Merry Krampus

DSC_0079No posts for ages because I’ve barely ridden a bike in anger outside for months. Pathetic, but I can at least plead house-moving and work-craziness as a defence, in addition to my usual laziness and disinclination to get cold and wet. In fact I missed pretty much all of the unseasonally lovely weather in October due to having loads of things to unpack and screw together and paint and nail to walls, etcetera. More recently, in between DIY sessions, yes I may have been hiding from the frankly hideous wind and rain of November and December with a woodburning stove and a beer or two.  I have been BMXing a couple of times, ridden disused railway lines with the boy, and done a few turbo sessions with an old friend who is working on his rehab following some serious illness. Until Friday though I hadn’t been outside on a night ride, or indeed any kind of proper ride, for much longer than I care to contemplate.

Having finished work for the year (insofar as is possible when you’re your own boss, basically all emails and voicemails will just be ignored until January) I arrived home and instead of faffing with shelves or paint rollers, or just collapsing onto the couch, I asked permission to actually go outside and ride a bicycle. This being granted I dragged my sort-of-new Surly Krampus up and down some muddy tracks in the dark for an hour and a half, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I built this bike up in summer, after buying the frameset from the guy who won Relentless that time it nearly killed me just riding four laps of the course. Sadly I don’t think the bike-riding ability that won that race is included with the frame. I spent ages figuring out rim, tyre, hub and mudguard options in the aim of building up an ultimate winter machine for minimal maintenance and hassle, and added a selection of bits and bobs from the spares box to finish things off. Oh and a fancy dropper post. Fully rigid apart from the extra give in the massive tyres, with home-rolled wheels on a proper freewheel single-speed rear and dynamo front hub providing free lighting, and full coverage oversized guards sourced from the US – this is a very dorky bike, and I’m rather proud of it as a build project. Also it’s that lovely sparkly green colour that I have admired since I first saw one at a Singletrack film night in Hebden Bridge. It was good to finally take it outside and ride it in the sort of weather it was built for – windy, wet, grim.

The first hill was horrible, 32 x 20 sounds like a low ratio but hauling that gear out of our steep-sided Yorkshire valley on a 29+ bike into a headwind is bloody hard work when you’ve not really got the miles in your legs. My lungs were not happy with me when I reached the top 25 minutes after leaving the house. Still, I thought to myself, if I can manage this a couple of times a week through the winter I’ll be pretty much unstoppable come April. Rattling back down into the valley a few downed trees and lots of new, unexpected trail features bore testimony to the entertaining weather we’ve had of late, but the bike did what I needed it to do and I have to say I’m quite impressed with the steamrollering ride of the huge wheels and the softening effect of the 3-inch tyres. Getting the thing to go round corners demands a bit of forethought and the required manoeuvres occasionally border on interpretative dance, but once you get the hang of throwing the necessary shapes it’s a lot of fun. The massive, knobbly Dirt Wizard tyres didn’t lose traction once, even honking up a muddy slope that had clearly presented a problem to the local farmer’s pick-up. Their only weakness seems to be wet tarmac, on which they squirm like a politician explaining his expenses, but they didn’t drop me on the floor so I suppose I’ll get used to that. They’re not fast rollers either, but if you’re riding a bike with 3.0″ tyres and expecting XC whippet responsiveness you’re a bit daft, frankly.

I have said in the past that I don’t think I’d get much benefit from a full-on fat bike; although I have always been intrigued by them I certainly don’t need one (in terms of how much anyone really needs any kind of mountain bike at all, obviously). I think the half-way house of plus-sized 29er wheels might suit me more than a full-fat monster truck, and I certainly noticed that the big rubber offers a very effective amount of squish, taking the sharp edge off rocky tracks that are actively hard work on a regularly-tyred fully-rigid machine. There are a couple of things I need to tweak with the Krampus still: I want to run the tyres tubeless, I need a better saddle than the uncomfortable spares-box horror on there now, the seatpost is slipping a bit, the front mudguard is too low. But these are very minor snags and I’m looking forward to trying to get the most of out it over the coming winter months. Perhaps it’ll even get a chance to play in the snow at some point.

At the top of the last climb I found myself giggling as a tailwind blew me along a quiet lane, below the star-filled gaps in the clouds and above a well-earned singletrack drop down to home.  The final descent was fun even if I had to stop halfway to shake the cramp out of my left calf. I rolled back to the house and dumped the bike straight in the garage, which is pretty much the whole point of a single-speed, right? In due course I crashed onto my sofa, but feeling like I really deserved the beer in my hand for the first time in a couple of months. Test ride: successful.DSC_0074