From team rider Al Fairbairn
If there is hard way of doing things I’ll probably find it. When I heard there were some like minded fools heading out to ride the South Downs Way over night I jumped on in with both feet.
I had just borrowed the Singular Puffin from Sam for a bit of a demo so it seemed like a top idea to use a fat bike!
The weather forecast was looking pretty bleak with strong winds, fog and heavy rain. I met my band of merry men in Eastbourne train station and we promptly set off into the night.
Disaster number 1 of the night shortly followed with stuntman Scott trying to commit bike assisted suicide by throwing himself down the first descent. How he got up, let alone carried on, is testament to how tuff Aussies are!
Next followed an onslaught of punctures that would see us out of tubes and patches and getting nowhere fast.
A descision was taken to call it quits with Scott and Nick heading off in a Guildford bound direction while Chris and I mended his last tube and plotted a road route home for us.
We had covered only 44 miles off road so this left us with a sizeable chunk of miles to do. Heads down and onwards into the night we went, heading through Petworth, Midhurst, Petersfield and across the meon valley. The Puffin is hardly ideal for road miles but left with no option i ground my way up the climbs and flew down the descents.
Chris turned towards Winchester while i headed home with the lure of bacon sarnies and fresh coffee firmly fixed in my mind.
All told I was out there for nearly 14 hours, covered 113 miles in the pouring rain and loved every single minute!
Thanks for a memorable evening guys. Till next time……
From team rider Al Fairbairn
After last weekend’s (mis)adventure on The South Downs Way that resulted in a 70 mile road ride to get home, I figured it was time to show the Puffin some proper trails. With the car fully loaded we headed off to Afan Forest Park and the lure of some fast, rocky terrain.
My friend Rob and I arrived Friday evening and after a quick bite to eat, suited up and headed off into the darkness. The plan was to ride a quick loop of The Whites Level Trail to loosen up our legs for the following days big ride.
If I’m honest I really wasn’t feeling the love for the Puffin to begin with. This was my first real off road ride on a fat bike and I found myself struggling to find any flow. I was bouncing off rocks, having a hard time cornering and getting pretty frustrated. We finished the ride and I headed off to bed questioning my choice of bike for the weekend.
Saturday morning began early. Breakfast was consumed, coffee drunk and bikes adjusted. I decided to let a little more air out of the tyres to see how that would effect the ride. I finally settled on 10psi. This seemed like a happy medium between too hard and destroying the rims on the rocks.
As we climbed up the first section of trail the difference was remarkable. The grip offered by the 45 NRTH tyres was phenomenal. It takes a little while to adjust to the handling characteristics of a fat bike. You really have to muscle it around. The steering is a lot slower and heavier than the lightweight race bike I normally ride. The feeling of inertia from the enormous wheels and tyres takes a bit of getting used to.
We made our way up the fire road climb to the top of the Skyline Trail. There has been a lot of tree felling so the regular route has been changed. The diversion took us down some superb fast rocky descents. I found myself gaining confidence and aiming for the steepest most gnarly lines. The Puffin devoured the rock gardens with ease.
As we headed back towards the visitors centre we joined the newly opened Blade Trail. This contained some fantastic sections of fast bermed singletrack, jumps and rock drops as it plummets down hillside. We arrived at the Skyline Café ready for a well deserved lunch stop. After lunch we rode down the valley to sample the reopened Penhyyd Trail. This began with a long climb on a combination of graded singletrack and fire road. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the Puffin is a joy to climb on but it was nowhere near as bad as its weight would imply. It was basically a case of sit down, select an easy gear and grind your way to the top.
Rob was starting to feel the effects of a long day in the saddle and was glad to finally turn downhill. The decent featured a mixture of natural singletrack and man made swoops and turns that promptly returned us to the bottom. A gentle cruise back up the valley to the car and that was that. 65 miles and 7000ft of climbing completed. I can safely say I am now a fat bike convert and can’t wait for the production Puffins to arrive!
I was recently asked by the BikeRadar site to answer a few questions about the new 29+ (29×3″ or 622-80 for the uninitiated) tyre size, some of which were included in their article. For those who want more, here is the full text of my responses.
But once we get more of these things on the dirt, and people see that you can have a bike which rides brilliantly with the full 29+ tyres on it, plus you can throw some lighter faster tyres on for racing or thick mud if you want, and you can use most of the parts from your existing bike it’s really a great platform. We need to see at least one more tyre (more suited to softer conditions – bring on the Dirt Wizard!) then I think things could really gain some impetus from there. I see this being more of a ground-up development in much the way 29ers were, rather than the ‘industry’ suddenly clamouring after a ‘hot new thing’ as seems to be the case with 650b – not to diminish Kirk Pacenti’s vision and hard work in being the progenitor of 650b for dirt.
This was my third successive visit to Rockville (a.k.a. Villarocca) and there’s a good reason I keep going back year on year. Sure, it’s a fun CX course and always a hard, competitive race – but mostly it’s for the food… Well, that and the group of guys and girls who call themselves Los Lobos del Bassa. We’ve become friends over the years, since I first met Stefano of biciclista (who produce my clothing) at SSWC Stockholm in 2006 when I was there with the very first Swift prototype. We’ve had lots of events and good times together in Italy since then, so I keep going back for more.
Rockville takes place every year on the last day of Christmas, epiphany, January 6th – which is a public holiday in Italy. It is the biggest event in what (incredibly) is a series of singlespeed CX races across northern Italy. Most of the locals will have had the whole 12 days of Christmas off work, though it doesn’t necessarily translate that they are bloated and indolent from a fortnight of sloth and gluttony such as we manage to cram into a couple of days here. At the front of the race the elbows are pointy and the pace is hot. This is helped by a regular lively contingent of Germans and generally also a smattering of Swiss.
After my bike not arriving at all two years ago, then forgetting saddle and seatpost last year – this time I triple checked everything and took the easy route in getting a hire car from the airport. I arrived on Friday around lunchtime and was intending to get out for a little spin but the weather was hideous.
In fact it stayed that way for pretty much the whole weekend…. Fortunately the ‘Lobo’ with an affinity for the track, Guido, had arranged for a few of us to head over to the nearby Velodromo Montichiari. Amazingly there is no accreditation needed, not even a briefing, you can just rock up and ride. Which makes it all the more interesting getting on the track with maybe 60-70 people out there with a wide range of abilities and speeds. Still, really good just cracking around for a couple of hours in the warmth and dry and improving the track skills.
Saturday lunch time a big group of us headed to what is quite possibly my favourite restaurant in the world. The Trattoria dell’Alba is an unassuming place with incredible food and the perfect level of service. We were a bit restrained and had only four courses; antipasti, pasta, cheese and dessert over a very leisurely four hours.
Sunday a ‘crossfondo’ ride was planned, but shortened a little due to the horrible weather. We did about 30k in two hours, never fast enough to warm up. Additional frequent regrouping and navigation stops meant I, and pretty much everyone else, was absolutely frozen and rather unhappy by the end. Fortunately a hearty soup waited for us on our return to warm our bones. Dinner that night was a mega pizza and beer fest, both of which were excellent though I was attempting to moderate my indulgence in both. New for this year we even had a band on (Isaak) who were pretty good in an Italian hard rock kinda way. Managed to get to bed at a reasonable hour around 11.
Thankfully the persistent rain of the previous 3 days cleared overnight and we woke to lovely sunshine. When I say we woke to I mean it quite literally, I was sharing a room with four others and a bed (well, two singles side by side) with Francesco – a man with a beard to put Ed Oxley to shame. Well, as they say, when in Rome (or Villarocca)….
The start was scheduled for 11, though that was a very italian 11 and only allowed to occur after copious coffee and a typically underwhelming Italian breakfast of dry bread and jam. Gradually everyone readied, coalesced, milled about for a bit and then headed down to the course for a lap. Most everyone was there at the start finish area, when the shout went out we were to return to the Agriturismo for a pre-race briefing. Much groaning ensued but we all dutifully returned to resume milling. Then there was no briefing but we all rolled back to the course together only to have a briefing on the start line. It’s such mildly controlled chaos which lends charm to the event, but you could tell the substantial German and Swiss contingent were getting tetchy.
The usual le mans start was replaced by what was dubbed the ‘Braveheart’ start with everyone lined out across a field for a mad dash onto the course. Given how boggy the field was and that it was laced with corn stubble I elected to run. A few guys had found a firmer line on the left so I entered the first corner in around tenth.
The course was tough. Mostly either up or down with one steep run up and entirely covered with a deepening and thickening mud – save for a grassy section near the start/finish with a spiral of death. This meant the fast line was changing from lap to lap as was the point at which you decided to run rather than ride. So a proper tech cross course, many bikes getting so gooped up the wheels stopped turning. The ‘scoop mud out of your chainstays while running with your bike’ maneuver was a very valuable one to have in this race.
I was locked in battle after a few laps with an old stalwart I’d seen at previous races who they say was a national champion in his day and though now around 60 is still super fast, and a Swiss guy who I think was second last year. So I was feeling pretty good about my position. We came through the line to a ringing bell and shouts of ‘ultimo giro’ so I hit the front of our little group and punched it as hard as I could. When I looked back I couldn’t see anyone so kept riding hard through to the line. Arriving pretty spent and with the expectation of cheers and adulation though instead being told ‘no Sam, one more lap’ I was not happy. There may have been some language parents would be unhappy for their children to hear if they understood English, though the vehemence with which they were shouted probably negated the need for translation. When the same thing happened at the end of the next lap I was really unpleased. So when it happened a third time I was pretty much expecting it. On one of those last two laps, I can’t quite remember which, teammate and friend Mario came past me and I didn’t have any kick left to go with him. It turns out that while organiser Stefano decreed we were racing an hour plus a lap, the guy counting laps thought we were doing 45 minutes…. Lesson learned – wear a watch So Mario and I finished 6th and 7th, or 7th and 8th, depending on who you asked, and we were pretty pleased with that.
The field came in, bringing most of the course with them, and we all headed back to the Agriturismo for sustenance. One thing the Italians definitely do right – a three course meal with copious wine and beer. There was also a table groaning wih generous prizes from the many sponsors. Such is the nature of singlespeed events the winners received a beanie (wooly hat – though hand crocheted and lovely) and the random prize draw threw up the best loot. I was a happy winner in receiving a lovely pair of Levi’s commuter jeans and a t-shirt thanks to my bearded bedfellow Francesco who turned out to be the Italian boss of Levi’s. The crowd seemed to dwindle faster than the prizes as people with journeys to make headed home so those who stayed did the best. Most everyone left with something in hand, and if not they certainly left with memories of a great day.
Enormous thanks to Stefano and all the ‘Lobos’, looking forward to 2015 already.
All pictures with thanks to Claudio Angelini
From Singular Team rider Al Fairbairn
Rd 1 of the Gorrick Brass Monkeys winter XC enduro series saw me suffering the indignity of watching the race leaders disappear over the horizon leaving me cramping in a puddle of my own dribble - I was determined to not have the same fate bestowed on me for Rd2.
The next 3 weeks was spent checked into the Big Al Bootcamp For The Clinically Insane. This had me pushing 300 miles a week on the road bike combined with loads of strength and conditioning work. I emerged looking like Frank Medrano after a hard gym block (google him, you’ll be impressed;-)
Some mid week facebook psychological warfare served to frighten my opponents into submission. The sight of me posing in my pants should serve as a warning i’m not to be messed with, or approached for that matter…
Anyways. Race day dawned cloudy with threats of strong winds and rain. Ceasars camp is one of the tougher courses with some long climbs and nice technical descents. Feeling pretty well prepared I lined up on the front row for the 4 hour race along with the other favourites. The horn sounded and saw a full on charge up a long fire road. I had to spin like crazy to stay in contention before it hit the singletrack.
I settled into position within the top 5, waited to compose myself and started to push forward. I rode the 2nd lap along with Rich Jones and Rich Penning keeping an eye out for places i could make a move on them. The opportunity came half way through the 3rd lap where I put in an effort on the long fire road climb. I instantly created a gap and kept the pace high until I was out of sight. This put me into 2nd place, but by this point George Budd was in another time zone! I chased hard for the remaining laps through driving rain, howling wind and worsening track conditions to finish 2nd. I was 6 mins down on George and 4 mins ahead of Rich Jones when I crossed the finish line.
A great days racing and a vast improvement from 3 weeks ago.
A big thank you to the Brass Monkeys crew for putting on yet another great event. Cant wait till the next one!
I was quite surprised when Singular International rider Mario Donatelli got in touch to tell me he had an entry for the epic event that is the 3 Peaks Cyclocross, billed as ‘The Hardest Cyclocross Race in the World’ ever. Not surprised because he’d got an entry, or that I thought he wasn’t up to it, but because I thought he would have learnt from my experience last year.
Anyhow, Mario arrived very late on Thursday night and we thought we’d get out for a bit of a local spin on Friday. The trails were in such perfect condition we just kept riding, taking in all the best bits of Ashridge. We stopped afterwards for a beer at one of my favourite local pubs.
Mario was on the Puffin proto and loving it, and I had my first ride on the Gryphon with Jones H-Bars which I immediately fell in love with.
The next day we packed up and headed that way ->
A fairly slow old drive thanks to heavy traffic, it took us nearly 6 hours to get up to a lovely little campsite just outside Settle. We got my new/old shonky caravan set up and did a little bike assembly and fettling in the sunshine.
As I’ve got the Masters Track Worlds next week (gulp…) I took up the rollers for a bit of a spin to keep the legs limber after a long car trip.
A good night’s sleep and the morning dawned bright and clear, we geared up and got ready to roll on out.
We had just a couple of miles to head up the road to Helwith Bridge for the race start. My plan was to help Mario out as much as possible, and get a bit of an easy spin in my legs. It was a perfect day for either a leisurely cruise on on the road, or an evil haul over the three highest peaks in Yorkshire with a cyclocross bike….
I headed out in advance of the race to the foot of the first climb up Ingleborough, headed a little way up the track and waited for Mario to come through. And waited. And waited. I knew he’d be spinning out badly on the fairly flat road sections, but I was starting to wonder if something had gone wrong as he hove into view smiling away. “What’s up?” I asked, thinking he’d perhaps punctured, “no problem” he replied – “it’s a long day”. Sensible approach.
I headed a little further up the road thinking I’d catch him coming off the second peak Whernside, when I realised that if I did that I’d only see the fast guy come blazing by and miss most of the excitement on Pen Y Ghent. So I turned tail and headed back down to Horton and the base of the final beast. I made my way up the trail when I saw Geoff Waugh who captured this great image.
While the other two peaks are an up one side and down the other affair, Pen Y Ghent is straight up, and straight back down. Geoff had picked a good spot in the middle of a fast section with a good view of riders both going up and coming back down. As I’d not seen him for a while, I stopped for a chat and ended up staying in this spot for the rest of the afternoon.
With no central marking, nor obligation to keep to one side, people crawling up the hill and others flying down – people, kids and dogs thrown into the mix and it’s quite astonishing there aren’t more serious accidents. So it was pretty entertaining watching this spectacle unfold, heckling and cheering all and sundry.
It took a while, ok, the best part of 2 hours, between seeing Rob Jebb scorch up hill on his way to an incredible 10th victory and seeing Mario grinding past. But grind he did and and it was immensely satisfying to see that he would make it.
I waited a little while longer then headed back down the hill so I would catch him at the finish. I was quickly reminded why Landcruisers at 80psi are the typical choice for this race, my super supple Grand Bois 26s getting two flats in very quick succession….
Mario rolled in having been out a little over 5 hours, not that fast a finish, but a finish nonetheless and as far as we know the first completion by an Italian on a singlespeed.
We rolled back down to the caravan, had a nice risotto, and Mario promptly passed out.
Monday was significantly more gloomy, but we’d arranged what I thought would be a relatively nearby visit to Wayne at our new dealer EDS Bikes near Dalby Forest. Thinking ‘it’s all Yorkshire’ does not mean it is very close – 2.5 hours later we got to Snainton. The beautifully paired Wayne and Jane run a great little shop stocking various non-mainstream brands and will soon fit Singular in to that mix. As they are officially closed on Monday, they kindly took us out for a quick blast around the forest.
We left a couple of bikes with Wayne, and headed off back down the road. I asked Mario what he’d thought of the trip ‘I think I come back next year’ – that was all I needed to hear.
I have been thinking about fat tyres for a while, finally getting prototypes for the Puffins a couple of months ago. Now that they’ve been ridden, tested and drawings revised we have a fatbike which is ready to fly. Ready that is, except for the fact that due to having stock of the new and revised Swifts and Gryphons on the way I don’t have enough cash to order them right away. This is where you can help. I have launched a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign to get these fat birds off the ground – and to give you a good deal on this unique bike as well. There is a whole lot more detail on the Kickstarter page but the key points are;
- Frame constructed from double butted 4130 cro-moly steel available in 3 sizes
- Frame weight expected approximately 2.7kg in M size
- Fork with tapered steerer and Reynolds blades
- Tapered external cup head tube (SHIS EC 28.6/34 I EC 40/44)
- 170mm rear and 135mm front symmetric spacing
- World’s first 100mm eccentric bottom bracket shell
- Modular bolt on cable guides for clean geared or singlespeed use.
- Direct mount front derailleur adadpter
- Replaceable rear derailleur hanger
- 27.2mm seat post diameter
- Frame clearance for 26×4.7″ tyres (Surly Big Fat Larry on 80mm rim)
- Fork clearance for 26×4.8″ tyre (Surly Lou on 100mm rim)
- Compatible with all 100mm bb shell fatbike cranksets.
Production frame and fork sets will retail at £595 GBP - if you back this project in an amount of £400 GBP you will receive a Singular Puffin frameset (frame and fork) in the size of your choice. Additional shipping costs will apply for backers outside the United Kingdom.
Sadly two of my most popular models are currently out of stock. The process of re-stocking has been a little slower than I might have liked as both the Swift and Gryphon are undergoing their first significant makeover. Now before you get too nervous, the tubing, geometry and general ride and intent will stay the same! The changes are;
- Modular bolt on cable guides to run singlespeed or geared with no extraneous braze-ons.
- Direct mount front derailleur adapter
- Replaceable derailleur hanger
- 73mm wide eccentric bottom bracket
- Clearance for 2.4″ tyres on 35mm rims at rear
- Clearance for a 29×3.0″ (29+) tyre on 50mm rim in the fork
- New colours:
- Gryphon in British racing green with black panel and cream logo
- Swift in cream (as per old Gryphon) with Swift blue panel and red logo
Sadly as a result of these changes and also because the base price has not gone up in about 4 years, the price will be rising to £495 for a frameset (including UK VAT). However – as a special offer if you are so excited about these changes as to want to lay your money on the table right now you can get a (very nearly) 20% discount off that price and pay just £400 – you can do this on the respective Swift and Gryphon product pages. The new frames are currently expected to be on these shores in late October.
It’s not a Swift but it’s the same colour as the new ones will be
It’s not a Gryphon but it’s (nearly, they will be a little darker) the same colour as the new ones will be
I’ve been playing around with fat. Firstly trying to lose some of my own, but more importantly experimenting with various voluminous tyres. I’d spent a bit of time on 26×4″ tyred bikes from ‘other brands’ last year, and also played around with a fat front on a Swift. Ideas started to percolate about what a Singular full fat might look like. By the end of 2012 I had some drawings of what was to be dubbed the Puffin.
Before those drawings turned into metal, another type of fat arrived on the scene – ever the innovator Surly introduced the 29+ (29×3.0″) Knard tyre. While this is the only tyre in existence in this size at present, I feel it could be more appropriate for regular trail riding than 26×4.0″. It didn’t take long for me to do some measuring and realise a 29+ tyre would fit into the Gryphon/Hummingbird fork, just about, on a narrower rim. Still, performing this quick test convinced me that for regular riding 29+ could make a lot more sense than the ‘full fat’. Compared with the full fat front I used on the Swift, the 29+ front rolled much better, turned much better, but still gave you a lot of that ‘monster-truck’ feeling you get with a full fat. The new Swifts and Gryphons (more about those very soon) will have a fully 29+ compatible fork, among other improvements.
Then the Puffin prototypes arrived a few weeks back. My thoughts about what I wanted to achieve with a fat bike were primarily around a trail bike – something which would be fun to ride on your regular singletrack all year round as well as providing practical benefits in snow and sand. I kept the back end as short as possible, and the head angle fairly slack teamed with a fork with a lot of offset to keep the trail short. The short trail, wheelbase and back and makes for a fat bike that just wants to be thrown around and played with – not just ploughing a line through snow or sand. Further refinements are currently being made in order to save some weight from the prototypes and optimise tyre and crank clearance. Once that is done I will be running a Kickstarter campaign to get these fat birds off the ground – stay tuned for details.
I’ve also been thinking about 29+ front and rear – which could be a lot of fun….
The Buzzards, my new ‘all mountain’ 29er hard tail are proving popular. This frame was Chipps at Singletrack Magazine Editor’s Choice for bike of the year in 2012 and he only got to ride the prototype! They are moving fast so if you want to get your hands on one go here! If you want to try one first a number of my dealers have demo bikes for you to ride.
Since the new Pegasus prototype arrived I have been riding it almost exclusively on all of my dirt jaunts. It’s fantastic, goes up fast, down fast, turns on a dime and feels lovely – ‘best mountain bike I’ve ever ridden’ I keep telling people – and it’s true. However it’s got 10 gears, a 120mm suspension fork with lockout and even a dropper post. In short, it’s a long way from the kind of thing people associate with me and the Singular brand – rigid steel singlespeeds, often with funky bars.
So this morning pulled out my old favourite, the Gryphon. Now this ticks all of the niche boxes listed above, with added bonus of a ridiculously fat front tyre, the new 29×3.0″ Surly Knard. I recently fitted a nice bulbous Racing Ralph 2.4 to the rear and installed a new suspension seatpost from the good folks at Ultimate Sports Engineering. So this should make for one smooth and comfy ride.
After the best part of a month of warm weather and sunshine, the past few days have seen a bit of rain. This made for just about perfect trail conditions, nice firm and fast trails with just enough of a damping down to eliminate dust and provide just the right amount of tacky grab – ego dirt – just lean it over and rail.
However despite these perfect conditions, I had no flow. I was overcooking every corner, bouncing off every root and generally riding like an ataxic triathlete. What was going on? I was tearing down these trails just a few days ago on my Ti wonder-bike. It was early, I headed out the door at 6.30, maybe I was just getting warmed up. Indeed as I goot going, things smoothed out a bit, but I still wasn’t feeling that comfortable.
‘I know what’s going on here’ I thought to myself, ‘springs and things have robbed my flow’. The forums are full of chatter about ‘skill compensators’, big bouncy bikes which allow technically inept riders to barrel over anything in their path. But could this also happen in reverse? Could riding a forgiving and inspiring bike make you forget how to ride around stuff? How to smoothly float over the roots and rocks ? How to carry momentum around that corner and into the little sharp rise? Yes, it seemed it could. A rigid singlespeed makes you do these things if you want to enjoy the ride, and it’s incredibly satisfying when you get it right. Yes, the Pegasus is faster – all else being equal. But over time it changes the way you ride – if you can always blast over stuff you may lose that ability to finesse it when you need it. If you can just click through the gears and spin up that nasty climb you may forget how to carry momentum through the sharp corner beforehand.
‘Modern’ bikes are great – suspension allows you to attack stuff with a vigour you’d struggle with on a rigid bike, gears allow you to get up stuff you simply can’t climb on a singlespeed. But they can also make you lazy and dull your skills, those hard earned subtle weight shifts, perfect applications of power, and smooth pedalling souplesse that make riding a rigid singlespeed such a joy – when you get it right!
A customer recently asked about 44mm head tubes and whether the Swift might be getting one. My response ended up coming to some length so I though people might like to know my thinking on the matter.
The reasons for 44mm head-tubes, or not – as the case may be.
Many fork manufacturers are now producing high end forks in a tapered version, sometimes *only* in a tapered version. There is only one real benefit to having a tapered fork and by extension a larger diameter head-tube. It allows you to join larger gauge tubes to it. Using larger diameter top and down-tubes and not needing much/any manipulation to join them to the head-tube, and not having them interfere with one another, makes for a potentially stiffer front end, rather than anything to do with an increase in stiffness of the fork steerer and crown.
So when we talk about a bike like the Swift, much of the reason for its vaunted ride quality and and smoothness is the profile of those top and down tubes. Large enough to be stiff under power, slim enough and with appropriate wall thicknesses to give a smooth ride and a frame which has a bit of give and doesn’t ‘ping’ off every bump and rock. So other than suspension fork compatibility (and we can only hope the big manufacturers will see the error of their ways before long) there is no reason to add a 44mm head tube to the Swift. Plus it would also look horribly out of proportion against the gauge of the top and down tubes.
For these reasons the forthcoming Buzzard will get a 44mm ID head-tube. That frame is designed for the kind of riding where it will be pushed a lot harder and have a lot more stress put through it. The difference in front end stiffness from the much larger diameter top and down tubes over the Swift is enormous. This is very noticeable whether using a 1 1/8″ or tapered steerer fork.
So why are all the big manufacturers going to tapered? Because they need something new in order to sell bikes. It’s an easy thing for shop staff to sell; q. “why do I need a tapered steerer?” – a. “because it’s stiffer!”. No question as to whether it really is ‘stiffer’, or if so whether that stiffness is desirable for the intended use of the frame – but that’s perhaps a topic for another post….
I get quite a few questions from customers buying Gryphons and Peregrines asking what needs to be considered when using drop handlebars and disc brakes on a mountain bike. There are a few things which need to be kept in mind, which are not always straightforward, so I will try to give a comprehensive run-down here.
I’m not talking here about stem clamp diameter (which nowadays has pretty much one option – 31.8mm) but the portion of the bar which you grip and to which brake levers are fitted. Traditional mountain bike flat bars have a diameter of 22.2mm (7/8″) and as such all brake levers designed for use with such bars have a corresponding clamp size. Most road bars however have a diameter of 23.8mm, and require levers designed for drop handlebars in order to fit. What this means for the disc brake user is that you can’t fit hydraulic brake levers designed for flat bars to your drops – not without some significant bodging (done entirely at your own risk) anyhow.
For off road use most riders prefer a bar designed with dirt use in mind – for reasons of position, control, comfort, and strength. Of course it is possible to use a standard road bar, but it won’t really give the best experience when riding technical terrain. Most opt for a much wider, shallower flared drop bar. Some good options are the Ragley Luxy (which I had a hand in designing and as such are my preference), the Salsa Woodchipper and On-One Midge. These bars are meant to be ridden primarily in the drops and the wider, flared hand position affords a much greater deal of control in rough terrain than a road bar. However if your use involves a significant amount of time on the road or gravel some find these too wide – certainly if it involves any navigating through traffic. As such there are some options available which offer a nice middle ground. The 52cmSalsa Cowbell has become a recent favourite on my Peregrine, and the Nitto RM-014 Dirt Drop or WTB Mountain Roads are also a good option.
As referenced above, off-road drops are designed to be ridden primarily in the hooks. As such the bars should be positioned to so as to place the hands when in the hooks in a similar position (relative to saddle and pedals) as what they would be when using a typical flat or riser bar. They do not need to mean that you have a lot lower or longer reach than you would on a typical mountain bike. A frame such as the Singular Gryphon which is designed with drop bar use in mind enables most to achieve this without resorting to overly high rise and short stems with large stacks of spacers.
Given that you are restricted to using levers designed for drop bars, which ones will work with cable actuated disc calipers? Essentially there are two routes to take; standard (road) pull levers, or long pull (mountain) levers. When we say pull, this is the amount of cable which gets pulled during lever actuation. When long arm side pull rim brakes were introduced (“V-brakes”) they required more cable to be pulled in order to move the brake arms far enough that there was sufficient pad clearance when not applied. This became the de-facto standard for all mountain brakes and as such the majority of cable actuated disc brake calipers are designed with the use of such a lever in mind. In order to provide compatibility with such disc calipers (or indeed V-brakes) some manufacturers (Dia-Compe and Tektro notably) produce drop bar levers which pull sufficient cable to operate them. If you already have mountain disc calipers then these provide the cheapest and simplest solution. However this essentially restricts you to either singlespeed or shifting with bar end shifters. A much more flexible option is to use disc brake calipers designed for use with standard road pull levers such as Avid BB7 Road, Tektro Lyra or Shimano BR-505 to name a few. This allows a much wider choice of brake lever and are compatible with integrated shift/brake levers such as Shimano STI. Mixing and matching of short pull levers and long pull calipers (and vice versa) is not advisable. In the former case there is insufficient clearance between pad and rotor and excess mechanical advantage of the lever over the caliper resulting in a mushy brake feel.
A further possibility is starting to take hold, in addition to bodging MTB hydros as mentioned above. Hydraulic disc brakes designed for use on drop bar equipped bikes. Most solutions to date (such as the TRP Parabox or Hope V-Twin) utilise a remote master cylinder which is then actuated by a cable operated by a standard road lever. These result in very powerful and consistent braking though are heavier than a full cable actuated system and require the somewhat aesthetically unpleasing master cylinder to be mounted under the stem. However if you must have hydros these are currently the best options available. Ideally we would see levers with master cylinders encased in the lever body, and indeed some such systems are in the early stages of development, such as those from Formula. These are designed for use with electronic shifting systems from Shimano and Campagnolo, as there is insufficient space in the lever body for both a mechanical shifter and master cylinder. While they are undoubtedly “the way of the future” these are still in their early days though I am sure we will see more refined solutions from the big S’s in the next year or two.
Forgetting any further ‘bodges’, shifting gears with drop bars requires use of road shifters. Within that you are primarily restricted to offerings from Shimano or SRAM – Campagnolo require their proprietary cassettes and freehub bodies which are generally not available on hubs with facility to accept a disc rotor. For road shifters you then have a choice between bar-end shifters, or integrated shift/brake levers. Fortuitously, for both 9 and 10 speed Shimano systems road shifters and rear derailleurs are cross compatible. So you can use 9 or 10 speed STI’s to shift across a mountain cassette with a mountain derailleur. For 10 speed it gets a little more complicated, especially if you want to use a triple chainset. Singular frames are primarily designed for use with a mountain chainset, the wider stance allowing room for larger tyres. With bar end shifters this is not a problem, the friction shifter will move a mountain front derailleur just fine. For STI’s it’s more complicated. Shimano (in their wisdom) use a different cable actuation ratio for road and mountain front derailleurs. So if you want to use a road shifter you need to use a road front derailleur. For a double this is not a problem. On a triple however you will need both a triple compatible shifter, and a triple front derailleur.
Other more esoteric possibilities include Alfine internally geared hubs with Versa or J-Tek shifters. Then Retroshift levers, Kelly Take-Offs or Paul Thumbies all give options for mounting down-tube/bar-end shifters on the bars. Or if you like Campagnolo shifters you can also go theShimergo route which has the added benefit (for a certain level of shifter) of discrete adjustment of the front derailluer and less compatibility concerns.
Well, that’s about everything I can think of regarding drop bar set up on a mountain bike, though as always, if you have any further questions, please just mail me.
For the last 6 years the small village outside Cremona called Villarocca has hosted the Italian Singlespeed Cyclocross Championships. Spiedo Biciclista aka Stefano is the driving force behind this lovely event and he and his merry band of ‘Lobos’ seem to find the perfect balance of lighthearted fun and quality racing. I first attended this race last year, and though I was in horrible condition had a wonderful time and knew I must return.
After last year’s debacle of shipping my bike in advance to avoid extortionate airline carriage prices I bit the bullet and took my bike with me. So much simpler I thought, until I pulled my bike out of the box only to find I had left the saddle/seatpost sitting in my workshop at home…. Fortunately the Italians are generous and resourceful people and a replacement was soon found – perching me on faux fresian hide for the weekend.
Though the actual championship race is on Sunday, equally important is the Rockville Cross-fondo on the Saturday. A mostly mellow group ride around the local gravel roads and farming tracks of around 50km. We were lucky enough to have bright sunny skies and temps in the low teens for a perffect day out – punctuated by a lunch stop as only the Italians can do it. Hot soup, cold beer, fresh grana, bread and home baked cakes were the order of the day.
The traditional LeMans start had some equally traditional (for a singlespeed event) bike hiding/theft shenanigans. As I ran to where I’d left my bike I heard a booming Teutonic voice ‘Sam, if you want your bike you have to wrestle me for it!’ So I took on the redoubtable (and pretty much immovable) Phatty (aka Christian Krämer) and he eventually relinquished his hold. It worked out quite well for me as I found myself standing 100 yards or so in front of the frontrunners when I heard organiser Stefano yelling ‘Sam, just go’. So I did, and managed to hold on to the lead for one lap, though drifted back to an eventual 9th from there.
Picture thanks to Claudio Angelini
The crumbling palazzo at Villarocca provided a stunning backdrop for the race.
Picture thanks to Giovanni Luigi Bocchi
Mario Donatelli, our Singular International rider from Italy blasts through the water crossing. The course was a great combination of winding singletrack, slimy off camber corners, and a perfectly proportioned spiral of death to keep the grass interesting.
Pic thanks to Matteo Brichese
Some of us suffered – others were just there for the fun of it – such is the joy of singlespeed events!
Picture thanks to Giovanni Luigi Bocchi
After the race on Sunday my flight back was not until Tuesday evening, so I hatched the plan of riding back to the airport in Milan. I got talking to Swift owner Alessandro about my thoughts during the fantastic post race meal. He said that in fact it was possible to do most of the route along canals on gravel. That sounded just about ideal and he kindly drew me this map. About 120km in total. Definitely one to do again – a full day ride in better weather would be fantastic.
An enormous thanks to:
Ilaria and Marcello for going a long way out of their way to get me from the airport.
The wonderful people and chefs at the Trattoria del’Alba in Piadena for what is fast becoming the regular culinary highlight of my year.
Monica and the friendly folks at Agriturismo Il Campagnino who provide the base and much hospitality for the weekend.
The guys at La Stazione della Biciclette in Milan for giving me a bike box to get the Kite home.
See you all again next year!
My northern road trip began with a lovely ride out of Hebden Bridge on Saturday with some old friends. The good conditions we experienced lulled me into a false sense of security that we might hope to see similar on Sunday for the main event, the 50th anniversary edition of the Three Peaks Cyclocross race, I should have known better. I left the friends I was staying with a little before 8, and punched ‘Helwith bridge’ into the satnav, driving merrily along I was in reasonable time to make it before sign on was due to close at 8.45. ‘You have reached your destination’ was patently untrue as there was not a bike in sight. No signal on the phone so I couldn’t get a map up. Nothing for it but to keep driving. The bike proportion thickened and I knew I must be getting close, then the real Helwith Bridge came into view and I slung the passat up on the verge at the first opportunity and bolted for the sign on tent as it was already 9. No bother there, got my rego pack and had no real time to feel nervous. Spent as long as possible in the car to stay warm and dry and made my way to the start at 9.25. The road was totally packed with riders and there was Nick Craig on the front line waving me a cheery hello. ‘Shit, I’m just late, I don’t want to be on the front!’ – ‘never mind, you’ll be fine’ he reassured me. Very short bit of chat and a hello to my childhood hero Frischi (who sadly wasn’t in his full period clothing as rumoured) then off we went.
Being right at the front I then had the ignominy of a constant stream of riders powering past me on the opening road section. I restrained myself from trying to keep up, though sucked a few wheels along the way. Before long we were on dirt, and not long after that we were off the bikes and in ankle deep cow slurry. It was pretty steep even at that early stage as I heard a cheery ‘hello Sam’ behind me. ‘Who’s that?’ ‘Jenn’, came the response, an old friend and now deputy editor of Singletrack Magazine. So we chatted for a little bit before she left me in her wake. I was really trying to conserve myself as I knew it would be a long day which I was rather under-prepared for. Everyone had told me the first peak was the worst, with hands and knees often required. I thought it was quite OK, must be my long legs and powerful stride. Then the really steep bit came… Indeed I was down on all fours at times clambering like an intoxicated baboon up the greasy grassy slope of about 45 degrees, though it felt more like 80. Relief should have come at the top of reaching that section, then you really noticed the wind. ‘Wind’ doesn’t really do it justice though; gale, blast, tempest, or even typhoon might be more descriptive. This was serious, hard to stand up in type wind. Cowering in the marginal lee of a stone wall progress was very slow, the sail effect of my deep section rims not helping… That shelter was soon to disappear as we were required to cross a stile over the wall. I hoisted my bike to lift it over and quite literally did not have the strength to push it into the wind far enough to place it on the other side. Fortunately some kind soul grabbed it and pulled it down.
It flattened a little for a while and was possible to ride for a bit, which in a way actually made it easier to cope with the wind than when walking. Visibility was close to zero, which was almost welcome as it seemed there was quite a precipitous slope below us – being blown over was a real possibility. Seeing a gathering of marshalls at the summit brought relief that I was finally there, and incredulity that those good folks were standing out in such conditions just to allow us to ‘compete’ in this ridiculousness. The descent was all sorts of mad muddy slithering fun, completely off-piste was often the best route, though that also opened the possibility of sudden unintended plunges from grassy knolls.
Back onto the road and by now I was feeling well warmed up and actually quite strong on the bike. There was a fairly lengthy road section to take us to the second peak – Whernside. I linked up with a couple of other guys of a similar pace, and though we had a hefty and welcome tailwind, it was nice to swap off some turns doing a decent clip. The nature of this climb as quite different from the first, more slabby rock and stairs. This meant you were really forced to carry rather than push the bike which is generally my preference to ease the strain on my somewhat suspect back. The common approach is to use some pipe lagging under the top tube so as to reduce the pressure on the shoulder. Friend and pervious two-time finisher Dean gave me the hot tip of using the mandatory bivvy bag to provide some padding instead, which worked well. However the extended carrying and relentless steps started to take their toll on my back and bring on my recurring sciatic nerve issue. I was stopping to stretch it out regularly and swap carrying shoulders, but it was really very painful and I was starting to doubt the possibility of continuing up peak three. By this time I was also starting to get very cold, the howling wind now carried some little sleety bits of ice, I was soaked through and really under dressed with just a long sleeve base layer, jersey, wind vest and normal bib shorts. This wasn’t helping my backbone – literally or figuratively.
The summit came soon enough and what followed was for me the most enjoyable section of the event. The bulk of the descent was rideable though very rocky – lots of riders stopped with pinch flats. In this section it was very easy to distinguish the mountain bikers from the roadies. The former mostly riding, the latter often running. Which is fine, but the walking roadies didn’t seem to understand the typical off road race etiquette of getting the hell off the track if you are walking. Just because you can’t ride it doesn’t mean the guy behind you can’t…. Anyway, a few ‘excuse me’s’ later I got to the bottom of the hill. There was a nice section of rolling fire road and I was feeling really strong in my legs and pushing along well, but still knew there was a lot of tension in my back and started to get that familiar tingly/numb sensation down the back of my left leg. I knew that if I took on the third and final peak of Pen y Gent it could really do some lasting damage.
So as I rolled down the road and the left turn in to Pen y Gent loomed I hung my head in shame and continued straight on. I was still riding well on the road and was cursing my lack of dedication to a regular core strengthening regimen. I managed to ride with a couple of guys who were I guess an hour in front of me back to the finish line and let them go to take the glory they deserved at the finish line unsullied by a quitter. The announcer saw me rolling in and with what sounded to me like surprise in his voice, though it may have just been a thick Yorkshire accent, said ‘here’s Sam Alison of Singular Cycles in an excellent finish time of just over four hours’. The head hung again and I diverted right at the finish line to make the shameful journey to the retirees tent.
As I shambled back to the car I heard a yell of ‘Sam’, my friends Tym and Jess were there, I’d forgotten they’d said they were coming. Both are a bit injured and were just spectating, it was nice to see their smiling faces. Of course at this point I knew I’d missed my kind hosts Craig and Kirsty and they’d be waiting, undoubtedly frozen and wet, expecting to see me on Pen Y Gent. I got back to the car and stripped off, shivering my way back into dry clothes and wishing I’d brought more warm stuff. I tried to call K&C, without success due to lack of signal. I stuffed all the food I had into my face and when feeling had returned to my fingers turned the ignition and headed for the nearest McDonalds.
Picture thanks to Racing Snakes via FB
A huge thanks and appreciation to the organisers, marshalls and helpers who not only run an excellent and historic event, but braved simply hideous conditions to allow us to engage in this folly. I hope the event does go ahead next year (in somewhat finer conditions would be great) I would love to come back and finish it.
By David Kleinjan
Brighton Big Dog 2012, the 4th edition of a classic in the making. 6 hours of shared or solo punishment around some of the best single track Brighton has to offer. Situated in Stanmer Park, a short ride from Brighton Pier, and so it was that I saddled up on Saturday morning and spun down the road (standard 34×19 ratio enabled). Selection for team events has been rather haphazard this year, never seeming to stick to the original plan set out during the winter team planning session. It was more a matter of self de-selection that led to the formation of this triplicate of singular clad gents. Steve, Aidan and David (myself). Credited as a singlespeed team, mind games with the opposition had begun. I’ll freely admit Steve had bought the wrong bike and was equipped with a full selection of gears; 9 more than Aidan and me. Oddly we were also all sporting bikes with a suspension fork, something of a rare occasion for the two singlespeeders.
Meet and greet commenced upon arrival, excuses exchanged with Josh Ibbet, mine being
too much running, and 0 biking in the past month. This was reminiscent of last year; I’d entered in the solo category and after a lap I’d had enough, couldn’t bear the thought of pushing a singlespeed around for 6 hours. It’s not a singlespeed course I kept repeating. It’s certainly a challenge and results in a bit of running, but that was how I’d been training. Invalid excuse.
Steve arrived a little late, but was keen, as ever, to take the honours of the first lap, a surefire way to get a good start and a clear lap for the second man out. Back in a flash, riding comfortably with the leaders, it was my turn to grind my way around the brilliant course. The first climb was OK, lungs were ignited in short order, not in a good way. The many short sharp climbs challenging the traction offered by my Crossmark. The way down was fun and littered with whoops and just-about moments, but with a Maxxis Beaver mounted, I was pretty happy to let the levers out an extra notch. I’m still running my new X-Fusion forks at 120mm, coupled with full width USE Atom bars, it was a bit more moto than I’m used to, also making the narrow tree passages feel narrower yet.
Half way through the lap, I heard a noise that wasn’t right. One that makes you ride differently. I still had drive, each pedal stroke accompanied by a crunching and clicking noise emanating from the rear hub. Had I lost another pawl? I was already down to 3 (one ill-fitting pawl had been removed before my trip to NZ)? Was it a bearing? I figured the worst that could happen was a sudden lock up on a sketchy descent, but I was willing to risk it. There was a bit more of a wobble in the tail, again, not making it unrideable, but no less disconcerting. I did ride the rest of the climbs with more caution, favouring riding the remainder over pushing. No doubt I lost some time, but it certainly added to the adventure of finishing the lap.
Having survived the rest of the lap, I crunched across the line, handed the baton to Aidan, and went in search of a solution. After failing to find tools to dismantle the freehub, I talked to Rory and managed to borrow a wheel off one of the Upgrade bikes. This is normally where I’d turn to Sam for a solution, but unfortunately he and his quiver of bikes was absent. I really need to sort out my other wheelset, in addition to keeping my daily runners in good shape. To be fair, I’ve never touched these wheels, built by a friend Tristan in NZ (wheelworks.co.nz), they’ve served me well over the past 4 years. I think I’ve had the freewheel off once, it was pretty grim. It’s been a bit wobbly for the last 6 months, so I am surprised they’ve done so well. Anyway, instead of resorting to using a fully cassetted wheel, Harvey produced a toolbox with exactly enough spacers, and promptly turned it into a singlespeed wheel. Done. With a slightly too large Bronson mounted, I headed off for my second lap, the tyre nibbling on my lovely Ti chainstays. The second lap felt pretty good, the track drying quickly, the speed rising with each descent. Again, a few exciting moments with the front scrubbing then hooking up again, man this bike is fun. I got caught between two trees whilst attempting a pass, resulting in a good laugh and flustered apologies. It seemed a common theme amongst my wide barred brothers. On the final technical climb, slip. The wheel had ejected. Eek. Quickly remounted with some more bite, and luckily without any further issue, I headed into the final part of the lap, ending in a screamer of a descent.
With some infrequent updates, we’d gathered we were in 2nd place in the team category. I’m not sure we really cared, but we were all having a ball, with some fast laps the effect rather than the cause. I wouldn’t call myself a racer, but I love riding fast, and not so much searching for, but stumbling upon my limits. With a window of 80min to lay down the final two laps, ending inside the 6hr cut off, I knew I had to leave it all out there to give Aidan a fair go at anchoring the effort. I certainly haven’t felt so harassed in a long time. The improving track certainly helped, and without any mechanicals, I was on track to lay down a sub-40min lap. I think Aidan was surprised to see me, but he needed no more motivation than “you’ve got 40min, do it”. Sure enough, another hot lap from the man who does long better than anyone I know, was back with 1:30 to spare. Second place was secured, the gap narrowed to 4:30. If only I’d been more attentive to the maintenance of my wheels, sorry guys!
My (and I’m sure the others) thanks go to Sam from Singular for producing fun bikes, and also bringing such a great group of guys together to go riding with. Another thanks to One Industries for keeping the rubber side down (Maxxis tyres) and USE for getting us stuck in trees (bars/stem/seatpost). Also a special thanks to Rory and Harvey for helping me to keep riding. It would have been a shame to bail after one lap. To the organisers (Oli, Rory, Nigel, and others), keep this one going, it’s ace. Hope to see some of you out there on the trails. If you see me riding around Brighton on my Cr-Osprey or other Singular, stop me for a chat. Alway great to meet more locals. Cheers!
Many thanks for the photos to David Hill at www.RideAgain.co.uk.
From now until the end of August we are doing all XL frames at a massive 25% off! Just check out as per normal and the frame should come up at the reduced price in your basket.
Maximiglio in Torino/Turin Italy is the latest to join the growing network of Singular dealers. A lovely shop at the foothills of the Italian alps, they have a few Swifts and a Gryphon on the way. Check them out in store or on their website at www.maximiglio.com. Ciao tutti!
I’ve recently had lots of people sending through some lovely pics of their Singulars which are now up in the gallery. If you have some of your Singular, even better if you are riding it, please send them through!
We’ve been working for quite some time on getting this new site up and running. We are very pleased with the results and hope you find it informative, attractive, easily navigable and usable. Almost inevitably we may have some teething problems as the new site settles in. Though we hope these are few and infrequent we’d appreciate you letting us know as soon as you find them. This site has been the product of a lot of hard work from the guys at The Lift Agency in Harrogate, I thank them wholeheartedly for their patience with me and the lovely website we’ve produced.