Wizard Works Wiz Viz bags review

Wizard Works very kindly sent me a set of their brand new Wiz Viz bike bags. Namely a Lil’ Presto bar bag, a Go Go top tube bag and a Teeny Houdini saddle bag.

teeny houdini, go go top tube and L’l presto bar bags

The Wiz Viz range is made from a black cordura fabric that is perforated to show the reflective layer underneath. There is also a very vivid orange panel on the top tube bag and the bar bag. the saddle bag just gets the reflective perforations.

This Material really works, car lights reflect bag from the perforations and the orange panel acts like your own personal high v-viz jacket. The material is also really hard wearing, I’ve been using the bags on day and night rides off road in gritty conditions and snow and they look pretty much as good as they did when I first installed them on the bike.

The Teeny Houdini saddle bag is a cute little wedge shaped bag that fits under your saddle via a strap over the saddle rails. The straps come together with a very satisfying click from a Fidlock magnetic clasp. This is the slightly larger version (the smaller is designed for road bikes) and I could fit a 27.5″ inner tube (I’m running 2.1 tyres on the grav) a multi tool and a tubeless repair kit fit in it easily with room to push more in in an emergency. the flap also secures with velcro for piece of mind.

The Go Go Top Tube bag is made of the same reflective and orange material as the Teeny Houdini and fits neatly on the top tube via velcro straps pushed through the daisy chain webbing underneath and via another strap around the steerer tube. The sides have a HDPE reinforcement to help keep the bag’s shape.

Go Go Top Tube!

Although Wizard Works don’t claim that the bag is waterproof I found them very water resistant. The zip is very easy to open and close with one hand for mid ride snacks or to grab a camera etc. Because the bag is quite tall it’s best to pack it with the heavier items as low as possible to stop the bag flopping. Wizard Works do stock a Dr Jon widget to stabilise the bag via the steerer though or something like the 76 Projects anti strap clip will do just as good a job, see my review here The bag has a media port on the front which is great if your lights have a separate battery and a cable to you light unit. I could easily get my pixel 4a in a rubber case inside, a go-pro and mini tripod, some emergency cash, a spare face mask and a buff. You could easily use it as a refuel station for bars and snacks needed on the go. The only thing I’d like to see is an inside pocket maybe to store a credit card or to keep cash separate from the other items so it’s easier to find in a hurry.

The Lil Presto Barrel Bar Bag is very well regarded on the bike packing/gravel scene for it’s robustness and ease of use so the addition of the reflective fabric just makes this that little bit more special.

Wiz Viz and bike not blending in…..which is the whole point I guess!

Again made from cordura and the orange panel the bag just feels quality when you pick it up. Massive kudos to Wizard Works for using the brilliant Voile nano straps to secure the bag to your bars, simple and easy to adjust and secure. the daisy chain webbing on the bag allows lots of mounting position options for the straps if your bars are crowded with lights, a bell or navigation tech. The zip is the same type as on the Go Go bag and again it can be opened and closed with one hand. I had a few wet rides as mentioned before and although not stated to be waterproof anything inside the bag stayed dry. The bag has a pocket on each end to stash things you need to get too quickly, sadly in the current climate this meant a mask for me. it never bounced out though despite a lack of elasticity on the pocket opening. The bag has a HDPE liner to keep its shape and avoid saggy bag syndrome some other bags suffer from. This stiffness also helps when fitted to the bike as it stops the bag wrapping around the head tube when secured tightly by the supplied paracord and clasp. There are two loops at either end of the zip that could be used for a shoulder strap to use the bag off the bike, this isn’t supplied with the bag.

For a small size bag it’s amazing what you can stuff in it, I’ve had a waterproof jacket, a gilet, bobble hat, keys, phone and even my go-pro in it at one time. The interior is bright and thankfully the liner is covered so there’s no rattle when things such as keys are inside (an internal key loop would be a great addition as I hate fishing around for keys)

When you describe an item as fit and forget it makes it sound a bit boring, but nothing could be further from the truth and here it’s a big complement. the Li’l presto is so well designed, built and made with quality materials it is something that you can rely on to keep on working. The voile straps mean that even when you add an unwieldy or heavy load you don’t constantly have to re-tension the straps like some other bags, the paracord head tube stabiliser does just that. The bag will take a few knocks that everyday trail and city riding can bring. It just feels pretty indestructible and something you don’t have to think about when concentrating on the tricky terrain or traffic ahead. Add in the “see me” qualities of the materials used and there’s no reason not to look at these for your next bike bag purchase. Other colours but not reflective materials are also available should the orange be too much for you.

I knew when Wizard Works asked to send me their stuff that this was going to be a difficult review as their reputation preceded them and a good review needs to be balanced and a little fault here and there makes for much better reading and subjectivity and the last thing I want to write is just “this is great, buy one” but..

“this is great, buy one!”

you can find more details and buy the wizard works kit here Wiz Viz Collection (this is not an affiliated link, I get no commission & the bags will be returned to Wizard Works, which I’m actually sad about)

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.

overview video, please subscribe to my youtube channel!

Black friday Sucks

I think that black friday is pretty rubbish for retailers and shoppers alike. If companies can afford to drop prices on one day they should drop prices all year round or at least spread those savings across the year.

So in the spirit of not having a black friday sale all the T shirts in the UKgravelCO shop are all now £5 off when you use the discount code “blackfridaysucks” at the check out. offer will last until black friday weekend or until the T shirts run out.

please share with anyone you can, proceeds from the shop go towards paying for this website and for buying products in to review so you don’t have to lay out your hard earned cash on something that might not work for you.

link to the shop is here UKgravelCO Shop

The Overland Far Out Sock Review

Overland is a clothing company that once was an off shoot of Morvelo but has now become a separate entity run by the original Morvelo designers and owners. The Overland cater more to the adventure and every day riding needs of cyclists rather than just those who wear lycra and want the maximum aero gains.

The range consists of looser fit and more relaxed clothing for long days in the saddle over mixed terrain, bike packing, commuting or just riding to the shops. So just like the riding I do and probably most of the readers looking at this now.

Overland have recently launched some new items and I purchased (Overland haven’t sent me these for free) a couple of pairs of “Far out” socks.

I love a longer sock, mid calf being my favourite length and Overland state these socks are in a skate style with extra cushioning on the sole for comfort so they sounded ideal. First impressions count and the first thing to note was the packaging that the socks arrived in. Sustainable packaging might cost a few pennies more but I’m happy to pay the extra to do a small amount to help the environment. Overland use biodegradable bags and are trying to remove all plastics in their business. On this note it was great to see that the socks have a cotton fastening to hold them together in the packet rather than the plastic clip usually seen holding socks together. See overland’s sustainability ideas and plans here

The socks were of a thinner material than I was expecting, tube socks to me evoke memories of 1980’s BMX/Skate socks which were always thicker than normal socks. The length was perfect, mid calf without having to pull the material thin to achieve the height. Pulled up, the socks kept their colour too and didn’t look stretched thin and go “white” like some dark colour socks do.

Riding the Far Out socks for the first time I was very impressed how comfortable they were, some new socks are tight until the first wash, these were so comfy and apart from remembering to photograph them I forgot I was wearing them, always a good sign. The socks survived a soaking and a layer of mud without incident. They also stayed up in the same position despite numerous trips over rough ground that has literally knocked my socks off before! I can’t say I noticed the extra padding but maybe that was because they were so comfortable anyway. The socks also survived a few brushes with spikey under growth and look as good now as when I opened the packet.

Post ride washing meant just chucking them in the washing machine, I’ll freely admit I didn’t check the washing instructions (and I’ve thrown the paper card that came with the socks away) before doing this. I couldn’t find any instructions on the Sock product page. I’m pleased to say though that the socks survived that 30 degree wash and kept their shape and there was no shrinkage or loss of colour and this is the case even after 2-3 washes and numerous rides.

Overall the Overland Far Out socks are great, thinner than I was expecting but this hasn’t detracted from the performance and they are thicker than a normal cycling sock at least. They have survived numerous rides with out damage and I love the look of them and they’ve attracted a few comments on the styling too.

If you like a longer sock I’d definitely recommend you look at The Overland Far Out Sock range.

As with all my tests, this is a real world review. I’m not sponsored and I’m just an average rider like most of you reading this. companies sometimes send me things to test but i always let them know it will be an honest review good or bad. In this case I paid full price for the socks and apart from fact checking the Overland/Morvelo split with the Overland guys they have had no input on this review

Circular Wyre Forest Explore Ride

I looked at the fair weather forecast and decided to go and ride some tracks I’ve not ridden before in the forest and then make a loop of it for fun, then it rained

Actually a great ride, I was “lost” at times but sort of knew where I was, but aren’t all the best rides like that anyway? The canal towpaths were very greasy because of the rain and I had to concentrate on picking the best line for fear of ending up in the cut.

No proper cafe stop on this ride, too wet to stop but I can thoroughly recommend Kings Fayre Bakery in Kinver, hot savouries and an eccles cake restored my energy and the banter with the girls in there brought a smile to my mud spattered face.

There was definitely a lot of climbing at the start and a lot of flat, so mucho pedalling and weirdly not much downhill for a circular route. maybe that’s just me though.

hope you enjoy the video

Please subscribe to the ukgravelco youtube channel, if you do it’ll help pay for the website and enable me to review more kit and bikes and give you honest reviews.

Garmin Ride In/Ride Out

garmin ride in ride out

Garmin are hosting a road and gravel sportive this october in association with Action medical research for children. Based near Wimbourne in Dorset it looks like there could be some interesting gravel routes.

To celebrate this Garmin have let me share a 20% off code for the entry fee. the code is RO21

Hope to see you there!

for those who can’t make it there is an indoor event on the thursday so those with a smart trainer can also join in.

Itinerary

Thursday – 7 October 

  • 18:00 – Ride In – Join a cycling legend for an hour’s indoor ride on Zwift. Receive the Garmin Ride In badge for participating. 

Friday – 8 October 

  • 9:00 – Ride Out – Join Garmin and Action Medical Research for a day festival of cycling. Take on either the 50 mile road route or the new 30 mile gravel route. Receive the Garmin Ride Out badge for participating.

For more details and to sign up see Garmin Ride in/out

Duke’s Weekender

UKgravelCO first mentioned the Dukes Weekender prepandemic but of course that dratted virus put paid to all the fun but now, hopefully things will go ahead this year with new entries released on August 11th and we hope to be there to enjoy the stunning scenery and atmosphere. Here’s what the organisers have to say…

September 2021 will see The Dukes Weekender in association with Santa Cruz Bicycles return to Aberfoyle and the surrounding Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.  After a year’s hiatus the event organisers have announced plans to continue with the weekend long family focused event which includes Scotland’s largest ‘Gravel Enduro.’

Set in the heart of the village of Aberfoyle, the event is operated by local residents and has been a huge success, growing over the initial 2 years and bringing nearly 700 cyclists to the area to enjoy the weekend’s festivities. The Dukes Weekender is focussed on the growing trend of gravel cycling, a new discipline bringing the accessibility, physical benefits and non-technical aspects of road cycling to the safety, experience and landscape of mountain biking. The weekend, the biggest of it’s kind in Scotland, will see participants take on a forest road hill climb on the side of Dukes Pass (with local crowd, catering and music), a stunning 75km gravel enduro and also a 10km kids enduro and event village. 

The event has been instrumental in establishing the village of Aberfoyle as a booming cycling destination, leading to the launch of a new destination brand ‘Gravelfoyle’ and will soon also see waymarked trails launched in Loch Ard forest as a collaboration between local community interest company Bike Trossachs, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, Forth Valley Leader and Forestry and Land Scotland.

Event organiser, Bike Trossachs member and local resident Stu Thomson commented; ‘it’s absolutely fantastic to be able to bring the event back to the community after such a challenging last 18 months. The Dukes Weekender was established with the aim of bringing people to the village and showcasing the gravel riding on offer in the area and it’s been incredible to see the resulting explosion of Aberfoyle as a cycling hub.’

Stu’s partner in the event, well-known local cyclist Rob Friel added; ‘We’ve always put community right at the heart of the whole event, using only local suppliers, no outside catering and bringing the participants to the centre of the village. We’ve also used recently funded a selection of cycling equipment for the local primary schools in Aberfoyle and Gartmore too.’

As mentioned above, the organisers have announced some limited additional entries will be available on August 11th with the majority carrying over from the cancelled 2020 event. For more information on the event and entries please visit – www.dukesweekender.com

The scenery looks stunning and I really want to try and get there to experience the vibe!

Squirt Seal Tyre Sealant with bead block particles

Squirt Seal tyre sealant

I’ve been a convert to tubeless tyres for over 5 years now. Originally a sceptic I now stress if I’m riding a bike that doesn’t have the security of being set up with tubeless wheels, tyres, valves and an effective sealant. There are always debates on social media about tubes V tubeless and at one time I was the guy saying “but tubes are so easy to change and there’s no hassle or mess setting them up” but, once you’ve had to change or repair an inner tube on a fat bike 3 times in one ride you soon see that the initial work that goes into tubeless is well worth the piece of mind of knowing you are not going to have to stop and change tubes, inevitably at the worst times, usually in torrential rain on a wheel covered in mud in sub zero temperatures.

So, fair enough I hear you say, on a fat bike with large volume tyres that take an age to reinflate or get seated on the rim properly I can see his point, but on a gravel bike? I can see what you are saying, but think of it this way, most gravel bikes are being used to explore places you’ve either never ridden before or seldom do and you’re mostly going a lot further away from home when you do it. That bridleway you spot as you wend your way down that back lane could be the passage to riding nirvana….or it could be that just around the corner the local farmer might have cut the hedge and a million thorns are waiting to rip into your tyres and make life a misery, so better not risk it hey? Well on a tubeless tyre you can ride that bridleway secure in the knowledge your tubeless tyres and sealant will shrug off those thorns and let you get on with exploring and not missing possibly the best riding you’ll ever do!

I recently changed tyres and found 5 thorns in the rear and two in the front tyre I knew nothing about, the sealant had just sealed around the hole and I’d not even noticed any pressure drop. So potentially that was 5 instances of having to stop and change a tube!

So, we’ve stablished that tubeless is a good idea, but what tyre sealant to use? I’ve used Orange seal, Muc-off, Stan’s, Joe’s no tubes and Bontrager to name but a few and i know what I like so it’s always with a little trepidation that i swap to a new brand. However, having used Squirt Lube for the past few years and found that to be simply the best chain lube I’ve tried so far I asked the guys at Squirt Products to send me some of their sealant to try out.

When you get the Squirt Seal it comes with a pot of Bead block particles, these help to seal bigger holes in the tyre that the “glitter” in many of the other sealants on the market contain. Squirt tested these in South Africa where they get considerably bigger thorns etc than we get in the UK so it should be spot on for every where!

Squirt Sealant differs slightly from other sealants as they recommend you pop off a small section of tyre from the rim to apply the granules rather than go via the valve stem as they might not go through without clogging. This is especially true if the valve is still damp with a previous sealant. I tried it and they are correct. You only need to pop a very small section of tyre off the rim though so reseating afterwards shouldn’t (and wasn’t) too much of a problem.

Once up to pressure I left the wheels 24 hours to see if they lost any air but they were fine so I fitted them to a bike and spent the next 4 WEEKS without any sign of a puncture. Was this because of the superior quality of the Squirt seal or had it silently got on with it’s job and saved my ride numerous times without me noticing (this is what tubeless set ups do)? I’d put the sealant into 650×2.1 tyres on the Fearless Warlock I’ve got in to test and I’ve ridden it on unknown trails, familar puncture black spots, down a lane where hedge cutting had strewn black thorn all over the tarmac, the frankly shockingly bad surfaced roads near here, to work and back road etc but even with the big surface area of the tyres to gather debris I still didn’t notice a pressure drop the entire time.

How do you effectively test a tubeless sealant when you don’t get a puncture? time for drastic measures!

See how Tested the effectiveness of Squirt Seal Tubeless Tyre Sealant with Beadblock

Squirt claim the sealant hs minimal to zero bioaccumulation in the environment and it’s also ammonia free so doesn’t stink or sting your eyes like other sealants on the market

So I’d definitely recommend trying tubeless on your gravel bike and for that extra piece of mind look at Squirt Sealant as your tubeless fluid, it survives multiple stabbings!

you can find more details on Squirt Seal and Lube here Squirt or on the Uk Squirt Insta here

As with all my tests, this is a real world review. I’m not sponsored and I’m just an average rider like most of you reading this. companies sometimes send me things to test but i always let them know it will be an honest review good or bad

The New Forest off road club

During the first lockdown in the UK in 2020 the only exercise we were able to do outside was walking and cycling and so this meant a great many people got their rusty old bike out of the shed or splurged some cash that they couldn’t spend in non-essential shops on a new bike. The lack of traffic on the roads as everyone stayed at home was also a great boost for getting new people out on bikes. The great weather of spring 2020 also helped. Fast forward to the latter part of 2020 onwards when restrictions were eased, then tightened, then eased again, sounds exhausting and it was! But a very pleasing number of riders carried on this healthy hobby of ours.

Also excellent to see was the amount of women riders taking up riding, returning to riding or inspiring others to ride. Group rides were once again allowed and women riders around the country began to organise group rides without the strict rules of male dominated, predominantly road-based clubs. Pictures were posted on social media of smiling riders riding a huge assortment of bikes, wearing whatever they wanted rather than convention dictated “cycling” uniforms of lycra etc and it was so refreshing to see. Since then things have moved on quickly and many more groups have started and are now visiting other groups to share adventures out on the bike.

One such person who organises the Off Road Club is Nic C (she/her)…. And I contacted her to get a bit more background about the group and how things are going, this is what she had to say…

Nic

Who started the club, what’s the idea behind it?

We started the group because we wanted to find rad women to ride off road with. Our local bike shop, The Woods Cyclery, ran group rides but we wanted a women led space to build our confidence on two wheels. The initial idea was to run group rides but now, after realising how necessary the space is for women to build confidence, we have some exciting goals, beyond group rides, that we want to work towards. 

Our mission is to build confidence and community on two wheels.

 Our goals are

To provide practical support and encouragement for folks starting their own community-led, inclusive bike groups.

To link into a network of community-led cycling groups that work together in creating a new normal for non-competitive group rides. 

What sort of rider turns up to your rides, where are you based, what sort of terrain/difficulty do you cater for?

We have all kinds of people show up to our rides. Women over 60, women under 20, women who haven’t ridden a bike for 3 years, women who are training for the Silk Road Mountain Bike Race. We extensively document our rides in order to show women who are yet to join that it is a safe, welcoming space. We have a blast getting to know women from all generations, backgrounds and walks of life. We had 3 generations join a ride once- that was pretty special.

The terrain in the New Forest is brilliant for beginners. Over 100 miles of New Forest signposted tracks and then a whole host of bridleways and single track for folks who want to go rogue. We know we are biased but we can’t think of a better place to try riding off road for the first time. 

What would you say was the biggest hurdle to women taking up bike riding?

This is such an important conversation so thanks very much for asking the question. There are so many! However, instead of focusing on the systemic hurdles the patriarchy upholds, I believe it would be more productive for your male readership to learn what they can do to remove blockers to help women get into cycling. 

Amplify women cycling content. See a video of a woman shredding? Share it and send it to your mate who you know would love riding but just needs a nudge. 

Financially support women riders. Giving the gift of a (Gravel) bike to a loved one is probably the best gift of all time (we know we are biased). Buy your partner a puncture repair kit, a stem bag or a new water bottle. All of these material gestures are really solid ways to get anyone excited about riding. 

Offer child care. So many women DM us to say they would love to join a ride but they can’t because they have to take care of children. Offering to take care of children so you can free a woman up to go on a spin is an incredible act of support to help get women riding. 

Plan fun rides. A ‘go anywhere’ gravel bike opens up part of the countryside that some people never knew existed. Plan rides that demonstrate the beauty of the landscape, off road routes are the perfect tonic for someone who might be a bit nervy cycling with cars. 

Given the massive potential market of women cyclists do you think the cycle industry is doing enough to attract new  women riders?

Again, many thanks for asking this question. 

I work in retail and one of the biggest questions I have is why aren’t brands thinking about women as literally 50% of the market. It just doesn’t make business sense to not think about women when you’re retailing. I can only speak about non-competitive cycling but bike shops that don’t stock women clothing lines, or have any women staff, are missing some really easy opportunities to sell more product. 

There are bike shops doing excellent things. A friend of mine recently said she had the best time in Primera bike shop Poole when buying a saddle. The male shop assistant was incredibly aware of the needs of the female anatomy and took loads of time-sharing advice and recommending a woman specific saddle. More of this please. 

In a recent poll on the UKgravelCo IG page the overwhelming vote was that women (and any beginner rider) feel reluctant to visit their local bike shop for fear of being patronised or intimidated. What message would you send to potential new riders who like the idea and look of riding but are unsure of where to start or ask advice & what can bike shops do to improve their image?

This is such a big question. 

Diversify your teams. Hire women. Folks feel comfortable talking to people that look like them. Women will buy more from other women. The more diversity you have in your team, the broader your customer base will be. 

Set up a mechanic internship for women. Women who learn to fix bikes will encourage more women to buy and ride bikes. Excellent allyship, diversify your customer base and higher bike sales. It really is a win win. 

Consult your women customers. What do they want to see? What would make them feel more comfortable? As you have shown, social media makes gathering feedback so easy. 

Saddle libraries. Women don’t hate riding, they hate being uncomfortable. Normalise talking about soft tissue and lean into the fact that women need specific saddles. 

We have 3 guides on our instagram account that make it easy for people to find excellent riders to follow, women owned businesses and local community rides. Taking a look through them will help women to find mechanics and resources that will show even the most nervous of riders that this is a space for them!

How do you see the New Forest off road club evolving and If there is someone reading this now who wants to start their own group how should they go about it and what things should they look out for?

Just start it! We didn’t know what we were doing when we started and we are still working it out. You can do the same. We are proud to be a ramshackled group of folks who love being on two wheels and out in the forest. We have a patriarchy to shred and we need as many hands on deck as possible so just start it! 

Some actual tips though:

Get a bunch of people you know together for a ride and go from there. 

Start off small if you are nervous to begin with, even a 3 mile bike ride is still a group ride. 

Take loads of photos of your rides. Be the best ally you can be and use your skills and expertise to facilitate a space where people who don’t look like you, come and gain confidence on two wheels. Next step is to take loads of photos of the people that are joining your rides and put them all over the internet so you can show the world that 1) cycling is great and 2) everyone wants to do it, they just need a gentle nudge.

As for how we see the group evolving, we want to continue facilitating women building confidence on two wheels. We have plans for mechanic sessions, bivvy camp outs, ride leadership skill training, allyship and coalition courses. We have high hopes that one day, there will be a women led group ride within an hour’s ride of everyone in the country. Everyone here knows that riding a bike is the best thing ever, we all need to work together to make sure everyone gets to know the joy that comes with being on two wheels. 

How should riders get in touch with you to find out more?

Follow us on the gram and turn on notifications so you never miss a ride! ✌🏻

the New Forest off road club can be found on instagram here

Thanks Nic for taking the time to answer the questions, it’s really inspiring to see lots more riders out there having fun and fun is what it’s all about. Long may it continue.

Get in Quick, there’s a Gravel bike in stock!

Canyon today launched the GRIZL, an update or replacement? to the Grail carbon gravel bike with the silly handlebars and it actually looks good for a Canyon. Someone has obviously thought about it for a change rather than just putting a bike out for the sake of it like a lot of the big companies have done in the past so kudo to the Canyon design team.

Also, colours! not just black or silver and with room for upto 50mm x 700 rubber it could actually be real trail friendly too. Find out more here With models from £2200 they aren’t exactly entry level but there are rumours of an aluminium version to come, maybe when the world wide bike shortages have eased we’ll see that one.

pic from canyon.com

Canyon have sizes from XS up to 2XL which they say are in stock, but given the thirst for bikes and the shortages currently that is not going to last. I’ve not ridden one so i can’t comment on the ride but the geometry on paper does look quite racy and compares to the Grail so it remains to be seen if it’s as bike packing and real rider friendly as they say. You can order one and see for yourself here

Gotta hand it to Canyon it’s a good looking bike.

Chrome Industries Helix Bar Bag Review

chrome industries helix handle bar bag

You’ll probably know Chrome industries or Chrome for their excellent courier or messenger bags from way back in the 90’s. They continue to make those bags from their San Francisco base but now make a whole range of stuff from casual clothing, cycle commuter clothing and shoes to just about every bag you can think of. They also ship to the UK.

The guys at Chrome sent me two handle bar bags to try, The Helix seen above and a Doubletrack. I’ve been running the Helix for a couple of months on various bikes to get a good feel of how they suit gravel riding an the kind of conditions that the UK can meter out. The Doubletrack has just taken the Helix’s place on my bars and that review will be in a few weeks when I get some riding time in with it.

The Helix is a 3 litre bag measuring 6″ x 9″ x 3″ and weighs 0.6lbs. it’s made from a nylon and polyester mix and the interior is lined so there are zero issues with annoying rattles.

Helix bag balanced on the bars to show interior, actually fits the other way around

There are two small mesh pockets inside but otherwise it is just an open space. There are no external pockets. Two sturdy velcro straps fix the bag to the bars and once set they are 100% reliable and don’t budge. There is a stabilising strap at the back that clips around the head tube.

In use the Helix can take quite a lot of kit despite what looks like a small space. I had arranged a group ride, the first after the latest Covid lockdown and because pubs and shops were still closed I suggested everyone took a beer and a pie with them on the ride so we could have a socially distanced picnic. In the Helix was a large sausage roll, a 330ml can of beer, a waterproof jacket (that folds up into it’s own pocket) a GoPro camera and mini tripod, a phone, my keys and a cycling cap. Loaded up like this especially with the weight of the beer the Helix remained steady even over some very uneven trails and didn’t flap around.

I rode with the bag in all conditions, sun, wind and on one occasion a couple of hours ride in torrential rain. Chrome do not claim that the bag is waterproof at all on there website but i can confirm after this thorough drenching the contents of the Helix were as dry as when i put them into the bag.

In fact the Helix was a fit and forget item it was so reliable. If i could make one change to make it better though would be the zip. it works well, it never stalls or clogs but for me it is on the wrong side of the bag! It is sited close to the handle bar rather than the front so if you run lights on your bars or a Garmin etc these get in the way of the operation of the zip and you have to stretch around these to open the bag. Site the zip on the leading edge and it’d be perfect.

The Helix has another trick, literally up its sleeve because tucked away at the rear of the bag are two straps that convert the bag to a waist or across the body pack. this came in very handy when i visited my local bike shop and inadvertently picked up a new helmet. I obviously couldn’t wear two helmets so I converted the helix to a waist pack and slung the helmet in its bag over the strap and made it home without incident.

After all these rides, in sun, mud and at one point snow, the Helix just needed a quick wipe over with a damp cloth and it looks as good as new. it’s taken all I can throw at it without any effect at all.

Should you buy one? The helix is very competitively priced at £55, it’s sturdy and reliable and can take more stuff than it looks like it can. If you like black too then its ideal as that is the only colour it comes in. if they could move that zip though it’d make it the perfect day ride bag that you can literally take anywhere, even without the bike

more info can be found on the Chrome website Here

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

To Video or not to Video?

Last week I was invited on a little treasure hunt by a guy I’ve interacted with on Instagram, namely @freakin_bikes He sent me a link to a video he had made explaining where to find the treasure and asked if I’d like to go find it as it was personally tailored to me. Intrigued of course I said yes. The other caveat was that I’d have to video myself opening the treasure so he could see my reaction.

So I set off in my best outfit, plaid/check shirt of course, my GoPro fully charged and a vague sense of where I was going (not much different to normal then). Now, I am not a professional videographer so I was playing things by ear and making it up as I went along. This I thought would show genuine spontaneity rather than me story-boarding or scripting something and it looking wooden and false. You might still think that it actually is just that though! Best if you just see for yourself so here is the video I made of what happened

As you can see if you’ve taken the time to view the video I had a great time and my reaction is real. The brilliant caricature that @freakin_bikes created for me is below, I can honestly say I didn’t deliberately wear that shirt!

me, personified

I really enjoyed the process of recording the video, or “edit” as the kids are calling it (yes that’s probably now out of date and marks me down as an old duffer) even the post production and putting the various clips together wasn’t that tedious but then it was a pretty straight forward ride to tree, film me opening the treasure, ride away from tree scenario. The biggest thing of course was thinking of something to say on the spur of the moment and not coming across as a complete loon. This last of course is for you to decide.

Boyed with the success of that first video, after all I got a huge 78 views in the first 24 hours and some people actually followed my Youtube channel! I thought I might try a product review next. If you don’t know I do product reviews

  • A) where have you been
  • B) click on the links on the menu bar above or to the side
  • C) why are you here anyway?

This product review thing is a whole different ball game to the first video though. A lot of companies send me stuff to look at for free and even though I make it plain that if i find fault with or don’t like the product I will say so I think its very important to show the product in its best light. By that I mean fitted or worn correctly and used for its intended purpose. Facts that are stated in reviews must also be correct and properly researched, if for example I’m giving a little backround on the company or stating a weight or tolerance this must be 100% correct so as not to mislead anyone. With this added pressure I had to come up with something to say, say the right thing, for example I kept calling the company in this video 76 products rather that 76 projects! That saw a few retakes I’ll confess. Also taking in between passing horse riders on the bridleway was also frustrating. all this of course makes editing the whole thing together a lot more time consuming. The software I am using didn’t help as it doesn’t support transitions between scenes or a nice title sequence so it all looks a bit amateur. But I’ve since been told this makes it more genuine rather than a paid for advert that you get a lot of on youtube. I can assure you I don’t get paid at all. I’m no Juliet Elliot making a living out of being an influencer, although I’d love to try that lifestyle.

Here is the 76projects (right 1st time!) review video

after the second video I put up a poll on my instagram stories asking if anyone thought It was worth me continuing with the video thing. usually if i pose a poll question I get over 1k of replies, this time I got 12, 5 for carrying on, 7 against. So while it was conclusive it wasn’t a very wide audience. Given my general glass half empty mentality I assume people were being polite by abstaining from voting no, so…

If you have got this far and watched the two videos can I ask you a few questions?

  • would you like to see more product review videos along side the written reviews on this page?
  • Is this style of shonky production something that you value more than a slick docu-advert?
  • what free (or reasonably priced) video editor should the amateur look at?

Thanks for reading/looking and i look forward to seeing your answers and hearing your advice

Groups rides are back!

It feels great and at the same time weird

ever felt like someone was following you?

Today I organised and led the first group ride since the latest lockdown started all those weeks ago. We’ve been allowed to ride with one other person in that time but to be honest I’ve mostly ridden alone through the winter months. Motivation to get out into the cold is hard enough when you’ve arranged to meet up with someone else. When it’s just you the temptation to not bother and just sit on the sofa and eat crisps is strong! The end of this phase of lockdown (we are still in it it’s just eased a little) has coincided with the start of spring, extra daylight and temperatures in double figures, everything has come together.

Pie and Pint. Although some things have eased others haven’t and we are still without pubs and can’t sit inside anywhere, both things we would have definitely have included in a group ride. To somehow bypass this fact I suggested the ride should have a theme of “pie and pint”, riders bringing their own choice of pie and a beer with them from home. Whether it was a sweet, savory (or both) pie was discretionary as was the beer type. If you were prepared to carry it, bring it!

The Route I planned took into account the easing of lockdown too. We are now allowed to meet other people outside and the local popular beauty spots have been busy as the season has changed, the fact that the Easter holiday weekend has started too was only going to make that worse. Back roads, grass up the middle lanes, bridleways and gated roads were the order of the day, one small section of “A” road was the busiest part. Luckily the recent dry weather and windy conditions made all the off road parts very dry and 100% rideable, a contrast to winter! In fact if anything it was too dry and the bumps and hoof-holes left in the bone hard soil by horses was jarring and quite frankly it frothed my beer up!

A mid ride stop to pay homage to Mr Bonham and admire the view from Rushock Church yard got us to just over the half way mark, stomach’s were rumbling at this point and some disappointed faces were seen as they realised the pies would need to stay packed away for a few miles yet. I didn’t like to mention the two big climbs we’d need to get over to get to the lunch stop.

those tough climbs defeated and a sweet section of bridleway brought us to Belbroughton Park, were we sat, socially distanced of course and tucked in to our selection of goodies and beer. The fact the Belbroughton Deli was visible from the park was part of my plan and at least 5 pieces of cheesecake was purchased and scoffed as the sun finally came out.

full of pie, sugar and beer we decided to take the slightly less hilly route home via bridleway and woods before people began splitting off and heading home.

Back to normal, but what is normal now? It was great to finally see these guys in person instead of just via social media, but the fact that we were all still keeping our distance from each other, sitting at either end of the benches for example meant that although it was good, it wasn’t exactly back to normal, no one could share food or beer and listening to a description of what Dan called “the most amazing cheese” just isn’t the same as tasting it! It was however great fun nonetheless. Sharing experience of technical sections and racing each other up climbs, having someone yelling “car” from behind you to warn you of traffic & riding along chatting about nonsense rather than current events was brilliant.

I hope there’ll be more group rides to come and that we get more and more of our former freedoms back, because I really really want to taste that cheese!

A ride of contrasts

bog bridge picture by Dan Phillips

It was all going so well, the trails were much much drier than I’d expected and surprisingly it was quieter in the woods than it has been recently. The stay local lockdown rules seem to have been heeded generally by everyone. The trails have suffered from over use yes, but once things open up and the amount of footfall lessens the ground should recover given enough time and a dry Spring.

As we were riding along Dan and I were discussing the fact that because riders haven’t been able to travel to riding spots that there had been a lot of trail building going on. Most of the trails locally have been there for years and are away from the most popular walking paths. So generally there’s not too much conflict between cyclists and walkers. The area is owned and looked after by the local council. The woods are maintained by the local ranger service working for the council and as long as the trails aren’t overly dangerous, there are “chicken” runs and they don’t use footpaths the rangers turn a blind eye. We’d never ride at peak times, such as Sunday afternoons in normal times as it’s just too busy with families , dogs and horses. However, in lockdown it’s busy all the time and I guess the local riders are bored so many new trails have sprung up and go across footpaths and paths that get very busy.

As we pedaled along one general use path I pointed out a trail that came down the steep bank to the left of us. The trail wound through the trees, then over a log drop into a shute that crossed the path and then carved round into a man made berm, also on another path. As we stood there considering if we had the skills to actually ride it (no is the answer from me!) an old chap and his dog came towards us. we moved on out of his way thinking it was a good job we hadn’t been riding down that steep route at that moment. Then, three riders appeared on that very trail. It’s a trail that needs commitment to clear, once you drop over the log there’s no going back as the pick up in speed is high. The lead rider narrowly missed the dog. The dog, who was getting on a bit looked a bit stunned and didn’t know which way to turn, back to his owner or away from the riders who now were following their friend down the trail. They were committed and if they tried to stop would almost certainly have crashed. they were dropping in straight at the dog.

I’m not sure how they managed it but they all missed hitting the dog or the owner and thank goodness for that. The lead rider was stood next to me sharing pleasantries and I’ll be honest I just had to ride away before speaking my mind. It wouldn’t have done my day any good to get into an argument over how riding these trails at peak times can cause conflict. Yes, some people will ask why we were riding at this peak time but we were trying to keep to the quiet areas and when we were in a busy part we always give way and employ judicious use of the Timber bell! This time they were lucky and no one was hurt from a collision or by crashing but it was pretty close. Yes, the dog was off the lead and I’ll admit I’m not a fan of loose dogs even if their owner claims they are under control but in this instance the dog was well behaved…or terrified. We didn’t stick around to see the old guys reaction either but it certainly wasn’t going to be a good one and he’s going to leave the woods with a bad impression of cyclists that he’s going to spread.

So, I’m in conflict about this. I’ve ridden this area for 30+ years and there has always been trail building. I’ve enjoyed riding these trails. Trails that 99% of the time have been away from the most popular areas. I can see it from the side of the riders, they can’t head to a trail centre or over the border to Wales or into the Forest of Dean for example, local is all they have at the moment. But, it’ll only take one incident where someone gets seriously injured and makes a claim against the council and the call to ban all riding in the area will rear it’s ugly head and the high volume of people at the moment increases the chance of that more and more.

My only hope is that the promised opening up of the country in the next few months will ease the amount of traffic on both sides and things will settle down again.

If you have similar issues and I’m sure it’s the same all over the country then please please think before you route that trail through a busy area used by everyone. Think before you drop into a trail where if a person or an animal gets in your way it will be difficult to stop

Share the space as if you’d like to ride it over and over for the next 30+ years because if you don’t you might find that that privilege has been taken away.

Going the Distance

pic by Dan

Lockdown 3 riding has been hard and also at the same time easy. It’s been easy to motivate myself to get out on the bike as it’s the only legitimate reason to be outside the house other than for work or essential visits to shops. Not even the recent cold snap and snow stopped me. it’s been completely Baltic conditions or miserable and wet and I’ve been out in all of it. Every time on my own up until now. It wasn’t until today’s ride that I realised how hard it has actually been and what made it so tough. The realisation came because today I rode with someone else!.

Dan had signed up to ride The Distance.cc’s Blockbuster event. The (socially) distanced ride https://thedistance.cc/sociallydistanced meant we had to follow a route collecting pictures of various things to get across the board

I’m sure other riders planned a careful route with pinpointed stops for specific items on the list but to be honest we just pedaled around with no real idea of where to go other than to follow the front wheel and see if anything we came across fitted the brief. Oh…. and there must be a (takeaway) coffee and cake stop…or two and just incase I took some hot cross buns for emergencies

There were a few stiff climbs but the early frost was melting quickly and temperatures were turning ever warmer and the novelty of chatting to someone else while riding rather than the habit of humming songs to myself that I’ve got into over the last few months meant the miles and elevation just seemed to fly by. We took the most off-roady route we could that would avoid the inevitable crowds that the popular routes would contain but I have to report that every person we came across, from horse and rider, large family groups with ebullient children to dog walkers all were friendly and courteous and when needed, we were the same, giving way with a smile and the very British thing of discussing the weather that we were all standing in and experiencing. it WAS a fabulous day for it though 😉

I had no idea if we’d scored any hits on the chart, Dan was taking care of that, I was just turning the pedals and at one point removing arm warmers as it was so warm. The feel of the sun’s power on bare skin was intoxicating and I didn’t want it to end. I want all my rides to be like this, temperatures in double figures, almost no breeze and plenty of daylight to enjoy it in. For once Pandemics were forgotten and the new normal was gone, the old normal was back for a few precious miles, until the next coffee stop where mask would be deployed and socially distanced queues would be joined anyway.

Secondary to the Distance.cc competition was my goal of exploring something on my doorstep that until Saturday I didn’t even know existed. I found out when an Instagram account I follow posted this picture @My_Midlife_adventures and knew I’d have to visit it myself to see if it was real. It certainly didn’t disappoint.

it’s no folly riding down here!

A genuine castle (sort of) hidden from the road, a road I’ve genuinely ridden past 100s of times not knowing it was literally yards away. the fact it had a cracking little route past it too just added to the fun. I think I got lucky with the light on this picture too.

Conditions just a week ago were awful, thick gloopy mud made much of the local area virtually unrideable and wheels and tyres got so clogged up they wouldn’t turn but the wind this week has dramatically dried things out apart from the odd patch..

an odd patch earlier

In fact we were so encouraged by the lack of moisture that we decided to lengthen the ride and tackle a bridleway that I looked at in January but failed to complete because of the conditions, I think I’d still be there today trying to extricate myself from the mud if I’d carried on on that day. Today though apart from a huge lake in the middle of the field it was actually passable with care even to the point that the ground was solid enough to knock my saddle out of alignment when my backside whacked it! We passed a windmill (not on the list) lots of pubs (closed 😦 ) and Lamas/Alpacas (just what is the difference?) taking a piss. We may also have stopped for a toasted teacake, a fruit scone and not a pot of tea from an Indian restaurant of all places. it’s amazing how businesses have diversified just to stay afloat.

After meandering for 5 hours we finally neared home, I’ve no idea if we got across the chart above or if Dan needed to spot something else on his way home. In the end it doesn’t matter, we had a great day and it was awesome to interact with another person, to share the thrills and near spills of the ride and to just talk crap all day just because we could.

last summit for home by Dan

Fearless Bikes Launch New Frameset: The Warlock

I’ve long been an admirer of Fearless Bike’s do it all steel frameset, The Vulture. When I did a mini interview with Tim, the guy behind fearless hinted that a new version was on the drawing board but didn’t want to give too many details, interview here

Today the new frameset has been announced and frankly it looks amazing, with clearance for bigger tyres if you want them, versatile brake caliper options (post and flat mount) and a bolt through upgrade from the Vulture’s QR it has a lot going for it. Add in extra mounting options and the all new fork together with the signs of a clear evolution from the old frameset and this could be a fabulous all rounder, a singletrack ripper, all day tourer and a bikepacking companion. The fact that it is made of steel and comes with this great looking paint job is just icing on the cake.

Warlock magic

I’d love to get my hands on one for a test but I think that this frameset is going to be so popular at just £720 that they are going to sell out fast

Here’s what Tim has to say about the new addition

after much delay Fearless Bikes announce the Warlock, their new gravel & adventure frameset. Sorry it took so long. 

Built for mini epics as much as multi-day adventures the Warlock is a mystical brew of all the things we love about riding drop bar bikes on challenging terrain. Big tyres and progressive geo means it’s built for tackling technical sections and rough terrain over longer distances in comfort, covering ground that might be out of bounds for conventional gravel bikes. Progressive geo with a short back end and a slacker front means it’s agile for hammering single track whilst stable enough for light touring and bike packing. It accepts big tyres- up to 650x58c or 700x47c. There’s also dropper post routing if you need it- super useful for those steeper descents. 

The Warlock frame comes supplied with the 404 Type 2 fork- a revised flat mount brake version of the original 404 fork found on the Vulture. It’s compatible with both flat motor calipers and post mount up to 180mm and comes in two frame size specific offset versions- The small and medium sized frames coming supplied with 52mm offset version and the L and XL the 48mm which keeps the handling tight across the size range. The 404 takes it’s name from it’s axle to crown length of 404mm which makes the Warlock geo correct for tapered carbon forks with a 44mm external lower cup fitted. Plus there’s all the eyelets you’ll likely need for cargo longer self supported days in the saddle.

Being an off-road orientated machine we didn’t skimp on the weather proofing. Both the Warlock’s double butted chromoly frame and the 404 Type 2 fork are internally ED coated and the frame has continuous cable routing throughout. The frame also has a forward facing seatpost slot to reduce debris from the back tyre entering the seat tube.

It’s a bike that’s fun to chuck about on the trail and can also double-duty as a bike packing or light touring rig. Stick on some fat tyres and some wide flared bars and rack up those cross country miles. 
Framesets come supplied with thru axles and a seat collar and cost £720.

for more details and to get in first and order a frameset go to https://www.fearlessbikes.com/warlock/

UKgravelCO shop is LIVE!

If you are already reading this you’ll know that ukgravelco.com is the place to go for reviews, views and real world writing about the kit we all use or want to try. This all costs money unfortunately, the cost of websites, domains and all that jazz soo adds up.

The main reason I started this website though was to review kit, bikes and anything to do with gravel and cycling in a slightly different way to the established online and paper press. I hope I’ve been successful in this over the months since I started and judging by the feedback from the riders out there who have messaged me and the companies whos products I’ve tested It seems to be being well received.

To help pay the costs of this I’ve set up an online shop to sell T shirts and stickers, I must think Dan Phillips for his design work with the logo, The proceeds of this shop go towards buying new items that you might potentially like the look of but don’t want to fork out your hard earned cash for in case it just isn’t for you. I take the risk and let you know, warts an all what the product is like. Even if I’m lucky enough to be sent things to test I always make it clear to the sender that I only do unbiased reviews, if i love it I’ll say so but if I hate it, I’ll say that too.

So please have a look at the shop and If you only buy a sticker it really helps this project go forward.

you can find the shop at https://ukgravelco.bigcartel.com/

At the moment, I’m fully stocked with the original logo sticker and the #norulesjustride sticker and limited sizes and colours of T shirt. The T shirts will be restocked shortly and look out for a poll on some new colours and other exciting items.

All stickers except the original logo ones are sourced and printed only 2 miles from UKgravelCO HQ so that money is also going back into the community and has a low enviromental impact.