Redshift ShockStop SeatPost

Redshift shock post in ideal conditions to test weather proofness

In an ideal world suspension seatposts are designed to take the sting out of surfaces allowing the rider to be less fatigued and so ride further and longer. They should be simple to adjust, be reliable, be a reasonable weight and hardest of all maybe, they should look good (or not too weird). So can the Redshift Shock Post achieve all these?

Suspension seatposts are a curious thing. They are made to isolate the rider from the surface the bike is rolling over. However they are not a rear suspension system like those found on mountain bikes. So if you are expecting trail bike plushness and inches of travel you’ll be disappointed.

The Post is aluminium with an offset parallelogram design. the saddle clamp is a two bolt one and enables easy micro adjustments of the saddle angle and position. The adjustment to the amount of travel the post has and the “plushness” is found inside the main shaft of the post. There, a preload screw in cap hides the space where one or two springs (depending on your riding weight) sit. The parallelogram has a very neat cover that is magnetic and this protects the mechanism and the seat clamp adjustment bolts from rear wheel spray. The post is 27.2mm in diameter, shims are available when you buy to fit any size frame. Suspension travel is 35mm.

neat cover protects from the elements and is magnetic!

Set Up is very easy but does take some trial and error and a few test rides to get spot on. Get yourself kitted up in your normal riding gear and start by following the rider weight guide in the comprehensive instructions that come in the box. There are two springs that come with the post, one is already installed and depending on your weight you might need to add the smaller spring too. this fits inside the larger one on the inside of the post shaft, preload is adjusted by a screw in cap at the bottom of the post

I set the preload to “2” then went for a short test ride, finding the post a little too soft for my liking I then turned the cap to “4” another short test and I turned it to “3” which seemed to suit me the best given my weight and how I wanted the post to feel. I like quite a firm ride so the post doesn’t bottom out on anything but a big impact and there is no noticeable bounce when pedaling on a smooth surface. It’s worth while taking some time setting the post up properly but the actual adjustments are quick and easy. Saddle fitting was equally easy, the magnetic cap pulls aside and the bolts are accessible with a standard Hex key and they haven’t come loose or needed adjustment during the length of the test period over a variety of surfaces.

The Ride The first ride after the couple of set up rides was completely in the dark due to the time of year and work commitments so I really didn’t want to be tweaking any of the post adjustments by torch light So i rode it as i had initially set it up. Anyone who knows me will tell you I can set the saddle position and post height to exactly how i usually have it and within one mile of the first ride I’ll have moved it at least twice to get the right feel! This time I raised the post a few millimeters to get that ” just right” feeling. This is a good example of why a few short test rides are needed before any long rides are undertaken especially on group rides as the people you are riding with won’t want to keep stopping for micro adjustments.

With the post raised I rode on for around 15 miles on a mix of road and off road light trails. the post showed no side to side movement or rattles and the vertical movement was smooth. i knew straight away that I’d set the preload too soft as the post bottomed out on larger bumps.

The next ride was in daylight and on much bumpier terrain and in the meantime I’d added one full turn on the preload. The post sat at the top quarter of it’s movement and this was my sweet spot. it wouldn’t bottom out except on the harshest of hits, those that I deliberately sat down for to test the post, normally I’d have been standing up for those anyway. The post action was smooth and there was no discernable bobbing up and down while pedaling. Over a few 30+ mile rides I actually forgot it was a suspension seat post so good was the experience.

I do suffer with lower back pain and after a 20+ mile ride my back tends to stiffen up especially in cold weather and i have to start on the bike stretches to help cope with it. I can report though that this was much reduced using the shock post. Tested back to back with a standard rigid post on the bike on consecutive days over similar distances my back was a lot more flexible and less painful using the Redshift post.

The only issue I had with he post wasn’t the fault of the post at all. The magnetic cover moves downwards as the post compresses to cover the pivots at all points of the travel but when I’d set the post too soft I was using a band on rear light around the post. As the post reached full travel the end of the magnetic cover would touch the mode button on the light and change the settings of the flash mode! It took me a while to work out what was happening while riding in the dark. Setting the compression preload correctly stopped this and it hasn’t happened since.

Does the Redshift shock post take the sting out of rough surfaces? Yes, my back issues seemed much improved using the shockpost compared to a standard post

Simple to adjust? yes, just screw in or out the preload cap to adjust, no bolts to undo and no special tools needed.

Reliable? yes, no play has been felt or seen over the duration of the test, the action is still smooth and silent. The magnetic cap keeps rear wheel spray out of the mechanism and the saddle clamp has not moved since i set it.

Weight the post with the second smaller spring weighs 559g

looks good (or not weird) the post is actually very low profile compared to other shock posts on the market. The engineering that has gone into the design is clever and the mechanism is compact. It takes a second glance to realise that it is actually a suspension post, so yes I think it passes the looks test.

A Redshift Suspension Shock Post will let you ride further for longer, is easy to set up and look after. It doesn’t have a massive weight penalty and would suit any rider. It shouldn’t be confined to just gravel bikes either. A bike packing hardtail MTB would benefit from this post too and fitting a rear bag to the post should be easy. The action is subtle enough (if that’s the way you set it) or you can set it to get more bounce. that’s all down to personal preference.

The post has stayed on my bike since the initial test rides when I could have easily gone back to my favourite rigid post and that is I think that decision is all you need to know.

more details on the shock post can be found here Redshift Shockpost or the Redshift instagram page has more pictures

As with all my tests, this is an impartial and real world review. I’m not sponsored and I’m just an average rider like most of the cyclists out there. I do inform anyone who sends me things to test that It will be an honest review good or bad.

Wide rim v gravel tyre

Wilderness trail bikes Resolute 700×42 on 35mm mtb rim

Experimenting with wide rims and gravel tyres. 700×42 resolute on a 35mm rim.
Actually doesn’t look too bad.
The real reason is the only spare wheels I have are for an MTB and I was hoping the sidewalks didn’t stick out further than the tread! Which they don’t & the tread still has a round profile so the knobbles still work. Too narrow a tire on a too wide rim causes flattening of the tread which is horrible when leaning over in corners & the exposed sidewall is vulnerable to sharp bits of trail

Redshift Shock Stem

The guys at Redshift Sports out of Philadelphia USA got in touch with me to see if I’d like to try their shock stem and shock seat post after seeing my review of the Kinekt stem and post, In that review (see here) I said that although the stem and post worked flawlessly they were probably suited to more recreational bikes than a gravel bike. So I was skeptical the Redshift could bring anything different to the table but also intrigued to see what the most well known stem and post in the market performed.

The Stem, First impressions count and on first view the stem just looks like an ordinary stem, this is a massive plus point for me. The stem has a 4 bolt face plate making handlebar installation a breeze, the picture above shows the stem with the redshift integrated Garmin computer mount, this is sold separately. the 90mm stem weighs 256g 100, 110 and 120mm lengths are also available (and now a 80mm) there is also a 30 degree 100mm version too. Up to 20mm of travel can be achieved using the right rate of elastomer.

The suspension part of the stem is very simple, as all the best ideas seem to be. It has a hinge bolt at the steerer tube end and inside are two elastomers and a slider to secure then inside, seen below. 5 elastomers of various hardness (two already in the stem) come in the box

I started off with the stock elastomers as they were shipped to get a baseline on how they felt, you get softer and harder elastomers in the box and as there are two in the stem it’s easy to mix them to get the feel and the amount of movement you want. There’s a guide to rider weight and which elastomers to use and helpfully they come colour coded too. It’s important to remember to weigh yourself with riding kit on and not just your weight when you step out of the shower. The instructions also say to fit harder elastomers if you know your riding terrain is especially bumpy or you like a stiffer ride.

After a short ride I knew that I’d prefer a stiffer set up as the stem was easily using up all its travel. It’s very easy to swap the elastomers, you don’t even have to take the stem off the bike, the face plate does need to be removed though. The instructions are detailed and clear but having a torque wrench is desirable to seat the elastomers in the stem as per factory recommendations.

The Ride I had to fit the stem in the most elevated position to counteract the fact that this was a 90mm stem, i usually run an 80mm one (at the time the stem arrived Redshift had not yet released an 80mm version, this is now available) so It wasn’t optimal but the effect of the shock stem could be felt straight away. Roads around my home area are frankly atrocious and broken tarmac and raised and dipped drain covers on the way to off road routes was the perfect start to see how the stem performed. It definitely took the edge off the road chatter. Stand up out of the saddle and you can detect movement if you deliberately bounce up and down but climbing on the drops didn’t elicit any annoying “bob”. The stem had no twisting movement and I had none of the “is the front wheel loose” issues I’ve had with other suspension stems

off road the stem really works to iron out the roots and stones, it’s not a suspension fork and doesn’t set out to be one but it’ll take out some of the battering your hands and arms get which is transferred to your shoulders and neck and so reduces fatigue over long distances, in fact it’s perfect for autumn as you can’t see what is hidden under the leaves and the stem gives you an extra bit of confidence to pedal through sections. I set the stem quite hard but you can set it softer to give more cushioning but the off shoot of this is more movement when pedalling on smoother surfaces, but that is the beauty of all the different elastomer durometers, you can set it to exactly how you like it.

The stem is around £149 so by no means a cheap option, there are some deals around at the moment, including from Redshift themselves if you are quick

Would I use the Redshift shock stem on my bike? after 4 weeks of riding with the stem I really like the way it works and my initial skepticism was been smoothed away (see what i did there?) and if this was the 80mm version I’d keep it on the bike all year round 100%

If you want a suspension stem that really works, can reduce fatigue and looks like a normal stem unless you look really hard then the Redshift shock stem is the one to go for

As with all my tests, this is an impartial and real world review. I’m not sponsored and I’m just an average rider like most of the cyclists out there. I do inform anyone who sends me things to test that It will be an honest review good or bad

Shadow Stand

Now you see it……usually you don’t

do you know how hard it is to photograph something clear!?

In this age of social media, selfies and inspirational pictures on the internet everyone is taking pictures of their bike and posting them online. To make the picture stand out from the rest it’s good to make it look as professional as possible. A picture of your bike leaning against a gate or a wall can be very artistic and sometimes just the bike lying on the ground can be atmospheric but to make it look professional with the bike standing up, seemingly on it’s own is hard to do.

You can use a stick and wedge it in the frame somewhere but then that is visible in the picture or restricts the angle of the shot. you can get a friend to hold the bike until the last second before releasing it while you take the shot before the bike falls over. For studio shots wires can be used then photoshopped out afterwards, but that’s a lot of faff so what’s the solution?

I was contacted by Shadow Stands after commenting on one of their Instagram posts @shadowstands020 and they sent me two of the stands, one standard size and one a little longer to cope with the higher bottom bracket height of a gravel bike.

The stand consists of a triangle of plastic with a notch to put the pedal spindle into at one end and a serrated end at the other for gripping the ground and simply that’s it. you lean the bike on it and it stands up on it’s own and is almost completely invisible.

It looks like the bike is defying gravity and makes picture taking of a stand alone bike a breeze.

on stage

so, will this improve your riding style? not really. Will it enable you to out climb all your riding partners? definitely not. Will it make your bike pictures look 100% better and make them literally stand out amongst all the others? I’d say yes. Just don’t drop it in a pile of leaves because you’ll spend 15 minutes looking for it like i did!

outstanding in the woods

you can get custom engraving and stands that fit under the bottom bracket shell too. the stand and all packaging is recyclable. you can find more information on ShadowStand’s website here

Kinekt Suspension Stem

90mm 7 degree rise option

Those of us of a certain age can remember a time when off road bicycles came with a rigid fork, stem and seat post and the only suspension was your arms and legs. Then came a revolution of suspension ideas, some innovative and useful and some just downright awful. But at the beginning of this revolution a few companies began to produce stems that suspended the rider via the handlebar from the chatter of the ground. they weren’t in anyway a 170mm suspension fork but they could enable you to barrel down a rock strewn or wash board trail without losing vision as the rigid fork shook you to bits. they were simple and worked and were only superseded by the plushness of a suspension fork.

Todays typical gravel bike has a rigid fork (yes there are a few exceptions from Fox and Cannondale etc) and the sort of rides we take those rigid forks on are much the same as we took and take a mountain bike on, albeit in my case a lot slower speed. So the time of the suspension stem might be about to shine again.

The stem has a very similar way of operating as the Kinekt 2.1 seatpost i tested recently and is a parallelogram design with a standard steerer clamp and a double face plate fastening making it very easy to swop on and off the bike and adjust. Similar to the seatpost it comes with a range of springs to suit the rider weight or riding style. it is suggested that if you ride more technical trails then fitting the medium spring would be a good place to start. swapping the springs is easy, there are very good instructional videos on the Kinekt website to guide you. One tip I would give is to keep the tiny grub screw that you have to remove very safe, I had visions of spending an hour or two trying to find it if it had rolled off the workshop counter, thankfully this didn’t happen but it is tiny and easy to lose. the stem is very well made from top quality materials and looks like it would stand a lot of abuse. It weighs 468g which is quite a lot more than the stem i usually run, is this increase in weight worth it?

The Ride, I fitted the medium spring as suggested and found i could easily move the stem just by pushing down on the bars so i took a short ride up and down the road outside my house and I could bottom out the stem easily. This wouldn’t work for me on the usual off road routes I ride. So i fitted the hardest spring in the box (you get three grades with the stem) which seemed a lot better and went for a proper ride

The test period was over around 2.5 weeks and i tried to ride all the trails I would have taken my normal stem on, this included technical forest trails, pure gravel tracks and at least one nearly 75% tarmac ride and a couple of off road night rides. The stem worked flawlessly and definitely damped out some of the roughness of the terrain. I do think though that an even harder spring would have worked better for me, the stem moved on the mildest of terrain, which it is supposed to do but i needed it to work on the harder hits and by the time those started the stem had already used up all of it’s travel and it bottomed out. Out of the saddle efforts on climbs did cause the stem to bob a little, again i think my weight and riding style could have benefitted from a harder rate spring. There was no visible side to side twist to the stem, a testament to its construction and I was definitely less beaten up at the end of a rough ride, my shoulders and neck ache after 40+ miles usually and this was markedly improved. There is a period of getting used to the feeling of the stem moving and at the beginning I will admit to stopping and checking that the front wheel bolt through axle wasn’t loose (it wasn’t!) but once i got used to that feeling I just rode the bike as normal.

the stem in action

As you can see from the video the stem managed to keep the camera quite still along a little descent and a gravel bridleway. Over a long distance on varied terrain i can see the benefit of a suspended stem. Long distance off road touring would be an ideal application. Bike packing too but you would have to carefully choose the spring rate to compensate if you load up your bars with luggage

Conclusions This stem is a quality made item, construction and materials are first rate and it looks like it would stand the test of time. It is however quite weighty compared to a non suspended stem and also costs £169 in the UK. It works perfectly and isolates the rider from a lot of the gravel chatter and rooty trails we get here, but finding the best spring for your riding style is paramount. it’s not a substitute for a suspension fork, you will still have to pick a line and find the smoothest path as normal but at the end of the ride you will feel less beaten up and fatigued and that means you can ride further and for longer.

As with all my tests, this is an impartial and real world review. I’m not sponsored and I’m just an average rider like most of the cyclists out there. I do inform anyone who sends me things to test that It will be an honest review good or bad

Kinekt 2.1 suspension seatpost are the new importers of the Kinetk series of suspension seatposts and stems and they very kindly sent me a seatpost and stem to test.

The post
As you can see in the picture the post consists of a parallelogram set up with a longer spring at the bottom and a smaller one inside. The saddle rails do actually look like they are on the wrong way around compared to a traditional seat post but are this way to ensure when the post compresses the saddle stays in the same plane and doesn’t move backwards or forwards excessively. Changing the distance between saddle and
bars on each compression wouldn’t be good for long term comfort. The Kinekt post overcomes this with its design. The post is constructed of aluminium, a carbon version is also available.
The saddle clamp comprises of two bolts pulling down a top piece onto a graduated rest that allows fine fore and aft tilt adjustment. Again the design of the post means when the post compresses the saddle stays exactly at the angle you set it at the beginning. Saddle adjustment angle and fore-aft adjustment can be done independently of the post.

Set up
There are very good instruction videos on the cirrus website and it’s important that you watch these as even though the post is easy to adjust it’s equally as easy to get it wrong and not get the best out of the post.
The post comes with the medium springs fitted, there are also small and large springs in the box and a guide to the idea weight of rider for each. For general riding the medium spring is recommended but as I could compress this easily with just my hands I thought I’d fit the large spring. Being not of slight build I also fit into the weight category for the large anyway. You’ll need a 4mm Allen key but you don’t need engineering skills to swap both springs just make sure you follow the instructions in the video.
Springs swapped I fitted the post to the bike and set up the saddle bearing in mind the little bit of sag that you get when sitting down. It’s best then to go for a short test ride to dial the post in. On the test ride I found there was a little pedaling induced bob so I wound in the preload to counteract this. Obviously you can set the post to react to even the smallest of bumps but I set mine to react to slightly harder hits leaving it firm for normal “just pedalling along”

The Ride
Most experienced riders have learned the “standing up and using your legs as suspension” technique early on and it’s hard to unlearn this so I found I had to concentrate to make myself sit down over roots and stones/rocks to see how the post performed. Over rough gravel and roots the post did exactly what it says on the box, soaked up the chatter and isolated me from the worst of the bumps, I could make it bottom out but it took some effort as the spring rate ramps up towards full compression. The post worked flawlessly throughout the rides I did on it, in complete silence too even when I covered it in mud flung up from the rear wheel. There isn’t much more to say really other than the post does exactly what it was designed to do. It takes some of the knocks and bumps out of the terrain and does it quietly and efficiently without any discernable side to side play.

Who would benefit from this seatpost?
There’s no getting away from two things with this component and that’s the way it looks and how much it weighs. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world and it weighs considerably more than a rigid alloy seatpost so should you part with your hard earned cash for one?
I think that racers, even endurance racers are looking for performance and as minimal weight of their bike and kit as possible, comfort comes a close second to this and you could do just as good a job of isolating the bike from the ground by standing up and those girls and guys have the stamina to do this over long distances so they are probably not going to go for this post.
Us mere mortals who get tired after long punishing rides (I know I’ve got to the end of rides where I’ve only just got the energy to turn the pedals and concentrate on steering and standing up and moving around becomes a chore) are more likely to benefit from the comfort of a seatpost to take the sting out of “long ride backache”.
Bikepackers whose bike is already laden probably wouldn’t notice the extra weight and can sit down and concentrate on route finding and staying alive!
City bikes and hybrid bikes would be perfect for this post with the state of todays roads and gravel strewn cycle paths and a hardtail e-bike would be great with this post, no worries on weight and you can just sit and spin along the trails.

I can’t fault the function of this seatpost, it works perfectly and is well made of quality materials, the adjustability is easy and straight forward and it is very well designed. I’d even go as far as to say looking at the build quality it’s worth the money (around £229). It will help you over rough tracks, it doesn’t bob when pedaling if set up properly and it is easy to adjust to suit your riding style. It is heavier than a normal post but the benefits of its suspension system may out weigh (yes I did that on purpose) this fact for you.
If you think you think you need a suspension seatpost I’d definitely look at the kinekt seatpost as one of the top options to consider.

90mm 7 degree rise option

Those of us of a certain age can remember a time when off road bicycles came with a rigid fork, stem and seat post and that was it. then came a revolution of suspension ideas, some innovative and useful and some just downright awful. But at the beginning of this revolution a few companies began to produce stems that suspended the rider via the handlebar from the chatter of the ground. they weren’t in anyway a 170mm suspension fork but they could enable you to barrel down a rock strewn or wash board trail without losing vision as the rigid fork shook you to bits. they were simple and worked and were only superseded by the plushness of a suspension fork.

Todays typical gravel bike has a rigid fork (yes there are a few exceptions from Fox and Cannondale etc) and the sort of rides we take those rigid forks on are much the same as we took and take a mountain bike on, albeit in my case a lot slower speed. So the time of the suspension stem might be about to shine again.

The stem has a very similar way of operating as the Kinekt 2.1 seatpost i tested recently and is a parallelogram design with a standard steerer clamp and a double face plate fastening making it very easy to swop on and off the bike and adjust. Similar to the seatpost it comes with a range of springs to suit the rider weight or riding style. it is suggested that if you ride more technical trails then fitting the medium spring would be a good place to start. swapping the springs is easy, there are very good instructional videos on the Kinekt website to guide you. One tip I would give is to keep the tiny grub screw that you have to remove very safe, I had visions of spending an hour or two trying to find it if it had rolled off the workshop counter, thankfully this didn’t happen but it is tiny and easy to lose. the stem is very well made from top quality materials and looks like it would stand a lot of abuse. It weighs 468g which is quite a lot more than the stem i usually run, is this increase in weight worth it?

The Ride, I fitted the medium spring as suggested and found i could easily move the stem just by pushing down on the bars so i took a short ride up and down the road outside my house and I could bottom out the stem easily. This wouldn’t work for me on the usual off road routes I ride. So i fitted the hardest spring in the box (you get three grades with the stem) which seemed a lot better and went for a proper ride

The test period was over around 2.5 weeks and i tried to ride all the trails I would have taken my normal stem on, this included technical forest trails, pure gravel tracks and at least one nearly 75% tarmac ride and a couple of off road night rides. The stem worked flawlessly and definitely damped out some of the roughness of the terrain. I do think though that an even harder spring would have worked better for me, the stem moved on the mildest of terrain, which it is supposed to do but i needed it to work on the harder hits and by the time those started the stem had already used up all of it’s travel and it bottomed out. Out of the saddle efforts on climbs did cause the stem to bob a little, again i think my weight and riding style could have benefitted from a harder rate spring. There was no visible side to side twist to the stem, a testament to its construction and I was definitely less beaten up at the end of a rough ride, my shoulders and neck ache after 40+ miles and this was markedly improved. There is a period of getting used to the feeling of the stem moving and at the beginning I will admit to stopping and checking that the front wheel bolt through axle wasn’t loose (it wasn’t!) but once i got used to that feeling I just rode the bike as normal.

the stem in action

As you can see from the video the stem managed to keep the camera quite still along a little descent and a gravel bridleway. Over a long distance on varied terrain i can see the benefit of a suspended stem. Long distance off road touring would be an ideal application. Bike packing too but you would have to carefully choose the spring rate to compensate if you load up your bars with luggage

Conclusions This stem is a quality made item, construction and materials are first rate and it looks like it would stand the test of time. It is however quite weighty compared to a non suspended stem and also costs £ in the UK. It works perfectly and isolates the rider from a lot of the gravel chatter and rooty trails we get here, but finding the best spring for your riding style is paramount. it’s not a substitute for a suspension fork, you will still have to pick a line and find the smoothest path as normal but at the end of the ride you will feel less beaten up and fatigued and that means you can ride further and for longer.

As with all my tests, this is an impartial and real world review. I’m not sponsored and I’m just an average rider like most of the cyclists out there. I do inform anyone who sends me things to test that It will be an honest review good or bad

My Bike and me – Claire

Next in our series of meet the rider is Claire Sharpe, Claire has only just started riding gravel but is no stranger to adrenalin fueled sports being an expert roller skater, check out the link at the end to Claire’s instagram account for some great video of her in 8 wheeled action.

Why that bike?  I’ve got a Pinnacle Arkose D1, now affectionately known as Ruby. My bike choice was all dictated by how much I could afford to spend. Ruby was the best I could get with the money I had…and I spent more than I planned. I got a bit of advice from my now boyfriend, ummed and ahhh-ed and took the plunge. Now I’m learning about my bike and building up knowledge so I can decide what to modify based on what I need rather than being completely clueless! I’d be lying if I didn’t say I thought Ruby was a bit of a looker as well.

What does gravel riding mean to you? I only got my bike at the tail end of July and had very limited cycling experience beforehand. I commuted on a road bike and previously had a hybrid when I lived on a boat to handle all the towpath I was riding on. But, I knew I enjoyed cycling. Having a gravel bike has opened things way up, I now spot overgrown bridleways out the corner of my eye as I’m going along which I never did before. It’s really freeing to think I can get on my bike and head out almost anywhere and the only the limit is what my legs will put up with. The views are amazing and the rides are fun. I love going down hills fast, either on skates or skiing, this is another way to feed that hunger as well. So I guess gravel riding is my way to get outside, appreciate nature, stay fit, have a laugh and escape.

Where & when was your favourite or best remembered( good or bad) gravel ride ever? I have a very limited bank to draw from for this! That being said, my first ever group ride with the Bristol Gravel Group gang will always be the best. I turned up on a drizzly Wednesday evening with no idea what to expect. I’d never been on a group ride and had zero off-road experience, it was just me, my bike and a keenness to find out where I could go on it in Bristol. I got the warmest welcome from the guys and they really put me through my paces but in a way that let me know what was coming. We got covered in mud, went down some seriously slippy descents and had a drink after. It was that night I knew I was hooked and it wasn’t just the adrenaline and views, it was because I was really lucky to have stumbled across such a great group of people. I haven’t missed a Wednesday night ride since and have even signed up for the Devon Grit 70k so they really did get me hook, line and sinker.

If you could ride one place you’ve never been where would it be? That’s pretty much everywhere for me! I really want to get up to Scotland, I love it there anyway but I really want to experience it on my bike. The King Alfred’s Way has just been released, so that! Wales is on my doorstep and also amazing. I have a few ideas for some bike packing before winter really hits and after that, I think the world is my oyster! After organising a Bristol area women’s ride and sharing it in a few groups, I’ve had messages from people who wish they lived closer…so maybe I could go ride with some of them in their neck of the woods? That would be amazing. If you want to do that, hit me up! I used to work for a coffee roastery and would like to do a South West coffee tour at some point. There are some really amazing coffee shops dotted around in awesome locations. Something to plan for next Spring, I’ll have the best route down by then.

How would you improve the gravel scene in your area? Hopefully, I’m already on it. I am co-leading a Women’s Gravel Ride on 2nd September to try and recruit more women out on our rides. I can’t wait to share it with as many people as possible! The Women’s rides will be a monthly fixture and the ‘Bristol Gravel Group rides and routes’ Facebook group is steadily growing with a lovely bunch of people. Once we are able to, it would be great to put on a larger event where everyone can meet at the same time and recruit even more riders! I just really adore gravel riding and want to share that stoke with as many people as possible. I think having an emphasis on social, no-drop rides will open it up to more people. We’ve got a really solid core of welcoming people who just want to share their love for it too. If you’re Bristol way, ride with us!

Thanks Claire, I’m certainly with you about going to other places and experiencing how the riding differs in different parts of the country, maybe we should start a trail sharing/exchange scheme? it’s great to see gravel through the eyes of someone just starting out but it’s pretty much the same for those with more experience, we still ride along noticing bridleways and wondering where they go and having mini adventures riding into the unknown.

Good luck with the Women’s rides, it’s such a shame that more women aren’t into cycling I’m really keen to get involved in trying to inspire more female riders to try gravel out.

check out Claire’s instagram account here @clairesharpe

My bike and me -Olly

The UKgravelcollective has always been about ordinary riders doing what they like best, riding bikes. There are lots of features on the web about sponsored riders riding the latest bikes in exotic locations but the great majority of the people who contribute pictures and comments to our instagram page and facebook group are those who only have time to dash out after work in all weathers to ride or who’s epic adventure has to be planned meticulously in advance to fit around family life. So to champion these riders I thought a series about the readers and contributors to this community would be a cool thing to do. I asked via instagram if there were any volunteers for this and here is one of the first to respond. I hope to publish more during the coming weeks.

First up is Olly

Why that bike? Because of the bikes I own, this is the bike that works best on gravel! It started as a cyclocross build project so the tyre clearance is up to about 35mm, easily enough for gravel and it can deal with some singletrack too. It’s also my ‘deepest winter’ bike and my year round commuter. I built the steel frame myself, and it’s pretty cool to ride a bike you built. 

What does gravel riding mean to you? To me it means riding your bike wherever you want to. Despite what the industry tells you, you probably already have a bike suitable for gravel rides. You can buy a special new steed for your gravel adventures, indeed there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but most bikes are well capable. I see it as a return to bike riding of olden times, when all bike riding was gravel riding! Those bikes were all-purpose machines, not finely honed for specific terrain like they are today. I think gravel bikes are an updated nod to that early philosophy of a bike that will go where you point it, no matter what the surface is like.
It’s also is a very welcome blurring of the lines between the cycling cliques like ‘roadies’ and ‘mtb’ etc. There’s a little stuffiness in some parts of the cycling world and I think it’s important to remember we all just like riding bikes! 

where & when was your favourite or best remembered ( good or bad) gravel ride ever? I grew up in rural Norfolk and my paper round took in lots of gravel tracks up to farms and the like. They were always my favourite part of the round, traffic free and more interesting than village streets. I had a knackered early 90s mountain bike – well maintained these make excellent gravel bikes and are cheap to acquire!

If you could ride one place you’ve never been where would it be? The Alps feels like the ‘Wembley’ of cycling and I’ve never been riding there so something out there. Colle delle Finestre perhaps. Part paved, part gravel climb where Chris Froome effectively won the Giro d’Italia from nowhere in 2018. As inspiring a bike race as I’ve ever seen and would love to give it a go. 

How would you improve the gravel scene in your area? I think there is room for a clubs running more gravel rides, or even a specific gravel club perhaps. I think this will come as people get to know their local routes better. It can be a bit of a struggle finding routes to take in lots of gravel but with more people getting into it that will improve over time. 

Thanks for going first Olly and we echo your thoughts on any bike can be a gravel bike. you don’t need a specific bike to have fun.

Olly has his own interesting website, give it a look over at Steel Rouleur

Fustle Causeway GR1 Review

FYI: This is a completely unbiased review, Fustle Bikes did not pay for this but they were kind enough to let me ride this bike for over a week and paid the postage to get it delivered to me.

Back in the winter of 2020 just before the world fell over due to Covid 19 I did a brief interview Alistair Beckett from Fustle bikes about the launch of his new bike BIKE LAUNCH and i was very excited when it was suggested I could borrow one of the bikes for review. Fast forward 5 months and due to viruses, lockdowns and new normal work life it has taken until now to throw a leg over this bike.

The bike has been sent to a few bike journalists and as such the paint isn’t in show room condition but this is better for me because I didn’t have to be precious about it and could treat it like I would my own bike.


The heart of every bike is it’s frame. The bits you attach to it, the saddle, bars, gears and wheels etc are important but really are consumables in the long run. The frame usually sees lots of component upgrades or changes over it’s life but the way it handles and to a certain point looks is the most important part.

Coming from an MTB back round I love the aesthetics of a sloping top tube frame and from the first time Giant introduced their compact geometry road bikes I always wanted a compact frame over a traditional more horizontal top tube one. The GR1 frame is very compact, you could easily mistake it for a Cross Country MTB. The shape of the frame also gives a very small rear triangle. Looking at it and knowing that this is made from aluminium you would expect the ride to be very harsh and direct. However this must have been thought of during the design process because over washboard trails and brick strewn tracks I didn’t feel like I was getting battered. this doesn’t mean it has a rear end like a wet noodle though, dance on the pedals and you get the impression all your effort is moving the bike forward while maintaining traction.

Fustle causeway gravel bike

One of the comments I’ve had via the UKgravelCO social media channels are that the compact frame doesn’t give a big enough space to run a frame bag and bottles for mini adventures, bike packing or touring but as you can see a medium full length bag and two bottle fit easily.

The head tube is tapered, there is internal cabling throughout for gears and brakes and also includes stealth routing for a dropper post (more on this later). The bottom bracket is press fit and despite the bad press these get I found now noise or play with it throughout the test which took it through dusty trails and up to the bottom bracket puddles. The paint seems hard wearing despite the best efforts of careless industry journos and though I’m not usually a fan of blue I could certainly live with the colour and the graphics. There are rack mounts, three sets of bottle cage mounts, a boss for a removable rear stay bridge to fit full mudguards and bosses to fit “bento box” style top tube bag. the frame has a 142mm x 12mm bolt through axle and is flat mount disc brake compatible.

The fork is full carbon with 3 mounts per side for mounting guards, “anything” cages or more bottles. It has a 100mm x 12 bolt through axle.

the frame and fork will take 700×50 or 650×2.2 tyres if you are not running mudguards.

gravel bike in typical wyre forest pose


The bike can be specified with various levels of Shimano’s GRX components and there are plenty of reviews of this groupset already so I won’t go into details but suffice to say I think this is currently the best cable operated gear and hydraulic brake groupset for gravel riding on the market today. the bike came with a 1 x set up of 42T chainring and 11-42 cassette. you can spec a 2 x groupset on the build page of the Fustle website and the frame is full compatible with two chain rings at the front. The wheel set was a DT GR1600 and they look fab and were light! The bar and stem are from the Pro Discover range on this bike but you can choose from lots of different bars when you order so it’d be unfair to go into too much detail here. they were comfy with a decent amount of flare at the drops. The saddle was a WTB volt, which despite me having trouble with saddles apart from a Charge “Spoon” i found comfortable even after riding 100k on it. It was quite grippy though and moving about on it off road resulted in me adjusting my baggies as the saddle gripped them enough to start pulling my shorts down! at least of a wet muddy ride you’ll not lose contact with the saddle.


Short answer? _ yes please! long answer- I’ve used a dropper post on MTBs from the early days when you could only get a “gravity dropper” and now wouldn’t be without one for technical riding but I’ve never had one fitted to my gravel bike, on occasion though I’ve wished for one to magically appear between my legs! The post is operated very neatly by using the redundant left hand lever (run 2 x and you’ll need a bar mounted dropper lever) and a slight push inwards releases the post to allow you to push it down with your back side, then another flick of the lever to raise it back up automatically. I found i only needed to move with around 50mm downward, even though it has 120mm of travel to gain a mass of confidence, a lower centre of gravity and a control level up there with an MTB. the only draw back I found was accidentally pushing the lever in when braking down hill and raising the post! It didn’t take long to remember not to do this though and wasn’t a problem after the first few descents.

local trails gravel bike fun

The biggest benefit was on long washed out rutted bridleway down hills where with the saddle out of the way I could throw the bike around in and out of the ruts and over the loose stones using the old fashioned “suspension legs” without fear of my shorts hooking up with the saddle. The sloping top tube and the added crotch clearance also helps.


on the road – another comment I got from the UKgravelCO facebook page was “i bet with that head angle it’s boring on the road” so I was interested to see how it did handle, after all it does have a 69 degree head angle and a long top tube (geometry here), which is more MTB numbers than road lets be honest. on a 100k ride of which 70% was on tarmac and the rest off road i found that the combination of long top tube and short stem (for a road bike) combined with the head angle surprisingly kept the steering lively without being skittish. Not at all the ponderous slow turning ride I feared. It isn’t lightening fast but it isn’t boring and if you want a crit bike then this isn’t the bike for you, if you want something that’ll eat up the miles but let you carve some hairpins on this may well be it. The bonus of the GR1 for me was that it is so much lighter than my steel framed bike. Over a long distance the heavier bike takes it’s toll pedaling up hills and although the GR1 is undoubtedly stiffer than a steel bike the fact that i wasn’t hauling that weight around more than made up for it.

thumbs up on the road even on a gravel bike #dangerpanda


The riding around UKgravelCO HQ isn’t the lake district or particularly hilly, it’s rolling and most bridleways and tracks are only accessible using tarmac roads, what you’d say a gravel bike was made for but there is also a network of natural trails that we also ride gravel bikes on, not enduro MTB level but fun for us mere mortals and we chuck ourselves down these with giggles and seat of the pants (for a rigid forked, non dropper bike) riding. The GR1 laps up this type of riding.

this is one of the trails I took this bike on and many more like it during the test period. Slipping off the road, across the dusty surfaced car park, through the trees into “hidden trail” now over grown and living up to it’s name the entrance is a nettle and bramble barrier. Once through and into the trees the forest carpet of old pine needles and leaf litter crackles under the tyres. Duck down under the low hanging bow and plunge into “Bono” so named because it’s “close to the edge” (of the road). Follow the winding descent over large exposed roots, attempt a scandi-flick to get around the tight left hander. quick check for traffic and then shoot across the road and down the series of uneven poorly spaced wooden steps on the other side and then let the brakes off gathering speed quickly downhill into “the Tankslapper”. safe at this time of year but in anything but summer it ends in an unavoidable patch of mud that you need to engage all your skills to stay upright in as you reach maximum velocity. if you survive that the rest of the bridleway is a fast, loose stone, rutted test of nerve as you seek to carry speed and choose the best line possible. finally the track ends at a steep tarmac road which is taken in full aero tuck because at the bottom is the farm cafe and last one there buys the cake!

I’ve never felt as confident on a gravel bike, the dropper post came into it’s own on this type of trail. The GR1 felt sure footed and never out of of it’s depth, the combination of long dropped top tube, short stem and a wider bar than I’m used to made riding on the drops an engaging experience.

front end

the GR1 is fully capable of riding fully loaded the length of the country, it could do this with ease. you could bolt a rack on the back and commute to work on it, it’s manners in traffic would be impeccable. Hopping kerbs to avoid those close passes would be a breeze. long distance off road, sedate or fast off road or even just tarmac this bike would bring a smile to your face. But dip it’s front tyre into something challenging and it comes alive, carving turns, descents and technical trails. this bike would be a hoot at blue MTB trail centres and even some reds. Anything you can do on a XC mountain bike this bike would have a go at.


If you come from an MTB back round this bike will feel instantly familiar to you. It won’t feel totally alien like riding a road bike straight after a riser bar bike would. you can throw it around and it’ll come back for more.

If you have only ever ridden a road bike so far you’ll love the way the GR1 has get up and go on tarmac but will look after you as you begin your off road bike journey, it’ll help you build confidence quickly.

it’s the perfect MTBers road bike and the perfect road riders off road bike

any direction, any time


If there is any such thing as an all rounder the Fustle Causeway GR1 will happily sit at the top of the pile. Fun in the woods, engaging on the road. it’ll go as fast as you dare or it’ll be happy to just ponder along…… but like a young puppy it’ll keep looking at you waiting for you to throw the ball and let the fun begin.

for more details and pricing see the Fustle bikes website

big thanks also to Sandy at the Trailhead

private parking spot

Morvelo Overland Shorts, Selector V Elemental

I’m a huge fan of baggy shorts for gravel riding, coming from a predominantly MTB riding back round I’ve never been totally commited to the full lycra look. I’ll concede that for pure road riding that the wind cheating and muscle supporting advantages of lycra hit the spot. Having said this I will not go on any decent length of ride without a lycra bib short on. I just choose to wear a baggy short over the top. I do this for the extra protection the shorts afford for the abrasive nature and tumbles and falls that off road riding brings. I also do it because (i think) it looks good!

First of all let me say that Morvelo have had no influence in this review and that I used my own pocket money to buy these two pairs of shorts. the second pair were purchased after my experience of wearing the first along with the fact that they were on special offer on Wiggle!

Both pairs of shorts have been worn for around two months over approximately 500 miles in weather ranging from 5 to 30 degrees, sunshine, rain, hail and in plenty of mud and dusty conditions.


The selector shorts are described as “stretch combined with the lightweight BlueSign-accredited fabric means the Selectors offer unparalleled freedom of movement. Packing down small, and with their discreet design and DWR treated fabric”

First off, this statement is 100% true, I’ve not worn a pair of shorts this stretchy other than full lycra shorts. It’s like some sort of wonder material and it also feels great to the touch, a sort of silky, satiny material that instantly felt great to wear. The short is very light weight and i hesitate to write a cliché but they really do feel like they are not there! the list price is £90 but i managed to get them for less than £70 in a sale


They work well with lycra underneath but because of the amount of stretch they do fit to your form. These are no MTB massive baggy which means no flappage at speed but they do feel different if you are used to a traditional baggy short. the length is spot on for me, with a standard length bib short underneath the leg length easily covers the end of the bib so there’s no embarrassing lycra poking out. your knee will stay exposed though so your cycling tan can still happen. there are no belt loops but there are internal adjusters to micro adjust the fit. I usually wear a 34 and the size 34 fit perfectly. there are two zipped side pocket and one rear pocket.


The DWR coating is effective for rain showers but as you’d expect they will wet out in a deluge but the usual trail spray from the front and rear wheels is shrugged off, but if it’s wet out and you don’t want a wet crack fit a mudguard. The first two weeks of ownership coincided with the Spring heatwave and with temperatures of up to 30 degrees Celsius and despite them being listed as breathable i did feel over heated in them but i think this would have happened in any short. The short material, being so lightweight does give the impression that it’s not going to be able to take the general wear and tear of gravel riding. But to date after a couple of months of use this has proved unfounded. My local trails are strewn with brambles and nettles and the ground is a mix of clay, gravel and sand so quite abrasive.

Selector For

  • superb fit
  • lightweight material
  • spot on length


  • price, although if you shop around you can get them for less


The elemental shorts are described as “A short where simplicity is paramount. Once you hit the trails, the freedom of movement offered by the quick drying four-way-stretch fabric makes it a short perfectly suited to road cycling, mountain biking and gravel rides”

Again this is pretty much spot on but they are a very different short to the Selector. I bought these at the full price of £45 on the back of how good the Selector short was, after all everyone needs two pairs of shorts for when the other pair is in the wash. the material is more satin-y and does have a little rustle to it, they are again lightweight and pretty much fit and forget.


The Elemental shorts also have stretch built in but not as much as the selector so although not in the MTB baggy league they do flap more but it’s not at all noticeable unless you are going really fast or there’s a gale blowing. They are not as fitted as the Selector short which may suit someone used to wearing MTB shorts better than the more fitted Selector. The length again leaves them just above the knee when riding. the shorts have belt loops and to date I’ve been wearing them without a belt but because of the less stretch they do ride down a little when standing up pedaling. there are two unzipped side pockets. These shorts size up differently despite the size guide being the same and my usual size of 34″ (L) was too small and so I returned the pair and exchanged for an XL which fit much better. The Selector short adjusters are in no way maxed out so it might be wise to size up from your normal fit with the Elemental shorts. The return and exchange procedure was slick and quick despite the corona virus limitations.


The Elemental short does not come with a DWR coating but they do dry quickly, they are not advertised as being made of a breathable material but the extra bagginess over the other shorts makes them feel airy and I’ve never felt over heated in them. I’ve ridden these shorts on my gravel bike and MTB and they have taken a few scrapes and knocks without any damage and given the relative price compared to the Selectors I’m not so scared about plunging into thorn strewn tracks and trails in these

Elemental For

  • fit and length
  • price
  • they look like normal shorts. wearable anywhere, ride or post ride


  • not as stretchy so you might need a belt, but loops are provided


the Selector and Elemental shorts are both great items, they are both great to ride in, comfort wise the Selector edge it slightly in a baggy, close to lycra level of comfort. This doesn’t take anything away from the Elemental shorts though, they are comfy too but in a different way. You could wear both pairs to the pub but the selector wouldn’t look out of place in a swanky wine bar whereas the Elemental would fit in at real ale festival without a second glance.

I’d recommend both shorts, if you can “stretch” to the price go for the Selector short and you won’t be disappointed. If you are on a budget or want a second pair of shorts to throw in a frame bag for touring or bike packing (the elemental will pack down smaller) go for the Elemental. either way both shorts are worth spending your cash on.

Shimano Deore CS-M5100 cassette

11 of your finest speeds

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

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

The solution pt1

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

The Solution pt2

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


M5100 in action

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

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

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

Elan Valley Explorer

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

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

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

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

Summer in February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Underestimate the power of a pedal

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

my last ride before isolation

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

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

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

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

The Garden session, download not available thankfully!

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

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

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

look what boredom made me do!

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

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

the long suffering OH

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

Causeway Gravel bike

Causeway Gravel Bike

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

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

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

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

geometry and fit guide can be found here

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

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

Tell us about Fustle bikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is your bike different to the others?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do your customers get?

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

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

It features;

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

Available in 3 Sizes

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

Available in 3 Colours

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

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

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

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

Wizard Works

Custom Framebag and Lil Presto, photo By Lucas Winzenburg

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

Custom Bags for Quirk – Photo by Quirk Cycles

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

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

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

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

Shazam in the New Forest by Tom Farrell

What’s the Wizard Works name all about?

Its alliterative and a little magic.

Lil Presto, photo By Lucas Winzenburg

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

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

Dear Susan Custom Framebag 2 – Photo By Dear Susan

What type of person is buying your stuff?

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


all photos by Wizard Works unless otherwise stated

London Broil Bag shop

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the London broil name all about?

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

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

What type of person is buying your stuff?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London Broil Bagshop Made by hand in Cheltenham, England

Website- Instagram- @londonbroilbagshop

Sour Bike’s Purple Haze

brown is the colour of winners

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

Cotic X

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

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

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

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

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

650b boots

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

The Ride

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

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


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

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

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

Training ride with a twist

sunshine and blue sky

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

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

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

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

freezing fog and lack of air

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

making the best of it

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

No embellishing the tale though!

“what the **** was that?”

a review of the Smokestone Mr Harry

The Smokestone Mr Harry Review

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

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

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

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

The frame

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

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

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

neat welds and sliding dropouts

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

The Ride

Typical NWAlps conditions

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

climbing was actually fun!

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

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

Lets talk about tyres

Vittoria Mezcals XC-Trail were fitted to the test bike

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

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

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

Perception is your only limit

mind the gap

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


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

The Details

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

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

Smokestone Mr Harry

a brief first impression…

it looks “right” somehow

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

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

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

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

plenty of clearance even with 29 x 2.6 tyres

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

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

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

More info can be found on the Smokestone bikes website

Missing out

So last weekend was the first “Gone Gravelling” ride out from The Trailhead bike shop in Shrewsbury. I’d love to tell you about how great the route was through the Shropshire Hills, how I made new friends and hooked up with people with invites for future rides. How although I was tired at the end it was all worth the effort and the pizza and beer reward at the finish was the best thing ever!

Yes, I’d love to tell you all that but unfortunately the weekend before the event I had a full on man-cold. Starting with a less than par ride that should have been easy to the next day when the sore throat began to full on constant runny nose to a sinus infection meant the weeks commute riding was a write off. Hoping that the enforced lay off the pedals would hasten recovery I left my first ride post cold to two days before the Gone Gravelling start. This ride didn’t go as I’d hoped. lacking energy i managed around 17 miles before heading home for a little lie down. I knew then that even though the ride was billed as going as fast as the slowest rider I would not have enjoyed the hills there, we don’t have the same gradients or length of climb here in North Worcestershire. “suffering” might be the buzz word for cycling in some quarters but in my mind that’s only acceptable if you are holding off the bunch with 10k to go at the end of Paris-Roubaix. Holding on to disappearing riders in the hope that there was some pizza left by the time i got there isn’t.

So it was heavy heart i messaged by friend that I was pulling out. I hate letting people down, I dislike not sticking to the arranged plan but it was the right thing to do no matter how much it sucks.

I’d been dreading seeing the pictures

Inevitably Sunday evening brought the deluge of pictures from the ride, filthy bikes and mud splattered smiling faces, pictures of pizza, beer and big grins. I’d been dreading seeing those but actually it cheered me up. It meant that the ride was a success and that could mean it’ll happen again and next time I won’t be weak and feeble!

So if you are planning a ride or gathering please invite me I don’t want to miss out on anything!

Going nowhere fast V going somewhere slow

I recently attended an evening at Stroud Brewery. A visit there just to sample the beer and pizza would have been enough to justify the journey as it’s that good and well set up but on this particular evening there was a talk on long distance self supported endurance riding and bike packing.

At the end of the 3 talks there was a Q&A session and amongst the questions was one for which the answer really hit home to me.

The question was “after doing these long distance events what would you do different next time” One of the speakers spoke of taking less than 1.5kg of flap jack and the other less socks but Katherine Moore said the thing she’d do differently is “ride more slowly”

I’ve never been fast even though I’m probably fitter on the bike now than when i was in my twenties but I’ve always looked at my average speed on rides with a bit of disappointment. I work in a bike shop and a lot of the chat with customers revolves around how fast is that, how many watts will it give me, my average speed etc etc so I know many cyclists are obsessed by this, not just the road riders but MTBers too who love to check their time on a downhill segment or try for a KOM on strava or similiar stat based apps.

Katherine said “ride more slowly” and went on to explain that she’d done lots of races in incredible places with dramatic scenery and ridden with riders from all over the world but because she had either been trying to go as fast as she could or needed to finish before a cut off time she hadn’t really taken notice of the scenery or spent time getting to know those interesting people. She said that her goal now was not to worry about the clock and enjoy the ride instead.

This was the one thing that stood out for me. I’ve been hashtagging my photos on Instagram UKgravelCO with #lowspeedadventures more to make excuses for the lack of pace but I realise now that going slower and enjoying the ride rather than the performance is the way to go for me. I want to do rides where looking over the hedge at the view is more important than looking at the backside of the rider in front and holding their wheel. I want to ride at a chatting pace and not worry that a checkpoint isn’t going to be reached at an allotted time.

i feel liberated, the pressure is off. it’s time to enjoy the ride rather than the numbers, sit back, relax and just turn the pedals. This just might be a huge turning point in my riding experience. Will it put me off doing “race” based events? maybe, but perhaps this will now give me the impetus and motivation to seek out like minded riders, those who like the idea of no pressure low speed adventures where the actual ride and the people are the focus rather than the minutiae of the stats.

Katherine’s website can be found here and her instagram here

The art of being lost but knowing where you are

grass up the middle trails always lead to adventure

There’s no getting away from the fact that I live in a built up area, I am 30 minutes pedal from the centre of (arguably) The UK’s second biggest city. It’s not that much further into the heart of The Black Country and the massive industrial and manufacturing heartland of the midlands (yes peaky blinders etc, but lets not go into the fact that they were from Small Heath and not Cradley etc etc) so you would expect that riding here unless it was on tarmac via industrial estates lacked any sort of off road routes.

Well you’d be right and wrong at the same time. Around here you are never far from civilisation, it’s not the wilds of the Scottish highlands, the peak district or the wolds etc. What we do have though is hundreds of years of people walking home from work, horse made trails, canal infrastructure and disused rail tracks.

I followed a route I’d been shown once which loosely followed the route of the Tour of the Black country, a sportive that has tarmac and road sections and tries to emulate the great pro race Paris Roubaix. The ride was just over 50 miles and at least 25 of those were off road and for at least 15 of those off road miles I had absolutely no clue where i was going but knew exactly where i was. Let me explain.

Exploring is in my opinion what gravel bikes are made for, they can do multiple miles on tarmac and cope with off road trails too. I wouldn’t want to ride say 40 miles on a mountain bike on tarmac to ride 10 on bridleways. believe me i’ve done it and those MTB miles are a slog and the short bits of off road aren’t an exciting challenge on a capable MTB. a gravel bike will cruise the black top and scare the pants off you off road! who doesn’t like a bit of an adrenaline rush now and again?

so when I’m out riding and i spot a bridleway sign or a track I’ve never ridden i just go for it. it’s at this point that even though i know the general area i’m in I realise i have no clue where the track is going, what the riding conditions will be like, if i’ll have to turn around, climb a fence. cross a stream or cope with any situation. i call these follow the wheel rides, i just point the bike in a general direction and follow it. I’m not lost but standing in a field or a thick wood with no sight of anything i have no clue where I am or where I’ll end up.

Todays ride was just like that, I used the route I knew then followed any bridleway that i came across, one lasted for 3/4 of a mile, a mix of stones and sand across open fields that lead into a wooded section of roots, twists and turns, gravel and drop offs. It came out onto a tiny lane. I looked left and absolutely had no idea where i was, I looked right and saw the back of a pub…hang on I think i recognise that, yes! I knew where i was but no way would i have thought the track would have come out there. i rode up to the end of the lane and there across a busy road was a sign…

there’s nothing more exciting that exploring an unknown bridleway. Adventure awaits!

Of course I couldn’t resist this and it turned out even better than the last, a steep off camber rocky climb turned into sublime singletrack through some woods. there were various points where there was a choice of going on or right or left, i plumped for straight on and it popped me out onto a very sandy track sign posted ” roman road” i knew this path! seconds ago i was lost, exploring the unknown, now i was back on familiar territory and i knew i could link this up to the canal which would take me in the direction i needed.

You can do this any where, don’t despair that you live in the middle of a city, the gravel bike will transport you to places you never knew where there even though you’ve lived in the area all your life, that happened to me just last week on a ride guided by a local, 50 years in this county and there were routes I’d never ridden literally on my door step.

So please try it, go and get lost in your local area (but do tell someone which area you will roughly be in, just in case) i guarantee you’ll be surprised what you discover. In the words of @24TOM LOST IS FOUND

Instagram, what is it for?

I use instagram to post pictures, I like then to be seen both on my personal account at @rocketdoguk and of course the account linked to this site UKgravelCO I assumed anyone who posts on there with an open account, i.e. not private feels the same. They post pictures for everyone to see.

There are some people who are sponsored and I also assumed that the whole point of tagging your sponsors was to give them something back in the way of publicity. This is what i do with the help i get from Rad 8 Sunglasses, Mudhugger and BeerBabe. I try to spread the fact that the products they produce have been tested by me and are worthy of your attention.

When I repost other people’s pictures on UKgravelCo instagram account I always ask permission and up until two days ago this was done with a brief message on the comments of the repost, typically, “is it ok that i’ve reposted this?” Usually the original poster doesn’t comment even though I tag them in so they get an alert to say their pic has been posted by me. occasionally they reply with a smiley face or a thumbs up etc indicating they are fine with it, they and UKgravelCO get a bit of publicity. Once only someone said they weren’t happy for the repost to be published and that’s fine, I then deleted the picture ASAP.

Then after using a message similar to the above on a repost i got the following direct message (i’ve removed the senders tag as they clearly don’t want any publicity)

So, this person only posts pictures that their sponsors have paid for and doesn’t allow sharing of pictures of their sponsors products. that seems a bit of loss of publicity for them. As far as i could tell from their account they are not a world renowned sports person or celebrity. I guess the nearly 1000 (and growing, yay!) followers of UKgravelCO are not the type of riders that this persons sponsors (and yes they are all bike, gravel and outdoor activity related) want to sell products to. I’m sure that’s not right is it? don’t these companies futures rely on selling stuff to us?

UKgravelCO isn’t a business, the T shirts that you can buy do not bring much revenue, in fact if you buy one I get £2.08 and I’ve sold 4. That money will go towards paying for the next batch of stickers which cost around £45, which as you can see is a bit of a shortfall. What I’m trying to get across is that I wasn’t in this case or any time trying to profit from other peoples work in any way. The point is to promote healthy outdoor pursuits using a bicycle.

I’m a little disheartened by the whole episode I’ll be honest. Since the message, unless the picture is hashtagged UKgravelCO or UKgravelcollective i’ve asked in the picute’s comments if i can repost. This does mean a delay and of the 10 or so pictures I’ve wanted to repost for you to see only half have replied, so only 5 have been reposted.

I’d be interested in hearing your views.