In recent years maintenance has got a lot easier. Luckily I've now got access to a pretty well stocked workshop through Tollymore National Outdoor Centre which means my mole wrench, massive adjustable spanner and small chisel don't get so much of an airing. The internet has also proved its worth beyond epic edits and pointless memes by providing all sorts of geeky tech docs that can tell you if you're turning something the wrong way before you destroy the internal threads and junk your frame. I was given the opportunity to formalise my knowledge a couple of years ago by undertaking the Velotech Gold course at Glenmore Lodge, the National Outdoor Centre for Scotland. It was a really well put together qualification that allowed an in-depth look at the kind of fixes I was already performing but on some unfamiliar machines and componentry. Ever since passing that course I was itching to complete the top level Velotech Platinum course and a few weeks back I got that chance as part of my job at Tollymore which involves maintaining their fleet of bikes.
There are a few aspects of bike building that I've never really done. A combination of fear, lack of knowledge and requirement for speciality tools have prevented me getting stuck in to wheel building and frame preparation, leaving frustrating gaps in my knowledge. The Velotech Platinum covers those subjects and so after thirty years of spannering I was finally able to enter the mystic world of Spoke Tensioners and Head Tube Reamers.
'The Lodge' has several major advantages as a course venue. Firstly it's located in the stunning Cairngorm National Park with easy access to the forest trails and mountains. Secondly, it has a purpose built workshop/teaching area replete with the most exhaustive array of tools and finally, possibly most importantly, the food is amazing and cake abundant! For an off-season athlete it's like being a kid with the keys to the sweet shop.
|If you needed any other reason to head to the Cairngorms!|
Day one focused on wheel lacing and building, breaking down this voodoo art into a simple process of repetition. We ended the day sat in the bar finalising the spoke tension on our straight and round wheels whilst enjoying a chat and a couple of pints. Day two continued this theme with wheel dishing in the morning before we cracked out the real torture tools in the afternoon, cutting and cleaning threads, chasing headsets and bottom brackets and reaming head tubes. This was the only time that the room quietened and the beads of sweat began to form on our temples as there truly is no room for error when cutting into frames, one cock up away from a very expensive mistake! That stressful element complete, day three had us back on the wheels looking at different lacing patterns and reasoning behind them. I really can't emphasise enough how enjoyable the course was. As a bike related tutor myself I really appreciate the complexities of creating a casual learning environment whilst also subtly assessing candidates. Alex did a great job and continually imparted fascinating nuggets of knowledge whilst not being intimidated by technical questions or the sizeable knowledge of us participants in various related fields.
|I built this! Straight and round|
For me, the course was only half of the reason I wanted to get a few days up in the Highlands! With the Ragley in the van and the lights fully charged it was my definite intention to get out training and exploring on the plethora of surrounding trails. What I hadn't banked on was John being not only keen to get out twice a day but also being Scottish National Time Trial Champion over distances from 10 miles up to 100 miles! So my days began at 5:30am with a pre-breakfast tempo session up to the ski station before squeezing in a longer ride in the couple of hours between course end and dinner. With John on his beautiful carbon Focus Cyclocross bike and me on my Bigwig with 2.4 inch tyres at low pressures I was always going to be up against it on the gravelly tracks regardless of the fact that John is a total machine. Luckily, I've been training on the bike loads since being rendered unable to run six weeks ago and I managed to keep John chatting constantly, getting in the open ended questions on the steeper sections whilst I desperately gasped for air. Being out for sunrise daily was a beautiful experience and by a total fluke the weather remained unbelievably calm and settled throughout the three days, only breaking as I headed home, guaranteeing some interesting driving and a choppy crossing back to Belfast.
|Icy mornings and wooden boardwalks made a fun combo|
Oh, and I passed too!