While most of us were sitting back eating chocolate eggs team rider Al Fairbairn was putting in another very strong performance to take the Vets win at the Margam Madness.
The name George Budd is becoming synonymous with large amounts of pain and suffering being dished out to my poor legs. When he suggested we race the second edition of the Margam Madness 8 hour enduro i knew i was in for a day in the pain cave!
We were out the door and on our way to south Wales at 6am and arrived to a beautiful sunny morning. We promptly registered, assembled our bikes and set up our pit areas.
Although the sun was out there was a cold wind blowing and i was glad to get the racing underway.
At 10.30am the whistle blew and sent the pack charging across a grass field towards the ominous hill side. From here the track began climbing through a combination of wooded singletrack, fireroad and loose rocks. I settled into the top 5 as we hit the first descent. As we started the next climb George and the other front runners gradually pulled away. I decided to let them go as 8 hours is a long time and i didn’t want to go too hard too soon.
The course was an amazing blend of horrific climbs punctuated by awesome descents featuring trail centre style berms and jumps, steep technical black graded routes and rocky fast singletrack.
As the day wore on the climbing really started to take its toll. It became a mental process of breaking things down into fun sections to look forward to, in the hope that this would motivate me to keep on climbing!
The format of the race was to finish the last lap before the 8hr cut off. As i came round on my penultimate lap i learned i was leading the Veterans category by about one and a half laps. This meant one more lap and it was in the bag. I came over the line with 50 mins to spare. Potentially i had time for one more lap but hey…why push your luck
All in all a great day out. I went home with the Veterans win, completing 10 laps, 64 miles and 13,515 ft of climbing. George took the win in his category and in the process was the fastest man of the day beating all the teams as well!
A big thank you to Gareth Hayes for putting on such a great event. I will definitely be back next year!
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.
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