South Downs Way – Spec ‘n’ Tech

In the fourth and final South Downs blog, Jamie has taken a real good look at what the boys were riding and each riders take on an ‘adventure bike’. Its really interesting to see how the set ups differ and how they worked for each rider.

Four passionate bikies. Four custom built gravel bikes. Four hundred kilometres of stunning southern late summer gravel and not a carbon frame in sight. These are the bikes and the set ups from the Magspeed South Downs Way weekend back in September.

Stu’s 2020 Kinesis ATR
First up we have Stu’s gravel tank, seriously, this thing carried everything, and ploughed over all that was in its way. A virtually brand new 2020 Kinesis ATR – A titanium frame built for comfort, distance and rough terrain. Rolling on 650b wheels which we were all a little dubious about at the start, with a few long tarmac road sections on the way down to Winchester, would Stu struggle to keep up with the rest of us on our 700c wheels and narrower tyres? The answer was a very firm NO. In fact, Stu is an absolute machine and the 3 of us spent most of the weekend hanging on to his back wheel for dear life! The 47mm Hutchinson Touareg tyres, with their fine tread pattern and small knobs measure up only slightly smaller in circumference than our 700c tyres, so there was similar rolling resistance. The smaller wheel size and extra volume of the tyres really came into their own on the rough and bumpy descents on the South Downs.

Controversially Stuart chose to use the old skool touring set up of racks and panniers, a choice probably frowned upon by most of the new wave bikepacking world, but wrongly so as the set up proved almost faultless. With 2x 10l panniers on the back, and 2x 4l bags on the forks Stu managed to carry everything; a sleeping bag, roll mat, bivvy bag, stove, multiple spare layers, as well as an entire wardrobe of Magspeed clothing. We were fairly sure he had a kitchen sink tucked away in there too! Not once did Stu have to stop to re-arrange his bags. However once or twice he had a few close encounters with some bollards and gate posts, although the panniers were so securely mounted, we were more worried about him gaining extra weight to carry in the form of an up-rooted bollard!

Stu – the facts and specs:

  • Frame: Kinesis ATR        
  • Groupset: Shimano GRX 1×11
  • Wheelset: Hunt 4 Season Gravel 650b
  • Tyres: Hutchinson Touareg 47mm
  • Finishing kit: Deda Zero1
  • Saddle: Brooks Cambium C19
  • Bags: 2x Altura 10l rear panniers and 2x Apidura 4l fork bags
  • Tubes or tubeless? Tubes!
  • Punctures: None!
  • Number of bib shorts carried: 4
  • Nav: Wahoo Roam
  • Lowest gear: 40/42
  • Saddle to bar drop: Not quite shopping bike

Scotty’s Airbourne Carpe Diem
Next up is Scott’s Airbourne Carpe Diem, another titanium beast but this time in the form of a Cross bike from circa 2001. To the uninitiated this may look like an old bike with some colourful parts, but it is far, far from that. Any bike nerd worth his salt would feel a true sense of nostalgia when ogling this machine; decked out with some trick parts from the previous decade, which no doubt Scotty picked up for a bargain on eBay. In the mix is a Chris King headset, Avid Shorty Ultimate canti brakes (which pack a punch some disc brakes envy) and some super bling gold Hope hubs. Scott was running 700c wheels, with 38mm of fast rolling, juicy Terraveil rubber and a 1×10 Sram Force groupset. This was one of the first road groupsets to feature a clutch, making a 1x conversion a doddle. It also consisted of a carbon caged rear mech, carbon brake levers, and carbon cranks. So not only are we using top buzz words such as Titanium and Chris King but now Carbon is getting thrown into the mix too. Like I said – Bling. Interestingly Scott had fitted classic drop road bars to this, not a flared bar as you would expect to see on a modern gravel bike, and a bar tape choice which many would question, but we think it suits the bike perfectly.

Scott also chose to use a rear rack, but with an Ortleib dry bag bungeed to the top. A simple and cost effective solution, which allowed for quick and easy stowage of extra layers and snacks. Up front was a Salsa Anything Cage carrying a Podsacs dry bag, and slung beneath the top tube was a surprisingly large Podsacs frame bag, which still left space for 2x 750ml water bottle in the cages. Clearly in competition with Stu for the ‘who’s got the most stuff’ trophy, despite the two large dry bags and reasonable sized frame bag, Scott also felt the need for a small saddle spares pack AND a spare bidon under the down tube – luckily none of these spares were needed except for 1 tube.

Scotty – the facts and specs:

  • Frame: Airbourne Carpe Diem
  • Groupset: Sram Force 10spd modified to 1x
  • Wheelset: Mavic Open Pro’s laced to gold Hope RS4 hubs
  • Tyres: Terraveil Rutland 38mm (light and supple version)
  • Finishing kit: Truvativ bars, Felt stem, Deda Mudcross post
  • Saddle: Selle Italia SLR XC
  • Bags: 1 Ortleib drybag, 1 Podsacs drybag, Podsacs frame bag
  • Tubes or tubeless? Tubes!
  • Punctures: One
  • Number of bib shorts carried: 3 x Morvelo Overland
  • Nav: Wahoo Roam
  • Lowest gear: 36/36
  • Saddle to bar drop: 90s Time Trialist

Jamie’s Whyte Gisburn
Next in the queue is Jamie’s mean, green, unbranded machine, which started off life as a prototype of an aluminium Whyte Gisburn before being kindly donated and repurposed into a Fast/Far gravel bike. The colour is akin to an angry Hulk, and conveniently makes the “sorry I just didn’t see you” excuse implausible. Built with a spec based on comfort over long rides, and affordability, snazzy parts have been fitted where they count, such as the Whiskey carbon seat post and Fizik Airone VS saddle and cheaper parts where they don’t, like the £12 FSA stem and the old 105 compact chainset picked up from Facebook market place for 40 quid.  Featuring a mix of Shimano 105, and Ultegra including an Ultegra RX clutch rear mech running on a SLX 11-42t cassette.  Another vote for the Terraveil Rutlands here, on a pair of 700c Hunt 4 Season Gravel wheels, disc and thru-axle. With the black and silver Columbus Futuro gravel fork and the mixed groupset this could be described as a bit of a Franken-bike but it serves a purpose and it serves it well. Jamie used a pair of FSA adventure bars with a very slight flair to them and a compact drop, wrapped in Lizardskins tape.

As if the Kermit-the-frog paint job wasn’t enough, Jamie’s chosen a bright blue Alpkit Koala seat pack, the 7 litre version which was perhaps a tad optimistically packed and required an extra Voile strap to ‘stay the sway’ the secured to the bars is a 3l Alpkit Gnaro roll bag and tucked neatly under the down tube is a custom, handmade frame bag from London Broil Bag Shop which fits snugly around the two 750ml water bottles. This bag setup, being more suited to carrying the bare essentials of an ultrarace, didn’t quite cope with the luxury of 3 pairs of socks and 2 fresh jerseys and as such sacrifices had to be made and the insulation tape came out to attach 3 tubes to any available surface.

Jamie – the facts and specs:

  • Frame: Prototype Whyte Gisburn
  • Groupset: Shimano 105/ultegra
  • Wheelset: Hunt 4 Season Gravel 700c
  • Tyres: Terraveil Rutland 38mm light and supple
  • Finishing kit: Whiskey/FSA
  • Saddle: Fizik Arione VS
  • Bags: 7l Alpkit Koala seat pack, 3l Alpkit Gnaro bar bag, 3l London Broil frame bag
  • Tubes or tubeless? Rear tubeless, front tubed (don’t ask…)
  • Punctures: 1
  • Number of bib shorts carried: 1
  • Nav: Wahoo Element
  • Lowest gear: 34/42
  • Saddle to bar drop: Adequate, could be improved

Will’s Fairlight Secan
And last but not least we have Wills dream build Fairlight Secan built out of Reynolds 853 steel tube set. Another bike built to find the perfect balance between distance, speed and multi terrain. With distance and speed in mind, Will was running a rather lovely pair of 700c Enve carbon rims on Chris King hubs with 40mm of Goodyear Connector tyres. Will ran these tubeless, and had one puncture that needed a tubeless plug sticking in after a pretty rough descent on day 2. The groupset Will had fitted was based on Ultegra Di2 but with Absolute Black oval chainrings with a low ratio of 46/30. We all quizzed Will on the oval chainrings, and the consensus was that no difference was felt, until you get back on a bike with normal chainrings.  These chainings were paired up with a Sunrace 11-40 cassette giving will the lowest gear out of the four of us by a long shot. Undoubtedly the reason he was the first to the top of each climb, and absolutely nothing to do with his level of fitness compared to the rest of us. Will, like Scott choose to go with non-flared road bars with a fairly classic drop to them giving both of their bikes a bit more of a speedy look over ability to charge through rocky, rooty sections.

Bags wise Will had an interesting set up involving a full-sized custom frame bag from Alpine Luddites which carried a water bladder with a drink pipe which poked out near the bars. It was rather amusing watching Will drink from this, but its practicality can’t be denied, he was able to carry a lot more water than the rest of us. The saddle pack was another Alpkit Koala, like the one on Jamie’s bike, but this one more sensibly packed, and as such a lot more secure, on the top tube is a Rapha toptube bag with snacks and an easily accessible phone charger and then on the bars Will has a Revelate Pronghorn bar bag holding his sleeping bag, bivvy and roll matt, all from Alpkit.

 Will – the facts and specs:

  • Frame: Fairlight Secan
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra Di2
  • Wheelset: ENVE rims Chris King hubs
  • Tyres: GoodYear Connector 40mm
  • Finishing kit: PRO
  • Saddle: Fabric Scoop
  • Bags: 7l Alpkit Koala seat pack, Alpine Luddite frame pack, Revelate Pronghorn bar bag
  • Tubes or tubeless? Tubeless from start to finish
  • Punctures: 1
  • Number of bib shorts carried: 1
  • Nav: Wahoo Elemnt
  • Lowest gear: 30/40!
  • Saddle to bar drop: sensible

So, for this trip we had a variety of set ups, each of us with some very very lovely kit on display. Stu’s bike clearly with an audaxing and touring background, Scott’s a super bling cross bike modified to make do, and Will and Jamie’s bikes both from a long distance racing perspective where distance covered is more important than a clean pair of bibs each day. We had electronic gears, and mechanical, 2x set ups and 1x, wide ratios of gears and much closer ratios. Scott’s bike had mechanical rim brakes while the rest of us were on hydraulic discs. We even had some big differences in the wheel/tyre department with two different wheel sizes and different tyre sizes and tread patterns. Even the bag choices were varied, from dry bags bungeed onto racks to panniers to custom made frame bags.

If you’ve read this far, you’re obviously as nerdy over bike components as we are, and the truth is that while each bike had its advantages and disadvantages, every single one made the entire journey without fault. Sure, Stu had more fun on the descents on his smaller, chunkier wheels, and Will probably felt quite smug while twiddling his way up the really steep climbs with his tiny lowest gear. But the point is the rest of us ALL got to the bottom of those descents with big grins on our faces, laughing the whole way down, and we ALL made it to the tops of the climbs out of breath and wishing we had a lower gear.

While it’s nice to have the best kit for the job, there is no reason why you couldn’t do this trip, and have just as much fun on an old mountain bike with a back pack. Ride what you’ve got and have as much fun along the way as you can!

So there you go…four different riders, four pretty different set ups. These bikes will take the lads on many more adventures, plans are currently being made so watch this space. Roll on spring and some overnight adventures…

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