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A Winter’s Training Tale Part 1

By Ashleigh Naysmith
20, Dec, 2017

A team of Alpkit Heroes get out in the sun, wind and hail for a Sonder training session in the Peak

In early December, a group of our Support and Store Heroes went on a wintry training adventure with our Sonder and Alpkit Product Design Teams.

Day one was all about the bikes with Sonder Product Manager, Neil, and Sonder Technician, Liam. To kick off the proceedings, Ambleside Store Hero, Eric, talks us through the morning session:

I’m not sure what the collective noun for Caminos is, but we needed one for our staff training session. Perhaps a cavalcade. Or a convocation. Both would be fitting, considering their more common uses. Whatever, there were six Caminos in various guises, and a guest appearance from a Frontier. I was riding a Camino Ti Force 1 using 700x40 tyres, although between us we had most options covered. I have to admit that I was a little sceptical that they would cope with the demands of gravel tracks and rocky bridleways, but everyone else seemed confident, so we set off on a pleasant December morning. 

The plan was to ride on the road for a few miles then link together a few tracks until we reached Ladybower Reservoir. There we would ride on gravel tracks around the twin horns of the lake until we eventually returned to the road we had started on. Leaving Hathersage, I used the initial road section to get used to the gear shifter which, once it had been explained to me, was easy to use, providing smooth, quick shifts for the rest of the ride.

Our initial off-road section was on relatively flat tracks and I was surprised with how the Camino handled the terrain. The bike seemed to like the mud and bumps and, as a result, so did I, until we  got to our first hill! Personally, I would have liked a second, smaller chain ring to allow for easier pedalling on the hills, but that’s a reflection on my fitness levels, not the capabilities of the Camino. (Neil says a better option would be a smaller single ring setup - a standard 2x drivetrain doesn’t give as easy a gear as the standard 1x setup we use on the Camino). The tyres provided enough cushioning to help smooth out the bumps and my scepticism began to wear away; this is a great bike to ride. There was one small section of steeper, more technical descending and the bikes all took them easily in their stride; some of the group took this at quite a pace and it was impressive to see how well they and the Caminos performed.

After a few more miles, we reached the road again and while everyone else was crossing it to go up and over the long, steep hill ahead, I chose to stay with the flatter road and meet them further along the route. The Camino handled the transition from track to road effortlessly and I had a wonderfully smooth, speedy ride on the (thankfully) quiet main road before a few more miles on a minor road to the meeting place. Ten minutes later the rest of the group arrived, speeding happily down the fire road from the top of the hill. Big smiles all round. A combination of more bridleway alongside the reservoir and a cycle path most of the way back into Hathersage made for an easy finish to the ride. 

The Camino had completely won me over both on the road and in the tracks; it handled both surfaces with ease. The ride was comfortable and the longish top tube allowed an easy riding position while the flared bars prevented too much pressure on wrists or hands. The bike’s stability gave me lots of confidence but it was also extremely responsive, fast and agile. I’m already looking forward to the next time I ride one. 

Hathersage Store Hero, Andy, relives the epic that was the Sonder afternoon session:

After a quick lunch break (i.e. shoving as many calories into my face as possible post-gravel ride), it was onto mountain biking! Hastily throwing bikes, gear and people into vans, we drove up out of Hathersage towards Houndkirk Moor.

My personal mountain biking experience is best described as sporadic; a little bit of downhill trail centre riding from when I lived in Scotland, and some longer rides since moving to the Peaks, but all of this being in fair weather conditions. I’d rather go running in the rain/hail/snow!

The aim of the afternoon was to trial the Frontier and Transmitter bikes, and identify the different characteristics of both. I had the opportunity to ride the Frontier over the Houndkirk Road towards Lady Canning’s Plantation. Personally, I never found it lacking on the uphill sections, and it felt very comfortable on the wide, rocky descents. 

Upon reaching the built trails at Lady Canning’s I continued on the Frontier for the first lap, and switched to the Transmitter for the second. Now, I don’t have the confidence to push either bike to its limit, but I could definitely feel the difference when switching bikes. Where I found myself really pushing and directing the Frontier through berms and pumps, the Transmitter glided through them like nothing else I’d ever ridden. I could definitely feel the bike working with me.

Having had a pretty dry afternoon so far, as we headed back towards Hathersage the weather really turned. Strong winds pushing razor sharp hail and sleet into your face as you ride can certainly be described as character building!

What I found having ridden both bikes, is that if I wanted an all-round mountain bike, the Frontier is a fantastic choice. Feeling like you want to push your times on the downhills? The Transmitter is definitely not the wrong direction!

Most interesting fact I learnt? Riding for a whole day hurts my bum -maybe I should invest in some padded shorts!

Any changed perceptions? You can definitely ride a Transmitter uphill! Riding up the road before dropping into Hathersage was arduous (when isn’t it?) but felt fine on the Transmitter.

Customer Support Hero, Elly, recounts the tent-testing camp-out:

After a challenging (but very fun) day out riding and falling off bikes, we were all pretty dead arriving at camp. It was thrashing it down with rain and bitterly cold, so the race to get the tents pitched as fast as possible was on. 

We had them up in almost record time, though of course the Jaran was up first, as its simple pole design and colour coded webbing was easy for Eric to put up in a flash.

Between us we had a pretty good selection of tents; Eric in a Jaran, Andy in the Kangri and the rest of us in a Heksa (there's warmth in numbers, right?) 

After we pitched our homes for the night, it was time to crack out the dehydrated food and settle in… But there was a pub down the road, so we obviously had some pub grub instead, before crawling into the tents and falling into a dead-sleep.

There's nothing quite like waking just before dawn, crawling out of your lovely warm sleeping bag and discovering, to your delight, that everything is covered in snow. 

The weather of the night before had given way to a crystal clear morning, a dump of snow, and a growing excitement for the day ahead, I bundled myself up into my merino baselayer, Chilkoots, Keeshond, Katabatic and stuffed my Definition into a Gourdon ready to go... Day 2 to follow.

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