the best part of 10 years living around the world, working with bikes, and on various bike adventures. In 2016, living in Vancouver, Canada, I built myself a sweet Crust Romanceur with a Wald basket on the front, I really wanted a bag for it but nothing available took my fancy. So I made one myself. Fast forward to 2019, I moved back to my hometown, London, to make Wizard Works a legit business.

Why, given the amount of pre made bike bags and luggage out there did you design and manufacture your own?

It was never meant to be a business; I wanted to make something jazzy for myself, people seemed to like the style and at some point I realised this had legs. Yes, there are a lot of bags on the market these days, yet they are nearly all grey or black and in a small range of very orthodox bikepacking styles. By contrast, Wizard Works is all about the magical party vibes, no bum rockets here, just straight up disco adventure fun times.

Shazam in the New Forest by Tom Farrell

What’s the Wizard Works name all about?

Its alliterative and a little magic.

Lil Presto, photo By Lucas Winzenburg

What’s the most popular model you make and have you have any unusual requests? 

We sell a pretty good mix of everything we offer. Recently there’s been a big up-tick in custom framebag orders. Since we do repairs and take custom jobs, nothing is too weird. However, we did just do a pretty out there framebag for a Dear Susan bike: It was full magnet-in with no straps, suede, fringed and had a Dynaplug bullet belt. Pretty snazz!

Dear Susan Custom Framebag 2 – Photo By Dear Susan

What type of person is buying your stuff?

Anyone that likes a good time and has realised the joy of bringing a snack on their ride.


all photos by Wizard Works unless otherwise stated

London Broil Bag shop

I recently had a great chat with Ian from London Broil bag shop, a completely independent bag maker and designer from Cheltenham England. what an amazing life this guy has lived so far! here’s a few questions i ran by him and a few pictures of some of the stuff he’s made. links to London Broil website is below as well as a link to his Instagram for more pictures…

What’s your background, how did you get into making bespoke bags and products? 

I grew up in Cheltenham riding mountain bikes and BMX through the 90’s. I feel like bags have always been a part of my bike life, saddle bags and frame triangles on my early 90’s mountain bikes, backpacks full of heavy tools to bash my mid-school bmx back into working order, bike cases small enough to sneak my bike on a flight as a massage table, messenger bags for making money and hydration packs for big mountain all day adventures. I worked in Bike shops until the mid 00’s when I took a leap of faith into working as a bike courier, at first in London and later in Sydney, and San Francisco. I was between jobs in SF when a friend offered me the opportunity to come and work for his small messenger bag company called Freight baggage in North Beach. It was pretty awesome, there were four of us working in a four by five meter shop Half way up Vallejo street on telegraph hill. I started out doing basic jobs, sweeping up, cutting fabric, and emptying the bins. With great patience Travis taught me to sew, using the powerful industrial machines was like learning to drive in a F1 race car! Every bike messenger has a design in their head for the ultimate work bag, Travis had basically given me the tools to bring them to reality. I started working on designs and once i had a part time messenger job, testing them out. It was kind of like learning to build good wheels- put something together and then take it out and see if you can break it. I bought my first machine from freight and have had a sewing workshop ever since. In 2010 I scored a job working for Santa Cruz Bicycles, for a kid from the Cotswolds this was the fruition of a childhood dream so I leapt at the opportunity. I was with SCB until 2018 and the whole time I had my sewing shop on the side. I spent most of my spare time (when I wasn’t riding) working on patterns for bags to ride bikes with; if you go to the Santa Cruz factory you will see a fair number of their staff rocking my bags and hip packs. I was lucky to have time without commercial demands to really develop my skills and designs. In 2018 we decided to move home (for me) so I could work on my bags and my partner Tiffany could continue her Studies, so here we are!

Why, given the amount of pre made bike bags and luggage out there did you design and manufacture your own?

To be honest I struggled with this for a long time, I don’t want to make unnecessary products, especially when most of the fabrics are made from some form of plastic. Up until this point I have been content making products for myself and my friends and by request. Honestly I am not looking to become a “global” brand, I want to be your friendly local bag maker, everything is available fully customised and tailored to fit the bike or the rider. Every LBB product is carefully designed to avoid wear points and uses the highest quality fabrics, the bags are made to last a lifetime and we back this up with a lifetime repair warranty. 

What’s the London broil name all about?

It was a nickname bestowed on me by a (then) Portland bike messenger called C-Murder when I showed up at a courier race in Seattle in 2006. I took it as a complement, but it is also one of the cheapest cuts of steak available at an American butcher so who knows?  To broil basically means too grill at a high heat. The name made me think of London as a forge, it’s one of the worlds true metropolises attracting people at the top of their game from all over the globe, a product of the London Broil must be truly world class!

What’s the most popular model you make and have you have any unusual requests? 
My most requested item has been the zip closure backpack. About eight years ago I needed a new backpack for commuting that could carry my riding kit, lunch, and work laptop for the pedal across town to the office, pack my work clothes and laptop at the end of the day for a twenty mile mountain bike ride home on some of Santa Cruz’s burlier trails, and with enough space to grab some groceries between the trailhead and my house. The ability to strap a frame and a pair of wheels to the front of it if you need too was on the list too.What I have ended up with after 8 years of revisions is a bag that is pretty awesome for all kinds of riding and travel where you may need to carry up to 30 liters of luggage.
As for unusual requests nothing more than secret “stash” pockets, custom pannier bags for coffee delivery and custom tailored bags for really big and tall guys nothing really comes to mind, but I am always open to requests so bring it on!  

What type of person is buying your stuff?

Generally speaking, riders. Bags by riders for riders. But really just anyone looking for bags that are designed to work well and last. I am always open to custom and customisation too. If you can’t find exactly what you want out there we are always happy to work with new ideas.   

Where is the most far flung place that your products have ended up?

I have sent bags to friends in Mexico City and Australia, there are still messenger bags out there in SF, Sydney and London. I made a half frame bag for @cycling.jamie to race the trans pyrenees endurance event last year, and I have used bags i made to ride across the deserts of Nevada and Utah, and across the USA. Nothing on the moon yet.   

What don’t you offer right now that you’d like to or plan to?

I have patterns for lots of bags that I have worked out over the years, I plan to get versions of everything i have worked out up on my website in good time. I am still hammering out my hydration pack design, there are a few out there already but I am not completely happy with it yet.  

Can you tell us where you see Londonbroilbsgs in the next 5 years?

This is a really exciting question! I am hoping that we will have a cool space with windows! But seriously, I want to build the team, share and collaborate knowledge and skills and make some really cool shit! I want to be part of our rider community here in the cotswolds and the UK. We have such a cool island here, lets make it even better! I’m interested to see where the gravel (bike) path leads to and where mountain biking is going next. We will be here making bags for you to bring your sandwiches along for the ride!   

London Broil Bagshop Made by hand in Cheltenham, England

Website- Instagram- @londonbroilbagshop

Sour Bike’s Purple Haze

brown is the colour of winners

the start of this story starts back when gravel bikes were just a twinkle in someone’s eye. Actually around 10 years ago when I bought a Cotic X cyclo cross bike. I didn’t want a cyclo cross bike but what i did want was a road capable bike with a compact frame and the Cotic had a radically sloping top tube (for the time). it also had disc brakes, a fairly relaxed geometry , again for a cross bike and it fitted me like a glove.

Cotic X

I did lots of miles commuting to work and using it as a winter bike with the usual mudguards etc but with slick tyres which made it efficient enough on tarmac but pretty useless off road, but then i had an MTB for that.

Then i started to see bikes called “gravel bikes” on the internet and races like the dirty Kanza and I though yes! i have a bike i can do that on easily. I was going to drop the road groupset with it’s double chainring, make it 1 x, add hydraulic brakes and shifters instead of the frankly useless mechanical disc brakes i’d run for the last 5 years or so and all would be great. cheap Grav Grav! However, this bike was designed around the UCi’s rules for cyclo cross and like the baddie in a cowboy movie or the wicked witch in a fairy tale the UCi rules usually ruin everyone’s fun. It was just so in the this case. at the time (and now iirc, how progressive UCi) the max tyre clearance for cyclo cross bikes was 33mm. 33mm is frankly useless for UK gravel riding. it maybe fine for Californian dust (looking at your 38mm clearance Diverge Mr Specialized) but add some traditional UK mud and grit and at best you have no traction, at worst the rocks dragged through your frame destroy the paint and the stays. Sooo long story short the Cotic had to go!

I’m not the best at making a decision, just ask everyone about my shed, nearly 12 months on in construction 😦 so it took nearly twelve months of research, of writing geometry comparison charts, agonizing over frame size and this was even before i’d considered groupsets and wheels.

Then, as happens in these situations a bike comes along at the last minute, one that i’d not heard of before, from a place I’d never even thought produced bikes and fitted the bill perfectly in seemingly every way!

Enter stage left Sour bikes a company from Dresden in Germany and their Purple Haze gravel bike.

650b boots

The purple Haze (no it’s not purple) has almost to the mm the exact same geometry as the Cotic that I got on so well with but this one will take 650 x 2.1mm or 29 (700c) x 2.0 in the frame and 29 x 2.2 in the carbon fork. the flat mount disc brakes, external cable routing, external bottom bracket, sloping top tune and the fact it was of steel construction was just the icing on the cake! it also came in a choice of colours.

The Ride

I added the frankly brilliant Shimano GRX groupset and some DT rims on hope hubs I’d built myself and from the first ride after the traditional moving of saddle height, bar height, bar roll, saddle pitch etc etc…then inevitably doing that quite a few times the bike felt like an old friend, but then as i said it was almost identical to my old bike. The addition of 42mm tyres and it’s off road manners makes the purple haze a very comfortable off roader. The feel of steel that lots of people bang on about can actually be felt, there’s definitely some sort of compliance going on vertically compared to the aluminium gravel bikes I’ve ridden.

Step on the pedals though and it’ll go forward nicely, it’s never going to compete with a carbon frame in the weight stakes but it bowls along nicely and after lengthy off road stints you don’t feel fatigued as much by the terrain as on other bikes i’ve ridden. but the extra weight certain helps on rough tracks. it doesn’t get pinged all over the place and it’s got me out of trouble a few times, especially down “MTB” trails. this thing is fun!


if you are looking for the lightest weight gravel bike money can buy or a full on race geometry this is not the bike for you. If you like to look at the scenery, explore unknown tracks where there’s a chance of getting out of your depth, want to load your bike up with bags and disappear into the wilderness safe in the knowledge that you don’t have to worry about the bike letting you down, if you are more about fun than staring at the backside of the rider in front then this is the bike for you.

I’ll also add the back up from the guys at Sour bikes was second to none, I asked lots of questions and despite me asking in english the replies were always quick and knowledgable. The website lets you choose the colour of the frame, whether you have a carbon or steel fork, even the colour of the head badge. the added bonus is that you can now buy a complete bike removing the agony of trying to decide the spec for yourself!

but in the end despite the choices the “autumn glow” sparkly brown paint job was enough for me to love it.

Training ride with a twist

sunshine and blue sky

It all started so well. With some big events in the diary already it was time to start riding some longer distances. To make the most of the days forecast sunshine and blue skies Dan and I planned to ride to Worcester and back using as much off road as possible which would make it around 50 miles. no massive gradients really but some good base miles.

The issue with blue skies on January is that they come with low temperatures and given the amount of rain we’ve experienced lately lots of ice. Run off from the surrounding fields on our route were frozen solid. The very bright sun dazzled us through the hedgerows giving that flickering effect that did nothing for our vision. this meant i saw the patch of ice that was across the road on a corner at the last minute. using my “cat like” skills i managed to stay upright but the only way to do this was to not deviate from my course so i ended up in the middle of someones driveway feeling relieved i’d not hit the tarmac.

It was at this point we had a little chat to assess the planned route that was ahead of us. We could see the frozen bars of water across the lane and knew that the route had a couple of miles downhill from this point on where picking up speed, or more importantly the need to brake for corners would arise. So a remarkable event took place, we were actually sensible (it won’t last, mark my words) for once and thought about how we could get to the nearest off road without braking a hip or worse, damaging the bikes. Off road, perversely in these conditions would give more grip and be safer!

So we made our way to the canal and relative safety…….well until the freezing fog descended and turned the 0 to 1 degree temperatures to a finger numbing -5! (that’s degrees Celsius Fahrenheit users) We bowled along passing other towpath users who looked out of the mist for a few miles until Dan shouted for me to stop. He was sprayed from ankle to chest in tyre sealant with the tyre rapidly deflating. we revolved the wheel so all the sealant would be over the hole but the hole was actually a slit and the sealant couldn’t cope with the size of it. so rather than lose all the sealant we went for the slug option. No Gastropods were harmed today though. A slug is a little tyre insert that you plunge into the tyre through the puncture hole using a split needle. the slug stays in a plugs the hole enabling inflation and the ride to continue! yay!….actually boo! as even though the slug worked perfectly during the re-inflation process the tubeless valve managed to destroy itself.

freezing fog and lack of air

just about enough air to make the wheel rideable had made it in though but there was no way we were going to limp the next 35 miles of the route so again we did the sensible thing (i don’t think i like this new trend) and turned around and headed in the direction of home. So, all in all not the ideal ride but I think it was equally as valuable as if we;d done a hundred mile ride…

making the best of it

….you see, not every ride is going to be perfect, if you look at social media it might look like everyone else’s weekend was idyllic and ridden under warm skies with no mechanicals but the reality is there are going to be times when things don’t go to plan and rides like today are excellent training for these times. As we regrouped with coffee and cake on the way home we could reflect on our new “in the field” puncture repair and the need, if on a long ride or event away from civilization to take a spare tubeless valve (being so close to home we decided not to stick an inner tube in, we did have these with us though) and the most valuable lesson was to take things as they come, don’t panic, don’t throw your toys out of the pram. It’ll all look different when sat in front of the fire recounting the days adventure with your non cycling family.

No embellishing the tale though!

“what the **** was that?”

a review of the Smokestone Mr Harry

The Smokestone Mr Harry Review

As you might have read in a recent post I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch party for Graham Foot’s latest Smokestone bike, The Mr Harry “Gravel” bike. I’ve used inverted commas here as I think it blurs the boundaries of lots of bike genres, but read on and see.

When I used to sell and fix bikes for a living I always spoke to the customer about buying the best frame they could for their money as this was the heart of the bike and all the things that hang on it to make it go, make it stop, make it comfortable or make it fast are all replaceable. Buy the bike with the great handling frame and upgrade the parts as they inevitably wear out.

And so I approached this review as a test of the frame rather than the parts it came with. this is doubly important as it will be sold as a frameset first, allowing the purchaser to spec it exactly how they want it. However, the way this frame has been designed challenges this, again blurring the conventional wisdom. So with this in mind there will be a report on some of the parts.

Disclaimer: This isn’t my bike, I’m just lucky enough to be the first person to test it in exchange for a UKgravelCO sticker 🙂

The frame

The Mr Harry is a titanium frame, officially Titanium grade 9 (3Al/2.5V) designed in Gloucestershire and manufactured in the Far East and comes with that lovely finish you only get with Ti. The welds are neat and tidy and it comes with a sloping but straight (yay for aesthetics!) top tube which is there to give a better anchor point for a frame bag, bent top tubes create all sorts of headaches for bike frame bags even if they do give more stand over height. The frame is drilled for an internal dropper post size 31.6mm to give you maximum options, has three bottle cage mounts, two inside the front triangle and one under the down tube and production frames will come with rack mounts as standard.

hurray for a threaded BB & proper tubes! See also exit for dropper post routing

The bottom bracket is external and threaded, rejoice! and is a standard size (73mm) despite the huge amount of clearance the frame allows. The chain stays are tubes rather than the current fashion of one side being a plate to allow clearance and the ability to run a large chainring and this not just enhances the look of the bike it helps with the side to side stiffness but still allowing vertical compliance. With the bike static and with me putting all my weight on one pedal there was next to no side to side deflection so all your pedalling power is going towards propelling the bike forward.

neat welds and sliding dropouts

The rear dropout is bolt through and the spacing is 148mm boost. these dropouts slide fore and aft along with the disc mount to accommodate the wheel/tyre size and shorten or lengthen the wheelbase. With 29 x 2.6mm tyres fitted the dropouts were set nearly all the way back, so almost max wheelbase. The head tube is standard Top cup = IS 42, Lower cup = IS 52 full specifications for all the sizes can be found here

The Ride

Typical NWAlps conditions

The first ride was a dialling in process, i adjusted the roll and the height of the bars, the saddle height and fore-aft placement to try and replicate as near as possible my own gravel bike to give a fair comparison. Initially I was going to ride in the Forest of Dean but then I thought the best test would be to ride the bike on familiar trails, routes which I know well and know how my own bike feels on them. These are a mix of short sections of tarmac, very muddy bridleways, lots of slick tree rooted forest, sandy field edges, canal towpath, wooden steps, gravel double track, slick clay cut throughs, draggy grass and moorland and trails the local MTBers have built in the woods with steep drop ins, off camber berms, rollers and deliberate obstacles such as fallen trees. So just about everything apart from dry and dusty and rock gardens.

climbing was actually fun!

I was concerned that as the bike was set up with pretty much the longest wheel base possible it would handle like a narrow boat but it turned into corners just great, it’s not a 26″ wheeled 4x bike but you turn the bars and it goes where you point it, be it downhill off camber or loose soil over roots. as the ride went on I challenged it to more and more trails that i tip toe down on my gravel bike and it just bombed through, the more i rode the more confident I got. Add a dropper post to this and it’ll go pretty much anywhere you point it. Seated climbing is comfy and only the slickest climbs defeated it, but this is more to do with the tyres than the frame. Climbing was also enhanced by the seat angle, not being too steep it allowed a great sitting position that enabled weight shifting to add traction when needed. All this off road prowess wasn’t at the expense of road manners though, it happily bowled along the tarmac sections and the big tyres just shrugged off pot holes, in fact I was deliberately riding over the worst bits for fun!

Titanium is known for its comfortable ride and I’ve ridden Ti frames in the past that have been comfy but the downside of this is they can be a bit noodle like, flexing in the wrong places visibly. I’ve had MTBs that you can feel flex from side to side at the head tube and bottom bracket area. this frame however managed to be rock solid in these areas but at the same time was a very comfortable ride. The only way I can describe it is it’s like a good quality steel frame without the weight penalty.

Lets talk about tyres

Vittoria Mezcals XC-Trail were fitted to the test bike

So, as i mentioned earlier even though this is really a review of the frame there’s no getting away from the fact that he bike in this specification has big tyres. They are 29 x 2.6 a size you see on trail or enduro MTBs altough the tread on these isn’t as aggressive as most. The astonishing thing is that these aren’t even the biggest tyres the frame will take. it’ll happily accommodate 29 x 3.0.

This bike is marketed as an adventure bike and in this guise with these tyres I can see the bike tackling the Highland 550 or The Tour divide. loaded up with everything you need to survive it’ll deliver you to the end if not in comfort then less fatigued than on an alloy framed bike and less scared of a carbon frame being able to take the knocks of such an adventure.

For my local riding the tyres were an absolute giggle, on the off road sections they were brilliant, confidence inspiring and rolled well. On the tarmac sections they actually surprised me how little resistance they gave. Would i want to ride a 100k on the road on them? no, but read on.

Perception is your only limit

mind the gap

The title of this article comes from a comment made during my ride. On a short section between woods there was a quarter mile of tarmac with an off camber grass verge to one side, of course I took this option and towards me on the road came a group of road bike riders, i waved and they waved back and as they passed I heard one say “what the **** was that?” which I love! But it made me think that this bike has unlimited possibilities. The big tyres are great fun if you are lucky enough to ride 100% off road, although I’d probably go 2.4″ for myself. But run narrower tyres and the frame is nimble enough and light enough to gave a great account of itself in a cross race, a little larger tyre and it’s going to be exploring back lanes and unknown bridleways with all day comfort. you could even slip some 28mm slicks on there and join the local chaingang or 10mile TT. I’d have two sets of wheels, one with big tyres and one with 40-45mm tyres because I think this bike would absolutely fly on a set of light wheels with gravel tyres. The only limit is the riders imagination.


Graham Foot, the designer of this frame has deep seated roots in mountain bikes from almost the first day they caught on in the UK, Graham knows off road and has produced frames since those early days, better known these days for his Fat bikes. All that accumulated knowledge has gone into this frame, but I think Graham will be the first to admit he has less experience with drop bar bikes but Graham listens to his customers and with the likes of Andy Deacon, star of this years GD-Duro and long distance riding events inspiring and adding ideas he has come up with a super versatile, well mannered frame that somehow manages to be stable but still exciting with the feel of steel and be light in the process. However you spec this frame, as adventure bike, monstercrosser or gravel bike you won’t be disappointed.

The Details

As mentioned above, this is really all about the frame but for those interested here’s the spec as ridden,

  • Frame weight – 1.98kg (size Large)
  • Price (frame only) £1600 for Titanium frame , sliding dropouts 12mm bolt through
  • Full bike as pictured £3800
  • Fork – Whisky No9 mtn 15mm
  • Wheels and hubs – Halo Vapour 35mm
  • Tyres – Vittoria XC Trail 29 x 2.6″
  • Chainset – Sram GX with 36T ring
  • Rear Mech – Shimano GRX R800
  • Shifters – Shimano GRX R800
  • Cassette Shimano GRX R800 11-40
  • Brake Caliper – Shimano SLX
  • Bars – Genetic “flare”
  • Stem – Genetic STV
  • Seatpost – Genetic Syngenic 31.6mm
  • Saddle – Prologo Dimension NDR
  • Size Tested – Large
  • Sizes Available 52cm, 54cm, 56cm (large), 58cm, 60cm

Smokestone Mr Harry

a brief first impression…

it looks “right” somehow

I was recently invited to the Slam69 shop to view a very interesting new bike. The Smokestone Mr Harry.

Graham Foot, the guy behind this new bike has lots of experience in this sort of thing, producing his first bike back in the hey day of MTBing in the late eighties right up to the present and very successful fat bike range (the Henderson) the latest of these being made of Titanium.

The Mr Harry is also titanium and currently this is the only frame in existence and was literally only built an hour before the launch which is why a few of the parts are eclectic.

The basic idea of the bike is an Adventure/Gravel/bike packing bike that can take standard gravel size tyres or rubber right up to 29 x 3″

plenty of clearance even with 29 x 2.6 tyres

It has 3 bottle cage mounts, a larger triangle for full size frame bags if that’s your thing, is 100mm suspension corrected and pannier and dropper post compatible. This build with not particular lightweight parts nudged the scales at 26lb (11.8kg)

The quick ride I had showed me that the handling was very neutral, more MTB than twitchy road which is good for load carrying and unladen tech riding. The front height has been on my wish list for ages, high enough to see where I’m going without the need for a million spacers and a high rise stem. riding on the drops would be a comfortable place on this bike. It did no hands riding comfortably always a good sign of a balanced bike. I Loved the stand over and straight tubes on this large size frame and the sloping geometry. Stick a fork with the 3 bolt mounting options on it & I think it’s got the potential to cater for a wide range of rider.

I’m hoping to get a few days riding on it in the next couple of weeks to give it a proper run in real local conditions but first impressions are really positive.

More info can be found on the Smokestone bikes website