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Gravel Rides Scotland – Our First book is Launched

Gravel Rides Scotland is our new book, it has 28 of the best gravel riding routes in Scotland (unsurprisingly!). WeLoveMountains.net has been quiet recently from a combination of COVID19 and Lockdowns limiting our big adventures, in part from a second baby but also because Ed was writing Gravel Rides Scotland and now we can share it finally!!! It is the first Scottish gravel cycling guide book to be published and shares 28 of our favourite gravel rides in Scotland, it was intended to be a cross between a traditional guidebook and a coffee table style book that inspires you to get out. It has loads of our photography from rides but is laid out really clearly with descriptions, facts about the area, maps and route details. The descriptions and details of the routes really let you know what to expect and how to make the most of the ride. It hopefully explains more about gravel riding as a new niche in cycling but also what makes Scottish gravel biking so special. It was a lot of work but it is truly awesome to see it published and it was even No.1 on Amazon for quite a few categories (but please buy it from here or the publisher!). It was also professionally proof read so rest assured it will be a lot better written than Ed’s writing on this blog too!

Why did we write it?

Essentially because Ed can’t say no to anything! But seriously it was such a good opportunity to explore, share what we know and love about Scotland, but also an excuse to explore new places while still close to home and that’s what really makes us tick. It also combined with COVID lockdowns which forced us to keep it local so we explored, photographed and wrote down the routes that were just so good they had to make it into the 28 in the book. There were and still are a few book ideas we’d like to write, like most people they are ideas that have always been at the back of the mind so to actually get a chance to write this one was something we couldn’t turn down. Although to be fair had we known the amount of work involved we might have not done even this one! In part that is because we really wanted to devise the routes from scratch not pick our favourites, then ride them all and take our own photos along the way – so no light undertaking. This approach of doing everything helps ensure consistency on the routes both in style but also the nature of them.

What makes the book unique?

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We tried to set the book up a bit differently to most guidebooks. For a start the imagery is intended to inspire you to plan and ride, as much as to be practical and as a result its a bit bigger than a normal guide book but still small enough to take away with you or leave in the car or campervan. Then rather than dot routes all over the place and randomly right across the breadth of the country, we wanted it to have destinations of gravel hotspots where the routes are based. It means some regions have no routes but the idea is that it will support more great weekends away, rather than there being a route in each corner. As a result it has 7 regions with 3-5 routes in each, these are loosely based on: Dumfries and Galloway, Scottish Borders, Argyle, Trossachs and Perthshire, East and West Cairngorms and North West so quite evenly spread over the country still. This hopefully means there’s a high chance you’ll actually ride all of them while letting you link lots together for overnight or longer adventures too.

Why should people buy a copy?

Because it’s currently the only gravel guidebook to Scotland and Scotland is the best place to ride gravel bikes so you’ve basically no choice! We’re also really pleased with how it turned out, the work on the design, the maps and the layout by Vertebrate Publishing is remarkable. It really is easy to read, navigate the book and use the maps to plot the rides. It also has the GPX files ready to download. The positive feedback so far has blown us away and we love hearing all the rides it has inspired already. People tell us it looks good on the book shelf or coffee table too! You can either get a copy in our shop if any in stock or direct from publisher

Top Five Gravel Riding Routes in Scotland – Gravel Rides Scotland

I wanted to write my book Gravel Rides Scotland to share why I fell in love with gravel riding in Scotland and to inspire others to explore for those wanting something a bit different to traditional road cycling or mountain bike options. It was also a great excuse to get out there and ride parts of Scotland I’d maybe never thought of riding.

Gravel Rides Scotland reflects my passion for both road cycling and mountain biking, and the routes often involve a bit of ‘type 2’ gravel fun, whether this means many routes have high climbing statistics or just cover long distances.

For me gravel riding lets you explore, taking you further and faster into the mountains of the Highlands or through the moors of the Scottish Borders by letting you cover ground efficiently. I enjoy both road cycling and mountain biking and the challenges and pleasure that both offer, but I think a gravel bike brings elements of both, and routes like those around Aberfoyle (aka Gravelfoyle) might suit a road rider, while others like the Dukes Path near Lochgoilhead gets into ‘underbiking’ (aka mountain bike singletrack). Gravel bikes still let you feel the direct power on road and some rides have longer sections of quiet back lanes like the Dunkeld wind farm route, which just feels like it works on a gravel bike.

Gravel riding also lends itself to bikepacking, which has become a big part of the cycling scene. While similar to cycle touring, as we called it a few years back, it is so much more fun with modern bikepacking bags on gravel tracks. It’s about going further than a day ride and taking your kit with you. From social media posts you’d think bikepacking means wild camping, but why not use B&Bs or hostels to carry less kit and add some comfort? Gravel Rides Scotland offers ways to add loops together and easily create bikepacking adventures, while some of the longer gravel rides, like the Callander and Loch Tay monster loop, could be cut in half over a gravel weekend. The best example for bikepacking might be Loch Eck and Loch Long, which offers an easy extra section to add on and detour via Dunoon. Dunoon is easily accessed by a ferry too, which completes a bikepacking adventure.

We can’t not mention the boom in outdoor swimming in Scotland, which much like bikepacking has seen a rise in interest in recent years and since COVID. Bikepacking, riding bikes and water can go hand-in-hand, as on a hot ride it’s great to jump into a pool or by a waterfall to cool yourself off and in Gravel Rides Scotland I’ve tried to share a few prime wild swimming spots. It’s a great post-lockdown excuse to try a few new things at the same time.

Trains offer a great way to link up routes. Scotland is home to some iconic train lines like the West Highland Line and the Scot Rail from Glasgow to Oban (and soon extending to Fort William), which has dedicated bike carriages. Some routes rely on trains, such as Beauly to Ardgay, so train stations are indicated to help you link up the rides.

Trying to narrow down all my researched routes to the twenty-eight rides in the book was hard work, and here I try to describe the top five, which was near impossible! So, my criteria here meant picking my five most memorable, albeit each for different reasons. They aren’t ‘the best’, but they are the routes that really surprised or left an impression on me.

1. Beauly to Ardgay (Route 28)This one was such a surprise. Researching the book was the first time I had ridden here, and I had no idea what lay in store. The first piece of gravel really starts on the approach to the stunning Glen Orrin. We called our son Orrin, because we liked the name but also because we knew this peaceful idyllic little glen with its ancient redwoods and the river’s rocky rapids. However, was the gravel riding good? It certainly was! While the road down from the reservoir is paved, the first track climbing up on to the moorland is a classic. It is not always smooth (or dry), but it has an isolated drama that’s hard to match anywhere in Scotland. The route then meanders between forest roads, a bit of road and then the next section starts towards Loch Vaich. Granted, when I rode it the sun was out and the sky blue, but, wow, what a ride! Just book this in for a summer adventure!
2. Loch Eck and Loch Long – The Dukes Path, Lochgoilhead and the Arrochar Alps (Routes 09, 09a and 10)To be honest I have infrequently visited Argyll because it is a bit of a faff to get to. However, the process of writing this book has made me want to go back and explore more. It has a lot of fascinating corners of interest like Puck’s Glen (look it up!) and a lot of great gravel riding that is unparalleled. Catch the ferry to Dunoon and you’ll find two routes that could easily make for a perfect long weekend of riding. The Wild About Argyll campaign has highlighted the area’s natural beauty.
3. Four forests and a wind farm in the Tweed Valley (Route 04)This gravel route is my local ride, and the shortest version can even be done before work! It is the ride that kick started gravel in the Tweed Valley, which was already a mountain bike Mecca. I love this route because it has a bit of everything. You can climb on Glentress’s red mountain bike route, then take the smooth, fast descents on gravel and a big climb to a wind farm. The MTB riding in Innerleithen is well known, but the gravel riding at the ‘Golfie’ or Traquair Forest is also awesome and will confuse the enduro riders as you descend past them. You might even spot a local pro enduro rider out grinding some gravel miles, as a few have taken it up off-season to train.
4. The herring roads of the Lammermuirs (Route 05)This area is just within the Scottish Borders and not far away from East Lothian and Edinburgh, so is really accessible. It is also close to the Berwickshire coast for a surf at Belhaven or Pease Bay. I chose this route for the book because I love the mix of open moorland, the hidden little valleys, the tough climb up to a ridiculously big wind farm and its smooth fast tracks. It is well surfaced but feels remote and like a proper exploration. I was left torn because the wind farms have opened up gravel tracks and obviously provide renewable power, but there is no denying they have also ruined the peace in this natural environment. It is a wonderful area that reminds me of the Cairngorms and the North York Moors in places.
5. Ballater, Balmoral and Loch Muick (Route 17)The gravel tracks on Deeside (the eastern part of the Cairngorms National Park) are as close to gravel perfection as you can get in so many ways. The pick of them all must be the Ballater, Balmoral and Loch Muick ride. Firstly, this crosses some of the most spectacular landscapes on generally smooth and well-maintained tracks before a boulder-strewn descent that most will walk at least some of (possibly the only such descent in the book!). I just love the native pine forest here – it’s all-embracing with so much wildlife and birds in particular, from golden eagles to the rare capercaillie. All the routes in the area are amazing, but this just edges it. You could always make a real adventure of it and link this route up with Invercauld and the River Gairn (Route 18) and Corgarff Castle and a military road (Route 19).

5 More Awesome Tweed Valley Gravel Routes!

This is the next gravel route blog to follow up the very popular first 5 Tweed Valley Gravel routes I shared. There is so much amazing riding in this area that it wasn’t hard to find another 5 amazing routes to share , especially considering being locked down for most of 2020 and forced to explore every local track!

I have also revisited the ever popular original 5 Tweed Valley Gravel routes blog so take another look at that too. Unfortunately the Komoot open source mapping has updated and the GPX tracks I had ridden went a bit nuts inn places since I uploaded them in 2018 so I tweaked a couple of them to improve them.

It is 2 years since the first routes were uploaded and I now have a toddler which means epic 100km+ routes are harder to find time for. Therefore these next five are shorter rides (with one exception), but still have sections verging on the mountain bike side of things, with a couple of hike a bikes and one true epic. These are in no way official routes, just places I’ve enjoyed riding and I’ve shared, ride at your own risk as things will change on the routes over time. Enjoy!

Tweed Valley Gravel Route 6

This is a short blast of the classic Glentress to Bowbeat wind farm loop. In a quick ride it can be done in 2.5 hours or less with all the return on the road or cycle path to Peebles. A solid 800m of climbing takes you up up high with views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth at the top of the infamous turbine climb. The secret is out since I did the first 5 routes in 2018 and Bowbeat is now a must ride for gravellists in the area or even those visiting.

Tweed Valley Gravel Route 7

Again back up to Bowbeat wind farm, but this route goes thoroughly off piste with a boggy hike a bike link on the outer edge of the wind farm. It offers an adventurous loop that very few will know is possible, as it heads north it reaches the fringes of Edinburgh. Once at the wind farm be prepared for a short, very boggy hike a bike that can be vague to follow, don’t say you weren’t warned! You certainly need a map and good route finding for this section, however it has awesome rewards as you drop down towards Gladhouse reservoir on a great track. Once at the end of the track the rest of the route is pretty easy and a lot of fun. You can just return down the A702 to Peebles which is a busy road or do only a short section on the A702 with the addition of the Meldons gravel section which is much more pleasant. I have ended with a tough climb up the infamous Sware road into Peebles, but you could go around the back of Cademuir or even up and down the Manor Valley to add a few more kilometres. While you can start from any access point or even ride out from Edinburgh, only do this loop anti-clockwise as the descent from the wind farm is certainly not rideable up hill.

Tweed Valley Gravel Route 8

This is some classic gravel with a traverse section to the final descent that is verging on really needing a mountain bike and a short hike a bike. While you can’t go far wrong it does need careful navigation as it does a couple of loops around the smooth scenic gravel roads in Cardrona Forest. This forest is popular with horses so watch out and slow down for them, it’s a generally quieter forest so bikes are less expected. Unlike many areas there are no mountain biking trails in this forest but the gravel tracks are open to ride with great views over the Tweed Valley. The traverse out of Cardrona to Gypsy Glen is really mountain biking terrain and will involve two sections of hike a bike for most people ( I have ridden it all on a Tripster ATR though – so there’s a challenge!). The descent down into Glen Sax this route takes is easier than the popular Gypsy Glen MTB route, which can I guess be ridden on drop bars but really goes well beyond fun gravel bike remit. The track to Glen Sax can be hard to spot as you need to turn slightly uphill from the gate and it is also steep in places so be prepared. The track down Glen Sax is near a working farm and can be busy with walkers too so again watch your speed back down to Peebles. This is a nice quick Sunday morning jaunt rather than anything epic.

Tweed Valley Gravel Route 9

This is an epic, a big day best left for summer or good weather. It follows a leisurely start but don’t let that relax you too much. The steep climb to the 3 Brethren is tough, the ride along the top is best in dry weather but fun. It then joins a short section of vague path after the gate, just until it connects to a new forestry planting track which goes downhill fast. From here it explores Bowhill Duchess Drive and up and over to Ettrick valley. From Ettrick it goes up the very enjoyable Berry Bush climb. A descent on forest tracks to St Mary’s Loch preludes the notorious gravel ‘Shielhope Steeps’ which is not for the weak legged, there is a long way round on the road which is easier and obvious on the map. Then it is a steady climb on farm and hill tracks to the final descent into Manor Valley, this is a tough descent in the wet on a gravel bike because it is quite boggy then grassy in places, so best left for a dry spell. It is all rideable on a gravel bike…just keep telling yourself that as it starts getting dark and steep.

Tweed Valley Gravel Route 10

This is loosely called the Innerleithen 3 leaf clover, it is a mixed bag, fast fun gravel interspersed with a couple of descents that need a wee bit of concentration. Nothing too bad though. Innerleithen locals will recognize all the parts of this loop and it’s a bit of a mix and match route that I like. When in Traquair Forest you can extend it out to the remote Glengaber cottage and ride the new forest track over the hill back to Damhead farm before going up the road to Paddock Slacks climb, however this means a small section of hike a bike so I opted for the easier descent to Campshiel instead. You can also keep going over to Yarrow Valley on a subtle track but I’ll let you find this and add it on if you feel the need to go further…..

Rear fitting child’s bike seats reviewed

Why use rear fitting child seats

Following our review of front fitting child seats we have tested a lot of rear seats too. Rear child seats are great for riding longer distances because they don’t really obstruct efficient pedaling like front mounted ones normally do. Rear seats tend to have more comfort features, with some even reclining to let kids fall asleep, being behind the rider means they also block cold wind or rain from the child too. Rear seats generally clip on and off very easily making it convenient and easy to swap between bikes, or remove when not in use. Rear child seats are normally rated for a higher weight meaning you can keep using them until a kid is much older.

With kids sitting behind you it means a little bit less interaction than front seats but I was surprised how much fun we still had compared to the front ones (just don’t leave snacks in your back pocket!) Rear seats are not really suited for proper mountain biking as they transmit the bumps much more and talking of bumps they also don’t fit full suspension bikes. In fact a front seat mounted directly onto a suspension fork really helps absorb all the bumps well.

Rear seats can affect bike handling and in particular when walking with the bike you need to be careful it doesn’t tip backwards with so much weight on the back.

Some people think rear seats are safer than front seats because the rider will impact first and it is not you crashing into the child, I can see the logic but whether this is actually the case depends on a lot of variables and not convinced there is a strong argument either way due to better handling and control with a front seat etc.

Child Seat Attachment

Rear seats attach in two main ways; A cantilever arm that clamps on the seat tube of the bike frame or designs mount direct onto a rack. With many ebikes and city bikes coming with a rack this makes a lot of sense. For others the cost and hassle of fitting a rack makes cantilever designs more sense and easier. A cantilever arm also provides a degree of suspension rather then the rack mount that transmits all bumps direct from the wheel.

  1. 1 Hamax Caress rear seat – £120-£130 – Rack or Cantilever – 9mths to 22kg

Hamax are a Norwegian company making a range of seats and trailers too. This rear seat comes in both rack and cantilever design. I used it with a rack. It fits tool free using lockable handles that twist and secure the mount and seat. The seat has inbuilt suspension to smooth out the bumps, this consists of a single pivot and two springs. It doesn’t have damping so off road it can act a bit like a pogo stick bouncing about. The springs increase the centre of gravity by raising and altering the height making bike handling harder than some. The back rest adjusts up and down which helps as a child grows and ensure the shoulder straps fit well. It also reclines to the back allowing young kids to sleep easily which is well worth having!

When reclined it further shifts the weight back making bike handling odd at best with heavier kids. With double skin and added arm rests it generally feels very secure, along with simple but effective shoulder strap and clip to hold kids in. It also has a standard strong security strap to go around the seat post. It weighs a lot but feels tough and robust. I think it suits ebike use on cycle paths or daily nursery runs which might involve roads. This is a high end well built safe seat and good option for most rides not on bumpy off road, other than adding a bit of weight.

4/5 (loses a point for high centre of gravity and no damping)

2 Urban Iki Rear Seat – £79.99 – 9mths – 6yrs/22kg

This seat is almost the opposite of the Hamax Caress, a light weight stripped back seat. I used the rack mount version that sits low onto the rack. this uses 2 allen key bolts to screw and tighten onto the rack. Simple but effective. I enjoyed using this seat as it is a light and simple option but it is flimsy and a single wall construction only. The seat buckle clip also feels flimsy but held up fine when tested. The defining moment was on one ride when I thought it was attached but on the first gravel climb it just fell off the back with my son on it. The ‘safety’ wire with a combo lock was around the seat post and it just snapped like string. Luckily my son had a good helmet on which got dented and he was shaken up but unhurt so we were really relieved. The seat had fallen off the rack mount and while the seat might not have been fully clipped in, I thought it was which concerns me and the fact the safety wire just snapped really annoyed me, if it had held the seat it would have stayed on or fallen less severely. It has gone in the bin as I just can’t trust it. I would avoid this seat despite some good features.

1/5 (just can’t recommend this seat)

3 Bobike Go rear Seat cantilever design – £69.99 Cantilever 1yr – 6yr/22kg

This was the first rear seat we got to use and was the cantilever attachment and it has been pretty good. We used the cantilever arm version to save fitting a rack and to help swap between two bikes after buying a spare clamp. A cantilever arm adds a bit of suspension and works well on gravel tracks. It can bounce a bit but nothing too bad. The Bobike isn’t as robust and quality feeling as the Hamax but it uses a double skin for safety, high protective seat back, rear reflector and still feels overall decent quality. It isn’t too heavy at a reasonable 3.2kg. The interface clicks in and feels more secure than the Urban Iki bike, which is a relief! The safety strap goes around the seat post and is strong like the Hamax so gives good back up safety. The only issue we have had is the metal cantilever arms slip down inside the clamp, past the notches they should click into, this isn’t a big safety or operating issue, but clearly it’s not meant to happen but it does lower the centre of gravity nicely! It is essentially a good, reliable middle of the road rear seat at a decent price.

3.5/5 ( Solid if uninspiring)

4 Thule Yepp Maxi Rear seat – £110 Rack mount or £125 Cantilever (as tested) – 9mth to 6yr/22kg

This is essentially the same style seat as the front fitting Yepp mini, but with a rack or cantilever design for the rear fitting. The same ‘foam’ type constructed seat helps absorb shocks well along with a basic beam suspension underneath too all help make it a smooth ride. Once the clamp is fittted the interface to fit is quick release and while robust feeling. The shoulder straps seem to stay on well with two height adjustments generally adequate. The foot rests adjust up and down like most rear seats. At 4.6kg the Yepp Maxi is heavy especially compared to the Thule Yepp Nexxt seat at 3kg. However the lighter Nexxt is more basic and a slightly higher price but still probably good optioon for many looking for a minimalist seat. Overall the Maxi or Nexxt from Thule are probably the best rear seat for general use, however at twice the price of the Bobike option it makes it less attractive, but the Maxi can be found online for about £85.

4.5/5 Buy one here on offer for £85

Other Rear Seat options;

Bobike Exclusive Tour – £110 – Rack fit

A more upmarket and safety focused version of the Maxi Go rear seat. A big design with a double wall skin and extended head rest which is both adjustable and wraps around the child’s head really well. More adjustment and padding than the Go, and clever strap system makes this a heavier but quality option ideal for commuting to nursery on roads and ebike use too.

Thule Ridealong £120 Rack or Frame fit

A slightly cheaper rear seat from Thule in more traditional plastic and with cantilever design. Has a basic beam suspension system designed into it, but we’ve not tested it.

On offer here for £85

Thule Yepp Nexxt Maxi – £145 – Rack fit only

As mentioned the Nexxt seat is a lighter version of the Yepp Maxi but is rack only fit. A nice light minimalist but quality looking seat that we’ve not tried out. It sits very low to the rack giving a good low centre of gravity with a cleaver buckle system. Not as much head rest as some seats.

What is the best front kids bike seat?

Front child bike seats are a great way to get kids into cycling. From 12 months young kids can start using seats like the Weeride or the Thule. While a bit older children will get a real buzz from the Kids Ride Shotgun and Mac Ride because they attach to mountain bikes and let you explore off road. They also help give a good feel about bike handling and line choice too.

Front seats have many advantages, such as being able to interact with your child more easily and the child feels like they are steering rather than just a passenger. This helps them identify line choice and trail position for when they are on their own bike. Some people feel they are also safer as the child is in view and in between your arms rather than out of sight strapped in behind.

Some Downsides – they can be hard to fit onto all bike styles, they usually impact on pedalling resulting in knee pain or struggling to go uphill. On the front a child gets the full wind chill rather than being tucked in behind, especially giving them cold hands quite quickly without big gloves. Read our rear seat reviews if you’re you’re looking to pedal easier, ride further or use a seat on road more of the time.

Most people only get to try out maybe one or two child seats but we’ve used about 10, so we thought we’d write up our thoughts on these and then some other seats to consider. It really surprised us how hard it is to find a seat that ticks all the boxes and to be honest some of them are useless and one even fell off mid ride……

Warning There are currently a lot of cheap front mounted seats on ebay, Amazon etc. they might look OK at first glance, but some seem to defy the laws of physics, while others will snap seat posts and even frames due to bad designs that create high pressure contact points. There are also some apparent copies of these branded seats too so don’t buy it if too good to be true. Stick to well known stockists and well known brands included in this review.

Front Seats for 9mth to 3 years or 15kg

Thule Yepp Mini Front Seat£79.99 for 9mths to 3yrs or 15kg

We think this seat is the best option for riding with a young child. Yepp was claimed to be the biggest selling brand in the Netherlands, before Thule bought the company up a few years back and hence the name Yepp is still used. This seat fits onto the fork steerer tube, by taking off spacers and replacing them with a bracket and the seat itself attaches onto this bracket with a quick release clip. It does need a good length of uncut steerer tube to fit, I bought a specific fork to use as none of mine worked. The chest straps are simple and fit well with adjustable foot east with rubber straps. The seats clicks on and off really easily and can be done one handed with a safety button making it clever and safe. We used two bracket on two bikes so could swap in seconds. The seat’s soft foam construction is comfy and absorbs some vibrations from the road too. This is the best designed full size front seat to avoid pedalling issues for young kids that we have found it’s not perfect with some knee issues from longer rides. Overall we see it as the go to front seat for young kids because of the quality construction and clever design being better than anything else.

Rated 4.5/5

Thule Yepp Mini Front on offer click here

Wee Ride safe front Deluxe – £119.99 1yr-4yr or 15kg

We like the concept behind the Wee Ride which is central mounting to give a balanced and stable ride but in reality it just makes pedalling a nightmare, even on our XL frame size. We like the padded table that kids can rest on and the seat seems to get good reviews and has been popular over the years. However I really don’t get it. The seat is a boxy design and very low at the back giving poor head and back support for younger kids. The seat attaches onto the bike using a bar that fixes between the top of the frame head tube (not the fork steerer tube) and the seat post with basic and fiddly nuts and bolts. The seat then uses a single thumb screw to attach it onto the bar which feels insufficient but must be strong enough. It relies on a bike frame head tube that is compatible and many modern mountain bikes won’t have enough head tube to clamp. On my hard tail mountain bike the bar did attach in the end but slipped off after a few rides, nothing dangerous happened when it slipped off other than it wobbling a bit, but I had to walk back as I didn’t have the tools. Because the seat back is low the straps don’t stay on the child’s shoulders too well, as recognition of this issue it comes with a chest velcro strap to keep it tighter. However this also slipped down over time. The feet boxes have rubber straps which do a job to keep feet out the way. With the boxy design and central location it causes you to ride very bow legged and you can’t really do anything like a decent ride. On smaller bikes it just won’t fit at all. I think it is a clunky and outdated design in need of a refresh to keep up with the Yepp Thule interface and design.

Rated 2/5

If you still want to look at buying one click here

Other front seats for 1yr to 3yr range;

Urban IKI Front seat is steerer tube mounted and very similar to the Thule Yepp but uses hard plastic and generally feels cheaper, but it is a lower price point. It is on offer click here

OK Baby Orion Front Seat is harder to find in the UK but priced at about £70. We’ve not seen or used one but looks a nice design that fits on head tube in a variety of ways so a good option if steerer tube isn’t long enough. Rated from 9mth to 15kg.

Minimalist Front seats for older 2yr – 5yrs range

These minimalist front/centre mount seats are for older kids but also more for mountain biking and off road use too, even working on full suspension bikes too. They let you pedal easier and a lot less bow legged, in fact pretty much normally. Kids however really do need to be capable of understanding and physically being able to hold on.

Kids Ride Shotgun – £120 2-5yrs up to 22kg

Kids Ride Shotgun Mini Bars – £27

Kiwi brand Kids Ride Shotgun have a really simple front seat that clamps on the top tube and down tube. It is said to work on all frame materials and designs. It does struggle on bikes with different profiled shape tubes meaning where it clamps can shift back over time as doesn’t clamp evenly. The genius part of Kids ride shotgun are the mini add-on handlebars. These bars are universally loved by kids. They can be interesting when the kid chooses to steer into a puddle and you are not aware, but so much fun to ride with them. The seat is soft and comfy and the rubber padded clamping arms do protect the paint well, but you really still need the frame taped up to protect it. The whole seat comes off to swap between bikes, requiring a couple of bolts to be unscrewed fully. Overall it isn’t perfect but it’s well made and you won’t regret getting one as you’ll love riding with it especially on mountain bike trails.

Rated 4/5 (1 knocked off due to eat slipping on some frames)

Mac Ride – £189.99 – 2-5yrs up to 27kg

This fits onto a bar between the steerer tube and seat post similar in concept to the Weeride, but so much better executed. The Macride has a relatively quick and clever attaching mechanism leaving only an adaptor on the steerer tube when not in use. It genuinely works on all bikes including full suspension bikes and all frame materials. It just needs a bit of steerer tube space to fit. The seat itself is hard plastic so not super comfy and absolute minimalist. The foot pegs have adjustable rubber straps to keep feet in place on bumpy rides, which is important. Overall if you can see past the eye watering price it is the best minimalist front seat currently out there for mountain biking and in particular full suspension.

Rated 4.5/5 (.5 knocked off for the price and hard seat)

Others to consider;

Do Little Kids Bike Seat – Similar to the Shotgun, but not as good because it doesn’t have the rubber straps that are very useful on the Shotgun to stop feet sleeping off the foot pegs and price point is very similar.

LOCT Front seat – This was discontinued in 2012 but you occasionally still get them on ebay. Essentially a precursor to the Macride but has a slightly more secure designed seat, shaped like a scoop.

Oxford Little Explorer Front seat – £40-£50. Similar in appearance to the Kids ride shotgun, but REALLY fiddly to set up, no secure rubber feet straps and less protective of the bike frame, along with the same issue as the Shotgun has with bike tubing compatibility. Once set up it does work fine, but you’ll never want to take it off. On offer click here

Conclusion

The best young toddler/baby front seat is the Thule Yepp Mini. It fits well on most bikes, clever engagement clip and well tested and tried so can reliably recommend.

The best older kid seat is the Macride seat for ease of use and clever design for almost any bike and any type of riding. It is blooming expensive though and there are other cheaper options that give a similar experience and will get you out riding.

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Teravail Sparwood Gravel Tyres Reviewed

Having loved the Teravail Rutland tyres I was intrigued to test something else from their range for summer. The Tripster ATR V3 takes up to 50mm tyres in 650b so I thought I’d test the limits with the Teravail Sparwood in 650b x 2.1inch (53mm)! The Sparwoods only come in a 29er/700 x 2.2″ so the 700c Cannonball is the same tread pattern in narrower gravel sizes in 700c.

The Sparwoods are a big volume low tread tyre and the same tread as the narrower Cannonball, the Sparwood was designed for tour divide racers (on MTBs). Having always historically run narrower tyres I am finding that modern wider tyres produce far less drag than you might expect and I keep going wider. I like the comfort and grip they give with little compromise to speed on or off road. Not long ago I was racing mountain bikes on 1.95″ tyres and now I am riding 2.1″ on long road rides funny how things change! The first impression is the Sparwoods roll fast and feel light on the climbs (strava can attest they climb fast). They set up easy enough tubeless with a high pressure pump and comparable to the WTB tyres I have been running.

Better clearance than it looks on the Range fork, but it is best to run with dead true carbon wheels and bit of protective tape if you do go 2.1″.

The first test ride was to hammer them on my standard ‘tyre destroying descent’ towards the Bowbeat Wind farm near my home in Scotland. This hits 60kph on rough, sharp gravel and they survived unscathed giving me immediate confidence they are tough! 3 months later and they have still not so much as burped any air, nor do they show signs of wear. Despite this strength they feel supple and comfy and not heavy and damp like the Panaracer Gravel Kings for example. This reflects the great quality I found with the Rutlands too.

In terms of ride they are quite a rounded profile (even running on wide 24mm internal rims) giving a narrow contact patch on road, this means a good speed with little tarmac buzz especially when at higher pressures. Off road the minimal side lugs do eventually hook up on lose corners but they do feel sketchy at pressures over 35psi. It really is at the lower pressures you notice the impressive grip and comfort from these 53mm compared to the WTB Resolutes in 42mm I was running before – so vary the pressure according to route!

The 53mm 2.1″ width is MTB terrain and exceeds even the massive recommended limits in the rear of the Tripster ATR V3 so after a few rides I opted to run a narrower 47mm in the rear to prevent any unwanted rubbing from flex in corners. I stuck with the 2.1″ on front and this was the ideal combo giving comfort but maybe a tad more speed.

Altogether if your bike can handle the width, then the Sparwoods make a great high volume – low profile, reliable and strong summer tyre. They offer a lot more grip than I thought at the lower pressures, while many will find the volume more than they need (or their bike can fit) I would recommend them if they do fit. I think running a 2.1″ on the front makes a lot of sense to soak up the bumps and buzz then something narrower on the back.

I just got some Hutchinson Touregs in 650b x 47x to test next….

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FINDRA Stroma jacket – review

Scotland is the ultimate testing ground for outerwear. With FINDRA’s Borders heritage there was never any doubt that their new Stroma jacket would be up to the task. But I was excited to test it to the max and see just how good it could be…

The innovative FINDRA Stroma jacket is made using recycled plastic bottles and repurposed coffee grounds. Cool, eh? But it’s not a gimmick to make you feel good, it is part of a performance fabric with 10,000mm waterproof rating alongside being breathable and wicking the moisture away to keep you dry. Definitely cool. In the cosiest kind of way.

My first wear of the jacket was the inaugural Gleneagles Adventure Race that I competed in as part of Team FINDRA in 2019. A great way to start! So it got a big tick for fit and flexibility paddling a Canadian canoe across Loch Earn (unfortunately it didn’t help improve our terrible canoeing technique), for breathability whilst hauling myself up and down Ben Vorlich in a combination of sun and snow, and for cosiness on and off the bike after a long and exhausting day.

Since then I’ve just found myself wearing it for pretty much everything… I’ve tested it on disgusting winter mountain bike rides in the pouring rain and spraying mud, and it’s kept me as dry as my lightweight Gore-Tex jacket over several hours. I’ve worn it for long runs in the wind and snow and stayed cosy. I’ve worn it running in cold but clear winter conditions, those beautiful days where you sweat in the sun but are cold as soon as you catch the wind, and it has wicked away the sweat. I’ve taken it on cycle touring trips. I’ve worn it snowboarding. I’ve worn it commuting on my bike. I’ve worn it camping. And round town. And to meetings (and then realised it’s got mud from biking all down the back). It’s fair to say it’s my go-to jacket – the one that never makes it into the cupboard as I’m always using it. To me, that is the ultimate sign of a great piece of kit.

As well as the performance of the fabric, there’s lots of nice features that make it such an awesome jacket. As with most FINDRA kit it is cut long in the body which I love – it means you stay cosy whatever the activity and to be honest it just looks so much better! It sounds silly as it’s about performance rather than looking cool but it’s really nice to feel good in your kit. The hood fits really well and stays on in the driving snow whilst out running. There’s cosy thumb-loops in the cuffs to keep your hands tucked in and warm. The pockets are deep and useful. I’m really pleased too that FINDRA thought to reinforce the shoulders as this has been the first point of failure for other waterproof jackets I have regularly worn with a rucksack. And it is super light, so perfect for tucking in a bag just in case.

In summary: I love this jacket. It’s uses eco-friendly tech, it performs and it looks nice. It has taken a Scottish winter in its stride. What more do you need?

Splitboarding the Lofoten Islands

After the success of splitboarding the Lyngen Alps we returned to the north of Norway and flew into Narvik from Edinburgh with a stop over in Oslo. A decent 2-3hr drive brings us past Svolvaer and in to Kabelvåg where we have a place to stay for the next few days. From our rented house on the beach we can tour directly up into the surrounding hills and it’s a stunning area. The snow pack is a decent depth but a bit wet below 800m, so we avoid the steeper more exposed slopes until it freezes or settles.

Sunshine and snow in Kabelvåg
Epic views
Taking break to admire the frozen Lake Storkonsvatnet
Snow cover varied greatly depending on island and aspect.

We headed west to Stydalen for another short tour again keeping it quite mellow on decent snow.

Of course no trip in winter would be without a late night spent admiring the stunning Auroa Borealis – Northern Lights;

A detour to explore the famous fishing village of Henningsvær and to take some pictures of the houses perched on rocks. There are thousands of cod drying out in the sun all hung from vast racks that stink! Salt cod or klippfisk is apparently quite a delicacy to some but we’re not convinced being vegetarian! The fishes bodies are all hung headless becasue the heads are dried seperatly and used as stockfish in Nigeria where they make classic fish soups using them for their extra pungent flavour from 3 months of drying!

The next splitboard tour was a classic loop based from Laupstad and all on very good snow. We were also treated to a bluebird day for a summit with a stunning view.

The view and church at Vestpollen just before Laupstad on a less sunny day

We moved bck east for the final few days and stayed in a small out the way village called Stronstad with stunning beaches and epic scenery. Our rented house was in an exposed location, getting rocked by the howling wind that whips in from teh ocean along the fjord. With the fire going and sitting looking out the window, it was the epitomy of Hygge.

The weather closed in a bit for the next few tours we did around Storvatnet, despite this we still had fun and there was some decent tree skiing thrown in too!

The Italian Alps – Splitboard adventures

A splitboarding holiday with two under 2 year olds might sound a recipe for disaster, but despite what felt like less sleep than was physically possible we found some good turns.

Bormio ski area is about 2.5 hours drive north from Bergamo Airport in the Italian Alps. The area is based around Bormio as an old town and pretty scenic place to visit. The overall resort is suited for more beginner/intermediate level skiers with limited off piste and no black runs. The higher altitude resort in the same area was Santa Caterina di Valfurva, a cold north facing slope that held snow well, located on the road to Gavia Pass – closed for winter but a good ski touring access point. We toured off the side of the snowy road to an old chapel and mountain refuge finding some turns in the deepest powder of the trip on day one;

A deep little gully run near Santa Caterina

After a day of orientating ourselves there were a good few off piste options in this smalll resort. With the mjority staying on piste this means fresh tracks for days or weeks.

To make the most of the daylight we had early starts. After a day scoping lines from the lifts of Trapelle (part of Livigno) we planned a dawn raid on Monte Castalletto at 2785m.

With four hours sleep it felt like I was the unfittest I’ve ever been, but the track up was crusiey and ridge windblown but caught the sunrise just as we reached the crest.

The steep last snow field to the summit was crusty, sugary at times adn occasiionally ice – all hard work. Boot packing seemed a good idea but seemed to take forever.

Finally at the first summit the snow was ice, I dug a snow hole and sat in it, Trev stopped a bit nearer the highest point an we both enjoyed a rest, watching the world in silence around us start to wake up. Then we rode down and dropped a few drops….

Toruing around Santa Caterina ski area was good tree skiing, tight but fun fresh powder weeks after the last snow;

Thanks to Trev Worsey for the ealry starts and the pictures of Ed looking rad(ish) (not like the vegetable)

Shimano GRX gravel groupset tested

A while ago I finally got my hands on a Shimano GRX groupset on my new Tripster ATR V3 to test Shimano’s GRX longer term. GRX is Shimano’s gravel specific groupset taking cues from both their MTB and road range, along with some unique gravel features. I went for about the highest non DI2 spec GRX groupset in RX810 (like ultegra/XT) my detailed spec is the following;

Levers – RX 810 (Ultegra equivilant)

Brake Calipers – RX810 (with 160mm rotors)

Crankset – RX812 (1×11 with 40t option, smallest available from Shimano.)

Cassette and Chain – XT 11:42 cassette option is largest recommended range (some doubt over whether a 46 will work, personally I expect it will get stuck on the 46 when shifting based on MTB experience)

Buy XT Cassettes on sale

GRX – What makes it gravel specific?

Well firstly the gearing works with most Shimano (and Sram) MTB cassettes and the rear derailleur has a clutch so can work as 1x. The RX810 rear derailleur has a capacity up to a 42t cassette or a 22t range. The levers have a different chunkier, grippier rubber hood and a new tackier lever over the road versions – all for more power and control on loose gravel. The brake lever pivot point being 18mm higher helps on hood braking more easily.

The higher end RX810 levers (like Ultegra/Dura Ace) use Servo Wave breaking which is from Shimno MTB brakes and adds a more progressive feel to the braking, to prevent that binary on/off feel. This is important with gravel so you don’t lock up as soon as you tap the levers. It certainly felt less grabby than the SRAM force I have been using.

The gearing options are the biggest discussion point, with most people opting for 1x these days leaves the limited front chainring option on the GRX cranks and the 22t rear derailleur range. I went for a 40t front with XT 11:42 rear cassette to give the best range for my local hilly terrain. In an ideal world I’d swap to SRAM 10:42 with 38 front (which works fine BTW), but this needs the SRAM casette and XD driver freehub and I wanted to try the GRX complete groupset first. A wolftooth 38t front ring is about the only smaller option I can find for the asymetrial 4 arm cranks, but I’m sure this will change in the next few months. For baby trailer bikepacking I’d need to swap to a MTB crankset for a 34t front as my legs can’t get up mountains with 30kgs on the back using 40t!

Initial Thoughts

The GRX groupset feels solid, it shifts light and precise. The lightness of shifting is helped by the ability to switch off the clutch, I find on all but the bumpiest tracks it doesn’t cause an issue with chain drop, but from MTB I know it depends on how worn the drivetrain is. The hoods are good for holding on over rough gravel, a neat design change compared to their road equivilents, but the SRAM Force hoods are thicker and softer rubber so coming from SRAM the GRX is noticably thinner and less vibration absorping, but on the plus side easier to wrap your hands around and hang on. The GRX might be better with smaller hands especially.

The brakes feel progressive, unlike some road discs and with the 160mm rotors it offers more than enough power, with only that hot pad smell on seriously long descents. To be honest I probably couldn’t tell the difference between these and the Force in terms of power, both are excellent.

The GRX brake calipers are the same as road Shimano equivilents, only the GRX levers differ, on the bumpy roads you really benefit from the gravel hood design that the GRX offers.

The cranks already have the graphics worn off from heal rub, but otherwise all working as new after a month of use. They are pretty standard, just a shame they use a pretty unique assymetrical 4 arm bolt pattern so limited ring choice.

I can’t comment further on longevity yet but the GRX feels the same as the Shimano MTB groupsets that I find offer longer, more preceise shifting than the more plastic feeling SRAM, but I can only suspect it will last well based on initial impressions of the quality.

SRAM FORCE or Shimano GRX??

This is the real question for most people! I will ignore costs and focus just on performace. I really like the SRAM force groupset and as discussed the Force hoods suit my larger hands better than the GRX, generally the SRAM feels more ergonomic and has been a reliable performer. The brakes needed a rebleed once but otherwise no issues with the SRAM in 18 months. However I prefer the feel of the GRX braking and I also prefer the GRX shift action, both in terms of SRAM’s double tap being more faff and the actual ease of shifting being better on the GRX. I can’t yet comment on longevity beyond the fact SRAM has lasted better than expected with slick shifting and reliable braking after 18mths and the GRX just feels solid and well made.

Conclusions

The GRX gearing range offered needs to expand down to a 38t and 36t front ring and also the hoods are tacky and grippy in wet but a bit thin rubber for off road comfort. If they improve those it would be perfect, because the shifting, the braking and the quality is all spot on.