Rab Equipment Cinder Cycle Clothing Range

Well known for their outdoor range of clothing Rab have recently released a range for cycling. The guys at Wild Cycles who are partnered with Rab for some of their events suggested to Rab that it would be a good idea to send me some kit to try out. They kindly did and so it’s time to see if Rab are jumping on the band wagon of the gravel boom and just putting their name to a range of cycling kit or is it actually designed for the job? it’s going to be fun to find out.

Rab Cinder Jersey Top

Its seems that Rab like an acronym or two going by their website. they say the Cinder jersey is made of “Motiv™ (102g/m²) with S.Café® Yarn Technology” for the main part and the secondary part is “Motiv™ Aero single jersey fabric with subtle mesh structure (85gsm) with odour control treatment” What this means in reality is that the jersey is slightly tailored but by no means “race fit” i.e. it fits real riders and that the fit guide is realistic and that the jersey is perfect for late spring and summer riding. The material feels quality and not like the usual polyester or nylon, the vented material is in all the right places helping to stop that overheated feeling you get with some jerseys. Full marks to Rab for the full length zip. the zip is easy to use with one hand and enhances warm weather riding greatly. The sleeves are seamless and stay in place without tight elastic. Three pockets and one zip pocket on the back mean there’s plenty of stash room for essentials or emergency cake stops.

Riding in the jersey is great, it’s comfy and not overly tight but not baggy, perfect for my style of casual riding. Because of the light weight of the fabric you’ll feel like you are not really wearing anything. This does mean that if you overload the rear pockets the weight will pull the hem down at the back and the neck up at the front. stick with bars and gels rather than lardy cake and all is good though.

A great, well thought out Jersey from Rab

Rab Cinder Kinetic Waterproof Shorts

As these were sent out in the middle of March I did worry that I’d not have the opportunity to test these out properly, after all it was nearly spring, best time of the year for riding…..hmmm we then proceeded to get one of the wettest springs for years, frankly I blame Rab!

I’m not going to cut and paste all the acronyms and names of the fabric for these, it’d take up half the page! what you want to know is how they feel and are they actually waterproof. So, feel. to the touch they feel absolutely fantastic, the fabric has such a soft velvety quality to it on the outside and doesn’t feel plastic like on the inside like a lot of waterproof shorts seem to. The blight of waterproof shorts normally for me is the rustle, that awful sound that shorts make when pedalling, well full marks Rab, the rustle here is at a minimum. The shorts are cut for the pedalling position and just wide enough at the knee that if you wanted to wear thin knee pads you could, so good for MTB too. the top of the knee is slightly longer than the back for extra coverage. I think I would prefer a slimmer fit option, I don’t wear pads so don’t need that gap. The size guide again is realistic, there is a pull cord to adjust fit for cafe stops and the fly zipper and press stud fastening is secure. The shorts have two side pockets and two zipped thigh vents which double as access points if you are wearing cargo bibs underneath. The only downside I’d say is they don’t pack down very small to be able to carry them as an emergency short but if it’s already raining before you start your ride they are comfortable to wear over long distances and time.

They claim to be waterproof and I can honestly say they 100% are. One ride of 25 miles home from work took me through 3 torrential rain storms, the kind that fill up your shoes with water within seconds but my backside and legs remained dry, call me impressed. The shorts have a good level of breathability too and on the aforementioned ride I was clammy from the riding effort but no more so than if it was a hot day wearing non waterproof baggy shorts.

Again, well designed, someone who rides a bike must have had a hand in the design. Recommended

Rab Cinder Kinetic Waterproof Jacket

The wet weather again came in useful for testing the kinetic jacket, which has that lovely soft feel the waterproof shorts do. Rab says the jacket has the feel of a soft shell with the properties of a hardshell and I can echo that. The jacket has a non detachable hood big enough to fit over a helmet that features a stiffer peak at the front and a cinch cord to stop flappage. There is a chest pocket and a rear zipped pocket. The jacket is made from recycled materials.

In use I can say the jacket is 100% windproof, waterproof and very breathable. Having a wet spring is good for waterproof testing but also brings higher temperatures with that rain. it’s easy to over heat when doing a long climb or a big effort normally but although I did warm up inside the jacket I didn’t feel uncomfortable. The sleeves are long enough in the cycling position with half elastic fitting, this means you can pull the sleeves up for cooling if the rain stops and you don’t want to take off the jacket. As with the shorts, it’s not a roll up and stash in your bar bag jacket, it doesn’t pack down small enough. I’d watch the sizing on this one though. I normally take an XL in jackets but this one feels quite big, especially when leaning forward on the bike, there seems to be a big space in the jacket bulge between the front and my chest, maybe it was just because i was only wearing a jersey and base layer underneath and in winter when this jacket will come into its own i will be wearing more layers, one to look at carefully. At the end of wet rides I was bone dry underneath. Again impressive.

This jacket is so nice I’ve started to wear it off the bike too….never mind the mud splattered on it!

Rab Cinder Cargo Bib Shorts

I was a cargo short sceptic, I’ll feely admit it but now after trying a few versions I am a big fan so these cargo shorts from Rab with their “Elastic Interface® Gravel Performance chamois” had to be good to compare to the opposition.

Its usually the case that bib shorts need a few wears and washes to mold to your body shape before they feel truly “yours” the Rab cinder shorts were no exception but after those initial rides I found I was a little disappointed I didn’t have two pairs so I didn’t have to wait for them to come out of the wash.

The shorts feature the traditional bib straps and short, they don’t come up to high at the front, so pee stops are achievable without being a contortionist, (I can’t obviously speak for the women’s version in that function) there is a pocket on each thigh deep enough to keep a large phone/banana/sausage roll in without them falling out and two mesh pockets at the rear. The material has a DWR (durable water resistant) coating and Rab say the shorts are body mapped for support and low abrasion.

As mentioned, after a couple of rides I was hooked on these shorts, they feel thick enough to offer some protection in a crash and yet are very light weight. They seem to cosset you in a lovely hugging way that your favourite jumper does. I’m not sure what makes the pad “gravel performance” but it is comfortable over long distances and that’s even on an MTB! The thigh pockets are not baggy and feel secure enough to put something valuable into. I put my phone in mine but obviously that’s a silly thing to do, you wouldn’t want to fall on it so don’t try that at home kids! The leg grippers are unobtrusive and move with you rather than having a vice like feel or flappy. Sizing here is spot on, I’m usually an XL for length being over 6ft and these fit perfectly.

The only downside I can think of with these shorts is that I don’t have two pairs! Can I have another pair please Rab, pretty please with a big hug?

At the start of this review I wondered if Rab had just rebadged an off the peg range of cycling clothing as their own just to be in the scene but I’m now sure that this is not the case.

Rab have sat down and thought about the Cinder range, they’ve used their experience of outdoor wear and applied those materials and know how into their cycling range. From wearing the kit I can tell that whoever designed it is either a cyclist or knows about cycling.

You can check out the Rab cycling range on their website rab.equipment/uk/cinder

The Wild Cycles guys are hosting “Wild Wales” this june/july and you can check out some of the Rab range there

details here

Collins Cycle Works Five point 0 bag review

Bar bags are big news in the gravel/adventure bike world. It almost seems like they have become de rigueur or a fashion accessory and define you as a gravel bike rider over a road biker or MTBer. Utter nonsense of course. Bar bags are a practical way to carry a little bit more stuff than say you would on a road bike. A gravel bike might be headed far away from a road or corner shop so keeping yourself supplied with food, a jacket, a dry place for a phone etc etc so having all that handy in a place you can reach into while still riding is great. I personally hate wearing a back pack or over loading back pockets with stuff so a bar bag is perfect for me.

its not all emergency blankets and tech, you need to carry essentials too!

Patch from Collins Cycle Works got in touch and asked if I’d like to try out a prototype bag he’d developed. Of course I jumped at the chance and made a day of it and a 50+ mile ride over to his workshop to pick it up

The Collins Cycle Works bag differs from the majority of bar bags as it’s rectangular rather than cylindrical. this actually makes more sense as you can put more stuff in a bag with corners and items don’t all end up rolling around the bottom of the bag rattling together. The bag is made from X-PAC VX21 a “climate neutral” fabric that is waterproof and low stretch. it has a dyneema gridstop liner and YKK aquaguard zips. The bag is I’d say weather resistant as although the fabric is waterproof it is hand stitched together so moisture might get in via the stitching.

The bag has two strips of webbing at the rear and comes with velcro attachment for the bars, the lower webbing can be used with a cord to anchor the bag to the head tube to stop any potential flapping. I tried the bag without this and have had no flapping issues even on the roughest terrain despite heavy single items or over loading the bag deliberately. on the front is a vertical zipped pocket which is useful for thin items such as phone, wallet etc. I’ve been keeping my spork and spare gopro batteries in there. Inside, the bag is lined and has an internal zipped pocket. Opening and closing the bag is easy using the double ended zip. Depending on what you have in the bag access is easy while on the move even though the bag doesn’t have a stiff liner.

I’ve managed to fit, phone, wallet, gopro, waterproof jacket, cap, gloves, multitool in at the same time and still had room to fit snack bars. The beauty of the rectangular design is that there always seems a corner to push some more stuff into. I even threaded my cafe lock through the loops on the front of the bag.

The bonus feature of this bag is that it can be converted to a waist bag too. The permanent loops on either side of the bag fit to a spring loaded full adjustable strap with snap buckle. Don’t like the bag on your bars? wear is around your waist. Want to leave the bike and go for a wonder or into your accommodation for the night? unhook the bag, quickly add the strap and off you go.

I have put this bag through the mill, it has seen duty on 4 different gravel bikes and an MTB, it has quietly got on with it’s job despite me trying to force too much stuff into it or strapping stuff onto it. It doesn’t even look used after 3 months of constant use. The material really is hard wearing. because of the constant swapping between bikes i swapped the velcro loops for voile straps as they are quicker to undo. if you are buying this bag for just one bike then the velcro supplied is secure and strong.

The Collins Cycle Works bag is ultra reliable and versatile, they are made to order so you can spec lots of different colours. I really like this product and the fact it is made within riding distance of my house makes it all the more perfect. Collins Cycle works is a one person industry and that personal service and knowing someone’s passion has gone into making it is just icing on the cake.

Collins Cycle Works website can be found here the 5.0 bag will soon be in production, Patch says there may be a few tweaks and it will retail at around £50 see more on the CCW instagram

Smith Optics Leadout Pivlock Sunglasses

Keeping your eyes protected when riding is in my opinion, essential. Trail debris being flicked up, insects smashing into your eyes and the UV of harsh bright sunlight all can at the very least ruin a favourite descent and at the maximum cause irreparable damage to your eyesight. Wearing eye protection is something I don’t even think about when I get dressed for a ride, it’s now so automatic.

So while wearing something to protect your eyes is needed it doesn’t have to be a pair of ugly safety glasses. Why not be safe and look good at the same time? Smith Optics sent me a pair pf their Leadout Pivlock sunglasses to try out.

The Leadout Pivlock shades are a pretty classic design that is more aviator/rayban than the currently fashionable 80s throwback wrap arounds popular today (Smith also do arrange of these too). I love the look of them as they work well on the bike but also in any environment. I actually wore them all day at work as an experiment on their comfort levels. You may wonder how I got away with wearing sunglasses indoors all day and this is because the Leadouts come with a photochromic lens which goes completely clear helpfully making me not look like a sad wannabe rock star at work!

The photochromic lenses work so well and the transition is quick. Quick enough to change from one to the other so going from bright sunlight to shaded forest is easy. I’ve also worn them at night on rides without compromising my vision.

The sunglasses also come with a “chroma pop” low light amber lens for flat light and early morning use. These do enhance the flat light conditions but the photochromic lenses work so well I’ve stuck to those after trying the Pop lens. Swapping the lenses is easy though with Smith’s pivlock system. Just grip the frame and gently pull down the arm and the lens can be removed and swapped.

The frames play well with the Smith helmet I’ve had on test, as you’d expect, but they also sit well with two other brands of helmet I tried. They passed the all day comfort test and the nose and ear rubbers stop the glasses from moving on your face even in sweaty conditions. The non wrap around design means airflow is good so there have been no issues of steaming up. The one thing I’d change is that the right hand lens has the word “photochromic” printed on it and I can just see it out of the corner of my eye when riding and I keep thinking its an insect or dirt and want to wipe it off. In use though it doesn’t affect your vision at all.

Smith Optics Leadout Pivlock sunglasses are a wear all day classic style of eye protection with the versatility of lens that means you only need one pair of sunglasses for all your sport and real life. Now if only they did a prescription version!

More details on these sunglasses can be found on the Smith Optics website here

Smith Network Helmet Review

I’ve always lusted over the Smith (usually known as Smith Optics) helmet range as I really like the styling. Well known in the Ski/Snowboard scene for their helmets and sunglasses would they transfer to bicycle riding or be all style and no substance? Luckily the people at Smith UK sent me a helmet to try out, I guess they are confident in their own product so that’s a good start!

The helmet on the outside looks like the standard hard shell with an expanded foam interior but look more closely and you can see what look like straws on end through the vents. This is a material call Koroyd which gives and extra level of protection while not stopping airflow. Smith has been using this material in their helmets for a while. The helmet also comes equipped with the M.I.P.S. system which claims to reduce rotational forces caused by angled impacts to the head (details on the science of the system can be found here).

The helmet has an internal plastic cradle for fitting with a rotary knob at the back to fine tune the fit. I usually wear a medium helmet and the medium Network fitted well with plenty of adjustment to fit a cap underneath should you choose to. the helmet does come with a removeable fabric peak that velcros in round the brow. The straps have plenty of adjustment and are comfortable when riding.

I received the Nerwork Helmet at the beginning of March and so (it now being almost June) have had plenty of rides wearing it in all conditions, from hot sun, rain and even snow! My one fear about the helmet was the MIPS system, I’ve tried a lot of helmets with it but found most of them fitted with the system all creaked horribly, even some when just moving your jaw to eat and drink. The Network though didn’t in normal use. If you take it off and twist the cradle with force it will creak slightly but that never happens while riding so that made me very happy, I’ve given away other noisy helmets after one ride because of it as it really irritates me…can you tell?

In fact once it’s on your head you forget it’s there, usually there’s an adjustment period while you get used to a new lid but the Network was fine out of the box. As you’d expect the helmet works perfectly with Smith sunglasses (separate review coming) but I found they work equally as well with other brand glasses too. Theres even a suglasses port at the front for those relaxed pro rider moments! The helmet isn’t especially super light but it’s also not exactly heavy either and for the price I think it’s pretty good. There’s also a bewildering range of colours too including some special editions. check out the Smith network range here

the Smith Network helmet is perfect for gravel as it has the extra level of protection for the thrills and spills of off road riding without it looking like a full on MTB helmet. It will also not look out of place on your local road club run either. I’d definitely have another one, I’m just terrible at choosing colours!

Smithy Frame Works Graean Frameset Review

I recently visited Chris Yeomans at Smithy Frame Works HQ in Wales to record a podcast (listen here) about the history of Smithy frameworks and what to expect when asking for a frame to be built. In order to experience the process Chris asked if he could measure me and build a bike that I would like to ride. This would also give Chris more experience in building off road drop bar bikes. Chris has years of experience building MTB and flat bar gravel bikes but wanted to perfect the dimensions and angles needed for a drop bar bike. I could hardly refuse this opportunity so we sat down and I played the customer in a sort of role play (funny how i hate role play when it is in a training session at work but not when it’s about a new bike!) over tea and biscuits in Chris’s house.

We discussed what I was looking for in a bike, how I wanted it to feel, did I want a racy position or a more upright comfy all day riding bike. What was I going to do with the bike, did I need lots of mounting points for bags and bottle, rack and mudguard mounts, how big a tyre did I think I’d want to run in the frame etc etc.

Buying a bespoke bike is a lot of fun, you can literally have anything you want, you are not tied down to what a designer has added to the bike like you would have to when buying an off the shelf, mainstream brand. Obviously if you come up with the idea you want two wheels on the back and one on the front with a lorry steering wheel then Chris may point out the problems with that, although I’m sure he’d love to build something like that. So, you don’t have to be a designer yourself, just have an idea of how you want the bike to ride and what you’re going to use it for, Chris will do the rest.

So I chose a gravel/adventure frame with room for 50mm tyres on a 700c rim in a fairly upright but still sprightly geometry. the frame would leave room for a frame bag and bottles but still be able to accommodate a dropper post if i fitted one. I wanted external cabling for ease of maintenance and an external bottom bracket. Chris designed the frame on some software on his computer around my body measurements and after another tea and more biscuits we had come up with a schematic drawing, now the only thing left to do was build it!

The build started from a set of carefully chosen tubes of steel that Chris than mitred, brazed and filed into a frameset and forks. I can’t believe how simple that sounds but this part of the process is where Chris’s skill comes in. To know how to manipulate those tubes, how to choose how they are butted (thicker internally on the ends where more strength is needed, more on this in the podcast) and then to braze them together has been honed over years of blacksmithing and frame building.

The whole process from start to finish took just over a week. This was because Chris had most of the tubing in stock apart from the flat mount bolt through rear dropouts. It was also quicker as we decided to just add a very light clear coat on the frame. We did this for two reasons. 1 – It shows of the braze-welds to good effect, and i think looks awesome! and 2 – This frame set will be for sale after the review and so the new owner can have the clear coat removed and paint it what ever colour they want. Chris has a great paint shop contact so he can arrange that too.

We could have done the easy thing and added a generic carbon fork but Chris wanted to build a fork in steel. Again, he’s done many MTB and road forks but wanted to do a gravel specific fork. We chose a unicrown design with bolt through drop outs

So the frame was built and I collected it and brought it home to build up and ride it to see if what we had created pedaled how we thought and hoped it might. I had to use parts that I already had, I’m not sponsored by anyone so can’t throw high end bits on this frame. i suspect this is the situation that the majority of you reading this are so I hope that it makes this review a more realistic one.

The tyres are quite narrow on this build, they are 40mm Pirelli cinturato S tyres. There’s a couple of reasons for me putting these on. The first is that if i’d put wide higher volume boots on I’d be experiencing the ride feel of the tyre rather than the frame. narrower tyres at a higher PSI for a time allowed me to see how the frame reacted to rough, stoney and rooty surfaces. Was it harsh and stiff or too flexy? The second is that despite the test period being the UK late spring, we have had a lot of rain and everywhere off road is really muddy, so those soft condition narrow tyres are a must if you want to pedal anywhere. The bottom bracket shell is a 73mm threaded one with an external BB. this was added to run a MTB chainset with a 34T ring. You could fit up to a 36T or maybe a 38T. this frame is pretty much single ring specific to allow the chainstays to curve out to fit a bigger tyre. This is the beauty of a bespoke frame though. if you wanted to run a triple chainset Chris will design the frame around that choice for you. I won’t go into the other parts as the review is about the frameset and the process of having a frame built for you. Please do watch the video below to get more info and insight into the reasons for the design.

Hopefully you’ve had chance to check out the above video where you can see the bike in action but if not here are my thoughts on it.

The design was meant to be a gravel/adventure cross over, biased more to off road than on and I think we achieved that. I don’t want to use the old cliché of “steel is real” but the frame does seem compliant in all the right places. It’s not a magic carpet ride by any means but riding the bike back to back with an aluminium framed bike you can definitely feel the difference. There’s no discernable sideway flex at the bottom bracket though so at no time do you feel all your effort is being lost, pedal turns go straight into forward motion. Riding to some trails on tarmac i was a little worried as the bike handled so well on that surface, turn into a curve at speed and the bike holds its line tenaciously even with the knobbly tyres on, I though maybe we’d got the geometry too biased to road riding. The first venture off road soon put those fears to the back of my mind though.

Over my local routes which are a mix of loam, polished pebbles and exposed roots and muddy single track the bike felt right at home. A good test is to find a section of trails and see if it’s possible to ride no-handed. The bike was stable enough to do this without me hand-hovering over the bars. the more distance I covered the more confident I became. Around here we tend to ride the MTB trails too and I was confident in the bikes ability to drop into some smooth descents, the dropper post will help a lot with this too. The dimensions felt spot on, the tall head tube meant I could ride on the drops comfortably for long periods and also gave me extra control on the rough stuff without feeling too upright.

The most surprising part for me was the fork, I’ve ridden a few steel MTB rigid forks and as they are usually longer length they are generally not too harsh (29″ suspension corrected forks). The Smithy FW fork is shorter and yet seemed to soak up all the chatter from the pebbles and roots. Look down when riding and you can see the very slight fore-aft flex that makes them feel so good. Climbing or sprinting though there’s no unwanted side to side movement. I think this explains the tarmac performance and the road holding in turns.

The one drawback usually with any steel frame is the weight, This frame weights a hair over 2.2kg for the frame. its by no means heavy compared to off the peg steel frames but compared to a carbon frame it does lose out. however this bike is not about being super light, this bike was designed to take you over all terrains in comfort, multiple mile rides where you get up the next day and do the same again, and again the next day. Load the bike up with bags and camping gear and it’s a nice smooth stable ride which means you’ll have energy to spare for pedalling rather than wrestling the bike to stay on track. This doesn’t mean boring though, throw off those bags and this bike will rag through your local single track leaving you giggling and wanting more.

if calling bikes ATBs (all terrain bicycle) was fashionable again then this frame would be definately in that genre.

On this frameset you probably won’t win the UCi Gravel worlds but you could ride it around the world!

The whole process from start to finish has been a joy, Chris has listened to what I wanted and added a few suggestions of his own, communication was regular about different aspects of the build. You could visit Chris in Wales and he’ll happily discuss your new frame while you are both out riding the fantastic trails he has right from his doorstep. After all the designing and hard work in his workshop Chris has come up with this great riding frame and fork.

Oh, and the name, as mentioned in the video above, the frame didn’t have a name when I picked it up and there have been quite a few ideas for it but in the end Chris came up with “Graean” which he tells me is Welsh for “gravel”

To be able to say a bike was specially made for you and you get to choose how it rides and how it looks is a truly great experience and I totally recommend you have a chat to Chris if you fancy something special.

Chris’s website can be found here SMITHYFRAMEWORKS

Squire Straplok 10, Combi 10 and Retrac Max review

I’ll come right out and say it, I really don’t like locking my bike up when it’s out of my eyesight. But, as I ride quite often solo and need to stop to refuel (read-eat cake) it’s sometimes unavoidable. I do choose venues that allow me to see the bike when it is leant up outside though.

My normal life job location means I can’t easily commute by bike so I don’t need a big lock to leave at work or in a bike shed and I certainly don’t want to haul a heavy lock around with me on pleasure rides so I take what I call a cafe lock.

My definition of a cafe lock is something that I can strap around the bike frame to an immovable object while I’m inside buying pastries (but can see the bike through the window). Which will stop the opportunist thief walking past and wheeling my bike away while I’m busy.

No lock is impregnable, given enough time anything can be grinded (ground?) snipped, levered or bolt cut and the two here on test are no different. What they will do, and it sounds harsh, is deter the thief who likes easy pickings to leave your bike alone and take one that isn’t locked up.

So the lock needs to be long enough to go through the frame but not be unwieldy, be light enough that you’ll actually take it with you and have an easy lock-unlock system.

Straplok 10 fits all the wanted criteria and the set given to me comes as a three pack for £44.99 or singles at £16.99 so pretty good value. The length is 450mm so easy to lock a gravel or road bike to say some railings, even a standard mtb. Full suspension or Ebikes with much fatter frames or complicated designs might be more of a creative exercise.

The lock comes with what Squire call a “dimple key” and this just needs to be inserted, not turned and then the sliver bar depressed to release the lock. the lock has a nylon/plastic covering over a 10mm stainless steel core so it shouldn’t do damage to your paint work. The lock is easy to pop in a bar bag or thread through some of the daisy chain webbing you get on bags these days. Pull the lock through tight and it’ll fit in a jersey pocket.

Straplok Combi 10 also fits all the criteria and comes as a single unit at £19.99. Again, length is 450mm with a plastic covered 10mm stainless steel core so all the comments about the key entry Straplok with regards to capacity and ease of carrying apply here too. Where the combi differs though, you probably guessed from the name, is that it has a combination lock. 3 digits on a rotating barrel lock and open it.

Retrac Max again meets all my needs and also has a combination, this time 4 barrels. It has a plastic case that houses 900mm of PVC coated steel cable. You pull out the cable and press the button on the side to retrac(t) it. The plastic feels brittle but has not cracked during the test period and I’ve dropped it on the floor a few times. It is small enough to easily fit in a pocket or bag and is less intrusive than the other two designs

All these locks will 100% do the job asked of it. it will be a very mild deterrent to the casual thief but no more than that. In my circumstances though, that is all i need.

Out of the two locks I much prefer the combi versions compared to the key operated lock for the simple reason I know I would definitely lose the keys! Both combi versions are much better as a take one thing solution to the problem. I like the simplicity of the strap combi to the blue plastic one though. The Retrac is clever with its one button reel-in feature but those inner workings put me off in the event of a jam or weather ingress (neither of which happened during the test I have to add) and to that end after the first few uses of the key entry lock and the Retrac I’ve used nothing but the Combi 10. It threads nicely through the cords on my bag or sits inside my other bag and is very simple to use which is good on a freezing day when hinger knock has struck and you don’t want to be messing about with keys etc. Think of it as a very big lockable cable tie and it gives me a little piece of mind while I choose the best cake to have, and that’s always the hardest thing on my rides!

Santini Cycling Gravel Collection Review

I was very fortunate to meet up with the UK representative of Santini Cycling at a bike show earlier this year and we discussed if Santini would consider sending out some of their cycling kit for me to review. I’m very happy to say that Santini’s HQ in Bergamo came back to me with a resounding yes. It’s great to see that a premium brand is so confident in their product that they are willing to send out kit for an unpaid , unbiased review.


This shirt feels like a luxury item straight out of the package. Its wool blend feels super soft to the touch and the colour is bang on trend for the current gravel style. The fit is slightly fitted but not in any way “racing snake” so it looks good on ordinary people, it also does not scream “cyclist” and I’ve worn it to the pub and at work. The shirt has a lining that feels good against your skin, I have been wearing it with a thin base layer underneath as it doesn’t let any drafts through on cold days. On hotter days the press stud/poppers down the front are exactly what you need to ventilate easily with one hand if need be on a prolonged climb, much better than fiddly buttons. The one thing I’d like to see on this shirt are different cuffs. The cuffs here are just like a long sleeve jersey with no popper/ button so your only choice if you want to roll sleeves up is to just push them up rather that rolling and exposing more arm. There are no chest pockets but there is a zipped pocket at the rear which I found perfect for carrying my phone and a couple of times I’ve stashed a gilet in there in an emergency.

The Dylan shirt is a really great versatile garment that looks just as at home on and off the bike, at time of publishing this shirt retails at £160, not exactly cheap but the great feel, fit and the dual use it’s worth the outlay.


This jersey has a slim fit, so I sized up one size as I’m really not into marginal gains and full aero. if you are, then the sizing guide will be spot on. Going one size up gave me a comfortable but not flappy fit. The sleeves are what Santini call body fit and they are tight but not restrictive. The full length zip (which I think is a must on all jerseys) is great for venting on climbs and is much more elegant when getting dressed in company! I love the colour and the fact it has three useful and adequately deep pockets at the rear with reflective strips at each side.

Definitely a jersey for summer with a thin base layer underneath or spring/autumn with a gilet…..talking of which…


This one is a bit controversial really. As this review is coming out when the temperatures are getting warmer (hopefully) and this vest is really a colder month item so you’d think it wasn’t the best thing for Santini to send as the market for winter stuff is waning, but, this vest is so great styling wise I just really wanted to try it. It is lined with Polartec fabric which is very warm! The centre chest pocket has a zip closure and the whole vest can be folded into this pocket for compact storage. To accommodate this pocket the main zip is offset to the right hand side. There are three deep pockets at the rear and this is a great feature from Santini, too many gilets these days have no pockets so if you need to stash something you have to go under your gilet to get to jersey pockets. No such problems here, the pockets are deep and useful and your phone , even the biggest smartphone will be swallowed up and wont fall out. Now the warmer days are here I’ve been using this vest on evening rides that start off warm but soon chill down, especially if there’s a pub stop! The styling is great, I really love the look of that central chest pocket but this pocket causes the one issue I have with the vest. if you need to vent heat on a climb and unzip, then you’ll have one large flap of vest one side and the remnants on the other and it makes the vest hang weirdly, which is accentuated if there’s weight in the rear pocket.

I can live with the zip position and I can say that this is my favourite of all the kit Santini sent out. There’s also a long sleeve version that would make a cracking winter jacket.


Santini’s Gravel Bib shorts feature what they call their C3 pad which has a gel structure. The short material is super soft against your skin and features breathable mesh on the back of the shoulder bibs, there are two thigh pockets and two pockets at the back, there are reflective strips on either leg.

Cycling shorts take a while to review, normally the first ride is inconclusive as you compare them to your favourite pair. Your favourite pair have been warn many times, washed many times and the pad has moulded to your sit bone and arse cheek shape whereas the new shorts normally are uncomfortable as they just aren’t worn in. it’s only right then to give them a series of short and long rides and many washes to be fair to them. One of my riding buddies asked how much they cost, and replied “they’d better be bloody good for that” when I said they retail at £160.

I say normally, and I really wanted to find something I didn’t like about these shorts to prove that expensive isn’t always better. In this case though you get what you pay for, first ride in these shorts I completely forgot that they hadn’t been worn before, they were that comfortable. The shoulder bibs are wide so they don’t dig in. The thigh pockets are deep enough to give you confidence nothing is going to fall out and the mild compression the shorts give supports your leg muscles. Each subsequent wash has only confirmed my initial impression, these shorts are worth the money.

Massive thanks to Santini Cycling and Santini UK for giving me the opportunity to try these garments out.

find out more about the Santini range here

UK Gravel Collective podcast: Smithy Frameworks

This episode I travelled across the border from England into Wales to chat with Chris Yeomans, main torch wielder at Smithy Frame works.

Smithy Frames Works is a place to get a made to measure hand made bicycle. Chris contacted me to ask if he could build a gravel bike fit for all conditions that the UK could throw at it and asked for my input on the type of features it would need.

Obviously it took me a micro second to say Yes please! and then i thought talking to Chris about what a customer could expect to experience in the bike build process and about the history of Smithy Frame works would be a good subject for the podcast. Chris agreed and the link below will let you listen to what went on on the day I spent in Powys.

As mentioned in the podcast here are the pictures of the things discussed

Chris’s other project, the Flying Gate

listen to the podcast with the link below or jus search for UK Gravel Collective Podcast on your favourite podcast provider

76 Projects Quick Release Piggy Zip Case

In these days of tubeless tyres for bicycles and how efficient they are at stopping puncures it’s easy to forget that you you might at some point on a ride need to put an inner tube into the tyre. When it happens to me it’s usually because I’ve forgotten to check that there is still enough sealant in the tyre. Tubeless systems are so good that I tend to take them for granted. So you’ll need a minimum of one inner tube, a tyre lever to get the tyre bead off one side of the rim, might as well combine that with a multi-tool to save weight and space and a tubeless repair kit to try and plug the hole in the tyre before hand when you go out on a regular ride.

Most of us will have strapped a bag of some sort to the bike or utilised one of the many mounts that come on gravel and mountain bikes these days. but my bag is usually full of sandwhiches, a waterproof jacket, this is the UK after all, a cafe lock and most rides a GoPro because of the UK Gravel Collective YouTube channel so there’s not much room to stuff in the afore mentioned tube etc.

Along comes 76 projects with a solution. I tested their strapless top tube bag way back and found this to be a very convienient system for stopping floppy bag syndrome and portability but now they’ve transfered this technology to what most dyed in the wool cyclists would refer to as a saddle bag. However, your little pouch with stuff in it that you don’t want covered in spray from the rear wheel now has the versatility to fit to any bottle cage mount spaced bolts anywhere on your bike.

This frees up space in your bag or keeps the contents out of harms way. The kit comes with discs that bolt into your mounts and then the base plate of the bag just twists and clicks into place.

The mount is very secure. I’ve tried to put it in unconventional places to test it’s robustness and to see if it would rattle off but everywhere i’ve mounted it to it has stayed exactly where placed. So that’s on the top tube, under the down tube, on the fork leg and even in the traditional bottle position. I trust it so much now i’ve stopped looking to see if it’s still there at the bottom of every bumpy downhill.

The zip is easy to use with gloved or cold hands. it has a small inner pocket for tyre patches or similar and comes with a stabilising strap for extra security, i’ve never used it but you’d might want to if mounting to a downhill/enduro bike maybe? the zip and bag is made of hard wearing and waterproof material and despite many soakings, mud and jet washes it’s remained dry inside.

If you need somewhere to stash small essential items it is perfect, if you have multiple bikes, get two sets of mounts and just swap the bag between bikes.

The 76 projects Quick release Piggy Zip case is a genuine fit and forget item but when you do need it it’ll still be there for you……..but given the efficiency of tubeless systems I’d check that the spare inner tube hasn’t perished before you go on a long wilderness ride!

for more info on this 76 procts piggy case click here (non affiliated link)

Ass-Saver’s Win-Wing Mudguard Review

Mudguards are a necessary evil in the UK, if you want to ride for longer in the winter slop and save your bike from premature wear you have to put up with bolting on a guard that does nothing for aesthetics but does a job. No one likes a gritty wet backside and to have to clean every inch of the bike after every ride. Below is the reality of riding off road , year round in the UK

With conditions like the above a full mudguard is just a wheel seized with mud and having to clear the frame of mud with a stick or carry the bike moment. We’ve probably all faced that at some point if you are a committed off road winter rider. Minimal guards tend to get less clogged but they don’t really work as spray from the rear wheel will get through.

With this in mind I was very sceptical that the Win Wing from Ass-Saver would be any more effective than some of the tiny guards on the market today. But Staffan from Ass-Saver was confident enough in his product to send a Win Wing out to me for just the cost of postage from Sweden to try in the UK mud.

Ass-Saver are probably best known for the little guard that sits under the back of the saddle to stop spray from wetting your bum, and they are very effective at this. They don’t stop you getting mud everywhere else than your bum but if your bum is comfy you are generally happy! Enough bottom talk though lets look at the Win wing. It is literally a thin flap of plastic that fits around a plastic hoop with a pin on the top. the flap has mounting holes drilled into it so you can adjust the angle of the Win Wing to suit your bike (not everyone’s seat stays are the same angle). The hoop fits to your bike’s seat stays with a very simple but tenacious zip-tie like clamp. The clamp once synched up doesn’t move at all and there’s lots of adjustment for the thinnest and fattest stays. The clamp can be mounted and removed in seconds enabling quick swaps between bikes making the guard very versatile. I popped min in the middle position and it’s been fine on 3 different bikes. Once set it doesn’t move. I would however protect your frame, I used some insulating tape, as if a tiny bit of grit gets under the clamp it may remove some paint.

So it fits great, isn’t big and ugly (in my opinion) is easy to mount on wet days and remove on dry rides but does it actually work? I thought the best way to prove this one way or the other was to mount my camera on my seat post looking back at the Win Wing and ride through quite a lot of mud. If the camera got really muddy then I’d say it was a fail, if the lens stayed relatively splatter free it would be a “WIN”

So here’s the video I uploaded to the UK Gravel Collective you tube channel (please like and subscribe)

As you can see from the video, my scepticism was misplaced. The area from the bottom of my seat post to a quarter of the way up my back stayed mud free, my back side was happy and my dropper post didn’t need a clean and rebuild after every gritty ride. Admittedly my legs still got splattered as you’d need a full coverage guard for that.

So, is the Win Wing well named? in my book yes, the fact it does keep the spray off your delicate bits (and my bottom), is super easy to fit and swap to other bikes, is very light weight, won’t clog in even the filthiest thickest mud (I’ve had 2.1″ MTB tyres under it with loads of room) and it’s not super expensive compared to full mudguards is enough for me to recommend it to anyone facing the conditions we ride in in the UK

Now Staffan, lets talk about a UK Gravel Collective Logo version!

You can find out more from the ASS-Savers website here (non affiliate link)

Pirelli Cinturato Gravel S tyre Review

Tis the season in the UK where just about everywhere is under water, there will have been snow, snow melt and lots of rain, it’s winter after all. Those semi slick tyres that ruled the roost through the spring, summer and into autumn are just not up to the task now and in certain conditions are actually deadly. So what are the best tyres for this time of the year?

Pirelli has one of those fast summer tyres in it’s range called the RC, it also has the Cinturato M (tested here) which is a great all rounder but the winter trails need something more specialised to cope with the conditions. Pirelli have come up with the Cinturato Gravel “S” with the S standing for soft conditions.

On test are the standard black wall version in 700x40mm. They popped onto the 25mm (internal) rims I use with ease, in fact just with a track pump. Your experience may differ as there are a lot of variables at work when seating tyres but in this instance the tyres have stayed on the rim what ever pressure I’ve pumped them up or let them down to. The tyres come with what Pirelli call “techwall” which gives a little more puncture/tear resistance and to date, despite a lot of blackthorn hedge cutting I’ve not noticed any damage or sealant escaping.

The tyre centre tread has some wide spaced knobs that are siped to help spread the rubber as it bites into the soft ground, the shoulder knobs are about twice the height of the centre ones and also siped (almost split)

Riding on these tyres my first thought was that they would not be a great rolling tyre on tarmac given the spaced knobs, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised how well they do roll. Not as fast as a semi slick of course but the penalty for off road grip is low and they bowl along quite happily. This may be down to the 40mm width, they are available in 45 and 50mm too which may give more rolling resistance but offer more cushioning. that said, the tyres run at around 32psi front and 35psi rear never felt uncomfortable on bumpy ground.

As you’d expect, where they do come into their own is in the very soft mud. the knobs cut in and find grip like no other gravel tyre I’ve tried, the relative narrowness may help here too as the tyres cut through the sloppy stuff to find firmer ground beneath. Traction is great and if you can pedal you’ll keep moving forward in all but the slimiest mud. Off camber trail riding and cornering are equally as good giving you confidence to lean the bike further and carry speed through the turns. This comes without the twitchiness on tarmac turns you might find with similar tall knob shouldered tyres.

This tyre is pitched as a soft condition specialist and it is, but I think it’s much more of an all rounder than that. if you are not racing and just want a do it all tyre I’d definitely look at the Cinturato S with perhaps a switch to a wider version for the harder ground in the drier months.

I’ve been using this tyre for around 2.5 months through the worst of the UK weather both on and off road and I can detect no discernable wear yet on the tread, so far so good there but of course I can’t comment on anything longer than that.

I know I’m going to have real angst when it comes to swapping these tyres for a different review set as they’ve been so good, unless those replacements are a tan wall set of the same model which may already be in my shopping basket!

more details on these tyres can be found on Pirelli’s website

A chat with Hannah Dobson

the latest podcast episode is now live, I chat with Hannah Dobson, managing Editor of one of the UK (if not the worlds) premier cycling magazines and website www.singletrackworld.com We chat about how she came to be in charge of the content of an award winning bike publication, how she got into cycling, being female in the bike industry, the bike she’d ride if she couldn’t ride any other (this may surprise you), her unusual riding clothing choices and how to attract more people to our favourite pastime.

you can listen by clicking the play button below

Latest UK Gravel Collective Podcast Episode

Alistair Beckett, Designer and Owner at Fustle Bikes

Alistair from Fustle Bikes and I chat about bike design, why the heck you’d start a bike company in a pandemic, just what and who exactly is the #fustlefamily and the ideas behind the Causeway Gravel bike, the Fustle Steel bike project and the future of independent bike brands.

Steel bike series.. on youtube 

Fustle website RideFustle

avaliable to listen to on pocket cast here or via the player below

The UK Gravel Collective Cycling Podcast

Those of you that follow the UK Gravel Collective social media channels may know that I recently started a podcast about……you guessed it, cycling!

I know what you are thinking, oh no, not another podcast and he’s about to say he wants it to be something different etc etc but, although you are correct and I do want it to be different I thought it would be one of the best ways to get the message that cycling, and I mean any genre of cycling, not just gravel riding, is GREAT!

Let me explain, because gravel riding is a relatively new thing (lets not over analyse the fact that riders have been riding “gravel” on all sorts of bikes probably since the bicycle was invented) it attracts people who either haven’t ridden a bike since they were little, want to dabble in some dirt riding without having to buy into the “moto” style of mtbing, all the videos you see are of full face helmets and jumps rather than a nice cross country ride which is probably because it’s boring to watch but awesome to do. Riders who have only ever ridden on tarmac, mtbers who just want to try something different and experienced riders who have ridden all types of bike and want to try the latest fad.

Now if you are new to gravel, or to riding in general, where do you go for advice on kit, bikes, where to ride, how to ride etc? I’d recommend your local bike shop but most people turn to the internet and social media. The internet is fantastic to find products and services but 99% of those websites are trying to sell you the product. So you join a few face book groups or forums dedicated to your sport of choice and this is where the problems lie. Social media can be an intimidating hell for a newbie or and old lag who doesn’t know the ins and outs of the new sport. Anyone who moderates forums or groups knows how quickly things escalate when someone asks an innocent question and then gets flamed for being new, not having “the right bike” or in the worse cases being the “wrong” gender or ethnicity. This makes me sad and disappointed that the cycling community, and I realise it only a few people and you’ll get idiots in every sport, isn’t welcoming to everyone who wants tp ride a bike.

The podcast is my idea to get knowledge out there to everyone who wants to ride a bicycle, from beginners to veterans, without prejudice or fear of asking an innocent question. When it comes down to it I’ll be happy and his goes for all the UK Gravel collective channels, this website, instagram, face book and youtube, if just one person decides to throw their leg over a bike. If that happens it’ll have been worth all the effort of setting it up.

So the first couple of episodes have been uploaded and I’m very pleased to say they’ve been well received. Just like the rest of the stuff I do, it’s not polished or slick, it’s just down to earth stuff that is meant to inspire. I don’t pretend to be an expert at cycling so I’m trying to line up guests who know more than me so that knowledge can be passed on to anyone who wants to listen.

The podcast can be heard on Spotify here anchor here and pocket cast here

Please give it a listen, any feed back or ideas fo future episodes is great fully received and if you want to be a guset drop me an email to Gary@ukgravelco.com

Hutchinson Tundra Gravel Tyre Review

First of all, if you are reading this in a nice dry dusty part of the world where winter means the weather gets a little colder, there’s occasional light rain but you know you can put your ride off until the next day as it’ll be dry, then i feel I need to explain the winter conditions in the UK.

Unless you are in the far north of the union which gets lots of snow then riding conditions in the UK from December to April (and sometimes beyond) can range from damp to full on emergency flood, this means the trails that were dusty in July and August could now be a swamp resembling farm slurry to a deep clay field with the potential to mould a complete terracotta army. In short it is VERY muddy. I get a lot of messages, mainly from the US asking why I ride on these trails as “it trashes them man, we don’t abuse our trails, why do you ride in the weather?” and I always replay that those trails have probably been there and used since prehistoric times and they’ll stand up to many more thousands of years use by foot, horse and tyre. (hooves do a lot more damage, but that’s a whole other debate) and as for riding in that weather? well, it’s the only one we’ve got and it you wait for it to stop raining, it could literally be weeks before your next ride.

In order to ride these trails and stay upright and not spend most of the time lying on the ground you need a decent mud tyre. one that can also handle riding on tarmac without too much rolling resistance. This is difficult for tyre designers, a nice tall knobbly tyre with a soft compound is ideal for squidgy off road conditions but literally sucks on tarmac and those tall knobs will move around when leaning the bike through corners and feel very disconcerting. To date, in my opinion the WTB Sendero is the best mud gravel tyre, however it’s only available in 650b/27.5″ size. There’s no out and out mud gravel tyre in 700c. So you can imagine how happy and curious I was when Hutchinson sent me a pair of their Tundra tyres to try out.

Hutchinson are a French company and so I hoped this was reflected in the design rather than one designed in California!

Labelled as designed for “mixed, rocky and muddy” conditions I popped them on my wheels, and it was a pop, they were a dream to seat on a set of DT swiss rims with no tubeless issues since. They are stated as 700×45 and on 25mm internal rims they measure just under 46mm so pretty bang on. They have a lower central chevron pattern that’s quite well spaced out and a taller knobblier edge on each side to help cornering. They are available in black or (the essential) tan wall versions

Riding, I was instantly surprised how well these tyres roll on tarmac, they emit a soft whine as they scoot along but I’ve never felt that they were holding me back even at off road pressures (approx 32psi front, 35psi rear) and the side knobs that I thought might cause concern when leaning the bike hard over have never been an issue and I don’t even think about it now when changing direction quickly. Would this mean they were more tarmac than mud though? I needn’t have worried, these tyres are great in my local conditions. They grip in the local deep leaf litter, clay and sandy soil very well. if you can keep pedalling they will dig in and find grip add some climbing technique, and I’m no expert, they will continue propelling you forward or upward. They won’t win out in every situation, not even a moto x tyre backed up with an engine will but I’ve been surprised at the conditions they will work in. The tyres also clear sticky mud quickly, something essential for me as the local clay soil clogs tyres and eventually will stop the wheels rotating!

I’ve had these tyres on the bike since the beginning of December and it’s now mid January so I can’t comment on the longevity of the compound but given that they roll so well on tarmac I don’t think they are super soft and will not wear out quickly. really though, where they excel is off road and after all that’s where all the fun is. So are they a contender for best mud tyre compared to the benchmark Sendero? I’d say yes they are and they come in the more popular 700 size. I would say watch your sizing though if you have clearance issues with your frame. 45mm is pretty wide when the tyre is mud covered and starts dragging stones through the frame before they have chance to clear. Hutchinson has you covered there with narrower widths available though and I’ve seen the tyres for as little as £38 each in places which is a bargain in the world of £90 gravel tyres!

For a great all round late Autumn, winter and early Spring tyre you’d be very wise to consider the Hutchinson Tundra gravel tyre.

For a good look at the tyres and how they ride check out the video below

Win a set of Ortlieb Waterproof Bike Packing Bags

By donating to Rider Resilience

I recently reviewed a set of Ortlieb bike packing bags, see the review here these bags were scheduled to return to the Ortlieb UK distributor Lyon Cycle but instead of that I asked if I could give away the (lightly used) bags as a way to generate donations for a great cause. Now you can help out that cause and get yourself that set of bike packing bags worth over £150 by donating a minimum of £5 via the link below

here’s a video I made to explain further, if you don’t have time to watch then read on below

Rider Resilience is a not for profit company with these aims….

RIDER RESILIENCE is a registered not-for-profit community interest company set up to draw on the strength and camaraderie of the bicycle community, to enable anyone in the face of adversity to ride through their hardship.

By encouraging the use of any bicycle as a platform to find resilience, the movement pulls together cyclists to support each other, paying forward the joy derived from riding and in turn making the world a better place.

Our aim is to become a global collective, with riders and brands proud to be affiliated with a recognisable advocacy movement.

Rider Resilience will be a resource from which strength, inspiration and funding for special projects can be drawn, whilst continuously paying it forward.

Check out The Rider Resilience website here https://riderresilience.org/

Nils’s story is one worth reading to see the reasons behind this idea and if you read his story you’ll see why action needs to be taken sooner rather than later https://riderresilience.org/nils-story

Please Donate here to win the bike packing bags and leave the message UK Gravel Collective in the additional info/message box https://riderresilience.org/donate

I know money is tight at the moment but if you could spare a minimum of £5 you will be in with a chance of winning these proven bike packing bags. If you can’t afford £5 right now then please share this website page with someone who can or put it in front of as many other people you can

It would be great if you could subscribe (it coasts nothing) to the UKgravelCO youtube channel too. find it here

Gift ideas for the cyclist in your life

I hesitated to put Christmas in the title as really these items could be given to a cyclist all year round. I know when it comes to birthdays/Christmas etc my friends and family don’t really know what to buy for me. They know I’m mad on cycling and most of the time that’s all they know about it. You then tend to receive, and I know it sounds ungrateful, Items that you will never use. like a box spanner with imperial measurements that only fits bikes up until 1950, a pair of inner tubes- 26″ a sandwich box with cyclist

Its not like you can say “oh I’m saving for a new wheelset” because the gasp of incredulous horror when you mention how much you need to save tends to ruin the moment. It’s at this point I don’t confess that the last tyre I bought for my bike cost more than the tyres on my van

So you can see the problem. They want to buy you something, they don’t want to spend a fortune and you’d like to receive something that will instantly get put on a shelf in the shed and gather dust for the next 15 years.

To try to alleviate the stress on all sides here’s a few items that shouldn’t brake the bank and hopefully any cyclist reading would like to own. You could point the non cyclist present buyer in the direction of this website…..all subtle like.

Firstly, books. Everyone loves a book and here are four editions you should really check out.

Gravel Rides Scotland by Ed Shoote

I reviewed Gravel bikes Scotland earlier in the year and thought this “Gravel Rides Scotland is an excellent book that explores some of the best gravel riding the UK has to offer, the addition of downloadable GPS files is just the icing on the cake. This comprehensive guide is inspiring and makes you want to drop whatever you are doing and go exploring” for the full review click here

Britain’s Best Bike Ride by John Walsh and Hannah Reynolds

Riding from lands end to John O’Groats is probably a route that every cyclist must have heard of. Riders keep reducing the amount of time it takes from getting to one to the other regularly on the recognised shortest route, but what if you didn’t really care how long it took but actually wanted to see lots of things on the way? Britain’s Best Bike Ride is a guide to doing just that. This book gives you the option to take as long as you want (or as quick, there are plans inside for that too) and picks a route that avoids where possible all those awful main roads that quite frankly put me off the whole idea in the first place. Do you really want to slog up the A30? I know I don’t. Britain’s Best Bike Ride guides you on a slightly longer route that takes in back lanes, beauty spots, places of interest and villages that you’d miss on the “official” route. of course, you don’t have to do the route all in one go, you can dip in and out as time and work allows as the sections are broken down into manageable sections. More on road (lane?) than off it can be used with a bit of online study to join up the off road honey spots too. find out more at vertebrate publishing

Great British Gravel Rides by Markus Stitz

Markus Stitz knows a bit about cycling and he knows a bit about route planning, afterall he pedalled around the world on a bicycle with one gear. He also organises the Dirt Dash series of events but even Markus doesn’t know every nook and cranny that can be ridden on a gravel bike in the UK so quite cleverly he enlisted riders from one end of the country to the other who know there area like the back of their hand and it’s those riders routes that make up this guide book. So when it says Great British Gravel Rides you can guarantee they probably are as no one tends to favourite rubbish routes. Get this book and you can tap into local knowledge and get the best riding in the chosen area. Full review here

Cycling Through a Pandemic by Jonathan Heard

This book is quite different from the previous ones listed, This one will not give you routes to follow, there’s no guide to the best places to stay or where your nearest bike shop is but out of all of them I think it’ll be the one to inspire you the most to get out on your bike whatever the weather, circumstance or life event you are currently experiencing.

This book is weighty, it’s a hard back and what used to be called a “coffee table book” but this one isn’t for show or to impress visitors of your reading choice (although I think it will do that too) It’s about ordinary riders in the extraordinary situation that the global Covid 19 pandemic placed every one of us. It’s 350 pages are packed full of stories and experiences of riders who managed to put the world events aside and just glory in the immense mental benefit and joy of a simple bike ride, be it long or short. 10 different stories from 10 different countries will keep you entertained for ages but what will keep you coming back time and time again is the simply stunning photography. The word epic is banded about quite freely these days but this book is worthy of the true meaning of that word.

But, that’s not even the best part. All the profits from sales of the book are sent to the World bicycle Relief fund (at time of publishing this article reaching £6k!) a charity that is a global non-profit charity that mobilises people in developing countries through the Power of Bicycles. Cycling Through a Pandemic can be bought Direct from the author here

Clothing. obviously clothing is a very personal thing and can be very expensive but there’s one item that every cyclist needs in autumn, winter and spring and that’s a hat to put on at the cafe stop to save heat and well. generally look stylish.

This lambs wool beanie from the Hebden trouser Company (HebTroCo) in “pea shoot” green is described by them as a “performance” beanie. I’m not really sure what makes it performance but it is definitely comfortable and despite it looking a really thin material it also keeps you warm. The bonus of the thinness is that the beanie packs down really small so ideal for carrying in a bar bag or back pocket or you could easily wear it under a helmet.

HebtroCo have a unique sense of humour and it’s worth checking out their website even if you don’t intend to invest in a beanie, but you really should, your head and ears will thank you for it, and you can then spend longer sat outside the cafe/pub and that’s just priceless! check them out at HebtroCo

Blowing Hot(and cold air) Even if you’ve upgraded to tubeless (and why haven’t you if not?) you still need to carry a pump. Now, I’m sure you’ve been amused by the bike industry coming up with “e-bike specific” saddles and similar and I did chuckle that this pump from Topeak has “gravel” printed on it. If you look past that and at the details it actually makes sense. The pump has a low and high pressure setting which works because gravel tyres are naturally bigger volume than road tyres and that low pressure setting fills the tyre quickly from completely flat. You then switch to high pressure to finely adjust to your prefered setting. This one has been on my bike in all conditions for a couple of months and has stood up to the rain, spray, mud and even some early autumn heat. It’s one of those things that you forget about until you really need it and so far, when it has come to that situation its up to the task. Its light, has a positive click when engaging with the valve and feels robust enough to last and be there just when you need it.

So there we have 6 gifts that any cyclist would like to receive at any time of the year, I’m publishing it near to Christmas but any of these would make a great present whatever the occasion. they also won’t break the bank so your non cyclist buyer can feel good that they’ve bought something you’ll really use and it won’t empty their purse or wallet.

Copy the page link and use it to guide someone to buy you a great present.

Happy Religious Festival/Birthday/Significant Event or random act of kindness!

Fizik Terra Artica X5 GTX Winter Boot

That’s one heck of a long name for the winter boot from shoe and cycling accessory company Fizik, they say it’ll keep you cycling through winter months but will they only keep your feet warm and dry for as long as it takes to say the long title? Read on to find out.

I tested Fizik’s Terra Atlas shoe a few months ago and was impressed, they became my shoe of choice through the late spring, summer and autumn, you can read that review here. The Artica shoe is based on that Atlas design. At first glance it looks like Fizik has just stitched a neoprene cuff onto the top of an Atlas shoe but there’s a few more things going on under the surface than that.

For a start the shoe has that magic coupling of words written on it, “Gore-Tex” this at the very least reassures you that good quality components have been used and that Fizik hasn’t just come up with their own new waterproof membrane to save costs. The fact that they use Gore-tex indicates to me they want this shoe to do everything they claim it can. The actual membrane is called “Koala” and is not only meant to be waterproof, it’s supposed to be breathable too. This is quite possibly more important. Unbreathable shoes make your feet sweat, your socks get damp and then that damp gets cold and soon after so do your feet. So a water proof and breathable membrane is perfect for a shoe that will face low temperatures, water and have to cope with you exercising and producing perspiration. I’ll be honest, to cope with all that is a big ask and I was sceptical that Fizik’s claims might be a bit out there.

Inside the shoe is a fluffy lining that adds more insulation and feels really comfortable to the touch.

The exterior is made of Polyurethane and it shrugs off knocks and scrapes well. It also cleans off really easily with a sponge and after a few months wear, when I do bother to clean them (who has time for that anyway?) they come up looking almost like new. There’s a velcro strap around the ankle to cozy the collar around your leg and the excellent Boa dial that allows micro fit adjustment and quick release exit. This has the added bonus of not having laces or velcro to get caked in mud that inevitably gets all over your gloves or hands when it come time to take them off and tip toe through the house to the shower. The sole is again the same as on the Fizik Atlas shoe and is grippy in mud and rocks (no material on earth unless it has sharp claws/spikes is grippy on UK winter slime covered tree roots). There is provision for two toe studs per shoe for hike-a-bike duties or running up grass banks in a CX race

Waterproofness is the biggy really, it’s a bold claim to make and I have to say Fizik and Gore-tex’s can shout that claim to whoever they like as I have found these boots to be reliably waterproof. I have stood in streams, ridden through deep floods (see the video below) and my feet and socks have stayed dry. You do have to take into account that there’s a big hole in the top of the shoe though, otherwise you’d not get your feet in them. this means any water going in through that hole will stay there until you empty the shoe,… it’s waterproof from the inside out too you see. I got stuck in an absolute deluge and water spray from the front wheel (and the sky) rolled down my leg and into the boots so they were pretty squelchy but the important thing was my feet stayed warm! Normal road spray, puddle and stream splashes don’t bother these boots at all. I’m still scratching my head over the fact that they can be this waterproof yet still have a perforated outer surface!

Fit is arguably the most important part of any shoe, many “winter” shoes I’ve tried in the past say “go one size up” if you want to wear thick socks or waterproof socks but I always then suffered as i found the cleat pocket on the sole didn’t allow the cleat back far enough and I ended up pedalling with the pedal too far forward producing fatigue and pain.

So, when it comes to the Artica shoe, if you are a person who doesn’t suffer unduly from frozen feet in winter and will wear normal socks, go for your usual size. I wear a 44 usually and the demo boots are a 44 and fit very comfortably with a normal sock. If I wear thick socks (I do suffer from prematurely cold feet on rides) I would have liked to go at least half a size bigger. You can do this with these boots as the cleat pocket is very generous so having a bigger size to accommodate thicker socks will not be a problem when it comes to foot on pedal position. The boots aren’t even a struggle to get on and off, the Boa gives lots of adjustment to allow your foot in and there’s a pull tab at the heel to further aid getting them on.

The Fizik Terra Artica X5 GTX Winter Boot does exactly what it claims to do, keeps your feet dry and keeps them warm. I think there’s some sort of magic going on but dry feet confirm the claims. If you’re looking for a non bulky, well made boot with good fit and in my opinion, good looks there’s not many, if any other boots I’d look at.

For another view and footage of me riding through a flood wearing the boots, check out the UK Gravel Collective youtube channel below in a special section I’m calling The Complete S*** Show please don’t forget to subscribe!

Ortlieb Waterproof Frame and Seat Pack Review

In the last few years Bike packing has become more and more of a buzz word, Inspiring stories of self supported round the world rides and events like the Tour Divide and Silk road race are all over social media and you tube. The big bike companies have jumped onto that bandwagon and epic grainy pictures of people “suffering” are gold to certain companies marketing departments. It’s nothing new of course, it used to be called bicycle touring and people have been out camping with their bike probably since bikes were invented.

However, In reality when you look at how many cyclists there are in the world very few of them are taking all their worldly goods with them on multiple week journeys to remote parts of the globe. Most of us might ride a few miles and bivi down in some local woods just to experience the night sounds and the vista of an early morning sunrise and others, myself included, are riding from home or from a vehicle and stopping over night in a B&B or a pub that has accommodation. Credit card camping is another phrase I’ve heard it called.

Some of us just need to carry a change of clothes suitable for a walk from the hotel room to the bar or from the room to the pub for dinner. We don’t need maximum capacity to carry every necessity as we’re not in the wilderness. If we get hungry we don’t need to build a fire, there’ll be a Greggs just off route we can replenish our energy in. What we do want however is for those clothes you are going to change into and your electronic devices to stay dry if the weather or the route is soaking wet. Luckily the guys at Lyon Cycle sent me a frame and seat pack from Ortlieb that claims to do just that, after a couple of months use, this is what I found.

Ironically what I found first of all was that the Ortlieb bags repel rain very effectively. In that for the first three weeks of use the skies refused to release any moisture whatsoever. Ideal for riding but not for testing waterproof claims. Even when rain was forecast it didn’t appear!

This is the UK though and so it really wasn’t long to wait before a prolonged period of rain set in and the true test could begin.


The catchily named Frame-Pack RC Top tube, (I suppose it does exactly describe what it is if RC stands for “roll closure”) is a 4ltr capacity bag that sits under your top tube. Weirdly the Ortlieb website says the “width” is 50cm but I can tell you my tape measure says the length is 51cm so I presume that’s a translation error. It’s 13cm high and 6cm wide. It’s made from a non upvc plastic with adjustable velcro staps that fit around the top tube and bright red bungy straps that hold the roll over closure securely shut. (see video below for how they work) Velcro straps also fix the bag to the down tube and seat tube of your bike. the bag is secure and doesn’t waggle about even when loaded on even the skinniest of frames. There is one main compartment with no pockets in side. 4ltrs doesn’t sound a lot but the nature of the roll top means you can get quite a lot of stuff inside. Ortlieb say 3kg is the max load. the bag itself weighs 200g

The bag is as claimed, 100% waterproof, anything you put inside will stay absolutely dry. However, if you are packing or unloading the bag in a rain storm that one big opening means it could fill with water while you are messing abut and being waterproof it’s going to stay inside the bag until you can dry it out. This also brings to the fore the fact that this one roll top opening with 3 bungy straps to undo and seal it means the bag is awkward to access while riding. These bungy straps with the plastic clips they fasten to did worry me as I thought they would catch on my shorts while riding. This didn’t happen though until i deliberately over loaded the bag, just to see if it was possible and then it only caught if I was wearing baggy shorts. with normal loads even MTB style baggy shorts were fine.

The Ortlieb frame pack RC fits the brief of light touring/B&B touring or commuting perfectly. It’ll keep all your bits and pieces perfectly dry between stops. If you need to access the bag for snacks while riding and don’t want to try undoing the whole thing or stopping then Ortlieb do a version without the roll top that has a waterproof side entry zip. or you could run a feed bag etc EDIT I’ve since practiced undoing and then re-doing the roll top while riding. it is possible and undoing is easy. doing back up and rolling is the hard part and you have to take your eyes off where you are going so not recommended.

If you want a waterproof, easy fitting, robust bag (this one has taken a few knocks and just wipes clean)that you can get a surprising amount of stuff in for local bike packing, B&B touring or keeping your suit dry for work (do people still wear suits?) then the Frame Pack RC is definitely one I’d recommend.

Ortlieb Seat Pack QR

The ortlieb waterproof seat pack is made from the same material as the frame bag and shares the same waterproof properties.

Ortlieb say this back is dropper post friendly and it is! This is because it differs from normal seat packs as it doesn’t affix around the shaft of the seat post in the normal way. In the box is a selection of clamps that bolt around the thinner telescoping part of the dropper post. The stabilising strap from the bag then Velcro’s around this. You will loose a small amount from the total drop of the post but for most gravel bikes you don’t need to drop the post a lot for a great increase in confidence. You could of course use the strap on its own around a standard seat post. The other attachment point is around the saddle rails. The bag clamp here is adjustable with 4 bolts depending on how much seat rail you have showing. If you only have one bike this will be a one time adjustment. The position of the clamp also dictates how much weight ortlieb recommend putting in the bag. The instructions on how to fit the pack are clear and easy and refreshingly they come in the box! The saddle rail clamps shut with a satisfying click and once set the camp ends can be cinched down with the attached webbing straps. It’s a very good, well thought out design.

The bag is a roll design too and means small or larger loads can be accommondated and stabilised by rolling the closure tighter. There is another strap that holds the rolled up part secure too. On one side of the pack is a little valve, similar to those on an air bed and it can be opened to let all the trapped air out when rolling the bag to get the tightest compression to aid stability and reduce size. I stuffed the bag to capacity and deliberately added most of the heavy items at the rear to try to destabilise over rough ground or when climbing out of the saddle. I can report the bag stayed just where it was and there was hardly “waggy dog” feeling.

The pack is 28x48x22cm, has a 13L capacity and weighs 625g Ortlieb say it’ll take up to 3.5kg of kit (depending on the seat rail position) there are four sets of cinch down straps, two per side and one at the rear. The pack is one big container with no internal pockets but it does have a handy bungy cord on the outside which I used a few times when rain stopped as I didn’t want to put my wet jacket on the inside.

The seat pack is a very versatile bit of kit. The quick release nature of it means you could keep all the things you want to take into the pub/work/hotel in it and be able to leave the bike in secure storage without having to ferry things back and forward. Then the next day just clip on and go. It suffers the same thing as the frame bag because it will fill with water if you find yourself in a rain storm. The reality of that though is that you’ll probably be looking for some sort of shelter before doing it so I don’t see that as any sort of drawback.

The two waterproof packs from Ortlieb are excellent and quietly get on with the job of keeping your stuff dry with minimum fuss. I’d like to see a lighter coloured interior as in the dark things tend to just disappear into the abyss but other than that i can’t really find a fault with either of them with the brief they come with.

Perfect for short bike packing trips, commuting or carrying and extra layer or two for the winter night rides to a pub. take a look at the video below for a close up view on both bags and don’t forget to subscribe to see more videos like this.

you can find out more about the Ortlieb packs here and ortliebs website is here

New Forest Off Road Club Revisited

Back in 2021 I published an interview with Nic from the New Forest off Road Club to see what this fledgling group trying to encourage women and to promote women led rides and cycling communities throughout the UK and around the world was all about. You can read that interview here

I bumped into Nic at the Bespoked Bicycle show at the Lea Valley Velodrome recently as she was exhibiting her bike on the Stayer Bikes stand and she suggested it would be a good idea to do a “how it started, how it’s going” style article to update readers on what has happened over the last nearly 18 months. It’s surprising how much has been packed into a pademic and lock down ravaged period of time.

Here’s what Nic had to say

It’s been over 12 months since Gary got in touch inviting us to write an article for The UK Gravel Collective website. I thought I’d do a little review of what we’ve been up to in the last 12 months. 

Oh, and we won bikepacking.com’s ‘community of the year’. 

It’s been a wild ride and we’ve loved every minute. 

What’s next?

Bike mechanic qualifications. We don’t have any women bike mechanics in our immediate network and we want to fix that. We continue to fundraise through various events and workshops and we are researching to find the most comprehensive bike mechanic course. If any of the UK Gravel Collective readership have any recommendations, we would love to hear them!

Most immediately we are running a 3 week, virtual course for bike communities. This 3 week, virtual course is designed for people who want to increase the reach and integrity of their community. We’ll work through how to carve out your core beliefs, how to share your story, and how to collaborate with people who share your vision. 

The course would be most relevant to people who are part of cycling spaces that have the opportunity to be more diverse and inclusive. 

We’d love to see UK Gravel Collective readers there!

As we said last year, huge thanks Gary for your constant support and encouragement. We appreciate it and the glow of your support helps to power us around the forest!

Hope to see you on a trail soon, Nic and the New Forest Off Road Club.

Thanks for the update Nic, you, your ride leaders and NFORC community have been so busy! It’s very inspiring to see and I know from talking to other riders around the country that your team’s example has motivated many other groups to start up and just go out and ride a bicycle for the sheer enjoyment of it without the pressures of trying to conform to “how it’s supposed to be” and long may it continue. more diverse bums on saddles is hopefully the future.

As mentioned above |if you are reading this and have any ideas to help NFORC with the mechanics courses, ideas for events or just want to ask for advice you can DM Nic via insta at @newforestoffroadclub/ or via me at @ukgravelco and |I’ll pass the message on.

Bar Bag Grouptest

Bags from Rapha, Restrap and Wizard Works

I often get asked which bar bag is the best for a gravel (or any other bike for that matter) and it’s always a difficult question to answer as everyone’s bike is different. I also get asked why I don’t put stuff in my jersey pocket. The answer there is if i put all the stuff listed below in my pockets the jersey might collapse, I don’t always wear a road cycling jersey so have no pockets to use and finally, if you’ve ever ridden off road in the UK most of the time anything in a back pocket will soon have a coating of mud.

The things riders need to carry is different too and how they configure their handlebar is different. For example i use a GPS computer but it sits on a mount that is attached to the top cap on my stem. many people prefer the out front computer mount that attached to the actual handlebar and this can mean the computer interferes with the way a particular bar bag opens and functions. Some people will be bike packing and fill their easy to access bag with snacks and necessities that they need on the go so a bag that is easy to open and close again without stopping is the ideal for them. Others are just out for a day ride with no time stresses so stopping and accessing the bag isn’t an issue. Cycle commuters might want to fill the bag with a light for emergency use, tubes and a pump and a weatherproof jacket etc etc. So you can see there are lots of needs and I can only base this review on the sort of stuff I carry in a bar bag. Here’s the not quite definitive list of things I’ve put in the review bags.

A GoPro and mini tripod, Gore Shakedry jacket, inner tube, multi tool and tubeless repair gadget, cycling cap and my phone. these go in every time. At other times depending on the bike I’ve added a mini pump, at least two sandwiches and lately some gloves. All the test bags were able to carry this amount of stuff easily, some with room to stuff other things in and some at capacity.

The Rapha Bag

First off let me say that Rapha did not send this bag to me. I’ve asked in the past for items from them and they told me they do not support independent reviews, make of that what you will. I know that their bar bags are very popular though so I purchased one for this test. One to see what they are actually like and two to see what Rapha are afraid of when they haven’t paid for a review!

The Rapha bag differs from the Restrap and Wizard Works bag in that it is a rectangular design rather than a barrel shape. It’s capacity is 2L. Made in Vietnam the bag’s material has a smooth almost artificial feel to it and that has proved to be fairly durable and shower proof. the interior is lined on the back facing the bike and on the front facing forwards. The front lining also has two interior mesh pockets, these are useful to keep cards or keys separate from the rest of the contents and stop all the rummaging about at café stops or petrol station picnics. The bag also has a front zipped exterior pocket which is also useful for quick access. I used it to great effect for storing travel tickets. The fastening system on the Rapha bag works well and easily clips together over handlebars and can be cinched down and locked if carrying heavier loads. The plastic clips do rattle annoyingly when riding though even when tightened down. They do not however come loose over bumpy terrain. The bag has a stabilising strap that fits around the bike head tube and it does a good job of stopping the bag from bouncing around. The straps have limited placement points though and if you run lights, a bell or other stuff on your bars there maybe issues with fitment especially if you want the bag dead centre.

The bag has no stiffener inside and as such heavier items do find their way to the middle and you can suffer a bit of saggy bag syndrome. The Rapha bag is the only one of the three that comes with a carry strap as standard and this is useful as the quick release nature of the mounting clips means it easy to take the bag with you if you leave the bike. There have been no durability issues throughout the test, I have heard that the mounting points have had warranty issues but nothing of that nature has happened.

The placement of the zip may make access slightly more difficult if you use an out front computer mount.

The Restrap Bag

Restrap very kindly sent me one of their Cannister bags to try out when I asked them If they’d like to join the grouptest. The fact that they are confident to do that is notable when you choose which bag you might like to buy.

The Restrap Cannister bag has a barrel design and is hand made in Yorkshire of a cordura fabric with one YKK zip along the top. The capacity is 1.5L. The interior is lined with a contrasting colour material which aids finding stuff in low light conditions. This also stops rattling of items such as keys etc, some of us absolutely hate that! There are no inner pockets but the cannister does come with a pocket at each end of the exterior and those are elasticated. There is a light loop on the front but non of my front lights were compatible with the loop and so I wasn’t able to try it out.

The retention system is a simple webbing strap and clasp, these are fixed in position so there’s no way to adjust them for bar items, I struggled with this on night rides where the light mount forced the bag to one side, aesthetically not at all pleasing, good job it was dark! The bag has a headtube retaining system that uses paracord and a spring clip. This is easy to use and secure. Once cinched down and the clip is in the lock position the straps did not come loose even with heavier items inside. Restrap provide sponge spacers which fit on the straps to enable you to get you fingers behind the bag and allow more hand positions. Unfortunately because there is nothing stiffening the bag this just seemed to make the saggy bag syndrome the cannister suffered from even worse. I had no trouble with hand positions on the other two bags that don’t have these sponge spacers.

The cordura fabric is pretty bomb proof and the bag looked the same at the end of the test period as it did at the start. There are no rattles from the straps but the fixed nature of those straps and the sagginess was a disappointment. Fix these issues and it’d be a top quality item.

Wizard Works Lil’ Presto Barrel bag

Wizard Works also wanted to join in the grouptest fun and their bag is hand made by a small team in London, they sent out a Lil presto barrel bag straight away after I contacted them.

The Lil’ Presto is another cordura bag this time with a YKK “aqua guard” zip along the top. There is webbing along the front and the rear of the bag allowing many mounting options so no issues with cluttered bars or the bag being off centre. The retention system uses Voile straps and what an absolute delight these are to use, easy to cinch down or adjust even when riding. The Voile Strap fixing is easily the best out of all three systems on the test. The bag is secured around the head tube to stop unwanted movement with a paracord and spring clip. Even here there are 3 mounting points. There are no internal pockets but the bag is lined and is what Wizard Works call a “hard shell” design. in short this gives the bag structure and rigidity so no saggy bag syndrome here. The lining also stops rattles from items jiggling on the harder shell. There is a pocket externally either end of the bag but these are not elasticated

The bag proved to be durable, weather proof and I’ll admit because of the design it was the one I used to most, It has only slightly more capacity that the next biggest bag on test from Restrap but it was surprising how much stuff the Lil’ presto could take. Being able to open and close the bag was great for snacking and especially for me as I’m constantly taking the GoPro and tripod in and out if the bag. An out front computer mount may slow this down though

The lil’ presto can be used with a shoulder strap but you’ll have to buy that separately. The Wizard Works bag is around £20 more than the other two but for the numerous mounting options, the voile straps and the hard shell design I’d say it was totally worth it.

To make the bag perfect I’d add a paracord “bungy” strap to the front just for those emergency sausage roll purchases when the bag is already full. Luckily for a few quid more Wizard Works will do a custom bag including colours

mounting tips

All three bags on test sit low enough to run a light on the bars without effecting the light pattern on my bike but your bike might be different. The best tip for mounting I can give is give your cables and hoses a trim. Long cables sticking out the front of the bike will interfere with the bag and make it sit higher or give issues when turning the bars. Nice short (obviously not too short!) cables also look great when there’s no bag on the bike too.

You can find more details about the bags below (non affiliate links)



Wizard Works

FFWD Drift Carbon Wheelset Review

well tested FFWD Drift wheels

This was as much a test of me as it was the FFWD wheels as I was a big sceptic of carbon fibre when it comes to wheels. This stems from me buying, rightly or wrongly (that’s a whole other issue that probably needs a separate article) an open mould frameset direct from China a few years ago. It was creaky, flexy in places it shouldn’t have been and stiff where it make the ride uncomfortable. Could these wheels win over my pre conceived ideas about carbon rims? It was with intrigue I accepted the offer of a demo set of wheels from FFWD via the UK distributor Extra UK.

The Drift is FFWD’s first gravel specific wheelset. It’s available with either FFWDs own hubs or DT240 hubs, my review set came with the latter. The wheelset I tried out was one of the first available in the country and as such had had a hard life in the hands of other reviewers so they weren’t exactly pristine looks wise but the bearings were smooth. The freehub on the 240 hub is the DT EXP ratchet which on early models (as this was) had some issues of wear. This wheelset had those issues but Extra replaced the parts on behalf of DT Swiss and I can say that after the great back up from both companies I had zero hub issues throughout the test. If you are buying the wheels now they will have either a different, uprated ratchet or have been replaced with one so no worries there.

The ratchet has a very pleasing buzzing sound but the noise, or lack of, I liked most was that the 36mm deep section rims don’t make that very annoying rumble when riding on tarmac that deep section rims always seem to. This medium height also means the wheels are not eyeball shakingly stiff when riding off road. Plenty stiff enough to stop unwanted flex though. 24mm wide rims allowing up to 60mm tyres will also add to the comfort levels. I also like that the graphics on the rims aren’t BIG AND SHOUTY! as you seem to get on a lot of deep section wheels these days.

The rims are tubeless ready and come pre-taped. Just fit the supplied valves, add sealant and away you go. I tried two different companies tyres on these and both sets inflated and seated onto the rims with just a floor pump. they also held air effectively throughout the test period.

I have ridden on these wheels a lot. From familiar local routes, long days out in the Wye valley, Cannock chase, Malvern hills and weekends in Wales and they haven’t missed a beat. The biggest compliment you can give a product is when you forget about it being fitted to the bike and just get on with the riding. I’ll admit the first few rides I tested the water a lot thinking the wheels might be fragile, all part of my carbon phobia but from then on I just rode like i normally would. That is to say without finesse and with little skill! Sorry Extra UK and FFWD but these wheels have had a damn good test, down steps, over rock gardens in Wales on trails where a MTB would probably have been better. Rooty trails of muddy goodness and through the urban jungles of Birmingham. They haven’t missed a beat. If forgetting that the product is bolted to your bike is the best compliment you can give then these wheels are totally forgettable. Stiff enough for sprinting and climbing somehow they manage to be comfortable on rough down hills too. There’s some sort of carbon magic going on to achieve this.

The wheels stayed true despite my best efforts to bend them. I’ll admit I had to check them after a particularly rocky descent in Wales where I could feel the rear rim banging into the rocks and step downs on a fast section but I could see no damage and the rear tyre stayed inflated too. The spokes are aluminium and haven’t moved or needed a tweak throughout the test. At just over 1500g these wheels aren’t super light but do weigh considerably less than the alloy rims on my usual wheelset. This can be felt on climbs and accelerating the bike back up to speed after stopping. They are reassuringly not super light though and they gave me confidence that I never thought I’d have on a set of carbon rims.

There are a few carbon wheelsets in this weight range so the FFWD Drift wheels have some competition for your money but not all of those have been specifically designed for gravel riding, most are a road/gravel compromise. The Drift wheels fit the bill for UK gravel riding and could I’m sure double up as a road rim. That would in my opinion be a total waste of the design though.

As the weeks went on and I used the wheels over and over again I grew more and more confident in them and now at the end of the review period and they need to be sent back I’ve realised how much I’m going to miss them! I really don’t want to give them back and go back to my alloy rimmed wheels. The FFWD Drift wheels have if nothing else cured my fear of carbon, or this carbon wheelset have at least!

If I had the spare cash I’d splash out on a pair of the FFWD Drift wheels no question.

You can find more details on the FFWD Drift wheels from the FFWD website here

A Day in Wild Wales with Wild Cycles

I recently met and interviewed John and Jon Heard from Wild Cycles and they were already organising their mini cycling festival near the Welsh/English border in the New Radnor area. They asked if I’d come over and experience what the weekend would be like. Sadly, family commitments meant I could only get over there for the day. The weather forecast was good though so I got up early and drove over to see what it was all about.

It turns out though that I didn’t get up early enough. From previous experience it seems whenever you are travelling through the Welsh lanes you inevitably get to crawl along behind a hay lorry or tractor, or in this case a cavalcade of 4x4s pulling livestock trailers going to a show just outside Prestigne. This meant apart from blocking and seeing a few riders along the tiny road up to the farm venue with my vehicle everyone else had already left by the time I got to the start. I had a quick word with John Heard and then started the 45km route Wild cycles had sent to me previously. I didn’t even have chance to check out the campsite as the parking was at the top of the hill, no matter, I was eager to hit the trails. I could have done the shorter route or the longer 70km route that had been sent out as a GPX but John said the medium route had the best scenery so the medium distance it was.

Starting out in the valley I was soon pedalling down quiet lanes and almost forgotten roads. The route was interspersed with bridleways, green lanes and lots of gravelly single and double track. One minute you’d be travelling across a field full of sheep, the next heading through a gate into someone’s driveway. All legal of course. In fact there were warnings for 4x4s and motorcross bikes to “slowdown across the garden” in a couple of places!.

Soon though, the route turned and the first section of climbing began. I can’t pretend there wasn’t some effort needed but I’m no professional cyclist and I managed it, I just took my time, stopped and checked out the view if I needed a breather and cycled at my own pace. After around 10 miles I met my first other rider on the route. We had a chat while stopped at a gate and it turned out he was from Siberia! That put my 50 mile journey to get there into perspective! We were riding at different paces so I carried on through increasingly more and more impressive scenery. The next climb took me up very high and the track had that right out there in the middle of nowhere feel. It was around 15 degrees and the weather was very pleasant to ride in but you could see how exposed it would be in wintery conditions. It was hard to ride and not gawp at all the hills in the 360 degree vista all around me. At the next gate I met up with around 10 riders waiting for someone to fix a puncture and one of them was Jon Heard! This group were also on the 45km route so i decided to ride with them. One, to see what the others thought of the ride, organisation and camping but two, and the main reason was that it’s a lot easier in a big group to manage gate opening and closing than if you are on your own!

At the top of a climb Jon said there was a pub at the bottom of the next descent and would it be an idea to stop? around 10 incredulous riders just looked horror struck that he had even considered not stopping!

Can you have a oasis in a paradise? well The Hundred House pub might as well have had palm trees and be in a desert. Local beers and great chips were consumed while everyone just chatted about the ride, themselves and anything really. There was a great mix of people of all abilities and genders. Wild Cycles had ring fenced tickets to try and encourage a diverse range of people to attend and it seemed to have worked. Replenished and after the inevitable pub beer garden punctures you never noticed had been fixed we began the last climb of the day. It was a hum dinger at around 8km long but the group just chatted it’s way up taking it steady and at the summit one of the girls produced a packet of ginger nut biscuits to share, absolute life saver!

We’d reached the high point. I don’t know if you are like me when driving through the countryside and see a radio/TV transmitter on top of one of the highest hills in the distance and wonder who goes up there to maintain it and what the view must be like? Well today it was us! a trig point and transmitter stood next to us but we hardly noticed as the view of the Black mountains, Brecon beacons and much much further away just took your breath away. So worth the climb to get here!

What goes up must come down though and wow, what a final descent, it had everything, grass shutes, sheep filled heather, rocky single track, full speed ahead double track, flowing turns and if you wanted, on the limit turns. Epic is a very frequently used word to describe every little thing these days but I can truly say the downhill, which incidentally finished back at the camp site was epic in the truest sense of the word. Everyone got back with a huge grin on their face. Tired, ready for a beer but gushing about how good the route and the day had been,. I was one of them, I even high fived John Heard when I saw him in the group area in the campsite. I can honestly say it’s one of the best days out on the gravel bike I’ve had.

Back in the campsite, beers were opened, home made strudel was scoffed and the fireside chatting began while we waited for pizza to be cooked. There’s a community kitchen in one of the massive yurts so you can just go and boil the kettle yourself if you want, there’s no airs and graces, everyone just mucks in.

As I sat there, watching the groups of riders roll in from their day out in the hills I realised how different this had been from the other gravel events around today. there’s no strapping on of a “race” number or a checkpoint you must reach for fear of being pulled out by marshalls. There’s no average speed and hundreds of riders. If you wanted to ride these routes on your own for a real wild experience as fast or as slow as you want you could, want to ride with mates? no problem and if like me you hook up with people you don’t know who seem to be going at a pace comfortable to you it’s the best thing ever.

pic by moloko cycling

if like me, “sportives” and mass start events just aren’t your thing or you just want to experience an ultra friendly atmosphere where it seems like nothing is too much trouble for the organisers get to a Wild Cycles event. I was gutted to have to leave and miss the folk band that was playing in the evening.

The gravel cycling in this area is absolutely outstanding, the views and the trails are sublime. Totally worth seeking out. I’ll confess though that the friendly atmosphere and laid back ethos was what made the day for me, I felt instantly at home and the riding was just the cream on the strudel!

Be careful though, once you experience this type of weekend you won’t want to leave and if you do leave you’ll be planning the next visit immediately.

read more about Wild Cycles here

Surly Ghost Grappler Review

I’ve always had a soft spot for Surly bikes ever since the 1990s when I lusted over a Surly 1×1 singlespeed frame that at the time I just couldn’t afford and had to make to with bodged mtb frames with various singlespeed adaptors. Surly have always been about steel frames. No nonsense, well designed and versatile they seem to be the bike that people buy and just do what ever the heck they want with them, drop bar bikes with Alt bars, mtb’s with moustache bars, mixed wheel sizes and lots of racks and rider mods added. They do produce full bikes though and when the UK’s Surly distributor asked if I’d like to try one of their newest full build bikes, well I was hardly going to say no was I?

Made from a chromoly steel that Surly call “Natch” the frame and fork have that skinny look that you only get with a steel bike. the welds look good and Surly treat the steel to an anti rust coating, something you need to think of if riding steel bikes in the UK. The frame set has 110/148mm boost spacing which means it’ll fit frankly humungous sized tyres (27.5 x 2.8mm or 29 x 2.1mm). the frame also supports “gnot boost” too so you can adapt it to run 142 as well. The headset is an old fashioned 11/8 which means you are pretty much locked into the fork that it comes with, but then why would you want to change it? The Bottom bracket is threaded and external (yay!) All the cables are external except for the dropper post but even that is only internal through the bottom of the seat tube so easy to fit and maintain. There are so many bolts on the bike you could fit enough baggage to probably carry clothing and provisions for a 2.4 person family! frame and fork racks are fully catered for as are mud guard mounts. The frame dropouts are slotted so a single speed or hub geared version of the bike is simple to do if that’s your thing. The frame comes in a Sage green colour which has split opinion between my riding buddies, some just do not like it at all, whereas I actually love it.

The parts that Surly bolt to the frame are not your usual fare of Shimano/Sram gearing. The shift/brake levers are Advent X from Microshift as is the rear derailleur and 11-48T 10 speed cassette. The Samox chainset is 1 x and has a 32T chainring. A very MTB style gear ratio. The wheels are made up of Novatec hubs laced to 40mm 27.5 WTB rims with 2.5mm Teravail Ehline tyres. The test bike came with a TransX dropper post activated by the redundant left hand shift lever. Stopping duties are offered by tektro rotors and cable operated tektro calipers. A salsa cowchipper handle bar and WTB volt top off the build.

Steel is definitely not the lightest material to make a bike out of and the Ghost Grappler can in no way be described as light. However, weight is not always the be and end all. How the bike feels when you ride it and how it handles is much more important. Especially on a bike that has the potential to be able to carry enough kit and supplies to take you around the world a few times. light and twangy is not the way to go in that instance. reassuringly solid and flex in the right places is the way to go here. Off road manners are good, the bike is stable, but at the same time it doesn’t corner like an oil tanker, which is just what you want if it’s loaded up. You can trust the bike to get you through rough sections and still make those “crap, I’ve only just noticed that” turns. Perfect for an engaging ride or a tired rider at the end of a long day.

The tall head tube means a riding a predominantly on the drops position is attainable without being in a racing tuck. The drops offer the most control over rough ground so this is a good option to have. You can of course slam the stem if you feel the need and use the hoods. As you can see from the pictures I ran the stem at various levels and because it’s a review bike that goes back to the distributor I couldn’t trim the steerer length, even if someone on instagram did tell me to “sort out the chimney on that bike” 🙂

The sloping top tube gives crotch room safety but again the tall headtube means a good size frame bag can still be fitted. the top tube follows modern convention and is quite long so even with a short stem it doesn’t feel cramped. It’s probably not a bike for hucking drops to flat but neither is this rider. What it will do though is cover off road ground efficiently belying its weight. the 2.5″ tyres offer great grip and traction and with the low gearing most inclines off road are dispatched easily (if you have the legs obviously) The draw back of these great performing off road tyres is quite a bit of rolling resistance when it comes to tarmac. The low gearing that was your friend on the dirt now holds you back on the black top, especially if you are riding with friends with a more traditional gravel gear ratio.

I was looking forward to trying out the Microshift gears and they are actually a revelation. A nice clunky shift, Lever action a sort of cross between Shimano and Sram but smooth and never missed a shift. The rear mech too worked flawlessly and the built in switchable lockout on it kept the chain seated on the chainring throughout the test. The 10 sprockets on the cassette gave a good spread of gears. 10 speed also giving the bonus of cheaper prices when it comes to replacing worn parts. I have to mention the brakes though. The cable operated tektro brakes are just not up to the task, no matter how I tried to set them up, they lack power and the front brake pulsed alarmingly, this pulsing maybe from previous testers misuse though and wouldn’t occur on a brand new bike. The power issue though is down to the brakes and would be something I’d change straight away. I’m not against cable brakes at all but there are much better versions out there.

It’s a fun ride, no doubt about it. The bike gets looks similar to the reaction a fat bike does. People will come up to you and ask about it! In this configuration I’d say it definitely errs on the side of the MTB camp. However, surly offer the bike as a frameset and if a more gravel/road build was your choice then a frame up build would be the way to go. A 700/29er wheelset and maybe a 36T chainring (and decent brakes) and this bike would perform just as well on tarmac as it would on the grav.

Back in my Surly 1×1 lusting days one of the reasons I wanted one was the scene and vibe Surly created around the brand and that was the thing I aspired too. They were a little different from the norm without being flash, they were individual without being elitist and unlike some all looks and no substance brands at the time, you could actually ride one, anywhere and for as long as you liked. Surly haven’t really changed that outlook to this day and the Ghost Grappler carries on that tradition with aplomb

Unless you have super powers you won’t win a XCO race on this bike but you’ll finish the tour divide, no matter how long it takes. This bike though isn’t really about speed, it’s definitely about the journey.

more details can be found on the surly website here or from The UK distributor here