Turf Blog 02-07-23

Turf Zone – Mary

After waiting for the round reset, I was out soon on the Surly Ogre for a spin around the Newbattle area of Dalkeith. Aim No 1 was to at least get some zones and points on the board and not be sitting at 0 points, 0 zones, 0 pph. The other aim was to test out my choice of gearing and tyres for the freshly rebuilt and painted Surly Ogre. The Ogre was built mainly for taking zones in off-road areas, such as Newbattle, Dalhousie and Dalkeith Country Park. It will likely also get used for turfing adventures such as the Seven Hills of Edinburgh and elsewhere.

First section along the route, following in a clockwise direction, was up through Kirk Bank Wood. This starts immediately with a steep climb along a dirt path with some interesting exposed tree roots. Took some extra effort, particularly over the exposed roots where low speed control was required but was happy to clean the section. My new Continental Terra Trail 40mm tyres providing plenty of grip on the slightly moist conditions after recent showers. My chosen gear ratio was 32:18, that’s a 32-tooth chainring on the front and an 18-tooth freewheel on the back wheel. Working well so far.

I should also point out that the selection of gear ratio is only part of the equation. Factors such as your own fitness, style of bike, personal weight, phase of the moon*, type of terrain, wheel and tyre size and other factors all have an effect on your ability to ride a single speed. It’s never a clean cut as it might appear. Even how you are feeling that day can be relevant. There is no universal gear ratio that suits all riders.

I would also be cautious of advice you find on the web, including here in Planet Gary. I’ve just found a recommendation online that a ratio of 2.75:1 is best for routes where hills are involved. That’s 42:18, a 42-tooth on the front and a 16-tooth on the rear. If I was using that I’d be walking on just about every hill! Might have been okay when I was in my 20’s but not on the wrong side of 60.

Turf Zone – BattleAbbey

The top section of Kirk Bank Wood is mostly level or undulating and easy to ride, and by the end of the path I’d added zones OldBattle, RecentBattle and Newbattle. After a short tarmac section, the tyres running quite smoothly despite the small knobbles, I’m back into the woods again, this time along a tarmac track with a covering of damp leaf litter, small twigs and pine cones. Zone BattleForest was next, then a fast downhill to the River South Esk and zone SouthEsk on the old stone bridge.

The trail now leads upstream along a dirt track on the north side of the river. Sections of the track here are in-filled with bricks and require a little caution with the 40mm tyres. On the Surly Pugsley fat bike, you don’t even notice the bricks! Next zone is BattleAbbey, at the rear garden of the abbey college, then it’s across the footbridge, uphill for TheNorthPath zone and a climb that will really test my choice of gearing, and my own fitness.

It’s a short climb but very steep on loose gravel and while its starts reasonably gentle, I’m soon out of the saddle and standing on those pedals for all I’m worth. I’m making progress but would probably be faster walking. In fact, I’m right at the very limit of my ability to turn the pedals, so close to stalling and coming to a standstill but I persevere and finally get to the top. Now I wonder if that was a sensible thing to do as knees apparently can take a pounding when riding a single speed. Will probably walk this one next time.

This next section is also uphill and a long slow climb to zone TheNorthPath, but a steady pace and no need to get out of the saddle. A welcome break at the zone, then onwards and upwards again. The gradient soon lessens and I’m able to speed up, soon reaching zone Mary, there after a fast downhill to zone TheSouthPath. Hitting loose gravel, with added erosion channels, in the lower section reminds me that skinny 40mm tyres can be more squirrely than big fat tyres and I have a wee wobble but don’t fall down. Slower next time!

Across the road to zone EquinoxZone, then some humping required, no not that kind of humping, the kind that required hefting the bike onto a shoulder and climbing steps! And here again I find the benefits of putting the Surly Ogre on a weight-loss diet. So much easier to carry up the, often slippery, wooden steps. The next section of the trail, all the way down to The Sun Inn off the A7, comes easy enough and I pick off zones FatBikePath and TheRedWoods.

Turf Zone – SouthPath

Of course, as I ride downstream to my final zone of the session, zone AncientBattle, it’s goodbye Mr Sunshine and hello to Mr Bloody Heavy Rain Shower! However, I’m under the trees and fairly sheltered, so leave the waterproofs in the rucksack. The track here is mixed terrain, flat leaf litter paths, tree root and boulder strewn areas and twisty, narrow gnarly sections where it’s easy to fall off the bike into the river, if not careful. And here I discover another disadvantage of riding single speed.

This path has a few very short climbs, usually requiring careful choice of line through tree roots or boulders, and with the single pseed momentum is essential. However, just about every dog walker, their family, and even the granny, are also on the trail, some taking advantage of the shelter provided by the trees. This means I have to stop and lose all momentum for the tricky sections, so no choice but to get off and perambulate. Oh well, never mind, always next time.

Anyway, a nice dozen or so zones to break the 0’s and a good test of both gear ratio and tyres. And the verdict? Excellent, I’m more than happy with both and will be ordering up a White Industries 18-tooth freewheel when I get home. The Shimano one I’m using is disappointing poor quality. Even straight out of the box, it sounds terrible and rough when rotating on the bearings. In addition, this test has me thinking that a ratio of 32:2o might just be ideal for the Surly Pugsley when I come round to gear selection. Back soon.


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